Archive | September 21st, 2013

WAKE UP AMERICA: Growing share of US population need food aid


Federal food-stamp program expands

By Cassie Regan

A new report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that the myth propagated by politicians and the media that the severe economic slump that began in 2007 has ended is false[Jon Britt1] . The USDA reported that food-stamp use rose 2.4 percent in the U.S. in May 2013 from a year earlier, with more than 15 percent of the U.S. population now receiving benefits.

Although growth of the program, called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, has slowed, over 47 million people receive food stamp benefits, or nearly one in six. Washington, D.C., has the largest share of its population relying on food stamps at 23 percent followed by Mississippi at 22 percent. Oregon, New Mexico, Louisiana, Tennessee, Georgia and Kentucky have rates higher than the national average, with one in five people receiving food stamps.

Another report, issued in 2010 by advocacy group Share Our Strength, showed that three out of five teachers claimed to have students coming to school hungry at least once a week. Many of these students were enrolled in free meals at their schools or in their community, but it was not enough. More than half the teachers surveyed—63 percent—reported purchasing food for hungry children in their classrooms.

Hunger in the United States is not due to a scarcity in food production. According to the United Nations World Food Program, enough food is produced to provide nourishment for every person on Earth. Around the world, the greatest obstacle to adequate nutrition is the ability to purchase it.

Under capitalism people often go hungry if they cannot afford food. The growing numbers of hungry people are of little concern to large farm owners enjoying federal subsidies. When “too much” is produced, prices drop, crisis ensues and planting—along with harvesting—is cut back. About 7 percent of U.S. farm fields go unharvested each year, and when there is a surplus in the market for a particular food commodity, that figure can rise to 50 percent.

Monopoly corporations dominate

In the United States, monopoly corporations dominate food production like most other industries. Family farms have been almost entirely replaced by corporations with access to more capital, more technology and more labor. Like farmers all over the world, U.S. family farmers find themselves increasingly unable to compete with massive corporations.

Food, which should be a basic human right, is a commodity produced solely for profit under capitalism. Only under a socialist system—a planned economy focused on providing for the needs of people—will hunger truly be eradicated. The fear of such a systemic change is what maintains programs like the food stamp program. If people were allowed to starve, there would be riots in the streets. As the social safety nets like subsidized housing, health care, child care and food stamps continue to be eliminated or cut back, the specter of socialist revolution becomes more real.

Meanwhile, as poor and working people struggle to double the minimum wage, maintain and expand needed social services, and win government-funded jobs programs financed by taxing the rich, gains can be made for near-term relief, while laying the basis for the more basic changes we desperately need.


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Snowden docs prove US spied on Brazil, Mexico leaders


And guess what? It wasn’t just ‘metadata’

Screen shot from Brazilian TV showing a slide from internal U.S. presentation on spy program

Screen shot of slide from presentation bragging about effectiveness of their technique

Screen shot of slide showing the interception of text messages from Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, also spied on in this project.

A major revelation from journalist Glenn Greenwald, based on documents leaked by Edward Snowden, prove that the U.S. government targeted Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff and her closest circle of advisors for detailed surveillance. Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s communications were also closely monitored by the National Security Agency.

Greenwald has been in Brazil since he started publishing the Snowden-leaked documents. With understandable concern for his safety and his rights, Greenwald has decided to stay in Brazil where he lives with his Brazilian husband, David Miranda, also a journalist. Miranda was himself detained by British police and his media-storage devices confiscated as he passed through Heathrow London airport to Brazil. The Brazilian government protested his detention.

Greenwald has been working with the local Brazilian media on the information leaked that is related to the country.

On Sunday night in Brazil, on the program “Fantastico” of TV Globo, a major national TV station ran the story, revealing how the U.S. government had been spying on President Rousseff during the election campaign. The program showed slides of an internal U.S. government presentation classified as top secret.  At the time Rousseff was the Workers’ Party candidate picked by former President Lula to continue his government. Her main opponent was José Serra from the right wing- party PSDB. Serra also was mentioned in a leak: The Wikileaks cables showed the U.S. preference for him, and their close relationship.

Right after the show was aired, it was reported on the news that Rousseff called the U.S. ambassador to meet and give an explanation—especially because in June, Ambassador Thomas Shannon spoke about the U.S. spying on Brazil, and said they were not looking at content, just metadata.

But the internal presentation about the project to spy on Rousseff celebrates how successful the project was. The surveillance system looked at Rousseff’s full range of conversations with her contacts. This type of surveillance gave the U.S. government a full overview of politics in a very delicate election for Brazil.

Not just ‘metadata’

Another important fact highlighted in the story was that they were accessing the actual content of the messages—reading emails and possibly listening to conversations. On the slide shown in the television story, one can see the “interesting messages” from Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, also spied on in this project.

According to Greenwald’s reporting, the NSA reviewed more than 85,000 texts of Peña Nieto, characterizing some as “interesting,” for its internal audience.

Contrary to what the U.S. ambassador said in June when the news of the massive surveillance in Brazil came out, that they were not looking at the content, just collecting metadata, the slides prove otherwise.

As for spying on Rousseff, the presentation indicated that the goal was to “better understand the communication methods” of her spokespersons, of Rousseff herself, and of her direct reports. However, at the end of the presentation, the NSA brags about how efficient the technique is, and recommends that it be used again, as it has shown how good it is against high-profile people who care about their communications.

Rousseff has requested a meeting with the U.S. ambassador for him to explain his government’s actions. A magazine called Istoé published last month a letter from Ambassador Shannon, who, when he served as sub-secretary for the Department of State in 2009, thanked the National Security Agency for its information about the 5th Summit of the Americas—who were the attendees, whom they were talking with and so on. Rousseff was elected president in December 2010. Shannon was named ambassador to Brazil in late December 2010.

In another slide,the NSA listed the major risks regarding other countries, for its operations with a projection over the years 2014-2019. Brazil and Turkey are listed as possible risks for regional stability. There is also a list of countries where they are not sure how to classify them: as friend, enemy or a problem.


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Capitalist quest for profit endangers public safety, environment


Radioactive water leaking from Fukushima plant

On Aug. 19, workers at the devastated Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan discovered puddles of water around a storage tank for contaminated water located near the damaged nuclear reactor. They have since discovered that 300 tons of highly radioactive water has leaked from the tank and could contaminate the Pacific Ocean. The cleanup of the plant has been run by its owner, Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO), the same capitalists whose criminal negligence led to a nuclear meltdown after an earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011. On Aug. 22, the Japanese Nuclear Radiation Authority, which usually functions to whitewash the threat of nuclear energy, described the leaking water as a “worst-case scenario” and the Fukushima Plant as a “house of horrors.”

TEPCO has a long history of duplicity about its safety practices. The company, with the cooperation of the Japanese government, grossly under-reported the amount of radiation released from the original explosion. It has since been revealed that the company knew the power plant was vulnerable to a tsunami but declined to make changes to its design that may have avoided a meltdown in order to cut costs.

Just prior to the revelation about the leaking tank, TEPCO admitted that 300 tons of less-contaminated, but still dangerous, water is seeping from the plant into the Pacific Ocean each day. The company had previously denied that the leaks were occurring. The radiation seeping into the ocean won’t be fully diluted until sometime between 2017 and 2020. Pockets of water with concentrated radiation levels will reach the U.S. West Coast by 2016 at levels not much less radioactive than they are now. Ocean winds will blow radioactive dust particles onto the west coasts of the United States and Canada, which could increase cases of thyroid cancer.

Pacific seafood has already been affected, with high levels of radioactive cesium having been found in fish. Tests in British Colombia and Washington state have turned up Fukushima contamination in migrating salmon. Marine mammals in the Pacific have been demonstrating fur loss and skin sores since the disaster, which could be caused by exposure to radiation in the water.

After the power plant was damaged, TEPCO started pouring water into the reactors in order to stop nuclear meltdowns that would have released huge amounts of deadly radiation into the air, killing thousands of Japanese civilians and radiating the land and ocean. But this “solution” created thousands of tons of contaminated water, which TEPCO has dangerously stored in tanks around the plant, at least one of which is now leaking. There have been four smaller leaks in similar tanks in the past year. This “solution” is clearly faulty. Water will have to be poured on the reactors to cool them for years to come, and TEPCO is already running out of room for more tanks in which to store the radiated water. Worse, TEPCO sealed the tanks with rubber that was not able to withstand radiation. The 1,000 tanks are monitored by only two TEPCO employees.

French and Russian nuclear specialists have pointed out that TEPCO could have employed more expensive but safer and more affective means to cool the damaged reactors, such as the use of absorbents and air cooling. TEPCO officials were aware of these options but instead pursued the less expensive water-cooling method.

If there is another earthquake in the area, which would not be unusual, the tanks could be completely destroyed, unleashing a deadly, radioactive flood that would not only endanger Japanese civilians but reach the Pacific Ocean via drain gutters. The water is radioactive enough to induce radiation sickness to those exposed to it within 12 hours. If the spent fuel rods in the reactors explode for any reason, a poison gas cloud could envelope the northern island of Japan, requiring the evacuation of the entire island, if not the entire country.

The Japanese Communist Party has called on the government to declare a state of emergency and for the state to take over the task of stopping the contaminated water from leaking. But Prime Minister Shinzo Abe continues to refuse to crack down on TEPCO and is trying to get the country’s wildly unpopular nuclear energy program restarted.

Only in a system as chaotic and absurd as capitalism would the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant even exist. Japan sits atop one of the most active fault lines in the world. Powerful earthquakes and tsunamis have always plagued the island nation. The Fukushima plant was also built near the ocean and over a diverted river, guaranteeing that if there was ever a meltdown it would maximally affect the Pacific Ocean.

Socialist countries such as the Soviet Union were forced to embrace nuclear technology in order to keep up with the technological development of the imperialist aggressors. But under socialist planning, nuclear power plants were located in under-populated areas with low probability for natural disasters and a safe distance from precious natural resources. The Chernobyl nuclear disaster, caused by human error and a willful disregard for socialist law, led to a great deal of death and suffering, but its effects were minimized due to socialist planning. Under capitalism, no priority outweighs the ability of corporations like TEPCO to maximize profits, not even that of the habitability of the Earth.

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9 times US and partners used chemical weapons and WMDs —and got away with it


“International law” only applied to enemies of imperialism

There has been no evidence presented that the Syrian government is responsible for the chemical attack that took the lives of hundreds of civilians. But the U.S. government and Britain claim that their allegations alone give them the moral authority to launch military action, in direct violation of international law. What they leave out is the long history of the U.S. government and its partners using chemical weapons and other weapons of mass destruction—and getting away with it. Here are nine examples:

#1: World War I, 1914-1918

Modern chemical weapons were first used on a mass scale during World War I, when the imperialist powers of the world sent their soldiers to kill and die in clouds of mustard gas and phosgene to re-divide the world amongst themselves. Germany was the first to use this deadly new weapon, but all sides of the inter-imperialist war joined in. Gas attacks killed 90,000 soldiers and civilians, while being linked to another 1.2 million casualties. Over 10 percent of all chemists in the United States were involved in the production of chemical weapons during the war, and the government ordered 3,000 tons of its own homegrown type of gas.

#2: Britain in Mesopotamia in 1920

Facing a heroic uprising staged by the people of Iraq, British colonial authorities authorized the use of chemical weapons against civilian populations, arguing in their “Manual of Military Law” that “the rules of International Law… do not apply in wars with uncivilized States and tribes”. Winston Churchill, then the civilian head of the British air force, stated that he was “strongly in favor of using poisoned gas against uncivilized tribes,” which he argued, “would spread a lively terror.”

#3: The nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945

In one of the most infamous crimes against humanity, the U.S. government dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 even though top military and political leaders knew that the war was effectively over. Approximately 180,000 people were killed immediately by the bombings, and hundreds of thousands died later of radiation poisoning in the first and only use of nuclear weapons in human history.

#4: Agent Orange in Vietnam, 1961-1971

Over the course of the Vietnam War the U.S. military dropped over 20 million gallons of a deadly chemical weapon called Agent Orange. This campaign killed or maimed 400,000 Vietnamese and led to 500,000 babies being born with debilitating birth defects, in addition to devastating the economic life of the Vietnamese countryside by destroying all plant life that the chemical contacted.

#5: Iran-Iraq War

During the 1980-1988 war between Iraq and Iran, the United States supported the Iraqi government led by Saddam Hussein against the post-Shah Iranian government. Secret documents that have recently been declassified show that the CIA was fully aware of Iraq’s brutal and illegal use of chemical weapons but still continued to provide intelligence and other forms of political and military support. Pictured is Hussein with Donald Rumsfeld, who personally managed the chemical weapons sales.

#6: Depleted uranium in Gulf War

In the 1991 and 2003 invasions of Iraq, the U.S. military used depleted uranium—a chemically toxic and radioactive waste product of nuclear energy—in armor-piercing munitions. The use of DU has been linked to higher radioactivity, cancer rates, and congenital malformations among Iraqi civilians and U.S. soldiers. The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) estimated that the U.S. fired 1,000 to 2,000 metric tons of depleted uranium in 2003.

#7: White phosphorus in Fallujah, 2005

During the murderous assault on Fallujah in 2004, the U.S. military used white phosphorous chemical weapons as part of its campaign to level the Iraqi city, ultimately forcing 300,000 people to flee their homes. Although the Pentagon still officially denies that it used this brutal weapon, they are contradicted by countless eyewitnesses. One Marine who fought in the battle remembered, “I heard the order to pay attention because they were going to use white phosphorus on Fallujah… Phosphorus burns bodies, in fact it melts the flesh all the way down to the bone… I saw the burned bodies of women and children.”

#8: Israeli use of white phosphorous against people of Gaza, 2008-09

In its 2008-2009 massacre of hundreds of civilians in Gaza, Israel extensively used U.S.-made white phosphorous shells to terrorize densely populated areas – a form of collective punishment for daring to defy colonial aggression. Sabah Abu Halima, a Palestinian victim of an Israeli white phosphorous attack, recalled, “The fire was like lava, my family was burnt and their bodies turned to crisps.” Israel also has repeatedly used thousands of cluster bombs, which wreak enormous civilian damage.

#9 Military testing of radioactive chemicals in St. Louis communities, 1953-1954 and 1963-1965

The United States Military conducted top-secret experiments on the citizens of St. Louis, Missouri, for years, exposing them to radioactive compounds without their knowledge or consent. Approximately 10,000 residents of the Pruitt-Igoe public housing complex, primarily poor and Black, were exposed to the most chemicals. The Army told them they were testing harmless smoke screens, but in fact they were testing the chemical for potential use against the Soviet Union.


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Next Step for Peace in Syria—Stop the “Lethal Aid”


Now that public pressure has foiled U.S. plans to bomb Syria, the next urgent step is to build public pressure for stopping the deluge of weapons into that country.

The flood of arms from outside powers like the US and Russia will only fuel the bloodshed, warn experts.(Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty Images)

Top officials in Washington are happy that American “lethal aid” has begun to flow into Syria, and they act as though such arms shipments are unstoppable. In a similar way, just a few short weeks ago, they—and the conventional wisdom—insisted that U.S. missile strikes on Syria were imminent and inevitable.

But public opinion, when activated, can screw up the best-laid plans of war-makers. And political conditions are now ripe for cutting off the flow of weaponry to Syria—again giving new meaning to the adage that “when the people lead, the leaders will follow.”

Contrary to what many assume, the latest polls show that a large majority of Americans are opposed to the U.S. government sending weapons to Syria. For instance, in a CNN/ORCsurvey taken September 6-8, a whopping 85 percent of people nationwide answered “not either side” when asked whether the United States “should take the side of the Syrian government, or take the side of the Syrian rebels, or not take either side.”

A recent ABC News/Washington Post Poll—asking “Do you support or oppose the United States and its allies supplying weapons to the Syrian rebels?”—found that 70 percent “oppose.”

The results of the new polling could hardly be clearer. The vast majority of Americans are opposed to the U.S. government doing what it’s doing—sending weapons into Syria to fuel the flames of a horrific war.

Collectively—in much the same way people upended the conventional wisdom that President Obama was sure to fulfill his announced desire to launch missiles at Syria—we have a real chance to put a stopper in the pipelines bringing weapons and other military supplies to Syria. We must, again, challenge the calculus in Congress and disempower the war-crazed leaderships of both parties.

This is no longer just an idea—it’s now a nationwide campaign. The launch came on Monday (September 16). That day, more than 15,000 people sent emails to their senators and representative in Congress urging them to stop the shipments of weapons to Syria.

Those emails told lawmakers: “As a constituent, I urge you to halt all ‘lethal aid’ in the Syrian conflict. The last thing Syria needs is more weapons, ammunition and other military supplies. The U.S. government and allies should stop sending lethal aid to rebels in Syria, while working for a reciprocal cutoff of all military assistance to the Syrian government by Russia and Iran.”

(If you’d like to send that message to your senators and representative, as well as to President Obama, click here.)

This campaign has begun in hopes that many other groups and individuals will take it up—demanding an end to supplying weapons for the Syria conflagration. As nationwide polling numbers show, most of the public already agrees with us. What remains is for a wide array of political activists to galvanize that agreement into a powerful political force, so we can overwhelm Congress on the weapons-to-Syria issue as just occurred on the bomb-Syria issue.

The United States has now joined with Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other allies—directly supplying weaponry to an array of fighters against the Syrian government. That aid supplements the longtime U.S. role in helping several countries to airlift weapons and other military equipment to rebel forces.

“The CIA has begun delivering weapons to rebels in Syria,” the Washington Post reported last week. Those shipments have combined with “separate deliveries by the State Department of vehicles and other gear—a flow of material that marks a major escalation of the U.S. role in Syria’s civil war.”

But as the RootsAction appeal points out, “Recent days have shown that diplomacy is possible to avert even more catastrophic events in Syria. Contrary to scoffers, Russia and the United States could help to quash the war flames instead of fueling them with more gasoline. By halting its own shipments of weapons into Syria and exerting pressure on its allies to do the same, the United States could induce Russia and its ally Iran to stop supplying the Syrian government with weapons—and to work for a ceasefire.”

Now, with a big opening in U.S. politics, this is crucial work toward peace in Syria. Let’s get it done.

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Rania Masri on UN Syria Report


Rania Masri is an Arab American human rights activist, environmental scientist, university professor, and writer. Since 2005, she has been an Chair of the Environmental Sciences Department at the University of Balamand in Lebanon. Before then, Rania directed the Southern Peace Research And Education Center at the Institute for Southern Studies in NC. She has been active against the wars on Iraq, Lebanon, and, now, Syria. Since May, she has been giving a series of talks about US involvement in Syria. She has been representing a growing coalition of NC social justice organizations against the war.

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I Hope Syria Will Not Suffer Western Intervention – I Have Lived It


In Belgrade in 1999, as the air-raids became regular and widespread, we lived on instinct, and in constant fear

Firefighters tackle the burning Serbian interior ministry building in downtown Belgrade after a Nato cruise missile attack, in April 1999. (Photograph: Stringer/EPA)None of my friends in Belgrade believed that the west would bomb us. They considered themselves modern big-city Europeans, but my father thought otherwise. He was a second world war veteran, and during his lifetime he had stockpiled food, petrol and medicines. Now I look to Damascus, and I wonder how they are feeling about western intervention. I could tell them.

On 24 March, 1999 the first air-raid sirens went off. Instinct overwhelmed us and we ran to our basements, hauling canned goods along with us. We’d seen this done in movies, of course. Since we were in downtown Belgrade, the basements were already occupied. My neighbour, Mica, was a Roma beggar and prostitute with a crippled arm. When all the tenants flew to her humble room Mica was proud to play the hostess, and met us with a powerful brandy from an unmarked bottle. The threat of death became the great equaliser. We forgot our documents, our social values, we just tried to cope with the fear.

Later on, as the Nato air-raids became constant, regular and widespread, we developed the habits of a city under siege. During the intervals between alarms, we would scrounge for food, cigarettes, booze and medication, vigorously street-trading. Shops were empty or closed. Money was hyper-inflated: the banks and schools were closed, public transportation didn’t work, and our cars had no petrol. The entire town was a black market.

I’d never known that my neighbours were such nice and kindly people, so eager to trade favours. I opened my doors, and soon my flat became an informal mental health clinic for the terrified and sleepless. The hospitals and mental institutions had dismissed their patients, so the homeless and anxious appeared at my door with sleeping bags, food and drink if they had any.

We would pass the night watching the warplanes. Soon we learned how to judge the distances by the tremor of the detonations, and we invented ways to check on our friends and family in that part of town. The telephones were often dead, electricity was blacked out, taps were dry. But people would walk or bike the city, bringing news as couriers. Children were the best messengers, our new postmen, full of energy and curiosity. They lacked the adult dread that we grown-ups tried to conceal from them.

A young stranger pedalled up on his bicycle to my door, and traded his mother’s cake for aHannah Arendt book I translated, then took a shower with my running water before going home to send off my email messages for me. Our part of town had water, his had electricity. Such was the nature of our hour-by-hour existence, our lives shrunk to the diameter of our neighbourhoods. We had very little information on what was happening outside our neighbourhood or much hope for a happy end. But we had a lot of dignity and love for each other. Love affairs and even marriages were common in those days that might have been the last for some.

To keep myself occupied, I made a film during the bombings. I also published a war diary on the internet, and soon befriended other such war diarists, such as Nuha al-Radi, an Iraqi dissident and emigre who had been caught up in the bombing of Beirut during the Lebanese civil war. My electronic diary got feedback from other parts of the world, and it even appeared in the Guardian. Thanks to that, one of my father’s long-lost college friends in Manchester was surprised and pleased to learn that he was alive. We felt less isolated thanks to the internet.

People in Belgrade survived the Nato bombings, but after the destruction stopped, many died for all sorts of reasons – post-traumatic stress, depleted uranium dust, the broken hospital system. My mother was among them. Neighbouring countries suffered also the consequences of polluted air and water and crippling economic sanctions in the war zone. The result of this conflict was the globalisation of Balkanisation. Anyone could be blown up anywhere at any time; but in humanitarian terms, few would ever profit from it.

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The Syria Strike Debate: A Political Scorecard

by Mitchell Plitnick

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry directs a comment to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after a meeting that touched on Middle East peace talks and Syrian chemical weapons, in Jerusalem on September 15, 2013. (Credit: State Department)It’s too early to tell yet whether Russia’s initiative has removed the threat of a U.S. strike on Syria over the alleged use of chemical weapons. While the signs are as good as could be hoped for at this point, a lot can happen in the upcoming weeks. And, whatever the final disposition of a U.S. strike on Syria, the plight of the Syrian people, which has played almost no substantive part in this debate and has largely been reduced to a propaganda tool for whomever is making their case today, isn’t going to be affected much one way or the other.

Free Syrian Army fighters taking cover as they prepare to join an attack on a Syrian Army base in Damascus on Feb. 3, 2013. (Reuters/Goran Tomasevic)But we have already seen enough to determine some winners and losers in this political drama:

AIPAC: Loser The major pro-Israel lobbying organization made a serious mistake by taking their advocacy for a strike on Syria to such a public forum. It would have been easy enough for them to quietly bring their lobbyists to the Hill and advocate their position. The decision to do so as loudly as they did is puzzling to say the least. It seems pretty clear that the Obama administration actually recruited AIPAC to try to drum up support for their position. The extremely powerful lobbying group had followed Israel’s lead and stayed generally silent on Syria until Obama’s announcement of a strike, then suddenly dove in with both feet.

It didn’t work. Based on reports, it seems clear that the lobbyists were less than enthusiastic and their efforts didn’t sway lawmakers. AIPAC’s attempts to keep Israel out of it also failed. They were scrupulous about not mentioning Israel’s security in their talking points, but the very presence of a lobbying group whose raison d’être is protecting Israel’s interests overwhelmed that attempt. AIPAC thought it could separate itself, in the public eye and on this one issue, from Israel, but that was a fool’s game. It doesn’t help that it was untrue that this was not about Israel. While Israel would surely prefer that Syria not have any chemical or biological weapons, whatever the outcome of the civil war, it’s not that high a priority for them.

But Iran is. Part of the case for a Syria strike has been the notion that backing off would show weakness and embolden Iran in its alleged quest for nuclear weapons. Israel, therefore, backed Obama’s decision, but this wasn’t a compelling reason for it to get publicly involved in the domestic quarrel over the strike. Indeed, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was said to have made a few phone calls to allies on the Hill, but it was clear from the outset that he had learned well the lessons from the 2012 election about being seen as meddling too much in domestic US politics. He cannot be happy with AIPAC’s strategy here of doing this so loudly and publicly.

Between the bad strategy and the ineffectiveness of their lobbying, at least for now, AIPAC takes a hit here. It’s by no means a crippling one, but it is significant. When the issue can be framed in terms of Israeli security, there is little doubt AIPAC will have as much sway as always, and when the issue is not one that the U.S. public feels strongly about, their ability to move campaign contributions will have the same impact it has had before. But every time AIPAC is seen to be advocating policy for the U.S. based on Israeli interests, the lobby takes a hit. Enough of those over time will erode its dominance.

John Kerry: loser If Kerry was still an elected official, this might be a different score. But he is a diplomat now and his standing on the world stage was clearly diminished by his actions in this drama. He gets the benefit of it being better to be lucky than good, as his now-famous gaffe ended up being exactly the plan Russia put forth for averting a U.S. strike. But few, aside from fawning Obama boosters, are buying that this was a plan. If it were, the State Department wouldn’t have immediately walked back the statement; it would have waited to see if Russia would “take the bait.” Kerry has come off in all of this as looking all too similar to his predecessors in the Bush administration, talking of conclusive proof while U.S. military and intelligence officials said that his evidence was far from a “slam-dunk.” Kerry is now trumpeting the upcoming UN report that is expected to conclusively state that chemical weapons were used. But everyone, with the exception of a marginal few, believes that already. The question is whether the Assad regime carried out the attack under Assad’s authority. That is far less clear, and the UN does not appear to be stating that conclusion. The evidence thus far suggests that, while Assad having ordered the chemical attack remains a distinct possibility, it is at least as possible that the attack was perpetrated by a rogue commander who had access to the weapons, and against Assad’s wishes.

In any case, Kerry’s eagerness for this attack, and his disregard for international law and process, contrasts starkly with the Obama administration’s stated preference to act differently from its predecessor. Kerry’s standing in the U.S. can easily recover from this, but in the international arena, which is where he works, it is going to be much tougher.

Barack Obama: loser Obama has been in a tough position regarding Syria. He surely does not want to get involved there; such action stands in stark contrast to his desired “pivot to Asia,” as well as his promise to “end wars, not to start them.” And he is as aware as anyone else that the U.S. has little national security interest in Syria. Moreover, despite his opposition to Assad, the U.S. is less than enamored over the prospects of a Syria after Assad, which is likely to be the scene of further battles for supremacy that are very likely to lead to regimes we are not any more in sync with than we are with Assad, quite possibly a good deal less.

But his “red line” boxed him in. It was his credibility, more than the United States’ that was at stake here, and it takes a hit. While it is highly unlikely that anyone in Tehran is changing their view of the U.S. and their own strategic position because of this, it is true that this will shake the confidence of Israel, Saudi Arabia, the al-Sisi government in Egypt and other U.S. allies in the region. That might be good in the long run, but in the short term, it will harm Obama’s maneuverability in the region.

Domestically, Obama reinforced his image as a weak and indecisive leader on foreign policy; his appeal to Congress pleased some of his supporters, but few others were impressed. He has been blundering around the Middle East for five years now, and he doesn’t seem to be getting any better at it, which is discouraging, to say the least.

Vladimir Putin: winner Putin comes out of this in a great position. He really doesn’t care if Assad stays or goes as long as Syria (or what’s left of it) remains in the Russian camp. Acting to forestall or possibly even prevent a U.S. strike on another Arab country will score him points in the region, although after Russia’s actions in Chechnya, he’ll never be terribly popular in the Muslim world. Still, capitalizing on the even deeper mistrust of the United States can get him a long way, and this episode is going to help a lot in the long run. More immediately, it helps Putin set up a diplomatic process that includes elements of the Assad regime, something he has been after for a long time but the rebels have staunchly opposed. With the U.S. now on the diplomatic defensive, he might be able to get it done, especially as war-weariness in Syria grows.

Israel: winner Israel has stayed out of the debate to a large degree. Their rebuke of AIPAC and their public silence on the U.S. debate has helped erase the memory of Netanyahu’s clumsy interference on behalf of his friend, Mitt Romney a year ago. Israel is in no hurry to see the civil war in Syria end, as the outcome is unlikely to be in its favor whichever side wins. And, while all eyes are on Syria no one is paying attention to Palestinian complaints about the failing peace talks. That makes it even easier for Israel to comply with U.S. wishes and keep silent about the talks, planting seeds for blaming the Palestinians for the talks’ inevitable failure. Unlike Obama, Netanyahu seems to be learning from his mistakes, which is not a pleasant prospect for the Palestinians.

Iran: winner While it’s true that the Syria controversy will have little impact on the U.S.-Iran standoff, the show of intense reluctance to stretch the U.S. military arm out again can’t help but please Tehran. It doesn’t hurt either that when, a few days ago, the U.S. tried to appease Israel by mumbling about some “troublesome” things regarding the Iranian nuclear problem, no one took it very seriously and hopes remain high that President Hassan Rouhani will change the course of the standoff. Russia’s maneuvers to keep Syria within its sphere of influence bode well for Iran as well.

The Syrian people: slight winners A U.S. strike would have almost certainly caused an escalation in the Assad regime’s conventional warfare in Syria. Ninety-nine percent of the deaths and refugees have been caused by conventional weapons — that was a good reason for the U.S. not to do it. But increased momentum behind the Russian push is also likely to ensure the war goes on for some time and this increases chances that remnants of the current regime will remain in place at the end of it, even if Assad himself is ousted. Now that the U.S. is determined to arm the rebels to a greater degree, an increasing war of attrition is more likely and that bodes very ill for the people caught in the middle. Considering that some one-third of the population is now either internally displaced or seeking refuge in other countries and a death toll of over 110,000, one must consider avoiding an escalation a victory for these beleaguered people. But outside intervention to stop the killing seems as remote as ever, and the hopes for an international conference to try to settle the conflict are advanced by this episode a bit, but are still uncertain at best.

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US Maintains Threat of War as UN Confirms Sarin Used


Official report confirms expectations, but culpability remains unclear

– Sarah Lazare

Professor Ake Sellstrom, head of the UN chemical weapons investigation in Syria, handing over the report on the Al-Ghouta massacre to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Sunday Sept. 15, 2013. (AP Photo/United Nations, Paulo Filgueiras)


U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power declared Monday that findings contained in the U.N.’s report about the use of chemical weapons in Syria last month should be seen as confirmation of U.S. claims that the forces of President Bashar al-Assad were behind the attack.

The report itself, however, makes no such claims (see below).

Power said that although negotiations between members of the U.N. Security Council are ongoing, the U.S. government will push to “impose measures under Chapter VII” if Syria does not dismantle its chemical weapons.

Critics have repeatedly argued that the constant threat of military action by the U.S. has hindered the progress towards a negotiated solution in Syria.

Chapter VII allows for the U.N. Security Council to authorize military force if the agreements contained in a council resolution are not adhered to.

Despite the repeated threat of force by Power, however, the U.S. cannot legally take military action without Security Council approval, because a Chapter VII resolution would have to receive unanimous approval among council members. Russia, who sits on the council, continues to resist a mandate for military action and has so far spearheaded efforts to bring Syria to the negotiating table over their weapons stockpile.

Powers, who said the report had only been given a brief review by the U.S. team so far, encouraged other countries to come to their own conclusions about who is responsible for the attack, stating: “Building on today’s findings, we think it’s very important for countries… to speak, and make public their conclusions. … Our impression again is that the technical details will lend themselves to an even more unmistakable conclusion.”

Though both said their review of the U.N. report was also “cursory,” the U.K. and French governments joined the U.S. in placing the blame of the attack squarely on the Assad forces.

Speaking just ahead of Power, British Ambassador to the U.N. Mark Lyall Grant told reporters there was “no remaining doubt that it was the [Assad] regime” that was behind the attack.


At a press conference Monday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon confirmed that the team investigating the Al-Ghouta massacre concluded that sarin had been used. Ki-moon also confirmed that the team did not reach findings regarding culpability. “It is for others to decide whether to pursue this matter further regarding responsibility,” he stated.

Ki-moon announced, “I stand ready to convene an international conference on Syria as soon as possible.”

When pressed by a reporter to outline the U.N.’s plan to hold the perpetrator accountable, Ki-moon responded, “Those perpetrators who have used chem weapons or any other weapons of mass destruction will have to be brought to justice… How to do and how to promote this and when to do this, this is the content of ongoing discussions in the security council.”


Coming as no surprise, the United Nations team investigating the August 21st Al-Ghouta massacre in Syria reports that sarin gas was the chemical weapon used in the attack.

As has been well-established and repeatedly stated since their investigation began, the U.N. team’s only mandate was to determine the nature of the weapons used. The investigators were not tasked with drawing conclusions about who may have launched the attack or the circumstances under which it was carried out.

It is not yet clear if the investigators came to any findings on whether the attack was ordered by President Bashar al-Assad or forces aligned against his government.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon received the report from the U.N. team on Sunday, and its full findings will be released later on Monday, Reuters reports.

While the complete contents of the report are still unknown, media outlets were able to zoom-in on a photograph of chief chemical weapons investigator Ake Sellstrom handing his report to the U.N. chief.

“On the basis of the evidence obtained during the investigation of the Ghouta incident, the conclusion is that chemical weapons have been used in the ongoing conflict between the parties in the Syrian Arab Republic … against civilians, including children, on a relatively large scale,” the report reads.

“In particular the environmental, chemical and medical samples we have collected provide clear and convincing evidence that surface to surface rockets containing the nerve agent sarin were used,” it continues.

The Syrian and Russian governments both charge that opposition forces to al-Assad used the chemical weapons, while Western powers—including the United States—insist that al-Assad’s forces are responsible. To date, culpability has not be definitively proven either way.

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Putin Hails Traditionalism as Core of Russia’s National Identity


Russian President Vladimir Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin

MOSCOW, September 19 (RIA Novosti) – Russian President Vladimir Putin touted traditionalism as the heart of Russia’s national identity on Thursday, lamenting threats like globalization and multiculturalism, the drive for a “unipolar world” and the erosion of Christian values – including an exaggerated focus on the rights of sexual minorities.

“Without the values at the core of Christianity and other world religions, without moral norms that have been shaped over millennia, people will inevitably lose their human dignity,” Putin said, addressing several hundred Russian and foreign officials, scholars and other public figures at a Kremlin-backed conference in northwestern Russia.

In a speech and question-answer session lasting over three hours, Putin lambasted “Euro-Atlantic countries” where “any traditional identity, … including sexual identity, is rejected.”

“There is a policy equating families with many children with same-sex families, belief in God with belief in Satan,” he said at the 10th annual meeting of the so-called Valdai Club, which was broadcast live on Russian television and news websites.

“Any minority’s right to be different must be respected, but the right of the majority must not be questioned,” Putin said.

Putin has been shifting toward conservative rhetoric ever since returning to the Kremlin for a third time in 2012, after a four-year term as prime minister. He has regularly promoted traditional values in public speeches – a move political analysts have seen as an attempt to rally his conservative core constituency in the face of growing public discontent and a slowing economy.

Many of the liberal values he criticized in his speech have come to be associated with the urban middle class that was a driving force behind large-scale anti-Kremlin protests in Moscow after controversial parliamentary elections in late 2011.

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