Archive | November 28th, 2013

Historic Deal Curbs Iran’s Nuclear Program While Easing Devastating Economic Sanctions

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Iran and six world powers have clinched a deal to temporarily limit and roll back the Iranian nuclear program in exchange for the easing of international sanctions. The United States and Iran described the agreement as a first step toward a comprehensive deal. The deal was announced after five days of negotiations in Geneva, but it followed months of previously undisclosed secret talks between American and Iranian officials.Democracy Now! speaks to Reza Marashi, research director at the National Iranian American Council, just back from Geneva where he attended the Iran nuclear talks.

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NAFTA and US Farmers—20 Years Later

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A Spanish version of this commentary originally appeared in La Jornada.

Cover of the TLCAN issue of La Jornada in which this story originally appeared. TLCAN (Tratado de Libre Comercio de América del Norte) is the Spanish translation of NAFTA.One of the clearest stories from the NAFTA experience has been the devastation wreaked on the Mexican countryside by dramatic increases in imports of cheap U.S. corn. But while Mexican farmers, especially small-scale farmers, undoubtedly lost from the deal, that doesn’t mean that U.S. farmers have won. Prices for agricultural goods have been on a roller coaster of extreme price volatility caused by unfair agriculture policies, recklessly unregulated speculation on commodity markets, and increasing droughts and other climate chaos. Each time prices took their terrifying ride back down, more small- and medium-scale farmers were forced into bankruptcy while concentration of land ownership, and agricultural production, grew.

It’s hard to separate the impacts of NAFTA from another big change in U.S. farm policy: the 1996 Farm Bill, which set in place a shift from supply management and regulated markets to an accelerated policy of “get big or get out.” Farmers were encouraged to increase production with the promise of expanded export markets—including to Mexico. But almost immediately, the failure of this policy was evident as commodity prices dropped like a stone, and Congress turned to “emergency” payments, later codified as direct payment farm subsidies, to clean up the mess and keep rural economies afloat.

Then, as new demand for biofuels increased the demand for corn, and investors turned from failing mortgage markets to speculate on grains, energy and other commodities, prices soared. It wasn’t only the prices of farm goods that rose, however, but also prices of land, fuel, fertilizers and other petrochemical based agrochemicals. Net farm incomes were much more erratic.

In many ways, the family farmers who had been the backbone of rural economies really did either get big or get out, leaving a sector marked by inequality and corporate concentration. Over the last 20 years, there has been a marked shift in the size of U.S. farms, with the number of very small farms and very large farms increasing dramatically. The increase in the number of small farms is due to several factors, including urban people returning to the land (almost all are reliant on off-farm jobs to support themselves) and the growth in specialty crops for local farmers markets. The number of farms in the middle, those that are small but commercially viable on their own, dropped by 40 percent, from half of total farms in 1982 to less than a third in 2007.[i]

During this process of farm consolidation, corporations involved in agriculture and food production also consolidated. Mary Hendrickson at the University of Missouri calculates the share of production in different sectors held by just four firms. The share of the top four firms (Cargill, Tyson, JGF and National Beef) in total beef production, for example, increased from 69 percent in 1990 to 82 percent in 2012. The story is the same in poultry, pork, flour milling and other sectors, as fewer firms control bigger and bigger shares of total production, making it even harder for farmers to get fair prices or earn a living from their production.

Those corporations take advantage of the rules in NAFTA to operate across borders. U.S. companies grow cattle in Canada and pork in Mexico that they then bring back to the U.S. for slaughter and sale. Along the way, independent U.S. hog and poultry producers have virtually disappeared. Efforts to at least label those meats under Country Of Origin Labeling (COOL) laws have been vigorously opposed by the Mexican and Canadian governments. Meanwhile those factory farms contribute to grow environmental devastation in all three countries.

There is widespread recognition among the U.S. public of the need to change food and farm policies to ensure healthier foods and more stable rural economies, but policymakers in Congress and the Obama administration continue to push hard on the same failed policies. More free trade agreements, including the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), largely cut and pasted from NAFTA, but with dangerous new ideas to limit any remaining restrictions on GMOs and questionable food additives, and to pave the way for even more untested emerging technologies. A “new” Farm Bill currently being negotiated shifts from commodity support to an insurance model, which still locks in place the same advantages for even bigger farms and corporations and the same willful ignorance of the devastating impacts of droughts and flooding caused by climate change.

The wild ride of prices under the NAFTA roller coaster has left us with a food system that is dominated by fewer and bigger corporations. In many communities across the country, people are opting out of the existing Big Food system to rebuild smaller, healthier options that are rooted in local economies and connections between farmers and consumers. Whether those experiences can build up from the local to national agriculture and change policy is a big question, and one made harder by the huge dominance of corporate interests. But rebuilding the system from the ground up, and considering how to make fairer links to farmers in Mexico and elsewhere, is really the only path forward.

[i] Robert A. Hoppe, James M. MacDonald and Penni Korb, Small Farms in the United States, Persistence Under Pressure, USDA Economic Research Service, Economic Information Bulletin Number 63, Feb. 2010, p. 27.

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The Iran Accord: Profoundly, and Primarily, Symbolic

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Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. (File)The principal benefit of the negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 nations on November 23 is that Iran and the United States were able to sit down to talk and reach an agreement onsomething. Given 33 years of estrangement and non-communication, this is an extraordinarily important development — nearly equivalent to the U.S. breakthrough to China — perhaps the signal achievement of the Nixon administration.

The profound symbolism of the moment more than outweighs the lighter substantive elements of the temporary agreement. The United States and its partners appeared tough and got very little. Iran appeared tough and gave up very little. Both sides saved face. This is the essence of a successful agreement. No one “won” and no one “lost.”

Iranians have been both sincere and clever in the negotiations. They played up to the insubstantial straw-man accusations promulgated by the U.S. and its partners, making them seem weightier than they were in reality. By yielding to the P5+1 demands, in essence Iran has allowed itself to be persuaded to stop temporarily doing what it never intended to do — make a nuclear weapon. The bottom line is that Iran did not give up very much in the negotiations, (but it didn’t gain very much either).

Reviewing the terms of the agreement in conjunction with the reality on the ground in Iran, one can see how easy it was for Iran’s negotiators to agree to these terms.

Low Enriched Uranium

Iran’s enrichment of uranium was the crux of the matter. The United States and its allies had fetishized Iran’s uranium enrichment program. They had made the improbable leap that having enriched uranium would immediately lead to a nuclear weapon. This is an immense mistake — so large that one must suspect that it is essentially hyped for public consumption. The public has certainly been convinced of this.

However, Iran’s low-enriched uranium stockpile cannot be used for any military purpose, short of the rather improbable construction of a “dirty bomb” — a conventional warhead containing radioactive material, not to explode, but to pollute. Such a primitive weapon has no practical use. Under the agreement, Iran would cease adding to this stockpile.

Under the agreement, Iran will be allowed to continue to enrich uranium at less than 5 percent purity — a concession that preserves Iran’s rights under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to peaceful nuclear development — its fundamental demand going into the talks.

High Enriched Uranium

Iran’s stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium would be eliminated through conversion to fuel plates for use in a research reactor or oxidized. It could then not be further enriched or weaponized in any way. This seems like a major concession, but when one understands why Iran was enriching to the 20 percent level to begin with, it is less so.

Iran had a research reactor, the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR) that produced medical isotopes for the treatment of cancer. The reactor had been supplied by the United States in 1967. The United States at that time provided weapons grade fuel for running the reactor. Iran was running out of 20 percent fuel, and was expected to deplete the supply entirely by 2011. Iran tried to broker a deal for more 20 percent fuel with the United States. A preliminary agreement was reached on October 1, 2010. The United States reneged on the agreement. Iran then began enriching its own uranium to the 19.75% level — technically below the high-enriched uranium threshold of 20%. After converting part of this this indigenously produced fuel into non-weaponizeable reactor plates, it was introduced into the TRR in February, 2012 . The November 23 agreement will allow Iran to do what it was going to do anyway, and finish converting the rest of its 19.75 percent fuel into non-weaponizable reactor plates.

Arak Heavy Water Research Reactor

The agreement requires Iran not to activate its new small heavy water research reactor in Arak. This small reactor was known to nuclear inspectors for some time, but because it contained no fissile material, it was not required to be monitored. The reactor was suddenly seized upon by Israel and later by French Prime Minister François Hollande as a “path to plutonium” — a massive over-reaction. This was quickly echoed and exaggerated in the press.The Christian Science monitor suggested that this facility was in truth a “red herring” in the negotiations.

The reactor has faced considerable delays in construction and is not scheduled to open until 2016. It will produce a small amount of electricity, but it is designed to eventually supplement then replace the TRR, producing medical isotopes. Plutonium can be extracted from spent fuel rods, but only if there is a completely new facility constructed to so this. Iran has no such facility. If Iran were to decide to make a weapon from this extracted plutonium, it would then need a third facility. Additionally, as former IAEA nuclear inspector Robert Kelley points out:“the reactor doesn’t do anything without fuel, and so if you don’t have fuel, the reactor doesn’t run. If the reactor doesn’t run, it doesn’t make plutonium.”

All of this time, the International Atomic Energy Agency would be monitoring the use of the fissile material. Parallels with India, Pakistan and Israel , who did use heavy-water reactors to extract plutonium and build bombs are inaccurate, because as non-signatories to the NPT, the actions of these nations were not monitored.

Building a Bomb?

There is a strange irony in President Obama’s announcement of the temporary agreement. He mentioned the term “nuclear weapon” multiple times in his announcement, implying that Iran was on a path to develop such a weapon. One wonders if he actually believes this or if his repeated implied accusation was a rhetorical device designed to placate his hard-line critics.

The president must know by this time that there is no evidence that Iran has or ever had a nuclear weapons program. Every relevant intelligence agency in the world has verified this fact for more than a decade. Two U.S. National Intelligence Estimates that were made public in 2007 and 2011 underscored this. The International Atomic Energy Agency has also consistently asserted that Iran has not diverted any nuclear material for any military purpose.

Even Israeli intelligence analysts agree that Iran is “not a danger” to Israel. Typical is ex-Mossad chief Efraim Halevy who said on March 16 this year that Iran “will not make it to the bomb,” and that Israel’s existence “is not in danger and shouldn’t be questioned”

What Iran Gets in Return

Though Iran is not giving up very much in the November 23 agreement, it is also not receiving a great deal in return. It will receive 6 to 7 billion dollars’ worth of sanctions relief, more than 4 billion of which is money already owed to Iran in oil revenues, but frozen. In addition, Iran has saved face; it did not give up on its inalienable right to enrich uranium as guaranteed in the NPT. This may be enough to placate hardliners in the Islamic Republic who have objected to dealings with the United States and its allies in the past.

There will be some good feelings both in Washington and Tehran that this astonishingly long impasse has finally been broken. Could either side have gotten more from these talks? Probably not. In fact the limited gains for both sides may well be a sign of the success of the negotiations.

The vitriolic nay-sayers trying to torpedo these talks in both capitals and elsewhere have been thwarted for the moment, but they will certainly begin condemning this process immediately. However, leaders in both nations should flatly ignore them. The world can only hope that this small accord will lead to more substantive rapprochement in the near future.

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Overplaying Its Hand, I$raHell Still Holds Plenty of US Cards

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Israeli Prime Minister Bejamin Netanyahu drawing a “red line” last year at the United Nations General Assembly. (File)More than ever, Israel is isolated from world opinion and the squishy entity known as “the international community.” The Israeli government keeps condemning the Iran nuclear deal, by any rational standard a positive step away from the threat of catastrophic war.

In the short run, the belligerent responses from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are bound to play badly in most of the U.S. media. But Netanyahu and the forces he represents have only begun to fight. They want war on Iran, and they are determined to exercise their political muscle that has long extended through most of the Washington establishment.

While it’s unlikely that such muscle can undo the initial six-month nuclear deal reached with Iran last weekend, efforts are already underway to damage and destroy the negotiations down the road. On Capitol Hill the attacks are most intense from Republicans, and some leading Democrats have also sniped at the agreement reached in Geneva.

A widespread fear is that some political precedent might be set, undercutting “pro-Israel” leverage over U.S. government decisions. Such dread is inherent in the negative reactions from Netanyahu (“a historic mistake”), GOP lawmakers like House Intelligence Committee chair Mike Rogers (“a permission slip to continue enrichment”) and Senator Saxby Chambliss (“we’ve let them out of the trap”), and Democratic lawmakers like Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Robert Menendez (“this agreement did not proportionately reduce Iran’s nuclear program”) and Senator Charles Schumer (“it does not seem proportional”).

Netanyahu and many other Israelis — as well as the powerhouse U.S. lobbying group AIPAC and many with similar outlooks in U.S. media and politics — fear that Israel’s capacity to hold sway over Washington policymakers has begun to slip away. “Our job is to be the ones to warn,” Israel’s powerful finance minister, Yair Lapid, told Israeli Army Radio on Sunday. “We need to make the Americans to listen to us like they have listened in the past.”

This winter and spring, the Israeli government and its allies are sure to strafe U.S. media and political realms with intense barrages of messaging. “Israel will supplement its public and private diplomacy with other tools,” the New York Times reported Monday from Jerusalem. “Several officials and analysts here said Israel would unleash its intelligence industry to highlight anticipated violations of the interim agreement.” Translation: Israel will do everything it can to undermine the next stage of negotiations and prevent a peaceful resolution of the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program.

Looking ahead, as a practical political matter, can the U.S. government implement a major policy shift in the Middle East without at least grudging acceptance from the Israeli government? Such questions go to the core of the Israeli occupation now in its 47th year.

Israel keeps building illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank; suppression of the basic human rights of Palestinian people continues every day on a large scale in the West Bank and Gaza. There is no reason to expect otherwise unless Israel’s main political, military and economic patron, the United States, puts its foot down and refuses to backstop those reprehensible policies. They can end only when the “special relationship” between the USA and Israel becomes less special, in keeping with a single standard for human rights and against military aggression.

Such talk is abhorrent to those who are steeped in the notion that the United States must serve as a reliable enabler of Israel’s policies. But in every way that those policies are wrong, the U.S. government should stop enabling them.

The longstanding obstacles to such a halt stand a bit less tall today, but they remain huge. No less than before, as William Faulkner said, “The past is not dead. In fact, it’s not even past.” This certainly applies to the history of gaining and maintaining unequivocal U.S. support for Israel.

Today’s high-impact American groups such as AIPAC (which calls itself “America’s Pro-Israel Lobby”), Christians United for Israel (“the largest pro-Israel organization in the U.S., with more than a million members,” according to the Jerusalem Post) and similar outfits have built on 65 years of broad and successful Israel advocacy in the United States.

Baked into the foundation of their work was the premise of mutuality and compatibility of Israeli and American interests. Until the end of the Cold War, routine spin portrayed aid to Israel as a way to stymie Soviet power in the region. Especially since 9/11, U.S. support for Israel has been equated with support for a precious bulwark against terrorism.

Ever since the successful 1947 campaign to press for UN General Assembly approval of Palestine partition, Israel’s leaders have closely coordinated with American Jewish organizations. Israeli government representatives in the United States regularly meet with top officers of American Jewish groups to convey what Israel wants and to identify the key U.S. officials who handle relevant issues. Those meetings have included discussions about images of Israel to promote for the American public, with phrases familiar to us, such as “making the desert bloom” and “outpost of democracy.”

As any member of Congress is well aware, campaign donations and media messaging continue to nurture public officials cooperative and sympathetic to Israel. For the rare officeholders and office seekers who stand out as uncooperative and insufficiently sympathetic, a formulaic remedy has been applied: withholding campaign donations, backing opponents and launching of media vilification. Those political correctives have proved effective — along the way, serving as cautionary tales for politicians who might be tempted to step too far out of line.

The mainstream American Jewish Committee decided in 1953 that for its pro-Israel advocacy, “To the utmost extent, non-Jewish and non-sectarian organizations should be used as spokesmen.” Such a strategic approach has borne fruit for the overall Israel advocacy project in the USA. It is time-tested and mature; broadly distributing messages through organizations of most political flavors; and adept at touching almost all sizable media.

This year, Israeli leaders have intensified their lurid casting of Iran as the next genocidal Third Reich, and Israel as the protector absent for Jews during the Holocaust. For some, the theme is emotionally powerful. But it must not be allowed to prevent a diplomatic resolution of the nuclear dispute with Iran.

From now till next summer, the struggle over talks with Iran will be fierce and fateful. All signs point to determined efforts by Israel — and its many allies in the United States — to wreck prospects for a peaceful solution.

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International Community Should Wait Before Recognizing Disputed Results of Honduran Elections, CEPR Co-Director Says

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Honduras

Two Parties Dispute Official Results; Observers Report  Numerous  Irregularities During Voting and Tally Counting Processes

The international community should pause before offering recognition of the results of the Honduran elections Sunday, Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) Co-Director Mark Weisbrot said today. Weisbrot noted that two political parties had claimed that the official results as reported by the Honduran electoral authority did not match what were transmitted to them. Weisbrot also noted that some voting centers were reported closed during the counting process, even though they are supposed to be open to public scrutiny, and that some international electoral observers reported that officials told them to leave as they attempted to monitor the tabulation process. International observers from a number of organizations reported various irregularities during the voting process as well.

“It’s significant that two political parties – with different ideologies – are claiming that the official results don’t match up with what they were told,” Weisbrot said. “There were also numerous irregularities reported by media outlets and international observers during both the voting and the tally-counting processes. The international community should exercise caution before commenting publicly on any reported results.”

National Party candidate Juan Orlando Hernández told his supporters that the presidents of Colombia, Panama and Guatemala had offered him congratulations last night; Spanish newswire EFE reported today that the Spanish government had as well.

“These reports, assuming they are true, would constitute a gross interference in the Honduran electoral process by governments such as Spain and Panama,” said Weisbrot.  “These governments are declaring a winner before there is even an official vote count by the electoral authorities.  There is no excuse for such behavior.”

Weisbrot noted that similar and probably co-ordinated interventions by right-wing governments have been used to bolster their allies in past disputed elections, such as Mexico in 2006, where there were massive irregularities and no clear winner.

The partial results as reported by Honduras’ electoral authorities (the TSE) are being disputed by two of the political parties and presidential candidates: Xiomara Castro of the LIBRE party (who the TSE says finished second, based on 54 percent of electoral tallies counted) and Salvador Nasralla of the Anti-corruption Party (PAC) (who the TSE says finished fourth). Nasralla told various TV and radio outlets last night that the results reported by the TSE did not match those that were transmitted to the parties. As part of the counting process, tally results from the voting centers are shared with the parties.

Weisbrot also criticized U.S. Ambassador to Honduras Lisa Kubiske for stating that, “I recognize the announced results and what our observers saw during the process,” which he noted was “premature” in light of the ongoing dispute and the lack of an official vote count.

International observers reported various violations and irregularities throughout the day, both during voting and the tally-counting process. During the voting, observers reported various incidents of apparent party allegiance buying, where voting center representatives of small parties may have sold their representation to the National Party, as well as National Party intimidation and threats against observers and other party representatives. There are also allegations, with purported photo evidence, of vote-buying by the National Party in various voting centers. These are among other irregularities reported by human rights organizations, lawyers’ delegations, and others. Further, the murders of two LIBRE leaders on the eve of the elections as well as the murders of five people in Mosquitia, which led to the suspension of the electoral process in the local community, were notable and serious violent incidents that impacted the election.

Weisbrot also noted that regardless of the outcome, “Honduras’ century-long two-party dominance of the political system has been broken. The LIBRE party especially has emerged as a major political force, institutionalizing in a political way the massive social movement that erupted in opposition to the 2009 coup, offering greater representation to the interests of Honduras’ historically disenfranchised sectors.”

Weisbrot noted that  “it would be difficult to call these free and fair elections in any case,” given the a year-and-a-half period of violence and political repression which – among political parties – mostly targeted the new LIBRE party of former first lady Xiomara Castro de Zelaya. Human rights organizations documented the murders of 18 candidates, activists and supporters of LIBRE since May 2012, and many more attacks and threats against others. Two more LIBRE leaders were killed the night before the elections in Canta Rana in the Francisco Morazán Department.

LIBRE emerged from the movement in opposition to the 2009 coup d’etat to challenge Honduras’ century-old two-party system, during which opponents of the coup as well as women, the LGBT community, trade unionists, lawyers, journalists, Afro-Honduras, indigenous communities and others experience a spike in murders and attacks – some carried out by the security forces.

“This was already a deeply flawed process for months before voters got to the polls,” Weisbrot said. “Those who say the elections were peaceful and calm – including the U.S. government — are ignoring an 18-month period of violence targeting one party in particular. Murders on the eve of the vote and intimidation and threats throughout election cast a cloud on the election.”

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‘Lack of Trust’: Karzai Balks at US Security Agreement

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Loya Jirga ends in surprise move by Afghan president who says agreement will not be signed without further assurances

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has surprised many by refusing to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement between his country and the United States that had received cautious approval from tribal leaders and the nation’s elders after a loya jirga meeting in Kabul concluded on Sunday.

Hamid Karzai tells the Loya Jirga, that the US-Afghan security deal should not be signed until after presidential elections in April. (Photograph: S Sabawoon/EPA)In the speech explaining his decision, Karzai said he wants more progress towards a peace agreement with the Taliban and assurances that U.S. soldiers will discontinue their abuse of the Afghan people by ending night raids on homes. Though the U.S. has demanded the deal be signed by the end of this year, Karzai said he wants to wait until after the next presidential elections, sheduled for April.

As the Associated Press reports:

Although the mercurial leader did not fully spell out his reasons for deferring its signature until after the April 5 elections, the move was a slap in the face to U.S. officials who had repeatedly asked for a deal by the end of the year.

The U.S. administration has insisted the deal be finalized by the end of next month, warning that planning for a post-2014 military presence may be jeopardized if it is not approved. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel both asked last week that it be signed by the end of the year.

Failure to do so could be the final blow to the Bilateral Security Agreement, leaving the Americans without a legal basis to keep forces in the country for up to a decade to train and mentor Afghan troops who remain ill-prepared to face a persistent Taliban insurgency.

The U.S. has said it will pull all its forces out of Afghanistan without it, as it did when Iraq failed to sign a similar agreement. Most of America’s allies have also said they will pull out their troops in without the deal, a withdrawal that could put at risk more than $8 billion a year pledged by the international community for Afghan security forces and the country’s development.

And the Guardian adds:

The agreement will allow US soldiers to stay on at nine bases, mentoring the still ill-equipped and patchily trained Afghan police and army, and pursuing al-Qaida and linked groups.

It is politically sensitive for many reasons, not least because it undermines Afghanistan’s reputation as the “graveyard of empires”, with the ignominious withdrawal of Soviet forces referenced several times in jirga speeches on Sunday.

But without a deal, the US is unlikely to part with the $4bn (£2.50bn) a year needed to pay the Afghan army, or provide the helicopters and other equipment promised.

Many Afghans feel that the imperfect deal is the only protection they have against powerful neighbours. One of Karzai’s security advisers warned parliament that without the agreement the country would be isolated “among wolves”, and his military chief asked opponents of the deal to say where else they would come up with police and army funding.

At the end of the Loya Jirga, which has no legally binding powers, a string of delegates came up to the podium to commend the deal, some to ask for small changes, but the majority to urge Karzai to sign the agreement by the end of year.

Karzai chose to ignore those requests, warning his audience that “Afghanistan has always won the war but lost in politics”. He added that he planned to carry on with negotiations because the US had broken previous commitments to protect the country and support the peace process.

“Lack of trust is the core of the problem,” his spokesman, Aimal Faizi, said before the speech, adding that Karzai thought American officials were bluffing when they warned of a total pullout by the US. “We don’t believe there is a zero option,” he said.

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‘Mubarak-Era Back’ as Egypt’s Military-Backed Regime Bans Public Protest

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Signed by interim president,new law provides a "cover to justify repression by all means"
Lauren McCauley

In December 2011, thousands of pro-democracy activists gathered in Tahrir Square to to call on the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to transfer power to a civilian administration. (Photo: lokah/ cc/ flickr)In 2011, the Arab Spring hit its zenith in the streets of Cairo when hundreds of thousands of youth and pro-democracy activists upended the social order, cast off a dictator and declared the start of a revolution based on the simple but radical notion that they would no longer remain silent or allow their dignity as citizens be thwarted by a repressive regime that forbade their right to assemble, protest, or dissent.

On Sunday, however—as the start of that hopeful revolution approaches its third anniversary—a new law effectively banning protests and granting the military-backed secret police “carte blanche” in Egypt was signed by interim President Adly Mansour.

Exemplifying the dashed hopes of the pro-democracy, the law bans all public assembly of more than 10 people without government approval and requires would-be protesters to seek seven sepearate permissions and notify authorities three days in advance of any proposed gathering. Further, the law grants security agencies, like the military-backed secret police, the right to prohibit any public gatherings, demonstrations or meetings if deemed a “threat to public order.”

Following the release of an earlier draft, international watchdog Human Rights Watch noted the law “effectively give[s] the police carte blanche,” saying it “mandate[s] the police to ban all protests outright and to use force to disperse ongoing protests.”

The law replaces a three-month “state of emergency” which granted security forces sweeping, and often violent, powers to quell protests following the July ouster of elected president Mohammed Morsi.

“The law is labelled one that regulates protests rights, but in essence it is regulates the repression of the right to protest,” said Bahy Eddin Hassan, head of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, one of the local groups that campaigned against the law. He added that it is “giving a cover to justify repression by all means.”

The Associated Press reports:

Rights groups say the law also gives police unrestricted use of birdshot to put down protests, omitting an article that prohibited the use of force in excess.

Penalties in the law range from seven years in prison for using violence in a protest. It calls for one year in prison for covering the face in a country where many women wear full-face veils. It calls for a similar prison sentence for protesting in or around a place of worship.

The law sets fines of $44,000 for being violent at a protest. It sets fines of $1,500 for protesting without a permit, a hefty sum in Egypt, where the minimum monthly salary for public employees has finally been raised to 1,200 Egyptian pounds ($175).

“This law brings Mubarak’s era back,” said Gamal Eid, the director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information.

The crackdown comes a week after police fired teargas at protesters with the burgeoning Third Square movement in Tahrir Square, where the demonstrators commemorated the two year anniversary of the 2011 massacre by rallying against both the ruling “military junta” and deposed Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi, who they say together “betrayed” the revolution.

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‘It’s Intimidating. And It’s Free’: Iraq War Surplus Militarizing US Police

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AP  exclusive finds 165 MRAP  vehicles  used in  Iraq handed to local police departments
Sarah Lazare

Warren County Under-sheriff Shawn Labouree stands next to the department’s new mine resistance ambush protected vehicle, or MRAP in Queensbury, New York (Photo: Mike Groll / Associated Press)Weapons of occupation are coming to cities and towns across the United States after the Department of Defense handed 165 military fighting vehicles formerly used in Iraq to local law enforcement as part of a military surplus program.

This transfer of military weaponry, reported in an Associated Press exclusive on Monday, will send mine resistant ambush protected vehicles, or MRAPs—which weigh 18 tons each and include gun turrets and bulletproof glass—to urban and rural areas, some of which don’t even have the physical infrastructure to support such heavy and large vehicles.

These are not the first armored military vehicles given to U.S. police departments. A little-known 1033 program, originating from the National Defense Authorization Act of 1997, allows the Department of Defense to donate what it considers surplus military equipment to police and sheriff departments, Michael Shank and Elizabeth Beavers wrote in The Guardian. A total of $4.2 billion in such equipment, including tanks and grenade launchers, has been donated so far.

Albany County, New York Sheriff Craig Apple said of the MRAP vehicle his department will be receiving, “It’s armored. It’s heavy. It’s intimidating. And it’s free,” the Associated Pressreports.

These giveaways, which have expanded in recent years, are on top of $34 billion in Homeland Security-backed federal grants given to local police departments since September 11th, 2001 to fight “terrorism.”

This is in addition to growing business between law enforcement, private defense contractors, and arms manufacturers that has facilitated the influx of military-grade weapons and vehicles—including drones—onto U.S. streets. Private sector and law enforcement collaboration is exemplified in annual weapons expos and SWAT team training Urban Shield, previously reported in Common Dreams.

Critics blast the MRAP giveaway as evidence of the heightening militarization of the police.

“The militarization of U.S. law enforcement is but an extension of the expanding police state,” said Lara Kiswani of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center in an interview with Common Dreams. “The U.S. not only exports and imports military equipment and weapons, but it also exchanges strategies and tactics of repression that have seeped deep into our communities.”

“From the gross devastation that the people in Iraq have suffered as a result of US wars and occupation, to oppressive torture tactics and violent military attacks of the apartheid state of Israel, to the growing militarization of communities in the U.S., the policies and interests are one in the same,” she added. “They are all a means of social, political and economic control at the expense of the poor, working class, immigrants, youth, and black and brown communities.”

Posted in IraqComments Off on ‘It’s Intimidating. And It’s Free’: Iraq War Surplus Militarizing US Police

As Experts Weigh in, Warmongers Emerge as Sole Opponents of Iran Nuke Deal

NOVANEWS

‘Historic’ deal signed in Geneva paves way for peaceful settlement and should be embraced, say analysts

– Jon Queally

(Photo Credit: FARS News/Majid Asgaripour)Following Sunday’s announcement of a confirmed détente and signed nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1 nations, foreign policy analysts, experts and progressives widely championed the deal by calling it a “historic” achievement that lessens the chance of a regional war and returns sanity to the serious issues of nuclear proliferation and international diplomacy in the Middle East.

Meanwhile, as Israeli leaders fume and fears that Congress could still dash progress by legislating new sanctions, polling shows that support among the public is high for a deal that avoids war, eases tensions, and offers a diplomatic pathway to a final deal.

“There is only one reason to oppose this deal: whether with weapons of war or sanctions that will lead to a full-blown humanitarian catastrophe in Iran, an all-out attack on Iran with the hope of regime change is what this is really about.” —MItchell Plitnick, LobeLog.com

Though concerns remain for all involved, and acknowledging that the deal signed in Geneva represents only a six-month framework designed to build trust for a more permanent solution, the breakthrough is seen as a rare positive development in a region plagued by U.S. military interventions and a diplomatic deep freeze with Iran that has lasted for more than thirty years.

The agreement itself—officially drawn out in a four-page document called a “Joint Plan of Action—was signed Sunday by Iran and the P5+1 which includes the US, UK, France, Russia, China, and Germany.

As far as who the deal “favors,” Mitchell Plitnick, a foreign policy analyst writing at the LobeLog.com, says “the deal self-evidently favors the West,” with Iran giving much more than they are receiving. He explains:

Iran is agreeing to it because they hope it will lead to what they want, which is a fully functional nuclear energy program that is sufficiently proven to be peaceful to remove the sanctions. When hardline Republican Senator Lindsey Graham tweeted “Unless the agreement requires dismantling of the Iranian centrifuges, we really haven’t gained anything,” he demonstrated thorough ignorance of the nuclear weaponization process as well as the contents of the agreement. There is only one reason to oppose this deal: whether with weapons of war or sanctions that will lead to a full-blown humanitarian catastrophe in Iran, an all-out attack on Iran with the hope of regime change is what this is really about. The conclusion is inescapable — if you oppose this deal, you are looking for a lot more than the neutralization of Iran’s ability to construct a nuclear weapon.

Reviewing the document, former British diplomat Peter Jenkins, an expert on international nuclear agreements, explains how Iran has agreed to:

  • allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) daily access to the two enrichment plants that have been at the centre of Western and Israeli concern about Iran’s nuclear program. Daily access is more than enough to ensure that detection of any Iranian move towards using these facilities to produce weapons-grade enriched uranium would be so timely that the Un Security Council could interrupt and put an end to the process.
  • give the IAEA access to the workshops that produce centrifuge components and where centrifuges are assembled. This is not a legal obligation that flows from Iran’s comprehensive safeguards agreement with the IAEA. It is a voluntary, confidence-building measure. It will enable the IAEA to provide the E3+3 with assurances that Iran is implementing its commitment in the Plan of Action to limit the production of centrifuges to what is needed for the replacement of any of its currently operating machines that break down.
  • provide the IAEA with detailed information about the purpose of each building on its nuclear sites, as well as about its uranium mines and mills and unprocessed nuclear material stocks. This will help the IAEA towards providing the international community with a credible assurance that there are no undeclared nuclear activities or material on Iranian soil – an assurance that ought, in principle, to open the way to treating the Iranian nuclear program in the same manner as that of any non-nuclear-weapon state party to the NPT, as envisaged in the last paragraph of the Joint Plan of Action.
  • furnish up-to-date design information for the reactor under construction at Arak. This well help the IAEA to design, in collaboration with Iran, a plan for applying safeguards to the plant, with the aim of maximising the possibility of timely detection of any diversion of nuclear fuel from the reactor to non-peaceful purposes.

Joe Cirincione, president of the  Ploughshares Fund and the author of Nuclear Nightmares: Securing the World Before It Is Too Late, called the agreement “the real deal,” writing:

“The negotiations are a dramatic example of the efficacy of diplomacy in resolving the most difficult of security problems.” –Joe Cirincione, Ploughshares Fund

It is possible that the nuclear deal and these related efforts could lead to a broader rapprochement with Iran that could, in Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s words, help the U.S. and Iran “manage our differences.” Not “resolve” them; not “overcome” them, but more pragmatically manage them the way U.S. officials managed differences with China under Nixon and Russia under Reagan. The United States could get Iranian cooperation on a score of key U.S. strategic issues including Iraq, Afghanistan, Al Qaeda, Syria and the Israel-Palestine peace process.

More broadly, rolling back the Iranian program removes the largest perceived nuclear proliferation threat. Although there is no logical connection between the 5000 nuclear weapons in the U.S. active nuclear arsenal and the possibility that Iran might someday get one or ten, psychologically and politically there is.

If Iran were to become a nuclear-armed state it would be much more difficult to negotiate reductions in global stockpiles. Eliminating this threat creates the security conditions necessary for nuclear-armed states to consider reducing obsolete arsenals and for threshold states to refrain from beginning new programs.

Coupled with the success of the agreement to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal, the negotiations are a dramatic example of the efficacy of diplomacy in resolving the most difficult of security problems.

And Plitnick welcomed the agreement as a “huge step back away from war” and said Israeli claims that the agreement would imperil its security were absurd. The “only way this hurts Israel is by limiting Netanyahu’s fear-mongering,” Plitnick wrote. And continued:

“There is just about no risk for Israel here, and everything to gain, from the point of view of the average Israeli. From the point of view of right wing demagogues like Netanyahu, Naftali Bennett and Avigdor Lieberman, it risks removing their last great boogeyman.” –Plitnick

The problem with Israel’s stance — and that of its right-wing advocates abroad — has been, all along, that what they really want is ever-increasing sanctions and tensions with Iran. The only deal that can possibly be even marginally acceptable to Israel is one which involves Iran’s total surrender. Since that was never going to be possible, the Netanyahu government is going to oppose even a great deal like this one with everything it has. A lot of Israeli rhetoric for years has been misinformation, sometimes even outright lies. Such was the case today when the Prime Minister’s office characterized the deal as giving “…Iran exactly what it wanted — a serious lessening of sanctions as well as preserving the most significant parts of its nuclear program.” The deal demonstrably does neither. Israel does have legitimate security concerns here, of course, but they have never been what Netanyahu has said they were. This deal is great for Israel because it grants unprecedented access to Iran’s nuclear facilities to the IAEA, eliminates their 20% enriched uranium stockpile, and, at least for the next six months, eliminates Iran’s ability to beef up their nuclear program. It does that while bringing only temporary and unsustainable sanction relief—it will help a bit for a while, but by itself, this relief is nowhere near enough to repair the Iranian economy. There is just about no risk for Israel here, and everything to gain, from the point of view of the average Israeli. From the point of view of right wing demagogues like Netanyahu, Naftali Bennett and Avigdor Lieberman, it risks removing their last great boogeyman. Because if there is peace with Iran, they go back to trying to sell the Palestinians and Hezbollah as existential risks. Good luck with that.

Writing at The Nation, contributing editor and foreign policy analyst Bob Dreyfuss agreed, saying the agreement is “first stop towards peace” while adding that the politics of the deal are equal in importance as the substance of it:

President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry signed the deal in explicit, full-frontal defiance of American hawks, neoconservatives and hardliners, the Israel lobby, and anti-Iran partisans in Congress. Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and his team, backed by President Hassan Rouhani—elected in June with a mandate to do exactly this—have similarly defied their own country’s hardliners and skeptics, led by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and by what Zarif calls Iran’s own Tea Party. And the United States struck the deal despite outright hostility, bordering on hysteria, from its two chief allies in the Middle East, Israel and Saudi Arabia. […]

Iran has agreed to far more intrusive IAEA inspections, including daily inspections at Natanz and at the underground facility at Fordow.

Both President Rouhani and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, have endorsed the accord, in part because for the first time the United States and the P5+1 have tacitly recognized Iran’s right to enrich uranium under the terms of the Nonproliferation Treaty, which Iran has signed, by agreeing to permit Iran’s continuing enrichment to 5 percent. Rouhani said that the deal seals Iran’s “nuclear rights,” and, according to Al Arabiya, Khamenei said: “The nuclear negotiating team should be thanked and appreciated for this achievement.

William Beeman, professor of anthropology at the University of Minnesota, says that because neither side gave much or received much in substance, the deal should be largely seen as symbolic, though he qualified that by noting even those “symbolic” achievements are themselves historic in nature:

The principal benefit of the negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 nations on November 23 is that Iran and the United States were able to down to talk and reach an agreement on something. Given 33 years of estrangement and non-communication, this is an extraordinarily important development — nearly equivalent to the U.S. breakthrough to China — perhaps the signal achievement of the Nixon administration.

The profound symbolism of the moment more than outweighs the lighter substantive elements of the temporary agreement. The United States and its partners appeared tough and got very little. Iran appeared tough and gave up very little. Both sides saved face. This is the essence of a successful agreement. No one “won” and no one “lost.”

Iranians have been both sincere and clever in the negotiations. They played up to the insubstantial straw-man accusations promulgated by the U.S. and its partners, making them seem weightier than they were in reality. By yielding to the P5+1 demands, in essence Iran has allowed itself to be persuaded to stop temporarily doing what it never intended to do — make a nuclear weapon. The bottom line is that Iran did not give up very much in the negotiations, (but it didn’t gain very much either).

And regarding the continued suggestion that Iran had a nuclear weapons program to begin with, Beeman adds:

There is a strange irony in President Obama’s announcement of the temporary agreement. He mentioned the term “nuclear weapon” multiple times in his announcement, implying that Iran was on a path to develop such a weapon. One wonders if he actually believes this or if his repeated implied accusation was a rhetorical device designed to placate his hard-line critics.

The president must know by this time that there is no evidence that Iran has or ever had a nuclear weapons program. Every relevant intelligence agency in the world has verified this fact for more than a decade. Two U.S. National Intelligence Estimates that were made public in 2007 and 2011 underscored this. The International Atomic Energy Agency has also consistently asserted that Iran has not diverted any nuclear material for any military purpose.

Even Israeli intelligence analysts agree that Iran is “not a danger” to Israel. Typical is ex-Mossad chief Efraim Halevy who said on March 16 this year that Iran “will not make it to the bomb,” and that Israel’s existence “is not in danger and shouldn’t be questioned.”

Posted in USA, IranComments Off on As Experts Weigh in, Warmongers Emerge as Sole Opponents of Iran Nuke Deal

EU rekindles love affair with Livni as row over aiding settlers ends

NOVANEWS
Submitted by David Cronin

All is forgiven: the EU appears to have forgotten that Tzipi Livni authorized a murderous attack on Gaza. (Itzik Edri/Flickr)

A short memory can be an asset in politics.

Around this time five years ago, Tzipi Livni was being fêted as a paragon of moderation by EU insiders as she won a commitment to “upgrade” Israel’s relations with the Union. The love turned a little sour soon afterwards when Livni marked the end of her stint as foreign minister by approving a brutal three-week offensive against Gaza.

The human suffering caused by this monstrous crime seemed to upset European diplomats far less than how Livni hadn’t given them advance notice of the plans to attack; it all came as a “nasty shock,” one senior Brussels official told me.

It didn’t take long for Livni to be forgiven for springing that surprise. This week, she reached an agreement with Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy chief, to end an unseemly squabble over guidelines aimed at preventing firms and institutions active in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank from receiving EU subsidies.

Apartheid’s “sensitivities”

A joint statement by the duo says that the agreement respects both the EU’s “financial requirements” and Israel’s “political sensitivities.”  Precise details on how the guidelines will be implemented were not contained in the statement but it appears that a bureaucratic formula has been found which will allow firms profiting from the occupation (as most Israeli firms do) to continue benefiting from EU subsidies.

I had a vomiting bug last week. Having read that statement, I feel like throwing up again.

If the European Community (the EU’s precursor) had promised to respect the “political sensitivities” of South Africa when it was under white rule, you can be sure it would have been excoriated by progressives the world over. Why should Israel be treated any differently?

Tasking Livni with sorting out the “guidelines” row was an admittedly shrewd move byBenjamin Netanyahu’s government. She enjoys a much better rapport with the EU elite than Avigdor Lieberman, lately re-appointed as foreign minister.

Blood on their hands

The stylistic differences between Livni and Lieberman notwithstanding, both have blood on their hands. Both have authorized military operations against Gaza, in which the main victims were innocent civilians. Both represent an apartheid state.

Livni has never repented for — in her own words — encouraging the Israeli military to go “wild when it bombed Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009. Until she displays genuine remorse — or, better still, is punished for her war crimes — there can be no reason to forgive her.

The involvement of Livni was the only thing I found surprising about how the “guidelines” issue was resolved. (Settling diplomatic disputes of this nature is not normally the job of a justice minister.)

Tips for settlers

Ever since the guidelines were leaked to the Israeli press during the summer, EU representatives have been eager to downplay their significance.

The Union’s embassy in Tel Aviv swiftly published advice on its website about how the recommendations could be circumvented. One helpful tip was that Israeli banks active in the occupied West Bank could continue applying for EU loans, provided the end recipients of the money were based within present-day Israel.

The questions involved here are, of course, bigger than a simple bilateral spat.

Next month, the prime ministers and presidents of the EU’s 28 countries will gather in Brussels for a summit devoted to building a stronger weapons industry.

More than likely, the communiqué they will issue following this confab won’t mention Israel explicitly. But anyone who has followed the EU’s “defense” debate closely — as I’ve had the misfortune of doing — knows that European weapons-makers are being encouraged to foster close relations with their Israeli counterparts.

Challenge

It was by no means accidental that François Hollande, the French president, wasaccompanied by representatives of the arms-maker Thales or that Antonio Tajani, the EU’s enterprise commissioner, brought along salesmen from its Italian equivalent Finmeccanicawhen the two men visited Israel recently.

The agreement between Ashton and Livni paves the way for Israeli arms makers to receive grants from Horizon 2020, as the EU’s new scientific research program is called. Allocating a greater share of the Union’s science budget to the weapons industry will almost certainly be one of the topics discussed at the aforementioned summit in December.

Despite feeling a little despondent upon hearing about the EU’s latest act of capitulation towards Israel, I’m not entirely disheartened. The decision by EU diplomats to draft these guidelines was a small victory for those Palestine solidarity activities who have exposed how taxpayers’ money was going to Ahava, a firm making cosmetics in an Israeli settlement.

These guidelines would never have been drawn up if the Union hadn’t been shamed and embarrassed into doing so. The challenges we face now are to keep on drawing attention to the EU’s embrace of Israel and to demand genuine action against that apartheid state.

Posted in Europe, ZIO-NAZIComments Off on EU rekindles love affair with Livni as row over aiding settlers ends

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