Archive | March 26th, 2014

Ukraine + Flight 370 = Bad News for Neocons

NOVANEWS

In America the news is big business. That’s not news. Everyone realizes that the corporate mass media make their money by delivering readers, viewers, and listeners to advertisers. The bigger the audience delivered, the bigger the profit. So corporate news editors have to know what good entertainers know: what the audience wants and how to give it to them.

(Photo: AP)

In late winter, 2014, it seemed that American news audiences wanted one thing above all else: a U.S. – Russia showdown over Ukraine. Why? Plenty of theories might be offered.

But reading the headlines themselves, one explanation seemed most obvious: Americans understood that their nation’s global prestige was on the line. Russian president Vladimir Putin was using Ukraine to test the will and resolve of the Obama administration. So Americans turned to the news each day to see whether their government would demonstrate enough strength to go on leading the international community.

At least that was the story.

Then came an unexpected turn of events calling that story deeply into question. On March 7 Americans began to drown in a deluge of headlines pointing them thousands of miles from Ukraine, to Malaysia, where Flight 370 had inexplicably vanished.

Ever since, the mystery of 370 has at least rivaled, and more often eclipsed, Ukraine in U.S. news headlines — even in our most respected elite news sources. Ten days after it disappeared, Flight 370 still held five of the top six spots on the New York Times website’s “most viewed” list, while Ukraine limped in at numbers 8 and 9. Over at the Washington Post site, the missing flight took two of the top four spots on “Post Most” (and an impending snowstorm held the other two). No sign of Ukraine at all.

Why such obsessive fascination with one missing plane on the other side of the world? Americans do not typically show deep concern about the fate of a handful of Asians (to put it politely). There were apparently three Americans on board, but they were not the main focus of the U.S. headlines.

Nor can the possibility of terrorism explain it; that didn’t become a central focus of the investigation until days after the plane disappeared. Yet the deluge of headlines began as soon as news of the disappearance broke. Even after Malaysian officials started focusing on foul play, only one of those NYT “most viewed” stories dealt with that issue.

The most obvious explanation for our fascination with the mystery of Flight 370 is simply that it’s a great mystery. Our 24/7 news cycle lets us ride along, as it were, moment by moment with the detectives trying to solve it.

From The Maltese Falcon to NCIS, Americans have loved a good detective story. And the likelihood of mass death never hurt any story’s ratings. Make it a Hitchcockian murder mystery — one that starts out in a setting so normal you could easily imagine yourself there (like a routine air flight) — and you’re headed for the top of the charts, or, in this case, the headlines. That’s entertainment!

What does the obsession with Flight 370 tell us about Americans’ concern for their nation’s strength and resolve as world leader? At the very least, it says, that concern is weak enough to be quickly diverted by an entertaining — or, more precisely, infotaining — mystery.

Another possibility is equally plausible. Perhaps the corporate news media gave us all those headlines about Ukraine, knowing they would bring in big audiences, because the U.S. – Russia showdown itself was great entertainment. It, too, was a story involving great risk of life, whose outcome was unknown — another mystery we could follow in real time, 24/7.

For whatever reason, Ukraine and Flight 370 have held roughly equal appeal in the American news appetite, with 370 often having the edge (to the point where Andy Borowitz joked “CNN apologizes for briefly airing non-flight 370 story”). So the deep geopolitical dimensions of the Ukraine story obviously don’t matter a whole lot to the news-consuming public. The people want to be infotained.

That’s very bad news for the neoconservatives who have worked so hard, and are still working, to make the U.S. – Russia showdown over Ukraine a matter of incomparable import and urgency.

Not that they care so deeply about the Ukrainian people. For neocons, Ukraine is just the latest center stage for a drama that is always unfolding (more or less) everywhere, a drama pitting strong U.S. leadership against a global collapse into chaos and anarchy. Those are the only two alternatives neocons can see. And to them it looks like a matter of life or death.

Apparently the rest of America no longer sees it that way. That’s the bad news for the neoconservatives.

To understand what’s at stake here for the neocons and for the rest of us, let’s look briefly at the history of their movement.

Neoconservatism crystallized in the late 1960s, when it had little concern about foreign affairs at all. As its intellectual godfather Irving Kristol wrote: “If there is any one thing that neoconservatives are unanimous about, it is their dislike of the [American]  counterculture.”

The counterculture at home had unleashed a dangerous wave of selfish indulgence in private pleasures, Kristol complained: “Everything is now permitted. … This is a prescription for moral anarchy. …The idea of ordered liberty could collapse,” leaving only “freedom, confusion, and disorientation.”

The other great exponent of neoconservatism, Norman Podhoretz, called the “epidemic” of  ’60s radicalism “a vulgar plot to undermine Western civilization itself.” The root of the problem, in his view, was that “nobody was in charge” of the world any more.

Neocons insisted that America could be saved only by restoring the rule of traditional authorities — “organized religion, traditional moral values, and the family,” as Kristol put it. Somebody had to be in charge.

The neocons began to focus on foreign affairs only in the mid-1970s, “after the New Left and the ‘counterculture’ had dissolved as convincing foils for neoconservativism,” as historian Peter Steinfels pointed out.

Neocons now worried that, after the ’60s and the Vietnam debacle, Americans had lost the moral fiber that comes (they claimed) only from self-discipline. Political scientist Robert Tucker complained that the United States was afraid to make the “effort and sacrifice required to sustain the exercise of power.” So it might “no longer be the principal creator and guarantor of order.” The result, he warned, would be a “drift and uncertainty” in policy that might “lead to chaos.”

Neoconservatives championed renewed cold war and a huge nuclear buildup in the ’70s as symbols of “spiritual discipline,” historian Edward Linenthal explained, “an inner transformation, a revival of the will to sacrifice.” Such a return to traditional values would reject the “hedonism” of the ’60s and restore order, both at home and abroad. As Podhoretz’s wife, Midge Decter, said, for neocons “domestic policy was foreign policy, and vice versa.”

When the cold war ended, most neocons turned back to their original battle against domestic moral anarchy. But a few kept the focus on global affairs, led by Krauthammer, who preached: “If America wants stability it will have to create it. The alternative…is chaos.”

Two new neocon lights, Irving Kristol’s son William and Robert Kagan, agreed. In the ’90s they praised “conservatives’ war against a relativistic multiculturalism … reversing the widespread collapse of morals and standards in American society.” But, they warned, “the remoralization of America at home ultimately requires the remoralization of American foreign policy.” So the U.S. should impose a “benevolent global hegemony,” demonstrating “that it is futile to compete with American power.”

This was the worldview that George W. Bush brought into the White House. After the neocons had launched their wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, two scholars of the movement, Stefan Halper and Jonathan Clarke, observed: “Even today they look with horror at American society, which, in their view has never recovered from the assault of Woodstock.”

Bush’s neocons projected their fear of America’s moral decay onto a global stage. They relied on a “tough” foreign policy, with endless shows of American “will and resolve,” to fight against the “chaos and anarchy” that had first provoked them into action in the 1960s.

They are still waging the same war, driven by the same fear. Listen to three of their most respected voices, clamoring for Obama and his administration to “get tough” with the Russians:

Elliot Abrams: “Before Obama, there was a sense of world order that relied in large part on America.”

Charles Krauthammer: “What Obama doesn’t seem to understand is that American inaction creates a vacuum.”

Reuel Marc Gerecht: “If Washington retreats, only the void follows. Things are likely to get very, very nasty and brutish and short.”

For neocons to see the nation ignoring their warnings and indulging in the pure, self-centered pleasure of news as mere infotainment must be agonizing.

That’s how it looks from inside the neocon’s mythic worldview. Nothing has changed since they first switched their focus from domestic to foreign fears in the 1970s — except that most Americans no longer buy the neocon warnings as a genuine cause for anxiety, nor as a foundation for foreign policy.

Perhaps most would agree with our last ambassador to the Soviet Union, Jack F. Matlock, Jr., that Putin is reacting understandably to a long “cycle of dismissive actions by the United States … the diplomatic equivalent of swift kicks to the groin,” most of them administered by Bush and his neocons. More such kicks “encouraging a more obstructive Russia is not in anyone’s interest.”

The public buys the neocon view, apparently, only as an entertaining story. When a more exciting story comes along, like Flight 370, the U.S. – Russian showdown simply can’t control the headlines any more.

Inside my mythic worldview we call that a step in the right (well, actually, left) direction. But it’s only a step. The next big step is to make the quest for peace, nonviolence, and justice just as exciting and entertaining as the push toward war.

The great Abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison knew how to do that. So did Gandhi and Dr. King. We always need to be re-learning the lessons they taught.

However I’d still keep an eye on the neoconservatives. They’ve suffered decline before. Yet they keep on coming back, the same old wolves, just wearing slightly altered clothing.

They speak for one permanent strain of American insecurity — a fear of disorder and confusion, disguised as a fear of foreign enemies. It lies buried beneath the surface of our political culture now, but not too deeply. It could be unearthed all too easily, as suddenly as an airplane can vanish.

Posted in Ukraine1 Comment

No Russian Ever Called Me a Terrorist

NOVANEWS

US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Photo: AP)Are recent events in Ukraine and Crimea more important than the mitigation of climate change?

Are they more relevant to Americans than our own Stasi state and our broke cities, abandoned public schools, decrepit infrastructure, rickety railroads, rotten jobs, and chronic unemployment?

If not, why do the politicians and the press all act with such overwrought indignation toward Russia and its president as if they were?

After all:

Is Vladimir Putin the one bugging all of our telephone calls, emails, SMS messages, and Internet use?

And photographing our post office mail and license plate numbers as if we were all criminals and terrorists?

Is Putin walking around la de da amid indications that the NSA probably has the U.S. Congress under surveillance?

Is Putin the one refusing to do anything about the CIA spying on the Senate Intelligence Committee?

Is Putin the one doing irreparable damage to the Bill of Rights and separation of powers?

Was Putin the one who violated (twice) the oath of office as president to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States”?

Did Putin invade Iraq and destroy that society?

Did Putin lie to the American people about the reasons for that invasion?

Did Putin kill one million Iraqis?

Did Putin spend $1 trillion of the American public’s money on the Iraq invasion?

Did Putin invade Afghanistan?

Did he spend $700 billion on the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan?

Does Putin have a “kill list” to murder suspected terrorists without due process and outside any field of battle?

Has Putin thereby increased the risk of terrorism against the United States?

Is it Putin who prevents Edward Snowden from returning to the United States after performing one of the great acts of service to our Constitution in the history of this country?

Is it Putin who has Julian Assange, a foreign journalist, trapped in the London embassy of Ecuador like a caged animal?

Is it because of Putin that the American journalists Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, and Jacob Appelbaum can’t come back to the United States without risk of imprisonment?

Has Putin prosecuted more Americans under the Espionage Act than other U.S. presidents combined, and it’s not even World War I or World War II?

Is Putin the one negotiating the Trans Pacific Partnership — NAFTA on steroids — in secrecy?

Is Putin our corporate-controlled president, ergo the reason for the secrecy of the TPP?

Was it Vladimir Putin who ran for president in the United States in 2004 and 2008, and thereafter in both instances royally screw the very constituencies that elected him?

If not, why are the politicians and the press SO mad at Putin?

Doesn’t it makes sense that if you live in a glass house you shouldn’t throw stones?

Isn’t that how, in this case, you can start a war between nations with nuclear weapons?

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Why Do We Let 80,000 Americans Suffer a ‘Slow-Motion Torture of Burying Alive’?

NOVANEWS

Solitary confinement’s psychological effects are obvious enough. But you have to hear it from the prisoners to be truly horrified

‘I would spend all day reading the same paragraph over and over again, unable to understand it,’ says Sarah Shourd, ‘and end up throwing the book at the wall.’ (Photograph: AP)Sarah Shourd still has nightmares about the 13 months she spent in solitary confinement in Iran. “It reduces you to an animal-like state,” she tells me. Shourd recalled the hours she spent crouched down at the food slot of her cell door, listening for any sign of life. Or pounding on the walls until her knuckles bled. Or covering her ears to drown out the screams – the screams she could no longer distinguish as her own – until she felt the hands of a prison guard on her face, trying to calm her.

Shourd was captured by the Iranian government in 2009, along with her now husband Shane Bauer and their friend Josh Fattal, when they accidentally crossed over the border during a long vacation hike. The three have just released a book called A Sliver of Light about their subsequent incarceration. Shourd spent less time in Evin prison than Bauer and Fattal, but she was held in solitary confinement for her entire stay. Her devastating account of how this isolation almost caused her to unravel will, no doubt, shock many American readers. They should be even more shocked, however, to know that there are tens of thousands of prisoners held in isolation in American prisons every day – and the conditions to which they’re subjected are not much better than Shourd’s in Iran.

Indeed, ‘the hole’ in the US is sometimes even worse than the worst public horror stories.

Scientific studies have shown that it can take less than two days in solitary confinement for brainwaves to shift towards delirium or stupor (pdf). For this reason, the United Nations has called on all countries to ban solitary confinement – except in exceptional circumstances, and even then to impose a limit of no longer than 15 days so that any permanent psychological damage can be averted. Shourd spent a total of 410 days in solitary and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after her release. She still has trouble sleeping. But since returning home, she has spent much of her time trying to draw attention to the plight of more than 80,000 Americans who are held in isolation on any given day, some of whom do not count their stay in days or months, but in years and even decades.

Solitary confinement fell out of favor in American prisons for much of the last century, until a building boom of Supermax or control-unit prisons began in the early 1990’s. You know, when being “tough on crime” was all the rage. It still is; being “smart on crime” still isn’t. By 2005, 40 states were operating Supermax facilities, the physical design of which served to severely isolate prisoners both from the outside world and from their fellow inmates. Despite the extreme harshness of life in these prisons, where inmates are often held in tiny, windowless cells with limited or no access to the outdoors, the average stays far exceeds the UN’s recommended 15-day maximum.

According to data compiled by Solitary Watch on some of the worst offending states, the average length of time prisoners spend in isolation units is shockingly high: 2.7 years in Virginia, more than four years in Texas, and more than five years in Arizona. In California, where prisoners have staged three consecutive hunger strikes over long-term isolation policies, the average stay is 6.8 years, but over 500 prisoners have been held for longer than a decade – and nearly 80 prisoners for more than two decades.

Shourd told me that after two months of next to no human contact in her solitary cell, her mind began to slip. One of the biggest problems with solitary confinement, she said, is that it’s completely the opposite of the point of prison: giving inmates the chance to improve themselves.

You want to be productive, to use your time well, but you can’t when your brain is being assaulted with mental deprivation. I would spend all day reading the same paragraph over and over again, unable to understand it – and end up throwing the book at the wall.

She had to go on hunger strike for five days before she was finally allowed to visit her fellow hostages, blindfolded in a padded interrogation room. Eventually, however, Shourd was allowed to have brief but daily contact visits with her two friends. This slightly more normal human interaction kept her from slipping into total, and possibly irretrievable, decline.

Many American prisoners in long-term isolation are never afforded such an opportunity to physically interact with fellow prisoners. They are rarely, if ever, allowed contact visits with loved ones. Shourd recently visited a prisoner in the Pelican Bay Secure Housing Unit (SHU) with whom she has been corresponding. The prisoner told her that, aside from being handcuffed by guards, he has not touched another human being for 27 years.

Some people are starting to question the wisdom – if you can call it that – of imposing this kind of extreme isolation on prisoners. Those who are in favor of such policies usually argue that segregation is the only way to deal with violent inmates and to keep the general population and prison staff safe from harm. But it’s simply not true that all prisoners who end up in SHU were violent to begin with, nor is it true that the only way (or the most advisable way) to deal with prisoners who are violent is to cut them off indefinitely from any meaningful human contact.

Rick Raemisch, the Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Corrections, recently spent a night in solitary confinement – or Administrative Segregation (Ad Seg) – and wrote about the experience in the New York Times. Raemisch wanted to draw attention to the urgent need to reform the practice and to scale back its use, not just because it is harmful to prisoners but also because it does little to enhance public safety. Colorado prison officials learned this the hard way when Raemish’s predecessor, Tom Clements, was murdered in his home by a former prisoner posing as a pizza delivery man. The prisoner had been recently released back into the community directly from a long stint in Ad Seg. “Whatever solitary confinement did to that former inmate and murderer,” Raemish wrote, “it was not for the better.”

So there are practical reasons to end the practice that Shourd describes as the “slow-motion torture of being buried alive”. But there are more noble reasons, too. By all means we should get angry about the appalling treatment of American citizens in prisons in other countries, but we should spare some of our rage for the egregious abuses that occur in prisons on American soil. Until we start living up to our own high standards, we are in no position to point the finger at anyone else.

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Crimea and Punishment: Imperial Blowback from Iraq to Ukraine

NOVANEWS

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (C), Crimean parliament speaker Vladimir Konstantionov (L) and Sevastopol’s new de facto mayor Alexei Chaly sign a treaty on the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula becoming part of Russia in the Kremlin on March 18, 2014 (AFP, Kirill Kudryavtsev)Russia’s brazen annexation of Crimea presents a vexing foreign policy crisis for the Western powers. How can these actions be denounced without pointing a finger back upon their own forays and interventions? Indeed, President Putin said as much in his recent addressin the Kremlin, chiding the West for its condemnations of Russia’s actions and stating that “it’s a good thing that they at least remember that there exists such a thing as international law – better late than never.” Putin reinforced this view by citing the “Kosovo precedent” – which he takes as “a precedent our western colleagues created with their own hands in a very similar situation, when they agreed that the unilateral separation of Kosovo from Serbia, exactly what Crimea is doing now, was legitimate and did not require any permission from the country’s central authorities.”

Without validating Russia’s motives and the ways in which such arguments provide rhetorical cover for its own imperial aspirations, there is a salient point here that coheres with arguments often cited by progressive voices in the West. In particular, as to the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, among other interventions, there are echoes of anti-war perspectives to be found in the Russian President’s deflection of Western criticisms: “Our western partners, led by the United States of America, prefer not to be guided by international law in their practical policies, but by the rule of the gun. They have come to believe in their exclusivity and exceptionalism, that they can decide the destinies of the world, that only they can ever be right. They act as they please: here and there, they use force against sovereign states, building coalitions based on the principle ‘If you are not with us, you are against us.’”

“As many pointed out at the time, the invasion of Iraq in particular foretold a world wracked by disregard for international norms and defined by the mercenary pursuits of national self-interest.”

The fact that Russia is now explicitly validating these misguided principles seems to be of no moment to President Putin. A stronger argument, to be sure, would be to refuse to participate in exceptionalism-oriented policies, perhaps instead arguing for Crimean autonomy rather than its annexation. Certainly the presence of Russian troops there during an electoral referendum gives the appearance of coercion rather than liberation. If the US and its allies are to be critiqued for hypocritically advocating “democracy” through “the rule of the gun,” then it is difficult to see how Russia’s invocation of similar principles to justify its behavior represents more than mere cynicism and an elaborate rationalization for its own ambitions in the region.

We can thus perceive in all of this a sense of foreign policy blowback from the US-led wars and interventions of recent years. By citing Kosovo as well as Iraq and Afghanistan (among other instances, such as Libya), Putin connects the policies of the last three US Presidential Administrations, essentially constituting the period since the dissipation of the former Soviet Union. Further, by reaching back into Crimea’s status as part of Russia’s “common historical legacy” and its longstanding cultural importance to Russia, an attempt is being made to turn back the clock to the halcyon days before the fall of the Berlin Wall. (No mention was made, of course, of the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan throughout the 1980s, which helped form the basis for a world in which aggressive interventions – and eventual blowback – would soon define a “new normal” for international affairs.) While perhaps not quite (yet) representing a reassembly of the Iron Curtain, the annexation of Crimea clearly presents numerous strategic implications for the balance of power both regionally and globally.

To wit, Putin specifically notes the strategic importance of Crimea as the “main base of the Black Sea Fleet” and as a potential bulwark against NATO incursions eastward. Reinforcing this mindset, Putin observes that Sevastopol (in southwestern Crimea) is a “fortress” and that Crimea’s deep connections to the homeland symbolize “Russian military glory.” Not explicitly cited in Putin’s speech is the centrality of Crimea as a locus for oil and gas production, which as Businessweek notes has already drawn the interest of Big Oil. Others have observed the importance of the region for agricultural distribution and production, and the pipelining of gasacross the continent. There has been relatively little analysis of the situation in Ukraine as a “resource conflict,” but in the present state of geopolitics such implications are always at hand.

“In abdicating their already-tenuous hold on moral legitimacy in international affairs, the US and its allies have eroded one of the last potential bastions against the imminent realization of a world dominated by strategic resource acquisition as a function of security.”

In this light, we can read the Crimean crisis as a form of comeuppance for policies set in motion and continually reinforced by nations in general and the US in particular, bent on promoting a form of “security” that devolves upon control of resources and a penchant for unilateralism in achieving this end. In fact, President Obama unabashedly affirmed such policies in his speech to the UN in September 2013: “The United States of America is prepared to use all elements of our power, including military force, to secure our core interests in the region…. We will ensure the free flow of energy from the region to the world. Although America is steadily reducing our own dependence on imported oil, the world still depends on the region’s energy supply, and a severe disruption could destabilize the entire global economy.” As such, President Obama was not so much announcing a new policy as validating an ongoing one: the legacy of the Bush Doctrine based on unilateral action and calculated intervention. Once these terms of engagement have been set, it becomes difficult to condemn others taking up the mantle for their own purposes.

And this, in the end, may well be the lingering retribution for the US-led wars of recent years. As many pointed out at the time, the invasion of Iraq in particular foretold a world wracked by disregard for international norms and defined by the mercenary pursuits of national self-interest. In setting a template for the policy engagements to follow, this archetype of adventurism ushered in an era in which exceptionalism has become the norm, where the cavalier disregard of domestic and/or global objections is considered politically acceptable, and where powerful nations can exercise a free hand in determining the future of less powerful ones when strategic interests are involved. It would be hard to conceive of a more pointed version of realpolitik, and the term is doubly poignant in light of the outcomes we are seeing today.

Russia’s rhetorical reliance on misguided Western policies does little more than render concrete that which has already been known and deployed by powerful interests for decades, if not longer. But the invocation of recent US-led forays and the specific use of the word “exceptionalism” in Russian discourse add a dimension that is deeply troubling for the future prospects of peace. By making realpolitik more, well, real, the annexation of Crimea is less likely to draw a military response from the West than it is to elicit wider forms of emulation. In abdicating their already-tenuous hold on moral legitimacy in international affairs, the US and its allies have eroded one of the last potential bastions against the imminent realization of a world dominated by strategic resource acquisition as a function of security.

Again, none of this should be surprising by now, although we might take a moment to lament its further instantiation as the dominant modus operandi of powerful interests across the globe. Such a state of affairs asks us to revisit the past and reassess our narrowing options for the future.

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In 2014 Budget, I$raHell’s Little-Known ‘Attack Iran’ Line Item

NOVANEWS
Haaretz reports that I$raHelli Army has been instructed to prepare for possilbility of unilateral strikes despite peace talks
– Sarah Lazare

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem July 7, 2013. (Photo: Reuters/Oded Balilty/Pool)Israel’s budget for the year 2014 includes at least $2.9 billion for a possible attack on Iran, Haaretz revealed Wednesday.

Reporter Barak Ravid explains:

Three Knesset members who were present at Knesset joint committee hearings on Israel Defense Forces plans that were held in January and February say they learned during the hearings that 10 billion shekels to 12 billion shekels of the defense budget would be allocated this year for preparations for a strike on Iran, approximately the same amount that was allocated in 2013.

According to Ravid’s sources, representatives of the Israeli Army said they had received orders from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon to prepare for a potential unilateral attack on Iran despite ongoing peace talks between Iran and the P5+1 group of Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States, and Germany.

The amount set aside in the 2014 budget is comparable to that set aside in 2013. Writing forAntiWar.com, Jason Ditz says this suggests that the “government is using the perennial threat of launching a unilateral war as a way to throw billions of realistically unallocated funds at the IDF without parliamentary oversight.”

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US a No-Show for UN Talks on Covert Drone Wars

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As Pakistan pushes resolution for greater transparency, US boycotts

– Sarah Lazare

Abdullah Muhammad al-Tisi of Yakla holds a photo of his son Ali Abdullah Mohammed al-Tisi, who was killed in a US drone strike outside Rad`a, Yemen on December 12, 2013. (Photo: Human Rights Watch)The United States is refusing to participate in UN Human Rights Council talks about greater accountability for human rights violations in covert drone wars.

Foreign Policy reporter Colum Lynch, who broke the story Wednesday, says the U.S. is opting out of discussions about a draft Pakistani resolution aimed at the U.S. drone strikes. Lynch explains:

The Pakistani draft, which was obtained by Foreign Policy, urges states to “ensure transparency” in record-keeping on drone strikes and to “conduct prompt, independent and impartial investigations whenever there are indications of any violations to human rights caused by their use.” It also calls for the convening of “an interactive panel discussion” on the use of drones.

During the third round of talks on Wednesday about the resolution, the United States was notably absent. The boycott marks a shift from President Obama’s decision in 2009 to join the Human Rights Council after years of U.S. boycott at the behest of former President George W. Bush.

Yet, the move is in keeping with the Obama administration’s diligent refusal to share public information about those U.S. drone wars and those killed in the attacks. A modest initiative in the U.S. Senate that would have forced the U.S. government to publicly report and identify those killed by U.S. drone strikes overseas failed last November.

While the Obama administration has repeatedly claimed that civilian deaths in drone strikes are minimal, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism documents alarming rates of civilian deaths by covert U.S. attacks in Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia. Furthermore, in a 21-page report released earlier this month, UN special rapporteur on human rights Ben Emmerson identifies drone strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Gaza in which civilians were killed, injured, or threatened in drone attacks by the U.S. and close ally Israel.

The U.S. still has not answered for numerous high-profile attacks, including a December 2013 U.S. drone strike on a recent wedding procession in Yemen near the city of Rad’a that left 12 people dead and at least 15 wounded.

The boycott of the talks comes as the U.S. escalates its covert drone war in Yemen, with at least seven suspected strikes in the first two weeks of March.

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Clinton: ‘Let’s Be Clear,’ Military Option for Iran ‘on the Table’

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Likely presidential candidate calls I$raHelli government policies exemplary as she receives lifetime achievement award from American Jewish Congress

– Jon Queally

Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks after receiving the American Jewish Congress’ lifetime achievement award on Wednesday, March 19, 2014, in New York. Clinton spoke at the group’s gala and emphasized the longstanding relationship between the United States and Israel, and also spoke about the negotiations process with Iran. (Photo: Jin Lee, AP)Commenting on the ongoing talks between Iran and the P5+1 nations over the nation’s nuclear program and ongoing western sanctions, former Secretary of State and likely presidential candidate Hillary Clinton told a largely pro-Israel crowd on Wednesday that she is “personally skeptical” of Iran’s stated commitments and that, in her eyes, “all options”—including military ones—should be part of U.S. policy towards Tehran if talks fail.

“Let’s be clear,” she said, “every other option does remain on the table.”

Two days of negotiations between Iran, the US, Russia, China, UK, France, and Germany concluded in Vienna on Wednesday with progress, but no final settlement as of yet. Some diplomats leaving the latest round expressed optimism about prospects for a final deal. But Clinton, from her vantage in New York, expressed her continued doubts that diplomatic efforts can succeed.

“The odds of reaching that comprehensive agreement are not good,” Clinton said. “I am also personally skeptical that the Iranians would follow through and deliver. I have seen their behavior over the years. But this is a development that is worth testing.”

According to the Washington Post:

In a 30-minute address at an American Jewish Congress gala — where she was honored with a lifetime achievement award by actress Julianna Margulies and serenaded at the dinner table by Israeli singer Liel Kolet — Clinton presented herself as a tough defender of Israel in the Senate and at the State Department.

“When Americans of all faiths look at Israel, we see a homeland for a people long oppressed and a democracy that has to defend itself at every turn,” Clinton said. “In Israel’s story, we see our own.”

Clinton described in detail her role in shaping the country’s policies with regard to Iran from the earliest days of the Obama administration. This is likely to be a focus of her forthcoming memoir, due out this spring, which she teased in a separate speech earlier Wednesday.

Citing the group’s website, the Associated Press describes the the American Jewish Congress is “an association of Jewish Americans seeking to defend Jewish interests through public policy advocacy, using diplomacy, legislation and the court system.”

Though undeclared, Clinton remains the likely frontrunner as the next presidential candidate for the Democratic party, holding commanding leads in all polling on the subject thus far.

Though she has largely demurred from speculation about her possible candidacy, the publication of her upcoming memoir is expected to begin the groundwork for her positioning.

Long known as a hawk on foreign policy issues, Clinton’s vote in favor of the invasion of Iraq under President George W. Bush is largely credited as the issue that lost her the primary race against then Sen. Barack Obama in 2008, as he cast himself as the anti-war candidate in contrast to her record.

Posted in USA, IranComments Off on Clinton: ‘Let’s Be Clear,’ Military Option for Iran ‘on the Table’


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