Archive | June 4th, 2014

An Assault from Obama’s Escalating War on Journalism


New York Times journalist James Risen continues to face prosecution by the Department of Justice for performing his job. (Photo: Alex Menendez/UCB Graduate School of Journalism/)In a memoir published this year, the CIA’s former top legal officer John Rizzo says that on the last day of 2005 a panicky White House tried to figure out how to prevent the distribution of a book by New York Times reporter James Risen. Officials were upset because Risen’s book, State of War, exposed what — in his words — “may have been one of the most reckless operations in the modern history of the CIA.”

The book told of a bungled CIA attempt to set back Iran’s nuclear program in 2000 by supplying the Iranian government with flawed blueprints for nuclear-bomb design. The CIA’s tactic might have actually aided Iranian nuclear development.

When a bootlegged copy of State of War reached the National Security Council, a frantic meeting convened in the Situation Room, according to Rizzo. “As best anyone could tell, the books were printed in bulk and stacked somewhere in warehouses.” The aspiring censors hit a wall. “We arrived at a rueful consensus: game over as far as any realistic possibility to keep the book, and the classified information in it, from getting out.”

But more than eight years later, the Obama White House is seeking a different form of retribution. The people running the current administration don’t want to pulp the book — they want to put its author in jail.

The Obama administration is insisting that Risen name his confidential source — or face imprisonment. Risen says he won’t capitulate.

The Freedom of the Press Foundation calls the government’s effort to force Risen to reveal a source “one of the most significant press freedom cases in decades.”

Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg says: “The pursuit of Risen is a warning to potential sources that journalists cannot promise them confidentiality for disclosing Executive Branch criminality, recklessness, deception, unconstitutional policies or lying us into war. Without protecting confidentiality, investigative journalism required for accountability and democracy will wither and disappear.”

A recent brief from the Obama administration to the nation’s top court “is unflinchingly hostile to the idea of the Supreme Court creating or finding protections for journalists,” Politico reported. The newspaper added that Risen “might be sent to jail or fined if he refuses to identify his sources or testify about other details of his reporting.”

This threat is truly ominous. As Ellsberg puts it, “We would know less than we do now about government abuses, less than we need to know to hold officials accountable and to influence policy democratically.”

So much is at stake: for whistleblowers, freedom of the press and the public’s right to know. For democracy.

That’s why five organizations—, The Nation, the Center for Media and Democracy / The Progressive, Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) and the Freedom of the Press Foundation—have joined together to start a campaign for protecting the confidentiality of journalists’ sources. So far, in May, about 50,000 people have signed a petition telling President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder to end legal moves against Risen.

Charging that the administration has launched “an assault on freedom of the press,” the petition tells Obama and Holder: “We urge you in the strongest terms to halt all legal action against Mr. Risen and to safeguard the freedom of journalists to maintain the confidentiality of their sources.”

The online petition — “We Support James Risen Because We Support a Free Press” — includes thousands of personal comments from signers. Here’s a sampling of what they had to say:

“Freedom of the press and freedom of speech are the cornerstones of our democracy. Stop trying to restrict them.”  Jim T., Colorado Springs, Colorado

“Protected sources are essential to a real democracy. Without whistleblowers, there is no truth.”  Jo Ellen K., San Francisco, California

“Enough of the government assault on freedom of the press! Whistleblowers are heroes to the American people.”  Paul D., Keaau, Hawaii

“It seems our government is out of control. The premise of deriving power from the people would appear to be a quaint notion to most within the three branches. Instead they now view us as subjects that must bend to their will rather than the other way around.”  Gary J., Liberty Township, Ohio

“‘Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed. Everything else is public relations.’ — George Orwell”  Todd J., Oxford, Michigan

“As a writer, I support freedom of the press around the world as a vital first step toward regaining control of our compromised democracies.”  Patricia R., Whitehorse, YT, Canada

“You promised an open and transparent administration. Please keep that promise.”  Willard S., Cary, North Carolina

“Without a free press, we really have nothing.”  Robin H., Weehawken, New Jersey

“The Obama administration’s attack on press freedom is an issue of grave concern. Why are we spending billions of dollars going after supposed ‘terrorists’ when the greatest threat to democracy resides right here in Washington, DC.”  Karen D., Detroit, Michigan

“Damn you, Obama! You become more like Nixon daily!”  Leonard H., Manchester, Michigan

“Congratulations, Mr. Risen!”  Marian C., Hollister, California

“The U.S. is becoming an increasingly frightening place to live, more than a little like a police state. President Obama, you have been a huge disappointment. I expected better from you.”  Barbara R., Newport, Rhode Island

“Come on, President Obama… you’re a Constitutional scholar. You know better than this. Knock it off.”  James S., Burbank, California

“There can be no true freedom of the press unless the confidentiality of sources is protected. Without this, no leads, informants or whistleblowers will be motivated to come forward. Reporters should not be imprisoned for doing their job.”  Chris R., North Canton, Ohio

“You took an oath to ‘preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States,’ freedom of the press!”  Diane S., San Jose, California

“Whatever became of the progressive Obama and the change you promised? Evidently it was a load of campaign bull puckey, making you just another politician who says whatever it takes to get elected. In other words, you and your administration are a complete sham. As for your constitutional scholarship, it would appear to be in the service of undermining the Constitution a la Bush and Cheney.”  Barry E., Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania

“Without a free press, our republic is paper-mache. Remember John Peter Zenger! We must not shoot the messenger — we must raise the bar for conduct and probity!”  Lance K., Chelsea, Massachusetts

“A free press is the only counterbalance to crony capitalism, corrupt legislators, and a pitifully partisan Supreme Court, that continues to destroy our Constitutional protections.”  Dion B., Cathedral City, California

“I implore you to RESPECT THE FIRST AMENDMENT.”  Glen A., Lacey, Washington

“Did you not learn in grade school that freedom of the press is essential to a free country?”  Joanne D., Colorado Springs, Colorado

“We’ve been down this road before. What amazes me is that we condemn other countries for stifling freedom of the press, then turn around and do the same thing to advance our own purposes. Are we proponents of democracy and a free press or not?”  William M., Whittier, California

“Journalism is a vital component of a democracy, and it is a core function protected by the freedom of expression enshrined in both international and domestic law. You must stop harassing and persecuting journalists and their sources who are providing a vital public service in prying open the activities of governments that are illegitimately concealed from the public. If the public is not informed of state actions executed in their name, they cannot evaluate and render consent to those actions through the vote. This secrecy therefore subverts democracy, and you must stop using police powers to destroy the whistleblowers who enable government accountability to the public.”  Jim S., Gatlinburg, Tennessee

“I support freedom of the press, not the attorney general’s vicious abuse of his position!”  Bettemae J., Albuquerque, New Mexico

“Compelling reporters to reveal their sources just means that sources will stop talking to reporters. That will cripple the free press. If you think that’s not important, please resign immediately.”  Stephen P., Gresham, Oregon

“As an old woman who remembers the lies of Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush (especially) and the current administration, I do not trust my own government to tell me the truth anymore.  Freedom of the press is my only chance [to] find out what the truth is. Protect reporters’ sources!”  Monica O., Lomita, California

“Without freedom of the press, we might as well kiss democracy goodbye!”  Melvin M., Vashon, Washington

“I am ashamed of this administration, its policies and its Department of Justice — what a travesty of criminal turpitude and mass media complicity. ‘Transparency’ — hah! Cheap campaign rhetoric.”  Mitch L., Los Altos Hills, California

“Walk the walk or stop talking about democracy. Free press is the basis of our constitution.”  Carl D., Manassas, Virginia

“No free press, no democracy!”  James F., Moab, Utah

“If you force the media to reveal its sources, no one will ever come forth with a news story or lead again. I’m sure this is precisely what the politicians and big business want. Then there’d be absolutely no accountability. We need an effective shield law rather than persecuting journalists and news organizations for reporting the news.”  Jim S., Ladera Ranch, California

“Freedom of the Press is the hallmark of a free society. Your administration has done everything in its power to subvert Freedom of the Press by jailing whistleblowers and reporters who uncover wrong doing. This must stop!”  Ed A., Queens, New York

“We have very few real journalists left. Let’s not jail them!”  Karen H., West Grove, Pennsylvania

“As the press goes, so goes citizens’ rights.”  Kathy F., West Bend, Wisconsin

“I have been shocked at how this administration has treated the American people’s right to know, prosecuting reporters, whistleblowers, and others who have had the temerity to cast light into the dark corners of our government. You bring the whole concept of democracy into disrepute and set a bad example for the rest of the world.”  Marjorie P., Montpelier, Vermont

“We need our investigative reporters more now than ever in history. Keep our press free.”  Joan R., Novato, California

“Investigative reporting is becoming too rare in the U.S., and compelling J. Risen to reveal his sources will only make such reporting even rarer. Is this your deliberate intent?”  Elaine L., Elk Grove, California

“I am responding in support of James Risen. Freedom of the press is one of the cornerstones of our democracy and should never be trampled on by government.”  Lois D., San Jacinto, California

“Freedom of the press is more important than some stinking government attempt to find out how bad shenanigans made it into the press. Quit this crap about trying to make a reporter reveal his or her sources. We need good reporting a lot more than lousy stinking politicians trying to shut up the truth.”  Ralph M., Bakerstown, Pennsylvania

“Without a free press tyranny will ensue.”  Bob P., Holland, Pennsylvania

“I thought Mr. Obama was supposed to be a Constitutional lawyer and swore to uphold it. I thought the Attorney General was supposed to also protect the Constitution. It seems you both have abandoned those duties. Prove you hold the Constitution as the authority from which you derive your own and cease this persecution of a reporter who epitomizes one of the crucial things the Constitution stands for — a truly free press.”  Michael S., Tukwila, Washington

“I’ve seen mud more transparent than the Obama admin.”  Paul H., Carlton, Oregon

“Wow, this coming from the Obama administration who supposedly is for open govt. Isn’t it a police state when the govt cracks down on reporters for telling the truth? James Risen is a hero who will go to jail before revealing his source and the fact that you want to throw him in jail is the real crime here.”  Gayle J., Seattle, Washington

“Shocking.”  Peggy K., Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin

“You have way overstepped your authority. I consider myself a moderate, but your aggressive pursuit of journalists and whistleblowers strikes fear in my heart. Your use of intimidation to weaken the press is contributing to the dismantling of our democracy.”  Marcia B., Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

“Quit trying to silence journalists! This is a Vladimir Putin approach to government. Hope and Change? Get Real!”  Rich W., Grass Valley, California

“Stop destroying our heroes, the courageous whistleblowers and journalists, including Risen and others who should be thanked, not prosecuted! You know damn well that the People want these people honored!”  Nancy G., Palm Desert, California

“Please recognize the need for a journalist to be free of coercion to reveal confidential sources. Bravo to James Risen for having the courage to resist this onerous government intimidation.”  Thomas S., Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

“We are already seeing freedom of the press undermined by consolidation of media ownership. The founding fathers believed that we could only keep this republic if we have free press and an informed public. Stop the suppression of information. Free access to information is not an optional ingredient.”  Janelle J., Buffalo, Missouri

“Stop persecuting journalists and whistleblowers. Information is the lifeblood of a democracy.”  William C., Sherman Oaks, California

“Our government has become big brother. Journalists must not be forced to name their sources if we are to know the truth.”  Carolyn S., Los Angeles, California

“A free press is gone if confidential sources are revealed.”  Vincent H., Rutledge, Tennessee

“Frankly, Mr. President, I’m surprised at you, and I have to say, disappointed. This seems like something that happens in totalitarian countries.”  Karen B., Felton, California

“Freedom of the press is already under siege because big business controls so much of the message. The Obama administration must respect James Risen’s right to withhold his source.”  Patricia B., Marco Island, Florida

“Whistleblowers are vital to keeping our democracy from turning into a police state. And a free press is vital to keeping us informed. Drop this case, and uphold the principles of our Constitution.”  Cynthia D., E. Boston, MA

“The press should be free to do its job! How about some of that ‘most transparent administration’ stuff. If an administration has nothing to hide it has nothing to fear.”  Mike H., Terre Haute, Indiana

“James Risen is an investigative reporter of high repute who should not be subjected to state harassment and punishment for upholding his pledge of confidentiality to his sources. These encroachments on our Fourth Estate’s watchdog function as a check on the abuse of power must not stand.”  Barbara K., Santa Fe, New Mexico

“You both have to stop talking out of both sides of your mouth, i.e. lying. We are fighting for freedom of the press. Stop being enemies to us people.”  Judith N., North Bonneville, Washington

“Please don’t trash the Bill of Rights. Protect the freedom and independence of the press. Drop the case against James Risen.”  Andrew M., Lower Gwynedd, Pennsylvania

“Daniel Ellsberg was right. James Risen is right.”  Leonore J., Toledo, Ohio

“When the light of free press is no more, darkness prevails and evildoers flourish. I know this is what this corrupt government wants but over our dead bodies.”  Felix C., San Antonio, Texas

“What Mr. Risen did in this instance, was not criminal. Rather it was EXACTLY what a free press should do, without fear of reprisal. Stop the strong arm tactics.”  John S., Trumbull, Connecticut

“The investigative work of journalists sheds light on the world and what is happening. The increasing punishment of journalists is pushing our world and news into a scary age of non-information. Safeguard the confidentiality of journalists and their sources.”  Christin B., Barnegat Light, New Jersey

“Stop persecuting journalists and truth tellers.”  Phyllis B., Desert Hot Springs, California

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John “Man Up” Kerry Faces Firestorm for Snowden Remarks


From “misogynistic” to “obnoxious,” Secretary of State slammed for comments about whistleblower

– Jon Queally

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is facing widespread criticism for his comment that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden—increasingly seen by the American public as a heroic figure for exposing government surveillance—should “man up” by returning home to face criminal charges.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s attempt to bully Edward Snowden with “faux-machismo rantings” appear to have backfired. (File)“This is a man who has betrayed his country,” Kerry told CBS News on Wednesday, just hours before the airing of highly anticipated interview between Snowden and NBC News’ Brian Williams. “He should man up and come back to the US.”

Seen widely as an attempt by Kerry and the Obama administration to turn public opinion against the 30-year-old former intelligence contractor, for many it had the opposite effect: making the Secretary look both petty and misogynistic—not to mention “wrong”—by characterizing Snowden as “less than a man” for his actions.

Responding to Kerry’s remarks on his website, Peter Van Buren, a former government employee and whistleblower himself said that the Secretary of State—who at this point sounds “more like Grandpa Simpson than America’s Senior Diplomat”—has apparently been “relegated within the Obama administration to the role of mumbling bully-boy statements, faux-machismo rantings whose intended audience and purpose are very, very unclear.”

On Twitter, some turned the tables on Kerry’s comments, by saying that to the extent the term is cultural code for “courage or bravery” it is the Secretary of State and the government he represents who should “man up” by admitting their short-sighted and mistaken approach to the Snowden affair and foreign policy and surveillance issues more broadly:

Others, however, put their entire focus on the conceit of Kerry’s use of the phrase “man up” itself, widely described as both misogynistic, petty and “obnoxious.”

Writing for VICE, journalist and commentator Natasha Lennard characterized Kerry’s comments as equal parts moronic, offensive, and dangerous.” She argued that Kerry’s use of “man up” was a “misogyny-soaked problem” large enough for its own column but also took issue with other troubling undertones of Kerry’s remarks:

The underlying logic of his comment conflates “America” with the “American justice system.” But if US justice is an avatar for America, it stands not as a representative but rather as an opponent to millions of Americans. And herein, I believe, lies a fundamental difference between those who see Snowden as hero and those who see him as an enemy.

It’s a question of allegiance. The sort of care Snowden has exhibited towards the US is a care for its citizens: their rights, freedoms and access to knowledge about how their lives are watched and policed. His, one might say, is an allegiance to that old myth, “America the free.” Kerry, meanwhile, shows his colors in aligning uncritically with “America the state.”

Unlike Snowden, I’m no patriot. But the secretary of state’s assumption that one cannot be patriotic while challenging the misdeeds of state institutions misreads care for a country’s purported ideals with its institutional representatives. It’s a dangerous logic that opens the door to any number of abuses and oppressions.

Journalist Glenn Greenwald, with a comment that was re-tweeted more than 250 times overnight, responded to Kerry’s ‘man up’ comment on Wednesday by focusing on its practical implications:

And that’s a key point, according to Van Buren, who explains:

Trials under the Espionage Act, which the U.S. says is how Snowden will be charged, quite specifically prohibit discussion of anything except proof or rebuttal that the accused did leak classified information. A jury is not allowed to rule on, or even hear about, motive and intent.

John Kiriakou, the former CIA officer who was the first to go on-the-record with the media about waterboarding, pled guilty in his Espionage Act case last year partially because a judge ruled he couldn’t tell the jury about his lack of intent to harm the United States. In the case of State Department official Stephen Kim, the judge ruled the prosecution “need not show that the information he allegedly leaked could damage U.S. national security or benefit a foreign power, even potentially.” In the Espionage Act case against NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake, the government filed motions to make sure the words “whistleblowing” or “overclassification” would never be uttered at trial. In Chelsea Manning’s trial, Manning’s defense wanted to argue she intended to inform the public, that the military was afflicted with a deep and unnecessary addiction to overclassification, and that the government’s own internal assessments showed she caused no real damage to U.S. interests. All this information was ruled inadmissible.

A SuperMax cell is not a very good bully pulpit.

Kerry is either lying, or his hopelessly ignorant.

In his interview with Brian Williams, asked why he won’t just return to the U.S. to “face the music,” Snowden himself called it a valid concern people have, but echoed Van Buren’s argument with this response:

It’s a fair question… But it’s also uninformed, because what has been lain against me are not normal charges. They’re extraordinary charges. We’ve seen more charges under the Espionage Act in the last administration than we have in all other administrations in — in Americans history. The Espionage Act provides — anyone accused of it of no chance to make a public defense. You can’t argue to the jury that what you did was in the public interest. You’re not even allowed to make that case. They can’t hear it. You are not allowed to argue — based on all the evidence in your favor because that evidence may be classified, even if it’s exculpatory. And so when people say — “Why don’t you go home and face the music?” I say you have to understand that the music is not an open court and a fair trial.

And Snowden’s lawyer, Ben Wizner at the ACLU, told the Guardian that “the laws under which Snowden is charged don’t distinguish between sharing information with the press in the public interest, and selling secrets to a foreign enemy.”

He continued: “The laws would not provide him any opportunity to say that the information never should have been withheld from the public in the first place. And the fact that the disclosures have led to the highest journalism rewards, have led to historic reforms in the US and around the world – all of that would be irrelevant in a prosecution under the espionage laws in the United States.”

For his part, Van Buren offered this as an idea for a fair compromise on holding people accountable for their actions:

When the Department of Justice agrees to charge James Clapper, national director of intelligence, for lying under oath to Congress about the surveillance of Americans, Snowden will know American justice is fair and equally applied, and come home for a trial. Better yet Kerry, promise that both trials will be televised live with no sealed documents or secret sessions. Deal?

Likely no one—least of all Edward Snowden—is holding their breath for Kerry to sign that piece of paper, however.

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Downed Helicopter Kills 14 as Ukraine ‘Fratricidal War’ Deepens


Continued violence makes negotiated settlement increasingly difficult

– Jon Queally

Separatists in the east of Ukraine who refuse to submit to the political and military authority in Kiev have shot down a helicopter near the city Slaviansk, killing a reported fourteen soldiers including a general.

Black smoke rises from a shot down Ukrainian Army helicopter outside Slovyansk, Ukraine, Thursday, May 29, 2014. Rebels in eastern Ukraine shot down a government military helicopter Thursday amid heavy fighting around the eastern city of Slovyansk, killing 14 soldiers including a general, Ukraine’s leader said. Acting President Oleksandr Turchynov told the parliament in Kiev that rebels used a portable air defense missile Thursday to down the helicopter and said that a General was among the dead. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)Clashes have continued between military units that reject the outcomes of national elections that took place Sunday and members of the established Ukraine army who have been directed by Kiev to crush those who have taken over buildings and claimed “autonomy” for territories in the regions of Luhansk and Donetsk.

On Monday, a battle between opposing forces left a reported 50 or more dead at the main airpoort in Donetsk and Thursday’s helicopter downing is a sure sign that the violence is not yet over in Ukraine.

Leaders in Kiev and Moscow have continued to trade barbs amid the violence even as Sunday’s election results—in which billionaire Petro Poroshenko was elected as the new president—spurred hope for a new round of talks between the warring sides inside Ukraine.

With neither side willing to put down its guns, however, traction for a negotiated settlement continues to slip.

In Kiev, Defense Minister Mikhailo Koval said on Thursday that the military assault in the east would continue as he continued to paint those opposed to the Kiev government–who came to power in a coup earlier this year–as “terrorist” forces.

“We have put all our forces and equipment into the anti-terrorist operation,” said Koval. “We have covered the whole state border.”

Representing Russia’s continued position that a cease fire must be declared in the eastern regions so that talks can take place, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday accused western nations of pushing Ukraine into “the abyss of fratricidal war,” by backing the Kiev assault. Lavrov repeated his demand that the Ukraine army and security forces end their counter-productive military offensive against its own people.

Regarding Thursday’s developments, the Associated Press reports:

Acting President Oleksandr Turchynov told the parliament in Kiev that rebels used a portable air defense missile Thursday to bring down the helicopter. He said Gen. Serhiy Kulchytskiy was among the dead, according to the Interfax news agency, which earlier gave the wrong first name for the general.

Slovyansk, 100 miles (160 kilometers) from the Russian border, has become the epicenter of fighting between pro-Russia insurgents and government forces in recent weeks. Its residential areas have regularly come under mortar shelling from government forces, causing civilian casualties and prompting some residents to flee.

An Associated Press reporter saw the helicopter go down amid a trail of black smoke. Gunshots were heard in Slovyansk near the crash site and a Ukrainian air force jet was seen circling above. It was too dangerous to visit the site itself.

Turchynov said the helicopter was flying troops in for a rotation to a hill outside Slovyansk where Ukrainian forces have set up positions.

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Snowden: Exposing NSA Overreach an Act of ‘Civil Disobedience’


What I did was ‘civil disobedience,’ says NSA whistleblower as he made his case to the American people in first prime time broadcast interview

– Jon Queally

NBC News anchor Brian Williams with Edward Snowden in Moscow. (Image: NBC News)In a wide-ranging interview with NBC News anchor Brian Williams that aired Wednesday night—his first with a major US broadcast network—Edward Snowden said “the most important idea” for people to remember when considering his actions “that there have been times throughout American history where what is right is not the same as what is legal.”

“Sometimes to do the right thing, you have to break a law,” Snowden said. “And the key there is in terms of civil disobedience. You have to make sure that what you’re risking, what you’re bringing onto yourself does not serve as a detriment to anyone else.”

“And the key there is in terms of civil disobedience. You have to make sure that what you’re risking, what you’re bringing onto yourself does not serve as a detriment to anyone else.” —Edward Snowden

Challenged by Williams to justify his leaking of highly-classified NSA documents detailing numerous surveillance programs that now “all three branches of government” have acknowledge went too far, Snowden said that he continues to think he did the right thing and for the right reasons.

“I may have lost my ability to travel,” Snowden told Williams, referring to his continued stay in Russia due to the suspension of his passport by the U.S. government. “But I’ve gained the ability to go to sleep at night and to put my head on the pillow and feel comfortable that I’ve done the right thing even when it was the hard thing. And I’m comfortable with that.”

One of the key pieces of news to emerge from the NBC interview and subsequent coverage of the Snowden saga, is that NBC news confirmed that the 30-year-old whistleblower did, in fact, attempt to air his concerns about NSA surveillance through “proper channels” by writing several emails, including at least one to the Office of General Council.

Asked to be specific about his efforts, Snowden said: “I reported that there were — real problems with the way the NSA was interpreting its legal authorities. And I went even further in this — to say that they could be unconstitutional — that they were sort of abrogating our model of government in a way that empowered presidents to override our statutory laws. And this was made very clear. And the response more or less, in bureaucratic language, was, ‘You should stop asking questions.’ And these are — these are recent records. I would say one of my final official acts in government was continuing one of these — one of these communications with a legal office. And in fact I’m so sure that these communications exist that I’ve called on Congress to write a letter to the NSA to — to verify that they do. Write to the office of general counsel and say, “Did Mr. Snowden — ever communicate any concerns about the NSA’s interpretation of its legal authorities?”

According to Williams, subsequent to these remarks by Snowden (the interview was filmed last week in Moscow), NBC News was able to confirm from government officials “that Snowden emailed the general counsel’s office at the NSA with his concerns.” The news agency also announced that it has filed Freedom of Information Act requests to determine if there are additional documents that verify or chronicle other communications from Snowden.

NBC has broken the interview into segments and posted them online for viewing.


On civil disobedience: “Sometimes to do the right thing, you have to break a law.”

On his motivations: “The definition of a security state is any nation that prioritizes security over all other considerations… I don’t believe the United States is or ever should be a security state.”

On post-9/11 climate: “I think it’s really disingenuous for — for the government to invoke — and sort of scandalize our memories, to sort of exploit the — the national trauma that we all suffered together and worked so hard to come through to justify programs that have never been shown to keep us safe, but cost us liberties and freedoms that we don’t need to give up and our Constitution says we should not give up.”

On returning home: “I’m not going to give myself a parade… But neither am I going to walk into a jail cell — to serve as a bad example for other people in government who see something happening, some violation of the Constitution and think they need to say something about it.”

On patriotism: “With all of these things happening that the government agrees — all the way up to the president again — make us stronger, how can it be said that I did not serve my government? How can it be said that this harmed the country, when all three branches of government have made reforms as a result of it?”

On ‘dirty business’ of surveillance: ” What’s more shocking for anybody is not the dirtiness of the business, it’s the dirtiness of the targeting. It’s the dirtiness of the way these things are being used. It’s the lack of respect for the public — because and the lack of respect for the intrusiveness of surveillance.”

On ‘stealing’ from the NSA: “This material was returned to public hands, to the institutions of our free press so that trusted journalists and trusted institutions like The Washington Post, The Guardian, The New York Times could make decisions about what within this is truly within the public interest that can be reported in a way that maximizes the public gains without risking any harm.”

On Russia: “I have no relationship with the Russian government at all. I’m — I’ve never met the Russian president. I’m not supported by the Russian government. I’m not taking money from the Russian government. I’m not a spy, which is the real question. But I would ask this question, too, you know, I would also be skeptical.”

In addition to the hour-long interview that aired on television, Williams hosted an hour-long webcast following the segment which featured additional clips from his interview with Snowden as well as panel discussion about the interview and NSA surveillance. Watch it:

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Maya Angelou, Still She Rises


“You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise”

Maya Angelou wrote those words in her poem “Still I Rise.” She died this week at 86 at her home in North Carolina. In remembering Maya Angelou, it is important to recall her commitment to the struggle for equality, not just for herself, or for women, or for African-Americans. She was committed to peace and justice for all.

If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat,” she wrote in the opening pages of her first breathtaking autobiography, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” which chronicles her childhood to the age of 17. Born Marguerite Ann Johnson in St. Louis, at the age of 7 or 8, she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend. He was killed shortly thereafter. As a result of the trauma, she remained virtually silent for five years, speaking only to her brother. She became a single mother at 17, and struggled to support her son as she worked a variety of jobs, eventually gaining success as a calypso singer.

She heard Martin Luther King, Jr. address the Harlem Writers Guild, of which she was a member, and joined with a fellow performer to produce and sing in “Cabaret for Freedom” in Greenwich Village, to raise funds for King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference. By some accounts it was King, or the legendary activist and organizer Bayard Rustin, who asked her to take on a leadership role with the SCLC, which she accepted, becoming the group’s Northern coordinator.

Maya Angelou became a supporter of Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolution. She met and fell in love with a South African civil-rights activist, and they moved to Cairo with her son. They stayed together for three years, but she stayed on in Africa, moving to Ghana, where she met Malcolm X. The two collaborated on the pivotal political project that Malcolm X was developing, the Organization of Afro-American Unity. She returned to the U.S. to support the effort, but Malcolm X was assassinated shortly after her return. That tragedy, and the 1968 assassination of her friend Martin Luther King Jr., devastated Angelou. It was in 1969 that she was encouraged by the author James Baldwin, among others, to focus on her writing. Thus was born her first of seven autobiographies and the phenomenal career for which Maya Angelou is known around the world. Reciting her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at President Bill Clinton’s first inaugural in 1993 catapulted her into the mainstream consciousness.

While some schools and libraries still censor her work for unflinchingly depicting the life she led, it was through my hometown library, while in my early teens, that I first saw Maya Angelou. The library invited her to speak, and speak she did—and danced, and sang, in a display of talent that made us laugh, cry and gasp as she moved her black and white audience of hundreds … together.

In commemorating Maya Angelou, none can speak as eloquently as she did herself about people who inspired her. At the Democratic National Convention in Boston in 2004, she spoke of Fannie Lou Hamer, who attempted, 40 years earlier, to gain recognition for the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. Angelou said: “In the most private part of the heart of every American lives a burning desire to belong to a great country. To represent a noble-minded country where the mighty do not always crush the weak and the dream of democracy is not in the sole possession of the strong.”

Maya Angelou’s tribute two years later, on the passing of her friend Coretta Scott King, could be said of Angelou herself: “She was a quintessential African-American woman. Born in the small-town, repressive South. Born of flesh and destined to become iron. Born a cornflower and destined to become a steel magnolia.”

In eulogizing actor and activist Ossie Davis at his 2005 memorial service in Harlem’s historic Riverside Church, Maya Angelou’s delivery was poetic as always. Her words of reflection on his death can serve as well as we note her passing:

“When great trees fall, rocks on distant hills shudder. Lions hunker down in tall grasses, and even elephants lumber after safety. When great trees fall in forests small things recoil into silence, their senses are eroded beyond fear. … Great souls die, and our reality bound to them takes leave of us.”

Maya Angelou’s eloquence, in her poetry, lives on:

“Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
…Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.”

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From Elections to Mass Movements: How Wealthy Elites Are Hijacking Democracy All Over the World


Then-Egyptian Minister of Defense General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi walks with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry during a meeting in Cairo, Egypt on November 3, 2013. (Photo: U.S. Department of State)Mass street protests are usually seen as a hallmark of democratic aspirations. And elections are meant to be a culmination of such aspirations, affording people the opportunity to choose their own leaders and system of government. But in country after country these days, the hallmarks of democracy are being dangerously subverted and co-opted by powerful elites. The question is, are we recognizing what is happening under our noses? Three examples unfolding right now are indicators of this trend: Thailand, Ukraine and Egypt.

Thailand has just witnessed its 19th coup in 82 years. Although coup leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-Ocha has promised “genuine democracy,” he has given no timetable for an end to martial law. The U.S. State Department initially refused to call the takeover a coup, insisting that martial law is consistent with Thailand’s constitution. It then changed its tune to issue a strongly worded condemnation.

In Ukraine, voters elected a pro-Western leader after President Viktor Yanukovych fled following mass protests over his refusal to sign an accord with the European Union. Although the incoming president, Petro Poroshenko, has promised democratic development, the U.S. has openly sided with pro-Western forces inside Ukraine and raised the tensions of the conflict to near Cold War era levels, rendering any promises of true democracy ineffectual at best.

In Egypt, an army general is in the process of being “elected” following a period of violent military rule after post-revolution elections yielded a leader from the Muslim Brotherhood. The U.S. quietly condoned the army’s overthrow of the Brotherhood leadership and has made only lukewarm criticisms of violent repression under Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, employing a dangerous wait-and-see approach while Egyptian lives hang in the balance. Once the election is over, Sisi will likely be viewed by the U.S. government as a democratically elected leader.

In Thailand, Ukraine and Egypt, wealthy elites, whether native born or foreign, have used popular movements and elections to ratify decisions in their favor. In an interview on Uprising, filmmaker and investigative journalist Andre Vltchek, who has traveled recently to all three countries in question, explained that in Thailand in particular, Thaksin Shinawatra, the business-tycoon-turned-prime-minister who was driven from power in 2006, “was trying to bring the country to modern capitalism.” He introduced medical care that is much better than the system in the United States, with “heavily subsidized medicines.” Additionally Thailand now has 15 years of basic education free for all citizens, and according to Vltchek, Thaksin gave citizenship to a population of millions in the north who were disenfranchised. Thaksin’s supporters called themselves the Red Shirt Movement, and consisted primarily of rural Thai farmers and left-wing activists.

To be fair, Thaksin’s rule had several serious problems that Vltchek acknowledged as “terrible mistakes,” including a brutal “war on drugs” and a war against a Muslim minority in the south of Thailand. But it was his progressive social programs for which he was “hated by the elites—the monarchy and the military, because in Thailand it is not just money but the gap between the elites and the majority” that matters.

What most of us viewed from the outside as a major people’s revolution occupying government buildings to oust a corrupt leader—the so-called Yellow Shirt movement—consists in fact of forces allied to the Thai royal family and military. The movement has ironically adopted the name People’s Alliance for Democracy. I asked Vltchek whether its supporters were really in favor of democracy. “No, they were not,” he pointedly replied. In fact, “they have nothing to do with democracy”; rather, “they were against democracy,” said Vltchek, who met with many of the Yellow Shirt protest leaders and heard the “rumors that there were ‘very powerful forces’ behind the protests,” which meant “the monarchy and the military.” Vltchek maintained that Thai elites are afraid of true democracy, as the opposition ran in multiple elections after Thaksin was pushed out and lost time and again.

According to Vltchek, the West has played a quiet role in supporting the royalist leaning forces, despite the opposition’s assertions that “Thaksin is very popular in the West and that it is him who is getting support from the West.” But, Vltchek said, opposition forces were “very reliable allies of the West. Don’t forget that Thailand for decades was massacring the left-wing opposition; they were burning communists alive in barrels of petroleum. They liquidated the entire left-wing opposition and gained a reputation as reliable allies [of the West].” In fact, he went on to say, “The majority of the people from the opposition were educated in Eton, Cambridge and Oxford. Thai people don’t speak foreign languages, but when you talk to their leaders they all speak perfect, fluent English.”

Elections in Ukraine have also reeked of co-option of democracy. Ukrainians picked a wealthy candy manufacturer as their new president, but only after their moderate, center-right president, Yanukovych, dared to reject an EU accord that was, according to Vltchek, a “bizarre deal that said basically ‘let us have access to your steel industry and your mining sector and in exchange you will have nothing; your people will not even be able to travel to the European Union, forget about living there or working there.’ ” Obviously, “even this pro-Western government said ‘no way.’ ”

In fact the deposed government of Yanukovych, Vltchek said, was “not at all pro-Russian, or Socialist or Communist.” He cited data showing that the European Union may have spent over $1 billion in supporting the protests against Yanukovych, and that many people who participated in the so-called Euromaidan movement were “clearly paid,” an assertion that is confirmed by news reports like this one.

Vltchek spent many days driving thousands of miles in cities all over Ukraine. In Kharkiv, which is considered Ukraine’s “second capital,” he met people who told him, “We are not going to accept the Western dictatorship rule which is full of fascists anyway and right-wing elements. … We are not going to accept the anti-Russia propaganda. Russia is our natural friend and ally.”

In Egypt, a similar dynamic resulting in the subversion of democracy has played out. Although the movement to depose U.S.-backed dictator Hosni Mubarak was indeed truly grass roots and aspired for real democratic change, in hindsight the revolution seems to have been co-opted first by the Muslim Brotherhood, which used the tools of democracy by winning an election, and then, by the army to depose the Brotherhood and run its own election.

Vltchek, who spent a lot of time in Egypt said, “The West is not protesting when somebody like al-Sisi gets ‘elected’ after the Muslim Brotherhood is basically demonized and arrested. [The military] condemned 600 people [from the Muslim Brotherhood] to death and nobody is screaming murder about it.” Once more powerful elites threw out the results of democratic change when it didn’t suit them and then subverted the hallmarks of democracy to cement their power. Egyptians are so disenchanted that they have not shown up in large enough numbers to vote for the general, prompting an announcement by the army that it had extended voting for an extra day. Once the results are in, they can be rubber-stamped and “democracy” can be declared.

More examples abound, such as the recent uprising in Venezuela, interpreted by most of the mainstream English-language press to be a popular revolt against the socialist government of Nicolas Maduro. But it turns out those protests were aimed at dismantling the socialist state and ideologically (and perhaps directly) supported by the U.S. as this op-ed suggests.

Even India, the world’s largest democracy, which recently held elections, has witnessed the coming to power of a right-wing nationalist government promising fast-paced industrial development with a pro-Western bent. Indian novelist and political commentator Arundhati Roy in an interview in the Pakistani newspaper Dawn, lamented, “Now, we have a democratically elected totalitarian government.”

In our new age of digital communication during which mass movements with legitimate democratic aims such as Occupy Wall Street and the original movement to oust Mubarak in Egypt have emerged, we need to remain vigilant about elite interests employing the same tools, such as protests and elections, to further their agenda, and using the language and paraphernalia of democracy. Vltchek warned, “I see this as a very dangerous trend. I’m afraid that the West is making the last push to actually destroy and overrun anything standing in its way that is semi-independent or different.”

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Boko Haram a Blessing for Imperialism in Africa: US Training Death Squads


Militarily, Africa is fast becoming an American continent. Barack Obama, who has been president for all but the first year of AFRICOM’s existence, has succeeded in integrating U.S. fighting units, bases, training regimens, equipment and financing into the military structures of all but a handful of African nations. The great pan-Africanist and former Ghanaian president Kwame Nkrumah’s dream of a militarily united Africa has been all but realized – with Americans and Europeans in charge. Under the guise of “humanitarian” intervention, Obama has vastly expanded Bill Clinton and George Bush’s African footprints, so that only a few patches on the continental map lie outside Washington’s sphere of operations. Eritrea and Zimbabwe are the notable exceptions – and, therefore, future targets


Africa is occupied territory. The African Union doesn’t even pretend to be in charge of its own nominal peace-keeping missions, which are little more than opportunities for African militaries to get paid for doing the West’s bidding. China and Brazil may be garnering the lion’s share of trade with Africa, but the men with the guns are loyal to AFRICOM – the sugar daddy to the continent’s military class. U.S. troops now sleep in African barracks, brothers in arms with African officers who can determine who will sleep next week in the presidential mansion.

The pace of U.S. penetration of West Africa has quickened dramatically since 2011, when Obama bombed Muammar Gaddafi’s Libyan government out of existence, setting a flood of jihadists and weapons streaming east to Syria and south to destabilize the nations of the Sahel. Chaos ensued – beautiful chaos, if you are a U.S. military planner seeking justification for ever-larger missions. NATO’s aggression against Libya begat the sub-Saharan chaos that justified the French and U.S. occupation of Mali and Niger. Hyperactive North African jihadists, empowered by American bombs, weapons and money, trained and outfitted their brethren on the continent, including elements of Nigeria’s Boko Haram. The Yoruba-speaking Islamic warriors then bequeathed AFRICOM a priceless gift: nearly 300 schoolgirls in need of rescuing, perfect fodder for “humanitarian” intervention.

Nobody had to ask twice that Obama “Do something!”

The heads of Nigeria, Chad, Niger, Benin and Cameroon were summoned to Paris (pretending it was their idea) where they declared “total war” on Boko Haram, as “observers” from the U.S., France, Britain and the European Union (Africa’s past and future stakeholders) looked on. French President Francois Hollande said “a global and regional action plan” would come out of the conference.

The heads of Nigeria, Chad, Niger, Benin and Cameroon were summoned to Paris where they declared ‘total war’ on Boko Haram.”

Of course, the five African states have neither the money, training, equipment nor intelligence gathering capacity for such a plan. It will be a Euro-American plan for the defense and security of West Africa – against other Africans. Immediately, the U.S. sent 80 troops to Chad (whose military has long been a mercenary asset of France) to open up a new drone base, joining previously existing U.S. drone fields in Niger, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Somalia, the Seychelles Islands, Djibouti (home to a huge French and American base), and CIA sites that need not be disclosed.

The new West African security grouping became an instant imprint of NATO, an appendage to be shaped by imperial military planners to confront enemies chosen by Washington and Paris.

What a miracle of humanitarian military momentum! The girls had only been missing for a month, and might not be rescued alive, but five neighboring African countries – one of them the biggest economy on the continent – had already been dragooned into a NATO-dominated military alliance with other subordinate African states.

It soon turned out that AFRICOM already had a special relationship with the Nigerian military that was not announced until after the schoolgirls’ abduction. AFRICOM will train a battalion of Nigerian Rangers in counterinsurgency warfare, the first time that the Command has provided full spectrum training to Africans on such a scale.

With the American public in a “Save our girls” interventionist frame of mind, operations that were secret suddenly became public. The New York Times reveals that the U.S. has been running a secret program to train counterterrorism battalions for Niger and Mauritania. Elite Green Berets and Delta Force killers are instructing handpicked commandos in counterinsurgency in Mali, as well. The identity of one Times source leaves little doubt that the previously secret operations are designed to blanket the region with U.S. trained death squads. Michael Sheehan was until last year in charge of Special Operations at the Pentagon – Death Squads Central – where he pushed for more Special Ops trainers for African armies. Sheehan now holds the “distinguished chair” at West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center. In the 1980s, he was a Special Forces commander in Latin America – which can only mean death squads.

AFRICOM will train a battalion of Nigerian Rangers in counterinsurgency warfare.”

U.S. Army Special Forces have always been political killers, most often operating with the CIA. The Phoenix Program, in Vietnam, which murdered between 26,000 and 41,000 people and tortured many more, was a CIA-Special Forces war crime. From 1975 to deep into the 80s, the CIA and its Special Forces muscle provided technical support and weapons to killers for Operation Condor, the death squads run by a consortium of military governments in Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia and Brazil, believed responsible for 60,000 murders. Sheehan was probably involved in Operation Condor and its Central American component, Operation Charly, and has perfected the art of political murder, ever since. If he is happy and feeling vindicated by events in Africa, then U.S.-trained death squads are about to proliferate in that part of the world.

There is no question that Obama is enamored of Special Ops, since small unit murders by professional killers at midnight look less like war – and can, if convenient, be blamed on (other) “terrorists.” However, history – recent history – proves the U.S. can get away with almost limitless carnage in Africa. Ethiopia’s 2006 invasion of Somalia, backed by U.S. forces on land, air and sea, resulted in “the worst humanitarian crisis in Africa” at the time, “worse than Darfur,” according to UN observers, with hundreds of thousands dead. The U.S. then withheld food aid to starve out Somali Shabaab fighters, leading to even more catastrophic loss of life. But, most Americans are oblivious to such crimes against Blackhumanity.

U.S. ally Ethiopia commits genocide against ethnic Somalis in its Ogaden region with absolute impunity, and bars the international media from the region. Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama – each of them with help from Susan Rice – have collectively killed six million Congolese since 1996. The greatest genocide since World War Two was the premeditated result of the chaos deliberately imposed on mineral-rich Congo by the U.S. and its henchmen in neighboring Rwanda and Uganda. Paul Kagame, the current leader of Rwanda, shot down a plane with two presidents aboard in 1994, sparking the mass killings that brought Kagame to power and started neighboring Congo on the road to hell. America celebrates Kagame as a hero, although the Tutsi tribal dictator sends death squads all over the world to snuff out those who oppose him.

The U.S. can get away with almost limitless carnage in Africa.”

Ugandan leader Yoweri Museveni, a friend of the U.S. since Ronald Reagan, committed genocidal acts against his rivals from the Acholi tribe, throwing them into concentration camps. Joseph Kony was one of these Acholis, who apparently went crazy. Kony hasn’t been a threat to Uganda or any other country in the region for years, but President Obama used a supposed sighting of remnants of his Lords Resistance Army to send 100 Green Berets to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Rwanda, the Central African Republic, and South Sudan. Just last month, Obama sent 150 more troops and four aircraft to central Africa, again claiming that Kony was lurking, somewhere.

Actually, the American troops were deployed near South Sudan, which the U.S, Britain and Israel had destabilized for decades in an effort to split it off from the larger nation of Sudan. South Sudan became independent, but it remained unstable – not a nation, but a place with oil that the U.S. coveted. Many tens of thousands more are certain to die in fighting in South Sudan, but few Americans will blame their own country.

As the carnage in Congo demonstrates, whole populations can be made to disappear in Africa without most people in the West noticing. The death squads the Americans are training in Nigeria, Niger, Mauretania and Mali, and those that will soon be stalking victims in Cameroon and Benin, will not be limited to hunting Boko Haram. Death squads are, by definition, destabilizing; they poison the political and social environment beyond repair, as Central Americans who lived through the 80s can attest.

Yet, that is U.S. imperialism’s preferred method of conquest in the non-white world. It’s what the Americans actually do, when folks demand that they “Do something.”

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The Left’s European Conundrum


With last week’s elections, commentators are heralding the “end of Europe,” but the evidence tells a different story.

Everyone has something sweeping to say about last week’s European elections. And, indeed, from a glance, it’s easy to make pronouncements about the state of politics on the continent. Most emphasize mass abstention, the rise of far-right eurosceptic parties that oppose the EU, the crisis of social democracy, even some gains by the radical left.

(Pietro Naj-Oleari / European Parliament)

A careful look at the data, however, invites more caution. The most important questions to be raised are whether these elections univocally show an increasing disaffection of citizens towards the project of the European Union and whether the European political establishment is facing a deep and general crisis.

My answer on both counts is no: the electoral results show a growing discontent caused by the five year-long poisonous combination of austerity and crisis, but this is not sufficient to speak of a deep political instability and even less of a legitimacy crisis. Moreover, except for the rise of eurosceptic parties, it is difficult to identify a strong common trend. The results seem to largely be the outcome of diverse political dynamics in each country.

To understand the elections, we should do something rare among the chattering classes: start with the data. For example, the rate of electoral participation and its trend in the last decades contrast claims that mass abstention is proof of the EU’s increasing loss of political legitimacy. Despite predictions of a collapse due to the increasing disaffection of European citizens towards the European Union and its institutions, voter participation has been significantly higher than expected (43%).

In fact, the last elections have been the first ones since 1979 in which the trend of declining voter participation has reached a halt. This has been due in particular to the rate of voter participation in some of the largest countries. Massive abstention at these elections can hardly be proof of a growing loss of EU legitimacy — not only because voting rates are steady, but also because this halt to the trend of declining voter participation cannot be explained only through the strong presence and affirmation of eurosceptic electoral lists.

While it is true that among some countries with the largest eurosceptic forces there is an increase in electoral participation — for example, in France (+2.9%), UK (+1.5%), Greece (+5.6%), and Lithuania (+23.9%) — this is not the case for Italy (-7.7%), Denmark (-3.1%), or Hungary (-7.4%). In the case of Germany, the increase could even be connected to a growth of a consensus in favor of the European Union and satisfied with the domestic economic situation. Moreover, from 2007 to 2014, the fall in the level of support for the euro has been relatively modest: from 69% to 66%.

It would, therefore, be more prudent to speak of a plurality of factors that have impacted voters’ behavior in various countries. We can identify at least three of them: the rise of eurosceptic forces, mostly on the far-right; the presence of radical left organizations that have managed to express a strong opposition to austerity policies, a factor that has been decisive in countries such as Spain and Greece; and finally, an increase in trust towards governing parties that have taken a critical stance towards an excessively rigid interpretation of the fiscal compact and have advocated for a new season of taxes cuts and public spending.

These three factors hold different sway depending on the situation in each country.

A similar variety of situations characterizes the electoral results. Take the EU’s five biggest countries: the severe defeat of the Tories in UK and of the Socialist Party in France, both soundly beaten by the two rising right-wing eurosceptic parties, UKIP and Front National (FN), has drawn much of the public attention. But this has obscured the fact that in Germany and Italy, the two countries led by a Grand Coalition government, the electoral results seem, on the contrary, to indicate a renewed trust for the governing parties.

Despite significant growth in voter participation, Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) managed to maintain a stable position, winning 30% of vote. But the party that took advantage of the larger electoral participation, winning 2.5 million votes more than in 2009, is the Social Democratic Party (SPD), which got 27.3%.

In Italy, the Democratic Party (PD) was the protagonist of an astonishing recovery. Only a few months ago it was shaken by a deep leadership crisis, which then led to the rise of Matteo Renzi first as leader of the party and then as new prime minister. And just a year ago Italian voters seemed to be losing any trust in governing and traditional parties and in the political system as a whole, and the rise of the Five Star Movement, the new anti-establishment, populist and post-ideological formation guided by former comedian Beppe Grillo seemed irresistible.

On the contrary, on Sunday both Berlusconi and the Five Stars Movement were soundly beaten: the PD gained three million more votes than in 2009 and 2.5 million more votes than in the national election of 2013, reaching an impressive 41%.

Finally, in Spain the governing conservative People’s Party (PP) got only 26% of votes (against 42.1% in 2009) and the Socialist Party (PSOE) got only 23% (against 38.8% in 2009). Contrary to UK and France, however, the opposition to the austerity policies implemented by the EU and the Spanish government has favored not right-wing eurosceptic parties, but rather left-wing coalitions: United Left (IU), which won 9.9% of votes (compared to 3.7% of 2009) and Podemos.

The latter is one of the biggest and most encouraging surprises of these elections: Podemos is a new embryonic political organization, based on grassroots participation and inspired by the indignados movement, that managed to win an astonishing 7.96%.

If we look at the aggregate results, the claim that these elections show the European social democracy’s further loss of support seems to be ungrounded. Of course, one may contend that the social-democratic label does not apply anymore to parties such as the Italian Democrats, and one might question what we mean by “European social democracy” today. And granted, in France and Greece the center-left has collapsed.

However, on a European level the real loser of the elections are center-right parties: the European People’s Party (EPP) fell from 35.8% to 28.4% of the seats, while the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) had their share hold steady: 25.4% (it was 25.6% in 2009).

If there is a common trend in these elections, it is the rise of forces that are strongly critical of the European Union. “Eurosceptic”, however, is a wide and ambiguous umbrella category covering political forces as diverse as the Five Star Movement in Italy (21.1%) and the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn in Greece (9.4%). Nationalist, xenophobic and Islamophobic far-right parties litter the European landscape. Beyond just Golden Dawn, there’s Jobbik in Hungary(14.7%), the Swedish Democrats (9.7%), the Party for Freedom in the Netherlands (13.2%), Freedom Party in Austria (19.5%), Vlaams Belang in Belgium (4.2%), Northern League in Italy (6.1%), Finns Party in Finland (12.9%).

This definition, however, does not so easily apply to other right-wing and reactionary formations such as UKIP in the United Kingdom (27%), the newly formed Alternative for Germany (7%), the libertarian Party of Free Citizens in the Czech Republic (5.2%), or the populist People’s Party in Denmark (26.6%).

In the last period, Marine Le Pen has carried on a significant restyling of the Front National. Without entirely breaking with the fascist inheritance of her party, she has consistently pursued its partial institutional normalization and focused the electoral campaign on a combination of Islamophobic and anti-immigrant policies, economic protectionism, and opposition to austerity and to the loss of French national sovereignty.

This blend managed to convince a large part of working class and young voters, but as a matter of fact only one in five FN voters declared that they opposed the EU. Being the major winner of these elections, in the days after the vote Marine Le Pen launched the idea of regrouping the eurosceptics of the European Parliament under the FN leadership. However, UKIP, Finns Party, the Danish People’s Party, and Alternative for Germany have declined the invitation, judging a regroupment with the FN out of question, while the FN itself refuses any official association with the neo-Nazi Jobbik and Golden Dawn parties.

Finally, on the Left, the GUE/NGL (European United Left/Nordic Green Left) won 5.6% of the seats, 1% more than in 2009. The most promising and positive results are certainly those of Greece, where Syriza won the ballot with 26.6%, creating the conditions for a call for anticipated national elections in the fall, and in Spain, with the rise of IU and Podemos. Another interesting novelty is the affirmation of the Swedish feminist and anti-racist organization (Feminist Initiative) created in 2005, which won 5.3% of the votes.

Less reassuring are the outcomes in France and Germany. The French Front de Gauche (FG) paid for the choices and behavior of the Communist Party (PCF). At the local elections of some months ago, the PCF decided to privilege its alliance with the Socialist Party over its involvement in the FG, causing a major crisis within the left-wing coalition. The ambiguous association of the PCF with the Socialists hurt the FG, in an election characterized by a vote of protest addressed mainly against the inept Socialist administration of François Hollande.

While the FN stormed among working-class voters, the FG did not manage to attract disappointed socialist voters, getting only 6.3% of the vote. In Germany, Die Linke did not manage to grow in comparison with the 2009 elections, winning basically the same score: 7.4%. Finally, the anticapitalist left in France, Greece, and Portugal got disappointing results: Nouveau Parti anticapitaliste and Antarsya are under one percent and the Portuguese Bloco de Esquerda got only 4.6%, dropping a full 6% compared to their 2009 total.

What does this data all mean?

While it is certainly true that this vote expressed a clear discontent about the deterioration of conditions of life caused by the combination of crisis and austerity policies across Europe, the political translation of this discontent varies according to the different national situations. As I suggested earlier, we can identify three different political translations of this discontent: rising support to far-right or populist anti-Euro parties; rise of left-wing opposition to austerity policies; and renewed trust in governing or establishment political parties that have expressed the intention of interpreting the fiscal compact in a looser and more flexible way.

It would be a mistake to think that the main outcome of these elections is simply a vertical crisis of governing and pro-Euro parties, and it would be an even greater mistake to think that the most important match in the next months will be the one played between the formations of the radical left, on the one hand, and those of the far-right, on the other. While this scenario may partially apply to some countries, such as France, it does not apply so easily to the European situation in general.

Germany and Italy’s electoral results should be taken seriously. The Italian Democratic Party, which has now thirty-one seats in the European Parliament (only three less than the German CDU), will most likely play a major role in the coming months, due to the collapse of the French Socialist Party. Moreover, starting from July, Italy will have the Presidency of the Council of the European Union for six months.

The success of the Democratic Party is due to a combination of various factors, some of which are peculiar to the Italian political landscape. One of the factors, however, is particularly relevant for the European scenario: Matteo Renzi, the new leader of the party and prime minister, has taken a critical stance towards a rigid application of the fiscal compact. As Perry Anderson noticed in a recent article on The Italian Disaster”:

[H]is opening package of social measures combines legislation making it so easy for new workers to be fired that even the Economist has raised its eyebrows, with a handout of €1,000 tax cuts to the least well-paid, unabashedly presented as a plum for the polls.

Italian voters proved to be sensitive to the idea of bending EU rules, partially redistributing income, while at the same time not questioning the EU neoliberal paradigm, including a further de-regularization of the labor market.

Could this become the European Commission’s response to the threat of a legitimacy and anti-European crisis? And is there a space for an increase of public spending and a policy of partial expansive reforms? This is likely to become the open question of the coming months.

In the meantime, on Monday, one day after the election, the President of the European Central Bank (ECB), Mario Draghi, declared that the electoral results are worrying and that the moment has arrived to give concrete answers to the European citizens. He will likely release further press statements in the coming days, and on June 5 the ECB might announce not only the cutting of interest rates, but also a bond-buying program, with no conditionality attached, to supposedly avoid deflation, overcome credit constraints, and support economic growth.

Finally, the second likely scenario will be a further drift of democracy into technocratic soft despotism. The European Parliament has already quite limited decisional powers relative to the European Commission and the European Council. The current presence of 143 eurosceptic representatives and 42 members of the GUE in the Parliament will likely push the governing parties to a further displacement of decisional power to the Commission and the ECB, particularly in a situation as complex as that of the next months, which include the negotiations on the TTIP (Trade Transatlantic Investment Partnership) between US and EU.

A significant event in the coming months will be the summit of the European heads of states on youth employment, which will take place on July 11 in Turin, Italy. This may become an important occasion for a discussion among governments on a new course of European policies: a greater flexibility in the application of the fiscal compact and in public spending combined with a further erosion of social and labor rights.

A network of Italian and German political and social organizations is already organizing a day of protest against the summit. This might be the first opportunity for the Left to forcefully oppose this new course.

Finally, Podemos’s surprising electoral success in Spain should be taken as an important lesson for the European Left. We will have to confront a complex situation combining rise of nationalist and populist parties, a possible reformulation of European economic policies capable of institutional stabilization, and a further drift to new forms of technocratic authoritarianism.

The combination of social conflict and radical democracy should not only be a key goal of the Left, but also the “way of life” for all radical formations. As Perry Anderson wrote, “Europe is ill.” And we’re the only ones who can cure the disease.

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Obama’s Neoconservative Foreign Policy Vision


As American neocons continue to shape the narratives that define the permissible boundaries for U.S. foreign policy thinking, the failure to enforce any meaningful accountability on them for their role in the criminal and disastrous invasion of Iraq has become painfully clear.

In any vibrant democratic system, it would be unthinkable that the neocons and other war hawks who yahooed the United States into Iraq a little more than a decade ago would still be exercising control over how Americans perceive today’s events. Yet, many of the exact same pundits and pols who misled the American people then are still misleading them today.

President Barack Obama touches the Marshall Plaque at Michie Stadium upon arrival for the United States Military Academy at West Point commencement in West Point, N.Y., May 28, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama touches the Marshall Plaque at Michie Stadium upon arrival for the United States Military Academy at West Point commencement in West Point, N.Y., May 28, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Thus, we’re stuck reading the Washington Post’s deputy editorial page editor Jackson Diehl reinforce the myth that the Ukraine crisis was caused by “the aggression of Russian President Vladimir Putin,” when the reality is that it was the United States and the European Union that stirred up the unrest and set the stage for neo-Nazi militias to overthrow elected President Viktor Yanukovych and plunge the country into a nasty little civil war.

Yet, you’re not supposed to know that. Anyone who dares explain the actual narrative of what happened in Ukraine is immediately accused of spreading “Russian propaganda.” The preferred U.S. narrative of white-hat “pro-democracy” protesters victimized by black-hat villain Yanukovych with the help of the even more villainous Vladimir Putin is so much more fun. It lets Americans cheer as ethnic Russians in the east are burned alive by neo-Nazi mobs and mowed down by Ukrainian military aircraft.

Diehl and his boss, editorial page editor Fred Hiatt, are precisely the same neocon propagandists who told Americans in 2002 and early 2003 that Iraq was hiding weapons of mass destruction. Hiatt and Diehl didn’t write that as an allegation or a suspicion, but as flat fact. Yet, it turned out to be flatly untrue – and hundreds of thousands of people, including nearly 4,500 U.S. soldiers, died as a result of the war.

But don’t worry: the careers of Diehl and Hiatt didn’t suffer. They’re still in their same influential jobs a dozen years later, framing how we should understand Syria, Ukraine and the rest of the world.

And, if Hiatt and his editorial board had their way, American troops would still be patrolling Iraq. On Wednesday, the Post’s lead editorial condemned President Barack Obama for not maintaining permanent U.S. military forces in Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan – and not getting deeper into the Syrian civil war.

“You can’t fault President Obama for inconsistency,” the Post’s editorial sneered. “After winning election in 2008, he reduced the U.S. military presence in Iraq to zero. After helping to topple Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi in 2011, he made sure no U.S. forces would remain. He has steadfastly stayed aloof, except rhetorically, from the conflict in Syria. And on Tuesday he promised to withdraw all U.S. forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2016.

“The Afghan decision would be understandable had Mr. Obama’s previous choices proved out. But what’s remarkable is that the results also have been consistent — consistently bad.”

The neocons, including the Post’s editorialists, voice outrage when Obama paints them with a broad brush as obsessed with putting American boots on the ground. But how can one read that editorial and not recognize that what the neocons want is not just temporary U.S. boots on the ground but to have them cemented into these countries as permanent occupiers?

Mr. Overrated

Then, over at the New York Times, you can read the wisdom of Thomas L. Friedman, another star promoter of the Iraq War who infamously kept telling Americans every six months that the grinding war would look better in six months but it never did.

Friedman, who may be the most overrated columnist in American history, is now asserting what he trusts will become the new conventional wisdom on Ukraine, that Putin lost the Ukraine crisis. On Wednesday, Friedman wrote  “In the end, it was Putinism versus Obamaism, and I’d like to be the first on my block to declare that the ‘other fellow’ — Putin — ‘just blinked.’”

According to Friedman, the Ukraine crisis “may be the first case of post-post-Cold War brinkmanship, pitting the 21st century versus the 19th. It pits a Chinese/Russian worldview that says we can take advantage of 21st-century globalization whenever we want to enrich ourselves, and we can behave like 19th-century powers whenever we want to take a bite out of a neighbor — versus a view that says, no, sorry, the world of the 21st century is not just interconnected but interdependent and either you play by those rules or you pay a huge price.”

As with Hiatt and Diehl, one has to wonder how Friedman can be so disconnected from his own record as an eager imperialist when it came to U.S. desires for “regime change” in a variety of disliked countries. While it may be true that the United States hasn’t taken bites out of its immediate neighbors recently – although there were U.S.-backed coups in Honduras, Haiti and Venezuela in the 21st Century – the U.S. government has taken numerous bites out of other countries halfway around the world.

And, as for playing by the “rules,” Friedman’s “exceptional” America sets its own rules. [For more on how this style of propaganda relates to Ukraine, see’s NYT’s One-Sided Ukraine Narrative.”]

Friedman’s schoolyard taunt about Putin having “blinked” also is at best a superficial rendering of the recent developments in Ukraine and a failure to recognize the long-term harm that Official Washington’s tough-guy-ism over Ukraine has done to genuine U.S. national interests by shoving Russia and China closer together. [See’sPremature US Victory-Dancing on Ukraine.”]

Even newspaper columnists are supposed to connect their writings to reality once in a while. But I guess since the likes of Hiatt, Diehl and Friedman advocated the gross violation of international law that was the Iraq War, got their facts wrong, and paid no career price for doing so, they have little reason to think that they should change their approach now.

During my four-decade-plus career in journalism, I have seen reporters take on tough stories and do so with high professional standards, yet still have their careers ruined because some influential people accused them of some minor misstep, the case of Gary Webb and his Contra-cocaine series being one tragic example.  [See’s The Warning in Gary Webb’s Death.”]

In contrast, Hiatt, Diehl and Friedman can provide false propaganda to justify an illegal war that gets hundreds of thousands of people killed while squandering about $1 trillion in taxpayers’ money, yet they faced no consequences. So, today, they are still able to frame new trouble spots like Syria, Libya and Ukraine and cramp President Obama’s sense of how far he can go in charting a less violent foreign policy.

Obama’s Timid Speech

Even though Obama did oppose the Iraq invasion last decade, he has been sucked into the same barren rhetoric about American “exceptionalism”; he makes similar hyperbolic denunciations of American “enemies”; and he plays into new false narratives like those that paved the way to hell in Iraq.

On Wednesday in addressing the graduating class at West Point, Obama had what might be his last real chance to shatter this phony frame of propaganda, but instead he delivered a pedestrian speech that tried to talk tough about crises in Ukraine and Syria as a defense against neocon critics who will predictably accuse him of weakness.

In Obama’s speech, the United States is still “the one indispensable nation,” so “when a typhoon hits the Philippines, or schoolgirls are kidnapped in Nigeria, or masked men occupy a building in Ukraine, it is America that the world looks to for help.” By the way, his reference to the “masked men” occupying a building in Ukraine wasn’t a reference to the masked neo-Nazi militias who seized buildings during the Feb. 22 coup against Yanukovych, but rather a shot at eastern Ukrainians who have resisted the coup.

Again, staying safely within Official Washington’s “group think,” Obama also lamented “Russia’s aggression toward former Soviet states” and said that “unnerves capitals in Europe.” But he expressed no concern for the Russian alarm over NATO enveloping Russia’s western borders. Obama also took a slap at China.

Obama said, “Regional aggression that goes unchecked — whether in southern Ukraine or the South China Sea, or anywhere else in the world — will ultimately impact our allies and could draw in our military. We can’t ignore what happens beyond our boundaries.” (Is Obama really suggesting that the United States might go to war with nuclear-armed Russia and China over Ukraine and the South China Sea?)

The President also slid into familiar hyperbole about Russia’s agreement to accept Crimea back into the Russian federation after a post-coup referendum there found overwhelming support among Crimean voters to break away from the failed Ukrainian state. Instead of noting that popular will – and the reality that Russian troops were already in Crimea as part of a basing agreement for Sevastopol – Obama conjured up images of an old-style invasion.

“In Ukraine, Russia’s recent actions recall the days when Soviet tanks rolled into Eastern Europe,” Obama said, claiming that this latest “aggression” was countered with U.S. public diplomacy. “This mobilization of world opinion and international institutions served as a counterweight to Russian propaganda and Russian troops on the border and armed militias in ski masks,” he said.

Yet, while using this tough-guy rhetoric, Obama did reject endless warfare and endless occupations, saying:

“Since World War II, some of our most costly mistakes came not from our restraint, but from our willingness to rush into military adventures without thinking through the consequences — without building international support and legitimacy for our action; without leveling with the American people about the sacrifices required.

“Tough talk often draws headlines, but war rarely conforms to slogans. As General [Dwight] Eisenhower, someone with hard-earned knowledge on this subject, said at this ceremony in 1947: ‘War is mankind’s most tragic and stupid folly; to seek or advise its deliberate provocation is a black crime against all men.’”

And, in possibly the speech’s best line, Obama added: “Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail.”

Yet, despite such reasonable observations, Obama kept sliding back into super-patriotic rhetoric, including assertions that sounded at best hypocritical if not ludicrous:

“I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being. But what makes us exceptional is not our ability to flout international norms and the rule of law; it is our willingness to affirm them through our actions. And that’s why I will continue to push to close Gitmo — because American values and legal traditions do not permit the indefinite detention of people beyond our borders. That’s why we’re putting in place new restrictions on how America collects and uses intelligence — because we will have fewer partners and be less effective if a perception takes hold that we’re conducting surveillance against ordinary citizens.

“America does not simply stand for stability or the absence of conflict, no matter what the cost. We stand for the more lasting peace that can only come through opportunity and freedom for people everywhere.”

The JFK Contrast

Many eyes must have been rolling while listening to Obama attempt to disassociate himself from scandalous behavior that had occurred during his five-plus years as president. And his stab at soaring rhetoric fell far short of the mark set by President John F. Kennedy when he gave possibly his greatest speech at American University on June 10, 1963, declaring:

“What kind of peace do I mean and what kind of a peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, and the kind that enables men and nations to grow, and to hope, and build a better life for their children — not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women, not merely peace in our time but peace in all time.”

Kennedy recognized that his appeal for this serious pursuit of peace would be dismissed by the cynics and the warmongers as unrealistic and even dangerous. The Cold War was near its peak when Kennedy spoke. But he was determined to change the frame of the foreign policy debate, away from the endless bravado of militarism:

“I speak of peace, therefore, as the necessary, rational end of rational men. I realize the pursuit of peace is not as dramatic as the pursuit of war, and frequently the words of the pursuers fall on deaf ears. But we have no more urgent task. …

“Too many of us think it is impossible. Too many think it is unreal. But that is a dangerous, defeatist belief. It leads to the conclusion that war is inevitable, that mankind is doomed, that we are gripped by forces we cannot control. We need not accept that view. Our problems are manmade; therefore, they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings.”

And then, in arguably the most important words that he ever spoke, Kennedy said, “For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s futures. And we are all mortal.”

In his day, Kennedy also faced powerful war hawks who sought to constrain his vision of an international system that recognized the legitimate interests of other nations and their peoples. But Kennedy still deployed his rhetoric bravely to smash the narrow framework of Cold War reductionism.

By contrast, Obama accepted the tiny frame as shaped by Official Washington’s still powerful neocons; he simply tried to maneuver for a little more elbow room.

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Egyptian Election: ‘Farce’ or ‘Quest for Security’?


Writes CNN: “Former Egyptian military chief Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is poised to win the country’s presidential election in a landslide — though the fairness of the vote has been questioned. Exit polls suggest el-Sisi won 95.3 percent of the vote…”

SHERIEF GABER, sgaber at, @cairocitylimits
Gaber is a member of the Mosireen Independent Media Collective in Cairo, and a researcher focusing on housing rights and social justice issues. He said today, “It should be said that this is a farce mimicking an ‘election,’ and not even a terribly well orchestrated farce. Between the glaringly repressive conditions leading up to the vote, as well as the ridiculous 11th hour decision by the elections committee to extend voting by another day, there’s nothing democratic about what’s happened here.”

EMAD MEKAY, emad_mekay at
Mekay is a California-based reporter specializing in the Middle East. He worked for the New York Times and Bloomberg News. He is a former John S. Knight journalism fellow at Stanford University and a former investigative reporting fellow at U. C. Berkeley. He said today: “I’ve covered many elections in the Middle East. With the exception of the ephemeral electoral experience of the ‘Arab Spring,’ many of them were actually rigged. This Egypt presidential election is a return to the rigged past of Mubarak. It is almost comical.

“The military junta must feel that the West is so much on their side that they are so brazen in their rigging attempts. They are not as subtle as Mubarak. … The popular boycott was massive and yet the military junta, which runs the local media, would have us believe that the turnout was huge.

“In the West, those who buy the Sisi results are really enablers of the new brutal dictatorship that is taking root there. They are so blinded by their fear of all things Islamic, that they’d rather support a bloodbath than see a democratic, but Islamic, regime replace the military junta.” See: U.S. Lawmaker Vows to Block U.S. Military Aid to Egypt.”

GHADA TALHAMI, talhami at
Talhami is emeritus professor in the department of politics at Lake Forest College. Her books include The Mobilization of Muslim Women in Egypt. She said today: “Western observers may see the abstaining of large sectors of the Egyptian public from the current elections as an indictment of army rule, but a closer look reveals greater issues at play. If, as has been drummed by human rights advocates, Western governments and Egypt’s religious right, al-Sisi’s credibility has been greatly damaged by his crackdown on political opponents and residual forces of the January 25 uprising, then the electoral dent inflicted on al-Sisi’s legend is perfectly understandable. But what is being underestimated here is the apparent apathy of the non-Islamic and non-revolutionary forces, for as in all revolutions, the struggle between the forces of freedom and the primal quest for security usually take center-stage. In Egypt’s case, the quest for security is being interpreted currently as concern over domestic security and stability. Concern for Egypt’s strategic security and the safety of its external borders, however, has always been at the core of the military’s psyche.”

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