Archive | September 10th, 2014

Millions of Americans Live Under the World Poverty Line ” VIDEO ”

NOVANEWS

4% of Americans live on less than $2 a day.

How does that line up with some other countries?

Let’s see;

Russia 0.1%

Gaza 0.3%

Jordan 1.6%

Argentina 1.9%

China almost gets to our number: China 3.5%

I wonder if that fact that 0.75% of our citizens are in jail at any given time “helps” us achieve this appalling statistic. – See more at: http://www.brasschecktv.com/videos/money-madness-1/living-on-less-than-2-a-day.html#sthash.EvdG9Thu.dpuf

 

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Why Are 46 Million Americans Living in Poverty? ” VIDEO ”

NOVANEWS

Familes receive food at a food distribution organized every month by Hope for the Heart in Hayward.  Many people begin lining up for food the day before, and sleep overnight on the sidewalk in order to make sure they get their food before it runs out.

 

“Frighting numbers,” Unemployment is leading to poverty levels that haven’t been seen in the US in decades. “This could be a bend point in our economy.” Many middle class are finding themselves sinking into poverty. Blacks, Latinos, and 50+ are getting hit the hardest.

Whole industries that created jobs in the past – construction for example – are simply drying up. The “safety nets” like unemployment insurance, food stamps, and payroll tax cuts for the poor have kept things from turning into a complete disaster.

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‘No New Wars, No to NATO’: Demonstrators Challenge Role of Western Military Alliance

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From Afghanistan to Syria to Ukraine, U.S. and European nations criticized for being destabilizing force

Protesters in Newport on Thursday. (Photo: Andy Davies/@adavies4)

Calling for peace and an end to ever-expanding military intervention, up to one thousand protesters joined a march in Newport, Wales on Thursday, protesting the NATO summit taking place there September 4-5.

As world leaders met inside the Celtic Manor Resort — discussing the crisis in Ukraine, the rise of the Islamic State, and the ending of NATO’s combat mission in Afghanistan — demonstrators marched three miles from a monument at the center of the city to a roundabout near the hotel. There, they were met by police in riot gear behind a large metal barrier. A small group of international peace activists was allowed through the metal fence to hand-deliver messages of opposition and a bouquet of flowers. Some of the activists had been participating in a counter-summit “peace camp” since August 30.

“As Ukraine shows, far from keeping the peace, Nato is a threat to it.”
—Seumas Milne

“Far from promoting security, NATO is a destabilizing global force,” said Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament general secretary Kate Hudson, a member of the delegation that was permitted to go beyond the cordon. “Its war of aggression in Afghanistan has killed tens of thousands and left that country fragmented: the ripples of which are being felt across the region. Through its insatiable expansion into eastern Europe, capitalizing on the vacuum left following the collapse of the USSR, NATO has contributed to heightening tensions around Russia and Ukraine, and risks provoking a new Cold War. It’s time to say No to NATO.”

Protesters carried a banner that read, “No New Wars, No to NATO,” and chanted, “They say warfare, we say welfare.” Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament press officer Luke Massey told Common Dreams that “it was a peaceful protest.”

“Through its insatiable expansion into eastern Europe, capitalizing on the vacuum left following the collapse of the USSR, NATO has contributed to heightening tensions around Russia and Ukraine, and risks provoking a new Cold War.”
—Kate Hudson, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament

In a column for the Guardian, Lindsey German of the Stop the War Coalition — an organizer of the protest — wrote that at the summit, “Sixty world leaders will swig champagne and work their way through several banquets. But the purpose of the summit is deadly serious and dangerous. Its stated aim is to increase the amount that each Nato country spends on defence to at least 2% of every country’s GDP. It will also agree further military operations in eastern Europe and in the Middle East. Billed months ago as a summit to manage the withdrawal of (some) Nato troops from Afghanistan, that issue has been consigned almost to a footnote.”

She continued:

As the EU expanded eastwards, with its neoliberal message of privatisation and free markets, membership of Nato and greater spending on the military was seen as part of the package. Nato member states now extend to the Russian border.

The conflict in Ukraine has everything to do with this process. Nato plans exercises in Ukraine, and what amounts to permanent bases in Poland and the Baltic states. By backing the Ukraine government’s bombardment of the eastern part of the country, and largely ignoring the humanitarian crisis which has arisen there, Nato has made war with Russia a real threat.

The danger is that this week’s summit will also increase the pressure for war in Iraq. It seems almost unbelievable that none of the lessons of previous wars have been learned. More bombing of Iraq will do nothing to stop Isis.

Also in the Guardian, Seumas Milne expressed similar outrage: “Nato likes to see itself as the international community. In reality it’s an interventionist and expansionist military club of rich-world states and their satellites used to enforce western strategic and economic interests. As Ukraine shows, far from keeping the peace, Nato is a threat to it.”

According to the BBC, another protest is planned for later Thursday in the capital, where NATO delegates are expected to have dinner at Cardiff Castle.

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After 41 Years in Solitary, ‘Angola Three’ Prisoner Renews Fight for Justice

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Albert Woodfox, last remaining prisoner of the Angola Three, seeks to sue prison authorities for constitutional rights violations

An image of Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox in the early 1970s in a still from “In the Land of the Free…” (Photo: Solitary Watch)

After serving more than 41 years in solitary confinement, the longest sentence in isolation ever served by a U.S. inmate, Angola Three prisoner Albert Woodfox had a new day in courton Thursday to seek damages against Louisiana prison authorities for constitutional rights violations.

Woodfox, 67, was arrested for armed robbery in 1971 and sentenced to 50 years at Louisiana State Penitentiary — also known as Angola, a prison built on a former slave plantation that quickly became one of the most notorious facilities in the country. He was placed in solitary in April 1972, where he has remained ever since, for allegedly killing a guard, Officer Brent Miller, during riots in the prison that year. He was transferred from Angola to the David Wade correctional center in unincorporated Claiborne Parish in 2010, but was immediately placed in closed-cell restriction there as well.

Woodfox is seeking permission from the U.S. Fifth Circuit appeals court in New Orleans to sue prison officials for violating his constitutional rights, including the Eighth Amendment, which protects prisoners from cruel and unusual punishment.

“This is one more step in what has been a very long, long path towards justice,” Jasmine Heiss, senior campaigner with Amnesty International USA, told Common Dreams “[Albert] is still sitting in a tiny solitary confinement cell waiting to hear from an appeals court… Combined, the Angola Three have served more than 100 years in solitary confinement.”

The Guardian reports:

If the appeals court upholds an early ruling from a lower court and allows Woodfox’s lawsuit to go to trial next year, the Louisiana authorities face potentially massive financial penalties. Were he to win at trial, not only would the prison service face up to $1m in legal costs but it could also be saddled with seven-figure damages.

Apart from a three-year period in general population, Woodfox has spent 23 hours of every day alone in a 6-by-8-foot cell. His only view is of the prison hallway. In the last hour of the day, he is permitted to walk the hallway, shower, and occasionally walk through the exercise yard — alone. In January, he testified that prison guards forced him to undergo daily strip and cavity searches. In 2008, he described (pdf) the claustrophobia and panic attacks that plagued him in a solitary camp known as ‘the Dungeon,’ where prisoners are confined at all times except for a 15-minute shower break. “When I have an attack I feel like I am being smothered, it is very difficult to breathe, and I sweat profusely; it seems like the cell walls close in and are just inches from my face,” he stated.

But David Wade prison officials are arguing (pdf) that because Woodfox transferred to their facility in 2010, his four-year solitary confinement there should be considered a separate sentence from his decades in Angola — and that four years in isolation does not constitute “atypical and significant hardship.” Authorities also claim that qualified immunity protects them from liability in Woodfox’s case, and that as a prisoner, he could not have expected to have his liberties protected.

Woodfox’s lawyers counter (pdf) that officials’ arguments for keeping Woodfox in solitary confinement are “sham proceedings” and “meaningless board reviews.” They say prison authorities could not have been unaware that decades of solitary confinement counted as “atypical” punishment, and should not be able to invoke qualified immunity in this case. “Immunizing Defendants-Appellants also contravenes the letter of qualified immunity law, which is intended to protect public servants who reasonably believed their conduct was lawful—not shield those who conduct themselves with wanton indifference to the law,” their brief states.

Woodfox’s conviction for the guard’s murder has been overturned three times. Federal courts ruled that the trial had violated his constitutional rights through racial discrimination, prosecutorial misconduct, inadequate defense, and suppression of exculpatory evidence.

But instead of freeing Woodfox, Louisiana attorney general Buddy Caldwell decided to contest the most recent federal decision in 2008 and sent him back to live in isolation at Angola.

“Then and now, the fundament of the suit has been this: the continued lockdown confinement of [Albert Woodfox] without legitimate penological interests, in violation of the Constitution,” the lawsuit states.

“Louisiana cannot extend the abuses and injustice against Albert Woodfox another day,” said Steven W. Hawkins, executive director of Amnesty International USA. “Louisiana authorities are leading a campaign of vengeance instead of upholding justice. Keeping Woodfox in solitary confinement for over four decades is a dark stain on human rights in the United States and globally. Louisiana must withdraw its legal appeal and allow the federal court ruling to stand. Should this not occur, the Court of Appeal should rule in the interests of justice and pave the way for Albert Woodfox’s release.”

United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan E. Méndez, in October 2013 called for Albert Woodfox’s immediate release from solitary confinement. “Four decades in solitary confinement can only be described as torture,” he said.

After his imprisonment in 1971, Woodfox was an active member of the Black Panther party on his cell block — having joined the organization after briefly escaping from court on his sentencing date — which angered the guards at Angola. Officer Miller’s death led to Woodfox and two other Black Panther inmates, Herman Wallace and Robert King, being accused of his murder. The case was fraught with inconsistencies, lost evidence, and special favors paid between prison officials and inmates, as well as investigators and jury members.

Woodfox and Wallace were tried and convicted by an all-white jury within two hours.

King was never charged, but placed in solitary confinement for 29 years until his release in 2001.

NPR reports:

“You heard hollering and screaming and the bodies being slammed against the walls,” says Billy Wayne Sinclair, a white inmate on death row in 1972. “Upstairs you could smell tear gas bombs. They would come in there and set them off. So we would have to wet stuff and put it to our faces and turn our fans on and hope that we could suck as much out as we could. We heard the beatings that were going on for weeks after that.”

Several inmates said it was a bad month to be black at Angola. According to court records, prison officials never questioned a single white inmate.

Herman Wallace was set free on October 1, 2013, at age 71, after Amnesty International called for his release on humanitarian grounds. Two days later, a grand jury reindicted him for Miller’s murder, but did not arrest him. He died the next day.

Prison officials have argued that Woodfox should not be freed from solitary confinement because there has been no rehabilitation [from] practicing Black Pantherism.” Over the past several years, Woodfox has testified about the numerous health problems he has suffered from while in solitary confinement.

The Guardian writes:

The prisoner is suffering from several medical ailments including hypertension, heart disease and kidney disease. Psychologically, his lawyers say, Woodfox is remarkably stoic and uncomplaining, but Kendall said there had been a “horrible toll” from prolonged isolation.

“Really the amazing thing about Albert, King, and Herman, was that they have gone through and experienced so beyond the pale what human beings can endure and have come out committed to justice,” Heiss said.

“A remedy to the injustice inflicted on Albert Woodfox by the state is long overdue,” said Tessa Murphy, USA campaigner at Amnesty International. “Herman Wallace gained his freedom only to die within days. Justice must not again be so cruelly delayed.”

King, who Heiss calls Woodfox’s “most tireless advocate,” has been fighting for Woodfox’s freedom since his own release. “I may be free from Angola,” he writes on his website, “but Angola will never be free of me.”

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Militarization, Surveillance, and Profit: How Grassroots Groups are Fighting Urban Shield

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Marion County, Oregon SWAT Team members during a training exercise. (Photo: Oregon Department of Transportation / Public Domain)

While all eyes are on the disturbing evidence of police militarization in Ferguson, are you paying attention to what’s happening with law enforcement in your own back yard?

In the San Francisco Bay Area, the answer is yes. A coalition of community groups has come together to call attention to Urban Shield, a four-day long “preparedness” exercise for law enforcement and other agencies that will take place from September 4-8.  They’ve organized a week of education, including a march and demonstration outside of the event on Friday, September 5. To these community groups, Urban Shield represents state violence and political repression, not public safety.

The reasons for protesting Urban Shield are clear. It is one of the ways that local law enforcement gets access to, and romanced by, military and surveillance technologies like the ones we’ve seen turned against protesters in Ferguson, as well as low-level crimes, across the country.

Urban Shield is coordinated by the for-profit company Cytel Group, and in addition to training exercises, it also functions as a marketplace and testing site for new militarized technologies. The accompanying trade show includes exhibitors from armored vehicle manufacturers to a “counter-terrorism magazine.” In 2013, companies were encouraged“to place their products and technology directly into the hands of SWAT, Fire, EOD, and EMS professionals.” Vending at Urban Shield is touted as a way to get “invaluable real-time feedback for vendor product[s]” since “at the end of every scenario the teams are questioned concerning the benefits and drawbacks of each piece of technology used in that scenario.” It’s unsurprising that Urban Shield has a “try it out” component for law enforcement, since there is an incredible amount of profit to be made from such products, often with federal funds (i.e. taxpayer dollars) footing the bill.

The event is part of the federal Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI). UASI is a grant program administered by the federal Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Security Grant Program (the same program that funds fusion centers). In the San Francisco Bay Area, the grants are coordinated by the Bay Area UASI, a regional coordinating body. UASI grants are supposed to go to “planning, organization, equipment, training, and exercise needs of high-threat, high-density Urban Areas.” The grants have gone to law enforcement agencies all over the country— but the program has been the subject ofscathing critique from grassroots groups and lawmakers.

Much of the criticism around UASI is that the grants enable purchases of equipment that no community should adopt without a public conversation. The obvious examples are armored vehicles and so-called “less-lethal” weapons like tear gas and rubber bullets, like those used to violently suppress demonstrators in Ferguson. But UASI funds can also be used to purchase sophisticated surveillance equipment that, absent safeguards, could allow local law enforcement to spy on activists before demonstrations ever take place, or to racially profile people of color in communities like Oakland. Senator Tom Coburn’s 2012 report “Safety at Any Price” lists some of the equipment that has been purchased with UASI money, and it reads like a laundry list of privacy advocates’ concerns: surveillance cameras, mobile fingerprinting devices, automated license plate readers, armored vehicles, and drones. To make matters worse, as Senator Coburn’s report points out, there is no evidence that these purchases make anyone safer.

It should also be noted that Urban Shield is not limited to the San Francisco area. Bostonand Austin also participate in similar trainings, as has Jordan. And Jordan isn’t the only international connection. As the Urban Shield website boasts, “In 2014, teams from Singapore and South Korea will participate.” Teams in the past have included the French National Police and teams from Israel, Brazil, Jordan, and Bahrain. Police departments from across the country participate as well, including SWAT teams from Newark, Dallas, Chicago, and Travis County, Texas.

None of this has escaped the attention of organizers, who have made it clear that Urban Shield is linked to surveillance of activists and violence against communities of color across the country, but also to political repression internationally. In their words: “The line between police and military is blurring as parallel military tactics are being deployed globally to repress dissent and increase state control over people who are calling for freedom and justice.”

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The Whys Behind the Ukraine Crisis

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Given the high stakes of a nuclear confrontation with Russia, some analysts wonder what’s the real motive for taking this extraordinary risk over Ukraine

Gas pipeline,

Ukraine. (Photo: Dmytro Glazkov / World Bank)

A senior U.S. diplomat told me recently that if Russia were to occupy all of Ukraine and even neighboring Belarus that there would be zero impact on U.S. national interests. The diplomat wasn’t advocating that, of course, but was noting the curious reality that Official Washington’s current war hysteria over Ukraine doesn’t connect to genuine security concerns.

So why has so much of the Washington Establishment – from prominent government officials to all the major media pundits – devoted so much time this past year to pounding their chests over the need to confront Russia regarding Ukraine? Who is benefiting from this eminently avoidable – yet extremely dangerous – crisis? What’s driving the madness?

Of course, Washington’s conventional wisdom is that America only wants “democracy” for the people of Ukraine and that Russian President Vladimir Putin provoked this confrontation as part of an imperialist design to reclaim Russian territory lost during the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. But that “group think” doesn’t withstand examination. [See Consortiumnews.com’s Who’s Telling the Big Lie on Ukraine?”]

The Ukraine crisis was provoked not by Putin but by a combination of the European Union’s reckless move to expand its influence eastward and the machinations of U.S. neoconservatives who were angered by Putin’s collaboration with President Barack Obama to tamp down confrontations in Syria and Iran, two neocon targets for “regime change.”

Plus, if “democracy promotion” were the real motive, there were obviously better ways to achieve it. Democratically elected President Viktor Yanukovych pledged on Feb. 21 – in an agreement guaranteed by three European nations – to surrender much of his power and hold early elections so he could be voted out of office if the people wanted.

However, on Feb. 22, the agreement was brushed aside as neo-Nazi militias stormed presidential buildings and forced Yanukovych and other officials to flee for their lives. Rather than stand behind the Feb. 21 arrangement, the U.S. State Department quickly endorsed the coup regime that emerged as “legitimate” and the mainstream U.S. press dutifully demonized Yanukovych by noting, for instance, that a house being built for him had a pricy sauna.

The key role of the neo-Nazis, who were given several ministries in recognition of their importance to the putsch, was studiously ignored or immediately forgotten by all the big U.S. news outlets. [See Consortiumnews.com’s Ukraine’s ‘Dr. Strangelove’ Reality.”]

So, it’s hard for any rational person to swallow the official line that the U.S. interest in the spiraling catastrophe of Ukraine, now including thousands of ethnic Russians killed by the coup regime’s brutal “anti-terrorist operation,” was either to stop Putin’s imperial designs or to bring “democracy” to the Ukrainians.

That skepticism – combined with the extraordinary danger of stoking a hot war on the border of nuclear-armed Russia – has caused many observers to search for more strategic explanations behind the crisis, such as the West’s desires to “frack” eastern Ukraine for shale gas or the American determination to protect the dollar as the world’s currency.

Thermo-Nuclear War Anyone?

The thinking is that when the potential cost of such an adventure, i.e. thermo-nuclear warfare that could end all life on the planet, is so high, the motivation must be commensurate. And there is logic behind that thinking although it’s hard to conceive what financial payoff is big enough to risk wiping out all humanity including the people on Wall Street.

But sometimes gambles are made with the assumption that lots of money can be pocketed before cooler heads intervene to prevent total devastation — or even the more immediate risk that the Ukraine crisis will pitch Europe into a triple-dip recession that could destabilize the fragile U.S. economy, too.

In the Ukraine case, the temptation has been to think that Moscow – hit with escalating economic sanctions – will back down even as the EU and U.S. energy interests seize control of eastern Ukraine’s energy reserves. The fracking could mean both a financial bonanza to investors and an end to Russia’s dominance of the natural gas supplies feeding central and eastern Europe. So the economic and geopolitical payoff could be substantial.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Ukraine has Europe’s third-largest shale gas reserves at 42 trillion cubic feet, an inviting target especially since other European nations, such as Britain, Poland, France and Bulgaria, have resisted fracking technology because of environmental concerns. An economically supine Ukraine would presumably be less able to say no. [See Consortiumnews.com’sBeneath the Ukraine Crisis: Shale Gas.”]

Further supporting the “natural gas motive” is the fact that it was Vice President Joe Biden who demanded that President Yanukovych pull back his police on Feb. 21, a move that opened the way for the neo-Nazi militias and the U.S.-backed coup. Then, just three months later, Ukraine’s largest private gas firm, Burisma Holdings, appointed Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, to its board of directors.

While that might strike some of you as a serious conflict of interest, even vocal advocates for ethics in government lost their voices amid Washington’s near-universal applause for the ouster of Yanukovych and warm affection for the coup regime in Kiev.

For instance, Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, dismissed the idea that Hunter Biden’s new job should raise eyebrows, telling Reuters: “It can’t be that because your dad is the vice president, you can’t do anything,”

Who Is Behind Burisma?

Soon, Burisma – a shadowy Cyprus-based company – was lining up well-connected lobbyists, some with ties to Secretary of State John Kerry, including Kerry’s former Senate chief of staff David Leiter, according to lobbying disclosures.

As Time magazine reported, “Leiter’s involvement in the firm rounds out a power-packed team of politically-connected Americans that also includes a second new board member, Devon Archer, a Democratic bundler and former adviser to John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign. Both Archer and Hunter Biden have worked as business partners with Kerry’s son-in-law, Christopher Heinz, the founding partner of Rosemont Capital, a private-equity company.”

According to investigative journalism in Ukraine, the ownership of Burisma has been traced to Privat Bank, which is controlled by the thuggish billionaire oligarch Ihor Kolomoysky, who was appointed by the coup regime to be governor of Dnipropetrovsk Oblast, a south-central province of Ukraine. Kolomoysky also has been associated with the financing of brutal paramilitary forces killing ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine.

Also, regarding this energy motive, it shouldn’t be forgotten that on Dec. 13, 2013, when neocon Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland reminded Ukrainian business leaders that the United States had invested $5 billion in their “European aspirations,” she was at a conference sponsored by Chevron. She even stood next to the company’s logo.

So, clearly energy resources and the billions of dollars that go with them should be factored in when trying to solve the mystery of why Official Washington has gone so berserk about a confrontation with Russia that boils down to whether ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine should be allowed some measure of autonomy or be put firmly under the thumb of U.S.-friendly authorities in Kiev.

There’s also the issue of Russia’s interest in exploring with China and other emerging economies the possibility of escaping the financial hegemony of the U.S. dollar, a move that could seriously threaten American economic dominance. According to this line of thinking, the U.S. and its close allies need to bring Moscow to its geopolitical knees – where it was under the late Boris Yeltsin – to stop any experimentation with other currencies for global trade.

Again, the advocates for this theory have a point. Protecting the Mighty Dollar is of utmost importance to Wall Street. The financial cataclysm of a potential ouster of the U.S. dollar as the world’s benchmark currency might understandably prompt some powerful people to play a dangerous game of chicken with nuclear-armed Russia.

Of course, there’s also the budgetary interest of NATO and the U.S. “military-industrial complex” (which helps fund many of Washington’s “think tanks”) to hype every propaganda opportunity to scare the American people about the “Russian threat.”

And, it’s a truism that every major international confrontation has multiple drivers. Think back on the motives behind the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. Among a variety of factors were Vice President Dick Cheney’s lust for oil, President George W. Bush’s psychological rivalry with his father, and the neocons’ interest in orchestrating “regime change” in countries considered hostile to Israel. [See Consortiumnews.com’s The Mysterious Why of the Iraq War.”]

There are also other reasons to disdain Putin, from his bare-chested horseback riding to his retrograde policies on gay rights. But he is no Stalin and surely no Hitler.

The Neocons’ ‘Samson Option’

So, while it’s reasonable to see multiple motives behind the brinksmanship with Russia over Ukraine, the sheer recklessness of the confrontation has, to me, the feel of an ideology or an “ism,” where people are ready to risk it all for some larger vision that is central to their being.

That is why I have long considered the Ukraine crisis to be an outgrowth of the neoconservative obsession with Israel’s interests in the Middle East.

Not only did key neocons – the likes of Assistant Secretary Nuland and Sen. John McCain – put themselves at the center of the coup plotting last winter but the neocons had an overriding motive: they wanted to destroy the behind-the-scenes collaboration between President Obama and President Putin who had worked together to avert a U.S. bombing campaign against the Syrian government a year ago and then advanced negotiations with Iran over limiting but not eliminating its nuclear program.

Those Obama-Putin diplomatic initiatives frustrated the desires of Israeli officials and the neocons to engineer “regime change” in those two countries. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu even believed that bombing Iran’s nuclear plants was an “existential” necessity.

Further, there was the possibility that an expansion of the Obama-Putin cooperation could have supplanted Israel’s powerful position as a key arbiter of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. Thus, the Obama-Putin relationship had to be blown up – and the Ukraine crisis was the perfect explosive for the destruction. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Why Neocons Seek to Destabilize Russia.”]

Though I’m told that Obama now understands how the neocons and other hardliners outmaneuvered him over Ukraine, he has felt compelled to join in Official Washington’s endless Putin-bashing, causing a furious Putin to make clear that he cannot be counted on to assist Obama on tricky foreign policy predicaments like Syria and Iran.

As I wrote last April, “There is a ‘little-old-lady-who-swallowed-the-fly’ quality to neocon thinking. When one of their schemes goes bad, they simply move to a bigger, more dangerous scheme. If the Palestinians and Lebanon’s Hezbollah persist in annoying you and troubling Israel, you target their sponsors with ‘regime change’ – in Iraq, Syria and Iran. If your ‘regime change’ in Iraq goes badly, you escalate the subversion of Syria and the bankrupting of Iran.

“Just when you think you’ve cornered President Barack Obama into a massive bombing campaign against Syria – with a possible follow-on war against Iran – Putin steps in to give Obama a peaceful path out, getting Syria to surrender its chemical weapons and Iran to agree to constraints on its nuclear program. So, this Obama-Putin collaboration has become your new threat. That means you take aim at Ukraine, knowing its sensitivity to Russia.

“You support an uprising against elected President Viktor Yanukovych, even though neo-Nazi militias are needed to accomplish the actual coup. You get the U.S. State Department to immediately recognize the coup regime although it disenfranchises many people of eastern and southern Ukraine, where Yanukovych had his political base.

“When Putin steps in to protect the interests of those ethnic Russian populations and supports the secession of Crimea (endorsed by 96 percent of voters in a hastily called referendum), your target shifts again. Though you’ve succeeded in your plan to drive a wedge between Obama and Putin, Putin’s resistance to your Ukraine plans makes him the next focus of ‘regime change.’

“Your many friends in the mainstream U.S. news media begin to relentlessly demonize Putin with a propaganda barrage that would do a totalitarian state proud. The anti-Putin ‘group think’ is near total and any accusation – regardless of the absence of facts – is fine.”

Yet, by risking a potential nuclear confrontation with Russia — the equivalent of the old lady swallowing a horse – the neocons have moved beyond what can be described in a children’s ditty. It has become more like a global version of Israel’s “Samson Option,” the readiness to use nuclear weapons in a self-destructive commitment to eliminate your enemies whatever the cost to yourself.

But what is particularly shocking in this case is how virtually everyone in U.S. officialdom – and across the mainstream media spectrum – has bought into this madness.

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Nazi Bars Amnesty, Human Rights Watch Workers from Gaza

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237,659 internally displaced Palestinian civilians are taking shelter in 81 United Nations Relief and Works Agency schools. (Photo: UNRWA)

Israel has been refusing to allow employees of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to enter the Gaza Strip in order to conduct their own independent investigations into the fighting, using various bureaucratic excuses.

Both human rights organizations have been trying to obtain permission from the Civil Administration to enter Gaza since July 7. Two different reasons have been cited for the refusals: The first is that the Erez border crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip is closed and no entry permits are being granted until further notice; the second is neither group is registered with the Social Affairs Ministry as a humanitarian aid organization.

In fact, Erez was open throughout most of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge, which began on July 8. Among others, journalists, United Nations employees and Palestinians needing medical care or returning from abroad (with special permits), were allowed to pass through.

The spokesman for the Coordinator of Government Activity in the Territories told Haaretz yesterday that it was suggested to both groups that they submit a special request with the COGAT ombudsman, but that no such request had as yet been received. Human Rights Watch said it had only received the suggestion late last week. Amnesty said it had not heard of the suggestion at all.

Both organizations had hoped to have researchers in the Strip during the fighting, accompanied by weapons and munitions experts with military backgrounds: Figures in the NGOs said there are no Palestinians in Gaza with the requisite professional military knowledge to independently evaluate claims being made by both the Palestinians and Israelis. While testimonies can be taken and cross-checked after the fact, physical evidence such as shell impact craters or traces from munitions is usually removed quickly.

Both groups have in the past published reports critical of Hamas. Following Operation Cast Lead (2009) and Operation Pillar of Defense (2012) they documented incidents that raised allegations of war crimes by Israel. It should be noted that both groups conduct investigations in the West Bank and in Israel proper without any interference from the authorities.

Human Right Watch investigators have been barred from entering Gaza via the Erez crossing since 2006, while Amnesty’s people have been barred since June 2012. Until the Morsi government in Egypt was brought down, they would enter Gaza from Egyptian territory through the Rafah crossing. On December 6, 2012, the international department of the Gaza Coordination and Liaison Administration (which is part of the Civil Administration) told Amnesty that it would no longer process its requests to enter the Strip because it only handles requests from groups registered as aid groups with either the Israel Foreign Ministry or the Social Affairs Ministry. The notice acknowledged that this was a change in policy and said the change had come “from a higher authority.”

In subsequent discussions that Amnesty held with the Israeli authorities, it emerged that only UN agencies are registered with the Foreign Ministry. Yonatan Gher, Amnesty’s executive director in Israel, told Haaretz that the Foreign Ministry had specifically told his group that it couldn’t register with the ministry. As for the Social Affairs Ministry, the group explained that it doesn’t fall under the category of aid or humanitarian organizations that work regularly in the territories, and which register with that ministry to get work permits. Gher said that while he had gotten verbal promises from the Civil Administration that it would continue to accept Amnesty’s entrance requests, in recent weeks the only thing that had been raised is registering with the Social Affairs Ministry.

Bill van Esveld, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, said he was first told by the Civil Administration offices in Beit El that his requests to enter the Strip were not being handled because of the military situation, but the Coordination and Liaison Administration at the Erez crossing told him that his requests weren’t being handled because the organization wasn’t registered with the foreign or the social affairs ministries.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said in a response that he had no knowledge of the complaints by Human Rights Watch. Regarding Amnesty, Palmor said its people could not enter Gaza because it isn’t registered with the Social Affairs Ministry.

“Entrance to the Gaza Strip through the Erez crossing is permitted primarily to humanitarian and aid organizations, journalists, diplomats, and international political officials. This is government policy and the criteria that the government set. I am not aware of any effort to withhold entry permits or registration from Amnesty for any political reason. As noted, the organization, by its own admission, does not meet the criterion set [humanitarian aid].

Amnesty has asked several European foreign ministries to raise the issue with Israeli diplomats and the Israeli Foreign Ministry. No response has been received as yet.

COGAT’s written guidelines for the passage of foreigners through the Erez crossing, from September 2013, says employees of unrecognized (i.e., not registered with the Social Affairs Ministry) organization “may submit an exceptional request that will be considered in light of the prevailing policy based on the political-security situation.” In other words, the guidelines acknowledge the option of granting a permit to cross at Erez, if the authorities are interested in doing so.

Posted in Palestine Affairs, ZIO-NAZI, GazaComments Off on Nazi Bars Amnesty, Human Rights Watch Workers from Gaza

One Year After Egypt’s Rab’a Massacre, US Still Funding Repression

NOVANEWS
US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) and Egypt’s Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr (Photo courtesy of Mohamed Kamel Amr’s official Facebook page)

It has been one year since the August 14, 2013 Rab’a Square massacre in Egypt, when the Egyptian police and army opened fire on demonstrators opposed to the military’s July 3 ouster of President Mohamed Morsi. Using tanks, bulldozers, ground forces, helicopters and snipers, police and army personnel mercilessly attacked the makeshift protest encampment, where demonstrators, including women and children, had been camped out for over 45 days. The result was the worst mass killing in Egypt’s modern history.

The government’s systematic effort to obscure what took place, beginning with sealing off the square the next day, has made it difficult to come up with an accurate death toll. But a just-released Human Rights Watch report, based on a meticulous year-long investigation, found that at least 817 and likely well over 1,000 people were killed in Rab’a Square on August 14.

The report contains horrific first-hand accounts. One protester recalled carrying the dead, piles of them. “We found limbs that were totally crushed. There were dead people with no arms, obviously a tank ran over them. Imagine you are carrying piles of bodies, it is something you can’t imagine. Even the bodies that you are carrying, you carry an arm of a person, alongside the leg of another person.”

A student from Cairo University recounted that the ground was a “sea of blood” and how she watched the bleeding protesters in horror, “knowing that I was not able to do anything besides watch them die.”

A doctor described the scene at the mosque in the square: “I have never seen anything like what I saw when I stepped inside. The entire floor was covered in bodies. To slow down the decomposition, people had put ice around the bodies. But the ice had melted and mixed with the blood, leaving us wading in blood and water.”

Human Rights Watch’s executive director, Kenneth Roth, and the director of its Middle East and North Africa division, Sarah Leah Whitson, had planned to be in Cairo this week to release the report, but were held at the airport and denied entry into Egypt.

The systematic and intentional killing of unarmed protesters is a crime against humanity and those responsible should be investigated and held accountable. At the top of the chain of command during the Rab’a massacre was then-Defense Minister Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who orchestrated the military overthrow of democratically-elected Morsi. But neither Sisi nor any government officials have been prosecuted for the killings. On the contrary; Sisi has managed to usurp even more power, becoming Egypt’s president via rigged elections.

Since the massacre, Sisi has overseen a year of intense government repression that has included the arrests of tens of thousands of people, including Islamists and leftist political activists. More than 65 journalists have been detained and some, like three Al Jazeera journalists, have been sentenced to 7-10 years in prison. Egypt’s criminal justice system has become a cruel joke; sentencing 1,247 people to death in trials makes a mockery of the word “justice”. In many cases defendants were not brought to their trials and lawyers have repeatedly been barred from presenting their defense or questioning witnesses.

Amnesty International has documented the sharp deterioration in human rights in Egypt in the past year, including the surge in arbitrary arrests, torture and deaths in police custody. Amnesty says torture is routinely carried out by the military and police, with members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood particularly targeted. Among the methods of torture employed are electric shocks, rape, handcuffing detainees and suspending them from open doors.

Gen. Abdel Fattah Osman, who heads the media department at the Interior Ministry, denied the accusations of torture and rape in prisons and declared that “prisons in Egypt have become like hotels.”

I had a minor taste of this regime’s “hospitality” when I attempted to enter Cairo on March 3, 2014 as part of a women’s peace delegation. I was stopped at the airport, detained for 17 hours, and then thrown to the ground and handcuffed so violently that my shoulder popped out of its socket. Instead of allowing me to go to the hospital to have my arm reset, as the doctors insisted, I had my scarf stuffed into my mouth, was dragged through the airport and deported to Turkey. I was never given any explanation as to why I was detained, attacked, arrested and deported. To this day, months later, the pain in my arm is a daily reminder of the thugs who run Egypt today.

While the global human rights community has watched in horror as the basic rights of Egyptians have been torn asunder, some regional governments, particularly Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, have embraced Sisi and are providing billions of dollars of support. Perhaps this is not surprising, given that they are autocratic regimes that want to stave off democratic change in their own countries.

But what about the Western nations that pride themselves on their democratic values? European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton criticized the use of force by the military-backed government, but later assured Sisi that the EU would provide 90 million euros worth of financial assistance. And in December 2013, she even took her family on a Christmas holiday to Luxor, meeting with Egypt’s minister of tourism just a few weeks after dozens of peaceful protesters were killed.

The US case is similar. According to US law, a coup is supposed to have consequences. Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, who wrote the legislation, said, “Our law is clear: U.S. aid is cut off when a democratically elected government is deposed by military coup. This is a time to reaffirm our commitment to the principle that transfers of power should be by the ballot, not by force of arms.”

The US government refuses to even obey its own laws, which would entail cutting the $1.3 billion to the Egyptian military. Too much is at stake for powerful interests:

  • The US wants Egypt to fulfill its commitment to the 1979 Camp David Accords, which ensures Egypt’s complicity in the Israeli occupation of Gaza. This complicity became clear during the latest Israeli attack, where Sisi helped squeeze the Palestinians by closing off the border between Egypt and Gaza.
  • The US wants to ensure priority access for US Navy ships to the Suez Canal, as well as the flow of oil and gas through the canal.
  • “Aid” to Egypt is really a subsidy for US weapons exporters. Most of the money never gets to Egypt but goes to powerful U.S. military contractors such as General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin that make the tanks and fighter jets that get sent to Egypt (whether or not the Egyptian military wants the equipment).

When Secretary of State John Kerry visited Sisi on June 22, he announced that the US would release $575 million of the $1.3 billion. He told Sisi, “I am confident that we will be able to ultimately get the full amount of aid.” And now Kerry is strengthening Sisi’s hand by making him a key player in the ceasefire talks between Israel and Gaza, despite the fact that Sisi has been an enemy of Hamas—a group he considers too closely linked with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.

On this terrible anniversary of the Rab’a massacre, Egyptians are still mourning the dead, nursing the injured and crying out for help from the prisons and torture chambers. But the “Western democracies”, dancing with the dictator, have turned a deaf ear to their cries. That’s why activists the world over are marking the occasion by showing solidarity and by calling on their governments to break ties with Sisi’s regime.

Posted in EgyptComments Off on One Year After Egypt’s Rab’a Massacre, US Still Funding Repression

Leading Rights Groups and TDs Call for Release of Irish Teen Held in Egypt

NOVANEWS

Rights groups including Reprieve and Amnesty International have joined MEPs, parliamentarians, academics, teaching unions and student groups in calling on the Irish government to secure the release of an Irish teen facing the death penalty in Egypt.

Ibrahim Halawa, a student from Firhouse in County Dublin, was 17 at the time of his arrest in Egypt in August 2013, when he was caught up in the turmoil surrounding protests against the new military government. Detained in a series of adult prisons since, he has been tortured and held in solitary confinement, and has reported being singled out for special abuse because of his Irish nationality.

Despite Mr Halawa’s juvenile status, the Egyptian authorities have insisted on trying him as an adult in the country’s controversial ‘mass trials.’

In a letter sent this week to Taoiseach Enda Kenny, the group says they “call upon you as both concerned citizens and organisations to use the full power of your office to demand the immediate and unconditional release of […] Ibrahim Halawa”.

The letter asks Kenny to:

Make all possible efforts to secure Ibrahim’s immediate and unconditional release;Call on the Egyptian Government to treat Ibrahim as a juvenile, in accordance with international and Egyptian law;Join the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the European Union, and other governments in condemning Egypt’s use of mass trials and the death penalty.

Tineke Harris, one of the signatories to the letter and a director at Reprieve, the UK based legal charity that is supporting Mr Halawa, said: “This ‘mass trial’ is a mockery of justice, and Ibrahim Halawa’s inclusion in it must be stopped. Ibrahim’s life is in grave danger – the government should make all possible efforts to secure his immediate release.”

Posted in Egypt, UKComments Off on Leading Rights Groups and TDs Call for Release of Irish Teen Held in Egypt

Despite ceasefire, the number of displaced in Gaza is rising again

NOVANEWS
Submitted by Ali Abunimah

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Palestinians return to their damaged home in Absan near the boundary with Israel, east of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, 2 September.

The number of displaced Palestinians in Gaza is rising again despite the fact that the 26 August ceasefire agreement between Israel and the Palestinian resistance is holding.

Meanwhile, the scale of the destruction to Gaza’s infrastructure and economy caused by 51 days of Israeli bombing is becoming starker.

The death toll stands at 2,168 people, of whom 521 are children, according to Al Mezan Center for Human Rights which carefully verifies deaths.

And despite the ceasefire, Palestinians continue to die. Mariam Abu Amra, 23, was the latest to succumb in a Jerusalem hospital today from wounds she sustained during the Israeli attack in Deir al-Balah in Gaza, Ma’an News Agency reported.

People going back to UN shelters

“Following the ceasefire there was a steep decline in the number of internally displaced persons,” the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) reported today, “but figures have gradually risen again in UNRWA shelters, and an estimated 110,000 are still displaced, including with host families.”

UN OCHA said that the number of displaced persons in UN shelters fell dramatically from 289,000 to 53,000 between 26 and 27 August.

But as of 2 September, UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees, said that 58,217 Palestinians were sheltering in its schools – a total that remains “higher than the number of displaced sheltered during the peak of the hostilities from 27 December 2008 to 19 January 2009” – Israel’s previous major military assault on Gaza.

UN OCHA said that unexploded bombs and ammunition remain “a major protection concern and pose a risk to those returning to their homes and involved in repair and reconstruction activities.”

No power, no water

Other severe problems are the lack of water and power.

The only power plant in Gaza “remains inoperable following an Israeli airstrike on 29 July and despite extensive repairs, electricity outages of 18 hours a day continue in most areas across Gaza,” UN OCHA reported.

With “extensive damage to the water and wastewater system, 20 to 30 percent of households, or 450,000 people, remain unable to access municipal water due to damage and/or low pressure,” the agency added.

Last week, The Electronic Intifada’s Joe Catron reported on the dire situation of families still living in temporary shelter due to the massive destruction.

In total, 15,670 housing units were damaged, including 2,276 completely destroyed, and up to 500,000 Palestinians were displaced during the peak of Israel’s onslaught.

An estimated 108,000 Palestinians will need long-term solutions because their homes were too severely damaged to inhabit or were destroyed altogether.

“Unprecedented” destruction

“The scale of damage” observed by UN OCHA “is unprecedented since the beginning of the Israeli occupation in 1967. All governorates in Gaza witnessed extensive aerial bombardment, naval shelling and artillery fire, resulting in the widespread loss of life and livelihoods.”

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A Palestinian barber works at his damaged shop in Absan, near the boundary with Israel, east of the town of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, 2 September.

The cost of the damage totals almost eight billion dollars, according to the Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction, a body belonging to the Western-backed Palestinian Authority.

What is now coming into to focus is the long-term damage to the economy, especially as Israel has still not eased its siege. OCHA states:

The majority of the Gaza population has lost its productive assets. According to the Palestinian Federation of Industries, 419 businesses and workshops were damaged, with 128 completely destroyed. With limited activity at the commercial crossings and extensive damage to private infrastructure and other productive assets, business activities were largely paralyzed during the operation. Hostilities forced farmers and herders to abandon their lands, and resulted in substantial direct damage to Gaza’s 17,000 hectares of croplands as well as much of its agricultural infrastructure, including greenhouses, irrigation systems, animal farms, fodder stocks and fishing boats.

These losses come on top of an already fragile economy in which two-thirds of Gaza’s almost 1.8 million residents were receiving food assistance prior to the Israeli attack.

Unemployment had increased dramatically since mid-2013, as the Israeli-allied Egyptian military regime shut down lifeline tunnels that helped Palestinians evade the worst economic effects of the Israeli siege.

UN OCHA states that unemployment in Gaza hit 45 percent overall earlier this year and 70 percent among people aged 20-24.

The Israeli assault has already made the situation worse: the number of unemployed laborers shot up from 170,000 before the attack to over 200,000 now, according to Sami al-Amsi, head of the Palestinian Labor Union.

Whether or not the calamitous situation improves depends on whether Israel makes good on its ceasefire commitments.

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Palestinians fish at sunset at the seaport in Gaza City, 3 September.

A “sustained opening of crossings” linking Gaza to the world, via Egypt and Israel, “is vital, alongside the removal of restrictions on the entry of materials for rehabilitation and reconstruction,” UN OCHA said.

Egypt said today that an Israeli delegation was expected in Cairo within a week to continue indirect negotiations with Hamas and other Palestinian resistance factions over the terms of a long-term truce.

Posted in Palestine Affairs, ZIO-NAZI, GazaComments Off on Despite ceasefire, the number of displaced in Gaza is rising again

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