Archive | September 29th, 2014

Report Examines Economy and Social Indicators During the Past Decade in Brazil


WASHINGTON – The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) released aresearch paper today that looks at social and economic indicators, as well as policy changes that have occurred since 2003 in Brazil.

“The lives of tens of millions of Brazilians have been transformed by the economic and social policy changes of the past decade,” said CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot, lead author of the paper. “A sharp increase in economic growth, combined with increased social spending, large increases in the real minimum wage, and increased bargaining power for labor allowed for greatly reduced poverty and unemployment, as well as declining inequality.”

“These changes appear to be durable, having mostly withstood the world recession and the slowdown in worldwide economic and trade growth of the past few years.”

Among the papers findings:

•    Since the Workers’ Party (PT) won the presidency with Lula da Silva taking office in 2003, poverty has been reduced by over 55 percent, from 35.8 percent of the population to 15.9 percent in 2012. Extreme poverty has been reduced by 65 percent, from 15.2 percent to 5.3 percent over the same time period.  Over the last decade, 31.5 million Brazilians were lifted out of poverty and, of that number, over 16 million out of extreme poverty.

•    GDP per person grew at a rate of 2.5 percent annually from 2003-2014, more than three times faster than the 0.8 percent annual growth of the prior government (1995-2002).  This was in spite of the 2008-09 world financial crisis and recession, which pushed Brazil into recession in 2009; and also including the slowdown of the past few years.

•    While inequality remains high, there were large changes in how the gains from economic growth were distributed as compared with the prior decade. For example, the top 10 percent of households received more than half of all income gains from 1993-2002, but this fell to about one-third for 2003-2012.

•    Social spending has consistently increased since 2003, rising from 13 percent of GDP to over 16 percent in 2011, the last year for which data is available. Education spending has increased from 4.6 percent of GDP in 2003 to 6.1 percent of GDP in 2011.

•    Unemployment has decreased from 13.0 percent in 2003 to an average of 4.9 percent in the first quarter of 2014, a historic low.

The paper finds that these results were achieved due to policy choices, including often counter-cyclical fiscal and monetary policy, a reactivated industrial policy, lowered domestic interest rates and a break with IMF conditionalities following Brazil’s paying off its IMF debt early, in 2005. Economic stimulus helped Brazil rebound strongly from the 2008-2009 global recession. The government has raised the real (inflation-adjusted) minimum wage by 84 percent; this boosted pensions and public sector wages that are tied to it, as well as other wages and salaries.

Programs such as Bolsa Familia (BF) helped bring down poverty; since 2003, expenditures on the program in real (inflation-adjusted) Reais increased from 4.8 billion to 20.7 billion (0.2 percent of GDP to 0.5 percent of GDP). From 2003 to 2012 the number of individuals covered by Bolsa Familia increased from 16.2 million to 57.8 million. As a percent of the population, coverage increased from below 9 percent in 2003 to nearly 29 percent in 2012.

The PT government has aided the country’s industrial sector in part through the national development bank BNDES. Disbursements from BNDES have increased from 2.2 percent of GDP in 2005 to nearly 4 percent in 2013, with priority sectors for Brazil’s industrial policy receiving about 80 percent of BNDES disbursements between 2006 and 2012.

In the last few years the economy has slowed, although unemployment has continued to decline, and average wages have risen.  The paper faults overly-tight and sometimes pro-cyclical macroeconomic policies, including monetary and fiscal policy, since 2011, for the economic slowdown; as well as the slowdown in world economic and trade growth.

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‘I’m Just a Kid’: Tariq’s Ordeal in Occupied Palestine


Tariq Khdeir, an American teenager, was beaten by Israeli soldiers while visiting families members in Jerusalem this summer. Tariq’s cousin, Mohammad, was murdered by Israeli extremists. (Photo: Anadolu News Agency)

Last summer, Tariq Khdeir, a 15-year-old American citizen from Baltimore, accompanied his parents to the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Shuafat for a six-week visit with relatives. The first friend Tariq made when he arrived was his cousin, Muhammad Abu Khdeir, whom Tariq had not seen since he was four years old. “We had so much fun,” Tariq told a gathering at the national conference of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation in San Diego on September 19, 2014.

One night while he was in Jerusalem, Tariq saw some police with Muhammad. Tariq thought they had kidnapped Muhammad. Tariq wondered, “Is he gonna come back? Is he gonna come back alive”? But Muhammad did not come back alive.  In retaliation for the deaths of three Israeli teenagers, Muhammad was beaten and burnt alive by three Jewish extremists.

After Muhammad’s murder, people took to the streets in protest. Israeli Defense Force soldiers began firing rubber bullets at them. Incredulous, Tariq thought, “Is this really happening in front of me”? Then Israeli soldiers began to run after Tariq. Panicked, Tariq ran.

“There was a 10-foot drop in front of me. Everyone jumped, but they tackled me, zip-tied me, and punched me in the face,” Tariq said. “I was like a punching bag until I became unconscious.” The image of Tariq’s badly swollen, deformed face appeared on media reports throughout the world last July.

When Tariq awoke, his face felt “like a bubble, it hurt so much.” He wondered, “Are they gonna kill me”? After six hours in jail, Tariq was finally taken to the hospital. His father and his uncle told him he might come home or go to jail. Tariq thought, “How could I go to jail? They beat me up.” Tariq told the group, “I’m just a kid.”

Tariq was taken back to jail after he left the hospital. He had to remove the hospital gown and put on his bloody clothes. There were nine people in a tiny cell; it was impossible to sit down. Two days later, Tariq was released. He thought, “I’m finally going home.” But he was placed on house arrest. No charges were ever filed against him. “That’s what they do to all the Palestinians,” Tariq said.

“They took my cousins, and they’re still in jail, because they’re not American and they didn’t have a video that showed the brutality of the Israelis,” Tariq reported. “It’s inhumane.”

Tariq’s mother, Suha, said, “I cannot begin to describe the pain of seeing my dear son in prison after his vicious beating.” When she first saw Tariq, unconscious, with his swollen face in the hospital, “I didn’t recognize him; I didn’t know if he was alive. I didn’t know if he would survive.” Tariq was handcuffed to the hospital bed. Suha worried whether they would give him his antibiotics, whether they would take care of her son while he was in their custody. “The same people that beat him were now caring for him,” she said. “They told us 300 Palestinian teenagers would be killed for the three Israeli teens.”

Suha noted, “None of this would have happened if Israelis valued the lives of Palestinian Muslims and Christians as much as Israeli Jews.”

Keynote speaker Ali Abunimah followed Tariq and Suha at the conference. He mentioned that of the more than 2,100 Palestinians the Israelis killed in Gaza last summer, 521 were children. Most of the fatalities were civilians. More than one of every 1,000 Gazans were killed, and one percent of the entire population of Gaza were killed or injured.

Most of the weapons the Israelis employed in Gaza were artillery shells, which were used in unprecedented quantities. They are very inaccurate.

In response to Israeli demands that the Palestinians surrender their weapons, Abunimah asked, “Why talk about demilitarizing the oppressed? Let’s talk about demilitarizing the oppressor.”

After Mummahad was killed, the Israelis called it an “honor killing.” Muhammad’s father said, “they’ve killed my son twice.”

Two hundred Palestinian children are still in jail. Abunimah cited the “racist mentality” of many Israelis who chant, “Death to the Arabs.” Abunimah recalled President Barack Obama’s remark about “the shared values of the United States and Israel.”

Do those shared values include slaughtering civilians, torturing children, and holding people in custody indefinitely without charges?

Tariq did come back alive – but only because his beating was caught on tape and because he was a U.S. citizen.

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Ebola? ISIS? Climate Change? More War Won’t Help World’s Moral Gridlock


American war-making, like an intentional car accident during rush hour, will make everything worse.  (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)

Commuters heading into Manhattan last week confronted electronic signs that flashed a warning; “UN GEN ASSEMBLY: GRIDLOCK ALERT.” But a midtown traffic jam was the least of it. At the United Nations itself, multiple crises collided, each claiming a moral right of way over the others. Climate change. Ukraine. Asylum seekers. Nuclear proliferation. Combating terrorism. Ebola. That deadly outbreak of disease in West Africa, overwhelming “the capabilities of any single state,” as observers said, was “the perfect crisis to show why the UN matters.” US Ambassador Samantha Power said, “The United Nations was built for challenges like this.”

But that was how hundreds of thousands of environmentalists felt as they gathered in New York ahead of the so-called UN Climate Summit, with which the global sessions opened. “The summit is intended to put climate change at the top of the international agenda,” as one activist said. But actually, only one thing can be at the top of an agenda, and, grave as the climate change crisis is, that issue dominated the week no more than Ebola did. Urgent world problems have simultaneously reached critical mass, yet each one’s catastrophic threat vied to cancel all the others out.

Then President Obama arrived. He offered his own catalog of crises in his stirring address to the General Assembly, yet when he personally chaired the Security Council leaders’ session — only the second time an American president has done so — he made it clear where the focus was for him. The president has gone to war. Having just launched a ferocious air campaign against the so-called Islamic State in Syria as well as Iraq, and having sounded the call to arms of a large combat coalition that, crucially, included Arab nations, Obama insisted on the urgency of his actions. “If there was ever a challenge in our interconnected world that cannot be met by one nation alone, it is this. Terrorists crossing borders and threatening to unleash unspeakable violence.” Before the General Assembly he pledged that the United States would “work with a broad coalition to dismantle this network of death.”

It was Obama’s martial fervor that seemed most notable, and his zealotry efficiently moved the new Mideast war to the top of the week’s troubling agenda. If there was a traffic jam of crises, one crisis would bull through them all: Cue the trumpets! After nearly a quarter century of misbegotten American interventions in what is now broadly counted as the Arab world’s historic, multi-phase, suicidal civil war, Washington had joined the fight again.

Obama made the casus belli this time seem irresistible; the savage beheading of US journalists embodied it. Yet when had the prior provocations not seemed dire? Once again, a perverse but existentially minor enemy, posing no real threat to North America, had succeeded in drawing from Americans precisely the ill-considered reaction it wanted. And once again, the United States had put its faith in bombing from the air — a strategy that has only ever succeeded in unleashing ferociously unintended consequences. In this, the initiating engagement of the new American war, the Islamic State has its first victory.

It was as if, after a widely derided appearance before the United Nations a year ago, coming on the heels of his refusal to launch an air war against Syria for its use of chemical weapons, President Obama had something to prove. Mark Landler of The New York Times observed, “His remarks clearly seemed designed to get past months in which the president appeared visibly conflicted about the proper use of US military force in the Middle East — an ambivalence that opened him to criticism that he was feckless and irresolute.”

That criticism was wrong. The restraint that has characterized Obama’s leadership until now was anything but “feckless and irresolute.” His attempt to turn away from force was not rooted in ambivalence, but in a wiser vision. As his victory in eliminating Syria’s chemical arsenal showed, the refusal of war in a war-torn world can be the real exercise of power.

Yet when confronted with seemingly impossible conundrums, a gridlock of the moral imagination can make recourse to violent force seem clarifying and empowering. So Obama yields. But the outcome is sadly predictable. It is not only that war trumped the other grave problems at the United Nations last week. Environmental degradation, refugees, disease, resurgent nationalism, proliferation: Visceral American war-making will make everything worse. Again.

Posted in USAComments Off on Ebola? ISIS? Climate Change? More War Won’t Help World’s Moral Gridlock

A Dictionary Reference to the War on ISIS


First, let us define the terms. Only then can we safely bomb our troubles into oblivion. (Image: File / Public domain)

2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force 
The gift that just keeps on giving.

Bad Guys
Whoever it is that is currently being bombed and shot at by the U.S. and its “partners.”

Those committing war crimes without the use of cruise missiles and drones.

Chemical Weapons
A particularly heinous and savage munition no white phosphorous and napalm-using nation could ever stand to see deployed.

A military alliance of democracy promoters comprised of the U.S., it’s European lackeys,and the medieval monarchies of the Gulf.

Collateral Damage
The inevitable killing of innocent civilians in military operations.  Regrettable, but what’s one to do?  Ground the drones and shelve the bombs?  Never.  Instead, just avoid having to even acknowledge any measure of regret by denying and concealing all occurrences.  And if that fails, maybe a little blood money will be enough to shut the locals up.

Good Guys
The “moderates” receiving U.S. arms and cash in order to sell American journalists to those beheading “bad guys.”

Homeland Security
That which requires the endless bombing of faraway lands (mainly “Iraq”), in addition to thesnatching up of every American’s personal communications.

Imminent Threat
A threat which won’t materialize in the immediate future, but nonetheless justifies the calls of those demanding that “something must be done.”

International Community
Those voting with the U.S. at the United Nationsand joining its “coalitions.”

International Law
The internationally accepted rules governing states in their relations with other states.  Not applicable, however, to those within the “international community.”

An ancient land of rich history going all the way back to 1979, when 52 Americans were inexplicably held hostage by “violent extremists” for over one year.  So, needless to say, a nation long in need of “regime change.”

A U.S. bombing target long suffering from instability outside of a brief period of stabilization occurring from 2003 – 2010.

Iraq War
A “mistake.”

ISIS/ISIL/The Islamic State
The reason du jour “something must be done.”  And accordingly, a much needed boon to the beleaguered military-industrial-surveillance complex.

Khorasan Group
An illusory group terrorizing the dreams of those consulting with “official sources.

All areas recently bombed by American fighters or falling under the control of occupying American forces.

Limited Strikes
A rebranding of Shock and Awe for a time of heightened “war fatigue.”

Middle East
A vast depository holding America’s “oil.”

Military Advisers
Combat troops deployed to fight a war that was said to have already been won.

Military Option
The only option serious policymakers will ever consider.

Mission Creep
The slow rollout of a military campaign occurring in piecemeal due to the dangerous case of “war fatigue” afflicting the politically immature American public.

A U.S. war undertaken with the purest of intentions, but for some reason still concludes with a majority of Americans opposed to it.

The “good guys” eating the hearts of “violent extremists.”

No Boots on the Ground
The deploying of a small enough number of American boots on the ground that Americans will neither notice nor care.

Objective Reporting
Giving equal weight to both sides of a story; that is, weighing the competing claims of “official sources” over whether “ISIS” poses a grave threat to “homeland security” or a direthreat to “homeland security.”

Official Sources
Those whispering horror stories about fictitious terror groups into the receptive ears of objective reporters.

A highly lucrative global commodity owned wholly by the U.S. and exchangeable in both blood and American dollars.

On the Table
The use of the “military option” (nuclear weapons and all).

Those helping to put an Arab face on the ritualized American bombing of Iraq.

The realization of U.S. full spectrum dominance throughout the “Middle East,” and the world more generally.

Political Solution
A solution to be sought once the much more profitable “military option” has been fully exhausted.

Public Opinion
The misguided policy judgments of the ill-informed and fickle masses.  Elite capitulation to such popular sentiments is to be avoided until the masses can be properly brought along.

Regime Change
Fixing the electoral mistakes of people in dispensable nations.

Responsibility to Protect
The responsibility to cloak imperial projects in the liberal guise of humanitarianism.

Saudi Arabia
A state governed by a benignly beheading clan of democrats kindly overseeing to the well-being of America’s “oil.”

Something Must Be Done
A phrase to be employed in the wake of attacks on American nationals or American interests.  “Something” understood to mean “bombs”; “done” understood to mean “dropped.”

A necessary pit stop on the road to Tehran.

The use of violence—or the threat of violence—to attain goals that are political, economic, religious, or ideological in nature.  Oh wait, that can’t be, because that would mean…

Territorial Integrity
A pillar of international law, holding that a state’s sovereignty is sacred.  Well, sacred for any non-exceptional state, as exceptional states are obviously not going to be restricted by borders.”

The perpetuation of endless war.

Violet Extremists
Locals resorting to violence to combat “liberating” American forces and their various proxies.

War Fatigue
The tendency of a weak-kneed American public to waver in its continued support of a just war.  War fatigue is easily overcome through “objective reporting.”

World’s Policeman
A state acting within the international system as a cop would on his beat.  That is, a state terrorizing and killing unarmed people of color with utter impunity.

Posted in Middle EastComments Off on A Dictionary Reference to the War on ISIS

Pro-Palestinian Protesters Thwart Zionist Cargo Ship Again


Claiming a ‘big victory,’ picketers at the Port of Oakland forced the Zim Shanghai to leave the area unloaded

Claiming a “big victory,” protesters on Saturday blocked the Israeli-owned Zim Shanghai from unloading at the Port of Oakland. (Photo: @violentfanon)

Protesting Israel’s recent war and ongoing apartheid against Palestinians, activists thwarted an Israeli cargo ship at the Port of Oakland on Saturday by forcing the boat to depart the Bay Area unloaded.

According to reports, at least 75 and possibly as many as 200 protesters dispersed across the five entrances to the shipping berth in the pre-dawn hours on Saturday hoping to prevent longshore workers from unloading the Zim Shanghai, which is owned by Israel’s largest cargo shipping company.

However, in a sign that the protesters say the workers had chosen to boycott in solidarity with the anti-Israeli action, only one longshore worker had even chosen to come to work that day to unload the ship. In the days leading up to the protest, organizers had been handing out flyers outside of the hiring hall in San Francisco to alert the workers to the action.

“I think it was a big victory today for those who are opposed to the policies of Israel in Gaza,” protester Steve Zeltzer told the Guardian.

The protesters, who organized the action under the banner “Block the Boat,” say that Zim Integrated Shipping Services has long profited from the Israeli subjugation of Palestinians.

“From its founding in 1945 by the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Histradut, Zim has served Israeli settler-colonialism, bringing settlers to Palestine and serving as Israel’s only maritime connection during the 1948 war, supplying ‘food, freight, and military equipment’ used, of course, to carry out the Nakba,” according to the Block the Boat website. “The worldwide commerce conducted by Zim today funds the occupation of Palestine with revenue generated on every continent.”

The action follows similar demonstrations in Oakland, California in June and August andlast week in Tampa, Florida. Last month, protesters blocked the ZIM Piraeus from unloading at the Port of Oakland for nearly five days before the ship was forced to unload at a nearby port and depart to Los Angeles still carrying a partial load.

“The momentum that we had going in August should be continued,” Zeltzer told Charlotte Silver with The Electronic Intifada. “We have to build a movement to shut down Zim everywhere.”

Posted in Palestine Affairs, USAComments Off on Pro-Palestinian Protesters Thwart Zionist Cargo Ship Again

‘Umbrella Revolutionaries’ Sweep Riot Police From Hong Kong Streets


Despite tough tactics by security units, Occupy Central and its pro-democracy supporters use ‘peace and love’ to hold ground and increase numbers

Protesters block the main road to the financial Central district in Hong Kong September 29, 2014. (Photo: Reuters/Tyrone Siu)

Despite deployment of increasingly harsh tactics over the weekend aimed at forcing pro-democracy protesters off the streets of Hong Kong, by Monday it was police units forced into retreat while the number of those backing democratic reforms and promising to hold ‘central’ areas of the city appear to be growing.

Initially organized under a call to ‘Occupy Central with Peace and Love,’ the growing protest movement in Hong Kong has now also been dubbed ‘the Umbrella Revolution following images of protesters using their umbrellas to shield themselves from volleys of tear gas shot by riot police over the weekend. Angered by efforts by the Chinese government to bring the once autonomous region more strictly under its control, those resisting the Communist Party’s anti-democratic policies have called for greater independence and the right to vote for representation in Hong Kong without interference from Beijing.

According to the South China Morning Post:

Huge numbers of pro-democracy protesters filled the streets of Hong Kong on Monday night as an Occupy Central organiser praised them for taking over more areas of the city than he ever envisaged.

Benny Tai Yiu-ting delivered an emotional speech to massed ranks of protesters in Causeway Bay, in which he praised the achievements of the Occupy movement and renewed calls for Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to step down.

Tai said that although the movement’s initial name was Occupy Central, Hongkongers had also succeeded in occupying Admiralty, Causeway Bay and Mong Kok.

And CNN reports:

Thousands of pro-democracy protesters remained camped out on major highways in the heart of Hong Kong on Monday, defying government attempts to both coerce and cajole them into giving up their extraordinary demonstration.

The protests have brought widespread disruption to the heart of one of Asia’s biggest financial centers, blocking traffic on multilane roads and prompting the suspension of school classes.

A police crackdown on demonstrators on Sunday — involving tear gas, batons and pepper spray — resulted in clashes that injured more than 40 people but failed to eject the protesters from their positions among the city’s glittering skyscrapers.

The government adopted a more conciliatory approach Monday, saying it had withdrawn riot police from the protest areas. It urged people to disperse and allow traffic to return to the roads.

But the protesters, rallying against what many see as the growing influence of the Chinese Communist Party on the way Hong Kong is run, are so far refusing to budge.

Hung Ho-fung, a professor of sociology and political science at Johns Hopkins University,speaking with the Guardian newspaper, called the latest developments a “watershed moment” for Hong Kong.

“People are using civil disobedience and setting up barricades,” Ho-fund continued. “There’s also the disruptive aspect; in the past, they emphasised that demonstrations would not affect everyday life. This time they really don’t care. I really haven’t seen anything like this in Hong Kong history.”

The Guardian adds:

Crowds of demonstrators blocking key roads swelled again on Monday afternoon, despite an apparent step back by police, with others saying they planned to join the throng as soon as they finished work.

Police attempts to use teargas to clear huge protests from Admiralty and Central in downtown Hong Kong late on Sunday backfired, instead spurring more people to take to the streets, with numbers peaking in the tens of thousands. New protests sprang up in Causeway Bay and Mongkok, in Kowloon.

“What we have seen is spontaneous – without leadership, without prior organisation, of its own volition … a people’s movement. We simply want basic dignity. We simply want to be respected,” said lawmaker Alan Leong of the Civic party.

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As Endless War Drags On, US Has No Plans to Release Secret Prisoners Kept in Afghanistan


New President Ashraf Ghani set to endorse Bilateral Security Agreement, paving way for thousands of U.S. troops to maintain presence for another decade

President Obama will have to face the indefinite detention of prisoners at the Bagram Air Base as he prepares for withdrawal of Afghanistan by the end of 2014. (Photo: Unarmed Civilian)

As the U.S. cements a pact to maintain troops in Afghanistan following their reported withdrawal at the end of the year, a top U.S. official has admitted that the military also has no set plan to release the secret prisoners held captive in that country.

Brigadier General Patrick J. Reinert told Reuters that the unknown number of foreign nationals who were abducted and held in captivity near the Bagram Airbase may be sent to their country of origin but will more likely be transferred to the U.S. court system or to Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba.

“If someone has committed a crime overseas that could be a crime also in the United States, a detainee could be transferred back to the United States,” Reinert said.

“We’ve got to resolve their fate by either returning them to their home country or turning them over to the Afghans for prosecution or any other number of ways that the Department of Defense has to resolve,” Reinert continued. Unless the new Afghan leadership carves out an exception, NATO states will no longer be allowed to hold wartime captives in that country after 2014.

Reinert’s statement comes the same day that Afghanistan swore in their newly elected President Ashraf Ghani. Ghani will head the country’s new unity government along with chief rival Abdullah Abdullah, who was sworn in shortly after Ghani to the newly created post of chief executive. On Tuesday, the new leader is expected to endorse the long-awaited Bilateral Security Agreement, which permits the occupation of 8,000-12,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan for another decade. The agreement further allows that U.S. troops not be subject to Afghan law for criminal acts—even war crimes.

The U.S. military refuses to disclose the number, names or home country of the Bagram captives though advocates for the prisoners say that they have been held without charge and are victims of rendition, practiced by the U.S. military under President George Bush.

Calling the U.S. military’s plan—or lack thereof—to continue the indefinite detention of these detainees an “absolute nightmare,” Maryam Haq, a lawyer with the human rights group Justice Project Pakistan said, “We don’t even know who they are.”

According to Justice Project Pakistan, most of those held at Bagram are Pakistani, though others are from Yemen, Russia, and Saudi Arabia. On September 20th, 14 Pakistan detainees were quietly released from U.S. custody and handed over to Pakistani authorities in the largest transfer from Bagram yet.

Following that release, the Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman estimated that there are now 13 non-Afghans still held at the secret detention center. Ackerman spoke with Abdul Sattar, a Pakistani man recently released from Bagram detention, who confirmed that the captives “often go on hunger strike to protest their confinement and its terms.”

Unlike captives held at Guantanamo, Bagram detainees are not permitted access to lawyers, and their only outside contact is with representatives from the Red Cross.

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Revealed: The Little-Known Executive Order Behind Our ‘Collect It All’ Spy State


ACLU Freedom of Information request exposes how Reagan-era order has been used by the Obama administration as the “primary source” of NSA surveillance authority

Internal documents reveal that government surveillance is  “about much more than terrorist threats.” (Photo: Electronic Frontier Foundation)

The powers granted to the National Security Agency to spy on millions of Americans and people abroad were vested by a little-known executive order that—until now—has received scant scrutiny or oversight, newly uncovered government documents revealed on Monday.

Executive Order 12333, passed in 1981 by President Ronald Reagan, is the “main game in town for NSA surveillance,” according to Alex Abdo, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, which obtained internal documents on the order through a Freedom of Information request.

One of the documents, an internal surveillance manual published by the NSA, describes EO 12333 as the “primary source” of their intelligence-gathering authority. And a Legal Fact Sheet, distributed by the NSA two weeks after Edward Snowden disclosed their widespread surveillance, says that the agency conducts the majority of their intelligence gathering through signal interruption (or SIGNIT) “pursuant to the authority by EO 1233.”

Unlike Section 215 of the Patriot Act or the FISA Amendments Act—which thus far have been the focus of public debate—the executive branch is alone in implementing EO 12333, meaning that there is essentially no oversight from Congress nor the court system.

“We’ve already seen that the NSA has taken a ‘collect it all’ mentality even with the authorities that are overseen by Congress and the courts,” Abdo continues. “If that history is any lesson, we should expect—and, indeed, we have seen glimpses of—even more out-of-control spying under EO 12333.”

According to Abdo’s analysis of the documents, which were published by the NSA as well as the Defense Intelligence Agency among others, EO 12333 allows the government to monitor any international communication that contains any alleged “foreign intelligence information.”

“That phrase is defined so nebulously that it could be read to encompass virtually every communication with one end outside the United States,” Abdo writes. He adds that the documents “make it clearer than ever that the government’s vast surveillance apparatus is collecting information—including from Americans—about much more than just terrorist threats.”

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As US Bombs Iraq and Syria, Who Exactly Is Being Killed?


Pentagon provides scant information about people dying at its hands, while reports of civilian casualties emerge from the ground

The rubble of a home reportedly hit by a U.S.-led coalition airstrike in Kafar Daryan in Syria. (Photo: Sami Ali / AFP/Getty Images)

As the United States passes week seven of its expanded war on Iraq, and week two of air strikes across Syria, a critical question remains unanswered: Who exactly is dying in the air bombardments?

Many fear this question will remain unanswered. “I’m concerned that the U.S. is not held to the same standard as other countries when it comes to violating international law and killing civilians,” Raed Jarrar, Policy Impact Coordinator for the American Friends Service Committee, told Common Dreams.

The U.S. military and government have provided virtually no information about civilian and combatant casualties and have denied on-the-ground reports that innocent people are being killed and wounded in the escalating attacks.

But this official version of events is contradicted by mounting reports from Syria. As recently as Monday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights announced that overnight U.S. coalition bombings of alleged ISIS positions in northern and eastern Syria took civilian lives, the exact number unspecified. Observatory director Rami Abdurrahman told theAssociated Press that a strike on a grain silo in the town of Manbij in Aleppo province “killed only civilians there, workers at the site. There was no ISIS inside.” He added that the bombings “destroyed the food that was stored there.”

The U.S. military on Monday denied the civilian deaths to Reuters but presented no evidence backing its claims. A U.S. Central Command statement released Monday offered no further information about civilian or combatant deaths, stating that air strikes were conducted against a “ISIL vehicles within a staging area adjacent to an ISIL-held grain storage facility near Manbij,” in addition to other targets.

The Observatory is not the only organization to sound the alarm on civilian deaths. Human Rights Watch released a report on Sunday that apparent U.S. missile strikes on Idlib in Syria on September 23 killed at least seven civilians. “Three local residents told Human Rights Watch that missiles killed at least two men, two women, and five children,” reads the report. Video footage from local residents and the Shaam News Network, available on the HRW website, appear to verify that civilians were wounded and killed in the strikes. According to some estimates, as many as 24 civilians were killed in coalition air strikes on this day.

Pentagon Spokesperson Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby denied those civilian deaths as well, again offering no evidence. “This is a pretty remote area of the country, mostly just desert. It’s not — it’s not urban,” he told the Associated Press. “We don’t believe that there’s much reason to be too concerned about any collateral damage, you know, to civilian property, that kind of thing.”

But numerous journalists say their contacts corroborate reports of civilian deaths, including Foreign Policy’s Shane Harris, who tweeted:

The Pentagon has also claimed that civilians are spared in its ongoing bombings of Iraq, which now number over 240 strikes since August eighth. But the U.S. has offered no evidence backing this claim, and the National Iraqi News Agency has reported that civilians have died in U.S. strikes on the country. Numerous voices from Iraq and across the world warn that the renewed U.S. war in the country is bringing further militarization and death to ordinary Iraqi people, who are squeezed between siege from ISIS and strikes from above.

According to Jarrar, the failure of the U.S. to account for the Iraqis killed in the 2003 warraises serious concerns about U.S. accountability and honesty over who it kills. “There is strong evidence that the U.S.-led attacks have killed dozens of civilians in Syria in the last few weeks and killed tens and thousands of civilians in Iraq over the last decade, and we haven’t seen any investigations into these crimes,” said Jarrar. “There is no reason to believe the U.S. will investigate itself.”

Robert Naiman, policy director for Just Foreign Policy, told Common Dreams, “There is a big danger here that U.S. air strikes in Syria are going to resemble the drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen in the sense that there is no accountability for who is killed. We have reports of civilian casualties from people in the area and the U.S. government says, ‘No, they are bad guys.’ There has to be some public accountability for what happens when there are allegations of civilian casualties.”

According to Jarrar, the U.S. hand in civilian deaths extends beyond direct bombings. “The indirect U.S. intervention is left unchecked as well: U.S. training and funding and equipping proxy groups in Iraq and Syria. There is very strong evidence that many of the U.S. allies that have been receiving us military assistance and training and equipments have been committing gross human rights violations and the U.S. has not been held accountable.”

Posted in USA, Iraq, SyriaComments Off on As US Bombs Iraq and Syria, Who Exactly Is Being Killed?

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