Archive | December 28th, 2017

Did UK Clown-Diplomat Boris Johnson Threaten Russia With War?


Madame Tussaud's London mark Boris Johnson's victory in the London mayoral election by giving him a post-party makeover.

Finian Cunningham

The bizarre US trend of encountering crazy clowns has come to Britain, reports say. The latest sighting perhaps was Britain’s foreign secretary Boris Johnson standing up in parliament and appearing to threaten Russia with war.

Johnson, whose buffoonish public antics have garnered a reputation for being something of a clown, was speaking this week in the British House of Commons on Syria’s conflict. He directed much of his fire-breathing act at Russia, reiterating allegations of war crimes during the offensive to retake the northern city of Aleppo.

Russian Embassy in London
With typical bluster, Britain’s top diplomat said Russian President Vladimir Putin was turning his “great country into a pariah state” – owing to unverified reports of air strikes on civilian centers.Then Johnson added a curious phrase. He warned that if Putin continued the military campaign in Syria, this would result in the leader’s ambitions for Russia being “turned to ashes”.

Maybe bumbling Boris was referring metaphorically to demise of Russia’s international reputation when he said “turned to ashes”. There again, given Russia’s grim history of war devastation, those particular words have sinister connotation.

Just like the internet craze gripping America where members of the public are being spooked by mystery clowns jumping out at them while walking down streets, or lurking in bushes outside their homes at night, the issue of intent is ambiguous. Is it a prank, or is it a veiled threat? A face-painted circus clown with crazy hair-do is usually slapstick fun. But a clown brandishing a hammer or chainsaw, as in the latest internet trend, now that’s creepy. And part of the ambiguity, one suspects, is intended to be menacing.

The same goes for Britain’s clownish foreign minister. His insinuation of Russia “turning to ashes” comes not out of the blue, which could be dismissed as ridiculous, but rather in the context of a steady drum roll of provocative accusations and threats against Russia made by the US, France and Britain.

Ever since the Kerry-Lavrov ceasefire in Syria failed last month – due to Western-backed militants breaching the truce, capped by a US air-strike massacre at a Syrian army base in Deir ez-Zor on September 17 – Russia and its Syrian ally have stepped up the offensive to fully capture the key city of Aleppo.For more than three weeks now, the American, British and French governments have embarked on an unprecedented media campaign to discredit Russia’s military operations, with tendentious allegations of war crimes. These same Western states have also toyed with proposals to increase weapons supplies to the militants, including anti-aircraft missiles. A US State Department official publicly conjectured that Russia could see more of its servicemen being returned in “body bags” and he also hinted that Russian cities could be targeted in terrorist bombings.

Recall, too, that former CIA chief Michael Morell recently endorsed the killing of Russian personnel in Syria by terrorist proxies as a way of making Russia “pay a price” for its military intervention in Syria, which appears to be defeating the US-backed covert war for regime change in that country.The information that the Western powers base their claims on is supplied by unverifiable sources from within the besieged eastern part of Aleppo. The Western governments and media routinely rely on “amateur” (sic) video footage – including drone (sic) video footage – from the so-called Aleppo Media Center. The AMC is under the control of the Al-Nusra terrorist group.

Yet based on this dubious source of information, Washington, London and Paris are calling for Russian leaders to be prosecuted for war crimes at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

President Putin this week rebuked Western claims of Russian war crimes as empty “political rhetoric”. And that’s true. But what’s disturbing is the repetition of these baseless claims by Western governments and dutiful news media.

Christopher Black, the internationally respected war crimes defense lawyer, told this author that history shows that when Western powers want to launch a war or some other military intervention against a designated enemy, the deed is often preceded by a media campaign of vilification. “In this way, the Western public is being conditioned into acceptance by their rulers of a desired, eventual military action,” said Black.

Western governments, whose derogatory charges against Moscow are being amplified without question by the Western mass media, have also advocated increasing economic and political sanctions against Russia. European parliamentarians voted this week for a resolution that could pave the way for Russian news media channels like RT and Sputnik being banned from Europe’s airwaves or internet.

Taken in this context of relentless Western hostility towards Russia, Boris Johnson’s words about “turning to ashes” should not be easily dismissed as merely clumsy, ill-chosen blather from a political court jester.Johnson may have verbally ruled out the setting up of a no-fly zone around Aleppo, but his hawkish Conservative party colleague Andrew Mitchell said the opposite.

Mitchell, a former Cabinet minister and well-connected to the British establishment, is backing American and French calls for a no-fly zone. That was the basis of the French draft resolution at the UN Security Council last weekend, which Russia vetoed because it said such a demarcation would have given air cover to the terrorist-dominated militants in east Aleppo.

Andrew Mitchell later went on CNN to reiterate claims that Russia was behaving in Aleppo like Nazi Germany did in Guernica when it supported the fascist Spanish dictator Franco to defeat besieged socialist revolutionaries during Spain’s civil war in the 1930s.

Talk about a grotesque, illiterate re-writing of history and abuse of false historical analogies to serve a present-day agenda. It is obvious that the British establishment, as articulated by Mitchell, is recklessly pushing an agenda to demonize and criminalize Russia in order to justify military intervention in Syria – one that would likely lead to all-out war between NATO and Russia.

Asked if a no-fly zone inflamed the risk of war, Mitchell deprecated any such concern by comparing it to “appeasement” of Nazi Germany. He also went on to make the specious comparison that Russia is trashing the United Nations and its veto power at the Security Council in the same that the Third Reich gutted the former League of Nations.The perverse reasoning coming out of Washington, London and Paris with regard to Syria and Russia is ludicrous. It belies an astounding distortion of how the Syrian war was instigated and fueled by the same Western powers in the first place, with their covert support of terrorist proxies for the criminal objective of regime change.

If any historical parallels are to be made, it is the US, Britain and France who are acting as fascist, rogue states and who have gutted the UN.

However, being ludicrous is not funny when such lunatics have their hands on the political levers to launch wars.

Britain’s foreign minister Boris Johnson may be a shambolic figure of amusement. But the clown is juggling words and sinister sentiments that he no doubt has picked up while prancing along the corridors of power in Whitehall.


The Mendacity of Boris Johnson’s Anti-Russian Rhetoric
Johnson Calls Aleppo Anti-Terrorist Airstrikes ‘Gross Crime Against Humanity’
Johnson: UK Should Reconsider Military Intervention in Syria
Johnson: UK ‘Wrong’ to Sign EU Lisbon Treaty, Allow EU ‘Judicial Activism’

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Mumia Abu-Jamal on Mass Incarceration Under a Black President & 50th Anniv. of Black Panther Party


Image result for Mumia Abu-Jamal PHOTO

Former Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal calls from prison to discuss mass incarceration under Obama, being denied hepatitis C treatment, and the 50th anniversary of the Black Panther Party and its Ten-Point Platform. “It will shock you to see what hasn’t changed,” he says.

Abu-Jamal is an award-winning journalist whose writing from his prison cell has reached a worldwide audience through his Prison Radio commentaries and many books. He was convicted of the 1981 murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner, but has always maintained his innocence. Amnesty International has found he was deprived of a fair trial. He is currently held at SCI-Mahanoy state prison in Frackville, Pennsylvania.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We are joined right now by Mumia Abu-Jamal, who just called in from prison in Pennsylvania. Mumia, we did not expect this call. [Can you talk about your thoughts right now on the election, as you watch behind bars in this very unusual 2016 electoral season?]

MUMIA ABUJAMAL: Well, you have to admit, against your better judgment perhaps, but it’s damn good entertainment. And it’s unbelievable. I mean, this is the ultimate reality show. It’s so real, it’s unreal. I think it reflects, clearer than anything we could have imagined, the fall of empire. And, you know, this is how democracies fall. History repeats itself, first time as tragedy, second time as farce. So, it’s—it’s interesting. It’s entertaining. It’s unbelievable. Yet here we are.

AMY GOODMAN: The last time we had you on, Mumia, a federal judge denied a request for you to get life-saving medication that could cure your hepatitis C. Can you talk about your health right now and what’s happening?

MUMIA ABUJAMAL: Well, I’m—this is one of my itchy days. So, despite taking anti-itch medication, the itchiness has reflared. And so, it’s not a—not a good day. It’s not a comfortable day. We kind of got a situation where the judge, I think, performed a Solomonic act in breaking the baby in half. The judge did rule that the protocol of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections was unconstitutional and a violation of the Constitution and deliberate indifference to the medical needs of at least 6,000 people in Pennsylvania prisons. He reasoned also that I had sued DOC officials, and that was a violation of what he called sovereign immunity. We respectfully disagreed.

But he said what we should have sued was something called the Hepatitis C Care Committee. The fact is, until we had our hearing, we didn’t know such a committee existed. So, it would have been kind of magical to kind of stop the hearing and say, “OK, what are the names of the people of this committee? We want a real—you know, refile against them.” Because we learned about it on perhaps the third or the fourth day of our temporary restraining order hearing. Yet, our lawyers, being very apt and very able, Brett Grote and Bob Boyle, refiled against the Hepatitis C Care Committee, but also refiled against the DOC offendants—defendants, because they had an opportunity, as administrators and healthcare officials, to say, “No, treat this man.” They said, “No, go by the protocol.” And the protocol, that was declared unconstitutional on August 31st, is still the one in place as of today. So it’s still unconstitutional.

AMY GOODMAN: Mumia Abu-Jamal, mass incarceration is a major issue in this country today. I just came from the premiere of the documentary by Ava DuVernay called 13th about the 13th Amendment, slavery of 1865 and mass incarceration today. Your thoughts behind bars?

MUMIA ABUJAMAL: Well, it is—remember I talked about tragedy and farce a few moments ago? It is a tragedy that we’re now counting down the days of the first African-American—accent on “African”—president in the history of the United States, and when he leaves, you will still have the greatest incarcerator on Earth at work, and growing and continuing to divest and destroy and diminish the lives of millions of people. The fact that you could have a black presidency and not put a dent in that hellhole is startling, is tragedy, you know, on a grand stage. The biggest—

AMY GOODMAN: President—and yet President Obama went—is the first sitting president to go into a prison.

MUMIA ABUJAMAL: Yeah, he went into a prison that was empty, because all of the prisoners were emptied from their cells. So he walked into a prison block—yes, that’s true, and it’s historic—but it’s also true that he walked in an empty prison block. If you have the greatest incarceration on Earth in this nation, then, you know, why don’t you make history by attacking not empty cells, but creating empty cells by freeing people? And it is a tragedy, because if you think one of the architects, or at least a great mind that help the architect—and I speak now of William Jefferson Clinton—if you think that her—his wife will destroy what he is proud of—right?—then you’re tripping. I mean, this is not—this is not a good time to be black in America, and not just because of people walking while black, driving while black, running while black, breathing while black, but because of all of the hells that people suffer all across America. And the truth of the matter is it ain’t getting sweeter, it ain’t getting better.

AMY GOODMAN: Mumia, it’s the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Black Panthers in just a few weeks. Your comments on this, as a former Black Panther yourself?

MUMIA ABUJAMAL: I am happy to announce that we are republishing We Want Freedom: A Life in the Black Panther Party, by a publisher, a new publisher, called Common Notions of Brooklyn. It’s a book that I’m really proudest of, because it tells the story of the Black Panther Party, warts and all, criticisms and all, personal and political. And I think that in an age where Black Lives Matter is the greatest and biggest civil rights movement in decades, it’s time for people to learn from that movement its high points, its low points, its mistakes and its successes, because if you read the Ten-Point Program that Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton wrote in October 1966, it will startle you. It will shock you to see what hasn’t changed in 50 years. To quote Young Jeezy, the rapper, “We’re still living in hell.” And so we must change this reality. And that work continues for all of us.

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Not his finest hour: The dark side of Winston Churchill


Image result for Winston Churchill CARTOON

Winston Churchill is rightly remembered for leading Britain through her finest hour – but what if he also led the country through her most shameful hour? What if, in addition to rousing a nation to save the world from the Nazis, he fought for a raw white supremacism and a concentration camp network of his own? This question burns through Richard Toye’s new history, Churchill’s Empire, and is even seeping into the Oval Office.

George W Bush left a bust of Churchill near his desk in the White House, in an attempt to associate himself with the war leader’s heroic stand against fascism. Barack Obama had it returned to Britain. It’s not hard to guess why: his Kenyan grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obama, was imprisoned without trial for two years and was tortured on Churchill’s watch, for resisting Churchill’s empire.

Can these clashing Churchills be reconciled? Do we live, at the same time, in the world he helped to save, and the world he helped to trash? Toye, one of Britain’s smartest young historians, has tried to pick through these questions dispassionately – and he should lead us, at last and at least, to a more mature conversation about our greatest national icon.

Churchill was born in 1874 into a Britain that was washing the map pink, at the cost of washing distant nations blood red. Victoria had just been crowned Empress of India, and the scramble for Africa was only a few years away. At Harrow School and then Sandhurst, he was told a simple story: the superior white man was conquering the primitive, dark-skinned natives, and bringing them the benefits of civilisation. As soon as he could, Churchill charged off to take his part in “a lot of jolly little wars against barbarous peoples”. In the Swat valley, now part of Pakistan, he experienced, fleetingly, a crack of doubt. He realised that the local population was fighting back because of “the presence of British troops in lands the local people considered their own,” just as Britain would if she were invaded. But Churchill soon suppressed this thought, deciding instead they were merely deranged jihadists whose violence was explained by a “strong aboriginal propensity to kill”.

He gladly took part in raids that laid waste to whole valleys, destroying houses and burning crops. He then sped off to help reconquer the Sudan, where he bragged that he personally shot at least three “savages”.

The young Churchill charged through imperial atrocities, defending each in turn. When concentration camps were built in South Africa, for white Boers, he said they produced “the minimum of suffering”. The death toll was almost 28,000, and when at least 115,000 black Africans were likewise swept into British camps, where 14,000 died, he wrote only of his “irritation that Kaffirs should be allowed to fire on white men”. Later, he boasted of his experiences there: “That was before war degenerated. It was great fun galloping about.”

Then as an MP he demanded a rolling programme of more conquests, based on his belief that “the Aryan stock is bound to triumph”. There seems to have been an odd cognitive dissonance in his view of the “natives”. In some of his private correspondence, he appears to really believe they are helpless children who will “willingly, naturally, gratefully include themselves within the golden circle of an ancient crown”.

But when they defied this script, Churchill demanded they be crushed with extreme force. As Colonial Secretary in the 1920s, he unleashed the notorious Black and Tan thugs on Ireland’s Catholic civilians, and when the Kurds rebelled against British rule, he said: “I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes…[It] would spread a lively terror.”

Of course, it’s easy to dismiss any criticism of these actions as anachronistic. Didn’t everybody think that way then? One of the most striking findings of Toye’s research is that they really didn’t: even at the time, Churchill was seen as at the most brutal and brutish end of the British imperialist spectrum. Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin was warned by Cabinet colleagues not to appoint him because his views were so antedeluvian. Even his startled doctor, Lord Moran, said of other races: “Winston thinks only of the colour of their skin.”

Many of his colleagues thought Churchill was driven by a deep loathing of democracy for anyone other than the British and a tiny clique of supposedly superior races. This was clearest in his attitude to India. When Mahatma Gandhi launched his campaign of peaceful resistance, Churchill raged that he “ought to be lain bound hand and foot at the gates of Delhi, and then trampled on by an enormous elephant with the new Viceroy seated on its back.” As the resistance swelled, he announced: “I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion.” This hatred killed. To give just one, major, example, in 1943 a famine broke out in Bengal, caused – as the Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen has proved – by the imperial policies of the British. Up to 3 million people starved to death while British officials begged Churchill to direct food supplies to the region. He bluntly refused. He raged that it was their own fault for “breeding like rabbits”. At other times, he said the plague was “merrily” culling the population.

Skeletal, half-dead people were streaming into the cities and dying on the streets, but Churchill – to the astonishment of his staff – had only jeers for them. This rather undermines the claims that Churchill’s imperialism was motivated only by an altruistic desire to elevate the putatively lower races.

Hussein Onyango Obama is unusual among Churchill’s victims only in one respect: his story has been rescued from the slipstream of history, because his grandson ended up as President of the US. Churchill believed that Kenya’s fertile highlands should be the preserve of the white settlers, and approved the clearing out of the local “blackamoors”. He saw the local Kikuyu as “brutish children”. When they rebelled under Churchill’s post-war premiership, some 150,000 of them were forced at gunpoint into detention camps – later dubbed “Britain’s gulag” by Pulitzer-prize winning historian, Professor Caroline Elkins. She studied the detention camps for five years for her remarkable book Britain’s Gulag: The Brutal End of Empire in Kenya, explains the tactics adopted under Churchill to crush the local drive for independence. “Electric shock was widely used, as well as cigarettes and fire,” she writes. “The screening teams whipped, shot, burned, and mutilated Mau Mau suspects.” Hussein Onyango Obama never truly recovered from the torture he endured.

Many of the wounds Churchill inflicted have still not healed: you can find them on the front pages any day of the week. He is the man who invented Iraq, locking together three conflicting peoples behind arbitrary borders that have been bleeding ever since. He is the Colonial Secretary who offered the Over-Promised Land to both the Jews and the Arabs – although he seems to have privately felt racist contempt for both. He jeered at the Palestinians as “barbaric hoards who ate little but camel dung,” while he was appalled that the Israelis “take it for granted that the local population will be cleared out to suit their convenience”.

True, occasionally Churchill did become queasy about some of the most extreme acts of the Empire. He fretted at the slaughter of women and children, and cavilled at the Amritsar massacre of 1919. Toye tries to present these doubts as evidence of moderation – yet they almost never seem to have led Churchill to change his actions. If you are determined to rule people by force against their will, you can hardly be surprised when atrocities occur. Rule Britannia would inexorably produce a Cruel Britannia.

So how can the two be reconciled? Was Churchill’s moral opposition to Nazism a charade, masking the fact he was merely trying to defend the British Empire from a rival?

The US civil rights leader Richard B. Moore, quoted by Toye, said it was “a rare and fortunate coincidence” that at that moment “the vital interests of the British Empire [coincided] with those of the great overwhelming majority of mankind”. But this might be too soft in its praise. If Churchill had only been interested in saving the Empire, he could probably have cut a deal with Hitler. No: he had a deeper repugnance for Nazism than that. He may have been a thug, but he knew a greater thug when he saw one – and we may owe our freedom today to this wrinkle in history.

This, in turn, led to the great irony of Churchill’s life. In resisting the Nazis, he produced some of the richest prose-poetry in defence of freedom and democracy ever written. It was a cheque he didn’t want black or Asian people to cash – but they refused to accept that the Bank of Justice was empty. As the Ghanaian nationalist Kwame Nkrumah wrote: “All the fair, brave words spoken about freedom that had been broadcast to the four corners of the earth took seed and grew where they had not been intended.” Churchill lived to see democrats across Britain’s dominions and colonies – from nationalist leader Aung San in Burma to Jawarlal Nehru in India – use his own intoxicating words against him.

Ultimately, the words of the great and glorious Churchill who resisted dictatorship overwhelmed the works of the cruel and cramped Churchill who tried to impose it on the darker-skinned peoples of the world. The fact that we now live in a world where a free and independent India is a superpower eclipsing Britain, and a grandson of the “savages” is the most powerful man in the world, is a repudiation of Churchill at his ugliest – and a sweet, ironic victory for Churchill at his best.

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Lavrov to Boris Johnson: Stop lying about Russia


Churchill’s wicked acts are rarely known among the public because New World Order agents like Boris Johnson have desperately tried to obscure historical facts. So, whenever serious politicians like Sergey Lavrov get the chance to humiliate New World Order agents like Boris Johnson, one ought to say, “Bravo.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is known for humiliating New World Order agents in public. He has recently called a spade a spade again by saying that Boris Johnson lied about Russia. this is what Lavrov told Johnson in a public dialogue which was widely viewed:

I would still like to at least get some facts supporting our unsuccessful meddling. Without facts, it’s very hard to have a serious discussion. I think you’ve just made all of this up. Unfortunately, you are a sort of hostage to this subject. It’s very hard to get down from the fence you’ve climbed.”

Johnson, as journalist Finian Cunningham has said in the past, is a “buffoonish public antics.” [1] There is no doubt that Johnson is also a New World Order agent who has a penchant for things diabolical. That’s why he has carefully chosen to say that if Russia continues to support Assad, then the country needs to be “turned to ashes.”

If you don’t believe this, then pick up Johnson’s book on Churchill and start reading it. He writes that Churchill had a “deep humanity and sympathy for other people,” [2] but he never tells his readers how Churchill bragged about liquidating millions of ethnic German civilians to death.

As we have argued elsewhere, Churchill was one of the strategic mass murderers in the twentieth century. He lied about Hitler. He literally starved millions of German civilians[3] and even Indians to death, and invented bold and categorical lies to marshal what one ought to call a diabolical plan. Churchill once chided that Palestinians are a bunch of “barbaric hoards who ate little but camel dung.”[4] Is this the man who had a “deep humanity and sympathy for other people”?

Churchill, we are told, “unleashed the notorious Black and Tan thugs on Ireland’s Catholic civilians, and when the Kurds rebelled against British rule, he said: ‘I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes…[It] would spread a lively terror.’”[5]

At one point, “when an aide pointed out that Tito intended to transform Yugoslavia into a Communist dictatorship on the Soviet model,” Churchill, who was “profoundly impressed by Darwinism,” who took Darwin’s survival of the fittest very seriously, who “took a particular dislike, for some reason, to the Catholic Church, as well as Christian missions” and who gradually became, in his own words, “a materialist—to the tips of my fingers,”[6] declared: “‘Do you intend to live there?’”[7]

One writer declares:

“The massacres carried out by Churchill’s protégé, Tito, must be added to this list: tens of thousands of Croats, not simply the Ustasha, but any ‘class-enemies,’ in classical Communist style.

“There was also the murder of some 20,000 Slovene anti-Communist fighters by Tito and his killing squads. When Tito’s Partisans rampaged in Trieste, which he was attempting to grab in 1945, additional thousands of Italian anti-Communists were massacred.”[8]

When Stalin and other Communist leaders were creating hell in Europe in the Bolshevik slaughter houses, perceptive observers began to get upset. Yet again Churchill’s response was astonishing:

“Why are we making a fuss about the Russian deportations in Rumania of Saxons [Germans] and others?…

“I cannot see the Russians are wrong in making 100 or 150 thousand of these people work their passage….

“I cannot myself consider that it is wrong of the Russians to take Rumanians of any origin they like to work in the Russian coal-fields.”[9]

In 1915, after provoking other nations to get into World War I, Churchill declared,

“I know this war is smashing and shattering the lives of thousands every moment—and yet—I cannot help it—I love every second I live.”[10]

Churchill’s wicked acts are rarely known among the public because New World Order agents like Boris Johnson have desperately tried to obscure historical facts. So, whenever serious politicians like Sergey Lavrov get the chance to humiliate New World Order agents like Boris Johnson, one ought to say, “Bravo.”

  • [1] Finian Cunningham, “Did UK Clown-Diplomat Boris Johnson Threaten Russia With War?,” Sputnik, October 14, 2016.
  • [2] Boris Johnson, The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History (New York: Random House, 2014), 337.
  • [3] See E. Michael Jones, Barren Metal: A History of Capitalism as the Conflict Between Labor and Usury (South Bend: Fidelity Press, 2014), 1201-1214.
  • [4] Johann Hari, “Not his finest hour: The dark side of Winston Churchill,” Independent, October 28, 2010.
  • [5] Ibid.
  • [6] Quoted in Ralph Raico, Great Wars & Great Leaders(Auburn: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2010), 59.
  • [7]  Ibid., 85.
  • [8] Ibid., 95.
  • [9] Ibid., 95.
  • [10] Ibid., 101.

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The U.N. General Assembly Rebukes the Trump Administration


Almost all of the world’s most powerful states supported the resolution and voted against the U.S.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley. Credit: Flickr/Creative Commons/U.S. Mission Photo/Eric Bridiers

By Daniel Larison

As expected, the U.N. General Assembly delivered a clear rejection of the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital:



Many of the votes in favor of the resolution came from longstanding treaty allies:

UN Vote condemning US declaration on Jerusalem.

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The International Solidarity Movement survives in Palestine

In 2002, the International Solidarity Movement grabbed world attention by bringing volunteers from around the world to defend Palestine through nonviolent resistance.  They stayed with resistance fighters in the Nativity Church in Bethlehem. They brought medical supplies to the besieged Palestinians in the ancient Nablus Casbah.  They documented and filmed the destruction and mass killing of Palestinians in the Jenin refugee camp.  In 2002 and 2003, thousands participated at their own expense.  One was Rachel Corrie, who was killed trying to prevent demolition of a home in Gaza. Another was Tom Hurndall, killed by a shot to the head.
ISM has operated continuously since that time, serving at the request of the Palestinian community through participation in Palestinian nonviolent resistance.  ISM has also spawned other organizations with similar aims.
But ISM is today unable to fill the demand from the Palestinian community, for lack of volunteers and funding.  This crisis brought the international chapters of the ISM together for the first such meeting in more than a decade.  We decided to bring Palestinian ISM leaders to the US for a speaking tour, to educate and recruit potential volunteers.  We also reopened the Ramallah media office, which had been closed due to lack of funding.  For the time being, the office has been opened with borrowed money.
Great plans, but we don’t have the money to do this.
How much do we need for the ISM media office?  The requirements are for rent, utilities and support staff, totalling $16,800 for one year.  We also have one-time equipment costs of $12,200 for cameras, telephoto and other lenses, recording equipment, two computers with editing software, and basic furniture.  The total for 2018 is $29,000.  Last year, donations totaled less than $10,000, so we need a lot more to make this happen.
How much do we need for the US Speaking Tour?  Not much, really, because a lot of it will be covered by the speaking venues themselves.  The main thing is two round trip airfares from Palestine and the cost of the visas, around $2000. We would like to start the tour in February, directed mainly at university students during the spring term.
Here’s how to donate:

If you are in the US or want a US tax exemption for your donation, you can send your donation by check or on line to the Northern California chapter by following the instructions here:

If you do not need a US tax exemption for your donation, you can donate to the ISM chapter in Sweden by following the instructions here:
Thank you for helping to defend Palestine.

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We Can Reimagine and Reinvent Our Society in 2018

(Photo: Felix Kayser / EyeEm)

(Photo: Felix Kayser / EyeEm)

I’ve been writing a year-end column for YES! for years. Previously, my aim was to find the strands of hope from the past year that can be woven into new possibilities in the next year.

But as I sat down to write this column, on one of the darkest days of the year, I realized that this year will be different. This column will not be a list of hopeful trends. It’s too late to think we can make incremental tweaks to our current systems and be OK. Corporations and the ultra-wealthy will not share their wealth, and if we continue current practices of extraction and pollution, all life will be threatened.

The 2016 election showcased two destructive political directions: white supremacist nostalgia on the Trump side and coziness with corporate capitalism on the Clinton side. The Trump presidency combines both, and it’s a disaster that we can’t recover from — at least not with a few fixes around the edges.

Instead, it’s time to build something new.

Today, 41 million Americans live in poverty in the wealthiest country in the world. “The persistence of extreme poverty is a political choice made by those in power,” United Nations Special Rapporteur Philip Alston said in a report of his December tour through the United States. “With political will, it could readily be eliminated.” Instead, the Republicans push through a tax bill that will make it far worse.

Climate research published in the journal Nature shows that the worst case global-warming scenarios are likely the most accurate. And we’re already seeing the effect. Most recently, fires — whipped up by fierce Santa Ana winds — drove thousands from their homes in Southern California, and many found only ashes when they returned. Earlier in the season, it was Northern California, Washington, Oregon, Montana, and British Columbia feeling the impacts of fires. In Houston, historic flooding after Hurricane Harvey mixed with the toxic products of our petrochemical economy to turn neighborhoods into poisonous stews. In Puerto Rico, the one-two punch of dual hurricanes, coupled with years of federal neglect, left much of the island devastated — now, the vulture investors are circling, while people on the ground are trying to just get the lights back on.

There are so many more signs of moral and political bankruptcy — among the more recent, the FCC dismantled net neutrality, creating yet one more instance of a common good being degraded by profit-motivated manipulation.

Yes, this is a dark place I find myself in as the garish orange street light outside my window and the flashing Christmas lights shine through the icy fog of a Northwest morning.

There is an awakening, though. Elections held in 2017 showed a widespread repudiation of the ultra-right agenda. It showed that people can organize and win, as they did in AlabamaVirginia, and Philadelphia, Pennsyvania.

The rejection of Trump-style politics does not mean an embrace of Clinton-style corporate-friendly policies, though.

Even under President Obama’s more rational, but still pro-corporate, leadership, inequality was rising; our world was spinning toward climate disaster; Black men and women were being killed by police; immigrants were rounded up and deported; civilians were sacrificed in drone strikes; and our education, health care system, prisons, and public services were subjected to brutal private profit extraction.

So even under an intelligent and benign president, we were rushing toward disaster.

Authentic hope comes when we reject this system built on white supremacy, extractive corporate capitalism, and big money control of government. Leaving behind the illusion that we can fix a broken system frees us to work for genuine change.

There is no guarantee that we can pull off the deep transformation that’s needed. But our chances improve when we are clear-eyed about what we’re up against and what can actually work.

I believe that means we begin where we live — building more equitable economies that are rooted locally, and new relationships of reciprocity with the Earth and of equity and respect with each other.

My travels around the United States that resulted in the book The Revolution Where You Live, and then the book tour that followed, convinced me of the power of place-based communities.

It’s in our local communities that we can challenge the culture and institutions of racism and exclusion, and make sure everyone — of all races, generations, political beliefs, and religions — has a place at the table.

It’s by getting to know our bioregion that we can learn to protect the water, food systems, forests, and grasslands that we all depend upon so that all of us can survive climate change and other ecological traumas.

Only together can we reimagine and reinvent our society. None of us alone has a blueprint. Top-down revolutions become corrupt and authoritarian. But together, from the grassroots, we can create diverse and democratic economies and widely distributed power. We can build new norms that can sustain our communities as the old ways fail.

When outside forces threaten our natural and human community, we can be prepared and organized for nonviolent resistance, whether the source of the threat is a new Trump administration policy or a private fracking venture.

Getting grounded in local community also supports emotional and spiritual resilience, which is especially important during times of transition and for those struggling with isolation, stress, and poverty. Where we live, we can offer each other support and, over time, build local solutions.

We need to be in touch. Isolated and afraid, we’re easy to defeat. In each other’s company, we rediscover the joy and strength that can energize us as we create new systems and ways of life.

The place where we live is where we can find our power. Archimedes once said, give me a place to stand and a long lever, and I can move the Earth. We create that place to stand when we begin with the communities where we live.

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“Bussed Out”: How Cities Are Giving Thousands of Homeless People One-Way Bus Tickets to Leave Town


Image result for Homeless People PHOTO

A major new investigation by the Guardian examined how cities are struggling to solve the problem of homelessness throughout the year, and found many have come to rely on an old solution: a one-way ticket out of town. Relocation programs that offer homeless people free bus tickets to move elsewhere have been around for at least three decades. But as the homeless population rises for the first time since the Great Recession, relocation programs are becoming more common and are expanding to more cities. We speak with the Guardian’s homelessness editor, Alastair Gee, about many people who were bused out, remained homeless and eventually returned to the city they had left.


NERMEEN SHAIKH: As much of the Midwest faces winter snowstorms and the East Coast faces freezing temperatures this week, many cities have issued Weather Emergency Alerts that allow them to place people who are homeless into emergency shelters. Well, today we talk about a new investigation by The Guardian that looks at how cities struggle to solve the problem of homelessness throughout the year, and found many have come to rely on an old solution: a one-way ticket out of town. Relocation programs that offer homeless people free bus tickets to move elsewhere have been around for at least three decades. But as the homeless population rises for the first time since the Great Recession, relocation programs are becoming more common and are expanding to more cities.

AMY GOODMAN: In its investigation, The Guardian closely examined these homeless relocation programs by compiling and analyzing a database of more than 34,000 bus trips or flights taken by homeless people out of their cities. They found the journey provided a route out of homelessness for some, but many eventually returned to the city they had left. This is 27-year-old Quinn Raber, who traveled nearly 2,300 miles over three days from San Francisco to Indianapolis by bus, only to return.

QUINN RABER: I wasn’t expecting to come back to San Francisco as soon as I did, but I knew I was going to end up coming back eventually. The roughest part about being homeless is the wear and tear from the concrete and the constant walking. And it’s hard to use the restroom, because a lot of businesses don’t want homeless people in their restrooms and messing them up. You know, it really breaks you down. I don’t know if I would ask Homeward Bound for a ticket again, just because I know that you’re not really supposed ask for more than one. But if they — you know, if they would be willing to help, I’d ask them. You know?

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined in San Francisco by Alastair Gee, the homelessness editor for The Guardian, the new investigation by the Outside in America team headlined “Bussed out: How America moves its homeless.”

Alastair, welcome to Democracy Now! Just lay out what you found.

ALASTAIR GEE: Thank you so much for having me.

Well, we made dozens of public records requests. And our goal was to really understand what effect these bus programs were having on the homeless population in America. Cities, of course, would say that these programs are a really great way to offer people more stability. It’s a way to reconnect people with family or with friends in other locations and perhaps offer them a route out of homelessness. And we found that while in some cases that was certainly what happened, for some people it certainly was a way to greater stability, for others it wasn’t quite that simple. We found cases where people simply became homeless at their destination. In some instances, they even became homeless again in the city from which they had departed. So, the story really isn’t quite as simple, and it really isn’t quite as rosy a picture as cities would portray.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: According to a new federal study, the US homeless population, as we said earlier, rose this year for the first time since the Great Recession. What do you know about why that is and what the impact of that has been?

ALASTAIR GEE: Right. That’s a really good point. Well, the rise has been driven, in particular, by the trends that we’re seeing on the West Coast, and that’s to do with a rental affordability crisis. Everywhere from Seattle down to Los Angeles and San Diego, it’s simply becoming impossible for people earning, certainly, minimum wage, but even wages above that, it’s just — it’s very, very difficult to afford somewhere to live. So that’s what’s really driving the trend. And I think the picture, though, is in the background here, and it’s been a constant element of the homelessness crisis in the US, is a long-term federal underinvestment in affordable housing, something that was really begun, these cuts, in the Reagan era and, in the opinion of advocates, has never really been properly redressed since then.

AMY GOODMAN: This is 62-year-old Willie Romines, who took a bus from Key West to Ocala, Florida. He told The Guardian, because he accepted a free bus ticket from the shelter he was living in, he was barred from returning.

WILLIE ROMINES: It’s like, “Close the door. Get out of here. We bought you a bus ticket. You can’t come back.” That put a hurting on me. I feel like I was swindled. Since I’ve been banned from the shelter, I’ve stayed on Smathers Beach, behind buildings, behind bushes, hedgerows. I’ve slept next to dumpsters and stuff like that. They tell you anything, because they want you out of here. They want all the homeless out of Key West.

AMY GOODMAN: And this is Rose Thompson, a 58-year-old woman who relocated from Florida to West Virginia. She told The Guardian she went back to Key West only three weeks after leaving.

ROSE THOMPSON: I had a seizure and my heart stopped at the soup kitchen. So I wanted to go back to West Virginia and stay with my daughter. They were staying, it’s like, in a three-bedroom trailer. And then her little boy slept on the couch, where I was sleeping, so they wanted me to go to a homeless shelter. And I didn’t want to stay in a homeless shelter in West Virginia, because I don’t know anybody up there anymore. And from the time I left here to the time I got back, it was exactly three weeks.

AMY GOODMAN: So, if you can talk about these people, Alastair Gee, and talk about, you know, what their circumstances were? And also, how much are taxpayers paying for all of that, simply for them to return?

ALASTAIR GEE: Well, Willie was a person that one of our reporters met in Key West. And as you mentioned earlier, the Key West scheme is really unusual. Of the 15 or so programs from which we received data, Key West was the only one that had this stipulation. They essentially made you sign a kind of contract. If you went to the program and requested a bus ticket, they would ask you to essentially declare that should you return to Key West, that you wouldn’t avail yourself of homeless services there on the island again. And so, what this means is that you have people like Rose, for instance, who are sleeping on beaches, sleeping outdoors, because, essentially, they have taken a ticket. It didn’t work out, where they came from, and they’ve just ended up back in Key West.

So, in the case of Rose, for instance, she wanted to travel back to West Virginia, where she’s from, to stay with her daughter. She got back there. It turns out that her daughter simply wasn’t able to offer her the kind of support that she needed to find her way out of homelessness. Rose would be living in an overcrowded trailer. She was sleeping on a couch. And eventually, her daughter had to take her to a homeless shelter in West Virginia. So Rose ended up coming back to Key West, and that’s where she is now. And so she simply has no shelter. She has nowhere to stay. And so, she, unfortunately, is sleeping outdoors there.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Alastair —

ALASTAIR GEE: And I think you also — oh, please, go ahead.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: No, please, go ahead.

ALASTAIR GEE: Could you remind me of your other question?

AMY GOODMAN: Oh, talking about, you know, the cost to taxpayers, since what we’re talking about now is people who take these journeys, whether bus or plane, some feeling coerced, and then they end up back in the city they’re in.

ALASTAIR GEE: Right, right. Well, we have figures from the city of New York, for instance, which budgets half a million dollars per year for its program. And cities around the country, while not quite — they don’t have programs that are quite as large as the one in New York, I think we can safely assume that over the course of years, that cities are spending millions of dollars on these kinds of things. And it’s interesting because the efficacy of these programs. While cities would say that these are a good way to help people get out of homelessness, there really isn’t very much long-term research that testifies to that.

So, for instance, we spoke to the city of San Francisco and requested data from them. And they provided many, many years’ data, going back to the 2000s. But, for instance, for a 5-year period, between 2010 and 2015, when the city offered thousands of people bus tickets and thousands of people left the city, the city could only provide us records showing that it had been able to follow up with only three of those people to find out if their situation at the other end had improved. And that was really — that was a similar situation across the board. While a few smaller cities did have some long-term follow-up data, mostly they did not, and the cities really had no idea what happened to the people who had taken tickets out of their cities.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Alastair, what did you find out about the percentage of people who opt to leave the cities they’re living in, the homeless people who opt to leave, and those who are, in some sense, coerced or forced to leave?

ALASTAIR GEE: Well, that’s a really good question. And I think it’s important to mention from the outset that the majority of people who are homeless in any given city are from that city. Whenever cities do their homeless population counts, they often do surveys, and they find this trend that’s replicated across the board. And so, it is actually a myth that — as is common in many cities in the West, that somebody is drawn there for the services or for the weather. Most people are actually from that city. But for the percentage, the small percentage, that aren’t from that city, these programs can be a good choice.

In terms of coercion, it wasn’t something that we found very often. These programs generally are voluntary. And the way it works is that someone would take themselves to a ticket office, and they would make a request for a ticket. And that’s how it would work. But in the case of one family in New York, the Ortiz family, we did find that they felt that they had been given no other choice than to take a ticket. Jose Ortiz, he told us that he had gone to the city’s homelessness department in the summer this year. His family, his young family, had been homeless in the city of New York, and he had requested some help, just in time, really, to help him get his family back on his feet. He says that the city determined that because he had, in their words, a better housing option on the island of Puerto Rico, that he wasn’t eligible for homeless services in the city of New York. And in his terms, as it was laid out to him, he was given only one choice, which was to take the plane ticket out of town.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what’s happening in San Francisco right now, which is experiencing a homeless crisis, looking at the impact that the number of people bused out of the city have? And also, right here in New York City, if you can talk about one of the first places to adopt this so-called relocation program?

ALASTAIR GEE: Yeah. So, to deal with the second point first, New York, as far as we could tell, was the first major city to launch a program. Its program came about in around 1987. And it hasn’t continued without pause since then. It was relaunched in its current form under Mayor Bloomberg. But it certainly has a lot of history there.

The program in San Francisco came about later, in around 2005. And officials in San Francisco told me that — in fact, a police commander told me that they were looking to the example of the city of Sacramento, and they thought, “Why can’t we have a program like that?”

And so, the effect, as you mentioned, on San Francisco’s homeless population has been quite dramatic. We looked at the homeless counts in San Francisco over many years, and we tried to calculate what the population in the city, the homeless population, would have been had this program not existed. And we did a very rough back-of-the-envelope calculation. And over the years, around 10-and-a-half thousand people have received bus tickets from San Francisco’s Homeward Bound program. And its homeless population today, on any one night, is around 7,000 to 8,000 people. And so, of course, our calculation doesn’t take into account people who might have come into San Francisco through other bus programs, for which we don’t have data, or people who have been — become homeless in San Francisco while living in San Francisco. But, very roughly, we estimated that the population of San Francisco could have been 18,000 homeless people on any one night, had this program not existed. So, that’s more than double the current population of around 7,000 to 8,000.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, let’s go to Key West, Florida. You spoke also to a former shelter official there in Key West who defended the policy of banning people who have been relocated from returning. This is Mike Tolbert.

MIKE TOLBERT: The reason for a one-way ticket, we don’t want a revolving-door travel agency. If you let them come back, they’re going to want another ticket. And then you got the people, everybody wanting a ticket, everybody wanting to come back. And it’s just not going to work. The program will not work. The folks who take the bus ticket and complain about it, they think we owe them something. We gave you all we can give you. There is nothing else we can give you. I’m good with it.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So that’s Mike Tolbert in Key West, Florida. Alastair, can you say how representative his example is of other homeless people in Florida and even elsewhere?

ALASTAIR GEE: Well, the Key West program, they were certainly the most, I would say, forthright about that kind of thing. As I mentioned, the Key West program did seem, in some senses, to be an outlier, I would say, because other programs emphasize more that this was more of a humanitarian effort to assist people. And Key West came down quite squarely — I suppose they would say that it was both a humanitarian thing, but also they were doing a good thing by reducing the population and by giving these people one-way tickets out of town. And so, I wouldn’t say that that attitude is extremely representative, but it is very, very unusual. And that’s why we sent some reporters there to meet people like Willie and Rose and, certainly, to hear more about their stories.

AMY GOODMAN: And the story of the person who was flown from New York to Puerto Rico, explain that program, and particularly now, after Hurricane Maria.

ALASTAIR GEE: Right. Well, the Ortiz family, as I mentioned, they took a plane to get back in August. And as they felt, it was under duress. They really didn’t want to go. It was a man, his wife, their two young children. And our reporter noticed that the parents were doing their best to put a brave face on it when they were at JFK. The kids were very, very happy to be getting on a plane. But the parents, they were really trying to mask their feelings about it. And so, they traveled back to Puerto Rico in August. We were able to stay in touch with them a little bit over Facebook. When Jose Ortiz returned to Puerto Rico, he messaged us to say that he had a job interview as a security guard, and so he was feeling optimistic about that. But once the hurricane had been through, it became hard for us to get in touch with him. And we really, despite our efforts, haven’t been able to get back in touch with them since then, and so we don’t know now how — how that family is doing, unfortunately.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, taxes. That’s the big news of the Christmas and holiday weekends, as President Trump has just signed this and said that this helps poor and working people. What are your concerns about taxes and homelessness?

ALASTAIR GEE: Well, all the advocates that I spoke to were hoping, maybe vainly, I think they would say, that tax reform might be a boon for affordable housing, for the construction of homes that really the most impoverished Americans could afford. And there was particular focus on the mortgage interest deduction, which is this tax break that you can take. Essentially, it goes to the wealthiest Americans, who use it to help them buy more expensive homes. That’s the verdict of tax analysts, even though it’s intended as a kind of middle-class tax break. And so, experts were hoping that this would be reformed and that the revenues from that would be channeled into affordable housing construction.

As it stands, the government spends twice as much on that tax break for the wealthiest Americans than it does on rental assistance, the Section 8 program, for the poorest Americans. And so, in the reconciled version of the tax bill, as it appears now, there has been a little bit of reform of that deduction, but it doesn’t seem that that money — at least it hasn’t been stated it outright that that money is going to be channeled into affordable housing production, which is what advocates would really like. So, I think there’s a broad sense of disappointment that this was an opportunity here to really, potentially, transform the landscape, and that doesn’t seem to be the case at all.

AMY GOODMAN: And the freezing weather?

ALASTAIR GEE: The freezing weather is — extreme elements are really the bane of a homeless person’s life. We reported back in the summer, the burning temperatures in Arizona during that heat wave was extremely difficult for homeless people, who couldn’t even walk on the asphalt because it was burning. And it’s the same with the cold weather today. Unfortunately, it’s very, very hard to make it on the streets if you’re trying to simply stay alive because of the elements. I’m sure in Washington, DC, as is always the case and as has been the case for decades now, we’ll see people trying to warm themselves on grates, because that is, for many people, simply the only source of heat that there is. And so, I know that advocates across the West, in particular, are just looking out for that and watching for snowfall and trying to help people as best they can.

AMY GOODMAN: Absolutely astounding weather from International Falls, Minnesota, 37 degrees below zero. Erie, Pennsylvania, over five feet of snow has fallen there, and they expect more. Alastair Gee, thanks so much for being with us, homelessness editor for The Guardian. His team’s latest article, based on an 18-month investigation, is headlined “Bussed out: How America moves its homeless.” We’ll link to it at

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How Hospitals Are Failing Black Mothers


By Annie WaldmanProPublica 

(Photo: AndreyPopov / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

(Photo: AndreyPopov / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

When Dacheca Fleurimond decided to give birth at SUNY Downstate Medical Center earlier this year, her sister tried to talk her out of it.

Her sister had recently delivered at a better-rated hospital in Brooklyn’s gentrified Park Slope neighborhood and urged Fleurimond, a 33-year-old home health aide, to do the same.

But Fleurimond had given birth to all five of her other children at the state-run SUNY Downstate and never had a bad experience. She and her family had lived steps away from the hospital in East Flatbush when they emigrated from Haiti years ago. She knew the nurses at SUNY Downstate, she told her sister. She felt comfortable there.

She didn’t know then how much rode on her decision, or how fraught with risk her delivery would turn out to be.

It’s been long-established that black women like Fleurimond fare worse in pregnancy and childbirth, dying at a rate more than triple that of white mothers. And while part of the disparity can be attributed to factors like poverty and inadequate access to health care, there is growing evidence that points to the quality of care at hospitals where a disproportionate number of black women deliver, which are often in neighborhoods disadvantaged by segregation.

Researchers have found that women who deliver at these so-called “black-serving” hospitals are more likely to have serious complications — from infections to birth-related embolisms to emergency hysterectomies — than mothers who deliver at institutions that serve fewer black women.

Still, it’s difficult to tell from studies alone how this pattern plays out in real life. The hospitals are never named. The women behind the numbers are faceless, the specific ways their hospitals may have failed them unknown.

ProPublica did its own analysis, using two years of hospital inpatient discharge data from New York, Illinois and Florida to look in-depth at how well different facilities treat women who experience one particular problem — hemorrhages — while giving birth.

We, too, found the same broad pattern identified in previous studies — that women who hemorrhage at disproportionately black-serving hospitals are far more likely to wind up with severe complications, from hysterectomies, which are more directly related to hemorrhage, to pulmonary embolisms, which can be indirectly related. When we looked at data for only the most healthy women, and for white women at black-serving hospitals, the pattern persisted.

Beyond this bird’s-eye view, our analysis allowed us to identify individual hospitals with higher complication rates, to look at what kinds of protocols they have and to examine what went wrong in specific cases.

We found, for example, that SUNY Downstate, where 90 percent of the women who give birth are black, has one of the highest complication rates for hemorrhage across all three states. On average, 34 percent of women who hemorrhage while giving birth at New York hospitals experience significant complications. At SUNY Downstate, it’s 62 percent.

SUNY Downstate officials defended the hospital’s handling of obstetric hemorrhages, saying it has extensive protocols for responding to them and gets exemplary results despite handling deliveries involving mothers with higher-than-average numbers of health problems like diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure. They would not comment on Fleurimond’s case, citing patient privacy.

Fleurimond was admitted to Downstate on Aug. 9.

Pregnant with twins, her doctor noticed she was in preterm labor at her 34-week checkup and prepped her for an unplanned cesarean section. When they cut into her womb to deliver the babies, Fleurimond’s uterus didn’t fully contract as it should have. She began to bleed. By the time the doctors controlled the hemorrhage, she had lost more than a liter of blood, requiring two transfusions.

At first, it seemed she’d be fine. She awoke the following morning thinking the worst was over, eager to see her new sons.

She wouldn’t survive the day.


Every year in the United States, between 700 and 900 women die from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. For every woman that dies, dozens more experience severe complications, which affect more than 50,000 women annually.

The US rate of maternal mortality is substantially higher than those of other affluent nations and has risen over the past decade. Outcomes for black women have led the way, intensifying efforts by medical experts and academics to understand what’s driving the racial disparity.

A complicating factor in understanding how hospital care figures in is that hospitals take on different proportions of tough cases — patients who have less access to consistent, quality prenatal care or have chronic health issues, like diabetes or heart disease, that make pregnancy and childbirth riskier.

Some prominent researchers are using a methodology for analyzing birth outcomes that attempts to even the playing field.

The California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative, which studies maternal deaths and develops techniques to prevent them, looks at how well hospitals respond to obstetric hemorrhage, typically defined as losing more than 500 milliliters of blood during a vaginal birth or a liter of blood during a cesarean section. Why hemorrhages? Because women of all races experience them at roughly the same rates and their likelihood is less affected by factors like race or economic status, said CMQCC medical director Dr. Elliott Main.

CMQCC evaluates hospitals by calculating what percent of women who hemorrhage during birth wind up with major complications. Researchers count both the complications more directly related to hemorrhages, like hysterectomies and blood transfusions, and those that could be indirectly related, including embolisms, blood clots, heart attacks, kidney failure, respiratory distress, aneurysms, brain bleeds, sepsis and shock. Ultimately, this approach measures how often doctors prevent complications when a hemorrhage occurs, and when looked at over time, can show if a hospital has been able to improve.

ProPublica used the metric to analyze inpatient hospital discharge data collected by New York, Illinois and Florida for 2014 and 2015, examining all obstetric cases that were coded as involving hemorrhages — about 67,000 cases in all.

We also put each hospital into a category based on the concentration of black mothers who gave birth there, defining facilities as low, medium or high black-serving. We crafted our analysis so that it reflected the racial distribution of mothers delivering in each state. In New York, if black mothers represented roughly a third or more of the deliveries at a hospital, we considered the hospital high black-serving. In Florida, we considered a hospital high black-serving if about 40 percent of the mothers were black. In Illinois, we considered a hospital high black-serving if at least half of its mothers were black.

In New York, we defined a hospital as low black-serving if less than eight percent of the women delivering there were black. In Illinois, the cutoff was 14 percent. In Florida, it was 18 percent.

Across the three states, about one in 10 hospitals in our analysis was high black-serving — in some cases, extremely high. Ninety-nine percent of the mothers who gave birth at Jackson Park Hospital and Medical Center in Chicago were black.

While a handful of low black-serving hospitals had high complication rates, our analysis found that, on average, outcomes at hospitals that served a high number of black patients were far worse.

In New York, on average, high black-serving hospitals had complication rates 21 percent higher than low black-serving hospitals. In Illinois and Florida, high black-serving hospitals had complication rates 11 percent higher.

When we limited our patient pool to only mothers of average birthing age — between 25 and 32 — who did not have any chronic conditions like heart disease or diabetes, the pattern remained largely the same. This bolstered the notion that differences in care, along with patient characteristics, affected outcomes.

Deeper analysis of the data for each state underlined this finding. At low black-serving hospitals in New York, just under a third of the women who hemorrhaged had complications. At high black-serving hospitals, that rate climbed to about half.

Dr. Elizabeth Howell, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital, has taken a more refined look at racial disparities among New York City’s hospitals. She found black mothers were twice as likely to suffer harm when delivering babies than white mothers, even after adjusting for patients’ differing characteristics, suggesting that some of the racial disparity may be due to hospital quality. In a separate study, she estimated that the rate of harm for black women would fall by nearly 50 percent if they gave birth at the same hospitals as white women.

She’s also considered the same dynamic nationally. Because three quarters of black mothers deliver in about a quarter of the country’s hospitals, Howell believes that racial disparities could be reduced if hospitals that disproportionately serve black women improved their care.

There is clear evidence hospitals can make such improvements.

In California, complications related to obstetric hemorrhage decreased by about 20 percent in hospitals that adopted protocols promoted by Main’s group, which include keeping carts stocked with supplies to stave off massive bleeding and holding drills to simulate severe hemorrhage events. “It creates improvement in the team, increases communication and improves your response to all emergencies,” Main said.

Still, Main’s protocols haven’t been universally adopted in California, let alone elsewhere in the US, and many hospitals go their own way.

The spokesperson for SUNY Downstate — where more than 14 percent of women hemorrhage during birth, an average of one mother every other day — said the hospital “has already developed their own ‘best practice’ protocols for hemorrhage that other hospitals should be following.” These include a special “Code Mom” that details steps doctors and nurses need to take when responding to a hemorrhage. And women with placental problems are monitored by ultrasound, so that doctors can anticipate the most complex cases before beginning cesarean surgeries.

According to public documents posted in an online repository of the hospital’s policies, the obstetric and gynecology department’s emergency response policy on hemorrhage does not explicitly follow some of Main’s recommendations, such as having pre-fab kits to respond to hemorrhages and doing staff drills to prepare for them. SUNY Downstate did not respond to questions about these differences.

Dr. Ovadia Abulafia, the chair of the hospital’s department of obstetrics and gynecology, noted that SUNY Downstate serves a particularly “underserved” and “high-risk” population. More than 80 percent of women who deliver there are obese, a spokesperson said, and the hospital sees a higher incidence of diabetes, blood pressure disorders and placental separation problems compared to the rest of the nation.

But Dr. Allison Bryant Mantha, a high-risk obstetrician and health care disparities researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital, said hospitals shouldn’t use demographics or patient characteristics to excuse poor outcomes. Instead, they should hone their practices to deliver the care their patients need.

“Hospitals have to own the conditions that women walk in with,” Bryant said. “You have to give patients what they need to get to a quality level of care. We are doing a good job of equal care, but not adjusting for needs.”

Fleurimond awoke in good spirits in the labor and delivery unit on Aug. 10, the day after her delivery. Her biggest concern that afternoon was what she was going to eat. “What is Jell-O going to do for me?” she complained to her sister Merline Lamy, who responded, “This is your two-day diet, baby girl.” Fleurimond rolled her eyes.

She might not have felt it at the moment, but Fleurimond was still at risk of serious complications related to her hemorrhage, including pulmonary embolism, typically caused when a blood clot travels from a patient’s leg to a lung artery, blocking blood flow to the lungs.

Her blood was already predisposed to clotting, a biological mechanism that likely evolved in pregnant women to prevent hemorrhage during birth. Carrying twins can put extra pressure on the vessels around the uterus, further constricting blood flow. The cesarean surgery, like all surgeries, substantially increased her risk, as did the transfusions.

On top of that, Fleurimond weighed 260 pounds and was being treated for high blood pressure.

To prevent clotting, nurses had put compression boots on her legs. Just after 3 p.m., according to family members who were visiting Fleurimond, a nurse unfastened the boots, helped Fleurimond into a wheelchair and took her to visit the twins, Jayden and Kayden, in the neonatal intensive care unit. She’d held them only briefly in the operating room and craved another look. They had her round cheeks, which shone like polished apples.

Experts say compression boots lose their deterrent effect about 15 minutes after they are removed. Fleurimond spent about 90 minutes in the NICU with her aunt, who recalled her sitting in her wheelchair the whole time, her legs hanging down. Shortly after her aunt left, she complained that she felt unwell, but three hospital employees who spoke to ProPublica on the condition of anonymity say that she waited at least 40 minutes for a transport aide to wheel her back to her room. There is no evidence in her medical record that anyone came to assess her when she returned.

Doctors also did not prescribe heparin, a blood-thinning medicine being used at other hospitals to prevent pulmonary embolism in mothers with high risk factors, for whom compression boots are unlikely to be enough.

In the United Kingdom, protocols that advocate more aggressive use of blood thinners, particularly after C-sections, helped reduce embolism deaths by more than half within three years.

In the United States, a chorus of medical trade groups and maternal safety organizations have begun to promote more widespread use of blood thinners during pregnancy and childbirth, but not all hospitals have made it their practice.

“There are some experts who feel that it’s not worth the time, trouble and cost to avoid relatively rare events,” said Dr. Alexander Friedman, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University Medical Center.

Friedman’s hospital on the edge of Harlem typically administers the drug to high-risk mothers, but Fleurimond wouldn’t have had to travel that far. Three miles away from Downstate, at a Brooklyn hospital that has a smaller concentration of black patients and a lower complication rate related to hemorrhages, Maimonides Medical Center gives blood thinners to nearly all of mothers who undergo cesarean sections or have other risk factors.

Friedman, who reviewed Fleurimond’s medical records at ProPublica’s request, said she should’ve received the drug.

Dr. Douglas Montgomery, an obstetrician-gynecologist and director of the Maternal Fetal Medicine Department at California’s Kaiser Permanente Riverside Medical Center, said he would prescribe the drug to any patient who had Fleurimond’s risk factors.

At around 6 p.m., Fleurimond called the father of her twins. She sounded short of breath. She said she was in pain and asked him to come to the hospital, then hung up and waited, alone.

At about 6:25 p.m., Fleurimond screamed, medical records show. A doctor and nurse entered her room and found her gasping for air. More responders came. They couldn’t find a pulse. After more than an hour of resuscitation attempts, she was pronounced dead at 7:45 p.m.

Because Fleurimond died “during diagnostic or therapeutic procedures or from complications of such procedures,” as Downstate’s website puts it, she was referred to the New York City medical examiner’s office for an autopsy. Her cause of death, according to the autopsy report: pulmonary embolism, also known as “venous thromboembolism,” a condition that almost always has a chance of being prevented.

In an emailed statement, Abulafia said SUNY Downstate “follows the proven [American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists] protocols for obstetric hemorrhage, severe hypertension and venous thromboembolism.” SUNY Downstate has not had a maternal death related to hemorrhage in the past 15 years, a spokesperson said.

Such assurances provide little solace to Fleurimond’s relatives, who have sought an attorney to represent them.

“Dacheca Fleurimond was clearly at high risk to have a blood clot and there weren’t adequate preventative measures,” said the attorney, Eleni Coffinas. “The obesity, the hypertension, and the fact that she hemorrhaged after her C-section were all high-risk factors and she needed to be monitored for that.”


New York City occupies a unique place in the discussion of racial disparities in maternal mortality as both a hub of groundbreaking research on the subject and one of the nation’s starkest examples of such gaps.

In addition to the work by Howell, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has published a couple of reports, including one documenting how, as the mortality rate of expectant and new mothers overall across the city has dropped, the disparity between black and white mothers has grown.

Even when accounting for risk factors like low educational attainment, obesity and neighborhood poverty level, the city’s black mothers still face significantly higher rates of harm, the agency found. Of note, black mothers who are college-educated fare worse than women of all other races who never finished high school. Obese women of all races do better than black women who are of normal weight. And black women in the wealthiest neighborhoods do worse than white, Hispanic and Asian mothers in the poorest ones.

The health department has even mapped where the most maternal harm occurs, dividing the city into community districts. The highest rates of complications are concentrated in a swath of land in Central Brooklyn, in an area largely untouched by the wave of gentrification that has swept other parts of the borough. Here, mothers face up to four times the complication rates of neighborhoods just a few subway stops away. Fleurimond lived in one such danger zone, in a public housing development in eastern Crown Heights.

At three medical centers in this area that deliver babies — Brookdale University Hospital Medical Center, Kings County Hospital and SUNY Downstate — more than half of mothers who hemorrhaged during delivery experienced complications, ProPublica’s data analysis shows. More than three quarters of the women who give birth at Brookdale are black, as are nearly 90 percent of the women who deliver at Kings County Hospital.

Officials at Brookdale, a private nonprofit hospital, would not respond to questions from ProPublica. The New York City Health + Hospitals Corporation, the public benefit organization that operates Kings County Hospital, gave a detailed response laying out its protocols for obstetric hemorrhages, including some recommended by Main’s group. Robert de Luna, a spokesperson for the city’s hospital operator, said in an email that while hemorrhage is a good proxy indicator for maternal harm, “some of our patients come from all over the world (self-referred), a good number coming to us too late to benefit from our prenatal care services.” (Read the full response here.)

Some of the women who deliver at these hospitals are well aware of their reputations.

Brookdale, for example, was recently rated an ‘F’ by Leapfrog, the health care quality and safety nonprofit, one of only 15 hospitals in the country to receive a failing grade.

But proximity sometimes takes precedence over choice. That was the case for Merowe Nubyahn, a 37-year-old hospice aide.

In March 2013, when Nubyahn was 24 weeks pregnant, she was overcome with intense nausea and vomiting, and unexpectedly, her water broke. When emergency medical technicians arrived at her East New York apartment, she begged them to take her anywhere but Brookdale. She hadn’t liked what she had heard about the hospital and had been getting her prenatal care elsewhere. The ambulance took her to Brookdale anyway because it was closest.

At the hospital, she was rushed in for a cesarean section. Her daughter, delivered at what’s considered the edge of viability, barely clung to life in the hospital’s NICU. When Nubyahn awoke in the recovery room, layers of gauze covered her belly and her throat felt like sandpaper. Disoriented, she said she asked a nurse what had happened, but the words felt garbled leaving her mouth. Two of her teeth had been knocked out when she was intubated for anesthesia, according to her medical records. Nubyahn recalled that when she asked the doctor about them, he gave her an incredulous look and asked, “Are you sure you had teeth when you came in here?”

A bigger threat to her health emerged the morning after she was discharged from the hospital. As she sat in bed, she says she felt sharp cramping pains and a warm, viscous feeling. She looked down at her belly and saw dark, clotted blood — “plums and prunes” — bursting out of her cesarean incision.

Her wound had become infected — a common complication — and had begun to come apart. Still wearing her hospital bracelet, she was shuttled back to Brookdale and told she’d also developed a hematoma, a mass of blood, around her incision site.

While Nubyahn was being treated in one part of the hospital for her various complications, her baby died in another. Overcome with grief and stung by her treatment, Nubyahn checked herself out and vowed to never return. “All the horror stories that I have heard about Brookdale … I totally have my own now,” she said.

Khari Edwards, the vice president of external affairs at Brookdale, said the hospital would not comment on Nubyahn’s case due to privacy laws.

Recognizing that hospitals in Central Brooklyn have some of the highest maternal complication rates in the city, the health department has begun to target the area with services in recent years. It supports the By My Side initiative that pairs up women with doulas who can advocate for them during birth. The department also supports prenatal programs in the area based on a model of assessment, education and support, also known as CenteringPregnancy.

“We are data driven and we look to where the outcomes are the worst,” said Dr. Deborah Kaplan, the assistant commissioner for maternal, infant and reproductive health at the department.

This month, the city convened a new committee to review deaths and severe complications related to pregnancy and childbirth. One of its priorities will be to figure out why — despite years of research and attention — the city’s racial disparities have persisted and even grown.

“We used to say we are not sure why we are seeing these racial disparities. Now we say unequivocally that racism causes these problems,” said Kaplan. She emphasized that this encompassed not only health care but all aspects of life in the city, from housing to schools. “If we provide equally to everyone, we could widen the inequity. We have to prioritize putting resources in neighborhoods with the highest rates of severe maternal morbidity and the least access.”

Just three months after Fleurimond died at SUNY Downstate, another black woman died there, hours after giving birth.

Tanesia Walker, a 31-year-old flight attendant, had originally planned to deliver at New York-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital in Park Slope, where she had her first son. But a week before her scheduled cesarean, her doctor changed her delivery to Downstate, where he also had privileges.

Walker grew nervous after reading negative reviews of the hospital online, family members said. They tried to calm her down. Hers was not a high-risk pregnancy, they reminded her. She wasn’t overweight and her blood pressure was fine.

Walker seemed okay after a C-section at SUNY Downstate on Nov. 27, holding her newborn son Tyre close to her chest as her family spent the afternoon with her. Then, at 2 a.m., she sent a text message to her fiancé saying she had a pain in her side, he told ProPublica.

A few hours later, she was dead.

As family members trickled into the hospital that morning, shocked and confused, doctors couldn’t say why she died, said her father Junior Walker. They mentioned the possibility of blood clots in her lungs, he added.

The family has requested her medical records from the hospital. As with Fleurimond, the city medical examiner’s office has done an autopsy, but has not yet released its report.

Walker’s death haunts her younger brother Dwayne, who kept in touch with her nonstop as she traveled. He can’t stop thinking, why her? She was educated, had a criminal justice degree from John Jay College. She was healthy, didn’t drink or smoke, ran track in high school. She was financially stable, quit a management job at Chase Bank to see the world aboard American Airlines.

“I just want to know why she died,” he said, eyes wet with tears. He keeps sending her text messages, even now that she is gone. “She was a healthy woman who shouldn’t have died from a cesarean section.”

Fleurimond’s family is doing its best to survive without her.

Her sister, Merline Lamy, took in Fleurimond’s six youngest children, blending them into her own household, but that meant squeezing 12 people into a three-bedroom apartment. The landlord threatened to evict them.

Fleurimond’s brother and his wife have tried to collect money for the children on GoFundMe, but so far have only raised about $250. (ProPublica reporter Nina Martin, who was not involved in the reporting or preparation of this story, donated $100 three months ago.)

Fleurimond’s 58-year-old mother has become the principal surrogate parent — changing diapers, cooking dinners and breaking up sibling spats. She sleeps no more than a couple of hours each night, her eyes permanently rimmed with dark shadows.

The kids, too, are struggling to settle into their new life.

On a recent evening, Joshua, 9, tried to tune out the noise in Lamy’s packed apartment and concentrate on his math homework. Berlynda, 10, comforted a twin in each arm. Aiden, 2, climbed on the couch with a runny nose.

Like all toddlers, his mood teeters between buoyancy and despair. But when he calls for “mama,” his siblings have to remind him she will not come.

Posted in USAComments Off on How Hospitals Are Failing Black Mothers

How Cheney and His Allies Created the North Korea Nuclear Missile Crisis


By Gareth PorterTruthout 

Vice President Dick Cheney (L) gathers with other senior members of the US Government during remarks by President George W. Bush about the North Korean missile launches in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington July 5, 2006. (Photo: Brooks Kraft LLC / Corbis via Getty Images)

Former Vice President Dick Cheney gathers with other senior members of the US Government during remarks by former President George W. Bush about the North Korean missile launches in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington July 5, 2006. (Photo: Brooks Kraft LLC / Corbis via Getty Images).

The Trump administration has been telling people for months that the crisis with North Korea is the result of North Korea’s relentless pursuit of a nuclear threat to the US homeland and past North Korean cheating on diplomatic agreements. However, North Korea reached agreements with both the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations that could have averted that threat, had they been completed.

Instead, a group of Bush administration officials led by then-Vice President Dick Cheney sabotaged both agreements, and Pyongyang went on to make rapid strides on both nuclear and missile development, leading ultimately to the successful late November 2017 North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test.

The record shows, moreover, that Cheney and his allies derailed diplomatic efforts to curb North Korean nuclear and missile development, not because they opposed “arms control” (after all, the agreements that were negotiated would have limited only North Korean arms), but because those agreements would have been a political obstacle to fielding the group’s main interest: funding and fielding a national missile defense system as quickly as possible. The story of Cheney’s maneuvering to kill two agreements shows how a real US national security interest was sacrificed to a massive military boondoggle that served only the interests of the powerful contractors behind it.

Curbing North Korean Arms or Missile Defense?

In October 1994, the Bill Clinton administration reached a historic agreement with North Korea called the “Agreed Framework,” under which Pyongyang agreed to freeze its existing plutonium reactor and related facilities within a month, with full monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and to dismantle them as soon as they could be replaced with light water reactors. The United States promised to provide the reactors, as well fuel oil, until the light water reactors were built. And even more crucially, the US also pledged to take steps to end the enmity toward North Korea and normalize relations between the two longtime adversaries.

No sooner had the Clinton administration negotiated the “Agreed Framework,” however, than the Republicans gained control of both houses of Congress in the 1994 election. That seismic political shift enabled a powerful lobby of military contractors pushing for a national missile defense system to achieve a congressional mandate for rapid development and deployment of such a system.

It was a fateful convergence, because the missile defense lobby’s strategy was to create a sense of urgency about an alleged imminent threat to the US homeland from ballistic missiles armed with nuclear weapons mounted by “rogue states”– Iraq, Iran and North Korea.

It was not the US, but North Korea that proposed an agreement in 1998 that would end its development of new missiles as part of a broader peace agreement with Washington.

And the Clinton administration’s agreement with North Korea — the only “rogue state” known to have a nuclear weapons program as well as a missile program — threatened that missile defense lobby strategy.

When a 1995 CIA intelligence estimate said that none of the three “rogue states” would have ballistic missiles capable of threatening the United States for at least 15 years, the missile defense lobby got Congress to pass legislation creating a “national commission” on the ballistic missile threat that would contradict the CIA assessment. The commission, led by Republican hard-liner Donald Rumsfeld, asserted in its final report in July 1998 that either Iraq or North Korea might acquire long-range ballistic missiles capable of hitting the United States in as little as five years. In a craven retreat under political pressure, the CIA then largely adopted the commission’s argument.

North Korea had only carried out two tests of medium or longer-range missiles in the decade from 1988 to 1998, neither of which had been successful, so the Clinton administration was not focused on the threat of an ICBM: It held just two rounds of talks on the ballistic missile program between 1996 and 1998.

In fact, it was not the United States, but North Korea that proposed an agreement in 1998 that would end its development of new missiles as part of a broader peace agreement with Washington.

When the United States failed to respond to the proposal, however, North Korea launched a three-stage rocket called the Taepodong on August 31, 1998, which the missile lobby and news media argued was a major step toward a North Korean ICBM. The missile lobby used that event to push for legislation establishing a national policy goal to deploy and “effective National Missile Defense System” as soon as technologically possible.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il was using the regime’s missile development as a prod to get the Clinton administration to negotiate a deal that would include concrete steps toward normalization of relations. He even sent a personal envoy to Washington to present the outline of a new North Korean offer to give up the regime’s quest for an ICBM, as well as its nuclear weapons capability. In October 2000, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright went to Pyongyang, and the two sides came close to a final agreement that would have ended North Korean missile development as well as its nuclear weapons program and led to normalizing relations.

But Clinton didn’t go to North Korea to sign the deal in the final months of his presidency, and the election of George W. Bush in November 2000 was a major victory for the missile defense lobby. Bush named Rumsfeld, the primary political champion of a missile defense system, as his Secretary of Defense. And no less than eight figures with direct or indirect ties to Lockheed Martin, the leading defense contractor in the missile defense business, became policymakers in the new administration. The most important was Dick Cheney, whose wife, Lynn Cheney, had earned more than half a million dollars serving on the board of directors of Lockheed-Martin from 1994 to 2001.

Cheney set about killing the Agreed Framework and securing the missile defense system even before Bush entered the White House. Cheney chose Robert Joseph, a hardline supporter of missile defense and foe of an agreement with North Korea, as a key member of the transition team that Cheney led. Cheney then made Joseph senior director on the National Security Council (NSC) staff with responsibility for both missile defense and “weapons of mass destruction” proliferation policy.

“Joseph really hated the Agreed Framework,” Larry Wilkerson, then in the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff, told journalist Mike Chinoy. “His objective was first to kill the Agreed Framework and to make sure that nothing like it could ever get created again.”

Joseph’s first project was to draft a National Security Presidential Directive that laid out a “new strategic framework,” essentially built around a ballistic missile defense system, as Joseph later told a National Defense University researcher

Joseph drafted a speech that the president gave on May 1, 2001, in which Bush debuted a new central argument for national missile defense. “Deterrence can no longer be based solely on the threat of nuclear retaliation,” Bush declared, adding that missile defense system could “strengthen deterrence by reducing the incentive for proliferation.”

Cheney and Bolton Go for the Kill

Colin Powell’s State Department posed the main obstacle to the Cheney group’s plans for trashing the Agreed Framework. The Department’s East Asian Bureau got Bush’s approval for a formal policy review on North Korea, which concluded by defining the policy goal of exploring a deal with North Korea that would involve “an improved relationship.”

But Cheney had a bureaucratic strategy to frustrate that endeavor and finish off the Agreed Framework. The NSC staff initiated a “nuclear posture review,” which was carried out without any participation by Powell’s allies. The final document included North Korea on a new list of countries that could be targets for US use of nuclear weapons.

No less than eight figures with direct or indirect ties to Lockheed Martin, the leading defense contractor in the missile defense business, became policymakers in the new administration. The most important was Dick Cheney.

That designation, which was leaked to the press in March 2002, conflicted directly with the US pledge in the Agreed Framework to “provide formal assurances to the DPRK, against the threat or use of nuclear weapons by the U.S.”

Then Bush’s State of the Union message in January 2002 introduced the idea of North Korea as part of an “axis of evil” along with Iran and Iraq. That was not merely a throwaway line introduced by a speechwriter, but reflected lobbying by Cheney and Rumsfeld for “toughening sanctions and isolation to lay the groundwork for regime change in North Korea,” according to Condoleezza Rice’s memoir, No Higher Honor.

John Bolton, Cheney’s proxy in the State Department on proliferation issues, writes in his memoir Surrender is Not an Option that he considered the “axis of evil” speech a signal that he could now begin a bureaucratic offensive aimed at killing the Agreed Framework. Bolton recalls that he pushed the State Department to adopt the position that North Korea was out of compliance with the Agreed Framework for having “failed to make a complete and accurate declaration of its nuclear activities and refused to allow inspection of related facilities.”

However, Bolton was misrepresenting the terms of the agreement, which provided that North Korea would come into full compliance with its safeguards agreement, including the accuracy and completeness of its declaration on its nuclear program, “[w]hen a significant portion of the LWR [light water reactor] project is completed, but before delivery of key nuclear components…” Construction on the light water reactor had not even begun in 2002, when the State Department notified Congress that North Korea was out of compliance.

Bolton’s plan was frustrated temporarily by resistance from the NSC, over which then-National Security Adviser Rice had some influence. But the decisive blow to the Agreed Framework came in July 2002, when, according to his memoir, Bolton obtained an intelligence assessment stating that North Korea “began seeking centrifuge-related materials in large quantities” in 2001, and that it had “obtained equipment suitable for use in uranium feed and withdrawal systems.” Bolton recalls that the new intelligence finding was “the hammer I had been looking for to shatter the Agreed Framework.” He argued in interagency meetings that North Korea had pledged to “take steps to implement the North-South Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” and therefore any North Korean move toward uranium enrichment violated its commitment.

Bolton was creating another false issue. Robert Carlin, a North Korea expert and adviser to the US negotiators, has pointed out that the reference to that document was an “afterthought” and that “no one really believed that the reference to the North-South agreements would constitute one of the core DPRK obligations” in the agreement.

Bush’s negotiator with North Korea, Charles L. Pritchard, suggested bringing the uranium enrichment issue into the Agreed Framework, using the North Korean interest in normalization as negotiating leverage, according to Bolton. He also warned that if the United States withdrew from the agreement, North Korea would resume its plutonium program or start a new uranium program.

However, Bolton recalls telling Pritchard that wouldn’t make “the slightest difference,” because North Korea already had enough plutonium for “several weapons.” In fact, it was not at all clear that Pyongyang had already converted plutonium into a single nuclear weapon.

Cheney set about killing the Agreed Framework and securing the missile defense system even before Bush entered the White House.

However, Bolton showed no apparent concern about North Korea’s long-range missile program, which the Clinton administration and North Korea had agreed would be negotiated in conjunction with moves toward normalization. “I wanted a decisive conclusion that the Agreed Framework was dead,” Bolton writes.

In October 2002, Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly went to Pyongyang with explicit orders, which Rice attributes to those who were undermining diplomacy, to accuse Pyongyang of cheating on the agreement by having a uranium enrichment program. North Korea’s First Vice Foreign Minister Kang Sok Ju did not deny the government’s interest in uranium enrichment, but said it was a response to the clear indications from the Bush administration that it had no intention to improve relations with his government. He also said North Korea was prepared to negotiate on all enrichment, including uranium, if the United States changed its hostile policy.

However, at an NSC meeting a week later, no one disagreed with the assertion that the Agreed Framework was dead, according to Bolton. In December 2002, the Bush administration strong-armed its Japanese and South Korean allies to end their supply of oil to the North Korea, officially terminating the Agreed Framework.

Cheney and his allies were clearing the political path to full funding for the national missile defense system they wanted to rush to deployment as quickly as possible. Rumsfeld had created a new Missile Defense Agency in the Pentagon in early 2002, which had unprecedented freedom from congressional or Department of Defense oversight.

They were also opening the floodgates for North Korean nuclear and missile development.

Cheney Kills Rice’s North Korea Agreement

For the next three years, the Bush administration refused direct negotiations with North Korea. But Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice got Bush to agree in September 2005 to a joint statement of principles with North Korea in the context of Six-Party Talks.

In October 2007, Washington and Pyongyang negotiated an agreement under which Pyongyang would first seal and then disable its plutonium-based facilities for shipment of heavy fuel and provide a full accounting of its entire nuclear program, including uranium. For its part, the US pledged to remove North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism and lift other trade restrictions. In a later phase, the two sides would agree on a verification system and on steps leading to normalization of relations.

Then Cheney sabotaged the new agreement. In April 2007, Israel claimed Syria had built a nuclear reactor in the desert in eastern Syria with North Korean assistance. Bush’s advisers all accepted the Israeli claim as true, but nearly a decade later, the IAEA’s expert on North Korean reactors at the time revealed detailed technical evidence that had led him to conclude with certainty that the Syrian site could not possibly have been a North Korean-designed reactor.

Cheney seized on the alleged Syrian reactor to wrest control over North Korea policy from Rice. In a January 4, 2008 White House meeting, he recalls in his memoirs In My Time how he successfully prodded Bush and Rice to agree with his assumption that a “failure to admit they’ve been proliferating to the Syrians would be a deal killer.” Two months later, Bush gave Cheney power to approve any joint US-North Korean text negotiated by the State Department.

Under pressure from Cheney, Rice adopted a new diplomatic strategy. In addition to their obligations in the first two phases of the October 2007 agreement, she writes inNo Higher Honor, “[t]he North Koreans would also have to agree to a verification protocol to govern the on-site inspection of all aspects of their nuclear program.”

That verification protocol — not the actions pledged by Pyongyang in the October 2007 agreement — would now be the basis for deciding whether the administration would take North Korea off the terrorist list and stop the application of the Trading with the Enemy Act.

Cheney and his allies were clearing the political path to full funding for the national missile defense system they wanted to rush to deployment as quickly as possible.

Rice was changing the rules after the fact. After had North Korea delivered its declaration on its plutonium enrichment program in late June 2008, US negotiators sought North Korean agreement for inspectors to go into any site, whether declared or not, including sensitive military sites. Pyongyang conveyed its strong private objections to that, as well as to environmental sampling by inspectors. The 45-day period during which the United States was supposed to have taken its two small steps toward normalization came and went.

North Korea immediately accused the United States of violating the October agreement and suspended the disabling of its nuclear facilities. The US negotiator, Chris Hill, got what he regarded as North Korean verbal agreement to an amended version of the verification protocol, but North Korea would not sign it. On the basis of that unwritten understanding, Bush agreed to take North Korea off the US list of terrorist sponsors, and the physical disabling of the North Korea’s plutonium complex was completed.

But Bush insisted that North Korea sign the verification protocol, and in December, after Barack Obama’s election, Pyongyang rejected the Bush administration’s unilateral rewriting of the agreement, issuing a statement that it would only agree to intrusive inspections when US “hostile policy and nuclear threat to the North are fundamentally terminated” US-North Korean diplomacy on the October 2007 nuclear deal came to a halt.

Cheney and his allies had prevented the successful completion of two agreements that could have averted the present crisis with North Korea. When Bush took office in 2001, North Korea was believed to possess less than an atomic bomb’s worth of plutonium. By the end of his second term, North Korea was already a nuclear power, with several nuclear weapons.

Even more significant, however, the Bush administration never even attempted to negotiate limits on North Korea’s long-range missile program. That failure was very costly to the interests of the American people — but it was a gift to the national missile defense program that has kept on giving

Posted in USA, North KoreaComments Off on How Cheney and His Allies Created the North Korea Nuclear Missile Crisis

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