Archive | August 24th, 2016

Secret Negotiations regarding Syria


Over the past few weeks, several member states of the International Coalition against the Syrian Arab Republic began secret negotiations with it with a view to withdrawing from the war.

These states include members of the European Union and the Commonwealth.

The following three voyages have been disclosed by the GulfNews and Al-Mayadeen:
• a trip by General Ali Mamelouk —coordinator of Syrian Secret Services — to Berlin;
• a trip by General Mohammed Dib Zaitoun — Director General of Syrian Security — to Rome; _ • a trip by General Alberto Manenti — Director of the Agency on Intelligence and Foreign Affairs — by special plane from Rome to Damas.

The High Representative of the European Union, Federica Mogherini, is the former Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs.

All these trips follow Brexit. They are only the tip of the iceberg.

All negotiators interpret the Geneva Communique as having to lead not to regime change but to the establishment of government of national unity presided by Bachar el-Assad.

A Syrian officer is already placed in a European Capital to coordinate the fight against the jihadists.

These contacts contravene the sanctions officially decreed against Damas.

Anoosha Boralessa

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Propaganda: the Chinese are expansionists


The Court of Arbitration (the PCA) at the Hague ruled in favour of the Philippines in its case against the People’s Republic of China, rejecting Chinese territorial claims over the Spratly Isles in the South China Sea.

For the Western Press, this is a sign that the United States is right to denounce Chinese expansionism.

In actual fact, the Court of Arbitration does not have jurisdiction over boundary disputes. Jurisdiction over such disputes lies with the International Court of Justice, which is also located at the Hague. Thus the Philippines should have brought its claim before it.

The PCA is nothing more than a meeting of arbitrators (not judges) sitting in chambers – that “arbitrates” (not “judges”) disputes between private organizations, NGOs or multi-nationals and States.

In 2013, the Philippines initiated the claim which was restricted to rights related to the Law of the Sea Convention 1982 (UNCLOS 1982).

The People’s Republic of China, which (in contrast to the Quing dynasty) had never been a signatory to the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907 establishing the Court, has refused to plead before the PCA, asserting that the PCA lacked jurisdiction over boundary disputes.

In this case, the five arbitrators are:
- Thomas Aboagye Mensah (Chair), a US jurist, originally from Ghana ;
- Jean-Pierre Cot, a former French socialist minister in charge of Cooperation;
- Stanislaw Pawlak, a former Polish ambassador to Syria and to the UN ;
- Alfred H. A. Soons, an adviser to the government of the Netherlands;
- Rüdiger Wolfrum, a German jurist.

Furthermore all are members of the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) whose jurisdiction is not limited to maritime areas but extends to ruling on the application of UNCLOS 1982 on flag states or fishing rights.

In their decision, the arbitrators challenged China’s historical claims to title over these inhabited islands, however Chinese until 18th century (then abandoned in the period of colonization), and thus arbitrates accordingly.

This decision (which is not a judgement) – has been rejected both by the People Republic of China which denounces it as a “farce” and the Republic of China (Taiwan). The Sultan of Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam who are parties to the dispute, have however not commented.

Anoosha Boralessa

Attached documents

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For London, propaganda is an art


No normal human being can accept to see his children suffer – consequently, they make good subjects for war propaganda. Thierry Meyssan takes a look at the use of children by the International Coalition during the war against Syria.

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Just as in all wars, the war against Syria has triggered an avalanche of propaganda. And the use of children is always a winning strategy.

So, at the beginning of the war, Qatar wanted to demonstrate that the Republic, far from serving the general interest, actually despised the People. The petro-dictatorship then broadcast, on its TV channel Al-Jazeera, the legend of the children of Deraa, supposedly tortured by the police. To illustrate the cruelty of its adversary, Qatar specified that their fingernails had been torn out. Of course, despite research, no journalist could find any trace of these children. The BBC broadcast an interview with two of them, but their nails were still intact.

Since the myth could not be proved, Qatar then launched a new story – that of a child, Hamza Ali Al-Khateeb (13 years old), who had allegedly been tortured and castrated by the «regime’s» police. This time, they provided a convincing image. Everyone could see that the body had no sex. However, the autopsy showed that the body had been poorly preserved, and that it had fermented and swollen. The stomach hid the child’s sex, which was still present.

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In this magazine, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle imagined the arrest of a German spy by Sherlock Holmes. The writer was working for the Office of War Propaganda.

At the end of 2013, the British took over the task of war propaganda. They had a long experience in that sector, and are considered to have invented modern propaganda during the first World War, with the Office of War Propaganda. One of the characteristics of their method is to rely on artists, because aesthetics tend to neutralise critical thinking. In 1914, they recruited the great authors of the time – like Arthur Conan Doyle, H.G. Wells and Rudyard Kipling – to publish texts which attributed imaginary crimes to their German enemy. Then they recruited the heads of their major newspapers to publish the imaginary information invented by the authors.

When the United States adopted the British method, in 1917, with the Committee on Public Information, they made a more precise study of the mechanisms of persuasion, with the help of star journalist Walter Lippmann and the inventor of modern publicity, Edward Bernays (Sigmund Freud’s nephew). But, persuaded of the power of science, they forgot about aesthetics.

At the beginning of 2014, the British MI6 created the company Innovative Communications & Strategies (InCoStrat) to whom we owe, for example, the magnificent logos of the armed groups, from the most «moderate» to the most «extremist». This company, which has offices in Washington and Istanbul, organised the campaign to convince the Europeans to offer sanctuary to 1 million refugees. It was this company that photographed young Aylan Kurdi, drowned on a Turkish beach, and managed, in two days, to have it published on the front page of the main Atlantist newspapers in all NATO countries as well as those of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

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Every year, before the war, a hundred people died from drowning on Turkish beaches, and no-one mentioned it. And above all, only the tabloids showed photographs of the corpses. But this photo was so well composed…

Since I noted that a body can not be washed up perpendicular to the waves, the photographer explained later that he had moved the corpse for the needs of the photo.

The photo of young Omran Daqneesh (5 years old), in an ambulance in West Aleppo, is thus accompanied by a video. The two supports enable the information to be exploited by both the written Press and the television. The scene is so dramatic that a news-reader from CNN could not stop herself from crying when she saw it. Of course, when we think about it, we notice that the child was not attended to by the medical personnel who gave him first aid, but by a group of extras, (the «White Helmets»), who placed him facing the cameras.

The British film directors care nothing about the child, whose only interest for them is as a feature in their images. According to Associated Press, the photograph was taken by Mahmoud Raslan, whom we can see in the video. According to his Facebook account, this man is a member of Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zenki (supported by the CIA, who supplied the group with BGM-71 TOW anti-tank missiles). Still according to his Facebook account, and as confirmed by another video, it was Raslan who, on the 19 July 2016, personally cut the throat of a young Palestinian child, Abdullah Tayseer Al Issa (12 years old).

European laws lay down strict guidelines for the use of children in publicity. Clearly, these laws do not apply to war propaganda.

Pete Kimberley

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NED, the Legal Window of the CIA


For 30 years, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) has been sub-contracting the legal part of illegal CIA operations. Without rousing suspicions, it has put in place the biggest network of corruption in the world, bribing trade unions and management syndicates , political parties both on both the Right and Left so that they defend the interests of the United States instead of their members. In this article, Thierry Meyssan describes the extent of this system.

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In 2006, Kremlin denounced the proliferation of foreign associations in Russia, some of which would have participated in a secret plan, orchestrated by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), to destabilise the country. To prevent a “colour revolution”, Vladislav Surkov drew up strict regulation over these non-governmental organizations (NGOs). In the West, this administrative framework was described as a “fresh assault on freedom of association by Putin the “Dictator” and his adviser”.

This policy has been followed by other States who in their turn, have been labelled by the international press as “dictators”.

The US government guarantees that it is working towards “promoting democracy all over the world”. It claims that the US Congress can subsidize NED and that NED can, in turn and wholly independently, help directly or indirectly, associations, political parties or trade unions, working in this sense anywhere in the world. The NGOs being, as their name suggests, “non-governmental” can take political initiatives that ambassadors could not assume without violating the sovereignty of the States that receive them. The crux of the matter lies here: NED and the network of NGOs that it finances: are they initiatives of civil society unjustly repressed by the Kremlin or covers of the US Secret Services caught red-handed in interference?

In order to respond to this question, we are going to return to the origins and function of NED. But our first step must be to analyze the meaning of this official US project: “exporting democracy”.

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The puritans that founded the United States wanted to create a “radiant city” whose light would illuminate the whole world. They considered themselves the missionaries of a political model.

What Democracy?

The US, as a people, subscribes to the ideology of their founding fathers. They think of themselves as a colony that has come from Europe to establish a city obeying God. They see their country as “a light on the mountain” in the words of Saint Mathew, adopted for two centuries by most of their presidents in their political speeches. The US would be a model nation, shining on top of a hill, illuminating the entire world. And all other people in the world would hope to emulate this model to reach their well-being.

For the people of United States, this very naïve belief implies without more that their country is an exemplary democracy and that they have a messianic duty to superimpose it on the rest of the world. While Saint Mathew envisaged propagating faith exclusively through the example of a righteous life, the founding fathers of the United States thought of illumination and propagating their faith in terms of regime change. The English puritans beheaded Charles I before fleeing to the Netherlands and the Americas, then the patriots of the New World rejected the authority of King George III of England, proclaiming the independence of the United States.

Impregnated by this national mythology, the people of the United States do not perceive their government’s foreign policy as a form of imperialism. In their eyes, it is all the more legitimate to topple a government that has the ambition to take the form of a model which is different from theirs and thus evil. In the same way, they are persuaded that due to the messianic mission that has been thrust upon them, they have arrived to impose democracy by force in the countries that they have occupied. For example, at school they learn that GIs brought democracy to Germany. They do not know that history indicates quite the opposite: their government helped Hitler to topple the Republic of Weimar and set up a military regime to fight the Soviets. This irrational ideology prevents them from challenging the nature of their institutions and the absurd concept of a “forced democracy”.

Now, according to President Abraham Lincoln’s formula, “democracy is the government of the people, by the people for the people”.

From this point of view, the United States is not a democracy but a hybrid system where executive power is returned to the oligarchy, while the people limit its arbitrary exercise through legislative and judicial powers that can check it. Indeed, while the people elect Congress and some judges, it is the states of the federation that elect executive power and the latter appoints the high judges. Although citizens have been called to determine their choice of president, their vote on this matter only operates as a ratification, as the Supreme Court pointed out in 2000, in Gore v. Bush. The US Constitution does not recognize that the people are sovereign, because power is divided between them and a federation of states, in other words, between the leaders of the community.

As an aside, we observe that in contrast, the Russian Federation’s Constitution is democratic – on paper at least. It declares: “the holder of sovereignty and the sole source of power in the Russian Federation is its multinational people.” (Title I, Ch. 1, art.3).

This intellectual context explains that the US supports its government when it announces that it wants “to export democracy”, even if, its own constitution signals that it is not one. But it is difficult to see how it could export something it does not possess and does not wish to have at home.

For the last thirty years, this contradiction has been supported by NED and given specific form through destabilizing a number of States. With a smile that a clean conscience blesses upon them, thousands of activists and gullible NGOs have violated the people’s sovereignty.

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A Pluralist and Independent Foundation

In his famous speech on 8 June 1982 before the British Parliament, President Reagan denounces the USSR as “the empire of evil” and proposes to come to the aid of dissidents over there and elsewhere. He declared: “We need to create the necessary infrastructure for democracy: freedom of the press, trade unions, political parties and universities. This will allow people the freedom to choose the best path for them to develop their culture and to resolve their disputes peacefully”. On this consensual basis of the struggle against tyranny, a commission of bipartisan reflection sponsored the establishment of NED at Washington. This was established by Congress in November 1983 and immediately financed.

The Foundation subsidizes four independent structures that redistribute money abroad, making it available to associations, trade unions and members of the ruling class, and parties on the right and left. They are:

- Free Trade Union Institute (FTUI), today renamed American Centre for International Labour Solidarity (ACILS), managed by the trade union AFL-CIO;
- Centre for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), managed by the US Chamber of Commerce;
- International Republican Institute (IRI), run by the Republican Party;
- National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI), run by the Democratic Party.

Presented in this manner, NED and its four tentacles appear to be anchored in civil society, reflecting social diversity and political pluralism. Funded by the US people, through Congress, they would have worked to a universal ideal. They would be completely independent of the Presidential Administration. And their transparent action could not be a mask for secret operations serving undeclared national interests.

The reality is completely different.

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In 1982, Ronald Reagan established NED in partnership with the United Kingdom and Australia to topple the “Empire of Evil”.

A Drama produced by the CIA, MI6 and ASIS

Ronald Reagan’s speech in London took place in the aftermath of scandals surrounding revelations by Congressional Committees enquiring into the CIA’s dirty-trick coups. Congress then forbids the Agency to organize further coups d’etat to win markets. Meanwhile, in the White House, the National Security Council (NSC) looks to put in place other tools to circumvent this prohibition.

The Commission of Bipartisan Reflection was established prior to Ronald Reagan’s speech, although it only officially received a mandate from the White House afterwards. This means it is not responding to grandiloquent presidential ambitions but precedes them. Therefore, Reagan’s speech is only rhetorical dressing of decisions already taken in principle, and meant to be implemented by the Bipartisan Commission.

The Chair of the Bipartisan Commission was the US Special Representative for Trade, who indicates that she did not envisage promoting democracy but, according to current terminology, “market democracy”. This strange concept is in keeping with the US model: an economic and financial oligarchy imposes its political choices through the markets and a federal state, while parliamentarians and judges elected by the people protect individuals from arbitrary government.

Three of NED’s four peripheral organizations were formed for the occasion. However, there was no need to establish the fourth, a trade union (ACILS). This was set up at the end of the Second World War even though it changed its name in 1978 when its subordination to the CIA was unmasked. From this we can extract the conclusion that the CIPE, IRI and NDI were not born spontaneously but were engineered into being by the CIA.

Furthermore, although NED is an association under US law, it is not a tool of the CIA alone, but an instrument shared with British services (which is why Reagan announced its creation in London) and the Australian services. This key point is often glossed over without comment. However, it is validated by messages of congratulations by Prime Ministers Tony Blair and John Howard during the 20th anniversary of the so-called “NGO”. NED and its tentacles are organs of an Anglo-Saxon military pact linking London, Washington and Canberra; the same goes for Echelon, the electronic interception network. This provision can be required not only by the CIA but also by the British MI6 and the Australian ASIS.

To conceal this reality, NED has stimulated among its allies the creation of similar organizations that work with it. In 1988, Canada is fitted out with a centre Droits & Démocratie, which has a special focus first on Haiti, then Afghanistan. In 1991, the United Kingdom established the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD). The functioning of this public body is modelled on NED: its administration is entrusted to political parties (eight delegates: three for the Conservative Party; three for the Labour Party; and one for the Liberal Party and one for the other parties represented in Parliament). WFD has done a lot of work in Eastern Europe. Indeed in 2001, the European Union is equipped with a European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), which arouses less suspicion than its counterparts. This office is EuropAid, led by a high official as powerful as he is unknown: the Dutchman, Jacobus Richelle.

Presidential Directive 77

When US parliamentarians voted for the establishment of NED on 22 November 1983, they did not know that it already existed in secret pursuant to a Presidential Directive dated 14 January.

This document, only declassified two decades later, organizes “public diplomacy” a politically correct expression to designate propaganda. It establishes at the White House working groups within the National Security Council. One of these is tasked with leading NED.

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Henry Kissinger, administrator of the NED. A “representative of civil society”?

Consequently, the Board of Directors of the Foundation is only a transmission belt of the NSC. To maintain appearances, it has been agreed that, as a general rule, CIA agents and former agents could not be appointed to the board of directors.

Things are nonetheless no more transparent. Most high officials that have played a central role in the National Security Council have been NED directors. Such are the examples of Henry Kissinger, Franck Carlucci, Zbigniew Brzezinski, or even Paul Wolfowitz; personalities that will not remain in history as idealists of democracy, but as cynical strategists of violence.

The Foundation’s budget cannot be interpreted in isolation because it receives instructions from the NSC to lead action as part of vast inter-agency operations. It merits mention that funds are released from the International Aid Agency (USAID), without being recorded in NED’s balance sheet, simply for “non-governmentalizing”. Furthermore, the Foundation receives money indirectly money the CIA, after it has been laundered by private intermediaries such as the Smith Richardson Foundation, the John M. Olin Foundation or even the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.

To evaluate the extent of this programme, we would need to combine the NED’s budget with the corresponding sub-budgets of the Department of State, USAID, the CIA and the Department of Defense. Today, such an estimation is impossible.

Nonetheless, certain elements we know give us an idea of its importance. During the last five years, the United States has spent more than one billion dollars on associations and parties in Libya, a small state of 4 million inhabitants. Overall, half of this manna was released publicly by the State Department, USAID and NED; the other half had been secretly paid by the CIA and the Department of Defence. This example allows us to extrapolate the US’s general budget for institutional corruption that amounts to tens of billions of dollars annually. Furthermore, the equivalent programme of the European Union that is entirely public and provides for the integration of US actions, is 7 billion euro per year.

Ultimately, NED’s legal structure and volume of its official budget are only baits. In essence, it is not an independent organization for legal actions previously entrusted to the CIA, but it is a window through which the NSC gives the orders to carry out legal elements of illegal operations.

The Trotskyite Strategy

When it was being set up (1984), NED was chaired by Allen Weinstein, then by John Richardson for four years (1984-88), finally by Carl Gershman (from 1998).

These three men have three things in common:
- They are Jewish;
- They were active in the Trotsky party, Social Democrats USA; and
- They have worked at Freedom House.

There is a logic in this: hatred of Stalinism led some Trotskyites to join the CIA to fight the Soviets. They brought with them the theory of global power, by transposing it to the “colour revolutions” and to “democratisation”. They have simply displaced the Trotsky vulgate by applying it to the cultural battle analysed by Antonio Gramsci: power is exercised psychologically rather than by force. To govern the masses, the elite has to first inculcate an ideology that programmes their acceptance of the power that dominates it.

The American Centre for the Solidarity of Workers (ACILS)

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Known also as Solidarity Centre, ACILS, a trade union branch of NED, is easily its principal channel. It distributes more than half the Foundation’s donations. It has replaced the previous organizations that served during the Cold War to organize non-communist trade unions in the world, from Vietnam to Angola, by-passing France and Chile.

The fact trade unions were chosen to cover this CIA programme is a rare perversity. Far from the Marxist slogan, “Proletariats from all countries – unite”, ACILS brings together US working class trade unions in an imperialism that crushes workers in other countries.

This subsidiary was led by Irving Brown, a flamboyant personality, from 1948 until his death in 1989.

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In 1981, Irving Brown places Jean-Claude Mailly as an assistant to André Bergeron, the Secretary General of the Force Ouvrière (FO). The latter will acknowledge financing its activities thanks to the CIA. In 2004, Mailly becomes the Secretary General of the FO.

Some authors swear that Brown was the son of a white Russian, a companion of Alexander Kerensky. What we know for sure, is that he was an OSS agent, (i.e. an agent of the US intelligence service during the Second World War); and he participated in establishing the CIA and NATO’s Gladio network. However, he refused to lead it, preferring to focus on his area of expertise, trade unions. He was based at Rome, then Paris and never at Washington. So he had a significant impact on Italian and French public life. At the end of his life, he also boasts that he did not stop directing the French trade union, Force Ouvrière behind the scenes, and that he pulled the strings of the Student trade union UNI (where the following are active: Nicolas Sarkozy and his ministers François Fillon, Xavier Darcos, Hervé Morin and Michèle Alliot-Marie, as well as the President of the National Assembly, Bernard Accoyer and the President of the majoritarian parliamentary group, Jean-François Copé), and to have personally formed on the left, members of a Trotsky-ite break away group which included Jean-Christophe Cambadelis and the future Prime Minister Lionel Jospin.

At the end of the nineties, members of the confederation AFL-CIO requested accounts of ACILS’s actual activity, while its criminal character had been fully documented in a number of countries. One could have thought that things would have changed after this great outpouring. Nothing of the sort occurs. In 2002 and 2004, ACILS has participated actively in a failed coup d’Etat in Venezuela to oust President Hugo Chavez and in a successful one in Haiti in toppling Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Today, ACILS is directed by John Sweeney, the former president of the confederation AFL-CIO, which itself also originates from the Trotskyite Party – Social Democrats USA.

The Centre for International Private Enterprise (CIPE)

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CIPE focuses on the dissemination of liberal capitalist ideology and the struggle against corruption.

The first success of CIPE: transforming in 1987 the European Management Forum (a club of CEOs of big European companies) into the World Economic Forum (the club of transnational ruling class). The big annual meeting of the world’s economic and political who’s who in the Davos Swiss ski resort contributed to creating a class membership that transcended national identity. CIPE makes sure that it does not have any structural ties with the Davos Forum, and it is not possible – for the moment – to prove that the World Economic Forum is an instrument of the CIA. On the contrary, the heads of Davos would have much difficulty explaining why certain political leaders have chosen their Economic Forum as the locus for acts of the highest importance if there were not operations planned by the US NSC. For example:
- 1988: it is at Davos – not the UN – that Greece and Turkey made peace.
- 1989: it is at Davos that the two Koreas on the one hand held their first summit at the ministerial level and the two Germany’s on the other hand held their first summit on the reunification.
- 1992: it is again at Davos that Frederik de Klerk and the freed Nelson Mandela come together to present their common project for South Africa for the first time abroad.
- 1994: still more improbable, it is at Davos, after the Oslo Accord, that Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat come to negotiate and sign its application to Gaza and Jericho.

The connection between Washington and the Forum is notoriously through Susan K. Reardon, former director of the Association of Professional Employees of the Department of State, having become director of the Foundation of the US Chamber of Commerce which manages CIPE.

The other success of the Centre for International Private Business is Transparency International. This “NGO” was officially established by Michael J. Hershman, an officer of US military intelligence. He is furthermore, a CIPE director and today Head of Recruitment of FBI informants as well as Managing Director of the private intelligence service Fairfax Group.

Transparency International is first and foremost a cover for economic intelligence activities by the CIA. It is also a media tool to compel states to change their legislation to guarantee open markets.

To mask the origin of Transparency International, the CIPE makes and appeal to the savoir-faire of the former press officer of the World Bank, the neo-conservative Frank Vogl. The latter had put in place a Committee of individuals that have contributed to creating the impression that it is an association born of civil society. This window-dressing committee is led by Peter Eigen, former World Bank Director in East Africa. In 2004 and 2009, his wife was the SPD candidate for the Presidency of the German Federal Republic.

Transparency International’s work serves US interests and cannot be relied upon. Thus in 2008, this pseudo NGO denounced that PDVSA, Venezuela’s public oil company, was corrupt; and on the basis of false information, placed it last in its global rankings of public companies. The goal was evidently to sabotage the reputation of a company that constitutes the economic foundation of the anti – imperialist policy of President Hugo Chavez. Caught in the act of poisoning, Transparency International refused to respond to questions from the Latin American press and to correct its report. Furthermore, it is astonishing when we recall that Pedro Carmona, the CIPE correspondent at Venezuela, had been briefly put in power by the USA, during a failed coup d’Etat in 2002 to oust Hugo Chavez.

To some extent, focussing attention on economic corruption enables Transparency International to mask NED’s activities: corrupting the ruling elite for Anglo-Saxon advantage.

The International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI)

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The goal of IRI is to corrupt the parties of the Right, while the NDI deals with left wing parties. The first is chaired by John McCain, the second by Madeleine Albright. So these two personalities should not be considered ordinary politicians, a leader of the opposition and a retired dean. Rather, as active leaders of the NSC programmes.

To contextualize the principal political parties in the world, IRI and NDI have renounced their control over l’Internationale libérale and l’Internationale socialiste. They have thus created rival organizations: the International Democratic Union (IDU) and the Alliance for Democrats (AD). The first is chaired by the Australian, John Howard. The Russian, Leonid Gozman of Just cause (Правое дело) is its vice-president. The second is led by the Italian Gianni Vernetti and co-chaired by the Frenchman, François Bayrou.

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IRI and NDI are also supported also by political foundations linking them to big political parties in Europe (six in Germany, two in France, one in the Netherlands and another one in Sweden). Furthermore, some operations have been sub-contracted to mysterious private companies such as Democracy International Inc which has organized the recent rigged elections in Afghanistan.

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Tom McMahon: former vice head of Rahm Emanuel and currently head of NDI. He came to France to organise the primaries of the Socialist Party.

All this leaves a bitter taste. The US has corrupted most of the big political parties and trade unions all over the world. For sure, the “democracy” that they promote consists in discussing local questions in each country – hardly ever societal questions such as women’s rights or gay rights – and it is aligned with Washington on all international issues. The electoral campaigns have become shows where NED picks the cast by providing the necessary financial means to some and not to others. Even the notion of variation has lost meaning since NED promotes alternatively one camp or another provided it follows the same foreign and defense policy.

Today, in the European Union and elsewhere, one laments the crisis of democracy. Those responsible for this are clearly NED and the US. And how do we classify a regime such as the US regime where the Leader of the Opposition, John McCain, is in fact a leader of the National Security Council? Surely not as a democracy.

The Balance of the System

Over time, USAID, NED, their satellite institutions and their intermediary foundations have produced an unwieldy and greedy bureaucracy. Each year, when Congress votes on the NED’s budget, animated debates arise on the inefficiency of this tentacular system and rumours that funds have been appropriated to benefit US politicians in charge of administering them.

To achieve sound management, a number of studies have been commissioned to quantify the impact of these financial flows. Experts have compared the sums allocated in each state and the democratic ranking of these states by Freedom House. Then they calculated how much they needed to spend (in dollars) per inhabitant to improve the democratic ranking of a State by a point.

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Tomicah Tillemann, adviser to Hillary Clinton for civil society and emerging democracies, supervises NED’s apparatus in the State Department.

Of course, all this is only an attempt at self-justification. The idea of establishing a democratic mark is not scientific. In some ways, it is totalitarian, for it assumes that there is only one form of democratic institutions. In other ways, it is infantile for it established a list of disparate criteria which it will measure with fictional coefficients to transform a social complexity into a single figure.

Furthermore, the vast majority of these studies conclude that it is a failure: although the number of democracies in the world has increased, there would be no link between democratic progress and regression on the one hand and the sums spent by the NSC on the other. On the contrary, it confirms that the real objectives have nothing to do with those indicated. However, those running USAID cite a study by Vanderbilt University, according to which only the NED operations co-financed by USAID have been effective because USAID manages its budget rigorously. Thus it is not surprising that this individual study has been financed by …. USAID.

Be that as it may, in 2003, on its twentieth anniversary, NED drew up a political account of its action, evidencing that it has financed more than 6,000 political and social organizations in the world, a figure that has not stopped increasing from that time. NED claims to have single-handedly set up the trade union Solidarnoc in Poland, Charter 77 in Czechoslovakia and Otpor in Serbia. It was pleased that it had created from scratch Radio B92 or the daily Oslobodjenje in the former Yugoslavia and a series of new independent media in the “liberated” Iraq.

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In December 2011, Egyptian authorities search the offices of the NDI and IRI in Cairo. The documents that were seized are most important to understand US interference since the “nest of spies” was removed from Teheran in 1979. Charged with spying, the NED leaders are tried. Here: Robert Becker (Director of NDI, Cairo) at the opening of the trial. The documents prove that NED is wholly responsible for and manipulated the pseudo revolution that took place in Tahrir Square. This resulted in more than 4,000 deaths to hoist the Muslim Brotherhood to power.

Changing Cover

After experiencing global success, the rhetoric of democratization no longer convinces. By using it in all circumstances, President George W. Bush has depleted it of meaning. Noone can seriously claim that the subsidies paid by NED will make international terrorism go away. The claim that the US troops have toppled Saddam Hussein to offer democracy to Iraqis, cannot be asserted more persuasively.

Furthermore, citizens all over the world that fight for democracy have become distrustful. They now understand that the aid offered by NED and its tentacles is in fact aimed at manipulating and snaring their country. This is why they are increasingly refusing the contributions “with no strings or sticks attached” offered to them.

Also, US heads from different channels of corruption have tried to silence the system once again. After the CIA dirty tricks and the transparency of NED, they envisage creating a new structure that would replace a discredited package. It would not be managed by trade unions, management and the two big parties, but by multinationals on the model of the Asia Foundation.

In the eighties, the press revealed that this organization was a CIA cover to fight communism in Asia. It was then reformed and its management was entrusted to multinationals. (Boeing, Chevron, Coca-Cola, Levis Strauss etc…). This re-styling was enough to give the impression that it was non- governmental and respectable – a structure that never stopped serving the CIA. After the dissolution of Russia, it was replicated: the Eurasia Foundation, whose mandate extends covert action to the New Asian states.

Another issue that sparks debate is if the contributions for “promoting democracy” would have to take the exclusive form of contracts to carry out specific projects or subsidies with no duty to reach targets. The first option offers better legal cover but the second is a much more efficient tool of corruption.

Given this panorama, the requirement laid down by Vladimir Putin and Vladisl Surkov to regulate the funding of NGOs in Russia is legitimate even if the bureaucracy they have set up for doing so is outrageous and difficult to satisfy. The instrument of NED, put in place under the authority of the US NSC not only fails to support attempts at democracy all over the world but poisons them.

Anoosha Boralessa

Posted in USAComments Off on NED, the Legal Window of the CIA

Prisoner Killed by Zionist puppet ab-A$$ Security Officers in Nablus


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Prisoner Killed by Security Officers in Nablus; PCHR Demands Bringing Those Accountable to Justice

Palestinian Security officers killed Ahmed ‘Ezzat Halawah (50) in al-Jneid Prison after severely beating him to death. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) expresses deep shock at this crime, considering it as a serious development from the security services in Nablus. PCHR also emphasizes that this crime reflects the state of security chaos and disrespect for law and humanity in an establishment that is supposed to protect civilians. PCHR also calls upon the Attorney General to seriously investigate the incident and bring the perpetrators to justice without delay.

According to PCHR’s follow-up, at approximately 03:00 on Tuesday, 23 August 2016, a special unit of security services arrested Halawah after surrounding his house in New Nablus Neighborhood on grounds of being involved in the killing of two Palestinian security officers in Nablus few days ago. At approximately 04:00, this unit took Halawah to al-Jneid Prison in Nablus. According to Akram al-Rojoub, Governor of Nablus, when Halawah arrived at the prison, he argued with security officers, who then severely beat him to death despite attempts by other security officers to rescue him.

The security officers claimed that Halawah was behind the killing of the two security officers in Nablus who were trying to arrest wanted persons on 18 August 2016.  On 19 August 2016, the security services killed two civilians suspected of killing the two security officers during an armed clash.

PCHR closely follows up the serious escalation of the security chaos state in Nablus.  PCHR also emphasizes that the Palestinian Authority (PA) is responsible for the safety and health of prisoners in prisons and detention facilities.  Thus, the PA should in all cases protect and take care of them according to Correction and Rehabilitation Centers’ Law No. 6/1998.

PCHR stresses that what happened by the security officers constitutes a crime that cannot be justified in any case regardless of the motives or alleged crimes brought against the victim.

Additionally, PCHR emphasizes that security officers’ resort to revenge is unlawful and alarmist as it reflects a complete state of law denial, cruelty and inhumanity characterized by members of an establishment, whose role is to protect civilians and enforce the rule of law.

PCHR also highlights that the murder of Halawah foreshadows the deteriorating security situation in the PA, which thus requires everyone to fulfill its responsibilities.  PCHR, therefore, calls upon the Attorney General to open an investigation into the crime, declare the results in public and bring perpetrators to justice as soon as possible.

PCHR also calls upon the Prime Minster who also holds the position as the Minister of Interior to control the performance of the security services and guarantee they are submissive to the law.

Posted in Palestine Affairs, Human RightsComments Off on Prisoner Killed by Zionist puppet ab-A$$ Security Officers in Nablus

US Occupation of Syria now official

“This is a historic and dangerous development which only increases the chances of total war.”
Over the last 24 hours, the United States has made clear its status as a hostile occupational force in Syria. Yesterday, the US issued a communique to the legitimate Syrian government and the Russian anti-terrorist coalition assisting the Syrians. The United States has indicated that it has carved out a swath of Syria with boots on the ground fulfilling the roles of active duty personnel, such as special ops forces, advisors, trainers, mechanics, and supporting units. The US has declared a no fly zone and threatened to target and shoot down Syrian and Russian planes within Syrian airspace [over the Kurdish autonomous region – ed].
As RT reports, US Commander of American forces in Iraq and Syria Lt. General Stephen Townshend stated: ““We’ve informed the Russians where we’re at … (they) tell us they’ve informed the Syrians, and I’d just say that we will defend ourselves if we feel threatened.” Since, as Reuters reports, clashes between Kurdish and Syrian forces have intensified.
A number of analysts previously forecasted that the US would take this route given the success of the Syrian and allied Russian campaign in general and in particular in light of souring US-Turkish relations, the possibility of the US losing access to the Turkish Incirlik base, and the dire situation of Takfiri forces holed up in Aleppo. Different international news agencies have already run a version of the story which presents the US forces’ communique as a warning for Russia and Syria” (CNN) or adefensive threat (IBT), but they have failed to distinguish the de facto meaning of this development. Nor have they included that the US military’s official statement is in stark violation of international law, constituting an illegal occupation of a sovereign state.
It has long been assessed that the reason that the US had simultaneously backed ISIS and Kurdish forces was for the purpose of using ISIS as a “place holder” to be defeated, either virtually or in actuality, only to then carve out a US occupation zone under the pretext of forming an independent Kurdish state. Previously last year, representatives of the Kurdish autonomous region made an unconstitutional and unilateral announcement of federalization. This turn was used to create a seemingly legal ambiguity, or ‘gray area’, to confuse public discourse at the media level. However, the anti-terrorist coalition’s foreign ministers as well as international legal experts are under no illusions that the unilateral declaration of federalization is just as much a violation of Syrian sovereignty as would be a breakaway republic made possible only thanks to a war of US occupation. Under the international legal norms of the Geneva convention as well as subsequent parallel agreements, a foreign occupying country does not have the right to divide, separate, occupy, or carve out a section of a country regardless of what the occupying army terms such as.

Moreover, the most recent communique from the US Lt. General Townshend in Northern Syria laid out plans to increase the area of what the US considers “Kurdistan.” Under the present Syrian Constitution, Kurds are represented both in the government in Damascus and have a semi-autonomous status within the central Syrian state.
A major collision course
The brazen and illegal warnings issued by the US commander pose the real possibility of creating a direct confrontation between Syrian, Iranian, Russian, and other independent forces on the one hand, and the US military and their Kurdish puppet outfits on the other. This dramatic increase in hostilities would deal a major blow to hopes for a diplomatic resolution to the crisis.
In 2011, the US, alongside its Israeli, Turkish, Qatari, and Saudi allies and with assistance from Jordan,  organized, sponsored, and financed the launch of an illegal invasion by non-uniformed regular soldiers, mercenaries, child soldiers, and armed religious fanatics (many of whom themselves were shipped into the region from Europe where they have legal residence). A 2011 protest movement which had blossomed out of the efforts of the US National Endowment for Democracy and UN-sanctioned NGO’s financed by the House of Saud and Qatari monarchy took advantage of Syria’s liberal and open society, infiltrating civic organizations and manipulating Syria’s secular pluralism against itself. This created the possibility for a media simulacrum in which international observers and media, both intentionally and unintentionally, conflated a protest movement comprised mainly of Syrians with a military operation which very quickly became nothing more than a foreign invasion.

Russian involvement upon the invitation of the legitimate government of Syria was the source of a serious setback to US aims in the region. Now what remains to be seen is what the US is actually prepared to do. Syrian and Russian military planners no doubt long ago gamed out multiple scenarios and developed some kind of responsive contingency plans. It is only natural that, while such responsive plans exist, they would not be a matter of public disclosure. At issue is the capacity of the US, a once global hegemon which geostrategic analysts around the world have assessed to now be in a waning phase, to maintain an occupational foothold in the Kurdish region of Syria. Both Syria and Turkey may find that they have a common interest in opposing a US puppet Kurdish state.
Prior to the outbreak of the present conflict, Syria and Turkey maintained a treaty which allowed Turkish security forces to pursue Kurdish separatist terrorists who would at times flee to Syria from operations in Turkey. After the conflict began, both Syria, and Turkey and the United States (to the extent to which the latter two can be considered to have divergent interests) all engaged in the game of playing the Kurdish card. Each side in the conflict hoped to be able to use the support of armed Kurdish groups to their own ends. While there is much information that suggests that Turkey is in the process of reorienting itself away from Euro-Atlanticism and NATO, especially in light of Turkey’s moves during and after the failed coup attempt, there is always the possibility that recent Turkish moves are actually part of a long term plan to cast a specter of uncertainty over Turkey’s future plans in concert with the US. Such would not at all be unprecedented in the history of geopolitical alliances.
In conclusion, the US’ announcement marks a turning point in this conflict. If before there had been any ambiguity about the US’ intentions in Syria – a plan to divide Syria which had been publicly elaborated in numerous pro-Atlanticist think tank publications such as those of the Brookings Institute or Council on Foreign Relations – then now the US has revealed its hand. This is a historic and dangerous development which only increases the chances of total war.

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US Hawks Advance a War Agenda in Syria


Exclusive: The U.S. government, having illegally sent American troops into Syria, is now threatening to attack the Syrian military if it endangers those troops, an Orwellian twist that marks a dangerous escalation, explains Daniel Lazare.

By Daniel Lazare

War, like politics, is filled with surprises. While the focus in Syria has been on a U.S.-backed rebel offensive in Aleppo that has succeeded in turning tables on Bashar al-Assad’s government, a new and unexpected flashpoint has developed 200-plus miles to the east where U.S. jets are engaged in a dangerous showdown with Syrian warplanes near the city of Hasakah.

The trouble began on Wednesday when, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Kurdish forces advanced on the pro-government National Defense Forces that controls portions of the city. When the NDF responded with arrests, the fighting took off.

President Barack Obama walks through the Rose Garden to the Oval Office following an all-appointees summer event on the South Lawn, June 13, 2016. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama walks through the Rose Garden to the Oval Office following an all-appointees summer event on the South Lawn, June 13, 2016. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

This is not the first time that Kurdish and government forces have clashed in Hasakah, which is divided among Kurds, Arabs, Aramaic-speaking Assyrians, and a small number of Armenians. But what makes the latest confrontation so serious is that the U.S. quickly upped ante by scrambling two F-22 fighters to intercept a pair of Syrian Su-24s bombing Kurdish positions.

NBC News reported that the jets came within a mile of one another on Thursday and were in visual contact before the Syrian aircraft left the scene. U.S. jets chased away two more Su-24s the next day as well.

Noting that the Kurdish units are part of a U.S.-backed coalition known as the Syrian Democratic Forces and that U.S. Special Operations forces were in the area at the time, Pentagon spokesman Jeff Davis, a Navy captain, said that the U.S. was resolved to protect the safety of both.

“We view instances that place coalition personnel at risk with the utmost seriousness” he declared, “and we do have the inherent right of self-defense when U.S. forces are at risk.”

“As we’ve said in the past,” he added, “the Syrian regime would be well-advised not to interfere with coalition forces or our partners.”

Such statements are little less than Orwellian since the United States has essentially invaded Syria by inserting military forces without Syrian government permission in violation of international law. What Davis was saying, therefore, is that the U.S. will prevent Syria from protecting its own forces on its own soil, which was rather like the Wehrmacht condemning Poland for daring to defend its own territory in September 1939.

A Pro-War Establishment

The upshot is the latest example of how Washington’s vast pro-war foreign-policy establishment continues to get its way despite President Barack Obama’s efforts to limit military involvement in the Middle East. Establishment of a no-fly zone in northern Syria has long been a neocon priority. Indeed, Hillary Clinton, a neocon favorite at this point, reiterated her call for a no-fly zone as recently as April during a televised debate with Bernie Sanders.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Obama has opposed a no-fly zone because it would draw the U.S. into a direct conflict with the Assad government and likely its Russian and Iranian backers as well. But now with the U.S. promising to continue patrolling the skies over Hasakah, he finds himself backing into a no-fly zone regardless.

The confrontation begs the question of who is really calling the shots with regard to Syria, the President or well-placed hawks whose specialty is maneuvering the White House into doing their bidding.

It also raises the question of the role of the Clinton presidential campaign. The White House is obviously coordinating closely with Clinton’s campaign headquarters, and with prospects of a landslide victory that will give Democrats control of both houses of Congress plus the presidency, the stakes couldn’t be higher. But since a quick and easy victory over Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies would vindicate the neocon position, the issue is whether pro-Hillary forces are pulling strings to make events in Syria go her way as well.

This is not conspiracy mongering but simply the way policy in Washington is made. Hawks and doves are constantly jockeying for advantage with Obama standing haplessly in the middle. Moreover, the hawks seem to be winning since U.S. foreign policy has turned distinctly more robust since the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in late July.

Around the time that retired four-star Marine General John Allen was warning America’s enemies, “You will fear us,” and Gold Star parent Khizr Khan was telling Trump to go home and read the Constitution, Obama gave Ashton Carter, his interventionist Secretary of Defense the go-ahead to bomb ISIS positions in Libya.

On July 31 – three days after Clinton gave her acceptance speech – Syrian rebels led by Al Nusra, the local Al Qaeda affiliate, launched its powerful offensive in Aleppo.

Whether or not Washington OK’d the offensive – citing reports of massive arms shipments to the rebels, the well-informed Moon of Alabama website argues persuasively that it did – there is no doubt that it encouraged and helped coordinate a powerful propaganda campaign that has followed in its wake.

Omran Daqneesh, the dazed and dirt-encrusted five-year-old boy who has become “a symbol of Aleppo’s suffering,” according to The New York Times, is one example of how the campaign has borne fruit. Lina Sergie Attar’s powerful Aug. 13 Times opinion piece, “Watching My Beloved Aleppo Rip Itself Apart,” was another, while the rabidly anti-Assad Guardian has hardly let a day go by without running a heart-rending tale about this or that horror that Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin have visited on Syria’s civilian population. (Examples here, here, and here.)

U.S. Media on the Bandwagon

Context, balance, and plain accuracy have fallen by the wayside as various media outlets hop on the pro-war bandwagon. Why, for example, focus on one the fate of one child in rebel-held eastern Aleppo when the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the mainstream media’s favor go-to source for Syrian casualty figures, reports that virtually the same number of civilians have died from random rebel shelling of government-held western Aleppo as from Syrian or Russian aerial bombardment in the east, i.e. 163 versus 162?

U.S.-backed Syrian "moderate" rebels smile as they prepare to behead a 12-year-old boy (left), whose severed head is held aloft triumphantly in a later part of the video. [Screenshot from the YouTube video]

U.S.-backed Syrian “moderate” rebels smile as they prepare to behead a 12-year-old boy (left), whose severed head is held aloft triumphantly in a later part of the video. [Screenshot from the YouTube video]

While trumpeting the fate of Omran Daqneesh, who was shaken but apparently not seriously hurt, why has The New York Times failed to report the plight of 12-year-old Abdullah Issa, whose throat was slit last month by members of a U.S.-backed rebel force known as Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zinki because he had allegedly fought on the government side?“We are even worse than ISIS,” the fighters bragged before finishing the boy off. Yet even though the entire gruesome image was caught on video, the “paper of record” has refused to report a single word.

The same goes for Lina Sergie Attar’s stirring Times op-ed. Although it invokes the infamous 2013 Queiq River massacre to describe the suffering that Assad has heaped upon the people of Aleppo, it fails to mention that the slaughter was most likely the work of Al Nusra. Why spoil a good story with the facts?

Much the same can be said for Hasakah where The Wall Street Journal blandly reported that “Syrian government bombers had been striking Kurdish positions near the city of Hasakah, where the U.S. has been backing Kurdish forces in the fight against Islamic State,” also known as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh.

Since the U.S. is battling the Islamic State, the quintessence of evil, its role must be above reproach while the Syrian government is plainly up to no good.

Nonetheless, the questions continue to multiply. If U.S. military personnel are helping the Kurds battle ISIS, why are the Kurds fighting with pro-government forces instead? Since the Syrian Observatory says they started the fight, did the Americans do anything to restrain them or call them off? Or did they encourage them to attack in order to provoke a wider conflict? What, moreover, happens if the U.S. ends up downing a Syrian plane? Clinton will cheer. But what happens if Russia decides to join in the fray?

Making Clinton Happy

A happy romp in the skies over Hasakah would serve the Clinton campaign well. It would show that toughness pays, as Clinton has repeatedly argued. But the trouble with war is that it is rarely goes according to plan.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Indeed, the Syrian conflict grows more complicated by the day. Syria and Russia are battling ISIS, Al Nusra, and other Islamist groups while the U.S. is battling ISIS as well while indirectly aiding Al Nusra by channeling arms to allied Islamist groups with which it shares weaponry and coordinates battlefield tactics. The U.S. has so far steered clear of conflict with Assad, although Hasakah may signal a change of heart.

Turkey’s megalomaniacal President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, meanwhile, opposes ISIS but supports Al Nusra outright – “it should not be considered as a terrorist organization” since it opposes Islamic State, he declared in a recent interview – but reserves his real enmity for the America’s Kurdish allies.

The Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) are battling Assad in Hasakah but at the same time fighting alongside Assad’s forces against U.S.-backed rebels in Aleppo. China has declared its support for Assad and has even sent military advisers to help his regime in its fight with the rebels, thereby introducing yet another explosive element into the mix.

This is more intervention than one small country can handle, and tripwires are therefore multiplying. Obama’s aggressive actions in Hasakah may help Clinton against Trump but they could all too easily blow up in the administration’s face. War, indeed, packs just as many surprises as politics.

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Number of Registered Lobbyists Plunges as Spending Declines Yet Again

The lobbying industry may start arguing for its own bailout bill, given the relentless decline in reported spending for its services.

The first quarter of 2016 was sluggish, the second similarly so. And with it came a pronounced dive in the number of active registered lobbyists.

With 325 fewer lobbyists registered in the second quarter of 2016 than in the first, this marks the biggest single-quarter drop in four years and puts the number of registered lobbyists at the lowest point OpenSecrets has ever recorded. Since 1998, the total number of lobbyists has never dipped below 10,000, but that figure has been falling ever since it peaked at nearly 15,000 in 2007 and this quarter’s decrease puts it at just more than 9,700.


Several factors could be behind the drop, including the set of policies designed to curb lobbying put in place by President Obama, or gridlock in Congress. The most likely scenario, however, isn’t that there are fewer people engaging in lobbying work — it’s simply that there are fewer people registering as lobbyists. It isn’t uncommon for individuals to maneuver around the reporting thresholds and continue lobbying “part-time” — a practice sometimes referred to as “shadow lobbying.”

Maybe that bailout bill isn’t needed, after all.

“Pure and simple, the trend continues to be that people aren’t considering themselves lobbyists,” said Paul Miller, president of the National Institute of Lobbying and Ethics, a trade group. “Some of that is retirement — a small number, I think — but for the most part, people are unregistering and not calling themselves lobbyists.”

Now, more and more people are deciding that they don’t meet the registration threshold triggered by the law when individuals spend more than 20 percent of their time lobbying.

“This profession has changed dramatically in the last five years,” said Miller, of the lobbying firm Miller/Wenhold Capitol Strategies. “You have a whole lot of people having an impact on public policy not registering [as lobbyists] because of the definition.” Miller’s group even discusses that in its vision statement.

Logically enough, the drop in registered lobbyists is accompanied by a drop in reported lobbying spending.

From April through June, lobbying outlays decreased to just more than $779 million, compared to almost $824 million spent in the first quarter of this year. While a drop in lobbying expenditures between the first and second quarter is normal, the figure also represents a marked drop over the spending seen in the second quarter of 2015 — a 5 percent decrease from last year’s $821 million.

This quarter’s number puts the year’s spending to date at just more than $1.6 billion, down from $1.65 billion at this point last year, which marks a drop of 3 percent.

If lobbying this year follows past quarter-to-quarter spending trends, our projection puts 2016’s total lobbying spending at about 3.1 billion, also about 3 percent less than 2015.

Still, while lobbying spending overall is down, some industries are still dumping major cash into their lobbying efforts.

The lobbying of pharmaceutical and health products makers continued at a steady clip in the second quarter of 2016. This industry — which has held the top spot for five-and-a-half-years — spent more than any other in the past three months, and over $20 million more than its nearest competitor, business associations (a category that includes groups like the gargantuan US Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable).

The insurance industry bumped to third place. And electronics manufacturingknocked electric utilities out of the top five. The full breakdown is below:


The credit union industry increased its spending most from the year’s first quarter to its second: 46 percent. The biggest drop came from the women’s issues lobby, which spent 65 percent less in the second quarter than in the first three months of 2016.

More broadly, among economic sectors, energy & natural resources took the biggest hit of the quarter, spending 15 percent less than in January through March; it also spent about 9 percent less in the first half of 2016 than in the first half of 2015. While all industries in the sector spent less than last year, the drop was mainly driven by decreased spending by the mining and oil & gas industries. Mining spent nearly $5 million less in the first half of this year than in the first half of last year, which represents a 41 percent decrease. The mining industry’s horrible losses in 2015 wiped out eight years of profits, possibly causing it to have less to devote to lobbying. Oil & gas spent $3.8 million less than in 2015, likely because of the precipitous drop in oil prices.

As for the top lobbying clients in the second quarter, the US Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Realtors took the top two slots, just as they did last quarter. But there were a few big shifts in the top 10, which cumulatively spent more than $78 million.

PhRMA moved from fifth to third, while the American Medical Associationdropped from third to eighth. AT&T and Google parent company Alphabet both cracked the top 10, moving from 11th and 12th to 10th and ninth, respectively.

The Business Roundtable jumped from 21st place in the first quarter to sixth in the second quarter, but that’s more of a return to business as usual for the group than a sharp spike in activity.  On the whole, the Business Roundtable has actually spent 26 percent less in the first half of this year than the first half of last year.

Three firms — Northrop Grumman, Dow Chemical, and the National Association of Broadcasters — dropped out of the top 10 completely.

A Dow representative would not comment on why Dow’s lobbying numbers fell so much, but it could be because a chemical bill that Dow supported, the Lautenberg Act, was passed in May. The drop from first quarter to the second represents a return to Dow’s usual level of lobbying spending.

NAB’s lobbying fell significantly, possibly because the Department of Justice wrapped up a battle over music licensing last quarter which pitted NAB against music publisher giants BMI and ASCAP.

And the established K Street pecking order among firms was little changed last quarter. Nine of the top 10 lobbying firms first quarter stayed there in the second quarter.

The top three lobbying firms — Akin Gump, Brownstein Hyatt, and the Podesta Group — didn’t move from first to second quarter. These firms cumulatively banked $22.16 million in Q2.

Of the top 10 firms, six received more cash from last quarter, and four received less.Van Scoyoc Associates made the biggest gains, taking in $900,000 more than last quarter. That helped it to steal fourth place from Holland & Knight, which was pushed to fifth. Capitol Counsel was kicked out of the top 10 by Cornerstone andBGR Group, which took the ninth and tenth spots, respectively.

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Wikileaks exposes the identities of gay men living in Saudi Arabia in latest data dump

deadstate Julian Assange

According to the Associated Press, the hacktivist group Wikileaks has released documents that reveal the identities of gay men in Saudi Arabia, a country where homosexuality is punishable by death.

According to the Associated Press, the hacktivist group Wikileaks has released documents that reveal the identities of gay men in Saudi Arabia, a country where homosexuality is punishable by death.

The AP’s investigation found that the group founded by Julian Assange is “causing collateral damage to the privacy of hundreds of innocent people, including survivors of sexual abuse, sick children and the mentally ill.”

Amidst the thousands of documents from the sites latest dump is the personal information of at least one gay Saudi man, as well as the personal info of rape victims and people living with HIV.

“They published everything: my phone, address, name, details,” said a Saudi man who was baffled as to why WikiLeaks revealed the details of a paternity dispute with a former partner. “If the family of my wife saw this … Publishing personal stuff like that could destroy people.”

According to the AP, “WikiLeaks’ mass publication of personal data is at odds with the site’s claim to have championed privacy even as it laid bare the workings of international statecraft, and has drawn criticism from the site’s allies.”

Wikileaks Collateral Damage
Private lives are exposed as WikiLeaks spills its secrets

The number of people affected easily reaches into the hundreds. Paul Dietrich, a transparency activist, said a partial scan of the Saudi cables alone turned up more than 500 passport, identity, academic or employment files.

Despite a history of exposing the information of private citizens along with its data dumps, Assange insists that WikiLeaks has a system to keep ordinary people safe.

“We have a harm minimization policy,” the Australian once said according to the AP. “There are legitimate secrets. Your records with your doctor, that’s a legitimate secret.”

But people are still being put at risk.

Three Saudi cables published by the WikiLeaks identified domestic workers who’d been tortured or sexually abused by their employers, giving the women’s full names and passport numbers. One cable named a male teenager who was raped by a man while abroad; a second identified another male teenager who was so violently raped his legs were broken; a third outlined the details of a Saudi man detained for “sexual deviation” — a derogatory term for homosexuality.

“Their understanding of journalism is finding an interesting document in a trash can and then dumping the can on your front door,” Vesselin Bontchev, a researcher at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences said.

Scott Long, an LGBT rights activist who has worked in the Middle East, said exposing the identities of rape victims and people persecuted for their sexuality is “off limits.”

“You’re legitimizing their surveillance, not combating it,” Long said.

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No Way to Call Home: Incarcerated Deaf People Are Locked in a Prison Inside a Prison

By Mike Ludwig

Emmanuel Steward signs to an interpreter on a video relay screen, a special videophone that relays what he says in sign language to his family members back home. Steward is imprisoned on Louisiana, one of the few states in the nation that provides this communication service to deaf prisoners. (Photo: Annie Flanagan)

Emmanuel Steward signs to an interpreter on a video relay screen, a special videophone that relays what he says in sign language to his family members back home. Steward is imprisoned on Louisiana, one of the few states in the nation that provides this communication service to deaf prisoners. (Photo: Annie Flanagan)

This story is the result of a nine-month investigation and part one of a multimedia series on deaf prisoners, as part of a reporting collaboration with the Making Contact radio program.

Use ASL? Click here to see a video interpretation of this story in American Sign Language.

Silent Voices is truly silent. The group’s three members are doing what looks like a dance in the front of a classroom at a state prison near the banks of the Mississippi River, just south of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, performing their version of the song “I Believe” by R. Kelly. Instead of singing, the performers are interpreting R. Kelly’s lyrics into American Sign Language, or ASL, the sign language most commonly used in the United States. ASL is an animated language. Gestures, facial expressions and even foot-stomping the floor to a beat allow ASL speakers to add context, detail and music to their conversations. The three men in Silent Voices are stunning in this way. The performance is part ASL, part gospel choreography and it’s contagiously uplifting — in stark contrast with the backdrop of armed guards and barbed wire. The classroom erupts into applause.

Standing at the back of the classroom, Susan Griffin is beaming with pride. Griffin, a lead attorney for the state prison system, says this song is a real crowd pleaser at the gospel revivals held at Angola, the notoriously brutal prison farm to the north. “For me, it brings everything together,” she says.

The members of Silent Voices and a dozen or so classmates are all part of the Louisiana Department of Corrections’ ASL interpreting program, which Griffin touts as one of a kind, at least in the US. Qualified prisoners can earn a certificate in ASL interpreting, which could potentially lead to job opportunities if they are released. Louisiana also uses these “offender interpreters” to interpret for the deaf population in its vast prison system.

2. William Johanson trains a dog in the yard at Rayburn Correctional Center in Angie, Louisiana. After receiving complaints from another prisoner in the mid-1990s, federal officials sued the Louisiana state prison system on behalf of Johanson to bring facilities with deaf prisoners into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. (Photo: Annie Flanagan)William Johanson trains a dog in the yard at Rayburn Correctional Center in Angie, Louisiana. After receiving complaints from another prisoner in the mid-1990s, federal officials sued the Louisiana state prison system on behalf of Johanson to bring facilities with deaf prisoners into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. (Photo: Annie Flanagan)

Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate of any state in the US, and the US has the highest incarceration rate of any country on the planet. That’s why Louisiana is known as the “prison capital of the world.” The operation is not cheap. “We’re broke,” Griffin says flatly.

Louisiana is known for supporting its prison system with prison labor, and the ASL program is no different. Paying professional interpreters from the outside to interpret for deaf prisoners would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. For Griffin the program is a win-win innovation that provides job training while saving taxpayer dollars. It also helped the prison system get out of hot water with the feds.

From the squad car to the prison cell, advocates say there is a severe shortage of ASL interpreters in the criminal legal system.

“We had to fight for it,” Griffin says of the program. “The Justice Department sued [us] and said we were not in compliance.” She was referring to compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the federal law that requires public facilities such as schools, jail and prisons to accommodate people with disabilities and provide equal access to programs and services.

The Justice Department launched a probe into Louisiana’s prisons in the mid-1990s after receiving complaints from a fellow prisoner on behalf of William Johanson, a deaf man serving a life sentence. Officials sued the prison system to increase basic accessibility measures for Johanson, from interpreters to fire alarms that flash bright lights. Officials originally wanted Louisiana prisons to hire professional interpreters to be on call for prisoners like Johanson, not “offender interpreters” who work for little or no pay.

3. Students practice American Sign Language during a class at a prison near Baton Rouge. Some go on to interpret for deaf prisoners, a practice that advocates say is problematic but better than nothing. (Photo: Annie Flanagan)Students practice American Sign Language during a class at a prison near Baton Rouge. Some go on to interpret for deaf prisoners, a practice that advocates say is problematic, but better than nothing. (Photo: Annie Flanagan)

Deaf advocates agree, arguing that allowing prisoners to do very low or unpaid labor interpreting for other prisoners could lead to the exploitation or coercion of some of the most vulnerable in the population. Advocates are excited that prisoners are learning ASL — the more people who can speak the language, the better — but they argue that the ADA requires neutral, professional interpreters divorced from the politics of prison life on duty at jails and prisons, not to mention police stations, and parole and probation offices.

Still, Griffin was able to negotiate the program into a legal settlement with federal officials, and since then, the number of disciplinary actions against deaf prisoners have dropped dramatically. Students also report success. “This program is meaningful to the population, and we got to help each other,” says Jerry Wade, a graduate of the program who interprets for fellow prisoners. Wade’s father, who has since passed away, was deaf, and Wade says he would never forget how proud his father was when he visited the prison on graduation day. “That was the first time I could communicate with him clearly using his language.”

“Everyone involved in the system is lacking competency in deaf culture and deaf communication,” Lewis says.

Louisiana’s interpreter program is an outlier. From the squad car to the prison cell, advocates say there is a severe shortage of ASL interpreters in the criminal legal system. Deaf people are often denied access to interpreters in court, and lack options for contacting lawyers, doctors, friends and family once in custody. Police and prison guards often misunderstand people who are deaf and hard of hearing, leading to unjust arrests, false confessions and physical abuse. Parole and probation offices often fail to provide interpreters for the deaf, who can be coerced into signing legal documents and statements that they don’t understand. The result is the warehousing of deaf people in jails and prisons where the inability to communicate makes it difficult to survive, much less find a way back to the free world.

​”I think it’s important to note that everyone is behind. There is not one prison system that I would say gets it completely right,” says TL Lewis, the director of the deaf advocacy group Helping Educate to Advance the Rights of the Deaf (HEARD). “With 2-plus million people behind bars — the majority of whom being people with disabilities — there’s no excuse and no room for not getting this right. ​It’s the definition of a crisis.”

4. A teletypewriter, or TTY machine, in a storage closet at Rayburn Correctional Center. Deaf prisoners say the devices are difficult and costly to use, leaving them isolated from friends, family and legal representatives. (Photo: Annie Flanagan)A teletypewriter, or TTY machine, in a storage closet at Rayburn Correctional Center. Deaf prisoners say the devices are difficult and costly to use, leaving them isolated from friends, family and legal representatives. (Photo: Annie Flanagan)

The deaf community includes people who identify as deaf, hard of hearing, deaf-blind, as well as deaf people with other disabilities and children of deaf adults. This community has its own distinct culture, but few in the criminal legal system know much about it, according to Lewis. For example, deaf people often touch others on the shoulder to get their attention. “Touch a cop like that and see what happens,” Lewis says.

Some deaf and hard of hearing people are not considered culturally deaf; perhaps their parents pushed lip reading and hearing implants instead of ASL. Still, spoken language is not an efficient form of communication, but how does a deaf person who can’t speak well express this to busy cop or an angry prison guard? The same problems exist in mainstream schools, where deaf students are chronically underserved, leading to educational and developmental delays, according to Lewis. Without a basic understanding of the deaf experience, police, school principals, judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys can all be complicit in funneling deaf people into prisons, where they are at risk of physical and sexual abuse. “Everyone involved in the system is lacking competency in deaf culture and deaf communication,” Lewis says.

Across the country, civil rights attorneys are suing jail and prisons on behalf of the deaf imprisoned community in order to force compliance with federal disability laws, but stubborn prison bosses will often fight long court battles before improving conditions. Last year, an HIV-positive deaf man in Washington, DC, won a civil lawsuit against local jailers and their private contactors who held him without an interpreter or adequate telecommunication services for 51 days, during which time he was unable to effectively communicate with a doctor about much-needed medication. Prison bosses in Kentucky and Maryland recently agreed to settlements requiring qualified interpreters and videophones, and similar lawsuits have been filed in other states where advocates exhausted other options.

It’s a piecemeal path to reform, but Lewis says reform is desperately needed. The criminal legal system is difficult for hearing people to navigate, but for deaf people it can be a complete nightmare. From their first interaction with the police to incarceration, deaf people can fall through the cracks into a world of silent isolation — a prison inside a prison.

Fighting for the Right to Call Home

5. Emmanuel Steward signs during an interview at Rayburn Correctional Center. (Photo: Annie Flanagan)Emmanuel Steward signs during an interview at Rayburn Correctional Center. (Photo: Annie Flanagan)

Scott Huffman was one of the first graduates of Griffin’s ASL program. When I first met Huffman at a New Orleans coffee shop in late 2015, he was working to convince a large jail in a neighboring suburb to install video relay screens for a deaf man being held there. Video relay screens, or VRS, allow deaf people to make video calls to remote interpreters who translate their conversation from sign language to English for the receiver on the other end. For many in the deaf community, VRS is a part of everyday life, just like a landline telephone, but the service is not available at the Jefferson Parish Prison and most jails across the country.

“Why do the authorities feel like they don’t have to follow the law?”

The federal government reimburses VRS companies for calls made on their systems with funds collected from a universal tax on phone bills, so the service is essentially free. These companies also offer the VRS equipment to jails and prisons for free, so installing them sounds like a no-brainer. Even the notorious Orleans Parish Prison in New Orleans, which has been fending off a federal takeover due to violence and poor conditions, recently installed VRS. When I met back up with Huffman in June 2016, however, he still had not made any progress in neighboring Jefferson Parish.

“They did diddlysquat,” Huffman told me as we sat down at another coffee shop. “Why do the authorities feel like they don’t have to follow the law?”

Jefferson Parish Prison caught Huffman’s attention because a young deaf man named Nelson Arce was being held there. Arce, who has struggled with opioid dependence, traveled to a drug treatment center for deaf patients in California after being charged with drug possession. Crossing state lines turned out to be a probation violation, and Arce was sent back to Louisiana mid-treatment. In an interview, Arce’s father said that the probation office refused to provide interpreters, and officers tried to communicate by writing notes and reading lips, so miscommunication was inevitable. Instead of receiving the treatment he so badly needed, Arce ended up back in jail, without VRS to call home.

As an on-the-ground activist with HEARD, Huffman hears stories like this all the time. He tries to work with jails and probation offices to make them more accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing, but when advocacy and education fail, lawsuits often follow. Just last week, attorneys filed a class-action lawsuit against Louisiana’s state parole and probation office on behalf of three deaf parolees, alleging that they have been consistently denied access to interpreters and other aides at required classes and meetings.

Huffman became an advocate while serving a five-year sentence in a Louisiana prison where about 10 deaf prisoners were held. He became fascinated with ASL after watching the deaf men talk to each other, so he asked his mother to mail him a sign language dictionary and began studying. When he felt confident, he approached the deaf men to try out his new skills and soon became immersed in the language. The warden eventually asked Huffman to move into the unit where the deaf men lived, and he became their de facto interpreter, learning first-hand about the challenges they faced everyday.

“Not only do we lead the world in incarceration, we have a unjust system, especially for these deaf, deaf-blind, deaf-disabled, hard of hearing prisoners,” Huffman says. “They live in a prison within a prison, so not only are they incarcerated, but now they’re extra incarcerated because they don’t have communication.”

Huffman says guards are known to rough up deaf and hard of hearing prisoners for ignoring verbal orders, and the deaf prisoners have trouble accessing services like education, health care and addiction treatment. Deaf prisoners are also unable access the 24-hour rape hotlines that are available to hearing prisoners, and it can be impossible to report abuse and seek help from medical staff and counselors without the help of an interpreter. Prisons are isolating places that spur violence and harm, including violence perpetrated by authority figures: Research shows that guards commit about half of all sexual assaults.

6. Members of the Steward family gather put a cell phone on speaker and gather around to talk to Emmanuel Steward, who is calling through a video relay service from prison. The Stewards say the video relay has made it much easier to stay in touch, but they want Emmanuel moved to a prison closer to their home in southern Louisiana so they can make more in-person visits. (Photo: Annie Flanagan)Members of the Steward family put a cell phone on speaker and gather around to talk to Emmanuel Steward, who is calling through a video relay service from prison. The Stewards say the video relay has made it much easier to stay in touch, but they want Emmanuel moved to a prison closer to their home in southern Louisiana so they can make more in-person visits. (Photo: Annie Flanagan)

Huffman says he saw a lot of “terrible things” happen to deaf prisoners and, acting as a hearing ally, tried to prevent as much as he could. “Deaf people are easy targets, so a lot of sexual abuse happens, most often,” he says, explaining how a deaf prisoner’s inability to pick up on cues in the shower or bathroom could lead to unwanted advances and even assault. “So, prison culture and deaf culture are two different worlds. And so deaf people don’t have the opportunity to auditorily learn the things that you need to learn about prison culture when you get there.”

At the time, Rayburn Correctional Center did not have VRS. As in the vast majority of jails in prisons on the US, the closest thing to a telephone that Huffman’s deaf pals could use was a teletypewriter, or TTY, which sends text messages typed on a keyboard over traditional telephone landlines. On the outside, cell phones and VRS have largely replaced TTY in the deaf community, which considers TTY to be as obsolete as pagers and pay phones.

“I was the VRS, I was the videophone,” Huffman says. “I would use my family’s money, and … contact [the deaf prisoners’] families, and I would interpret the phone conversations and all that.”

This wasn’t just inefficient; it was costly. Private companies that provide phone services at prisons have long been accused of price gouging. In fact, per-minute rates have gotten so out of control that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is currently fighting a major legal battle to cap them, marking a major victory for civil rights advocates. Using TTY is even worse. Until a recent FCC intervention, prison phone companies charged same per-minute rate for TTY calls as landline phone calls, even though TTY calls can take much longer to complete, especially for those who primarily speak ASL. Families of deaf prisoners have sent copies of phone bills for hundreds of dollars to HEARD’s office, and many in the deaf community no longer use TTY to begin with.

ASL and English have different rules for structure and syntax, so rough ASL-to-English translations over a TTY machine can easily become garbled. Facial expressions and body language are essential parts of an ASL conversation, but there is no room for physical communication in a text message. Plus, most lawyers don’t use TTY, and advocates complain that, citing security concerns, some prisons block calls to government-funded relay services that read TTY messages out loud for hearing people on the other end. Many — but certainly not all — deaf people use ASL, not English, as their primary language, and translating specialized vocabulary about medical issues, legal cases over TTY can be a time-consuming challenge.

After his release in 2013, Huffman and HEARD worked with Griffin to install VRS at Rayburn Correction Center and other state facilities with deaf prisoners, making Louisiana one of the few states to offer the service. Earlier this year, I visited Rayburn with a multimedia team to watch Emmanuel Steward and William Johanson, the two remaining prisoners from Huffman’s original circle, make calls on the VRS. As other prisoners looked on from inside a large caged room, the men took turns sitting down in front a cabinet in a hallway that holds the video screen. They dialed a number on a keyboard and interpreters appeared on the screen, ready to relay their words to family members back home.

Speaking through interpreters in the prison’s white-walled conference room, both Steward and Johanson told us that the VRS was a game-changer. Johanson, who was incarcerated with little formal education, says using TTY was often “puzzling” and lawyers didn’t even have the machines in their offices. He eventually gave up, opting to write letters instead.

“I couldn’t understand the stuff they’d mean,” Johanson says through an interpreter. “I couldn’t understand their voice. Friends, they didn’t like that. Then the charge … it’s way over their heads; the price was too high for the TTY.”

After the video relay screen was installed, Johanson was able to call his sister for the first time since he was incarcerated in 1976. He found out his father had passed away since the last time he had been in contact with his family. Still, his sister was elated that he was able to call and could keep calling, free of charge. “My sister was glad when they were able to use that videophone, it’s a lot of convenience,” he says. “It’s real good, we like that video phone better than the TTY. We’re communicating better. I’m saying the same thing when I’d type and have long words breaking up.”

Steward says wasn’t always sure if his family understood him correctly over TTY, and vice versa. “But now with the video relay, it’s natural,” Steward says through an interpreter. “Yeah. It’s much clearer. Not as many errors with the communications, so you really much prefer it, so it’s not as much time lost with correcting what was said.” He says it’s also brought him closer to family members, who live several hours away and cannot afford to make frequent in-person visits. “They’ve got a real person that they’re talking to, even if it’s just a relayed person, you know,” Steward says with a laugh. “They actually hear a voice.”

Prison Phone Companies and the FCC

7. Handcuffs hang in the front office of the Rayburn Correctional Center. (Photo: Annie Flanagan)Handcuffs hang in the front office of the Rayburn Correctional Center. (Photo: Annie Flanagan)

“I have had to communicate with numerous deaf people about sexual assault or impending death via a TTY, in English — a language that many of them have never and never will master.”

Back in 2013, the FCC was poised to make a preliminary but landmark ruling on phone service in jails and prisons, a full 10 years after a petition was filed on behalf of low-income families struggling to pay for phone calls with loved ones behind bars. HEARD joined this coalition and asked the FCC to lower rates for deaf prisoners or replace aging TTY machines with VRS altogether.Research shows that keeping prisoners in contact with friends and family on the outside can reduce recidivism. Plus, without interpreters or a meaningful and affordable way to contact the outside world, deaf people can get lost in the system, sometimes not even knowing why they are there.

“In no uncertain terms, lack of access to telecommunications has made it practically impossible for deaf, deaf-blind, deaf-disabled and hard of hearing people, and many hearing individuals who rely on sign language to maintain contact with loved ones, communication with counsel to aid in their own defense, and to maintain their sanity and safety,” says Lewis, who recalled a deaf prisoner in Florida who called her office “to say his last goodbyes” out of fear of violence. “I have had to communicate with numerous deaf people about sexual assault or impending death via a TTY, in English — a language that many of them have never and never will master. This is unfair to them and to me.” The prisoner in Florida still lives in fear at the same facility.

HEARD submitted dozens of comments to the FCC, including handwritten letters from deaf prisoners who reported trouble keeping in touch with family members, and described the painful isolation they were experiencing. Some detailed grievances with prison staff had gone unresolved for years. In a national survey conducted by HEARD, 35 percent of deaf prisoners reported that they did not have access to a TTY machine. Another 27 percent had access “sometimes,” and only about 19 percent reported that the TTY machine in their facility was in “good working condition.”

The FCC agreed that it takes much longer to type out conversation over TTY than to speak over the phone, illegally subjecting a group of prisoners to price discrimination due to disability. The commission estimated TTY calls take about four times as long to complete, and proposed capping the rate for TTY calls at 25 percent the per-minute rate that providers charge hearing prisoners. HEARD argued that estimate did not take into account the “varying rates of literacy among deaf prisoners,” but any rate decrease was better than nothing.

The prison phone industry disagreed. The prison phone company CenturyLink argued that, in its experience, TTY calls only take about twice as long as voice calls. Securus, the leading prison phone company, claimed that the discount was “not appropriate” because TTY calls and voice calls “incur the same costs.” The firms also opposed the FCC’s proposal to lower the costs of prison phone calls in general.

8. An outdoor chain link fence casts a shadow across Emmanuel Steward's hands. (Photo: Annie Flanagan)An outdoor chain link fence casts a shadow across Emmanuel Steward’s hands. (Photo: Annie Flanagan)

In order to secure lucrative contacts in many states, prison phone companies are expected to pay “site commissions” to the prisons themselves. Reformers refer to these payments as “kickbacks,” and estimate that they generate about an annual $152 million in revenue for prisons nationwide. The cost of these payments are passed down to prisoners and their families in the form of add-on fees and higher rates, but the industry told the FCC that site commissions are a cost business they should be compensated for.

Those arguments didn’t fly with the FCC, which had come under mounting pressure from activists and reformers. In 2013, the FCC issued interim caps on rates for all long-distance, interstate calls to and from prisons, and in 2015 issued a final order reducing those caps by 50 percent and setting caps on local and statewide calls for the first time. The FCC also banned certain add-on fees and refused to consider “site commissions” as a cost to providers when setting the new rates, but the commission stopped short of banning these “kickbacks” altogether. Instead, the FCC encouraged prisons to do away with site commissions on their own, as some state systems already have.

The final ruling was supposed to cut the cost of prison phone calls in half, to about 11 cents per minute. Before the ruling came down, rates in some states could potentially balloon to as high as $14 per minute, according to the FCC.

“Deafness is a silent and non-obvious disability … a typical prison guard may think you can just write them notes.”

Prison phone companies quickly lashed out against the ruling. Securus CEO Richard Smith called it “a colossal error in judgment,” and the industry took the FCC to court. In March, a federal judge issued a partial stay on the ruling, temporarily blocking the latest rate caps, but leaving the interim interstate caps and several other portions in place, including reduced rates for TTY calls and other protections for deaf and hard of hearing people in prison.

The FCC ruling also “strongly” encourages jails and prisons to install video relay systems for deaf prisoners, but stopped short of issuing the national mandate that HEARD had hoped for, leaving Huffman and civil rights attorneys to continue taking on jails and state prison offices one by one.

Elliot Minceberg, a consulting attorney with the Washington Lawyers Committee, which has filed a series of lawsuits on behalf of deaf prisoners, says prisons are “notoriously slow on technology and tech improvement.” Federal prisons, for example, have long opposed VRS due to supposed “security concerns,” which always trump accommodations for prisoners. Plus, Minceburg says, prison bosses and their employees are often ignorant of deaf culture.

“Deafness is a silent and non-obvious disability … a typical prison guard may think you can just write them notes,” says Minceberg, who agrees that it shouldn’t take lawsuits to enforce federal law and ensure that deaf prisoners have equal access to services. “This is something that can and should be done…. This shouldn’t require litigation, but unfortunately it does.”

Profiting Off Deaf Prisoners?

9. William Johanson stands in a hallway at Rayburn Correctional Center, where he is serving a life sentence. (Photo: Annie Flanagan)William Johanson stands in a hallway at Rayburn Correctional Center, where he is serving a life sentence. (Photo: Annie Flanagan)

With the FCC’s rate caps threatening revenue, prison phone companies have sought new revenue streams with “electronic messaging” services and video chats. Reformers welcome new services for prisoners and their families, but say these options are expensive and highly restrictive compared to services like email or Skype. Companies like Securus have even convinced some sheriff’s departments to replace in-person visits with “video visitation,” a shift that advocates ardently oppose. Lewis said the companies could box out VRS as well.

TL Lewis is well aware that prison phone companies are looking for new ways to make money. In fact, companies like Securus may now view VRS providers as competition in its emerging videophone market. In its comments to the FCC, Securus boasted about installing 5,000 videophones at US facilities, but opposed HEARD’s proposal to require VRS at jails and prisons, arguing that such technology is a privilege, not a right.

VRS systems relay calls through an ASL interpreter; the video visitation and chat services offered by prison phone companies do not. VRS calls are also free, while the so-called “prison Skype” services are not yet regulated by the FCC and can be costly.

However, Lewis says prison phone companies are trying to convince jailers that the technologies are one and the same, and their contracts require them to use the pay-to-play services instead of the federally subsidized VRS.

“Phone companies are telling jails, prison and other facilities that these facilities cannot allow VRS installation based on these companies’ exclusive phone contracts that, mind you, do not provide accessible telecommunications for the deaf,” Lewis says. “Now, we have to convince jails and prisons that this is not the case — if the contract does not provide accessible means for calling, federal disability rights law requires that the jail or prison go further.”

“I think they are just looking for as many ways to profiteer from people who are incarcerated. It’s a sick game they play.”

Several companies have told prison administrators that VRS videophones are “expensive,” “impossible” and “incompatible,” among other excuses for why they cannot be installed, according to Lewis. “It’s difficult to find any other reason why prison telecom companies would posit any of this if not for ignorance and the possibility of cutting into their bottom line,” Lewis says. “Of course, it’s not really cutting into their bottom line because countless deaf have gone for years without access rather than have their loved ones pay these exorbitant costs for ineffective communication in English.”

Back in Louisiana, it’s been over a year since Huffman first contacted the Jefferson Parish Prison about installing VRS. Last October, a jail official told Huffman that Securus was already installing video visitation technology, and the company had assured jail officials that it could integrate interpreter services into that system, according to a series of emails shared with Truthout. Huffman explained that this was impossible, because only a few companies are licensed to provide video relay services, and these services are free, unlike whatever service Securus could offer. The conversation has gone nowhere since.

Attempts to reach a media representative and the government affairs office at Securus have been unsuccessful. The Jefferson Parish Sherriff’s Office also failed to issue a response to my repeated requests for information, including a copy of its contract with Securus.

“I think they are just looking for as many ways to profiteer from people who are incarcerated,” Huffman said. “It’s a sick game they play.” Huffman says there are at least two deaf people currently being held at Jefferson Parish Prison, but the jail has done “zero” in terms of accommodation. “They violate everything and seem to be invincible.”

It’s not easy to speak truth to power when power refuses to listen, but Huffman is committed to finishing what he started when he decided to immerse himself in ASL and deaf culture in prison. “Before I left, I promised those guys that I would do something, I would do whatever I could to improve the system in its current state to something better,” Huffman says. Of course, he notes, the best accommodation would be for them to not be imprisoned at all. “I would take them all home with me if I could.”

Austin Finamore interprets this story into American Sign Language, part one.

Austin Finamore interprets this story in American Sign Language, part two.

Posted in USA, Human RightsComments Off on No Way to Call Home: Incarcerated Deaf People Are Locked in a Prison Inside a Prison

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