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Saturday, March 30, 2013

The "Cyprus deal" and the unraveling of fractional-reserve banking...

Via

The “Cyprus deal” as it has been widely referred to in the media may mark the next to last act in the the slow motion collapse of fractional-reserve banking that began with the implosion of the savings-and-loan industry in the U.S. in the late 1980s. This trend continued with the currency crises in Russia, Mexico, East Asia and Argentina in the 1990s in which fractional-reserve banking played a decisive role. The unraveling of fractional-reserve banking became visible even to the average depositor during the financial meltdown of 2008 that ignited bank runs on some of the largest and most venerable financial institutions in the world. The final collapse was only averted by the multi-trillion dollar bailoutof U.S. and foreign banks by the Federal Reserve.

Even more than the unprecedented financial crisis of 2008, however, recent events in Cyprus may have struck the mortal blow to fractional-reserve banking. For fractional reserve banking can only exist for as long as the depositors have complete confidence that regardless of the financial woes that befall the bank entrusted with their “deposits,” they will always be able to withdraw them on demand at par in currency, the ultimate cash of any banking system. Ever since World War Two governmental deposit insurance, backed up by the money-creating powers of the central bank, was seen as the unshakable guarantee that warranted such confidence. In effect, fractional-reserve banking was perceived as 100-percent banking by depositors, who acted as if their money was always “in the bank” thanks to the ability of central banks to conjure up money out of thin air (or in cyberspace). Perversely the various crises involving fractional-reserve banking that struck time and again since the late 1980s only reinforced this belief among depositors, because troubled banks and thrift institutions were always bailed out with alacrity – especially the largest and least stable. Thus arose the “too-big-to-fail doctrine.” Under this doctrine, uninsured bank depositors and bondholders were generally made whole when large banks failed, because it was widely understood that the confidence in the entire banking system was a frail and evanescent thing that would break and completely dissipate as a result of the failure of even a single large institution.

Getting back to the Cyprus deal, admittedly it is hardly ideal from a free-market point of view. The solution in accord with free markets would not involve restricting deposit withdrawals, imposing fascistic capital controls on domestic residents and foreign investors, and dragooning taxpayers in the rest of the Eurozone into contributing to the bailout to the tune of 10 billion euros. Nonetheless, the deal does convey a salutary message to bank depositors and creditors the world over. It does so by forcing previously untouchable senior bondholders and uninsured depositors in the Cypriot banks to bear part of the cost of the bailout. The bondholders of the two largest banks will be wiped out and it is reported that large depositors (i.e. those holding uninsured accounts exceeding 100,000 euros) at the Laiki Bank may also be completely wiped out, losing up to 4.2 billion euros, while large depositors at the Bank of Cyprus will lose between 30 and 60 percent of their deposits. Small depositors in both banks, who hold insured accounts of up to 100,000 euros, would retain the full value of their deposits.

The happy result will be that depositors, both insured and uninsured, in Europe and throughout the world will become much more cautious or even suspicious in dealing with fractional-reserve banks. They will be poised to grab their money and run at the slightest sign or rumor of instability. This will induce banks to radically alter the sources of the funds they raise to finance loans and investments, moving away from deposit and toward equity and bond financing. As was reported this week, this is already expected by many analysts:

One potential spillover from yesterday’s agreement is the knock-on effects for bank funding, analysts said. Banks typically fund themselves with some combination of deposits, equity, senior and subordinate notes and covered bonds, which are backed by a pool of high-quality assets that stay on the lender’s balance sheet.

The consequences of the Cyprus bailout could be that banks will be more likely to use contingent convertible bonds – known as CoCos – to raise money as their ability to encumber assets by issuing covered bonds reaches regulatory limits, said Chris Bowie at Ignis Asset Management Ltd. in London.

“We’d expect to see some deposit flight and a shift in funding towards a combination of covered bonds, real equity and quasi-equity,” said Bowie, who is head of credit portfolio management at Ignis, which oversees about $110 billion.

If this indeed occurs it will be a significant move toward a free-market financial system in which the radical mismatching of the maturities of assets and liabilities in the case of demand deposits is eliminated once and for all. A few more banking crises in the Eurozone – especially one in which insured depositors are made to participate in the so-called “bail-in” – will likely cause the faith in government deposit insurance to completely evaporate and with it confidence in fractional-reserve banking system. There may then naturally arise on the market a system in which equity, bonds, and genuine time deposits that cannot be redeemed before maturity become the exclusive sources of finance for bank loans and investments. Demand deposits, whether checkable or not, would be segregated in actual deposit banks which maintain 100 percent reserves and provide a range of payments systems from ATMs to debit cards. While this conjecture may we overly optimistic, we are certainly a good deal closer to such an outcome today than we were before the “Cyprus deal” was struck. Of course we would be closer still if there were no bailout and the full brunt of the bank failures were borne solely by the creditors and depositors of the failed banks rather than partly by taxpayers. The latter solution would have completely and definitively exposed the true nature of fractional-reserve banking for all to see.

North Atlantic storm spans Atlantic Ocean, coast to coast...

Article Via (3-28-13)

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a storm this big before.

The storm shown here stretches west to east from Newfoundland to Portugal. Its southern tail (cold front) extends into the Caribbean and the north side of its comma head touches southern Greenland.

Not only is it big, but it’s also super intense – comparable to many category 3 hurricanes.  The storm’s central pressure, as analyzed by the Ocean Prediction Center, is 953 mb. Estimated peak wave heights are around 25-30 feet.

The storm is forecast to remain more or less stationary over the next few days before substantially weakening and then eventually drifting into western Europe in about a week as a rather ordinary weather system.

Note to Washingtonians: this is the same storm that blanketed the region with 1-4 inches of snow Monday. It’s grown into a monster from humble beginnings.  The storm’s giant circulation has drawn down the cold and windy conditions we’ve had since it passed.

Are African land grabs really water grabs?

Via

Millions of hectares of land have been acquired in the past few years across Africa by investors who are moving into large-scale agriculture to take advantage of potential windfall gains. Popularly these deals have become known as "land grabbing," but they could just as well have been framed as "water grabs."
 
The current global rush for agricultural land grew partly in response to increased global food prices since 2007. Global capital is finding its way to agricultural investments on the basis of expectations of high returns, either through increased production or through speculation on further rising land prices.

Optimistic promises that such investment would also reinvigorate depressed rural economies, by virtue of employment creation and improved livelihoods, have proven to be vastly overstated, if not unfounded in many cases. But one of the untold stories of the global land grab is the quest to capture one of the most vital resources: water.

As land is grabbed and earmarked for development, this often has implications for the water nearby, for local people's land and water rights and environmental sustainability.
All around the world powerful actors (transnational as well as national) are pointing out that the lands in which they invest are "marginal" and "unproductive" lands. This has been shown to be untrue for many cases; either the land is already used by small-scale food producers, or is of prime quality and associated with good (potential) access to water.

In the Tana Delta for example, the Kenyan government marked the Tana river basin for development, designating the floodplain area as "unused" and the adjacent terraces as "empty dryland" with irrigation potential.

But this region has long been home to small peasant farmers, fishers and pastoralists from different ethnic groups, whose cooperative sharing of fragile land and water resources over the years has been possible because of delicately balanced customary use rights agreements amongst themselves.

Research published in a special issue of Water Alternatives has shown water to be one of the prime drivers of the global rush to acquire land. Despite this, many land deal contracts -- or the prior environmental assessments upon which they ought to be based -- do not explicitly mention water requirements, let alone quantify them.
 
The issue of water grabs is a particularly slippery one. Unlike land, water flows and moves from one place to another; its availability goes up and down, affected by the seasons, human use, or climate change; it can be visible on the surface and invisible underground. It can be a source of food, or disease and pollution. Rights, access and uses are complex and varied. Who has the right to the water in a river -- the people who live beside it in a given place, the farmers who depend on it for irrigation, or those upstream or downstream?

Water's elusive nature makes it a prime target. The boundaries between legality and illegality are often fuzzy, and questions of jurisdiction over water can be unclear. Grabbers often take advantage of this legal complexity. In Ghana, according to research by the International Water Management Institute, the separation of land and water rights created the space for water grabbing: pre-existing customary water rights were abolished and instead ownership, management and control of water were placed under authority of the state.

Similarly, water-quality impacts reach far beyond the place of pollution. A case in point is a large-scale land deal in the Iringa Region of Tanzania under a lease-agreement with the government. According to a paper published by Italian NGO Acra, fertilizers, pesticides and faeces of cattle led to the contamination of downstream drinking water sources serving a population of some 45,000 people.

Proponents of large-scale land deals deploy powerful narratives of underutilized land and water resources that "require" investment to "unlock" their potential, or an abundance of water and land, ready to be woken up by commercial agriculture. But it is at least debatable if the targeted land and water resources are indeed unused or even underutilized.

The narratives of "unexploited resources" provide justification for governments to displace existing users of resources and the ways in which smallholder farmers use their water remain unrecognized some can create new scarcities for others.

The hidden aspects of water grabbing do not just make it a very "slippery" terrain, but also imply that large-scale land acquisitions all around Africa actually can be understood as "water grabbing." That we call this a process of grabbing does not mean that these deals are strictly illegal, but there are serious underlying social justice questions.




Russia criticizes US bomber flights to South Korea...

Via

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned Friday that increased military activity near North Korea could cause tension to spiral out of control, implicitly criticizing US stealth bomber flights that followed and drew more threats from Pyongyang.

Friday, March 29, 2013

While urging gun laws at home, Obama joins NRA to weaken U.N. arms trade treaty (Video)

Via DN!

How George Bush won the war in Iraq...

Via

Because it was marked "confidential" on each page, the oil industry stooge couldn't believe the US State Department had given me a complete copy of their secret plans for the oil fields of Iraq. Actually, the State Department had done no such thing. But my line of bullshit had been so well-practiced and the set-up on my mark had so thoroughly established my fake identity, that I almost began to believe my own lies.


I closed in. I said I wanted to make sure she and I were working from the same State Department draft. Could she tell me the official name, date and number of pages? She did.

Bingo! I'd just beaten the Military-Petroleum Complex in a lying contest, so I had a right to be stoked.

After phoning numbers from California to Kazakhstan to trick my mark, my next calls were to the State Department and Pentagon. Now that I had the specs on the scheme for Iraq's oil – that State and Defense Department swore, in writing, did not exist – I told them I'd appreciate their handing over a copy (no expurgations, please) or there would be a very embarrassing story on BBC Newsnight.

Within days, our chief of investigations, Ms Badpenny, delivered to my shack in the woods outside New York a 323-page, three-volume programme for Iraq's oil crafted by George Bush's State Department and petroleum insiders meeting secretly in Houston, Texas.


I cracked open the pile of paper – and I was blown away.

Like most lefty journalists, I assumed that George Bush and Tony Blair invaded Iraq to buy up its oil fields, cheap and at gun-point, and cart off the oil. We thought we knew the neo-cons true casus belli: Blood for oil.

But the truth in the confidential Options for Iraqi Oil Industry was worse than "Blood for Oil". Much, much worse.

The key was in the flow chart on page 15, Iraq Oil Regime Timeline & Scenario Analysis:

"...A single state-owned company ...enhances a government's relationship with OPEC."

Let me explain why these words rocked my casbah.

I'd already had in my hands a 101-page document, another State Department secret scheme, first uncovered by Wall Street Journal reporter Neil King, that called for the privatisation, the complete sell-off of every single government-owned asset and industry. And in case anyone missed the point, the sales would include every derrick, pipe and barrel of oil, or, as the document put it, "especially the oil".

That plan was created by a gaggle of corporate lobbyists and neo-cons working for the Heritage Foundation. In 2004, the plan's authenticity was confirmed by Washington power player Grover Norquist. (It's hard to erase the ill memory of Grover excitedly waving around his soft little hands as he boasted about turning Iraq into a free-market Disneyland, recreating Chile in Mesopotamia, complete with the Pinochet-style dictatorship necessary to lock up the assets – while behind Norquist, Richard Nixon snarled at me from a gargantuan portrait.)

The neo-con idea was to break up and sell off Iraq's oil fields, ramp up production, flood the world oil market – and thereby smash OPEC and with it, the political dominance of Saudi Arabia.

General Jay Garner also confirmed the plan to grab the oil. Indeed, Garner told me that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld fired him, when the General, who had lived in Iraq, complained the neo-con grab would set off a civil war. It did. Nevertheless, Rumsfeld replaced Garner with a new American viceroy, Paul Bremer, a partner in Henry Kissinger's firm, to complete the corporate takeover of Iraq's assets – "especially the oil".

But that was not to be. While Bremer oversaw the wall-to-wall transfer of Iraqi industries to foreign corporations, he was stopped cold at the edge of the oil fields.

How? I knew there was only one man who could swat away the entire neo-con army: James Baker, former Secretary of State, Bush family consiglieri and most important, counsel to Exxon-Mobil Corporation and the House of Saud.

(One unwitting source was industry oil-trading maven Edward Morse of Lehman/Credit Suisse, who threatened to sue Harper's Magazine for my quoting him. Morse denied I ever spoke with him. But when I played the tape from my hidden recorder, his memory cleared and he scampered away.)

Weirdly, I was uncovering that the US oil industry was using its full political mojo to prevent their being handed ownership of Iraq's oil fields. That's right: The oil companies did NOT want to own the oil fields – and they sure as hell did not want the oil. Just the opposite. They wanted to make sure there would be a limit on the amount of oil that would come out of Iraq.

There was no way in hell that Baker's clients, from Exxon to Abdullah, were going to let a gaggle of neo-con freaks smash up Iraq's oil industry, break OPEC production quotas, flood the market with six million barrels of Iraqi oil a day and thereby knock its price back down to $13 a barrel where it was in 1998.

Big Oil simply could not allow Iraq's oil fields to be privatised and taken from state control. That would make it impossible to keep Iraq within OPEC (an avowed goal of the neo-cons) as the state could no longer limit production in accordance with the cartel's quota system..

The problem with Saddam was not the threat that he'd stop the flow of oil – he was trying to sell more. The price of oil had been boosted 300 percent by sanctions and an embargo cutting Iraq's sales to two million barrels a day from four. With Saddam gone, the only way to keep the damn oil in the ground was to leave it locked up inside the busted state oil company which would remain under OPEC (i.e. Saudi) quotas.

The James Baker Institute quickly and secretly started in on drafting the 323-page plan for the State Department. In May 2003, with authority granted from the top (i.e. Dick Cheney), ex-Shell Oil USA CEO Phil Carroll was rushed to Baghdad to take charge of Iraq's oil. He told Bremer, "There will be no privatisation of oil – END OF STATEMENT." Carroll then passed off control of Iraq's oil to Bob McKee of Halliburton, Cheney's old oil-services company, who implemented the Baker "enhance OPEC" option anchored in state ownership.

Some oil could be released, mainly to China, through limited, but lucrative, "production sharing agreements".

And that's how George Bush won the war in Iraq. The invasion was not about "blood for oil", but something far more sinister: blood for no oil. War to keep supply tight and send prices skyward.

Oil men, whether James Baker or George Bush or Dick Cheney, are not in the business of producing oil. They are in the business of producing profits.

And they've succeeded. Iraq, capable of producing six to 12 million barrels of oil a day, still exports well under its old OPEC quota of three million barrels.

The result: As we mark the tenth anniversary of the invasion this month, we also mark the fifth year of crude at $100 a barrel.

As George Bush could proudly say to James Baker: Mission Accomplished!

"It should come as no surprise to many of you to find out that Monsanto actually authored the wording of its own Monsanto Protection Act hidden in the recently passed and signed Continuing Resolution spending bill. How could a major corporation write its own laws and regulations, you ask? Quite frankly I think it’s important to understand that the entire Senate passed the bill containing the Protection Act, but the politician who actually gave Monsanto the pen in order to write their very own legislation is no others than Roy Blunt — a Republican Senator from Missouri"

Via

It should come as no surprise to many of you to find out that Monsanto actually authored the wording of its own Monsanto Protection Act hidden in the recently passed and signed Continuing Resolution spending bill. How could a major corporation write its own laws and regulations, you ask?

Quite frankly I think it’s important to understand that the entire Senate passed the bill containing the Protection Act, but the politician who actually gave Monsanto the pen in order to write their very own legislation is no others than Roy Blunt — a Republican Senator from Missouri. As the latest IB Times article reveals, the Missouri politician worked with Monsanto to write the Monsanto Protection Act. This was confirmed by a New York news report I will get to shortly.

As you probably know I do not play the political clown game of left verses right, and instead highlight corruption and wrongdoing wherever it is found — regardless of party affiliation. In the case of Senator Blunt, he admits to colluding with Monsanto, a corporation that has literally been caught running ‘slave-like’ working conditions in which workers are unable to leave or eat (among many worse misdeeds).

This is one of the most blatant offenses against the citizens of the United States I’ve seen in a long time. A population that Blunt swore to serve. It’s not for the United States public at all, and it’s a serious matter that I don’t think is properly understood. The passing of this bill into law means that Monsanto is now immune from federal courts regarding any suspension or action on their crops that have been deemed to be dangerous to the people (or the environment).

This means crops that were approved and later found to damage the environment or the public will be immune from United States government action. Theoretically, one million studies could find that Monsanto’s latest creation was causing a massive cancer wave and under this law Monsanto could continue to peddle the crop to the public. The federal courts would (or will) be helpless to stop Monsanto, effectively giving Monsanto power over the entire branch of the United States government. Food Democracy Now, a major activist organization that organized signatures to fight the Monsanto Protection Act, described the rider:

“The Monsanto Protection Act would force the USDA to allow continued planting of any GMO crop under court review, essentially giving backdoor approval for any new genetically engineered crops that could be potentially harmful to human health or the environment.”

Sounds like a great idea, right?

Serving Corporations, Not People

Senator Roy Blunt and those who knowingly passed the Monsanto Protection Act (including President Obama who signed it into law just last night) have chosen to serve corporations over people. Ironic, really, as corporations legally are people — a legal area commonly used to avoid real jail sentences for major CEOs and executives who knowingly were involved with the deaths of consumers around the world.

It’s sad, really. I read up on Senator Blunt, and he does seem to constantly side with corporations over the public. Even on his Wikipedia page one line reads that Blunt ”consistently sided with Big Oil and other dirty polluters over a cleaner, more sustainable future.”I was even able to find a quote by Blunt defending his decision to allow Monsanto to write its own regulation through the Monsanto Protection Act. He told the NY Daily News in defense of the Monsanto Protection Act and his relationship with the company in writing the rider:

“What it says is if you plant a crop that is legal to plant when you plant it, you get to harvest it.”

I think Blunt is confused over which ‘people’ he is serving. I created this image to call Blunt out on his open decision to side with Monsanto over the public:

 You can contact Senator Blunt through his website and let him know what you think about his decision to let Monsanto write its own Protection Act. No longer can we sit idly by while corporate juggernauts like Monsanto triumph over the people through swindling and deceit. Share this article, the image, and publicly denounce all politicians willing to sell their souls to Monsanto.

The dream and the Dreamer (Video)

Via


Thursday, March 28, 2013

FBI pursuing real-time Gmail spying powers...

Via

Despite the pervasiveness of law enforcement surveillance of digital communication, the FBI still has a difficult time monitoring Gmail, Google Voice, and Dropbox in real time. But that may change soon, because the bureau says it has made gaining more powers to wiretap all forms of Internet conversation and cloud storage a “top priority” this year.


Last week, during a talk for the American Bar Association in Washington, D.C., FBI general counsel Andrew Weissmann discussed some of the pressing surveillance and national security issues facing the bureau. He gave a few updates on the FBI’s efforts to address what it calls the “going dark” problem—how the rise in popularity of email and social networks has stifled its ability to monitor communications as they are being transmitted. It’s no secret that under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, the feds can easily obtain archive copies of emails. When it comes to spying on emails or Gchat in real time, however, it’s a different story.

That’s because a 1994 surveillance law called the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act only allows the government to force Internet providers and phone companies to install surveillance equipment within their networks. But it doesn’t cover email, cloud services, or online chat providers like Skype. Weissmann said that the FBI wants the power to mandate real-time surveillance of everything from Dropbox and online games (“the chat feature in Scrabble”) to Gmail and Google Voice. “Those communications are being used for criminal conversations,” he said.

While it is true that CALEA can only be used to compel Internet and phone providers to build in surveillance capabilities into their networks, the feds do have some existing powers to request surveillance of other services. Authorities can use a “Title III” order under the “Wiretap Act” to ask email and online chat providers furnish the government with “technical assistance necessary to accomplish the interception.” However, the FBI claims this is not sufficient because mandating that providers help with “technical assistance” is not the same thing as forcing them to “effectuate” a wiretap. In 2011, then-FBI general counsel Valerie Caproni—Weissmann’s predecessor—stated that Title III orders did not provide the bureau with an "effective lever" to "encourage providers" to set up live surveillance quickly and efficiently. In other words, the FBI believes it doesn’t have enough power under current legislation to strong-arm companies into providing real-time wiretaps of communications.

Because Gmail is sent between a user’s computer and Google’s servers using SSL encryption, for instance, the FBI can’t intercept it as it is flowing across networks and relies on the company to provide it with access. Google spokesman Chris Gaither hinted that it is already possible for the company to set up live surveillance under some circumstances. “CALEA doesn't apply to Gmail but an order under the Wiretap Act may,” Gaither told me in an email. “At some point we may expand our transparency report to cover this topic in more depth, but until then I'm not able to provide additional information.”

Either way, the FBI is not happy with the current arrangement and is on a crusade for more surveillance authority. According to Weissmann, the bureau is working with “members of intelligence community” to craft a proposal for new Internet spy powers as “a top priority this year.” Citing security concerns, he declined to reveal any specifics. “It's a very hard thing to talk about publicly,” he said, though acknowledged that “it's something that there should be a public debate about.”

"(Barack) Obama has not only openly asserted powers that were the grounds for (Richard) Nixon's impeachment, but he has made many love him for it. More than any figure in history, Obama has been a disaster for the U.S. civil liberties movement. By coming out of the Democratic Party and assuming an iconic position, Obama has ripped the movement in half. Many Democrats and progressive activists find themselves unable to oppose Obama for the authoritarian powers he has assumed. It is not simply a case of personality trumping principle; it is a cult of personality"

Via

This month, I spoke at an event commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Watergate scandal with some of its survivors at the National Press Club. While much of the discussion looked back at the historic clash with President Nixon, I was struck by a different question: Who actually won? From unilateral military actions to warrantless surveillance that were key parts of the basis for Nixon's impending impeachment, the painful fact is that Barack Obama is the president that Nixon always wanted to be.


Four decades ago, Nixon was halted in his determined effort to create an "imperial presidency" with unilateral powers and privileges. In 2013, Obama wields those very same powers openly and without serious opposition. The success of Obama in acquiring the long-denied powers of Nixon is one of his most remarkable, if ignoble, accomplishments. Consider a few examples:

Warrantless surveillance

Nixon's use of warrantless surveillance led to the creation of a special court called the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA). But the reform turned out to be more form than substance. The secret court turned "probable cause" into a meaningless standard, virtually guaranteeing any surveillance the government wanted. After hundreds of thousands of applications over decades, only a couple have ever been denied.

Last month, the Supreme Court crushed any remaining illusions regarding FISA when it sided with the Obama administration in ruling that potential targets of such spying had to have proof they were spied upon before filing lawsuits, even if the government has declared such evidence to be secret. That's only the latest among dozens of lawsuits the administration has blocked while surveillance expands exponentially.

Unilateral military action

Nixon's impeachment included the charge that he evaded Congress' sole authority to declare war by invading Cambodia. In the Libyan "mission," Obama announced that only he had the inherent authority to decide what is a "war" and that so long as he called it something different, no congressional approval or even consultation was necessary. He proceeded to bomb a nation's capital, destroy military units and spend more than a billion dollars in support of one side in a civil war.

Kill lists

Nixon ordered a burglary to find evidence to use against Daniel Ellsberg, who gave the famed Pentagon Papers to the press, and later tried to imprison him. Ellsberg was later told of a secret plot by the White House "plumbers" to "incapacitate" him in a physical attack. It was a shocking revelation. That's nothing compared with Obama's assertion of the right to kill any U.S. citizen without a charge, let alone conviction, based on his sole authority. A recently leaked memo argues that the president has a right to kill a citizen even when he lacks "clear evidence (of) a specific attack" being planned.

Attacking whistle-blowers

Nixon was known for his attacks on whistle-blowers. He used the Espionage Act of 1917 to bring a rare criminal case against Ellsberg. Nixon was vilified for the abuse of the law. Obama has brought twice as many such prosecutions as all prior presidents combined. While refusing to prosecute anyone for actual torture, the Obama administration has prosecuted former CIA employee John Kiriakou for disclosing the torture program.

Other Nixonesque areas include Obama's overuse of classification laws and withholding material from Congress. There are even missing tapes. In the torture scandal, CIA officials admitted to destroying tapes that they feared could be used against them in criminal cases. Of course, Nixon had missing tapes, but Rose Mary Woods claimed to have erased them by mistake, as opposed to current officials who openly admit to intentional destruction.

Obama has not only openly asserted powers that were the grounds for Nixon's impeachment, but he has made many love him for it. More than any figure in history, Obama has been a disaster for the U.S. civil liberties movement. By coming out of the Democratic Party and assuming an iconic position, Obama has ripped the movement in half. Many Democrats and progressive activists find themselves unable to oppose Obama for the authoritarian powers he has assumed. It is not simply a case of personality trumping principle; it is a cult of personality.

Long after Watergate, not only has the presidency changed. We have changed. We have become accustomed to elements of a security state such as massive surveillance and executive authority without judicial oversight. We have finally answered a question left by Benjamin Franklin in 1787, when a Mrs. Powel confronted him after the Constitutional Convention and asked, "Well, Doctor, what have we got — a republic or a monarchy?" His chilling response: "A republic, if you can keep it."

We appear to have grown weary of the republic and traded it for promises of security from a shining political personality. Somewhere, Nixon must be wondering how it could have been this easy.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Guantanamo exposes reality of US fascism...

Via ICH

They are essentially dead men who just happen to breathe. That is the grim assessment of the legal representative for the inmates in the American concentration camp, otherwise known as Guantanamo Bay.


More than 11 years after this penal colony was opened on the American-occupied territory of Cuba, there remains some 166 prisoners who live in a nightmarish world of indefinite detention.

Hundreds of others have been ground through the machine, spewed out like human waste. Denial of human freedom is torture; denial of any sense of when that torture ends adds a whole new barbarous dimension of cruelty.

American vanity likes to indulge in berating other countries for human rights violations: Russia, China, North Korea and Iran are paraded in the American media as pariah states, accused of failing international legal standards. In the past, the Soviet Union and its system of gulags was a particular favourite feature for Americans to contrast their supposed freedoms. How the ‘high and mighty’ self-proclaimed moral titans now stand exposed as hypocrites, charlatans and low-life perverts.

Thanks to the suffering of prisoners at Guantanamo, the world is seeing some shocking home truths about the real nature of American government and its formerly grandiose pretensions. Without Guantanamo, the world may have been duped a little longer by the American art of deception. But not anymore. The American style of dictatorship has everything that the old Soviet system had, but with an added insidious trait - the American delusion of exceptionalism.

Think about it. In Guantanamo, they have been rendered from all over the world by their captors like so much wild animals, physically and mentally tortured, humiliated and defiled. Most of them are Muslim, coming from Africa, the Middle East and Asia, where the US has been waging its permanent charade ‘War on Terror’ since 2001.

Such is the cruel vindictiveness of their captor country that these men’s only freedom - to read their holy Korans in the solitude of their cells - has been denied to them. More. Their sacred beliefs have been stamped on. Not only have their captors incarcerated their bodies; their tormentors want to hunt down their victims’ inner-most thoughts. This is taking human barbarity to scientific levels of depravity where the human spirit is sought out to be murdered.

Ninety percent of the Guantanamo hostages - a more appropriate description than ‘inmate’ - have never been charged with any offence. They are being held merely on the basis of suspicion by an American government that has lost all credibility and moral bearing in the eyes of the world.

For nearly 50 days now, 26 of the men at Guantanamo have been on a hunger strike. It is the only freedom left to these men. To refuse the most basic means of subsistence. That length of time without food is pushing the human body into a fatal condition. The muscles have been eaten away now by the body’s own metabolism to survive against deprivation; at this stage, the last vital organ of the brain becomes internally digested.

‘These men have figured out that probably the only way for them to go home - cleared or not - is in a wooden box,’ said their American-military appointed defence lawyer, Lt Col Barry Wingard, in a recent interview with Russia Today.

Wingard, who has been granted only limited access to consult with the prisoners said that he was shocked by the ‘animal cage’ conditions of the men when he last saw them three weeks ago. ‘They will never get a trial based upon the evidence that is against them,’ adds Wingard.

Let’s recap. Hundreds of men - in all probability innocent of suspected wrongdoing - are held for up to 11 years without charge, tortured and denied proper legal support - all perpetrated by the government of the US that proclaims to be the world’s standard bearer of democratic and human rights and international law. This is the same government that has overseen the invasion and illegal occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, murdering millions of innocents, in the name of establishing democracy and international law.

But don’t confuse. Guantanamo is not a vile contradiction of America’s lofty claims. It is in fact a microcosm of the reality of how truly barbaric the American government has become.

Five years ago, when Barack Obama was running for the US presidency, the closure of Guantanamo was a central promise. To the credit of the American people, they voted him into the White House in order to tear down this abomination of human rights and international law and all the associated torture that it represented under Bush and the neocons.

Into his second administration, Obama has reiterated that Guantanamo is here to stay. How is that for a brazen betrayal and snub to democratic demand of the people? Appropriately, Obama has outdone Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Co. The imperialist permanent war on the world is being stepped and expanded to target Syria, Iran, China and Russia and whomever else dares to stand in the way of American hegemony. Obama’s wielding of secretive executive powers to execute any one, any time, any place in the world exceeds the fantasies of the Bush neocons.

The abomination that is Guantanamo is therefore an important moment of truth as to how far America has gone down the road to all-out fascism.

Ironically, it is men who have been deprived of everything even to the point of death who are exposing this powerful truth.

Obama unleashes dogs of war in Syria...

Via ICH

The smoke screen given to the United States President Barack Obama’s visit to Israel has lifted. But then, no one really bought the thesis that it was a mere kiss-and-make-up visit aimed at improving Obama’s personal chemistry with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that prompted the US president to jet down to the Middle East in a rare overseas trip.


The expose came dramatically at the far end of the visit just as Obama was about to get into the presidential jet at Tel Aviv airport on Friday. Right on the tarmac, from a makeshift trailer, he dialed up Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and after a brief exchange of pleasantries, he handed the phone to Netanyahu who thereupon went on to do what he had adamantly refused to do for the past two years – render a formal apology to Turkey over the killing of nine of its nationals in 2010 who were travelling in a flotilla on a humanitarian mission to help the beleaguered Palestinians in the Gaza enclave.

The Gaza incident had ripped apart Turkish-Israeli relations and things deteriorated sharply when Tel Aviv point blank refused to render an apology and pay compensation, as Ankara demanded. This is probably the first time in its entire diplomatic history that Israel, which pays much attention to its «macho» image, went down on its knees to render a national apology to a foreign country for sins committed. But then, the breakdown in ties with Israel left Israel stranded and helpless in the region, reduced to the role of a mere spectator at a historic juncture when the region is going through an upheaval.

The alliance with Turkey is vital to Israel to safeguard its core interests. In his statement welcoming the Turkish-Israeli reconciliation, US secretary of state pointedly said that the development "will help Israel meet the many challenges it faces in the region" and a full normalization between the two counties will enable them to "work together to advance their common interests".

The telephone conversation at Tel Aviv airport didn’t happen all of a sudden. In a background story, senior Turkish editor Murat Yetkin who is a well-informed commentator in Ankara disclosed that according to "high-ranking sources", Washington had approached Ankara a few weeks ago with the demarche that Obama wished to work on a rapprochement between Erdogan and Netanyahu and hoped to utilize his Israeli visit as a mediatory mission. Yetkin wrote:

As Ankara said they could accept the good offices of the U.S. to have an agreement with Israel, based on an apology, the diplomacy started. Before the start of Obama’s visit on March 20, diplomatic drafts about the terms of a possible agreement started to go back and forth between Ankara and Jerusalem under the auspices of U.S. diplomacy.

Tell tale signs

The big question is why has Turkish-Israeli normalization become so terribly important for Obama who has his hands full with so many problem areas – and, equally, for Erdogan and Netanyahu as well? The answer is to be found in the testimony given by the head of US European Command and NATO’s top military commander Adm. James Stavridis before the US Senate Armed Services Committee last Monday on the eve of Obama’s departure from Washington for Israel.

Stavridis advised the US lawmakers that a more aggressive posture by the US and its allies could help break the stalemate in Syria. As he put it, "My personal opinion is that would be helpful in breaking the deadlock and bringing down the [Syrian] regime." The influential US senator John McCain pointedly queried Stavridis about the possible role of NATO in an intervention in Syria. Stavridis replied that the NATO is preparing for a range of contingencies. "We [NATO] are looking at a wide range of operations and we are prepared if called upon to be engaged we were in Libya," he said.

Stavridis went on to explain that the NATO Patriot missiles now deployed in Turkey ostensibly for the sake of defending Turkish airspace has the capability also to attack Syrian air force in that country’s air space and that any such a NATO operation would be a "powerful disincentive" for the Syrian regime.

Equally significant is that the NATO warships of the Standing NATO Maritime Group 1 [SNMGI], which arrived in the Eastern Mediterranean in late February, visited the Turkish naval base of Aksaz (where Turkey’s Southern Task Group maintains special units such as «underwater attack») recently, en route to joining last week the US Strike Group consisting of the Aircraft Carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and escorts. The SNMGI forms part of the NATO Response Force, which is permanently activated and is held at high readiness in order to respond to security challenges.

Thus, the picture that emerges – alongside other tell tale signs lately – is that a western military intervention in Syria could be in the making. A major consideration could be the timing. Iran is preparing for a crucial presidential election in June and will be heavily preoccupied with its domestic politics for the coming several months thereafter.

Obama is moving carefully factoring in that any commitment of US troops on the ground in Syria is out of the question. The US public opinion will militate against another war. But the US and NATO (and Israel) can give valuable air cover and can launch devastating missile attacks on the Syrian government’s command centres.

The western powers would focus on eliminating President Bashar al-Assad rather than display shock and awe and physically occupy the country, as George W. Bush unwisely did in the Iraq war. However, after degrading the regime comprehensively, if ground forces need to be deployed inside Syria, Turkey can always undertake such a mission. In fact, Turkey is uniquely placed undertake that mission, being a Muslim country belonging to NATO.

However, the crucial operational aspect will be that in order for the US-NATO-Turkish operation to be optimal, Israel also needs to be brought in. A close cooperation between Turkey and Israel at the operational level can be expected to swiftly pulverize the Syrian regime from the north and south simultaneously. Hence the diligence with which Obama moved to heal the Turkish-Israeli rift.

Turkey of course has strong motivations – historical, political, military and economic – to invade Syria with which it has ancient scores to settle. The Baa’thist regime in Damascus never accepted Turkish hegemony in the Levant and a strong and assertive Syria has been a thorn in the Turkish flesh. Besides, there are simmering territorial claims.

For Israel too, the comprehensive destruction of Syria as a major military power in the Middle East means that all three major Arab powers which could offer defiance to Israel in the past and have been the repositories of "Arabism" at one time or another – Iraq, Egypt and Syria – have been dispatched to the Stone Age.

But the revival of Turkish-Israeli strategic axis has other major implications as well for regional security. From Erdogan’s point of view, he has thoroughly milked the last ounce, politically speaking, by his grandstanding against Israel and Zionism to bolster his image in the «Arab Street» as a true Muslim leader who never lacked courage to stand up for the Arab cause.

He probably senses that Netanyahu’s «apology» will boost his standing even further as a Muslim leader who made Israel blink in an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation. But, having said that, as an astute politician, Erdogan also would size up that henceforth the law of diminishing returns is at work and he might as well now think of seeking some help from Israel.

The point is, Erdogan is currently pushing for a negotiated deal with the Kurdish militants belonging to the PKK. Last week, it appeared that his efforts may have met with some success. The PKK leader who is incarcerated in Turkey, Abdullah Ocalan, has called for the vacation of the Kurdish militia from Turkish soil, which brings an end to the heavy bloodletting in Turkey’s eastern provinces for the past year and more.

No more pretensions

A curious detail that cannot be lost sight of is that Ocalan always kept contacts with the US operatives, while Israeli intelligence always kept a strong presence in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq. Quite obviously, there could be a back-to-back arrangement on the PKK problem between Washington, Ankara and Tel Aviv, which would work well for all three protagonists.

It could buy peace for Turkish armed forces from the Kurdish fighters and in turn enable them to concentrate on the forthcoming Syrian operation. Turkey has traditionally depended on Israel to provide it with actionable intelligence on the Kurdish militant groups.

At a broader level, Turkish-Israeli reconciliation will help NATO’s future role in the Middle East. The US hopes to introduce NATO on a long-term basis as the peacekeeper in the Levant – massive energy reserves have been discovered in the Levant Basin in recent years – and a prerequisite for this would be close coordination with Israel.

The NATO’s efforts in the past four to five years to bring Israel into full play in Eastern Mediterranean as a virtual member country of the alliance were proceeding well until they hit the bump of the Turkish-Israeli rift in 2010. During the past two years, Turkey has doggedly blocked NATO’s plans to integrate Israel into its partnership program. Ankara even prevented the NATO from extending invitation to Israel to attend the alliance’s sixtieth anniversary summit in Chicago in 2010.

Suffice to say, in terms of the overall strategic balance in the Middle East, NATO’s projection as a global organization capable of acting as a net provider of security for the region – with or without UN mandate – will be optimal only with Israel’s participation.

Equally, Turkish-Israeli collaboration at the security and military level has profound implications for the Iran question. Turkey sees Iran as a rival in the Middle East while Israel regards Iran as an existential threat. Both Turkey and Israel estimate that Iran’s surge as regional power poses challenge to their own long-term regional ambitions. Thus, there is a Turkish-Israeli congruence of interests at work with regard to containing Iran in the region.

The Turkish-Israeli axis can be expected to play a crucial role in the coming months if the US ever decides to attack Iran.

In sum, Obama’s mediatory mission to Israel and his stunning success in healing the Turkish-Israeli rift resets the compass of Middle Eastern politics. In a way, American regional policies are returning to their pristine moorings of perpetuating the western hegemony in the Middle East in the 21st century, no matter how.

In the process, the Palestinian problem has been relegated to the backburner; Obama didn’t even bother to hide that he feels no particular sense of urgency about the Middle East peace process. The resuscitation of the Turkish-Israeli strategic axis gives the unmistakable signal that the Obama administration is shifting gear for an outright intervention in Syria to force «regime change». Thereupon, the strong likelihood is that Iran will come in the US-Israeli-Turkish crosshairs...

Turbulent times indeed lie ahead for the Middle East and Obama’s Israel visit will be looked upon in retrospect as a defining moment in his presidency when he cast aside conclusively and openly even his residual pretensions of being a pacifist. Indeed, he can be sure of a rare consensus in the Congress applauding his mission to Israel, which could have interesting fallouts for his domestic agenda as well. Netanyahu can help ensure that.

Journalists who got Iraq wrong 10 years ago, and Syria wrong now should be sacked...

Via SC

Although Cable News Network (CNN) no longer reports news but blatant propaganda and worthless reports on insignificant celebrities, it and other media operations should not be permitted to engage in the same war-mongering today that they fostered ten years ago.

On the very day that America was reflecting on the preposterous reasons it attacked and occupied Iraq ten years ago – March 20, 2003 – CNN and other broadcasters were hyping a phony story about Syria using WMDs – weapons of mass destruction – against civilians. Ten years ago, Saddam Hussein was used as an international bogeyman for his possession of WMDs. However, the claims of Iraqi WMDs were based on false and forged intelligence. And the claims that Bashar al-Assad’s government is using chemical weapons are just as fallacious… 

CNN’s neo-Conservative main stay Wolf Blitzer, who once served as a mouthpiece for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), an unregistered foreign agency of the Israeli government operating as a pressure group on the U.S. government, interviewed Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein of California and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers of Michigan on the «breaking news» that Syria was using chemical weapons against its own population. Blitzer, of course, engaged in the very same theatrical propaganda and war mongering over Saddam’s alleged possession of mass destruction.

Blitzer, who would never be found issuing forth such hyperbolic announcements about Israel’s possession of 400 tactical and city-busting nuclear weapons, as well as its germ and chemical warfare agents, engages in the very same faux journalism today as he practiced in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq. Simply stated, Blitzer and his ilk at Fox News and at various other media entities in Washington, New York, London, and other cities are not journalists. They are ciphers for vested interests that profit from war and Americans dying for patently Israeli causes.

It is clear that the corrupted media is following the same playbook for Syria as it used in reporting on Iraq. Ten years to the day that Americans and people around the world were warned about the «existential threat» from Saddam Hussein’s WMDs, the wire services and other media showed pictures of civilians outside of Aleppo who were said to have been injured from a chlorine gas attack launched by Syrian forces. The source was the Rupert Murdoch-owned Fox News. It is astounding that after revelations about the unprofessional actions of Murdoch’s newspapers in London hacking into private cell phone voice mail accounts, anyone would give credence to any of his trash publications, which now include The Wall Street Journal and The Times of London.

There were video reports that 16 people in the village of Khan al-Assal, outside of Aleppo, were killed with another 86 wounded. However, since the beginning of the Syrian conflict bogus videos and photographs have been offered successfully to a begging news media, eager for scenes of blood and mayhem. Moreover, the victims of the attack were said to be largely Syrian army regulars and members of pro-Assad militias.

Interestingly, the White House denied any knowledge of any chemical attack. However, there were more legitimate reports that the chlorine gas attack was launched by CIA- and NATO-supported Syrian rebels. Some governments cited the danger of Syria’s arsenal of chemical weapons falling into the hands of the pro-Al Qaeda al-Nusra Front, which is aided financially and logistically by the governments of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates, as well as the self-proclaimed Emirate of Cyrenaica in eastern Libya, over which the NATO-installed government in Tripoli has little to no control.

Syria’s rebels are carbon copies of the motley crew of Iraqi expatriates hauled out of their penthouse apartments and suburban homes in the United States and Britain to lead the interim Iraqi government appointed by a U.S. viceroy, Paul «Jerry’ Bremer, a protégé of the all-time American war criminal Henry Kissinger. Iraq’s rebel movement had its feather merchant in the personage of Ahmad Chalabi, the international fraudster who was placed in charge of the CIA-created Iraqi National Congress. The Syrian National Coalition «elected» as the prime minister of the Syrian government-in-exile Ghassan Hitto, a U.S. citizen from Texas who has worked for various information technology companies – read that as companies with contracts for the U.S. military-intelligence complex – and who has been involved with various Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated causes linked to the government of Qatar. Hitto, an ethnic Syrian Kurd, demanded that Syria’s United Nations seat be handed over to the Syrian rebels. Like the exiled Chalabi with most Iraqis, most people inside Syria had never heard of Hitto before he became one of Uncle Sam’s new «nephews» in the Middle East.

Another member of the Syrian opposition is long-time anti-Assad figure Farid «Frank» Ghadry, a Syrian-American entrepreneur who has, like Hitto, been a part of the U.S. military-intelligence complex, having worked for the contractor EG&G Intertech Inc. before starting his own firm, International TechGroup Inc. Ghadry is a darling of the same neo-con power structure in Washington that promoted Chalabi and his cronies. Ghadry has appeared before the Knesset in Israel and has penned such pro-Israeli pieces as «Israel Builds for Nobel Prizes, Arabs Build for Suicide Bombers.» While such polemics play well to the six-figure salaried officials of Israeli-financed non-profit think tanks in Washington and suburban Virginia and Maryland, they have no impact and generate hostility inside countries like Syria, Iraq, or occupied Palestine.

Not one of the media «chatterers» who advanced the false notion of Iraq’s WMDs has paid for their professional misconduct. Instead, they have been left to promote further false stories that provided journalistic cover for American intervention in Libya to overthrow Muammar Qaddafi and NATO’s force infusion into Mali’s inter-ethnic and civilian-military conflicts.

Among the reporters who questioned the Bush administration’s bone-headed decision to invade and occupy Iraq based on non-existent intelligence were Knight-Ridder’s Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel. The reporters’ accounts of the fake intelligence being offered up by the Bush-Cheney neo-cons were largely ignored by the press because similar information had not appeared in either The New York Times or The Washington Post. Both «newspapers of record» had embedded within their reporting staffs and editorial ranks individuals who were more loyal to the whims of the Bush administration than to the canons of journalism or to their readership. Unfortunately, it is the likes of Wolf Blitzer and total light-weights of puffery like Anderson Cooper (the son of billionaire heiress Gloria Vanderbilt), Charles Krauthammer, William Kristol, Judith Miller, and others who continue to appear on the television news programs to advance neo-con agendas in the Middle East and other regions of the world, including Venezuela, China, and Pakistan.

Ten years later, the public is still being subjected to the same sort of blatant propaganda and falsehoods about Syria. Working with information operations military and intelligence personnel that cooked up the Iraq WMD lies, these same neo-conservative gnomes and wizards now conjure up their next deadly brew of disinformation and propaganda designed to ensure a future American and NATO takeover of Syria, Yemen, Mali, Sudan, Algeria, and beyond.

Of course, the neo-con journalists can argue the point that they were just reporting what the actual war criminals, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, and other officials were claiming. The Nazis also had their propagandists and the Nuremburg War Crimes Tribunal rejected their plea that they were «just following orders».

From Detroit to Cyprus, banksters in search of prey...

Via BAR

From Nicosia, Cyprus, to Detroit, Michigan, the global financial octopus is squeezing the life out of society, stripping away public and individual assets in a vain attempt to fend off its own, inevitable collapse. The bankers “troika” that effectively rules Europe prepares to reach into the individual accounts of ordinary depositors on the island nation of Cyprus to fund the bailout of their local banking brethren. Across the Atlantic, a corporate henchman makes arrangements to seize the assets and abolish the political rights of a Black metropolis. The local colorations may vary, but the crisis is the same: massed capital is devouring its social and natural environment. Either we liquidate the banksters, or Wall Street will liquidate us.
The proposed seizure of a big chunk of every ordinary Cypriot depositors’ accounts, in the guise of a one-time “tax,” was shocking even by the standards of the Euro Zone’s overlords: the International Monetary Fund, European Central Bank and European Commission. The original diktat to finance new lines of credit for Cyprus’s over-extended banks called for snatching 6.75 percent of the cash of customers with balances below 100,000 euros ($129,500), and 9.9 percent above that threshold. When the public went berserk, it was proposed that depositors with 20,000 euros or less be spared – but Cypriot lawmakers balked. The banks are now closed, to prevent people from withdrawing their money. But Europe’s ruling triumvirate at the bankers’ lair in Brussels continues to demand that the public-at-large pay to keep the global criminal financial enterprise humming, or be starved out. “In the absence of this measure, Cyprus would have faced scenarios that would have left deposit-holders significantly worse off,” they said – disaster banksterism.

A rapscallion Black lawyer for the notorious corporate law firm Jones Day delivered the bankers’ ultimatum to Detroit. Emergency financial manager Kevyn Orr, anointed by Michigan’s Republican governor, is a bankruptcy specialist whose mission is to liquidate the assets of the 82 percent Black city, especially the revenue-producing Water and Sewerage Department. Orr’s firm’s clients – which, according to their website, include “more than half of the Fortune 500 companies” – have plenty of experience at liquidating in Detroit. Butch Hollowell, general counsel for the local NAACP, says Wells Fargo has “done more foreclosures in Detroit and the state of Michigan than any other firm,” and is Detroit’s number one property tax scofflaw. Jones Day also represents Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase and CitiGroup.
These are firms that not only got billions in TARP bailouts, but they’re also the same ones that defrauded people into signing these predatory leases which cause the crash of the housing market,” said Hollowell. “Detroit has been hit harder than anyplace in the country on that score” – hugely aggravating the city’s money problems. Financial manager Kevyn Orr’s job is to extract more booty from Detroit for the bankers’ vaults.
To facilitate the theft of the city’s property, its citizens must first be stripped of their political and civil rights, through the neutering of their elected officials. Orr looks forward to the project. “While I understand there’s a lot of concern and emotion behind the concept that I’m depriving people of certain rights,” he said, “actually it’s very consistent with both the history of this country and specifically in this state.” What he’s about to do “is democracy in action.”

This corporate concept of democracy has already devalued the franchise of the 49 percent of Michigan’s Black population that live in municipalities and school districts under the thumb of outside financial managers, a violation of both the Voting Rights Act and the one man-one vote rule embodied in the 14th Amendment, says the NAACP’s Hollowell.
Black Baptist pastors and the AFSCME and UAW unions will join the NAACP’s planned legal action against the “hostile takeover” of Detroit – which is fine, as a civil rights response. But this is a much bigger battle.
Detroit and the people of Cyprus share the same enemy, a class that is beyond the reach of simple civil rights suits. The Lords of Capital on Wall Street and the City of London and the Federal Reserve in Washington and in the “troika” at Brussels confront their own existential crisis, which compels them to liquidate the public sector so that it can eventually be transferred to their own balance sheets. There are many ways to accomplish this, through privatization of existing public institutions, or by simply blowing a hole in public services and allowing privateers to fill the void, subsidized by public funds. However, nothing can save the banksters from inevitable, and increasingly imminent, collapse. Ever-increasing profit margins must be achieved, somehow, or the system implodes. Hundreds of trillions of notional dollars in derivatives must be serviced and fed by a class that makes nothing and can only survive by chicanery and coercion by governments under their control.
 In Cyprus, they are prepared to brazenly snatch euros directly from working and retired people’s accounts to fund a bank bailout, without even bothering to construct a convoluted pathway from the victims’ accounts to their own. They have reached the point of outright confiscation, and will not stop until they have stripped society of the potential to save itself from the ruins.
We have no choice but to confiscate them – to destroy them utterly as a class.

Software used in South Korea cyberattack reportedly traced to US, Europe...

Via

Some of the malicious software used in the cyberattack that recently shut down tens of thousands of computers across South Korea originated in the United States and three European countries, the Washington Times reports, citing authorities in Seoul.

The cyberattack last week crippled six South Korean banks and media companies.

"We traced some IP (Internet protocol) addresses found on (affected) computer networks to overseas sources like the U.S. and a few European countries," an official from the Korean Communications Commission purportedly said Monday.

Many first suspected North Korea was responsible for the attack, but South Korean officials have yet to assign blame and say they have no proof yet of North Korea's involvement.

South Korea has set up a team of computer security experts from the government, military and private sector to identify the hackers and is preparing to deal with more possible attacks, presidential spokesman Yoon Chang-jung told reporters Friday. He didn't elaborate on the possibility of more attacks, but he said the prime minister later would hold a meeting to discuss ways to beef up cybersecurity at institutions overseeing infrastructure such as roads and electricity.

The cyberattack did not affect South Korea's government, military or infrastructure, and there were no initial reports that customers' bank records were compromised. But it disabled cash machines and disrupted commerce in this tech-savvy, Internet-dependent country, renewing questions about South Korea's Internet security and vulnerability to hackers.

The attack disabled some 32,000 computers at broadcasters YTN, MBC and KBS, as well as three banks. The broadcasters said their programming was never affected.

All three of the banks that were hit were back online and operating regularly Friday. It could be next week before the media companies have fully recovered.

"Forget free will; many of us could be taking orders from the parasites in our brains.Imagine a parasite that lodges in the brain and starts to exert a sinister influence over your behaviour. It affects how sexy you feel, or how angry or frightened, even how you dress. Not only does such a creature exist but it may have infected up to 40 per cent of the population"...

Via

Forget free will; many of us could be taking orders from the parasites in our brains.

Imagine a parasite that lodges in the brain and starts to exert a sinister influence over your behaviour. It affects how sexy you feel, or how angry or frightened, even how you dress. Not only does such a creature exist but it may have infected up to 40 per cent of the population.

Perhaps the most famous example of such zombie reprogramming (or neuroparasitology, to give it its proper name) comes from a parasitic wasp that attaches its eggs to the belly of an orb spider. Larvae emerge and release chemicals that zombify the spider, which stops spinning its normal spiral web and instead starts producing a cocoon to hold the baby wasps when they emerge.

Then there is a parasitic fungus called Ophiocordyceps. After being infected with its spores, the Camponotus ant, found in the Brazilian rainforest, develops an unsteady gait, wandering off its normal paths. The creature has become compelled to find a remarkably precise location: a tree about 25 cm above the usual ant trails, facing northwest. At noon, it will clamp its jaws on to a leaf in a death grip. Within six hours, it will be dead. A few days later, a tube will sprout from the ant’s head. This is the fruiting body of the fungus that emits the spores, which will infect a new generation of ants.

Worms do it, too. One species needs to get inside a sheep to reproduce, so it hijacks the brain of another type of ant, which it programs to climb to the top of a blade of grass every evening and hold on tight. It remains there through the night, waiting for a grazing sheep to eat it. If it’s still there in the morning, it climbs down to avoid being burnt by the sun. But in the evening, the alien instructions take over and it climbs up again.
Scientists are only beginning to understand how such parasites’ controlling abilities evolved but what is clearer is how they pull off some of the stages. Professor David Hughes, an entomologist at Pennsylvania State University, discovered that one of the chemicals produced by Ophiocordyceps had the power to destroy mitochondria, living creatures’ cellular “power stations.” Once the ants’ jaws lock on to the leaf, they don’t have the energy to unlock them.

Joanne Webster, professor of parasite epidemiology at Imperial College London, explains many parasites favour the brain, “because it shelters them from the full fury of the immune system.” But, she says, “it also gives them direct access to the machinery to alter the host’s behaviour.”

Those hosts include humans, raising all sorts of tricky questions about whether we are in control of our actions. For example, there is a single-celled parasite called Toxoplasma gondii, which is found in domestic cats, and is estimated to infect 350,000 people a year in Britain. Its effect on humans became the obsession of Jaroslav Flegr, professor of evolutionary biology at Charles University in Prague, who linked it with disturbed behaviours such as reckless driving and a greater risk of suicide.

Unlike the zombified ants and spiders, humans aren’t the intended target of Toxo. It can only reproduce in the intestines of cats (new spores are expelled in their faeces). So the parasite’s brain-manipulating powers are focused on getting back inside a cat and making its host behave in ways that boosts its chances of being eaten.

Rats infected with Toxo, as scientists at Imperial College discovered, like the smell of cat urine, instead of being terrified by it. Studies at Stanford University in California have revealed the neural changes that lay behind this transformation. Toxo - which comes in the form of tiny single-celled cysts - was clustered in two areas of the brain: those controlling fear and pleasure. Pathways that normally responded to the smell of cat urine with alarm had been damped down, while the pleasure hormone dopamine, normally released in response to female rodent urine, was triggered by the whiff of cat. Most recently, researchers have shown Toxo’s DNA includes two genes that boost dopamine production.

Human brains have plenty of similarities with those of rats and mice, suggesting the greater number of car crashes among those with Toxo infection could be due to it damping fear responses. But while female rats show they find infected males much sexier, the clear effect on humans is to reinforce certain sexual stereotypes. Infected men become introverted, suspicious and more likely to wear rumpled old clothes, but infected woman are just the opposite: in one study, they were usually well dressed when they arrived at the lab for interviews, and also more trusting and sociable.

Do any other microbes provoke similar changes? The leading candidate so far is one of the most common in the world, influenza. Researchers at Binghamton University in New York State, using the flu vaccine as a proxy for infection, recorded the behaviour of 36 academic staff two days before, and two days after, getting a jab.

The result was astonishing. Before the vaccination, according to the journal Annals of Epidemiology, they interacted with an average of 54 people a day; afterwards it shot to 101. Yet the amount of time they spent with each person plummeted, from 33 to 2.5 minutes.

“Subjects who normally had very limited or simple social lives,” said one researcher, “were suddenly deciding they needed to go out to bars or parties,” the perfect places for a virus to find new hosts.

This may sound terrifying, or at the least unnerving, but there is much that researchers hope to learn from such infections: for example, understanding the way they rewire emotional circuits could provide valuable insights when developing psychiatric drugs. Even zombies, it seems, may have their uses.

Monday, March 25, 2013

"The celebrity trolls who currently reign on commercial television, who bill themselves as liberal or conservative, read from the same corporate script. They spin the same court gossip. They ignore what the corporate state wants ignored. They champion what the corporate state wants championed. They do not challenge or acknowledge the structures of corporate power. Their role is to funnel viewer energy back into our dead political system—to make us believe that Democrats or Republicans are not corporate pawns"...

Via ICH

I am not sure exactly when the death of television news took place.

The descent was gradual—a slide into the tawdry, the trivial and the inane, into the charade on cable news channels such as Fox and MSNBC in which hosts hold up corporate political puppets to laud or ridicule, and treat celebrity foibles as legitimate news. But if I had to pick a date when commercial television decided amassing corporate money and providing entertainment were its central mission, when it consciously chose to become a carnival act, it would probably be Feb. 25, 2003, when MSNBC took Phil Donahue off the air because of his opposition to the calls for war in Iraq.

 
Donahue and Bill Moyers, the last honest men on national television, were the only two major TV news personalities who presented the viewpoints of those of us who challenged the rush to war in Iraq. General Electric and Microsoft—MSNBC’s founders and defense contractors that went on to make tremendous profits from the war—were not about to tolerate a dissenting voice. Donahue was fired, and at PBS Moyers was subjected to tremendous pressure. An internal MSNBC memo leaked to the press stated that Donahue was hurting the image of the network. He would be a “difficult public face for NBC in a time of war,” the memo read. Donahue never returned to the airwaves.

The celebrity trolls who currently reign on commercial television, who bill themselves as liberal or conservative, read from the same corporate script. They spin the same court gossip. They ignore what the corporate state wants ignored. They champion what the corporate state wants championed. They do not challenge or acknowledge the structures of corporate power. Their role is to funnel viewer energy back into our dead political system—to make us believe that Democrats or Republicans are not corporate pawns. The cable shows, whose hyperbolic hosts work to make us afraid self-identified liberals or self-identified conservatives, are part of a rigged political system, one in which it is impossible to vote against the interests of Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, General Electric or ExxonMobil. These corporations, in return for the fear-based propaganda, pay the lavish salaries of celebrity news people, usually in the millions of dollars. They make their shows profitable. And when there is war these news personalities assume their “patriotic” roles as cheerleaders, as Chris Matthews—who makes an estimated $5 million a year—did, along with the other MSNBC and Fox hosts.

It does not matter that these celebrities and their guests, usually retired generals or government officials, got the war terribly wrong. Just as it does not matter that Francis Fukuyama and Thomas Friedman were wrong on the wonders of unfettered corporate capitalism and globalization. What mattered then and what matters now is likability—known in television and advertising as the Q score—not honesty and truth. Television news celebrities are in the business of sales, not journalism. They peddle the ideology of the corporate state. And too many of us are buying.

The lie of omission is still a lie. It is what these news celebrities do not mention that exposes their complicity with corporate power. They do not speak about Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act, a provision that allows the government to use the military to hold U.S. citizens and strip them of due process. They do not decry the trashing of our most basic civil liberties, allowing acts such as warrantless wiretapping and executive orders for the assassination of U.S. citizens. They do not devote significant time to climate scientists to explain the crisis that is enveloping our planet. They do not confront the reckless assault of the fossil fuel industry on the ecosystem. They very rarely produce long-form documentaries or news reports on our urban and rural poor, who have been rendered invisible, or on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or on corporate corruption on Wall Street. That is not why they are paid. They are paid to stymie meaningful debate. They are paid to discredit or ignore the nation’s most astute critics of corporatism, among them Cornel West, Medea Benjamin, Ralph Nader and Noam Chomsky. They are paid to chatter mindlessly, hour after hour, filling our heads with the theater of the absurd. They play clips of their television rivals ridiculing them and ridicule their rivals in return. Television news looks as if it was lifted from Rudyard Kipling’s portrait of the Bandar-log monkeys in “The Jungle Book.” The Bandar-log, considered insane by the other animals in the jungle because of their complete self-absorption, lack of discipline and outsized vanity, chant in unison: “We are great. We are free. We are wonderful. We are the most wonderful people in all the jungle! We all say so, and so it must be true.”

When I reached him by phone recently in New York, Donahue said of the pressure the network put on him near the end, “It evolved into an absurdity.” He continued: “We were told we had to have two conservatives for every liberal on the show. I was considered a liberal. I could have Richard Perle on alone but not Dennis Kucinich. You felt the tremendous fear corporate media had for being on an unpopular side during the ramp-up for a war. And let’s not forget that General Electric’s biggest customer at the time was Donald Rumsfeld [then the secretary of defense]. Elite media features elite power. No other voices are heard.”

Donahue spent four years after leaving MSNBC making the movie documentary “Body of War” with fellow director/producer Ellen Spiro, about the paralyzed Iraq War veteran Tomas Young. The film, which Donahue funded himself, began when he accompanied Nader to visit Young in the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

“Here is this kid lying there whacked on morphine,” Donahue said. “His mother, as we are standing by the bed looking down, explained his injuries. ‘He is a T-4. The bullet came through the collarbone and exited between the shoulder blades. He is paralyzed from the nipples down.’ He was emaciated. His cheekbones were sticking out. He was as white as the sheets he was lying on. He was 24 years old. … I thought, ‘People should see this. This is awful.’ ”

Donahue noted that only a very small percentage of Americans have a close relative who fought in Iraq or Afghanistan and an even smaller number make the personal sacrifice of a Tomas Young. “Nobody sees the pain,” he said. “The war is sanitized.”
“I said, ‘Tomas, I want to make a movie that shows the pain, I want to make a movie that shows up close what war really means, but I can’t do it without your permission,’ ” Donahue remembered. “Tomas said, ‘I do too.’ ”

But once again Donahue ran into the corporate monolith: Commercial distributors proved reluctant to pick up the film. Donahue was told that the film, although it had received great critical acclaim, was too depressing and not uplifting. Distributors asked him who would go to see a film about someone in a wheelchair. Donahue managed to get openings in Chicago, Seattle, Palm Springs, New York, Washington and Boston, but the runs were painfully brief.

“I didn’t have the money to run full-page ads,” he said. “Hollywood often spends more on promotion than it does on the movie. And so we died. What happens now is that peace groups are showing it. We opened the Veterans for Peace convention in Miami. Failure is not unfamiliar to me. And yet, I am stunned at how many Americans stand mute.”

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Pentagon requests $49M to build new Gitmo prison...

Via RT

The US Southern Command (Southcom) has requested $49 million to build a new prison building at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba “for special detainees” as well as carry out other “necessary” renovations, US media reveal.


The proposed facility is an apparent replacement for Camp 7, which was constructed to hold 14 “high-value” detainees – including the self-described 9/11 attack architect Khalid Shaikh Mohammed – who had been in CIA custody, but were handed over to the military in 2006.

The proposed prison comes on top of funds previously requested to upgrade the camp’s facilities, including a new dining hall, barracks for prison guards, a hospital, a “legal meeting complex” and a “communications network facility” to store data, the New York Times reports.

Many of the facilities were in a state of disrepair as they were never intended to be used on a permanent basis, a Southcom spokesman told the Huffington Post.

“Most of the buildings and infrastructure were built for a short-term mission,” said Lt. Cmdr. Ron Flanders. “We got down there in 2002, but never in a million years would we still have this in 2013 with no end in sight.”

The additional request will balloon the overall cost to $195.7 million, significantly higher than the estimated $150-170 million that Southcom commander General John Kelly gave while providing congressional testimony on Wednesday, NYT reports.

The special detention facility was also not included among the list of proposed constructions released by Southcom on Wednesday.

All of the projects have already been approved by Kelly, though they are pending approval by the Pentagon, which is headed the new Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.

With an operational budget of $177 million for 2013, Guantanamo is the United States most expensive prison, with US taxpayers already paying more than $1 million dollars for each of the camp’s 166 detainees per annum.

The proposed upgrades come in the midst of a hunger strike among Guantanamo detainees which has now entered its 45th day.

On Wednesday, Kelly told a congressional committee that two dozen Guantanamo prisoners were on“hunger strike light” following allegations the Koran had been mishandled, claims which the general dismissed as “nonsense.” “They had great optimism that Guantanamo would be closed. They were devastated apparently … when the president backed off, at least [that's] their perception, of closing the facility,” John Kelly told the House Armed Services Committee in Washington.

The officially-acknowledged number of Gitmo detainees on hunger strike reached 26 people on Friday, with eight receiving enteral feeds, Guantanamo Bay spokesman Capt. Robert Durand told RT.

Former Guantanamo prison official Ret. Col. Morris Davis told RT that many of the hunger strikers had become disillusioned with Obama’s promise of hope and change.

“But here you have a majority of the men at Guantanamo — 86 of the 106 who have been cleared for transfer — who have been in confinement now for more than a decade in some cases. So to them, with the hunger strike, they’re kind of out of sight out of mind and the only way to potentially call attention to it is to do something drastic like a hunger strike. So the numbers – DoD has said the numbers have gone from seven to 14 to 21, to I believe 25 is the last official number. But if you talk to some of the attorneys that have been down there, they say that’s a low-ball figure, that it’s probably three or four times that.” President Barack Obama’s first act as president was to sign an executive order to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

“I have said repeatedly that I intend to close Guantanamo, and I will follow through on that,” Obama told CBS’ Steve Kroft in November 2008

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