Friday, November 29, 2013

Supply and Iran: Two Reasons Oil Prices Will Rise

Why the Iranian Nuclear Deal Could Lead to an Increase in Oil Prices

by Dan Dicker - Oil

[Inside Investor has two pieces for readers this week - Dan Dicker gives his take on why the markets don't like the Iran deal and Nick Cunningham takes a look at why oil prices are bottoming out.]
Why is Brent crude rallying in the face of a new Iran nuclear deal? Two words might explain it: Saudi Arabia.

No one was more upset, save for the Israelis, by the recent agreement between the Iranians and the US than Saudi Arabia, the Iranians natural enemy in the Middle East. By the number of visits that Secretary of State John Kerry made to the Kingdom and the appearance of Saudi sovereign investor Prince AlWaleed here in the US, it was clear that the message that the Saudis were sending to the US government went unheeded: the US inked a 6-month agreement relieving much of the financial pressures built up by sanctions over the last 3 years.

Don’t be fooled by the public statements of approval delivered by the Saudis – they’re mad – hopping mad.

And what do the Saudis have as leverage to make the point of their dismay at this new agreement with a President who decided not to listen to the only two remaining allies in the Middle East? Only oil.

The Saudis have tried to deliver stability into the oil market through the many geopolitical issues that emerged in the last 6 years, filling the gaps in production caused by the Iraq shutdowns, Libyan revolution, Iranian threats of closing the Straits of Hormuz and the Egyptian Arab Spring. With total production of over 10 million barrels a day today, they control all the swing barrels of production and have literally the world price of oil in the palm of their hands. They don’t need to produce 10 million barrels and a 2 million drop in production would cause a likely 20% increase in oil prices, with a concurrent increase in gas prices as well.

Will the Saudis look to punish this US President going into midterm elections next year with a monster rise in gas prices, tethered to the price of Brent crude? Well, the Brent price of crude after the Iranian deal first dropped $2 a barrel but came storming back, now up more than $4 from the lows and trading above $111 a barrel.

Wait, what? The prospect of Iranian barrels coming on market should have brought prices DOWN, but someone believes that even the most likely release of even another 1.2m barrels a day from a revitalized Iranian oil industry over the next several months is likely to be swamped out by a removal of barrels coming from SOMEWHERE.

That somewhere might include Libya, it might include Iraq. But it most likely represents an angry Saudi Arabia, looking to use what muscle it has left to influence US foreign policy and help scuttle this 6-month Iranian trial balloon.

Was a message passed from the Saudis to the Americans that every barrel of Iranian crude likely to hit the market would be answered by a sequestering of 2 or 3 barrels of Saudi oil?

That’s the story the market is telling me right now.

Dan Dicker

As a I mentioned above we have another report prepared by one of our analysts that mirrors Dan's forecast for an increase in oil prices. I believe you will find the below analysis of great interest:

Oil Supply Outages Leave Spare Capacity Tightest Since 2008

by Nick Cunningham - Oil

There has been quite a sell-off in oil in the last few months. First, the deal between Iran and the West made front-page headlines and sparked speculation of an imminent drop in oil prices. Brent prices dropped 2.7% immediately after news of the deal broke, both on reduced geopolitical risk as well as hopes of more Iranian crude reaching global markets.

Second, U.S. oil production continues to climb. WTI prices dropped $1.31 in early trading on November 27, on news that U.S. crude inventories unexpectedly jumped by 6.5 million barrels the previous week. Hovering around $92, WTI reached a six-month low. Latest monthly data from the EIA shows that U.S. oil production reached 7.5 million bpd in August, a 37% increased from just two years earlier, and the highest rate of production since the early 1990’s. Drillers expect those numbers to continue upwards. Pundits and politicians alike are hailing this new era of energy abundance.

Bear market ahead? Don’t count on it.

Bet on oil prices rising again in the coming months for one main reason: global spare capacity is at its lowest level in five years.

Multiple oil supply disruptions around the world have combined to bring global spare capacity to its narrowest point since the fourth quarter of 2008. In particular, conflict in Libya has cut off over 1 million barrels per day (bpd) since July 2013. Other significant outages come from Iran, Iraq, and Nigeria. The drop in production contributed to the $9 per barrel increase in Brent prices in August. In total, there is currently 3 million bpd of production not reaching global markets, the highest since at least January 2011.

Saudi Arabia is the only true player in terms of spare capacity, as just about all other countries produce flat out. With Libyan production down over the summer, Saudi Arabia ratcheted up production to levels not seen in decades, reaching an eye-popping 10 million bpd. Although Saudi data is sketchy, spare capacity is currently less than half of what it was in 2010-2011, when the world experienced price spikes from the Arab Spring. It dropped to a mere 1.6 million bpd in August, and although it has recovered a bit as summer demand in Saudi Arabia dissipated, spare capacity is lower than at any time since the financial crisis.

With slack at multi-year lows, the ability of the Saudi Princes to come to the rescue in the event of another outage is questionable at best. Remember summer of ’08? The last time spare capacity was this low, prices reached record levels.

It’s unlikely that the pressure will quickly dissolve – supply side negatives abound. Last week’s Inside Investor hit on some of these issues, and I just want to add a few.

Kurdistan is ramping up production, but violence and the lack of infrastructure will prevent Iraq from reaching its full potential. Conflict in Libya is showing no sign of abating. Ditto for Nigeria. The U.S.-Iran thaw could be temporary – both sides are far apart on key issues over Iran’s nuclear program, making it unlikely that Iranian oil ramps up anytime soon. U.S. shale is surging, but the growth rates can’t keep going. Rig counts are down, and with high initial decline rates, drillers have to continuously poke new holes in the ground just to keep production flat.

What does this all mean? It means that another unforeseen outage could send prices skyward. Less dramatic, though equally important, is long-term fundamentals. Chinese demand continues its inexorable ascent. Other than U.S. shale, oil majors are struggling to find big new supplies. And if the world economy recovers in any meaningful way, look out.

In other words, the chances of further oil price declines are slight, while the upside risk is significant. And this comes when spare capacity is already at its lowest point we’ve seen in years.

Don’t buy into the notion that U.S. shale will save the world. Don’t buy into the hype around the Iran deal. And don’t buy into the absurd hypothesis (looking at you IEA) that Iraq can double its production in the coming years.

Oil prices are bottoming out. Bet on it.

Nick Cunningham

Modern Portraits of Courage: Marie Mason

The Ecoterrorist and Me

by David Rovics - Songwriter's Notebook

“Pinocchio asked Jiminy Cricket, 'how do you become fully human?' Jiminy Cricket said, 'you develop a conscience, and then follow it.'”

That's probably not exactly how the dialog went. That of course is from the story of Pinocchio, and I could look it up. The rest I can't.

Sitting on plastic chairs, around a plastic table, inside a room with thick cement walls and massive, steel doors, was Marie Mason, Peter Werbe, and me. On top of the table was a little bag of peanuts and a bag of very mediocre trail mix. These are the only vegan options available from the vending machines in the room Peter and I were taken to before we were escorted into the visitation room in Marie's cell block. Nearby sat a sleepy-looking prison guard.

Peter and I were spending the weekend in prison. Marie is in her fifth year of a 22-year sentence at the Carswell federal women's prison in Fort Worth, Texas. She is being held in a highly repressive, so-called Administration Unit of the facility. She's not allowed to give interviews, or write anything for publication anywhere. The few people approved to visit her, somewhat bizarrely, include me and Peter, one of the most notorious anarchists of Detroit, sitting at the table with us.

Peter is a journalist – host of a popular Detroit radio talk show, and a long time staff member of the almost half-century old Fifth Estate magazine. I have also dabbled in that profession to some small extent. But no one visiting this prison is allowed to bring a notepad, a writing utensil, a recording device, or anything else other than car keys and a few dollars, which you can spend on the vending machines in the general visitation area. So anything I write here that attempts to represent Marie's words are my efforts to remember our conversations of several days ago.

Peter and I are both old friends of Marie's. Our visit includes fond reminiscences shared by these two Michiganders of the Detroit newspaper strike way back when, and of the many concerts of mine that Marie, a talented musician herself, organized over the decades. Such as the one she organized at the Trumbullplex alt-space back in the 90's, when I first met her, Peter, David Watson and other members of the Detroit anarchist community.

Peter is a member of Marie's support committee, and he's been working with other good people on a campaign to get her moved from this prison-within-a-prison back into a somewhat less draconian “general population,” preferably closer to where most of her friends and relatives reside.

“Why do you think they moved you here?”

It was a question we all already knew the answer to, but Peter was searching for ways to explain this to the general public for the purposes of the next Move Marie campaign brochure.

“They're scared of me.”

Marie is a humble person, not one to brag, but what she says is clearly a statement of the obvious. There is no other explanation. She was and is a model prisoner, in terms of her work ethic, respect for the guards and other prison authorities, kindness towards fellow inmates, etc. Back in Waseca, the Minnesota prison she was in before being transferred to this gulag in Ft. Worth, she was able to give classes in music and was able to interact with a broad range of other people within the prison. But this seemed to be exactly what troubled the BOP.

That, and the fact that as time went on, her infamy was growing. It's one thing to get several years in prison for politically-motivated destruction of property – that's bad enough. But to get the post-PATRIOT Act “terrorism enhancement” and a sentence of over two decades when you're a 52-year-old loving mother of two who has never hurt a fly, let alone a human, well, word gets around, apparently.

I continued the discussion, trying hard as I could to remember every word of her response, knowing I'd fail to do so. I was thinking of some of the Plowshares activists I had met recently in Australia, who had taken sledgehammers onto a military base in Queensland and badly damaged an American helicopter gunship – one of so many gunships. I mentioned an encounter I had with a Dutch hippie on a foot path in rural France who had heard the song I wrote about this Plowshares action, that I sang the night before.

“You know,” he said, “ten million people with sledgehammers could change everything.”

“Yes,” was Marie's emphatic,one-word response to that little anecdote.

I followed up. “Do you see the actions you engaged in as symbolic actions?”

“No, they were exemplary.” She explained further. “The organization that I was part of believed that sometimes the best way to illuminate a dark space is to light a match.”

In the name of the Earth Liberation Front and the Animal Liberation Front – the organization(s) in question – Marie had carried out many operations, which arguably inspired many other similar acts around the country and the world. She pleaded guilty to over a dozen of them.

Million-dollar mansions under construction were burned to the ground, logging equipment was destroyed, and Monsanto's efforts to enslave the world were set back to some extent when a research facility at Michigan State University went up in flames on one New Year's Eve some 13 years ago.

As with the Plowshares actions around the world, no human or animal has ever been harmed in any ELF or ALF action.

Peter told Marie about a news item he had recently run across. “This guy burned down an apartment building in Detroit, hoping to collect on the insurance, and four firefighters were badly injured trying to put out the fire. Because of this, the judge gave the guy a 15-year sentence. But that was overturned later and drastically reduced, because it was found to be too harsh a sentence.”

Peter recounted this story because he was thinking of the contrast between it and Marie's case, which didn't involve anyone being hurt at any point. But Marie's immediate reaction was one of genuine human empathy for the injured firefighters.

“I would have been horrified if anything like that had happened.”

She continued. “People ask me why I didn't try to change things through legal means. I did! I organized campaigns, I went door to door with petitions, I organized educational events, concerts, all sorts of things.”

Of course, most people who knew Marie could easily vouch for the truth of these statements – this is the sort of thing she was most known for, except among a select few members of her ELF and ALF colleagues, who knew that she was also involved with other sorts of campaigns.

“But we felt like more had to be done.” She went on. “What we did at MSU, we did for the forty thousand farmers who committed suicide in India. Have you read Naomi Klein's book about Disaster Capitalism? That's exactly what's happening with Monsanto. Monsanto is trying to take advantage of the economic crisis around the world by forcing farmers to buy their Terminator seeds, and thus enslave the farmers of the world in the process. Dr. Vandana Shiva has written about this eloquently. We wanted to highlight this situation, to show that more could be done.” (She said it all so much better than that, though – at greater length, with bigger words, and more poetry. But that was the idea, anyway.)
“I just regret that we didn't get those research papers from the filing cabinets at MSU out to the public. If we had gotten them out there, then everybody would understand why we did what we did. These papers really demonstrated how nefarious Monsanto's research on genetically modified seeds was. Frank thought we shouldn't do anything with the papers because it could make it easier for them to track us.”

She referred to Frank Ambrose, her ex-husband, and someone Peter and I both knew, who, faced with spending most of his life in prison, decided to cooperate with the authorities in return for a lighter sentence, and implicate his ex-wife, and others, in the crimes of conscience they committed together. Frank's cooperation with the authorities is ongoing.

“Do you have any other regrets?”, I asked.
She thought for a few seconds. “Once, I came across some foxes in a cage in the forest. I was so close to them. We were looking at each other. I tried to get them out, but I couldn't. I didn't have the right tools. There was nothing I could do. I had to leave them there.”

The painful emotions this memory brought up were obvious on her face. Marie is a vegan for reasons of conscience, and she loves living things. It's been years since she has so much as touched a blade of grass. She's held in a cell block of twenty women, about half of whom are have severe emotional problems and are there because of disciplinary, violence, or escape issues. Several, such as Marie, are clearly political prisoners – Afffia Saddiqui, a Pakistani scientist accused of shooting at American soldiers who had detained her in Afghanistan; Ana Belen Montes, who spied for Cuba for a quarter of a century from within the ranks of the Department of Defense; a well-known Plowshares activist who robbed a bank and publicly burned the money. (Marie is not allowed to talk about the women she shares the block with, but their names are on the prison's Wikipedia page, among other places.) Because the Carswell Admin Unit conditions exacerbate the problems so many of her block-mates have, they all spend much of their time on lockdown, basically in solitary.

One hour each day, she is let “outside” -- basically a small concrete area surrounded by 20' fences topped with triple-coiled razor wire, with the blazing Texas sun shining down from above. This is the closest she can come to communing with the natural world she has spent most of her adult life trying to save, in so many ways. Judging from the anecdotes she shares, that mostly involves insects now. She demonstrates a vast knowledge of the insect world, and an almost comical affection for these creatures. She tells Peter and I all about the differences between wasps, hornets, and different varieties of bees, and how you can tell they're being affected by the pesticides the BOP sprays on the grass all the time. I'm reminded of stories of the Bird Man of Alcatraz, but it would be very unlikely for such a story to be repeated there at FMC Carswell, because the windows in their cells are made of thick plastic, no bars, no contact with the outside.

A question occurs to me that I never thought to ask Marie before. Her mother is German.

“Do you think your German heritage had any impact on your activism?”

“Yes,” she said immediately. Peter seemed a bit surprised.
“My grandfather was an architect. During the war he took a lot of risks to help people. Near the end of the war, when the Allies were advancing, the Nazis wanted my grandfather to blow up certain bridges, and fix other bridges, depending on who controlled different areas or looked like they were about to control different areas. So he blew up the ones he was supposed to fix, and didn't blow up the ones he was supposed to blow up. He always said that when faced with a situation where those in power are doing terrible things, you can't just stand idly by. You have to do something, even if there aren't enough other people doing something, too.”

The conversation moves from one subject to another, and eventually returns to how we might phrase things on the Move Marie campaign brochure.

“As the brochure says,” she explains, “it's bad in here. But it could be worse. There are worse prisons in the US. Conditions could be worse. I don't want the emphasis to be just on me – no one should be held in these conditions.”

There are differences of opinion among members of the committee about what to emphasize. Some think the emphasis should be on the fact that Marie is a loving mother.

“Of course, I love my kids so much. And I'm so grateful that I didn't get arrested until after they were more or less grown up. And I'm so grateful for all the support I have, which most of my fellow prisoners do not have. But I'm not just a loving mother who ended up in here by accident. I'm a revolutionary anarchist. I'm in here for following my conscience.”

It's time to take Peter to the airport. It's Sunday – his weekly radio show is that evening. We all hug good-bye. I'm sure I'll be back within a few months – I'm one of the few friends of Marie's who is able to make it to Texas on a somewhat regular basis, since I can line up gigs there and pay for the travel expenses that way. This was Peter's first visit to Marie there, and his first visit to Texas, period. She recounts a long list of mutual friends Peter should say hello to on her behalf.

“Have a good trip to Austin,” she says to me. “Wish I could come to your gig.”

Proof of Mortgage Fraud Committed by Every Major Bank in America

Documents in JPMorgan settlement reveal how every large bank in U.S. has committed mortgage fraud


Bill Black: Justice Dept.'s failure to understand pervasive schemes of fraud in financial industry obstructs meaningful prosecution of banks.

William K. Black, author of THE BEST WAY TO ROB A BANK IS TO OWN ONE, teaches economics and law at the University of Missouri Kansas City (UMKC). He was the Executive Director of the Institute for Fraud Prevention from 2005-2007. He has taught previously at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin and at Santa Clara University, where he was also the distinguished scholar in residence for insurance law and a visiting scholar at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. Black was litigation director of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, deputy director of the FSLIC, SVP and general counsel of the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco, and senior deputy chief counsel, Office of Thrift Supervision. He was deputy director of the National Commission on Financial Institution Reform, Recovery and Enforcement. Black developed the concept of "control fraud" frauds in which the CEO or head of state uses the entity as a "weapon." Control frauds cause greater financial losses than all other forms of property crime combined. He recently helped the World Bank develop anti-corruption initiatives and served as an expert for OFHEO in its enforcement action against Fannie Mae's former senior management.  

An American Proletarian Poetry: Women, Work, and War

Women, War, and the Working Class

by Douglas Valentine - CounterPunch

In the previous installment in the Political Poetry series, Afaa Weaver described his urge, as an African American poet, “to touch the proletarian vernacular at its deepest point.”

A few days after the feature on Weaver appeared in Counterpunch, I received an email from a poet friend in Russia. The Russian exclaimed in mock disbelief: “A proletarian poet in America! Isn’t that special?”

Sarcasm aside, isn’t that sad? Sad, because Americans have a noble history of progressive thought. Consider Melville’s seamen entranced by eloquent tyranny; Huck Finn’s inner dialogue as he debates whether or not to help Jim escape slavery; Jack London’s hobos and union organizers fighting mounted cops, “the right arm of the corporate power of our great cities;” and Steinbeck’s immigrants and outcasts struggling through the detritus of the American Dream.

America’s proletarian literary movement flowered in the first half of the 20th century, when Langston Hughes wrote “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” and Meridel Le Sueur wrote “Women on the Breadlines.” Unlike Robert Frost, the proletarian poets were not idealizing rural life or the insights of uneducated rustics. They were well read, aware, dangerous, and calling for radical change.

After World War II, spurred by Cold War hysteria, the FBI built dossiers on writers advocating for the working class. Howard Fast, Arthur Miller and many others were dragged before Congress in an attempt to stigmatize Leftists as un-American and agents of the Soviet Union. The forces of reaction succeeded; blacklists were circulated, and the working class’s right to free speech was curtailed. Progressive poets remained as prolific and as relevant as ever, especially in the Civil Rights and anti-War movements, but their poems faded from the mainstream.

Since the 1970s, the gap between rich and poor has steadily increased. It’s now at feudal proportions. And it’s tougher than ever to buck the neoliberal poetry establishment, which marginalizes any poet who challenges the assumption that private enterprise equals free expression.

PEN, for example, champions Chinese writer Liu Xiaobo, who praised America’s destruction of Iraq as one of the “best examples of how war should be conducted in a modern civilization.” Liu Xiaobo has made nasty remarks about Palestinians in particular, and Muslims in general, and yet he still won a Nobel Prize, simply because he is anti-Communist.

Poets know the unwritten rules. Joe Brodsky was a great poet, but the people who crowned him America’s poet laureate were aware he was a Russian dissident. Politics matter, and poets know that the tyranny of unfettered capitalism is as determinant a factor in cultural matters as any totalitarian dictatorship. The alchemy of mainstream poetry is its ability to transform the abusive behaviors of capitalism into high ideals. This is why poets are sold as solitary figures, detached from the world, drenched in alienation: the image fits so neatly with the “bootstrap” version of the American Dream, in which deserving individuals pull themselves out of poverty to become captains of industry, busting unions and keeping wages low by sending jobs overseas – that uniquely American Dream, like universal healthcare or a publicly funded college education, that is always out of reach of the working class.

Thankfully, progressive poets are plentiful, waiting to be read, ready to dispel the myths and false assumptions of modern America. Julia Stein is one of them.

A resident of Los Angeles, born in Pittsburgh, Stein is a teacher, novelist, editor and critic, as well as a poet with five volumes of poetry under her belt. Her work is well known and valued by the international progressive community. Phil Metres describes her latest work, What Were They Like? as “an act of global citizenship” that “tracks the poet’s witness to the depredations of the War on Terror” and offers “humane portraits of the victims of the 9/11 era.”

In her poem, “Shout Three Times,” Stein tells the story of Malalai Joya, the leading feminist in Afghanistan. At the age of 16, Malalai had already been a refugee in two neighboring nations, dodged American bombs, warlords, and Taliban mobs, written her own epitaph and learned the bounds of her inner strength:

She says if she should die remember

she was once a refugee child in a filthy tent city in Iran.

After a landmine took her father’s leg in her first Afghan war

her family fled to the schools in Pakistan

where she inhaled books, inhaled Persian poetry, inhaled Brecht,

exhaled lessons teaching women in the camps.

The best days of her life started at sixteen:

she hid her few books under her burka in her second war.

Back home in Afghanistan she breathed out lessons

for girls in a underground school hiding from the Taliban.

In her third war the American bombs decorated the land,

the Taliban fled the village,

the warlords rode in to the capitol on trucks.

In her fourth war she stood up to denounce

the warlords at the Loya Jirga.

They howled, shrieked, threw bottles at her.

A mob surrounded her house to rape and lynch her, but

she had already fled underground.

Her dreams blossomed into school for girls

in blue uniforms and white scarves.

Throughout her 40-year writing career, Stein has often focused on working class women’s issues. In 1995 she produced an anti-sweatshop literary reading at Midnight Special Bookstore for the Common Threads, a women’s group formed to educate people about the need to support organizing among garment workers. Guess sued the group for slander, but Stein and Common Threads waged a 6-month battle against the corporation, and eventually won their case.

Stein’s feminist poetry is realistic. In her first and second books of poetry, Under the Ladder to Heaven and Desert Soldiers, her poems celebrate the great wave of working women who, for the first time in U.S. history, organized big, lasting unions. Stein features the 1909 shirtwaist strike (called the Uprising of 20,000) in 1909-1910, the Bread and Roses strike in 1912, and the huge Chicago garment workers strike led by women 1910-1911. She tells how women joined together to pass legislation forcing factory owners to install sprinklers and fire escapes in their workplaces after the infamous Triangle fire in 1911. Her poetry mourns the women who lost their lives in the process at the Triangle fire, and emphasizes the importance of keeping their memory, sacrifice, and achievements alive.

Stein’s poetry is also strongly influenced by her Jewish heritage. In the four part poem “Knotted String,” she tells of the sacrifices made by her immigrant Jewish grandmother Molly Plotkin, who supported eight people by working in a sweatshop sewing garments for rich women and who was the first in her factory to sign up for a union. Stein describes in “Magic Shawl” how her grandmother suffered the rich women who “swooped like eagles” and tore at her self-esteem with “long talons.” She tells how deeply her grandmother’s experience affected her:

My grandmother taught me to always meekly take in

other peoples’ castoffs and their insults, how to

mend by hand, sew on buttons, collect scraps of cloth.

I used to thread her needle when I was a child,

After her death, I kept all her buttons: pearl buttons,

gold buttons with mirrors on them, brown leather buttons

From her I grew to love buttons and scraps of materials.

Later at garage sales I’d buy torn quilts I’d take home

to mend knowing my grandmother would approve.

Stein’s mother and grandmother accepted the rich women’s “cruelty and castoffs” but also joined the union and worked to recreate themselves as modern 20th century women. Stein, although taught to “meekly take in other peoples’ castoffs and insults,” chooses not to be submissive. Overcoming old habits and social structures is a constant struggle, however, one that requires an appreciation of the past, as well as a vision of the future. Consider her poem “1996” from her book Shulamith:

This is the year women started walking again.

In Los Angeles we are walking outside the big whale

of a shopping center, carrying picket signs to get garment workers

a union in our city, our city with its Thai slaves sewing clothes.

We are the daughters of Fannie Sellins who was

gunned down in a mill yard, whose hat was stolen from

her dead body by a deputy who laughed at her corpse,

and whose death set off the great steel strike of 1919.

We are the daughters of my aunt Sara Plotkin who walked across

Pennsylvania in 1932, organizing in coal fields from Pittsburgh to

Wheeling, West Virginia, sneaking in and out of company towns,

evading spies by carrying a potato sack, and who lived to tell her tale.

They whispered to us their secrets, handed them down,

mother to daughter. We have their courage as our inheritance.

Just as our mothers walked across the coal fields

we have begun to walk across this land.

I recently had the honor of speaking with Julia Stein and asking her about her poetry, modern day feminism, and class struggles in America.

DV In 1973 you organized a reading of 2000 years of women’s poetry at the Los Angeles Women’s Building in English, Japanese, Chinese, French, German, and Spanish. Forty years has come and gone. How has the feminist movement, and feminist poetry evolved?

JS In the 1970s, numerous anthologies of contemporary largely white, middle class women’s poetry were published in the U.S. Historical anthologies were also published. For example, in 1972 California State University professor and poet Ann Stanford edited the first volume of 1000 years of women poets in English. But women of color and working class women poets were largely lacking. It wasn’t until 1980 that first group of women of color and then working class women in the U.S. started getting their poetry published. The anthology This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color (edited by Chicanas Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua) was a breakthrough in 1981. After that, many individual women of color established national careers.

As for working class women, anthologist Janet Zandy has published two powerful breakthrough anthologies of working class women’s writing: Calling Home: Working Class Women Writings(1990) and What We Have in Common: Exploring Women’s Lives and Working Class Studies (1995). These volumes feature both historical and contemporary women authors. Many working class women poets continue to publish books while some find the first book difficult to get out.

DV Much of the modern feminist movement has been “of, by, and for” middle class white women, who not only want freedom of choice and equal wages, but wish to become CEOs with million-dollar salaries. You’re a feminist, but your poetry is about the working class. Would you care to talk about the class tensions in the feminist movement and the role of poetry in raising awareness within the movement?

JS Deep class divisions among feminists in the U.S., both in politics and literature, began in the 1970s and have continued to this day. Most middle class feminists have concentrated on breaking into the professions and breaking through glass ceilings in corporate hierarches. Small groups of middle class women, like those in the anti-sweatshop group Common Threads, have been short-lived exceptions to the rule.

As for poetry, working class women, many of whom were women of color, self-organized to help raise awareness about our ill-paid and often abusive working conditions. Judy Grahn was perhaps the first on the West Coast, publishing her “common women” poems in the 1970s. A dynamite group of working class women poets emerged in San Francisco in the 1980s and 1990s: Carol Tarlen wrote about her clerical work and about her work with the homeless; Karen Brodine about typesetting; Nelly Wong about waitressing and clerical work; and Sara Menefee about the homeless. In Los Angeles I wrote about work as an adjunct professor, Joan Jobe Smith wrote of the sexual politics as a go-go dancer, and Wanda Coleman wrote brilliantly about the racial, sexual, and political aspects of her jobs. In the West Coast group, Tarlen, Coleman, and Joan Jobe Smith edited magazines while I was a literary critic and arts journalist.

A second strand of working class women’s poet literature has revisited the 1911 Triangle fire: Chris Llewellyn and Mary Fell won national awards for their brilliant books of poetry about this disaster, which cost 146 garment worker lives in 1911. So many women have written about the Triangle fire, that Janet Zandy was inspired to write a pioneering piece of literary criticism about it. I also edited a small book Walking Through the River of Fire: 100 Years of Triangle Fire Poetry (C.C. Marimbo, 2011.).

A few women literary critics have worked to retrieve the wealth of radical women’s poetry: Charlotte Nekola and Paula Rabinowitz edited the 1987 Writing Red: An Anthology of Women Writers 1930-1940. Charlotte Nekola says in her anthology that 1930s radical poetry encouraged women to write “on a large and searching scale, with the kind of ‘scope’ that Whitman assumed.” Also Zandy’s anthology Calling Home I mentioned earlier included historical poetry by working class women.

DV You’ve taught creative writing to teenage girls in the Los Angeles County delinquency system at Camp Scott. Generally speaking, how has the political awareness of young women changed since the 1970s? What do young women think about feminism, and do they have an appreciation for the women who paved the way?

JS I have taught young women in junior college for the last 24 years, and their consciousness varies. Many young women do strongly connect with Zora Neal Hurston, Gwendolyn Brooks, Maya Angelou, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Carolyn Kizer and Adrienne Rich. Although many young women are not as dogmatic as 1970s feminists in matters of fashion, some argue that now young women’s voices are still ignored much more than young men’s. Many young women are dealing with new issues such as arguing for gay marriage, and some are concerned with transgender issues. Many young women I have taught are very anti-abortion.

DV Walt Whitman has been a big influence on you. Why? Who are the women writers that influenced you most?

JS David Reynolds’ 1988 book of criticism Beneath the American Renaissance was a huge influence. Reynolds argues that since the 1820s, rowdy radical working class voices in penny novels, pamphlets, and newspapers helped create an audience for Whitman, and before him Melville. He argues that these popular working class publications laid the groundwork for much of U.S. egalitarian literature. Second, I loved reading 1930s women poets influenced by Whitman such as Genevieve Taggard, Tillie Olsen, and Muriel Rukeyser. These three women wrote what was called Big Poems. Third, reading Whitman closely I learned how his nursing the war wounded in the Civil War gave rise to some of his greatest Civil War poems. The anti-war poetry in my last book, What Were They Like?, was modeled after Whitman’s Civil War poems in “Drum Taps.” Towards the end of Whitman’s “When Lilacs in the Dooryard Bloomed” the poet speaks about the compassion that informs his poetry:

I saw battle-corpses, myriad of them,

And the white skeletons of young men, I saw them,

I saw debris and debris of all the slain soldiers of the war,

But I saw they were not as was thought,

They themselves were fully at rest, they suffer’d not,

The living remain’d and suffer’d

Whitman’s words apply just as well today to the “debris” of America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They also apply to the U.S, right now, where the dead do not suffer, but the living – the wounded soldiers, the broken families, the refugees including many artists still in exile – still suffer.

As for women poets who influenced me, I really like 16th century French poet Louis Labe, who wrote a book-length series of love sonnets like Shakespeare’s. I liked Labe’s woman voice in love sonnets. Early on I read Judy Grahn’s “common women” poems which were portraits of working class women. I was influenced by Muriel Rukeyser’s 1930s book-length poem Book of the Dead about workers getting silicosis. Also two great poets who combined mysticism and political radicalism showed me I could do the same: Denise Levertov and the Yiddish poet Kadia Molodowsky. I loved Holocaust survivor Irena Klepfisz ‘s Yiddish-English poetry about the Holocaust.

DV The wonderful African-American poet Wanda Coleman passed away a few days ago. Would you care to say a few words about Wanda, her contribution to African American poetry, women’s poetry, and the evolution of the poetry of African American women?

JS Wanda Coleman’s brilliant work put Los Angeles on the national literary map – not the fantasy Los Angeles of so many writers who visit a few years to work in Hollywood – but the real racially divided city that exploded in the Watts rebellion in 1965; the Chicano “blow outs” where Chicano students in 1969-1970 walked out of the segregated, horrible schools; and the 1992 Justice Rebellion. Her poetry was the first I ever heard that gave voice that radical, angry underclass Los Angeles. Wanda reminds me of James Baldwin in poetry because both grew up in urban very poor urban neighborhoods – Watts for Wanda and Harlem for Baldwin. Both lived through huge race riots which they wrote brilliantly about, and both chose to love rather than hate. And both wrote wonderfully about jazz.

Wanda wrote a great poem “The Riot Inside Me” about the black teenager Latasha Harlins, murdered by Korean liquor store-owner Soon Ja a year before the 1992 Justice Rebellion in Los Angeles. She also wrote an eerie, wonderful poem “Soon Ja.” Wanda could be tough and tender in the same poem. She wrote great poetry about men in her book Bathwater Wine: she wrote heart-breaking poetry mourning her loss of her son and her father; she wrote with great honesty about sex with men; and she wrote a great homage to male beat poets who influenced her. I miss Wanda a lot.

DV “Flowers for Central America” was a six-hour radio show you organized on KPFK radio featuring multi-cultural poets and Central American music. You’ve done anti-war readings all over Los Angeles, and many were held specifically to benefit Central American refugees in LA. Please provide us with an excerpt from one of your poems about America’s wars in Central America. Who are the Central American poets you admire in LA?

JS I was lucky to hear El Salvadoran poet Claribel Alegria in Los Angeles and write a review of her work. I also love Nicaraguan poet Ernesto Cardenal, El Salvadoran poet Roque Dalton, and Guatemalan poet Otto Renee Castillo. I really like Hector Tabor’s wonderful first novel Tattooed Soldiers about Guatemalan refugees in Los Angeles. As for my Central American poetry here is the first half of a poem “When the Tourists Came” from my book Desert Soldiers:

the soldiers in the village had vanished, hidden

their eighteen trucks, two tanks, and the four corpses of the

men they had murdered. The tourists ooohed and aaahed:

The hotel overlooked the ice-blue Lake Atitlan. The volcanos overhead

even seemed to smolder. Guatemala, just like in the posters.

How convenient, a bus to take them shopping at the nearby village

Santiago Atitlan. They boarded the bus at 10 am sharp,

“Why it’s even air conditioned.” They sped past the poor barrio

where all the girls had been raped by the soldiers, past the

church where two hundred people hid out, …..

DV You helped found Los Angeles local of the National Writers Union (N.W.U.) in 1984. You were a union delegate to its national conventions, and worked on the L.A. steering committee. How important to writers are the unions and guilds that serve them? Why don’t American poets more often feature this important political aspect of their intellectual world?

JS Because 95% of poets don’t see themselves making any money from their poetry, they don’t see the National Writers Union (N.W.U.) as relevant. The N.W.U. helps writers by teaching them to write demand letters to get paid and also teaches about contracts. Most poets, however, don’t know anything about the contracts they sign, and could learn about contracts from the N.W.U. as I did. Many poets make some money from performing at colleges, so a basic knowledge of contracts would help make sure the poet always gets paid.

DV Perhaps you would like to talk about Carol Tarlen and David Tarlen’s magazine on working class literature in the 1980s called “Working Classics.”

JS Carol Tarlen and David Joseph were San Francisco poets. They were married, and together they wrote poetry, edited magazines, and served as delegates to the S.F. Labor Council. They were activists for the homeless in the early 1990s, when Tarlen was actually arrested for feeding the homeless. David Joseph edited a magazine called Working Classics during the 1980s, one of the pioneering magazines of working class literature in the country, while Tarlen edited Real Fiction. Tarlen and Joseph, both Anglo-American working class intellectuals, taught me that their intellectual lineage went back to the Levelers and Diggers in 1650s England, workers who published arguing for democracy.

Carol Tarlen, who was widely published in magazines and anthologies, died in 2004, and after her death, David and I co-edited her first volume of poetry to be published, Every Day Is an Act of Resistance: Selected Poems by Carol Tarlen (Mongrel Empire Press, 2012). In November, 2013, the San Francisco Public Library announced that the Carol Tarlen and David Joseph papers, including the magazines they edited, are now in the libraries S.F. History Center, and more information can be found at

DV In the previous installment of the Political Poetry series, Afaa Weaver described his urge, as an African American poet, “to touch the proletarian vernacular at its deepest point.” Where do you feel that point is in your work?

JS In California in the 1970s I worked in East Los Angeles high schools and knew that Chicano poets developed the concept of a “pocho” language, a language that combined Spanish and English, and that they have written poetry in this “pocho” language nationally for over three decades. Others have called this poetry Chicano English, a non-standard dialect of American English. Inspired by Chicano poets, I wrote some of my first book Under the Ladder to Heaven in Yiddish English, which is what my grandmother spoke to me. I did translations from Yiddish to English. One poem is titled “Unzere vunderbare farbrente meydlekh” (Our wonderful, fiery girls) which was what the 20,000 shirtwaist strikers were called.

DV Last question. In your poem “The Furies” you talk about Lynndie England. England was a working class woman, not an officer or policy maker like Bush or Cheney, and yet she became the face of American abuses and war crimes in Iraq. Would you care to comment about the changing role of mostly working class women in the military, and what can be done to raise their awareness about war-making as one of the capitalist class’s greatest money making schemes?

JS Before the three poems about Abu Ghraib in my book What Were They Like, the first poem being about Lynndie England, I have a poem titled “Snow’s Falling in Western Pennsylvania” about how poor families stand in the snow to get food relief while the snow also falls “on the President’s car as he rides practicing his speech about/ tax breaks for the rich….” All the members of the army group Lynndie England was a part of are poor folk from Western Pennsylvania/West Virginia area.

In the third poem in the Abu Ghraib sequence “He Can’t Go Home Again,” about soldier/whistleblower Joe Darby, I wrote how Darby’s home is my birthplace, Western Pennsylvania. I told in the poem how, in the 1930s, the “government abandoned the miners and left their families to starve/and my great-aunt risked her life to organize to get them food.” I continued,

Only in the 1990s have I been back,

after the mines the m ills shut down and the economy collapsed again,

and after the government abandoned them again.

How they tried hardtop make a life a dignity in those harsh green hills.

Young men like Joe get jobs as long-haul truckers or the military or the reserves,

Army’s the only way out, the ticket to college.

It’s hard on wives like Bernadette,

her husband Joe away eight months in Bosnia or three years in Iraq.

Most families are used to the long goodbyes.

We have a poverty draft for people like England and Darby. Lynndie England volunteered because she saw the army as her only means to have adventure. If we want to reach the Lynndie Englands, we need to provide them with more opportunities. England’s job before she joined the Army was as a checker in a supermarket. I once worked with a largely middle class group of women in Common Threads, an anti-sweatshop group modeled after the Women’s Trade Union League (W.T.U.L), which fought for better jobs for working class women before World War I. We need to revive organizations like the W.T.U.L. If organizations like the W.T.U.L. could be established in West Virginia, working class women like Lynndie England would have the opportunities they need.

DV Thank you very much, Julia Stein, for your wonderful poetry, activism, and generosity.

Julia Stein has published five books of poetry. From the feminist poetry work of her first book Under the Ladder to Heaven (1984) to her poetry about the Central American wars in the 1980s in her second book Desert Soldiers (1992) to the love poems and poems about teaching in SouthCentral during the 1992 troubles in Walker Woman (2004), her poetry ranges from love lyric to explorations of war, peace, and women’s lives. Her fifth book of poetry, What Were They Like? is about the Iraq War and is available only online from the publisher C.C. Marimbo at
One of Stein’s poems will appear in the forthcoming anthology With Our Eyes Wide Open: Poems of the New American Century (West End Press, March 2014). For how to pre-order the anthology, contact John Crawford at

For information about the Political Poetry series, visit

England's Two Solitudes: London and the Rest

Fear of the People’s History

by John Pilger -

England is two countries. One is dominated by London, the other remains in its shadow. When I first arrived from Australia, it seemed no one went north of Watford and those who had emigrated from the north worked hard to change their accents and obscure their origins and learn the mannerisms and codes of the southern comfortable classes. Some would mock the life they had left behind. They were changing classes, or so they thought.

When the Daily Mirror sent me to report from the north in the 1960s, my colleagues in London had fun with my naïve antipodean banishment to their equivalent of Siberia. True, it was the worst winter for 200 years and I had never worn a scarf or owned a coat. Try to imagine what it is like in darkest Leeds and Hull, they warned.

This was a time when working people in England were said to be “speaking out”, even “taking over”. Realist films were being made, and accents that had not been welcome in the broadcast media and sections of the entertainment business were now apparently in demand, though often as caricatures.

During that first drive north, when I stopped for petrol, I failed to understand what the man said; within weeks, what the people were seemed perfectly clear. They were another nation with a different history, different loyalties, different humour, even different values. At the heart of this was the politics of class. Crossing the Pennines, the Empire dropped away. The imperial passions of the south barely flickered. On Merseyside and Tyneside, apart from the usual notables, no one gave a damn for royalty. There was the all-for-one-and-one-for-all of a wagons-drawn working class society – unless, as was made painfully clear in later years, you happened to be black or brown. That solidarity was, for me, the story, as if it was the missing chapter in England’s political heritage, a people’s history of modern times, suppressed by Thatcher and Blair and still feared by their echoes.

I had already glimpsed the power of this solidarity in the place where my parents had grown up and I knew as a boy: the mining region of the Hunter Valley in New South Wales. Here, whole collieries had shipped out from Yorkshire, Tyneside and Durham. “Watch them; they’re communists,” I heard someone say. They were fighters for working class decency: proper pay, safety and solidarity. The Welsh were the same. They brought with them the pain and suffering and anger of those who had industralised the world and gained little but the resilient comfort of each other.

The Mirror published my reports of working lives: miners working in three foot shafts, steelworkers in unimaginable heat. I would find a street, virtually any street, and knock on doors. What intrigued me then was that such human warmth and forbearance could survive the treadmill of northern cities. Moreover, the great radical tradition of resistance in the north – from the cotton workers of the 19th century to the Great Miners’ Strike of 1984-5 – always threatened the game known in London as “the consensus”.

This was the nod-and-wink arrangement between Labour and Tory governments and the five per cent who owned half the wealth of all of the United Kingdom. The Labour MP turned media man, Brian Walden, described how it worked. “The two front benches [in Parliament] liked each other and disliked their back benches,” he wrote. “We were children of the famous consensus … turning the opposition into government made little difference, for we believed much the same things.”

My second film for television, made for Granada TV in Manchester, was called Conversations with a Working Man. It was the story of Jack Walker, a dyehouse worker from Keighley in Yorkshire whose job was monotonous, filthy and injurious to his health, yet he derived a pride from “doing it well”. Jack believed passionately that working people should stand together. That an articulate trade unionist was allowed to express his views without intrusion by those who often claimed to speak for him, and to worry out loud about the stitched-up democracy in Westminster, was beyond the pale. The term “working class”, I was told, had “political implications” and would not be acceptable to the Independent Television Authority. It would have to be changed to “working heritage”. Then there was the problem of the term “the people”. This was a “Marxist expression” and also had to go. And what was this “consensus”? Surely, Britain had a vibrant two-party system.

When I read recently that 600,000 Greater Manchester residents were “experiencing the effects of extreme poverty” and that 1.6 million were slipping into penury, I was reminded how the political consensus was unchanged. Now led by the southern squirearchy of David Cameron, George Osborne and their fellow Etonians, the only change is the rise of Labour’s corporate management class, exemplified by Ed Miliband’s support for “austerity” – the new jargon for imposed poverty.

In Clara Street in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, in the wintry dark of early morning, I walked down the hill with people who worked more than sixty hours a week for a pittance. They described their “gains” as the Health Service. They had seen only one politician in the street, a Liberal who came and put up posters and said something inaudible from his Land Rover and sped away. The Westminster mantra then was “paying our way as a nation” and “productivity”. Today, their places of work, and their trade union protection, always tenuous, have gone. “What’s wrong,” a Clara Street man told me, “is the thing the politicians don’t want to talk about any more. It’s governments not caring how we live, because we’re not part of their country.”

John Pilger’s new film, Utopia, is broadcast on ITV on 19 December.

Hearing Mother Agnes

Mother Agnes in Her Own Words

by Sharmine Narwani - Mideast Shuffle

American national security journalist Jeremy Scahill and leftist British columnist Owen Jones announced recently that they would not share a platform with a Palestinian-Lebanese nun at the Stop The War Coalition’s November 30 UK conference.

Neither Scahill nor Jones provided any reason for their harsh “indictment” of Mother Agnes Mariam, who has worked tirelessly for the past few years on reconciliation in war-torn Syria, where she has lived for two decades.

The journalists – neither of whom have produced any notable body of work on Syria – appear to have followed the lead of a breed of Syria “activists” who have given us doozies like “Assad is about to fall,” “Assad has no support,” “the opposition is peaceful,” “the opposition is unarmed,” “this is a popular revolution,” “the revolution is not foreign-backed,” “there is no Al Qaeda in Syria,” “the dead are mostly civilians,” and other such gems.

For some of these activists, anything short of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s departure is no solution of any kind. Mother Agnes Mariam, whose Mussalaha (Reconciliation) movement inside Syria works specifically on mediation, dialogue and the promotion of non-violence, is unmoved by black-and-white solutions: Reconciliation, after all, is a series of political settlements forged on both local and national levels. There are only compromises there, not absolute gain. She doesn’t actually care who leads Syria and who wins or loses, providing the choice comes from a Syrian majority.

Yet the smear “Assad apologist” persists in following Mother Agnes on her visits to foreign capitals to gain support for Massalaha and its methods. It puts her at risk on the ground in Syria and inhibits her ability to open communications with those who would otherwise welcome the relief she brings.

When Scahill and Jones announced they would not share a platform with Mother Agnes at the STWC conference, she withdrew so as not to undermine the event’s anti-war unity objective. But instead of bringing this incident to a close, a maelstrom has erupted around the actions of the two journalists: “Who are they to pass judgement? Why would reporters seek to censor any voice?”

Award-winning British journalist and author Jonathan Cook perhaps put it best in his piece entitled “Bowing before the inquisitors on Syria”:

“Scahill and Jones have not done something principled or progressive here. They are trying to stay ‘onside’ with the corporate media, the main political parties and the Syria war-mongers. In short, they are looking out for their careers…They are looking to keep their credibility within a wider political system that, they otherwise seem to acknowledge, is deeply compromised and corrupt. In this episode, they are not chiefly worrying about countering moves towards an attack or saving Syrian lives, even while they claim this is exactly what their participation is about.”

Both journalists are outspoken against the censorship of information by the “establishment media” so it is particularly galling to see them succumb to the bullying narratives that have so dominated Syria coverage in the mainstream. In their own domain and area of expertise they don’t trust establishment voices, so why trust them in any other arena? This rather obvious contradiction has turned the tables on Scahill/Jones – if anything, generating interest in Mother Agnes and what she has to say.

Time to give her that platform back – no need for others to filter your information, you can judge for yourself below. And because so much of this debate has taken place on Twitter and the blogosphere, I invited “tweeps” from all sides of the Syrian divide to pose some questions too:

So without further ado, here is Mother Agnes Mariam, in her own words:

Did the Stop The War Coalition ask you to withdraw from their anti-war conference or did you choose to do so of your own volition?

I was invited to this conference, then I was informed about people that were against my coming and threatening to blow it up because of me. I preferred to immediately withdraw for the sake of this conference. Now, to tell you the truth I also have fear that this conference will not be useful, because these people attending are not applying non-violence principles. Non-violence principles means to be open to all adversaries. We can deal with people who don’t think like us. A non-violent approach is to dialogue precisely with people who are different. For a peace conference to begin like this, I felt like it is not a peace conference.

Have you ever heard of Jeremy Scahill and Owen Jones before this?

No, not at all. Who are they? Didn’t even notice who the people were. I heard about this from my organizer – that some people opposed even my presence. I understand everybody – I have been in dialogue with precisely the kind of people who opposed my presence. But it is the first time I hear their names, so no, I don’t know them. I’m not a person in the “scene.” (laughs)

What do you think of the attempt to censor views on Syria – and does your own experience this week have any correlation with how the mainstream media has covered Syria for almost three years?

You know, before working in reconciliation, I thought the so-called “democratic world” was really protecting freedom of expression and political choices. I am not involved with politics but they are ‘framing’ me; politicizing me. Am very shocked to learn that in this democratic world it is forbidden to think differently, talk differently and act differently from people who proclaim themselves as the ‘absolute reference’ for public opinion. This is a campaign of defamation. I am threatened by them: not by Jabhat al-Nusra, with whom I sometimes have good relations, or Al Qaeda – but by French media, by prominent leaders and CEOs of catholic NGOs, and by reporters. Am really astonished at how a reporter can become a prosecutor and a judge and can issue the sentence, and I am afraid that he can apply this sentence because today I see he works in total impunity.

Some media outlets and activists have accused you of brokering a civilian evacuation in rebel-held Moadamiya, only to hand them over to the Syrian authorities. What actually happened?

It was a purely humanitarian endeavor. Our (Mussalaha) team receives calls from all over Syria asking us to investigate people who have disappeared, to find out conditions for their release, to mediate on prisoner exchanges, to get food supplies to populations in need, how to transport humanitarian aid to hot areas, how to bring medical equipment to dangerous areas, how to arrange ceasefires, how to help violent opponents to shift to non-violence. We help to implement a non-violent spirit – we work with everybody, all sides, to do this.

This particular evacuation was requested by the civilian population itself in Mouadamiya. We have Mussalaha team members from Mouadamiya who are mediators. We were addressing the humanitarian issue in Moadamiya for many months before this, to try to make reconciliation from a violent opposition to a non-violent opposition. And when I saw photos of starving children on the Facebook – like in Biafra – I went to the Syrian Minister of Social Affairs Kinda al-Chammat to say this was not acceptable and that we should do something. Then we made contact with all the world health groups and international NGOs – we had talks with them to provide food. A caravan of more than 20 trucks was ready to enter Moadamiya, but it was forbidden to enter. It is difficult to say by who – I think it was from the army that was besieging this rebel stronghold, but also from the warlords that fix enormous prices to provide the entrance of food. Minister Chammat was really open to finding a solution, I said if they are not giving us the green light, I will go myself to take the 18 children who were under threat of dying. So we were entrusted to negotiate with the notables and the families in Moadamiya. Our mediators (also from Moadamiya) were surprised when whole families expressed the wish to be evacuated – because they are the families of the rebels, and to ask to be evacuated means they will be relying on the government. When we heard this we thought it was an easier and safer solution because if you bring in food but the violence continues, those civilians will be harmed anyway.

You know, under the Geneva Convention, it is illegal to transform a residential area into a battleground and if you do that you cannot keep civilians there like human shields. So the evacuation was motivated first by the desire of the families (not all, you know). The first project was to evacuate 100-200 women and children without any of their belongings, because there was a big fear that undisciplined members from either side would breach the ceasefire. It was delicate. Then on the very day, Minister Chammat, seeing hundreds of women and children arriving, told us “let as many who want to leave come out, because we cannot make discrimination,” so she made it open for that day. The government agreed to let us go alone; we were not escorted. All this was done in negotiations between the ministry and the governor of rural Damascus. Our responsibility was to bring the civilians to the barricade, but when we went there the rebels did not allow the women to proceed. I concluded, through contacts with the families that they were willing to come out, but we had to negotiate directly with the rebels. So I took a white flag into the area called no man’s land. I was followed by two of our mediators and by Sister Carmel – and it was heroic from her because she is a fearful person but she didn’t want me to go alone. There were tens of young rebel men, some armed, others not. And we were taken on a tour to see the destruction of the city and they asked us to come to the military council. (A video of Mother Agnes inside Moadamiya can be viewed here) They gave us security assurance. The commander arrived and they asked me to make a statement, which they recorded by video. But then we were detained, they wanted us to remain like ransom in exchange to let the women go out. We were hearing many noises and even gunfire while we were waiting. Then a real battle broke out – it was a big danger for everybody. We noticed that among them there was no unity, each would say their own thing. Finally, another leader came and agreed to the evacuation. Many of the leaders of fighters wanted their own families to leave. Others who don’t have families didn’t care. All we did was to answer a humanitarian request from rebel families.

In total, we evacuated 6,600 women and children – we have all their names, they are all registered. More than 200 are not registered because they left immediately with relatives. Also 650 young men came on their own to surrender. The army considered them as fighters. A few were badly wounded and they were taken to hospital. The (media) criticism was based on fake stories because the opposition (not the ones in Moadamiyada) do not want to accept the success of reconciliation based on mediation between the government and rebels. And because – after the success of the Moadamiya evacuation – ten other points in Syria have asked for the same mediation. Yesterday, for example, we had another evacuation – from Beit Sahm I believe – who were evacuated temporarily until the violence ceases. These critics said many were killed, abducted, raped when they came out of Moadamiya. Yes, there have been some errors and undisciplined acts. For instance, nine of the women were robbed. Volunteers from the ‘popular committees’ robbed their gold. We have done this evacuation in three separate days. On the first day we had 20 boys that were arrested, but we launched a campaign about this and they have been released. There are only two young boys now who are detained. We are still following up to secure them. The rebels with whom we have negotiated have entrusted us with their families, and they are the families of leaders and fighters, not just normal families. Until today, the two boys who disappeared after the Moadamiya evacuations are a problem for me and my credibility with the rebels. I am struggling with the authorities to find these boys right now.

The other major attack against you stems from a report you wrote about the aftermath of an alleged chemical weapons (CW) attack in Ghouta. You are accused of whitewashing the incident, blaming rebels for it and even charging children of “faking death.” How do you respond to these charges?

I have been accused of denying CW attacks, of protecting the Syrian regime and of accusing the rebels of launching those attacks. I have never said this. In the foreward of a study I did on this, I affirm: I am not an expert. I am not talking on a military basis, or a forensic or medical basis. I just questioned some videos. It started because I was asked by the parents – survivors of a terrible massacre in the Latakia mountains – to help find some children abducted with women after the massacre. Some had recognized their children in the pictures of the chemical attacks. They delegated me to look into this for them. I was tracking those children in the videos – without this task I would not have had any incentive to look at the videos. My work at the monastery was in iconography and restoration (preservation) – I am very used to using my eyes to look for tiny details. I noticed discrepancies in the videos. I came to look at them for one thing (the abducted children) and in the process I discovered these videos were fake. When I went to Geneva to the commissioners in the Human Rights Council, I told them about my findings in relation to the missing children and the videos, and they said they would be interested to have something written. I do not incriminate anybody in this study. I do not pretend to decide if there was a CW attack or not. There were discrepancies and I am simply asking questions. The study was done in a hurry – we even said it was a beta version. Now I am finalizing the study that will introduce even more evidence. Those videos – numbers 1, 6, 11, 13 among the 13 videos claimed by the US intelligence community as authenticated and verified to be presented to Congress as genuine evidence of CW attacks – are fake, staged and pre-fabricated. Nobody thus far is answering my charges – they are incriminating me without answering. My goal in this is to find the children; that’s my only goal. If they were used for staging, are they alive? Where are they now? If they are alive they must be returned to their families. If they are dead, we want to see their bodies to bury them so their parents can mourn them and we want to know how they were put to death and where. I am asking to see the graves where 1,466 alleged corpses are buried in Ghouta and to take from the pit samples to conduct an honest inquiry. Because I doubt that there is such a pit.

Question from Twitter user ‏‪@MortenHj‬: “Can she elaborate on how she conduct her talks between the warring sides? How do they acknowledge her; promise safety?”

Normally, we are called by the rebel sides who invite us for some settlements. Usually Syrian fighters either want to shift to non-violence, surrender and continue their lives, or they want us to mediate an exchange between abductees and detainees. We mediate among the responsible parties in government, like the ministry of justice and ministry of social affairs – it depends, since each case has its own context. We do it on a neutral basis – we are mediators, not part of the conflict. We want to ease the fate of civilians and we consider the fate of the Syrian rebels. We do not care about foreign fighters. Those foreign fighters are legally not allowed to enter or be in Syria. But we have special care for the Syrian fighters. We consider them as victims. A 17 or 18-year-old boy who is to be jailed, his mother is crying, what am I to do?

We talk via phone or Skype, sometimes we visit them as I did in many places. Sometimes the leader of a rebel group come to see me in a disguised way. Our (more detailed) talks are preferably face to face to build trust and transparency.

Sometimes you have rebels who request the release of their people who have been captured, others want to surrender – they don’t want anymore to participate in the armed struggle. Sometimes the liberal factions ask for help against the radical factions. I always say that between Syrians there is not a real wall. There is not a watertight impervious wall, so we receive many requests. We have had meetings with Jabhat al Nusra (JaN). When they are Syrians they can be flexible, when they are radical (foreigners) they will not talk to you, they will kill you. It’s like the Baggara tribe of around 3 million – they have relatives in Liwa al-Tawhid and JaN too. Half the tribe are loyalists, half are opposition. And this is a hope for the future. Everybody can talk to everybody. Once in Raqqa they put me on the phone with the emir because they wanted dialysis equipment for their hospital and so we mediated and the ministry of health sent 3 dialysis machines for the sake of the civilian population. I am always astonished how my people in the reconciliation committee know everybody.

Question from Twitter user @Kreasechan – What does she think should happen to those in command positions in the regime who have committed or commissioned war crimes and crimes against humanity?

I will tell you something. All this ‘apparatus of incriminations’ is politicized. If you can read between the lines of the report of the international Commission of Inquiry, you will see that the Syrian government has a hierarchy so it is easy to incriminate the government as a whole. But the rebels don’t have a hierarchy – you have 2,000 different battalions. Every time you see violence by rebels, large scale ones with hundreds of civilians now killed every week on a sectarian basis… If you study the more than 100,000 dead in Syria, you will be surprised to see that more than 45% of them are from the army and security forces. Then you have 35% of civilians among those dead, more than half of whom are killed by opposition. Then you have 15-20% of dead who are rebels. So it is not true to say the government is the only one perpetrating things against human rights. The Commission of Inquiry will have to work without political pressure to implement a good inquiry where everyone will be heard, because we are scandalized that light is shed on one side, but not on the other side. I know by saying this, they will incriminate me. But in reality, I am on side of the victims – I care that they will be heard. If you don’t hear from every side, these victims will continue to be under violence with impunity. We must ask accountability from everybody. Those incriminated by a fair, unbiased inquiry will have to pay their crimes, even those who have instigated and financed sectarian crimes.

Question from Twitter user @Paciffreepress – Do you love Assad, Mother Agnes?

I live in Syria and I have a burden on my shoulders for Syria. I believe beheading Syria from its government is a dangerous aggression when the UN still continues to consider the government of Assad to be the legal government. I rely on the UN position, which is the legal position. I consider that the dismantling of any State is a crime against humanity because it deprives the citizens of their citizenship and from their legality. They becomes pariahs. The Syrian people should decide through fair elections.

Question from Twitter user @r3sho – What is her opinion about Kurdish autonomy in Syria?

I am with the Syrian people – they will choose their own way, even if they want to make a federation or whatever. I am personally against the division of Syria, but federalism is up to the people. In my view, dividing a country is an aggression, but if the country decides to be a federation, it is a legal thing. They are free to do so.

Question from Twitter user ‏@broodmywarcraft: what does she have to say to those who call her a stooge for Assad?

I am a stooge only for peace, not for Assad. I am for peace through reconciliation. I am for dialogue and I am for discussing issues with everybody who wants to discuss peace. If any Syrian, on any side of this horrible conflict wishes to discus peace or work toward peace through reconciliation, I am ready to help.

Question from Twitter user ‏@bangpound: Does she still think the children were faking it in Ghouta?

They were not faking it. I never said that at all. I believe that they were either under anesthesia or that they were killed. But as the videos are fake, my terrible question is what were they doing with them?

Question from Twitter user ‏@Nouraltabbaa: If she is trying to perform a Mussalaha why is she meeting with Ali Kayyali and other militias but not the opposition fighters?

For some hard cases, I have to go beyond the civil administration to negotiate with the warlords. We go there officially as a reconciliation committee, accompanied by some Muslim clerics. I have to mediate with the opposition and the government and the popular committees. I have to mediate with everyone.

Question from Twitter user ‏@HRIMark: What effect is the campaign of defamation and threats against her having on her and her work?

It affects my life. I cannot go back to my monastery. I was saved by the Free Syrian Army (FSA). They informed me about orders to abduct and kill me by foreign parties. They helped me to go out from Qara and they protected our monastery and they have not, to this day, given me the green light to return. A lot of them were workers in our monastery.

Question from Twitter user ‏‪@Net_News_Global‬: Ask her, if she thinks, that there was, besides murderous propaganda, a real CW attack.

We have witnesses and ‘social sensors’ everywhere in Damascus. Until today we have received 88 claims of death in Moadamiya (from the August 21 attack).

We are told they were not killed because of sarin, that they were killed because of heavy shelling from the army and from suffocation from heavy shelling. The deceased were together in a shelter and they suffocated from this. Moadamiya people told us this. One of the reasons that I would like to see the graves is because 1,466 deaths is a real “social tsunami” in the Syrian society where everybody knows everybody and everybody is related. In the case of East Ghouta, we did not even have one case show up. We did not know of one single person who is dead. You know, to have relatives claiming this – the brother, the friend – nobody did. We did not have the “echo” of the death of 1,466 people. We are asking for a neutral inquiry with the presence of witnesses from both sides, where they will open the pits, see the victims, they will take samples randomly – where they took it, how they took it, etc. Samples should be sent to 5 labs under the same conditions and precautions. Until then there is a question mark on everything. I cannot say yes, I cannot say no.

Question from Twitter user ‏‪@tob_la‬: How would she describe her relationship with Syrian intelligence services?

There is no relationship. This is despite the wild allegations of some people who believe that the heads of the Syrian intelligence meet with me, a simple nun, on a daily basis. Do you believe that these people would spare such time?

I have no “relations” with such authorities. As mediators we have to deal with these people when necessary. And without my mediation task I don’t have anything to do with them.

Question from Twitter user ‏‪@MortenHj‬: What does she view as the biggest problem facing the refugees, especially children, with the approaching winter. How can anyone support?

This is a very big problem. We need warm clothes, blankets urgently. During my trip in the US – from California – they are sending me a container with a special kind of textile that is very warm. “Oakley” warm clothing. We can provide for the local diaspora or NGOs to come collect these things from anywhere in the world and send them in containers to Syria. We are trying to do a big push for winter now. We’re also getting some tents. I will be going back to the US where an NGO will be providing us with something that resembles tents, but is rectangular. We are planning to get thousands of these – one per family. You have whole neighborhoods that are destroyed. Instead of displacing residents outside their areas, I would like to return them to their home, even if it is destroyed, and put them on their land in a refurbished structure. Like this, slowly by slowly they can rebuild their homes.

Question by Twitter user ‏@edwardedark: Could you please ask her why the Vatican has not been more outspoken on the plight of Christians in Syria?

I don’t know – maybe because the Vatican and all of us we are in solidarity with all the civilian population in Syria and we don’t want to emphasize a sectarian dimension because we viewed this as artificial. Christians have shared the same fate as Muslims in Syria – everybody faced the same violence. Monsignor Mamberti and the Pope are finally expressing their sadness for the sectarian nature that the conflict is taking, I think because now there is too much targeting of Christians now in Maaloula, Sadad, Qara, Deir Atieh, Nabek and other places. Every day Christian buses, schools are being targeted. In Bab Touma, Bab Sharqi, Jaramana, Kasa’a, Malki…

Now the Vatican is talking. Mgr. Mamberti is saying loudly and clearly that The Holy See cares about unity, sovereignty, and the place of the minorities so they will not be isolated, cornered, or forgotten. The Holy Sea is promoting reconciliation, dialogue and a peaceful settlement of the crisis. They are against the arming of any side. They want more creativity for peace and not creativity for war. What I found outstanding about the Monsignor’s recent comments is that he said the Syrian people should isolate the foreigners, distance themselves and denounce them. This is a very clear statement against foreign intervention. Then he opened the issue of humanitarian aid and the dialogue between religions – interfaith dialogue. This is not the task of experts, but the task of everybody, the believers. So there is a real change in language from the Vatican. The Holy See is no longer shy about Syria – and to tell you the truth, it is time. What is left for the Christians in Syria otherwise?

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Thursday, November 28, 2013

Getting to Know CSEC

Shocking revelations raise more questions about Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC)


November 28, 2013

VANCOUVER, BC - Last night, Canadians learned more about the covert spying operations of Canada’s ultra secretive electronic spy agency, Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC). These revelations add to mounting concerns over CSEC’s unaccountable and unrestrained surveillance activities on Canadian soil.

Classified documents obtained by whistlerblower Edward Snowden show that CSEC coordinated with the National Security Agency (NSA) in espionage operations conducted by the U.S. during the 2010 G-8 and G-20 summits in Toronto.

“These new documents raise even more questions about CSEC’s unrestrained and unaccountable operations”, says Josh Paterson, Executive Director of the BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA). “We now know that CSEC facilitated a widespread NSA surveillance operation in Canada. If CSEC requested the NSA to spy on Canadians as part of this operation, this would clearly be illegal.”
“Canadians are shocked to find out that Canada appears to have conspired with the NSA to set up an American spying headquarters during the G-8 and G-20 summits”, says BCCLA Policy Director Micheal Vonn. “These summits were a deeply shameful episode, during which we saw the largest mass arrests in Canadian history, secretly-granted new policing powers and a huge number of serious civil and human rights abuses ranging from assaults by police, to illegal and degrading body searches to denial of the right to counsel. To these already horrible events, we now add the evidence that Canada may have assisted a foreign spy agency to violate the rights of Canadians.”

The legality of two other aspects of CSEC’s operations was challenged by the BCCLA in a lawsuit filed last month. The BCCLA’s claim argues that CSEC has been secretly collecting Canadians’ private communications and metadata information in violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms protection against unreasonable search and seizure and infringes on free expression.

“Clearly, it is time to put on the brakes” says Caily DiPuma, legal counsel at the BCCLA. “We have a Canadian agency that is operating without any judicial oversight or Parliamentary accountability. In light of these new revelations, it is incumbent on the federal government to clarify what role CSEC had in surveillance during these summits.”

Killing a Bear: The End of Cheeky

Cheeky: The Killing of a Bear

by Ray Grigg - Shades of Green

Cheeky is dead. The five-year-old grizzly that Robert Johnson knew from his many visits to the Kwatna River estuary near Bella Bella is no longer a living part of the Great Bear Rainforest. The magnificent animal did not die because some biological imperative in the great design of wilderness placed a claim on this particular bear. It died because a hockey player wanted a trophy. So he shot it, removed it from existence in a gesture that seemed as meaningful as a goal, a penalty or an on-ice fight.

Clayton Stoner, the 28-year-old hockey defenseman for the Minnesota Wild who killed the bear, had the legal right to do so. “I applied for and received a grizzly bear hunting license through a British Columbia limited entry lottery last winter,” he explained, “and shot a grizzly bear with my license while hunting with my father, uncle and a friend in May. I love to hunt and fish and will continue to do so with my family and friends in British Columbia.”

Robert Johnson, a field technician with the Coastal Guardian Watchmen Network, experienced the bear differently. As his research group collected grizzly DNA for study and identification, the bear would walk through the high estuary grasses, often within 50 metres of them, “pop his head up, look at us, and stick his tongue out at us,” Johnson said. This playful curiosity and friendliness explains why they nicknamed him “Cheeky”. “We started talking to him, telling him what we were doing there. We got to know him quite well, to the point we could go in on our boat ... and get off and walk around in the area without having to worry about him.” (Larry Pynn, The Vancouver Sun, Sept. 4/13).

This “worry”, however, had another dimension. It was not what Cheeky might do to people — the researchers seemed to have reached an accord that the estuary could be peacefully shared — but what people might do to Cheeky. Johnson had advised Stoner and his group of hunters that the Coastal First Nations had declared a ban on the trophy hunting of bears at Kwatna, and asked that he respect this prohibition. Stoner apparently replied that he had a legal right to hunt and would do so.

The next day Johnson heard three sharp shots slice across the silence of the estuary. He wasn't witness to the actual shooting. Neither did he see the head, paws and skin being cut from the dead bear. But he did find the remainder of the corpse left to rot in the open field where Cheeky had been browsing. And, when he saw the brown hide being unloaded from the hunters' Zodiac, he immediately recognized “the colour, the size of him,” said Johnson. (A photograph and DNA samples later confirmed the identity of the dead bear.)

A bear, of course, cannot describe the experience of dying. As with all deaths, this is a private affair that happens to the exclusion of everyone else. The darkness and silence that follows ensures that the process remains a secret, a bond of inviolable mystery that never escapes from the inexplicable.

We all know, of course, that Cheeky died. And now we know how Cheeky died. But no one can really know the details, the precise process that a bear's consciousness might have experienced on that quiet May afternoon on a peaceful estuary of the Great Bear Rainforest. Clayton Stoner, the man who pulled the trigger of the rifle, wouldn't know — perhaps he wouldn't want to know because it might complicate his “love” of hunting. Robert Johnson wouldn't know either — perhaps we would prefer not to know because his familiarity with Cheeky would make the reality more painful. But imagination and compassion, the guiding voices of conscience and ethics, can risk a guess.

Cheeky's first sensation of being shot was probably an instant and searing pain followed by a sudden numbness as its body went into shock from the impact of the bullet. Maybe then a reflex of vague fear and a rush of protective struggle as the deep mechanisms of its brain attempted to right itself from the encroaching dizziness, to reconcile these alien sensations with the explosive crack heard and felt almost simultaneously. Then, perhaps, a brief rush of confusion, a bewildering sense of being lost, a pointless urge to run, an overwhelming and futile impulse to reclaim the order and tranquility of the moments before.

The second and third shots may not have been heard or felt. The dull shock of the bullets would have merely hastened the blurring of surroundings, the dimming of awareness, the twisting tumble into darkness, the final falling that would end without a landing. Perhaps Cheeky's last moments as a bear were a consuming blackness that disappeared into itself until not even the blackness remained.

Clayton Stoner returned to his charter boat with his trophy, lounged on the deck, balanced the severed head of the grizzly on his knee, and posed for a photograph. Robert Johnson returned to his research camp near the Kwatna estuary and wept.

Changes to Canada's Fisheries Act Throw Endangered Species to the Wolves*

Changes to Canada's fisheries law alarm biologists

by CCConserve

25 November 2013 

Revisions that take effect today remove protections for 80% of endangered freshwater species.
Changes to Canada's fisheries law have removed protection for key freshwater habitat.For Canada's fish, today marks a big departure from the status quo. Scores of freshwater species lose their protection under the country’s Fisheries Act as controversial changes made in 2012 take effect.

The law, enacted in 1868, is one of the country's oldest pieces of environmental legislation. It has long provided blanket protection for all fish and their habitat. The revised legislation now restricts protections to fish that are part of a commercial, recreational or aboriginal fishery, and only against “serious harm”. It also does away with a prohibition on "harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat".

As a result, 80% of Canada's 71 freshwater fish species currently at risk of extinction will lose the protection previously afforded to them under the Fisheries Act, according to an analysis published this month in the journal Fisheries1

Affected species include the Channel darter (Percina copelandi), Coastrange sculpin (Cottus aleuticus), Plains minnow (Hybognathus placitus) and Salish sucker (Catostomus catostomus). 

"It's pretty clear that, overall, our aquatic habitat protection has taken a big hit, and is now less protected than it would be in the US or Europe," says John Post, a fisheries biologist at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada and an author of the study.

That the law removes protection for fish habitats strikes many biologists as especially short-sighted. 

"The one thing that fish need to persist is a safeguarding of the place they live, and that is no longer an explicit part of the fisheries act," says Eric Taylor, who studies fish evolution and conservation at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada.

A 1989 study of North American fish extinctions found that almost three-quarters of extinctions in a 100-year period were caused by habitat alteration2. Another study has shown that in Canada, habitat loss and degradation is the predominant threat faced by endangered freshwater fish3.

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The impacts of the changes to Canada’s policies may be magnified by the country’s demographics. Canada is sparsely populated, standing as the world's second-largest country by area with a population smaller than that of California's. Post and his co-author, biologist Jeffrey Hutchings of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, question what will happen to species in remote and unpopulated areas without fisheries. 

"The majority of fish in parts of Canada won't receive protection because there are many wilderness areas that have little or no fishing at all," Post says.

Meanwhile, the new Canadian policies could have downstream consequences for the United States, as roughly 300 lakes and 15 major transboundary water basins span the two countries' shared 8,891 kilometre border. Canada's fisheries law now leaves headwaters that are crucial to downstream water quality with fewer protections, as such areas normally lack fishing activity.

In a statement, Fisheries and Oceans Canada addressed some of those concerns. The agency says that Canada's Species At Risk Act (SARA) offers habitat protection to fish. But Taylor says that it may not be enough, because SARA is designed for animals that are already in trouble, whereas the previous version of the Fisheries Act offered blanket protection for all fish habitats. 

“This change is going to create a gap now where things are only going to be protected when they're already in trouble,” Taylor adds. “It's going to cost us way more money in the long run."

It may be some time before the full impacts of the legal shift are apparent, as the law is tested in court and different judges weigh in on the policy’s application. Says Julie Abouchar, an environmental law specialist and partner at Willms & Shier in Toronto, Canada, “We don’t really know how this is going to unfold.” Nature doi:10.1038/nature.2013.14234
Hutchings, J. A. & Post, J. R. Fisheries 38, 497–501 (2013).

Miller, R. R., Williams, J. D. & Williams, J. E. Fisheries 14, 22–38 (1989).Show context
Dextrase, A. J. & Mandrak, N. E. Biol. Invasions 8, 13–24 (2006).
[*"Wolves" here is metaphor, and not meant to imply any negative connotations on the necessary and itself endangered animals. - ed]