Saturday, December 28, 2013

Canadian Economy Succumbing to 'Dutch Disease'

Canada’s “Dutch Disease”

by Yves Engler - CounterPunch

A clear diagnosis of the Oil Sands fever variant of Dutch Disease may be just what the doctor ordered to rally Canadian workers in the fight against global warming.

A rapid increase in natural resource investment and revenue usually drives up a nation’s currency. This generally makes other industries less competitive and can greatly weaken a country’s manufacturing base.

Widely known as “Dutch Disease” (named after a period of rapid expansion of the natural gas industry in the Netherlands), this well established economic paradox has become a taboo subject in this country. Canada’s highly class-conscious elite is worried that manufacturing workers might make common cause with environmental groups and even some business sectors to challenge the carbon/profit bomb known as the tar sands.

A recent Pembina Institute/Equiterre report titled Booms, Busts and Bitumen argues that Canada’s economy is facing “Oil Sands fever”. The study points out that the Bank of Canada believes one-third of the Canadian manufacturing sector’s decline has been caused by a more expensive dollar, which rose alongside the price of oil from $.61 US in 2002 to $1.10 US in 2007 (and has hovered near par since). The study concludes that 40% to 75% of the currency increase has been caused by rising commodity prices, principally oil.

The higher price has led to a boom in production and export. Between 2002 and 2012 energy grew from less than 13% of total Canadian exports to over 25%. And if plans to double tar sands production over the next decade are realized, this dependence will increase.

A February Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives study gives a sense of the jobs impact of Oil Sands fever. The Bitumen Cliff notes: “The forestry sector lost close to 30,000 positions. And the manufacturing industry, of course, haemorrhaged nearly a half-million positions. For every new job created in the petroleum sector during the past decade, 30 have been lost in manufac­turing. Across all of the export-oriented goods industries… net employment declined by almost 520,000 jobs in the past decade.”

While the precise job toll is debatable, the rapid growth in tar sands exports has undoubtedly hurt manufacturers.

Despite the obvious link between tar sands expansion, a higher dollar and a decline in manufacturing, corporate sycophants denounce any politician or established organization that draws attention to the relationship.

Federal Leader of the Opposition Tom Mulcair was aggressively attacked for raising the issue as was former Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty. In response to the Pembina/Equiterre report Financial Post editor Terence Corcoran called the mainstream Pembina Institute “off-kilter … fomenter of oil sands phobia … keen on triggering a nation-splitting debate over the oil sands.” For his part, Sun Media’s Lorne Gunter wrote: “Left-wing environmentalists should just come clean: they hate the oil industry, they hate profits and love big government.”

Both Corcoran and Gunter cited a recent Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters (CME) study lauding the tar sands. It notes: “In recent years, much of the discussion linking the oil sands with manufacturing has included so-called ‘Dutch disease,’ with any supposed relationship being characterized as inherently negative. While the effect of the rising dollar has impacted the competitiveness of the Canadian manufacturing sector, especially exports, the underlying problem was poor labour productivity, lack of diversity among customers, and lower rates of overall capital investment. While increased investment in the oil sands may have strengthened the Canadian dollar, it is by no means the root cause of the challenges faced by Canadian manufacturing. Rather than having a negative impact on Canadian industry, the oil sands are providing a customer base for manufacturers.”

While most sane people would argue it makes little sense for the lobbying arm of Canada’s export-oriented manufacturers to dismiss oil-fuelled currency increases that have added 5, 10 or 30 percent to their costs, the CME is a highly ideological institution. When environmental or labour regulations add a few percentage points to their costs it goes berserk. For instance, before Parliament ratified the Kyoto Protocol in 2002 the CME claimed that reducing greenhouse gas emissions 6% from 1990 levels by 2012 would cost the country 450,000 manufacturing jobs. (Perhaps CME researchers should check to see if they didn’t mistake a minus sign for a plus symbol since the trashing of Canada’s Kyoto commitments through tar sands expansion has contributed to significant job losses in manufacturing.)

The CME tends to represent the voice of its biggest members, many of whom have plants in other countries. They can shift operations to lower-cost jurisdictions or use the threat of moving jobs to force wage and benefit cuts.

But that’s only part of the explanation for the CME’s pro tar sands position. That organization is in fact a mouthpiece for capitalists who are more widely invested than ever before and thus less wedded to particular firms. Without too much difficulty they can move their capital from lower margin to higher profit industries. It’s all about chasing profits and damn the negative consequences for workers.

In recent years the tar sands have been a major source of profit making. The Parkland Institute estimates that oil sands operators realized pre-tax profits of $260 billion between 1986 and 2010 (the public owners of these resources received less than 10 per cent of that sum). Over the past decade Canadian resource companies’ profit margins have nearly doubled the service, manufacturing and “nonfinancial” sectors of the economy. According to a late 2011 calculation, the market capitalization of the 405 oil and gas companies listed companies on the Toronto Stock Exchange topped $379 billion.

The boom in tar sands profits and stock prices clearly benefits leading Canadian capitalists. A recentCanadian Business magazine profile of the “100 richest Canadians” explains: “Collectively, the individuals on the Rich 100 are worth $230 billion, more than the total gross domestic product of many countries in the world, including New Zealand, Ireland and Portugal. And this year has been one of their best ever. Their combined net worth surged by more than 15% … While the actual economies of Canada and the U.S. aren’t faring particularly well, so long as the U.S. Federal Reserve maintains its stimulus program, stock markets will tick higher.”

The “100 richest Canadians” – and the rest of the 0.01% of top shareholders who control most corporations – dominate corporate lobbying associations such as the CME and they also have significant influence with many think tanks, university departments and news outlets. Like their wealthy patrons, these institutions tend to back whatever generates the most profit (that’s the point of capitalism after all). As a result, there’s little interest in discussing the deleterious job impacts of Oil Sands fever.

But environmentalists and union activists should be making common cause by explaining how tar sands profits that go to the rich and powerful cost Canadian workers hundreds of thousands of jobs. Expansion of the tar sands and the resulting bouts of Oil Sands fever may be good for capitalists but it will further weaken the job market and do great harm to Canadian workers.

Yves Engler is co-author of the recently released New Commune-ist Manifesto — Workers of the World It Really is Time to Unite. For more information go to

Boeing Moves to Crash Union Pensions, and Dump Costs on States

Letter to Boeing’s Boss

by Ralph Nader - CounterPunch

Dear Mr. McNerney:

The squeeze that you and Boeing are putting on your machinist workers’ pensions, pay scales and your stance on other labor issues regarding the assembling of the new 777X airliners is unseemly for several reasons.

First, consider your pay this year of $21.1 million, a 15 percent increase from the previous year, and much higher than your predecessors. That sum does not demonstrate a moral authority to require sacrifices from your workers at a time of rising Boeing sales and profits, dividend increases, cash hoard, and another notorious $10 billion stock buyback. I say notorious because stock buybacks per se do little for shareholder values and a lot for the enlarged stock options of top executives.

Second, you’re holding an auction for your long-time workers jobs in other states, inciting a bidding war whereby states are giving away taxpayer assets to lure your 777X assembly factory with huge tax holidays and other subsidies. Washington state outdid itself with a new law, signed by Governor Jay Inslee with the largest state business tax break package for Boeing in history. The tax escape law “will give Boeing and its suppliers about $8.7 billion in tax breaks between now and 2040,” according to the Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ) calculations. CTJ adds that “Boeing has managed to avoid paying even a dime of state income taxes nationwide on $35 billion in pretax U.S. profits.” Boeing also received tax advantages from the federal government, including $1.8 billion in federal income tax rebates on its $35 billion in U.S. profits between 2003 and 2012.

Third, in 1997 the Justice Department allowed Boeing to merge with McDonnell Douglas, making Boeing the only manufacturer of commercial jet planes in the United States – a domestic monopoly, justified by the only other foreign competitor – Airbus Industries in Europe. Another valuable gift by Uncle Sam brought about by your company’s Washington lobbyists.

Fourth, recall Boeing’s contract with the Department of Defense for the initial phase of Air Force’s KC-46 aerial tanker program that provoked sharp criticism by Senator John McCain in July 2011 for the excessive burdens on American taxpayers from cost over-runs in a supposed “fixed price” contract. In a letter to Department of Defense Undersecretary Ashton B. Carter, Senator McCain wondered “why under a fixed-price, relatively low-risk contract, taxpayers may have to pay 60 percent of any overrun within that band – up to $600 million.”

A book could be written about the Boeing company’s strategy for externalization of a variety of its costs onto innocent, defensely people – whether workers or taxpayers. Boeing’s systemic campaigns for corporate welfare are shameful. Your company is one of the major corporate welfare kings in America, running a close race with the champion – General Electric. As CTJ wrote: Boeing “employs an army of site location and tax consultants, whose job has been to blackmail states into giving Boeing lavish tax breaks.” These include sales and property tax breaks which drain communities’ ability to provide for school and other public facilities (

Fifth, there is the gigantic subject of your outsourcing to foreign suppliers, in particular Japan where your technology transfers, damaging the longer term viability of U.S. competitiveness in the aerospace sector for short term gains favoring Boeing, merit thorough examination by the Congress. As you know Boeing’s foreign outsourcing brought your company considerable quality control and delay troubles with the Dreamliner.

You need to read the 2005 report by the Defense Science Board about the hollowing out of domestic capability in the electronics industry from this kind of overseas outsourcing migration by U.S. companies.

For starters read the current copy of The American Conservative magazine’s cover story titled “Japan’s Plan to Unmake Boeing,” describing the full assistance of Boeing. No doubt, if your further cruel downward pressure on your machinists culminates in your destroying their union local and their jobs by leaving the state of Washington and going for example to the anti-union state of South Carolina, there will be further public inquiries. Such as how perverse incentives provided by your suppliers in Japan and elsewhere have furthered job losses here and accelerated your company’s technology transfers perhaps beyond the tipping point against the U.S. national interest.

Sincerely yours,

Ralph Nader

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition.

Twelve Years and Counting: Guantanamo Tip of American Crimes Against Humanity Iceberg

Guantanamo: Twelve Years of US War Crimes


Michael Ratner: Guantanamo camp continues to violate international laws and norms, including fake trials, media blackout on ongoing hunger strikes, and banning public disclosure of torture faced by detainees.

Michael Ratner is President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) in New York and Chair of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights in Berlin. He is currently a legal adviser to Wikileaks and Julian Assange. He and CCR brought the first case challenging the Guantanamo detentions and continue in their efforts to close Guantanamo. He taught at Yale Law School, and Columbia Law School, and was President of the National Lawyers Guild. His current books include "Hell No: Your Right to Dissent in the Twenty-First Century America," and “ Who Killed Che? How the CIA Got Away With Murder.” NOTE: Mr. Ratner speaks on his own behalf and not for any organization with which he is affiliated. 

Big Tech's Code of Omerta: RSA and the Collusion of Interests Opening Back Doors to Your Internet Security

Techie Code of Omerta For Colluding With NSA

by Peter Lee - China Matters

With RSA, a big and respected name (actually initials) in cryptography, currently getting flayed in the public press for taking $10 million from the NSA and, in return, embedding a dodgy, NSA-compromised random number generator a.k.a. DUAL EC EBRG in its products (RNGs help generate encryption keys; a compromised RNG yields a limited, more crackable set of keys), a few observations:

First, as is probably recalled, the compromised character of the NSA RNG was revealed in a previous tranche of the Snowden documents in September, and an embarrassed RSA quickly issued a recommendation that users cease using that particular RNG.

Second, even back in October, there were rumblings about possible financial considerations playing a part in RSA's willingness to include the RNG in its products. Here's a snip from a piece I wrote at the time:

[On a recent episode of Science Friday] Ira Flatow asked Philip Zimmerman [creator of the PGP open-key e-mail encryption system] why RSA would have done such a thing. There was a long, awkward silence and some awkward laughter before Zimmerman slid into the passive voice/third person zone:
ZIMMERMAN: And yet RSA did a security - did use it as their default random number generator. And they do have competent cryptographers working there. So.

FLATOW: How do you explain that?

ZIMMERMAN: Well, I'm not going to - I think I'd rather not be the one to say.


FLATOW: But if someone else were to say it, what would they say?
ZIMMERMAN: Well, someone else might say that maybe they were incentivized. Maybe Mr. Zimmerman had an advance peek at the relevant Snowden documents. I think it more likely that he had already heard some tittle-tattle in his high tech circles but was not interested in calling down a corporate and legal sh*train upon himself by openly accusing the RSA of taking government money (interesting legal question: is it slanderous to allege that a US corporation engaged in a legal transaction with the US government?).

Third, Blame the Suits! Per the Reuters expose:

No alarms were raised, former employees said, because the deal was handled by business leaders rather than pure technologists.

"The labs group had played a very intricate role at BSafe [the product line that was compromised by the RNG], and they were basically gone," said labs veteran Michael Wenocur, who left in 1999.

Actually, outside security analyst Bruce Schneier and others had raised serious concerns about DUAL EC EBRG in 2007 in a public forum and, as Zimmerman pointed out, RSA had competent cryptographers in the building. DUAL EC EBRG was provided as only one option, albeit the default, and security-savvy users would be able to select another, better RNG. And RSA cryptographers could further console themselves with the awareness that, even if Clueless Enduser kept DUAL EC EBRG as a default, probably the only entity with the message collection and analysis capability to exploit it effectively was America's own NSA.

In other words, it wasn't just RSA Chief Executive and Designated Villain Art Coviello sneaking down into the lab and inserting the lethal code while the techies obliviously shipped the compromised product.

Fourth, I think there is a growing awareness that a significant element of the Snowden story is the collusion between Big Tech and the NSA, fueled by the awareness that both sides want the same thing: a thoroughly back-doored Internet open to individual data profiling and surveillance penetration (and tolerate the resultant security breaches as cost of doing business/collateral damage).

I wonder if the story will get any more traction, since there are sizable vested economic, political, and ideological interests extending all the way to the Oval Office that are engaged in perpetuating the image of a benign, democratic/populist information order dedicated to information security. The constituency interested in seeing Google and the other tech giants share the blame for ruining the Internet--and in the process evaporating a few hundred billion dollars of personal wealth, market cap, and stock options--is, on the other hand, powerless and vanishingly small.

Inside the tech industry, the attitude seems to be one of damage control i.e. media initiatives to convince the public that the Internet companies care about YOU and hate helping out that nasty old government. As to the question of whether a corporate Snowden will emerge, the attitude seems to be, as Phil Zimmerman--a genuine and battered hero of the encryption wars in the 1990s--put it: "I think I'd rather not be the one to say." Maybe the code of Omerta lives on in the tech industry.

Fifth, I find it amusing and somewhat irritating that, ever since I wrote about RSA in October, I am bombarded with RSA pop-up ads on my own blog and across the web. It's the Internet equivalent of a golden retriever that pursues me down the street driven by the irresistible urge to sniff the seat of my trousers.

Make it stop!

Christmas in the Rear-View Mirror, Xmas Through the Windshield

Christmas versus Xmas: A Political Reading

by James Petras

The transformation of Christmas from a story about a migrant working-class family fleeing state persecution, in the search for a safe haven and receiving support and solidarity to the biggest capitalist commercial bonanza of the year – has far-reaching political consequences.

The fundamental ‘change’, engineered by the capitalist class in pursuit of profits, was to take the ‘Christ Story’ out of Christmas and to convert the weeks before and after into a consumer orgy. Aided and abetted by “secularist allies”, the capitalist class succeeded in eliminating any reference to the Christmas story, including the nativity scene and carols commemorating it, from public spaces.

The significant social message, embedded in the Christmas story, is diluted by well-meaning cultural diversity-promoters, who demand ‘equal time for ‘Hanukah’ (a Jewish narrative celebrating war, conquest and the slaughter of ‘apostate-assimilated-Hellenized’ Jews by traditionalists-fundamentalists - an event not even mentioned in the Hebrew Bible) and “Kwanzaa” (a holiday invented in the 1960’s by a cultural black nationalist preaching “self-help”).

Taking Christ out of Christmas 

In place of the Christmas story, we have been given anachronistic ‘Nordic tales of tree worship’ and ‘gift giving’ by an obese bearded sweat-shop owner employing stunted slave workers *(‘Hi Ho, Hi Ho! It’s off to work we go; we work all day, we get no pay! Hi Ho, Hi Ho!’). This has become the dominant mythology driving the consumerist – profiteering of the global commercial – capitalist production chain.

Over time, it came to pass that ‘Christmas’ commercial sales became the centerpiece of capital accumulation. New and powerful sectors of capital entered the field. Finance capital, particularly credit card companies charging debtors usurious, interest rates over 20% per year, became central to and the principal beneficiaries of the great transformation of the Christmas story.
The new, modern, secular monetized, relativized Christmas story redefined the entire meaning of the holiday.

First, there was the language ‘excision’; the prefix was altered. Christ-mas became Xmas. The X symbol left out what constituted the original narrative and circumstances surrounding the celebration of the birth of Jesus.

Once the original class origins of the Christmas story were erased and the conflict between the absolutist state and civil society were abolished, the capitalist class inserted its own ‘props’ into the story: the Xmas tree became the site for consumer ‘gifts’; the Xmas ‘stocking’ had to be filled with consumer goods; the Xmas day image required the “happy family” opening up boxes of consumer goods – bought on credit at 20% interest rates.

The driving force behind the phony props and imagery is a command headquarters composed of capitalist manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers, market analysts, publicists, consultants, advertisers, investors, factory owners employing a vast army of low paid workers in Asian manufacturing sweatshops and huge corporate retail outlets with minimum wage salespeople. Christmas sales are the major profit maximizing occasion for the entire year: The success or failure of commercial capitalism rides on the profits accrued between November 30 and January 7.

The entire capitalist edifice rests on the notion that “Xmas” is about large-scale buying and selling of consumer goods; it is about ensuring that class inequalities and racial divisions are temporarily blurred; that repressive police state intrusions into the privacy of family life are forgotten and that social solidarity is replaced by an orgy of individual consumerism.

‘Xmas’ is a time to celebrate massive profiteering, based on the indebtedness of the ‘masses’. It is a time for downsized workers to buy imported goods on credit from manufacturers who had relocated to low wage regions: Price consciousness replaces class consciousness. 

Picketing US retailers, who import from Bangladesh sweatshop death traps, where workers ‘earn’ $25 a month, goes against the ‘Xmas spirit’. ‘Buy and feel free’! It’s a time to be jolly!

The new secular, monetized ‘Xmas’ is a consumer-driven commercial event motivated by profits, advertisement and the mindless worship of ‘the market’. Family and neighborly relations are now tied to the cash nexus: Who buys or receives the most expensive gifts experiences the greatest gratification. ‘Gift giving’ is based on ‘consumer spending’; who could imagine any alternative!

Millions of atomized individuals compete to buy the most commodities that their credit/debit cards can cover. ‘Virtue’ becomes ‘success’ in the frantic engagement with the market. From the perspective of political power, individual consumerist consciousness means submission to ‘the market’ as well as submission to the ruling class, which dominates ‘market relations’.

The entire ‘Xmas’ period highlights the fact that market relations between wage-earning/salaried individuals and commercial/financial elites take precedence over productive (and state) relations between capital and labor. In “the market” the struggle is between consumers over commodities, overseen by commercial capital. In the new Xmas story the consumer is the centerpiece; the market is the mediator of all social relations. The ‘Christ story’ has been relegated to a periphery, if not totally excluded. At most, the story is reduced to a birth scene witnessed by cows, sheep and three ‘Kings’.

The conversion of Christmas into the massive Xmas-market event broadens its consumer appeal, increases sales and profits. Potential consumers from all religions (and the non-religious) can join the consumer orgy. It is not about values, ethics or beliefs – it’s about buying, selling, debt and accumulation. To be a successful commercial event ‘Christians’ must suppress the politics and ethics of the Christ story, which is dramatically opposed to the immersion in the marketplace.

The Politics of the Christmas Story

The protagonists of the Christmas story, Joseph and Mary, are a working class household living at a subsistence level. Joseph, a carpenter, is partially out of work and earns a minimum wage. They live frugally, spend their meager earnings on essentials and travel cheaply on a donkey. To escape a repressive government they migrate in search of security, hoping to find a new home. The pregnant Mary and her unemployed husband Joseph look for sympathy and solidarity among the poor. They knock on doors but the landlords send them away. Only a poor farmer offers them a place – they can share a barn with the sheep and cows.

In the face of an uncertain future and a troubled present, Mary and Joseph receive material support from local residents in Bethlehem. Three wise men (the Magi or mathematicians from Persia) are internationalists who travel to greet the new family. They show great concern for the new born baby Jesus by perhaps offering his family a scholarship so he can study mathematics and science….
The coming together of local neighborhood people and the three educated “outsiders” to celebrate the birth of Christ and offer support to the homeless family, dispossessed migrants, has been an event for wonder and celebration.

Community solidarity, the sharing of food, shelter, learning and fraternal good cheer, in the face of persecution by a criminal state and an avaricious ruling class, defines the spirit of Christmas. The Christmas story affirms the virtues of social solidarity and not individual consumerism. It defines a moment in which the deep bonds of humanity displace the shallow comfort of commodities. It is the celebration of a moment in which the values and virtues of breaking bread in a fraternal community take precedence over the accumulation of wealth.

The Christmas story, the trials and travails of Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus resonate with millions of American workers today: especially those who have lost employment and been dispossessed of their homes. The Christmas story resonates with the tens of millions of immigrants persecuted and jailed by tyrannical states. The Christmas story resonates with the millions of people of color who are “stopped and frisked” by a militarized police.

The Christmas story does not resonate with the owners, investors and publicists of big commercial enterprises who have converted the multitude into worshipers of their little plastic cards. Taking ‘Christ out of Christmas’ and destroying the joy and fellowship and solidarity of shared humanity embodied in the celebration of the birth of Christ is essential in order to continue to accumulate wealth.

Putting the ‘Christ story’ back into Christmas is a step toward defeating consumerist consciousness and recreating social solidarity, so necessary for ending injustice.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Oil Price Augeries for 2014

Oil Market Predictions for 2014

Inside Investor Dan Dicker -

For my last column of 2013, I’ll give a few predictions for the energy markets for 2014 and one in particular where I am almost alone among the energy analysts out there: Oil will see significantly higher prices in 2014 than in 2013.

Most analysts I read see the fundamental picture in oil from a US-centric point of view; that is, an increasingly strong production trend from the oil shale plays here in the US from the Bakken, Eagle Ford and newly developing Permian basin and couple that with an increasing efficiency and demand slackening here in the US which has led them to predict subsequently lower prices. I don’t think they could be more wrong.

Forget for the moment the financial metamorphosis taking place in oil trade, moving it decidedly from the control of investment banks and single-manager fund operators to the megalopolis state-supported and unregulated oil firms like Rosneft and the dominating trade companies like Glencore – this trend is worrying for a number of reasons and will almost certainly impact the global price of oil upwards – but perhaps that subject is better saved for another column.

Instead let’s look fundamentally – geopolitically – at the global oil picture for the near future and you cannot help but see nothing but risks on oil price to the upside.

Sure, the US is generating a new and amazing supply of high quality, low-sulfur crude oil - but even best scenario estimates for that production will bring daily production of crude (not counting liquids) to perhaps close to 8.5 million barrels a day in the next 36 months, a significant rise from the low production of a little over 5 million barrels a day less than 10 years ago, and an accomplishment to be recognized.

But remember that global demand for crude oil is approaching and sure to exceed 90 million barrels a day and is continuing to grow, while production of oil outside the US is nowhere near as supportive as the ‘shale revolution’ we have been experiencing here. Prices for crude continue to be balanced on a knife’s edge to the combined production levels globally – recall the spikes in price from the loss of small production areas in Libya and Syria (and Iraq) and you’ll get a sense of the delicacy of the global market. Let’s look at some of those ‘stressed’ producing areas around the globe outside of the US and their prospects for 2014 and beyond:

Iraq – now a likely plunge into complete Civil war, the extent of which will determine their oil output for 2014 and beyond. Kurds to the North are forging independent ties with Turkey while the US has recently begun supplying drone arms for the Talabani government in Baghdad to again fight Al-Qaeda terrorists. I believe this is where we came in more than a decade ago.


Libya – running literally two governments, the recognized one in Tripoli, and the Eastern insurgents, who control virtually all of the oil resources in the nation. How much oil has been getting out of Libya? Depending on who you speak to, it’s either zero or a few hundred thousand barrels, but well below the potential production threshold


Iran – Lots of hopes and dreams that diplomacy on nuclear arms aspirations will lead to a renaissance on production, now at all-time lows due to the destruction of credit markets by the application of economic sanctions. I am convinced that these negotiations will ultimately fail and/or the Iranian government will not sufficiently convince outside oil producers from making significant investment in new infrastructure. At the very least, new Iranian oil barrels are several years away from the market, if they ever arrive.


Egypt – the home of the “Arab Spring” has given oil companies the willies – the largest of them have been banging on the door of the latest government there for payment on production and getting little in reply. Recently, the Egyptians came up with $1.5B of owed money on a total bill topping $6B. Being a deadbeat is one thing, but constant risk of oil terrorism is another; Apache recently decided enough is enough, selling at discount their Egyptian assets to Sinopec. Are the Chinese the right partner in Egypt to advance production? We’ll see.


I could go on, but probably the most important producer I’ve yet to mention is Saudi Arabia, now at a full-tilt production boogie of 10M+ barrels, clearly still controlling the swing production needed to make up shortfalls (or reduce production supporting prices) when demand doesn’t coincide precisely with supply. With their recent unhappiness of negotiations with their natural enemy Iran and feeling militarily at risk at virtually every border, it is not a guarantee that the Saudis will be as willing as they have in the past to moderate or pick up the slack for a consistently volatile energy market in 2014 and beyond. The Saudis still hold the golden ticket to global oil prices, and they feel less appreciated for that than ever.


It is with all this in mind that I continue to believe that oil is in 2014 and in general, headed higher. No one can predict when a geopolitical dust-up will occur or how serious it will become. But with output and demand so tightly balanced, you can predict that any such tension will lead one way: to higher oil prices.

Back to Iraq: Obama's Mission Accomplished Moment?

US prepares strikes against Islamists in Iraq

by Bill Van Auken - WSWS

Two years after President Barack Obama declared that his administration had ended the catastrophic US war in Iraq “responsibly… leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant” government, the US has rushed emergency shipments of Hellfire missiles to Baghdad and appears to be preparing for a possible renewal of direct military intervention in the form of drone missile attacks.

These measures are a response to an appeal from the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, the New York Times reported Thursday, and come in the face of a rise in violence to a level not seen since the US military “surge” of 2008, with over 8,000 Iraqis having lost their lives over the last year.

A shipment of 75 Hellfire missiles arrived in Iraq last week, according to the Times report. The Pentagon is also set to deliver dozens of reconnaissance drones to the Baghdad regime in the coming year, along with F-16 fighters and Apache helicopter gunships. US intelligence is also providing targeting information for Iraqi air strikes.

Military experts cited by the Times, however, expressed skepticism that the Iraqi military, even with such material assistance, will prove capable of defeating a growing Al Qaeda-affiliated insurgency in the country’s predominantly Sunni Anbar province.

The prospect for a more direct US military intervention through the launching of a drone airstrike campaign has been raised in recent months by Iraq’s foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari.

Last Sunday, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki signaled the escalating US involvement in Iraq, declaring that Al Qaeda-connected insurgents were “seeking to gain control of territory inside the borders of Iraq” and describing these elements as the “common enemy of the United States and the Republic of Iraq, and a threat to the greater Middle East region.”

This “threat,” however, is one of Washington’s own making, and the “common enemy” in Iraq has been the de facto proxy force of US imperialism’s war for regime-change in neighboring Syria.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, known by the initials ISIS, has claimed responsibility for some of the latest terrorist attacks inside Iraq, including the bombing on Monday of two television stations in Baghdad in which five journalists died. The group was suspected of being behind the horrific Christmas Day bombings in Christian areas of the Iraqi capital that killed at least 38 on Wednesday, including 24 who died from a bomb that went off as they left Christmas mass.

The ISIS had its origins in Iraq during the US military occupation of the country. Its resurgence has come as a byproduct of the US-backed war for regime-change in Syria, across Iraq’s eastern border, where it has battled forces loyal to the Syrian government and seized swathes of territory. Last month, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) described the ISIS, which includes thousands of foreign jihadis from as far away as Russia and Western Europe, as “the strongest group in Northern Syria.”

From Syria, the group has dispatched suicide bombers to attack government targets in Iraq as well as Shia and Christian communities.

The group has also revived its training camps and hideouts in the western desert of Anbar province. In an ambush there last Saturday, it killed some 18 Iraqi military personnel, including a major general who commanded the local army division and several other senior officers.

On Tuesday, the Iraqi government ordered the military to close the country’s border with Syria as part of a major military operation against Al Qaeda-associated forces in the area dubbed “Avenge the Leader Mohammed,” after Maj. Gen. Mohammad al-Karawi, the division commander killed in last Saturday’s attack.

Iraqi Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammed al-Askari told the AFP news agency that the military had detected “the arrival of weapons and advanced equipment from Syria to the desert of western Anbar and the border of Nineveh province.” He added that intelligence indicated that “whenever there is pressure on armed groups in Syria, they withdraw to Iraq … to regroup and then carry out terrorist operations in the two countries.”

The US aid to the counterinsurgency operation by the Iraqi military is being carried out in conjunction with the reconfiguration of US policy toward the Syrian civil war in the wake of the Obama administration’s pullback from direct US military intervention last September and its reaching of agreements both on the chemical disarmament of the Syrian regime and the Iranian nuclear program.

Washington has also been forced to confront the rout of the so-called “moderate” forces of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which it had officially been backing against the government of President Bashar al-Assad, and the growing dominance of Islamists of various stripes among the so-called “rebels.” Earlier this month, the Obama administration cut off aid to the Syrian armed opposition after Islamist guerrillas of the recently formed Islamic Front overran a compound and a dozen weapons warehouses of the FSA’s Supreme Military Council in Babisqa, just south of the strategic Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey. US-backed commander Gen. Salim Idriss, the titular head of the FSA, was sent fleeing across the border into Turkey.

With the FSA and its political arm, the National Coalition, exposed as representing virtually nothing outside of a clique of Syrian exiles tied to the CIA and other western intelligence agencies, the Obama administration instructed its Syrian envoy Robert Ford to make contact with the Islamic Front in the hope of developing it as a Western-aligned “third force” between Al Qaeda and the Syrian regime.

Of immediate concern is next month’s US-Russian brokered talks, known as “Geneva II,” in which representatives of the Syrian government have agreed to sit down with opposition delegates. The negotiators for both sides are supposed to be named today, December 27. The problem confronting the US and the other Western powers is that the forces they have backed are being exposed as having virtually no support within Syria itself, either among those carrying out attacks against the regime or in the society at large.

The Islamic Front, which is apparently funded by Saudi Arabia, rejected the US overtures and has reportedly established a close working relationship with the ISIS and the Al Nusra Front, another Al Qaeda-associated force in Syria.

In backing the Iraqi regime, which has aligned itself with the Assad government in Syria and the Iranian government against the Sunni Islamists, the Obama administration is attempting to at least contain the catastrophic sectarian civil war it has unleashed upon Syria. There remain deep divisions in Washington over how to handle this debacle, with some elements still denouncing Obama for failing to make good on his vow that Assad would be toppled, and others arguing that Assad staying in power would be preferable to the fall of Syria to the jihadists.

In aiding the corrupt, sectarian and dictatorial government of al-Maliki, however, Washington is only deepening the crisis in the region. Al Qaeda’s resurgence in Iraq is driven by not only the US-backed war in neighboring Syria, but also by the political marginalization of and heavy-handed repression against Iraq’s Sunni minority.

In launching the latest offensive in Anbar, Prime Minister al-Maliki issued a simultaneous threat to unleash a bloodbath against an ongoing sit-in protest in Ramadi, Anbar’s largest city. In a statement broadcast on Iraqi television last Sunday, al-Maliki declared that the sit-in “has turned into a headquarters for the leadership of Al Qaeda.” He demanded that all those not involved in “sabotage” evacuate the protest camp “so that Al Qaeda stays alone,” adding that protesters had a “very short period” in which they could escape the implied threat of repression.

Last April, the army raided a similar Sunni protest encampment in Hawija, west of Kirkuk, leaving at least 42 people dead and 153 wounded. In clashes that followed over the next two days, hundreds more were killed.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

War without End in Syria and Egypt

2013: Assessing the Conflict in Syria and Egypt – The War Continues

by Ramzy Baroud -

2013 has expectedly been a terrible year for several Arab nations. It has been terrible because the promise of greater freedoms and political reforms has been reversed, most violently in some instances, by taking a few countries down the path of anarchy and complete chaos. Syria and Egypt are two cases in point.

Syria has been hit the hardest. For months, the United Nations has maintained that over 100,000 people have been killed in the 33 months of conflict. More recently, the pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights concluded that at least 125,835, of which more than third of them are civilians, have been killed.

The UN’s humanitarian agency (OCHA) says that millions of Syrians living in perpetual suffering are in need of aid, and this number will reach 9.3 million by the end of next year.

OCHA’s numbers attempt to forecast the need for aid for the year 2014. However, that estimation reflects an equally ill-omened political forecast as well. There are currently 2.4 million Syrian refugees living in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. The number will nearly double to 4.1 million by the conclusion of next year. Considering the growing political polarization between the Syrian parties involved in the conflict, and their regional and international backers, there is little hope that the conflict will die away in the near future.

In fact, the simple narrative of a conflict between a central government and an opposition is no longer applicable, since the opposition is itself fragmented into many parties, some with extreme religious agendas. The early discourse that accompanied the Syrian conflict, that of freedom, democracy and such is also of little relevance, considering the level of brutalities and the multiple objectives declared by the various fighting forces. But for Syrians, it is a lose-lose situation.

Syrians involved in this war understand well that a prolonged conflict could mean that the country faces the risk of complete breakdown, and that a Somalia or an Afghanistan scenario is in the offing. Then, few would even care to remember the original reasons of why the war started in the first place, as several generations of Syrian refugees would be doomed to live the same fate as the unending Palestinian refugee experience.

However, there is a glimmer of hope. The recently signed landmark deal between Iran and six other countries - the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany – could in fact usher in at least the mere possibility of resorting to dialogue in resolving the crisis in Syria. True, the deal was related to Iran’s nuclear program, but since all of these countries are active participants in the Syrian war, with much influence over the warring parties, their consent would be necessary for future dialogue between Damascus and the opposition to bear fruit.

A major question however will continue to surface: even if the secular Syrian opposition agrees to a future arrangement with the current Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, will that have any bearings on other extremist forces fighting their own cause? Even with the most optimistic assessments, the Syrian conflict is unlikely to be settled in 2014.

The same assessment is also relevant in the case of Egypt. In 2013, the conflict in Egypt has taken on a different dimension, although most media (Arab and international) are so saturated by half-truths and/or intentional misinformation. It is almost impossible to reach a level-headed understanding of what is transpiring in the most populated Arab country.

One main reason behind the confusion is that reporting on the Jan 25, 2011 revolution was overly sentimental and simplified. In some aspects, the bad guys vs. good guys scenario continues to define the Egyptian turmoil. The Egyptian media is a prime example of that. Since the well-orchestrated June 29 protest, followed by a military coup in July 03, some secular forces affiliated with the revolution lined up in support of the very forces affiliated with the deposed Mubarak regime.

Both camps united in opposition of a government affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) – itself affiliated with the revolution. It gets more convoluted still, since the Islamic Salafist al-Nour Party has no problem siding with the military, in support of its newly drafted constitution, although it was al-Nour that tirelessly lobbied for a Sharia-driven constitution under the leadership of deposed President Mohammed Morsi. It was that kind of pressure that drove many secularist parties away from the committee that attempted to draft an earlier constitution, leaving the MB isolated. Al-Nour and secularist parties are now standing in the same political camp.

‘Dirty politics’ doesn’t even begin to describe what has befallen Egypt, for the violent dimension of this politicking is unknown in the modern history of the country. Nearly 20,000 Egyptians are now sentenced or facing trials for belonging or supporting the ‘wrong’ political camp. The military-backed government is now unleashing a ‘legal onslaught’, freeing those who affiliated with the Mubarak regime and imprisoning those affiliated with the MB. On Dec 21, the toppled president Morsi was referred by Egyptian prosecutors to a third criminal trial on “charges of organizing prison breaks during the 2011 uprising, spreading chaos and abducting police officers in collaboration with foreign militants,” reported the Associated Press.

Brotherhood lawyer Mohammed el-Damati described the purpose of all of this as an attempt to defeat every single achievement of the January revolution. “They are going over Jan. 25, 2011, with an eraser,” he said. But will they succeed?

While the military enjoys a great sway over every facet of power in Egypt, the Egyptian people are no longer passive participants. Reversing the achievement of the revolution will not necessarily affect the collective mindset that gave the Egyptian people the kind of zeal that made them stand and fight for their rights. No military diktats or legal maneuvering can erase that. 2014 is likely to be a year in which the nature of the conflict in Egypt changes from that of military vs. MB, into a non-elitist conflict that surpasses all of this into something else, perhaps a struggle that will recapture the spirit of the first revolution.

Ramzy Baroud is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant and the editor of His latest book is “My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story” (Pluto Press, London).

Starved by Justice: Prison Food You Wouldn't Serve a Dog

Food Behind Bars Isn’t Fit for Your Dog

By Chris Hedges  - "TruthDig"

Shares in the Philadelphia-based Aramark Holdings Corp., which contracts through Aramark Correctional Services to provide the food to 600 correctional institutions across the United States, went public Thursday. The corporation, acquired in 2007 for $8.3 billion by investors that included Goldman Sachs, raised $725 million last week from the sale of the stock. It is one more sign that the business of locking up poor people in corporate America is booming.

Aramark, whose website says it provides 1 million meals a day to prisoners, does what corporations are doing throughout the society: It lavishes campaign donations on pliable politicians, who in turn hand out state and federal contracts to political contributors, as well as write laws and regulations to benefit their corporate sponsors at the expense of the poor. Aramark fires unionized workers inside prisons and jails and replaces them with underpaid, non-unionized employees. And it makes sure the food is low enough in both quality and portion to produce huge profits.

Aramark, often contracted to provide food to prisoners at about a dollar a meal, is one of numerous corporations, from phone companies to construction firms, that have found our grotesque system of mass incarceration to be very profitable. The bodies of the poor, when they are not captive, are worth little to corporations. But bodies behind bars can each generate $40,000 to $50,000 a year for corporate coffers. More than 2.2 million men and women are in prisons and jails in the U.S.

Crystal Jordan, who has spent 23 years as a corrections officer in New Jersey and who works at the Burlington County Jail, and another corrections officer at the jail, who did not want to be named, told me that the food doled out to prisoners by Aramark is not only substandard but often spoiled. For nearly a decade Jordan has filed complaints about the conditions in the jail, including persistent mold on walls and elsewhere, with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and state and county officials. The results of her complaints have been negligible.

“The big shift came in 2004 when the state got rid of the employees who worked in the kitchen and gave the food service contract to Aramark,” said Jordan, who has sent several complaints about jail kitchen conditions to state and county authorities. “The food was not great [earlier], but the officers ate it along with the prisoners. Once Aramark came in, that changed. The bread was stale. I saw food in the kitchen with mold on it. The refrigerator broke down and the food was left outside in the cold or trucked in from another facility. Those who ate the food began to get sick. The officers demanded the right to bring in their own food or order out, which the jail authorities granted. But the prisoners had no choice. Diarrhea and vomiting is common among the prisoners. A few weeks ago one of the officers got a bowl of the prisoners’ chili. We all told him not to eat it. He ended up with diarrhea in the bathroom.”

Many of those incarcerated in prisons or jails such as Union County Jail in Elizabeth, N.J., where Aramark runs the food service, echo Jordan’s account. They say that sickness and persistent hunger are becoming a routine part of being incarcerated.

“The food gives everybody in the jail diarrhea,” said James Gibbs, 52, who recently spent two weeks in Union County Jail and previously had spent two years there. “There was never enough food. People were hungry all the time.”

Al Gordon, 45, said he was in Union County Jail when nearly everyone came down with food poisoning from tacos. “It was awful,” he said when we spoke in Elizabeth. “All the prisoners, except the ones who were vegetarian and who did not eat the meat in the tacos, had diarrhea for three days. Whenever we tried to eat anything for those three days we threw it back up. We were all sweating and felt dizzy.”

Gordon had a job in the jail’s kitchen, where he helped prepare the food, usually under the supervision of two Aramark employees.
“There were mice running around and mice droppings everywhere,” he said. “The utensils for cooking were dirty. Many of the prisoners preparing the food would use the bathroom and then not wash their hands or wear gloves. Hair fell into the food. The bread was stale and hard. And the portions we were required to serve were real small. You could eat six portions like the ones we served ... and still be hungry. If we put more than the required portion on the tray the Aramark people would make us take it off. It wasn’t civilized. I lost 30 pounds. I would wake up at night and put toothpaste in my mouth to get rid of the hunger urge. The only way a person survived in there was to have money on the books to order from the canteen, but I didn’t have no money. It was especially bad for the diabetics, and there are a lot of diabetics behind bars.”

Aramark has been plagued by scandal across the country, but this does not seem to affect its ability to get new state and county contracts. More than 270 prisoners were sickened in April 2008 at Florida’s Santa Rosa Correctional Institution after eating Aramark chili. Some 50 prisoners at Colorado’s Larimer County Detention Center became ill in February 2008 after eating Aramark chili. Prisoners in Clayton County, Ga., were not served hot food from October 2009 to the following Jan. 22 because the pressure cookers in the jail kitchen were inoperable. In February 2009 a Camden County, N.J., health report found that the Aramark-run kitchen in the county jail had “mice throughout kitchen and storage area.” Mouse droppings were discovered in butter. Several food items, including grits, chicken, rice and beef, were not stored at temperatures low enough to protect against contamination. Prisoners at the county jail in Santa Barbara, Calif., went on a hunger strike last summer to protest the Aramark food, and inmates at Bayside State Prison in New Jersey went on a hunger strike in October for the same reason. Prisoners in Macomb County, Mich., are currently eating only cold food because of a mold problem in the jail kitchen. And auditors at Florida’s Department of Corrections have charged that Aramark billed the state for $5 million worth of “phantom” meals.

Aramark, the largest institutional food conglomerate in the world, assigns company employees to prison and jail kitchens to oversee the prisoners who do the cooking. Food is carefully measured and weighed under supervisors’ eyes so prisoners do not receive more than the fixed amounts. (Even the garbage is weighed.) Cheap soy products are regularly substituted for meat. Rice, potatoes and pasta are the staples of most meals. The best that most prisoners can do, if they have money in their accounts, is pay for the limited food items, such as packets of instant soup, pouched mackerel and candy, that are sold by prison commissaries. Persistent hunger, corrections officers and former prisoners say, is now part of doing time.

“The kitchen where the food for the inmates is prepared in Burlington is a disaster,” Jordan said. “The walk-in freezer is corroded. You can’t open it because of the stench inside. Stagnant water, mold and mildew is everywhere. The food vans that bring food from Mount Holly have maggots and no refrigeration. I have seen inmates served bread that has hair on it, luncheon meat that has mold on it, spoiled fruit and food on the trays that have bugs in it. But this is part of the deep cuts throughout the prison system. We have had periods in the jail when the inmates had no toilet paper, no sanitary napkins, no soap, and no surgical gloves for the officers, and there has been no bleach or Lysol available to disinfect the jail. Officers bring in their own personal supplies. We buy toilet paper and hand it out to the inmates ourselves.”

Jordan filed a complaint Oct. 25 with the Burlington County Department of Health Inspection, a copy of which she gave me, contending that Aramark employees had hidden a food van during a health inspector’s visit to the jail so it could not be checked.

Eric J. Foss, the chief executive officer and president of Aramark Corp., who made $8,055,495 in total compensation for the 2012 fiscal year, probably spends more feeding his dog, if he has one, than his corporation does feeding the average prisoner. Abuse and exploitation of the poor have characterized the twisted pathology of the rich throughout history. Charles Dickens in novel after novel chronicled the cruelty and avarice of the privileged who, so they could satiate their gluttonous appetites and hedonism, deprived the poor of food and workers of a living wage. Our prison system, indeed our whole society, now replicates the corrupt Dotheboys Hall in Dickens’ novel “Nicholas Nickleby.” The headmaster, Wackford Squeers, the 19th century version of our corporate masters, feasts while the boys in his charge are made to go hungry.

“This is twopenn’orth of milk, is it waiter?” said Mr. Squeers.

“That’s twopenn’orth, sir,” replied the waiter.

“What a rare article milk is, to be sure, in London!” said Mr. Squeers, with a sigh. “Just fill that mug up with lukewarm water, William, will you?”

“To the wery top, sir?” inquired the waiter. “Why, the milk will be drownded.”

“Never you mind that,” replied Mr. Squeers. “Serve it right for being so dear. You ordered that thick bread and butter for three, did you?”

“Coming directly, sir.”

“You needn’t hurry yourself,” said Squeers, “there’s plenty of time. Conquer your passions, boys, and don’t be eager after vittles.” As he uttered this moral precept, Mr. Squeers took a large bite out of the cold beef, and recognized Nicholas.

“Sit down, Mr. Nickleby,” said Squeers. “Here we are, a breakfasting, you see.”

Nicholas did not see that anybody was breakfasting, except Mr. Squeers; but he bowed with all becoming reverence, and looked as cheerful as he could.

“Oh, that’s the milk and water, is it, William?” said Mr. Squeers.

“Very good; don’t forget the bread and butter presently.”

At this fresh mention of the bread and butter, the five little boys looked very eager, and followed the waiter out, with their eyes; meanwhile Mr. Squeers tasted the milk and water.

“Ah,” said that gentleman, smacking his lips, “here’s richness! Think of the many beggars and orphans in the streets that would be glad of this, little boys. A shocking thing hunger is, isn’t it, Mr. Nickleby?”

None of the reports of rancid food or meager portions in jails and prisons around the country affect the growing trend of states and counties turning their food service operations over to private corporations. Aramark has a new $145 million, three-year contract to feed Michigan’s 45,000 prisoners. It took over the prison food service in that state earlier this month. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the union representing the 370 former state workers who have lost their jobs there, have protested the privatization. The union notes that the company ran out of food twice within the prisons since it began operating Dec. 8. But Michigan state officials estimate that replacing the unionized workers and using the food service company will save $12 million to $16 million a year. And in our corporate state, where corporations exploit the most vulnerable and siphon off massive sums of public money without outside restraint or regulation, that apparently is all that counts.

Chris Hedges, whose column is published Mondays on Truthdig, has written twelve books, including the New York Times best seller “Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt” (2012). Hedges previously spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He has reported from more than 50 countries and has worked for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, for which he was a foreign correspondent for 15 years.

© 2013

NYT Frames Israeli Bombing of Gaza as "Retaliation" for Fence Shooting

Info & Disinfo on Gaza, and Appeal for Hala Abu Shbeika, 3, killed in Israeli airstrike against Gaza

by Eva Bartlett - In Gaza

December 25, 2013 

Some things to consider given Israel’s bombing spree in Gaza on Dec 24:

- Israeli soldiers on a routine basis target Palestinians of all ages, including children, as they farm or fish, killing and maiming them. This is policy from the top-down, not random, not “bad apples”. See videos here and here; see reports here and here and here and here and UN.

- Israel has violated the Nov 2012 “truce”/”ceasefire” from the beginning, as documented here [Israeli Ceasefire Violations in Gaza and World Silence] and here.

And, this important clarification from Yousef at the Jerusalem Fund:

Israel, and Kershner, Strike Again

The bias in New York Times reporting on Israel/Palestine is so systematic, it is predictable. Literally.When the news broke this morning that an Israeli had been shot by a sniper in Gaza while working on the fence around Gaza I knew that the killing would receive plenty of coverage in US media and of course in the New York Times by none other than Isabel Kershner. Even though Kershner routinely fails to report about Palestinian casualties in the Gaza Strip killed or injured by Israel, she rarely misses an opportunity to report about Israelis killed by Palestinians. That’s why earlier this morning I tweeted:

Has Isabel Kershner written her inevitable piece on the Israeli shot today yet after ignoring the large number of Palestinians shot in Gaza?
— Yousef Munayyer (@YousefMunayyer) December 24, 2013
On cue, an hour and a half after my tweet, Isabel Kershner’s story goes up at the New York Times.
The headline:

Israelis Shell Gaza After Israeli Fence Repairer Is Killed

and the lead paragraph:
An Israeli laborer who was repairing the security fence along the border with Gaza was fatally shot on Tuesday by a Palestinian sniper, according to the Israeli military, and Israel immediately responded by bombing targets it associated with militant groups in the Palestinian coastal territory.

Both make clear that the events today were Israel responding to an attack from Gaza. But absent both from that framing narrative and her entire piece, as I knew would be the case, is any description of preceding events in the Gaza Strip in recent days which featured several and persistent Israeli violations.

Kershner doesn’t tell you that in the last 10 days the Israeli military shot a Palestinian teenager in Gaza on the 15th, shot and killed a man and injured two others in Gaza on the 20th, shot and injured a Palestinian farmer on the 21st, fired at Palestinian fishing boats in Gaza on the 22nd, and shot and seriously injured a Palestinian man on the 23rd. All of these incidents happened in the days preceding today’s events and involved Israel firing into Gaza. None of them are reported in her article despite being vital context for today’s events.

She mentions that Israel’s bombardment of Gaza in November 2012 “ended with an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire” but fails to mention that Israel has been consistently violating that cease-fire. We’ve been keeping track of all of these violations here, precisely because we knew Isabel Kershner and others were not going to inform you about them.

She does however, enumerate all recent Israeli casualties….in the West Bank:
The Israeli killed on Tuesday was a civilian contractor who had been working for the Israeli Defense Ministry. His death came a day after an Israeli police officer was stabbed and wounded at a West Bank junction. On Sunday, a bomb exploded on a bus in Bat Yam, near Tel Aviv, minutes after the passengers had been warned to exit, preventing casualties. The police said they were working on the assumption that the bomb had been an attempted attack by Palestinian militants.

In addition, three Israeli soldiers and a retired colonel have been killed in recent months by Palestinians from the West Bank.

Kershner did a very similar thing in a piece last month which we called out here.

Her piece does end with this line “More than 20 Palestinians have been killed in clashes with Israeli forces this year, according to Palestinian officials.”

All the Palestinians killed and injured are an afterthought in this piece. Those killed and injured by Israeli fire in Gaza immediately prior to today’s events are not event mentioned. In what can only be interpreted as an effort to evoke sympathy for Israel’s actions, Kershner selects to inform the reader about attacks against Israelis in the West Bank while ignoring Israeli attacks on Gaza that occurred right before today’s events, even though today’s events occurred in Gaza and not in the West Bank.

The reader is treated to the familiar refrain: Israel is always acting to defend itself. The New York Times can do better and its readers sure deserve better than this.

With such horribly skewed and sloppy reporting, is it any wonder Americans are so misinformed about the situation?


NAME: Hala Abu Shbeika, 3

VIOLATIONS: Excessive use of Israeli military force against Gaza’s civilians with the killing of a three year old child.

On Christmas Eve, little Hala Abu Shbeika, 3, was murdered, while Christians celebrated the joy of Christmas, when Israel launched at least 16 airstrikes against Gaza.

Please press the TAKE ACTION BOX to send letter of protest to H.E. LEILA ZERROUGUI, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Children in Armed Conflict, H.E.RIYAD H.MANSOUR, Ambassador, Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine and H.E. RON PROSOR, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations.



Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict

On Christmas Eve little Hala Abu Shbeika, 3, was murdered, while Christians celebrated the joy of Christmas, when Israel launched at least 16 airstrikes against the Gaza.

Israel launched the airstrikes shortly after a Gaza sniper shot an Israeli civilian labourer working on the border fence. The man was airlifted to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Four days previously, Odeh Jihad Hamad in Beit Hanoun, 29, was a kilometre away from the border when Israeli soldiers shot him in the head. Israeli forces did not allow ambulances to the scene for an hour and a half after the shooting.

In November 2012, Israel’s Pillar of Cloud operation ( weapons testing operation) that killed 171 Palestinians ended in an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire. Since then Israel has committed over 236 case fire violations and killed ten Gazan civilians.

For seven years the people of Gaza have been trapped by the illegal Israeli siege and in the last two months Israel’s blockade of fuel has caused a devastating humanitarian crisis with severe shortages of critical supplies and electricity for health services. In freezing temperatures blasted by a winter storm of unprecedented proportions, Gazan families and their children have had no electricity, heat or light, the waste water pumping system collapsed pouring sewerage into the streets then Israel opened two dams close-by causing the flooding to rise further.

The UN and the international community have stood by doing absolutely nothing while Gaza suffers for seven years when the UN has recourse to impose sanctions.

Your duty is to protect Palestinian children and I call on you to energetically demand that sanctions are immediately imposed on Israel’s political and military leaders who have direct responsibility for the deaths of Palestinian children.

I remind you that the Security Council recognised early on the need for robust action including sanctions against individuals persistently committing violations against children in armed conflict. These sanctions include arms embargoes, asset freezes, and travel bans.

The readiness of the Security Council to impose sanctions against violators of the rights of children in armed conflict has developed over time. In Security Council resolution 1539 (2004), the Council expressed for the first time its intention to consider imposing targeted and graduated measures against parties to conflict violating the rights of children. This commitment was reaffirmed in resolutions 1612 (2005), 1882 (2009), and 1998 (2011).

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Targeting Gaza's Civilian Population: Israel Marks Christmas Again with Bombs

'twas the night before Christmas and Israel began murdering Palestinians anew (except it never really stopped)

by Eva Bartlett - In Gaza

December 24, 2013 

Gaza has been locked down at least since 2007 (and incrementally for decades), bombed and starved, its infrastructure decimated time and again, not allowed to re-build, its power plant bombed, its sewage and sanitation and water lines destroyed time and again, denied replacement parts for said destruction… and now, just as the rest of the world is again occupied with holidays, the Zionists are bombing Gaza anew.

Gaza has no tanks, no attack helicopters, no warplanes, no warships, no nuclear arms (nor electricity). Israel does.

*photo by Younes Arar: One of the injuries (brother of
Hala 4 years who was killed) following the Israeli
occupation airstrikes in Gaza today, 24 December, 2013.

Younes Arar: “Palestinian residential sites targeted by the
continued Israeli occupation warplanes so far today,
24 December, 2013.” (photo Sky News)


note: Israeli Ceasefire Violations in Gaza and World Silence

Here we list some of Israel’s breaches of the ceasefire agreement and will continue to update as events occur. We’ll keep track even as others look away.

“Israeli forces shot and seriously injured a young Palestinian man near Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip.”

see previous violations here

updates from Palestinians and internationals in Gaza:
Omar Ghraieb ‏ #Israel had a special #Christmas greeting 4 #Gaza (esp. Christians here) on X-mas eve!15 attacks in 2 hours!1 dead child! Merry Christmas!
Omar Ghraieb ‏
I thought it was over! I’m wrong! More #Israel shelling & air raids on Southern #Gaza! #GazaUnderAttack
Omar Ghraieb ‏
I still hear ambulance sirens everywhere!
Gaza Writes Back ‏No, those are not Christmas lights and fireworks in Gaza. Israel is pouring its fire killing and injuring about 15 so far. Omar Ghraieb ‏ All #Gaza is under attack! Explosions, shelling & air raids on Southern,Eastern,Western & Northern Gaza! Many injuries!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Gorilla Radio Xmas Special 2013

This Week on GR

by C. L. Cook -

Welcome to GR's Xmas 2013 show. We'll leave the usual format today for a very special program. Though I've been doing this show since 1999, the first GR X-Mas Special didn't appear until 2004. I don't recall why that is, but I do remember, the first program began with Ini Kamoze's tribute, 'All I Want for Christmas.'

As holiday commemorations are all about tradition, I'll continue ours. And of course, the longest tradition of all around here is the contributions made to the show over these many long years by Victoria Street Newz publisher, and CFUV Radio broadcaster in her own right, Janine Bandcroft who will, that stars being rightly aligned, join us at the bottom of the hour.

But first, friend Ini Kamoze...Take it, Ini!

Listen. Hear.

5:02:00    4:10    Ini Kamoze - All I Want for Christmas
5:06:10    3:30    All I really want for Christmas - Music b/g - The Fire This Time

You know, Ini makes a great point; and it's one I'd like to pick up on. I've not been thinking what I really want for Christmas, besides socks and underwears, for a long time. Like Ini, I've largely turned my back on the festival of consumption that is the hallmark of the season, rejecting the whole affair out of hand. But, and it is a big but, I think I may have thrown the Christmas baby out with the bathwater. So, this year I'd like to reflect on what I want, and how having it would make my Xmas happiness complete. To that end I've followed tradition, and made a list.

Don't get me wrong; like most of you in our listening area, I've got it pretty good. I've got a roof over my head; blankets on my bed; a few people who love me; and if the fridge is empty, it's because I've been too lazy to go to the market. That makes me richer than the majority of the World's population from the get-go; so mewling about what one in that position is lacking materially is, at the very least, in poor taste. But what I don't have is peace of mind. I'm worried. I'm worried for the future. Worried for myself, and worried for you. I'm worried for the children and the ones that will follow them, and worry at what is to become of this beautiful World. These worries are several-fold Saint Nick, but I know you're out there, and hear every prayer, phone call, e-mail and text message, so I'll try your patience, and challenge you to take all your magic and imagination and wrap my wishes in your sleigh.

Firstly; last week, Santa some bad men with dangerous ideas decided they could run over the wishes of the people, and run over the land here with a terrible machine. It's a big pump that sucks poison from the ground and spreads it through pipes across the fields, mountains, and rivers down to the oceans. This so it can be shipped across the World, burned and spread into the air, where the poison will fall again onto the lands and waters. If they get away with it, Santa it will kill the reindeer and melt your northern home too. So, I choose as the first part of my peace of mind Christmas present wish a Christmas future with a clean coast and forests, and no place for the Enbridge Northern Gateway and the Orcs who would take our precious wild world away, leaving us with nothing but tar, smoke, and ash. I know it ain't gonna be easy, Nicolas. I know we've got to help too; I know we all have to work for peace. 

5:09:40    4:20    Transglobal Underground - Impossible Broadcasting

Christmas is happening everywhere in the World, and one of my favourite bands this year, as with Christmas years past, is the most global of the global music scene, 'Transglobal Underground.' Here they are making Impossible Broadcasting possible.

5:14:00    5:00    James Carroll The Politics of the Christmas Story

Another GR Xmas tradition, going back to the very beginning, is this 2004 article by James Carroll of the Boston Globe, a former priest who turned his hand to journalism. Carroll takes us back to the very beginning with his piece called The Politics of the Christmas Story.

5:19:00    7:20    Music - Gil Scott-Herron - Work for Peace - GasCD

5:26:20    1:00    Cart(s)
5:27:00    10:00    Janine Bandcroft
5:37:00    3:57    Music - Tom & Joy - Meditation - Bossa Nova Around the World (Putumayo presents)
5:41:00    4:30    Update from Gaza - Franklin Lamb

Getting back to me and my Christmas wish for peace of mind. Santa, I'd like to see some peace for Palestine. These last few Christmases have been not so good for the people in the Holy Land; especially for those in Palestine. In 2008, Israel launched its Christmas bombing campaign, 'Cast Lead' killing nearly fifteen hundred people outright, and wrecking the infrastructure of the already besieged Gaza Strip. This year, the fall of the Morsi regime in Egypt has meant the destruction of much of the tunnel economy supplying Gaza with the essentials of life. Worse, over the last few weeks, Gaza's power station has been overwhelmed, and extreme storms, including snow a blizzard, has made life in Gaza extremely grim. Writing from his home-base in Syria, Dr. Franklin Lamb assessed the situation in the region this holiday season. Lamb says:

"Winter storm Alexa, the fiercest storm to hit Gaza and the West Bank in over 100 years, is still wreaking havoc and bringing misery to thousands. As of 12/19/13 40,000 people in Gaza have been driven from their homes due to extreme storm flooding. The flooding has been exacerbated by the fuel crisis that has left people without power for up to 21 hours a day, and forced raw sewage to flow through the streets. People’s lives and health are at grave risk. Gaza's Hamas government said 4,306 in all had been evacuated to schools and other centers used as makeshift shelters in the past four days. Gaza's 1.8 million people, trying to survive in one of the most densely populated tracts on earth, has also been enduring around 12-hour blackouts daily since the lone power plant was switched off last month due to a fuel shortage.

The territory lacks much basic civil infrastructure and lives under an Egyptian-Israeli blockade which curbs imports of fuel, building supplies and basic goods. UNWRA staff reports that the situation is worsening due to severe Israeli restrictions on the camps. Refugees cannot reconnect power lines that have been cut due to the heavy snow and have little access to basic necessities such as running water. The crises are deepening this winter in virtually all of the vulnerable refugee camps. The residents face severe power shortages and some on the West Bank also face systematic attacks by the Israeli army."

How about a little peace for Palestine, Santa?

5:45:30    4:00    Music - Transglobal Underground - Impossible Broadcasting
5:49:00    2:00    Bringin' It Home for Xmas

The Sun is coming back. The days in the North will lengthen, and Spring, that seemed so far away last week, races towards us. Between you and me; I believe, Santa we can make peace and peace of mind. I believe the World is meant to be that way. As cold and ruthless as life can sometimes seem, there is too warmth and hope, and promises of new beginnings. Merry Xmas to you all out there in Victoria, and the great World beyond. And, God; bless us. Bless us everyone.

5:51:00    4:13    Music - Tom Waits - Eggs and Sausage - Nighthawks at the Diner
5:55:13    --:--                            -0-

Colombia: The War on Terror the Papers of Record Miss

How WaPo’s One-Sided JSOC Infomercial Gets Colombia Wrong

by Peter Lee - China Matters

Colombia is one of the largest recipients of US aid in the world ($2 billion in military and police aid, third behind Israel and Egypt; $1 billion in economic and social aid; plus $1 billion in arms sales over the last six years).

But it’s not really on the radar in the United States.

I think there’s a reason for that beyond the US distraction with the Global War on Terror/Iraq/Afghanistan/Iran. It’s because some of the nastiest, unreconstructed Cold War counterinsurgency operations in the world are conducted in Colombia under the U.S. aegis. Death squads and the largest number of IDPs (Internally Displaced Population) in the world (5 million! Five times the number in Sudan or the DR Congo!) matter less to the US government than preventing the strategic and diplomatic embarrassment of Colombia joining Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela in the ranks of left-dominated anti-US regimes in Latin America.

Confronting the excesses of South American counterinsurgency exemplified by Colombia is apparently a third rail that President Obama is also unwilling to touch. Instead, the campaign of vilification against Venezuela seems to have picked up pretty much as it left off in the George W. Bush administration and the Colombian Free Trade Agreement—once stalled by the seemingly unquenchable Colombian enthusiasm for murdering labor leaders and thereby making a mockery of the “even playing field” principle beloved by US unions—has been pushed through the Congress.

I recently wrote an article on Colombia—specifically, the issue of whether Chiquita Brands was playing footsie with right-wing death squads in order to keep its Colombian operations going smoothly—for the CounterPunch monthly. Subscribe! And ask them to e-mail you my article.

So I was interested to read the Washington Post’s take on the role of US special operations in Colombia, Covert Action in Colombia.

The article is a remarkably uncritical piece of JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command) fist-pumping that manages to leave out a lot of significant context.

The tenor of the piece is that JSOC special ops starting in 2003 and targeted assassinations of FARC leaders beginning in 2006 (FARC being the leftist guerilla menace) had contributed mightily to the destabilization of the organization and its rapidly declining insurrectionary fortunes.

By 2003, U.S. involvement in Colombia encompassed 40 U.S. agencies and 4,500 people, including contractors, all working out of the U.S. Embassy in Bogota, then the largest U.S. embassy in the world. It stayed that way until mid-2004, when it was surpassed by Afghanistan.

“There is no country, including Afghanistan, where we had more going on,” said William Wood, who was U.S. ambassador to Colombia from 2003 to 2007 before holding the same post in war-torn Afghanistan for two years after that.

Particular mention is made of the assassination of Paul Reyes, a key FARC leader, in Ecuador, in 2008. There is, by the way, a lot of heavy breathing about the wondrous GPS-guided smart bombs that took out Reyes; this is also the somewhat pedestrian weapon that “accidentally” took out the intelligence directorate in the People’s Republic of China’s embassy in Belgrade in 1999, for those of you keeping score.

First off: from 1998 to 2003, FARC was weakened by a ferocious campaign of white terror by the Colombian Self-Defense Forces or AUC. Conventional Colombian forces were hopelessly outmatched and understandably risk-averse, so in the late 1990s the government encouraged the formation of AUC units—actually well funded and well equipped narco-affiliated paramilitaries covertly supported by Colombian security forces-- which fought FARC according to their own rules. The AUC saw the folly of trying to track FARC into their jungle hideouts; instead the AUC, in counterinsurgency-speak, decided to “drain the swamp” i.e. remove FARC’s rural support infrastructure.

“Draining the swamp” in Colombia did not involve the beau ideal of "civilized" counterinsurgency, “hearts and minds” outreach to convince the peasants of the political, moral, and economic folly of supporting FARC. Nor did it involve a Colombian iteration of the “strategic hamlet” program, where the peasants were relocated to newly-constructed villages outside of FARC’s clutches.

Instead, the AUC would go into a village and torture and murder suspected FARC supporters or sympathizers in the most brutal and public manner imaginable. Individuals fled the AUC’s fury; sometimes whole villages decamped. Pathetically, some villages announced that they were “Peace Villages”, eschewing all contact with FARC and the AUC; at least one Peace Village was butchered by the AUC regardless.

All this happened under the eyes of the US government, local embassy, and CIA/DEA. Ever since the Clinton administration, US governments had poured money into Colombian security initiatives under the heading of “Plan Colombia”. Plan Colombia started out as a drug interdiction program meant to wean Colombia’s farmers from coca production and deny the countryside to narcos and FARC. It became progressively militarized and flourished even as the United States ostentatiously condemned the brutality of the AUC (placing it on a list of terrorist organizations in 2001).

According to the Colombian government’s own calculations, the AUC murdered at least 25,000 people and possibly twice that many during the campaign.

The AUC white terror was successful, albeit in a textbook Pyrrhic victory sort of way. FARC was driven from the Colombian heartland, but replaced by local rightwing militias that seized land and engaged in the usual drug trafficking, extortion, and so on beyond the government’s reach. Even as the AUC militias are gingerly demobilized, new militarized gangs have replaced them in the same region.

In 2003, when Alvaro Uribe (whose father had been murdered by FARC, and whose enthusiasm for autodefense forces and tolerance of narcos was widely rumored while governor of Antioquia province) took office as President of Colombia, FARC was already significantly weakened by the AUC terror campaign. In fact, Uribe was able to focus on the politically dicey work of demobilizing the AUC leadership through a carrot-and-stick campaign of threats of prosecution and promises of amnesty (and, rather unsuccessfully, trying to keep the AUC baddies from advertising their close links to the highest levels of Colombia’s government, security, and legal apparatus).

This is the point at which JSOC apparently stepped up. Not quite a mopping up, but it is unlikely that targeted killings of FARC leaders would have made as big a dent in FARC if they had not been preceded by five years of AUC terror. A rather amusing passage in the WaPo story depicts leadership decapitation as a brainwave that suddenly inspired the U.S. team after previous initiatives to rescue three U.S. hostages held by FARC proved ineffective.

Despite all the effort, the hostages’ location proved elusive. Looking for something else to do with the new intelligence equipment and personnel, the Bunker manager and his military deputy from the U.S. Special Operations Command gave their people a second mission: Target the FARC leadership. This was exactly what the CIA and JSOC had been doing against al-Qaeda on the other side of the world. The methodology was familiar.

“There was cross-pollination both ways,” said one senior official with access to the Bunker at the time. “We didn’t need to invent a new wheel.”

It should be pointed out, however, that the US government, even JSOC, had already been intimately involved in Colombian security operations—including decapitation strikes and extrajudicial killings-- for over a decade. One of the most interesting takeaways from Mark Bowden’s book, Killing Pablo, is the almost comically massive intrusion of US spooks into Colombia as part of the manhunt to track down Pablo Escobar in 1991-92.

Over a dozen U.S. agencies desperate for a post-Cold War mission descended on Medellin to offer training and sigint in the effort to locate, isolate, and ultimately kill Escobar. JSOC was there, Delta Force was there (led at one point by legendary “My God is bigger than your god” hyperenthusiast Jerry Boykin). The US determined that conventional sigint wouldn’t make a dent in Escobar’s organization if it was simply handed off to Colombia’s corrupt and incompetent security forces; instead, it turned a blind eye as its sigint was turned over to a special Medellin death squad of rival narcos (and direct precursors of the AUC!) for liquidation of Escobar’s key allies.

One of the rumors surrounding the extrajudicial execution of Escobar (there apparently was no consideration of arresting him, given the rickety nature of Colombian justice; he was shot as he clambered unarmed across a rooftop) was that a Delta Force sniper took him down.

If the US team in Colombia in 2006 had to rediscover the idea of extrajudicial murder in Iraq, they were poor students of US and local Colombian history.

As to the targeted killing of Paul Reyes, I happened to write extensively on this subject in 2009. Killing Reyes was something more than taking out a nettlesome insurgent otherwise beyond the reach of Colombian justice. Paul Reyes was the designated FARC moderate leader; he was deep in negotiations with a European team concerning the imminent release of Ingrid Betancourt, the famous hostage held together with the three Americans whose coca-surveillance plane had been shot down.

A negotiated release would have brought considerable luster to four of President Uribe’s most detested adversaries: the meddling French, the Colombian left wing, his archenemy Hugo Chavez, and FARC itself, which would have been legitimated as a constructive negotiating partner. Instead, the Colombian government located Reyes at his camp in Ecuador just across the border by monitoring his satellite phone communications. It was rumored at the time that US signals intelligence, relying on phone calls between Reyes and the European negotiating team or with Hugo Chavez, pinpointed the camp so it could be plastered by the Colombian air force with JSOC support.

In my 2009 piece I speculated that Uribe played this risky gambit (according to the European negotiators, the Betancourt release was a done deal and would have been completed in a few days; indeed, they were on their way to Reyes’ camp in Ecuador to wrap things up and they suspected that the raid was timed to kill Reyes before they showed up) because Colombia saw the prospect of striking a deal with Betancourt’s local captors and Uribe infinitely preferred the optics of a daring rescue to the humiliation of a negotiated release mediated by his political enemies.

The Betancourt “rescue” occurred four months after the Reyes raid. It was supposedly a blindingly clever ruse that convinced the local FARC commanders to load their hostages on a fake Red Cross helicopter loaded with Colombian security personnel. The operation was conducted in a rather ludicrous fashion. The hostages themselves immediately realized that the International Red Cross would not dispatch an unmarked helicopter to ferry them to FARC headquarters and, for that matter, that the IRC was unlikely to dispatch representatives wearing Che Guevara T-shirts and delivering a case of beer to the rebels, strongly implying that the complicity of the FARC commanders in this clumsy charade was virtually mandatory.

Although the US media was, in large part, unfailingly generous in crediting President Uribe with a brilliant and bloodless covert rescue, FARC claimed the hostages had been sold, and the European negotiators also pitched in with their suspicions. It was subsequently reported that the local FARC commanders had been trying to shop the hostages to the United States. And their lawyers confirmed in 2013 that the local commanders had also approached the Catholic Church as an intermediary to strike a deal. Uribe was perhaps unwilling to reveal the actual backstory of the release in order to celebrate Colombian special forces prowess and also dodge embarrassing questions concerning the contradictions between his sub rosa non-negotiation strategy and its seemingly necessary corollary, the sabotaging of negotiations (which, in addition to the killing of Reyes apparently included stunts like holding up proof of life videos so talks would collapse), thereby prolonging the hostages’ detention, peril, and intense misery.

The United States under President George W. Bush was an enthusiastic backer of President Uribe and his FARC strategy. US Southern Command provided immense logistical support to the hunt for Betancourt and the three US hostages, and no aid and comfort for a negotiated release. Before the liberation of the hostages, the US commitment was not publicized; afterwards it was no secret. USSC’s Admiral Stavridis claimed on his blog at the time that his command had expended $250 million dollars on the operation. Even when allowing for the creativity of military bookkeeping, it is clear that impressive resources were applied to the effort.

U.S. almost certainly provided key operational assistance—the girlfriend of one of the local hostage-minding FARC commanders had been arrested in the US and the US government brought in the Colombian authorities to jointly exploit this vital leverage—and perhaps also dovetailed extradition and incarceration strategies. Incarceration in a US federal prison is a trump card for Colombia in dealing with FARC guerillas and also with AUC paramilitaries. Prisoners in Colombia always have a chance of emerging from detention thanks to amnesty; but prisoners in the United States stay put. With remarkable even-handedness, the United States has indicted pretty much everybody in the FARC and AUC high commands for drug trafficking. Most recently, the Colombian government took advantage of these indictments to whisk away a clutch of AUC commanders who were apparently insufficiently cooperative in fulfilling the terms of their amnesty agreement. As for the Betancourt kidnappers, they and their stories were extradited to the United States and they haven’t been heard from since.

In summary, it seems likely the JSOC-assisted hit on Paul Reyes was more of a political favor to President Uribe to avoid an anticlimactic negotiated release of Betancourt and the hostages, rather than a vital piece of anti-terrorist derring-do.

Which makes this statement kinda dicey:

Would [the Reyes operation] constitute an assassination, which is prohibited by U.S. law? And, “could we be accused of engaging in an assassination, even if it is not ourselves doing it?” said one lawyer involved.

The White House’s Office of Legal Counsel and others finally decided that the same legal analysis they had applied to al-Qaeda could be applied to the FARC. Killing a FARC leader would not be an assassination because the organization posed an ongoing threat to Colombia. Also, none of the FARC commanders could be expected to surrender.

The Washington Post article rather uncritically reports on how great things are in Colombia thanks to JSOC:

Today, a comparison between Colombia, with its vibrant economy and swanky Bogota social scene, and Afghanistan might seem absurd. But a little more than a decade ago, Colombia had the highest murder rate in the world…

It’s perhaps unkind to point out that urban Colombia has consistently enjoyed “a vibrant economy and swanky Bogota social scene” for the last twenty years, thanks to the eager collusion of much of Colombia’s upper class in the nation’s narcodollar frenzy.

Certainly, thanks to the weakening of FARC, security is better for the WaPo’s key demographic: middle class urban dwellers loath to be kidnapped or blown up by insurgents. But for everybody else, Colombia still has the same problems of grinding poverty that fueled the struggle.

40% of Colombians live below the poverty line. In this case, it should be noted that the poverty line is monthly income of $100 i.e. daily income of about $3.20. 10% of Colombia’s population (the extremely poor) makes do on $1/day. 5 million in Colombia suffered from malnutrition in 2012. Colombia’s Gini index has worsened to 0.87 (1.0 being perfection in inequality), the second highest in Latin America after Brazil. 80% of land is owned by the top 14%, ranking Colombia 11th worst in the world and triggering a widespread agricultural strike this summer. According to Oxfam, a half century of civil war has alienated over 6 million hectares of land from the hands of farmers and have fallen under the sway of big Colombian landowners, the right wing paramilitaries, and their gangster heirs. Thanks to the civil war, Colombia is No. 1 in the world in Internally Displaced Population: 5.5 million (about 11% of Colombia’s population and almost 20% of the world’s population of IDPs).

In case you are interested, Venezuela, socialist hellhole, toilet paper denier to its desperate citizens, and the focus of US fears in Latin America, has a Gini index of 39, a poverty rate of 31.6%, and has redistributed over 4 million hectares of farmland (perhaps 17% of the national total) from latifundias to peasants since 2005, thereby arousing the ire of Venezuela’s entrenched middle and upper classes (who have somehow managed to wriggle from beneath the boot of Chavista tyranny to murder 300 agrarian reformers over the last decade) and alienating friends of property rights everywhere. Venezuela was recently recognized by the UN for cutting its malnutrition rate in half. Child malnutrition in Venezuela is about 3%. It’s 12% in Colombia.

Given these numbers, it is understandable that the United States is not all that eager to advertise Plan Colombia and, when it does, it concentrates on the mad skillz of JSOC in killing insurgents than it does in the ability of America’s devoted allies in the Colombian government to deliver a decent existence to millions of its citizens.

There is hope that Colombia will grow out of its problems and leftist insurgency, either by FARC or its successors, will wither. But the AUC and JSOC may simply have sown the seeds for a new generation of massacre.