Saturday, January 18, 2014

Burying the Fourth: Obama's Eulogy for America's Cornerstone Right

A Eulogy for the Fourth Amendment

by David Swanson - CounterPunch

President Barack Obama gave a eulogy for the Fourth Amendment on Friday, and not even his fans are proclaiming victory. In this moment when Obama is actually doing one thing I agree with (talking to Iran), more and more people seem to be slowly, agonizingly slowly, finally, finally, finally, recognizing what a complete huckster he is when it comes to pretty speeches about his crimes.

Obama’s speech and new “policy directive” eliminate the Fourth Amendment. Massive bulk collection of everybody’s data will continue unconstitutionally, but Obama has expressed a certain vague desire to end it, sort of, except for the parts that are needed, but not to do so right away. The comparisons to the closure of the Guantanamo death camp began instantly.

Far from halting or apologizing for the abuses of the NSA, Obama defends them as necessitated by the danger of a new 911. While drones over Yemen and troops in Afghanistan and “special” forces in three-quarters of the world are widely understood to endanger us, and while alternatives that upheld the rule of law and made us safer would not require secrecy or human rights violations, Obama wants to continue the counterproductive and immoral militarism while holding off all blowback through the omniscience of Big Brother.

However, Obama’s own panel and every other panel that has looked into it found zero evidence that the new abusive NSA programs have prevented any violent attacks. And it is well-documented that (even given the disastrous policies that produced 911) the attacks of that day could have been stopped at the last minute by sharing existing data or responding to urgent memos to the president with any sort of serious effort.

Obama has not proposed to end abuses. He’s proposed to appoint two new bureaucrats plus John Podesta. Out of this speech we get reviews of policies, a commitment to tell the Director of National Intelligence to read court rulings that impact the crimes and abuses he’s engaged in, and a promise that the “Intelligence Community” will inspect itself. (Congress, the courts, and the people don’t come up in this list of reforms.) Usually this sort of imperial-presidential fluff wins praise from Obama’s followers. This time, I’m not hearing it.

True, after EFF created a great pre-speech scorecard, when Obama scored a big fat zero, EFF said it was encouraged that he might score a point some day. But they didn’t sound impassioned about their encoragement.

Obama’s promises not to abuse unchecked secret powers (and implied promise that none of his successors or subordinates will abuse them either) is not credible, or acceptable, while it just might be impeachable. We’re talking here about the same government that listens in on soldiers’ phone sex, Congress members’ daily lives, and everything it can get its hands on related to the actual, rather than rhetorical, promotion of liberty, justice, or peace. A report today quotes various members of the government with security clearance who want to murder Edward Snowden. We’re supposed to just trust them with the right to or persons, houses, papers, and effects without probably cause or warrant? Are we also to trust the corporations they ask to do their dirty work, should the theoretical future reform of this outrage involve paying corporations to own our info?

Obama claims the “debate” — in which no debate opponent was given a minute at the microphone — is valuable. But the whistleblowers who create such debates “endanger” us, Obama says. This he claims without evidence.

If the debate was so useful, why not give the man who made you hold it with yourself his passport back?

Obama began Friday’s speech with a Sarah Palinesque bit of Paul Revere history. Revere is now an honorary NSA spy. In reality, the British would have hit Revere with a hellfire missile if Obama had been their king. It all depends on which side of a war you imagine someone to be on, and on whether you imagine war itself is an acceptable form of human behavior at this late date. Without the endless war on the world, the need for secrecy would go away, and with it the powers that secrecy bestows, and with them the arrogant speeches by rulers who clearly hold us all in contempt.

Resisters of royalty came up with a cure back in Paul Revere’s day. They called it impeachment. Of course it would be highly inappropriate to use. It might get in the way of the Fight for Freedom.

David Swanson is author of War is a Lie. He lives in Virginia.

Cashing In Big on America's "Israel First" Industry

The “Israel First” Industry and CEO Profiteering

by James Petras

During the first half of the 20th century, socially conscious Jews in the United States organized a large network of solidarity and charity associations financed mostly through small donations, raffles and dues by working and lower middle class supporters.

Many of these associations dealt with the everyday needs of Jewish workers, immigrants and families in need. Some were linked to labor unions, social democratic and leftist parties. Their leaders were, in many cases, individuals who worked long hours engaged in resolving problems and intervening in local crises.They drew a modest paycheck – (when funding was available) – comparable to that of a skilled worker. A few women’s groups like the Hadassah went door to door in predominantly Jewish commercial districts, hitting up Jewish and non-Jewish storekeepers with raffle tickets to purchase beds in Hebrew hospitals in Palestine/Israel.

The predominant ethic was improving the livelihood of Jews in America, joining with the America left and labor groups in united fronts against fascism and domestic, ethnic and racial supremacist organizations. Up until the establishment of Israel, Zionist organizations were a small minority in the Jewish community, especially among working class Jews.

Growing up in a multi-ethnic working class community (Lynn, Massachusetts) most of our Jewish friends and neighbors were workers and small shopkeepers: house painters, bookkeepers, carpenters, truck drivers (Gatso Feldman), window repairers (a long white bearded rabbi), junk collectors (Mr. Stone) on a horse drawn wagon calling for business with his whiskey hoarse voice (“Rax, Rax, Rax”! (Rags!)), butchers, bakers, drug store owners, tailors (“Sam, you made the pants too long”), fur and leather workers (Goldie Goldstein), warehousemen and a few owners. On the shady side there were poolroom hustlers (Marty Z), prostitutes (Sophie K) and gangsters (Louie F). In the mid-1950’s, Jews and non-Jews were engaged in a punch-out with the reactionary, anti-Semitic Feeneyites on Boston Common.

But by the late 1940’s changes began to take place under the pressure of events. As my Jewish college friend Paul L tells it, “One day the photo of Karl Marx, at the front of his Yiddish classroom, was taken down and replaced by one of Theodore Herzl, the founder of Zionism”. The reasons were two-fold: Joseph McCarthy the anti-communist was coming to town to interrogate and blacklist the leaders of United Electrical Workers at the local giant General Electric plant in Lynn. Secondly, the founding of Israel converted the Yiddish social democratic directors from leftists to Zionists - and Zionists were not on McCarthy’s agenda. By the mid-1950’s, the right turn among the Jewish labor associations was visible – literally! One night after our studies, I met up with two Jewish friends and we walked to Peter’s bar (10-cent beers with a rancid after-taste). On our way, my friends argued leftwing politics – Paul was for social democracy, Lenny for Trotskyism – I was the audience and potential adherent. As we passed the store window of the Workingman’s Circle (a Yiddish pro-labor organization) Lenny stopped and triumphantly pointed to a sign in the window – a US Marine recruitment poster! Paul was crushed.

At 14 years of age, I went to work at my father’s fish store in neighboring town of Revere, where the vast majority of our customers were Jews, many immigrants from Vilnius. Though there were several fish markets with Jewish owners – my father competed successfully because of his daily trek to the Atlantic Avenue piers in Boston to provide his customers with the freshest fish, caught the night before by Italian fishermen from the North End.

Of the thousands of customers, I recall only a couple of cases of Jewish supremacy: One well-known “yenta” (disagreeable woman) came in the store, saw our prices and then announced, “For those prices I could buy from a Jew!” Needless to say, she was sent on her way with a shower of Greek and Yiddish invectives from my father and his part-time fish-cutter Julius, ‘the Bolshevik from Vilnius’!

The Great Transformation

Over the past fifty years a far-reaching transformation has taken place within Jewish organizations, among its leaders and their practices and policies. Currently Jewish leaders have converted charities, social aid-societies and overseas programs for working class Jews into money machines for self-enrichment; converted charities funding health programs for Jewish refugees fleeing Nazism into the funding of colonial settlements for armed Zionist zealots intent on uprooting Palestinians; and organized a powerful political machine which buys US Congress people and penetrates the Executive in order to serve Israeli military aims. From defending human rights and fighting fascism, the leaders of the principle Jewish organizations defend each and every Israeli violation of Palestinian human rights – from arbitrary arrests of non-violent dissidents to the detention of children in ‘cages’. Israel’s Kafkaesque prolonged administration detention without trial is approved by contemporary leaders. In the past Jewish leaders, especially labor and socially-engaged activists had joined forces with Leftists in opposition to political bigots, McCarthyite purges and blacklists. Today’s leaders practice the very same bully, blackmail and blacklist politics against critics of Israel and its Zionist appendages.

Big Bucks: The Israel First Industry

In the past Jewish leaders of social aid organizations received modest salaries, not any more than those of skilled workers. Today the leaders of the major Jewish “non-profit” organizations are millionaires drawing between $200,000 and $800,000 a year plus lucrative allowances for “business expenses” (travel, housing, meals, etc.) which add another 30% to their income.

The moderately social liberal Jewish weekly, The Forward, recently completed a survey of the salaries of Jewish “not-for profits” leaders, with the aid of a professor from the Wharton School of Business (University of Pennsylvania). Among the leading profiteers was Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) earning $688,280, Howard Kohr of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) - $556,232, David Harris of the American Jewish Committee (AJC)- $504,445, Morton Klein of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA)- $435,050, Janice Weinman of Hadassah- $410,000, Malcolm Hoenlein of the Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations (PMJO)- $400,815, Mark Helfield of the Hebrew Immigration Aid Society - $268,834 and Ann Toback of the Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring - $185,712. These salaries and perks put the Jewish leaders of non-profits in the upper 10% of US incomes -- a far cry from the not-too-distant past. According to the analysis by the Forward and the Wharton team, ‘most leaders (CEOs) are vastly overpaid – earning more than twice what the head of an organization of their size would be expected to make”.

While the membership has declined in many organizations, especially among working and lower middle class Jews, the funding has increased and most important the plutocratic leaders have embraced a virulent militarist foreign policy and repressive domestic policies. Forward describes Abraham Foxman as “diverting the ADL from its self-described mission of fighting all forms of bigotry in the US and abroad to putting the ADL firmly on the side of bigotry and intolerance”. We can add that the ADL was convicted of spying on political groups in the US and has been active in bullying academic institutions to fire professors and civic organizations to cancel events critical of Israel and the “Israel First Industry” in the US.

The overwhelming response of the Jewish readers to the Forward’s survey was one of indignation, disgust and anger. As one reader commented, “The economic disconnect between their (CEOs) salaries and the average incomes of those who contribute to their charities is unacceptable”. Another indignant reader remarked succinctly: “Gonifs! (Thieves!)”. Many announced they could cut off future donations. One formerly orthodox reader stated, “I would rather give to a street beggar than to any of these”.

The drop-off of donations from lower-middle class Jews, however, will have little effect in reducing the salaries of the ‘non-profit’ CEO’s or changing the politics of their ‘non-profits; because they increasingly depend on six and seven digit contributions from Jewish millionaires and billionaires. Moreover, the contributions by big donors are linked to the politics of repression at home and securing multi-billion dollar military aid and trade programs for Israel from the US Treasury. The billion- dollar donors have no objection to funding the millionaire leaders – as long as they concentrate their efforts on buying the votes of US Congress members and aligning their politics with Israel’s war aims. Foxman will continue to be “overpaid” for running an organization with a rapidly declining membership, which does not fight bigotry, so long as he secures big bucks from rightwing Zionist donors who value his success in sabotaging the White House – Iran interim agreement and securing new Senate sanctions against Iran.

Likewise in 2013, AIPAC Executive Director Howard Kohr pocketed $556,232 in salary plus $184,410 for “expenses”, ($740,647 in total) for dedicating most of his budget and lobbyists to fighting for US sanctions against Iran, supporting US wars for Israel in the Middle East, funding Jews only settlements in Palestine and securing US vetoes of UN resolutions critical of Israeli war crimes.

David Harris, Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee ($504,445 plus expenses) has devoted most of the AJC’s time and resources to pressuring Congress and the Executive to follow Netanyahu’s demand for harsher sanctions on Iran. Harris is an inveterate liar and slanderer. According to the Forward, “On July 1 (2013), a few weeks after Hassan Rohani was elected as Iran’s new President, Harris charged that Rohani was implicated in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish Center in Buenos Aires. This was a week after Alberto Nisman, the Argentine prosecutor (and an ardent Jewish Zionist) had informed the Times of Israel editor, David Horvitz, that Rohani was neither under indictment nor accused of any involvement”.


The Great Transformation among American Jewish charitable organizations is evidenced by the shift (1) from social aid for working Jews, poor immigrants and elderly Holocaust victims to political influence peddling at the service of the highly militarized state of Israel, (2) from engaging in social welfare for American Jews to political lobbying for military transfers to Israel, (3) from grassroots leaders sharing life styles and struggles with their rank and file donors to millionaire CEO’s entertaining Zionist billionaires and banging tables for Israel at the White House while paying off Congressional influential and (4) from reaching out and aligning with Americans working for peace with justice in the Middle East to embracing every tin horn monarch and dictator who signs off on Israeli annexation of Palestinian land.

The key to the transformation is located in the ideological and structural transformation among the leaders of the Jewish organizations. The rise to prominence – indeed the centrality – of billionaire/millionaire Zionist donors has put in place leaders who mirror their Israel-First outlook and who have similarly enriched themselves. Secondly, the Great Transformation of Jewish charitable organizations has resulted from the ascendancy of an ethnic supremacist ideology which views ‘others’ as inferior subjects to be ruled by the superior intelligence of Jewish political and business leaders and which orders that the ‘disobedient’ and ‘dissident’ be castigated as ‘anti-Semites’ and punished by jail, media ostracism, censorship, overt threats and, most commonly, loss of employment. A key consequence of the rise to political power of the once socially conscious Jewish organizations is the shedding of their popular mass base. Members have resigned in protest over the CEO’s manipulative authoritarian leadership style. Expulsions and harassment have forced others to retire. But most of all the leadership’s blind political submission to Israeli state policy and self-enrichment has alienated growing numbers of young socially active, as well as, middle age Jews who are disenchanted with their Gonif leaders.

As disenchantment grows, the organized groups and leaders act with greater discipline and aggression to preserve their false image as “representatives of the Jewish community”. Jewish dissidents are silenced or isolated. The CEO “leaders” and their rabbinical allies fuse ethno-supremacy, the menorah, the Israeli flag and the politics of Israel-First into a powerful instrument of internal control. Lucrative salaries and personal enrichment at the service of Israel are not a crime: They are viewed as virtues, at least among respectable … gonifs.

I remember the older brother of a boyhood friend, a Jew who joined the Lincoln Brigade and fought on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War. More recently I recall a young student at Binghamton University telling me he was going to Israel to serve with the Israeli Defense Forces after graduation. No doubt this young American’s Zionist “militancy” will translate into breaking the legs of protesting Palestinian school children. Yes, a ‘transformation’ has taken place but I must confess that I prefer Izzy Levine’s candy and comic book store where neighborhood school kids socialized, including the descendants of Sicilians, Odessa Jews, Afro-Americans and Spartan Greeks, over the current Judeo-centric CEO’s who run the ‘Israel-First’ industry. Izzy was a far greater American than Abe Foxman, political blackmailer, police informer and millionaire gonif.

As California Burns, Site C Threatens Vital BC Farmland

Peace Valley's "Extraordinary" Farmland Could Feed Million People Agrologists Tell Site C Dam Review

by Damien Gillis - The Common Sense Canadian

A pair of highly-respected agricultural experts made a compelling case this week for sparing some of BC’s best farmland from a proposed dam on the Peace River. Together, veteran agrologist Wendy Holm and soil scientist Evelyn Wolterson argued that BC Hydro’s error-ridden study of the flood zone for the $10 billion proposed Site C Dam missed the unique soil and climate values that would enable this land to feed up to a million people – were the focus to shift from hydropower to farming.

Conversely, if a third dam on the Peace were built, it would create the single largest loss of land in the 40-year history of the province’s Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) – drowning or severely impacting over 30,000 acres of largely exceptional land.

On Tuesday, the Joint Review Panel investigating Site C heard from Holm, a highly-decorated former President of the BC Institute of Agrologists with 40 years’ experience in the field, and agrologist and farming consultant Evelyn Wolterson – both presenting their findings on behalf of the Peace Valley Environment Association and BC Women’s Institue.

“The Peace River Valley has extraordinarily high value for agriculture,” Wolterson told the panel from the outset.

It is our opinion that the public interest is better served [by] agriculture and other uses for this valley, rather than a hundred years of power production…Power has other alternatives; agriculture doesn’t.

Over 30,000 acres to be flooded or impacted

Location of the proposed Site C Dam (Damien Gillis)

In all, the project would impact 31,528 acres of class 1-7 farmland, roughly half of which lies “within the project’s flood, stability and landslide-generated wave impact lines,” notes Holm’s report to the panel. The other half will be permanently lost beneath the reservoir and access roads. Of the total land impacted and compromised, over 8,300 acres are class 1 and 2 soils – making it some the best farmland in the country.

According to Holm, Hydro ignores the half that won’t end up under water immediately but will nevertheless be heavily compromised over time and rendered largely un-farmable. Meanwhile, in its Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the project, the crown corporation determines the loss of the other half “is insignificant, because all ‘costs’ associated with any such loss can be mitigated and/or compensated.” Holm charges that the crown corporation understates everything from the amount of land impacted, to the long-term damage from the project to the local farming economy.

And that’s just the beginning of the problems with BC Hydro’s EIS which Holm and Wolterson unearthed for the panel.

The Peace Valley’s surprisingly “extraordinary” land

The panel seemed genuinely interested to learn from Holm and Wolterson about the special properties of the valley that make it so productive agriculturally.

For starters, the Peace River’s largely east-west orientation means the valley gets more sun, thus experiencing longer growing days and seasons than other land that far north. “The best farmland in BC is in the southern valleys,” Wolterson told the panel. “The notable exception is the Peace River Valley.”

Other factors like lower wind speeds, excellent Spring moisture, and a longer frost-free period mean, counterintuitively, that “crop yield goes up as you go from the south to the north,” Wolterson explained.

These are all elements of this valley that make it absolutely unique…not only in the region but in all of British Columbia, and perhaps Western Canada.

Even a BC Hydro representative acknowledged to the panel in an earlier presentation Tuesday, “Our assessment certainly accepts that this is highly capable land and a favourable climate.” If anything, he conceded, the climate has improved since the last major study conducted by BC Hydro 30 years ago.

Yet throughout the project proponent’s 15,000-page report, “flawed data is leading to faulty conclusions,” Wolterson asserts.

Hydro cultivates wrong idea about valley’s farmland

A sampling of the diverse produce grown at the Peterson market garden in the 1980s (photo: Larry Peterson)

Both experts ticked off a long list of problems with Hydro’s methodology for the EIS. ”The panel does not have in front of it reliable information on which to measure the economic loss to agriculture and the public interest,” Holm stated at the top of her presentation.

Wolterson gave several examples of BC Hydro’s flawed analysis. For instance, a higher-elevation region above the valley known as the Uplands was given roughly same growing season as a monitoring station at the Fort St. John Airport, while the dam proponent ascribed 30 fewer growing, or “crop opportunity” days to the valley itself. “There’s something wrong with that data,” Wolterson told the panel.

“What it shows here is the capability of these [valley] lands in Attachie Flat and Bear Flat are equivalent to what they are at the Fort St. John airport. I’ve worked in this community for 20 years…I know that’s not true,” Wolterson testified, offering an example of crop yields 30% higher in the valley, compared with farms closer to Fort St. John.

In some cases, the valley beats even the Lower Mainland’s farms for productivity. For instance, Larry Peterson, who ran a successful market garden there with his wife Lynda in the 1970s and 80s, would get 13.6 tonnes per acre for potatoes, compared with the average yield in the Lower Fraser Valley of only 10.2 tonnes per acre.

In broader terms, Holm emphasized:

The land to be flooded by Site C is capable of producing high-yielding fresh fruits and vegetables for over a million people.

BC’s food security withering on the vine

“There is a misperception that there is a vast amount agricultural land that is waiting to be exploited. It’s simply not true,” Wolterson warned the review panel.

Much of the Peace Valley’s best farmland was flooded in 1968 by the WAC Bennett Dam (Damien Gillis)

According to the Ministry of Agriculture’s own 2007 assessment, titled BC’s Food Self-Reliance (download here), BC grows just 48% of the food it consumes. Vegetable production per capita has fallen to half of what it was in 1970. And the problem is only getting worse, says Wolterson. “Over the last 10 some-odd years, there’s been a serious and alarming decline in agricultural land area” – driven by everything from urban encroachment, industrial projects, and declining of productivity.

The combination of a shrinking food supply and growing population has put BC on a path to serious food security challenges, both presenters emphasized.

In that sense, Site C Dam should be viewed in the context of a wide range of cumulative impacts, together whittling away BC’s food security. Issues like fracking, roads, and segmentation of farmland for other industrial projects have all made farming more difficult and dragged down productivity, says Wolterson.

Moreover, BC Hydro’s flood reserve – a land bank it has accumulated over the years, buying out farmers in preparation for a future dam (Site C has been on the books for three decades now) – has had an “enormous”, detrimental impact on agricultural investment in the valley, giving a false impression of the productivity of the land. Hydro’s EIS and rationale for the dam leans heavily on this fiction.

Economic value of farmland underestimated

Cash crop: Is Hydro underestimating the economic value of farmland?

Holm’s presentation focused in part on the economic value Hydro assessed to farmland that would be lost from the dam, arguing it has made some dangerous miscalculations. With “global loss of farmland, water shortages, soil salinization, higher energy costs, transportations costs, supply chain concentration, population growth, there is no question that there is going to be intense pressure on food prices as we move into the future,” cautioned Holm.

In other words, land that is fallow and of seemingly little value today could see its economic worth – and value as a local food source – skyrocket in the future, something we may rue when we can no longer depend on truckloads of cheap tomatoes from California rolling across the border.

British Columbians currently spend 11% of household income on food, Holm noted, but that figure could rise significantly in the not-too-distant future, based on these myriad shifting factors. Viewed in that light, Hydro is recklessly lowballing lost economic value from flooded farmland, pegging it a a paltry $20 million.

The Shadow of the Dam

Holm came back to the flood reserve issue as well, suggesting that Hydro’s assumptions of the productivity and economic value of the land are erroneously based on a false dynamic that discourages farmers from working the land to its full potential.

The ‘shadow of the dam’ refers to the flood reserve that fell across the farmland in 1957. Considerable farmland was purchased by BC Hydro, farmers were told not to get too attached to their fields as Site C moved on, then off, then on again to the provincial drawing boards. Naturally, this has prejudiced farm decision-making. As a result, current land use does not reflect the agro-economic potential of the land.

Process designed to fail the public

The proposed Site C Dam – artist’s rendering

Much like the Liberal Government did to the BC Utilities Commission – barring the public’s independent energy watchdog from reviewing the economics and need for Site C - it has also stripped the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) of its lawful oversight of the biggest potential land removal in its history

“This independent body, which was specifically created to ensure a thorough, non-partisan assessment of large projects like Site C, is not going to be allowed to do its job,” says Peace Valley Environment Association (PVEA) Coordinator Andrea Morison. The PVEA wrote to the Joint Review Panel, suggesting it ask the ALC for details on the process that they would have undertaken in assessing Site C - despite the provincial government’s attempts to exclude it from the conversation. The panel declined the request.

And so it is that both public watchdogs designed to keep the government and Hydro in check in this very situation curiously find themselves sitting on the bench for the biggest game of their careers.

Even the public hearing process was scheduled over the holiday season and limited to the region of the dam, despite the enormous bill taxpayers around the province would foot to build it. The whole process has been anathema to public participation.

Hydro’s work “weak and meaningless”

In the ALR’s place, BC Hydro has done a predictably poor job of assessing these agricultural issues and planning for their mitigation, say Holm and Wolterson.

“BC Hydro acknowledges that the mitigation plan and the compensation program that they’ve put together…they don’t really know how much is needed; there’s no specifics in how it would be implemented; there’s no evidence of possible uptake; there’s no proof that there’s a benefit,” Wolterson said in her conclusion.

I think it’s weak and I think it’s meaningless and it gives me no confidence and I can’t see how the panel can determine if this plan is going to adequately compensate for the loss of these incredibly valuable lands.

What’s more important: energy or food?

Arlene Boon’s family would lose its century old farm at Bear Flat to Site C

Beneath the 15,000-page reports, the political shenanigans with the review process, and all the rhetoric about economic development lies a simple truth: Last year, BC generated about 110% as much electricity as it needed, but produced, at most, 48% of the food it consumed. In other words, while we have plenty of electricity to power our homes and businesses well into the future, the same thing cannot be said about our food security.

The problem is virtually invisible to British Columbians today. Most of us have no idea we exported a net surplus of 5,840 gigawatt hours of power last year (at a loss!) – you certainly wouldn’t learn this listening to BC Hydro, which has a long history of exaggerating future demand. And as long as those trucks keeping rolling north from California and Mexico – as long as Superstore’s shelves remain stocked and Costco keeps selling giant bags of tri-coloured peppers for 5 bucks – most of us will never know how real the danger is, how foolish the choices are that our government is making today.

The fact is, the only reason we really “need” this dam, according to Premier Christy Clark herself, is to power incredibly energy-intensive liquefied natural gas (LNG) plants on the coast, her government’s one big – if not bright – idea.

So the choice we face with Site C Dam – if you can even call it a choice for BC’s marginalized citizens and First Nations – is this: Power that we don’t need…or food that we do?

Damien Gillis is a Vancouver-based documentary filmmaker with a focus on environmental and social justice issues - especially relating to water, energy, and saving Canada's wild salmon - working with many environmental organizations in BC and around the world. He is the co-founder, along with Rafe Mair, of The Common Sense Canadian, and a board member of both the BC Environmental Network and the Haig-Brown Institute.

Saudi/Iranian Rivalry Behind Regional Terror Campaign

Al Qaeda and the Saudi Agenda - Toby Jones on Reality Asserts Itself (pt.1)


Toby Jones tells Paul Jay that the Saudis use of terrorism is driven by a fear of democracy and a desire to be the regional and oil hegemon.

Toby Jones is a historian of the modern Middle East. His interests are varied. Jones’s scholarship focuses primarily on the political intersections between science, technology, the environment, knowledge production, and the state formation, war, and Islamism. Before joining the history department at Rutgers University, Jones taught at Swarthmore College. During the 2008-2009 he was a fellow at Princeton University’s Oil, Energy and the Middle East project. From 2004 to early 2006 he worked as the political analyst of the Persian Gulf for the International Crisis Group where he wrote about political reform and sectarianism. 

Friday, January 17, 2014

BC Coastal Tarsands Project

Coastal Tarsands Project Summary

by CoastalTarSands

This innovative media project takes a first hand look at British Columbia’s central coast, its natural features, the weather, the currents, the wildlife, and the people who live there. The filmmaker’s personal journeys into this remote wilderness focus on the coastal areas where the Enbridge Corporation is proposing to navigate hundreds of supertankers loaded with millions of barrels of Dilluted Bitumen (Dilbit) from Alberta’s Tarsands to China via Kitimat, British Columbia, Canada.


A series of 10 minute video documentaries will be posted in chronological order as they are produced.

Hartley Bay, British Columbia

Community at a Cross-Routes

The Gitga’at people of Hartley Bay rescued 99 people from the BC Ferry ‘Queen of the North’ as it sank to the bottom of Wright Sound at 12:25 am March 22, 2006. Two passengers died onboard the wreck. This remote community is located at the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest on Douglas Channel where it intersects with BC’s ‘Inside Passage.’ The Enbridge Corporation has requested permission from the Federal Government to navigate hundreds of Supertankers loaded with Alberta Tarsands through Gitga’at territory. Belle Eaton, Helen Clifton, and Eric Keen share their experience about the waters and marine environment in this area.

When another video is posted the earlier works will still be available for viewing by clicking on Videos at the top menu.
Including Music Video with original song
‘Our Native Land’ by Layla Zoe

Each of these ‘mini-docs’ will be self-contained, unique, and focus on a particular aspect of the journey that the filmmaker takes while exploring the central coast of British Columbia. These individual ‘mini-docs’ will lend themselves easily to sharing between friends, family, and acquaintances. All of these ‘mini-docs’ will be edited together into a final hour-long documentary for film festivals and television broadcast.

The primary goal for this independent media project is:

To be effective in educating the public about the coast where the Enbridge Corporation plans to bring hundreds of supertankers.


The Enbridge Corporation is spending $350 million on media campaigns, including promotional animation TV ads. Federal and Provincial governments are also spending millions of taxpayer dollars on advertising to promote the benefits of the both the Alberta Tarsands and the Enbridge Corporation’s Northern Gateway Pipeline.

‘Coastal Tarsands’ will examine the truth behind tankers navigating Canada’s west coast with a series of strategies that reflect today’s independent media. This unique project will use public support to provide a voice for the environment that will be most impacted by supertankers proposed by the Enbridge Corporation. You can help to make this project successful by spreading the word about this website and staying tuned to view more videos as they are posted.


First and foremost this project will document the very real coastal landscapes that exist where supertankers will navigate if the Enbridge Corporation gets its way. Each ‘mini-doc’ will focus on a different aspect of this very complex subject, with an emphasis upon bringing out the truth facing the coast of British Columbia. This unique media approach will allow for filming to take place over the course of a year highlighting coastal geography, ocean currents, surge tides, localized weather, diverse ecosystems, wildlife at risk, communities affected, and other specifics unique to this coastal wilderness. Most of these natural challenges to supertankers have never been revealed, therefore ‘Coastal Tarsands’ will provide the public with opportunities to see just how important information has been omitted by industry, government, and the mainstream media. Each ‘mini-doc’ will present a diverse perspective that will highlight the vast degree of fluctuation in natural conditions facing Tarsands Supertankers in these water. The oil industry is proposing to ship 500,000 barrels a day through the rugged mountains and central coast of BC. That equals 182 million barrels or 29 billion liters every year from Alberta’s Tarsands bound for China through British Columbia and the westcoast of Canada.


This independent media project aims to spark conversations, spread first hand information, and inspire Canadians to action. Polls confirm that 80% of BC residents and 50% of Canadians are opposed to Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline. We all have the power to vote.

However the rest of the country will most likely decide the fate of Canada’s West Coast regarding a future oil spill. That is the reality of the voting numbers in this country. Those that have the least first hand experience, the least information, and the least to loose have the majority of the vote in Canada, and they don’t live on the west coast. The information gathered through this project is easily passed on to others, so if you know someone living anywhere in Canada please invite them to engage in this project and visit this website. Ask them to view the videos, check out the facts, and learn more than just what the Enbridge Corporation, and the governments of Canada, British Columbia, and Alberta are promoting with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of advertising. Coastal Tarsands is a grass roots initiative and success will depend on your participation. Please help spread this important information and help save the coast from oil spills.

Raise public awareness by spreading and sharing information
Forward this link to your friends, family, colleagues
Encourage your nieghbours to spread the word but also people living outside of British Columbia since they form the majority of Canadians and therefore can sway the Federal vote
Post a link on your own website
Like Us or Join our Group on FACEBOOK
Take the pledge and join COASTAL TARSANDS CAUSE
Encouraging people to donate towards this media project
Write your MP, MLA, Premier, Prime MInister
VOTE with the coast in mind

‘Coastal Tarsands’ needs your support

For details please click menu heading

‘Get Involved’

“A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

- Margaret Mead


Today 80% of BC residents and 50% of Canadians are opposed to the Enbridge Corporation’s Northern Gateway Pipeline Project. Now its time to make the rest of Canada understand just how destructive these Supertankers will be to the Pacific coast of Canada.

Supertankers will be to the Pacific coast of Canada.

 Bottom Line!

Oil and Water Don’t Mix!

Enbridge’s Planned Routes for 550 Super Tankers annually

550 Tankers?

Enbridge mentioned only 225 Tankers… 
find out more on ‘The Facts‘ page.

Syria's Leningrad: The Siege of Yarmouk

The Siege of Yarmouk

by Franklin Lamb

Yarmouk Palestinian Camp, Damascus  - At the Palestine Embassy in Beirut recently, a young lady showed this observer a video of a gentleman in Yarmouk camp in Damascus. The video showed the man killing and eating a cat. Food ran out in Yarmouk weeks ago, and nearly 18,000 refugees are facing death from starvation and other conflict-related causes. This siege has been ongoing since July 2013, and it has become viciously lethal.

The Palestinians living here have been targeted. They are part of the quarter million people—children, women, and men—trapped and dying from hunger and illness all across Syria as a direct, predictable result of using the siege of civilians as a weapon of war. It isn’t just Yarmouk. Throughout Syria, neighborhoods are being blockaded. Residents are running out of supplies, unable to get basic services. Among the Syrian towns under siege at this time are Nubul and Al-Zahraa in Aleppo province, the old city of Homs, and the towns of Eastern Ghouta, Daraya and Moadamiyet al-Sham in rural Damascus.

Truly a crisis of horrifying proportions, yet perhaps nowhere is this more the case than in the systematic starvation of Palestinian refugees in Yarmouk camp, where this past week eight more Palestinians died from malnutrition. These include 80-year-old, Jamil al-Qurabi, 40-year-old, Hasan Shihabi, and a 50-year-old woman named Noor. In addition, 10-year-old Mahmoud al-Sabbagh and two 19-year-olds—Majid Imad Awad and Ziad al-Naji—were killed while protesting the blockade of the camp. And reports have also emerged that two other men, Muhammad Ibrahim Dhahi and Hasan Younis Nofal, were tortured and killed.

In December 2013, UNRWA Commissioner-General Filippo Grandi, issued a statement concerning the situation in Yarmouk camp, in which he said: "Since September 2013 we have been unable to enter the area to deliver desperately needed relief supplies.”

Based on conversations with Palestinians who were able to literally crawl out of the area from sewage pipes on the South side of Yarmouk, more than 100 people, as of 1/15/14, have died from starvation in the past four months—that is since mid-August 2013. Other causes of death have included three dozen cases of death by dehydration, and also malnutrition (differing slightly from starvation in that it pertains to inadequate nutrition rather than a total absence of ingestible substances) (you still die from it, though). More than three dozen miscarriages have also resulted from the food shortages, while infants have succumbed due to lack of milk. There have also been deaths by hypothermia for lack of fuel, and recently I spoke with a gentleman whose niece, an infant girl, died of suffocation in her neonatal intensive care unit due to a power cut.

In January of 2013 the UN estimated that one million people needed urgent humanitarian assistance. Today, twelve months later, the figure is nearly ten million. That assessment is from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who spoke last week at yet another aid conference. A commission of inquiry set up by the UN Human Rights Council has found war crimes, crimes against humanity, and gross human rights violations committed in Syria on a daily basis. According to its conclusion, “All sides in the conflict have shown a total disregard for their responsibilities under the international humanitarian and human rights law."

International law relevant to situations of this nature was created specifically to stop the targeting of civilians. Its principles, standards and rules demand that such targeting cease, and they call for the prosecution of perpetrators irrespective of which side in the civil war in Syria they may support. A civil war is an armed conflict located on the territory of one state, between the armed forces of the State and dissident armed forces or other organized armed groups under responsible command. These are groups that maintain control over part of the land, or that are able to carry out armed operations of a continuous and coordinated nature. The applicable statutes include Common Article 3 of Protocol II (1977) the Geneva Conventions of 1949. Whether it is regime armed forces and their allies, or anti-government militia, both are legally bound to respect the Geneva Conventions and must lift the siege on Yarmouk. If not, they risk prosecution at an existing international court or at a possible Special Tribunal for Syria being contemplated among some at the United Nations.

The following is from Additional Protocol II to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949: Part IV: Civilian Population:


1. The civilian population and individual civilians shall enjoy general protection against the dangers arising from military operations.

To give effect to this protection, the following rules shall be observed in all circumstances.

2. The civilian population as such, as well as individual civilians, shall not be the object of attack. Acts or threats of violence the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population are prohibited.

3. Civilians shall enjoy the protection afforded by this Part, unless and for such time as they take a direct part in hostilities.

Article 14. PROTECTION OF OBJECTS INDISPENSABLE TO THE SURVIVAL OF THE CIVILIAN POPULATION. Starvation of civilians as a method of combat is prohibited. It is therefore prohibited to attack, destroy, remove or render useless, for that purpose, objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, such as food stuffs, agricultural areas for the production of foodstuffs, crops, livestock, drinking water installations and supplies and irrigation works.

Article 15. PROTECTION OF WORKS AND INSTALLATIONS CONTAINING DANGEROUS FORCES. Works or installations containing dangerous forces, namely dams, dykes and nuclear electrical generating stations, shall not be made the object of attack, even where these objects are military objectives, if such attack may cause the release of dangerous forces and consequent severe losses among the civilian population.

This body of international law requires that all warring parties immediately end the siege of Yarmouk and allow the entry of food supplies, while permitting those who want to leave the camp to do so. The safety of those who wish to return to their homes is also mandated. Additionally the law requires guarantees of safe passages to relief teams, UN fact finding missions, and unobstructed entry of medicines, medical staff and medical equipment. Those today who are preventing this are subject to international criminal prosecution, and as noted above, they are subject to future prosecution at any time, as the level and nature of their crimes prevent the application of any Statute of Limitations.

According to human rights activists, attempts to evacuate civilians from Yarmouk camp failed in spite of efforts and agreements between the Syrian government and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). Those attempting to leave were arrested, in some cases with serious bodily and mental harm inflicted on them. Others were shot at near the camp’s entry points. This occurred particularly in the last two months of 2013 and early January 2014. Several agreements between the warring parties, being the Syrian government forces and the rebels assaulting Yarmouk, have not been honored by either. Attempts to evacuate civilians from Yarmouk have consistently failed in spite of efforts and agreements between the regime and the PLO, and some who attempted escape were arrested, beaten or shot at.

The several attempts to lift the siege usually include versions of the following language from Yarmouk’s Popular Committee that “based on our principled position of positive neutrality and keeping the Palestinians and their camps out of the confrontations in Syria, we propose that all the Palestinian camps – and Yarmouk camp in particular – be secure and safe areas, free of weapons and fighters, by taking the following steps:

– End all public display of weapons and fighters, with guarantees to those who wish to do so.

– Avoid the use of the camps as areas of confrontation and cease all forms of fighting, including sniping and shelling.

– Allow the free movement of people, food, medical supplies and vehicles in and out of the camp, which will encourage the return of the displaced to their homes.

– Restore services, including electricity, water, telecommunications, schools, and hospitals.

– Provide amnesty to all those camp residents who have been detained if their involvement in the fighting cannot be confirmed.”

Despite an official policy of neutrality announced by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and despite also unequivocal statements by Palestinian delegations acquitting the regime of any responsibility in the besieging, bombing and targeting of the camp and its inhabitants, it has not been enough to ensure the entry of humanitarian aid convoys.

But there is hope that relief may come. Against the backdrop of accusations and condemnations being circulated, many are looking to Russia to step in and, much as it did when it induced the Assad government to get rid of its chemical weapons, pressure the government to at least lift its own part of the siege.

There are critics of the idea, however. Mr. Ibrahim Amin, Editor in Chief of Lebanon’s Al Akbar daily newspaper, argues that somehow because Palestinians have been given many more civil rights in Syria than, for example, Lebanon—which to Syria’s great credit is true—then the refugees must somehow be at fault for their own slaughter and siege at Yarmouk. It is nonsense, of course, as also is his statement that, “In Syria, Palestinians were citizens.”—nonsense because, for example, Palestinians cannot vote in Syrian elections. Amin should know this, and he should know that they have never been made citizens of Syria, for this is common knowledge.

Nevertheless, writing in the January 13 issue of his newspaper, Editor Amin piles blame on the victims, rather than the perpetrators, by seeming to argue that they deserved it—the babies dying of malnutrition, the people suffering from dehydration and disease caused by the siege of their camp. He demands to know, “What pushed Palestinians in this camp to believe in toppling Bashar al-Assad? No sane person ever figured that much of the camp would raise their weapons in the face of Syria.”

More nonsense from the Editor-in-Chief since virtually every Palestinian organization and leader, and virtually every resident living in any one of UNWRA’s 54 camps, including the ten in Syria, have repeatedly proclaimed their non-involvement in the Syria conflict. Presumably in his line of work Mr. Amin would know this. And presumably, if he took the time to speak to any Palestinians about the conflict in Syria, he would likely be advised that they are grateful to the Syrian people for hosting them. He might also be advised that they regret that some of their leaders got involved with the conflict in Iraq under Saddam Hussein, since innocent Palestinian civilians paid dearly, and that they will not repeat the mistake in Syria. It is a fact that some individual Palestinians, following the intense December 12-17, 2012 shelling and bombing of parts of Yarmouk, turned against those who were blamed for targeting them.

“Those who stayed are the ones who refused to go through a new displacement, as well as members of armed groups and their families,” Mr. Amin states, though without offering any evidence.

He goes on:

“In a few months the camp was transformed into a haven for groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and al-Nusra Front.” 

Again his assertions are false and politically motivated. Those who stayed are overwhelmingly those refugees who cannot escape. The Syrian army to its credit has not invaded the camp, but it does surround and seals most of it. Some rebel groups are hiding inside and terrorizing the camp.

It is egregious for Mr. Amin to misrepresent the facts of Palestinian neutrality in Syrian camps; it is doubly egregious for him to do so apparently wishing to gain approval from Syrian or Resistance leaders. Neither is likely to be other than embarrassed by Mr. Amin’s gross misrepresentations or his gratuitous ad hominem attacks on refugee camp victims of war crimes. The Editor-in-Chief’s distortions do not help the Resistance but rather harm it. As does his insistence that the murder of Lebanon’s former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri eight years ago was done with a ‘secret missile’ fired from the Zionist regime occupying Palestine. There are a fair number of “Resistance groupies” and bloggers, well-meaning perhaps, but who in many cases actually aid enemies of the Resistance through their clumsy attempts at water carrying while ignoring reality.

But there is good news awaiting Mr. Amin if he will accept an invitation from one who considers himself to have been “Hezbollah” long before the 1985 “Open Letter” announcing the organizing of the Party of God next to where this observer gets his motorbike repaired in Ouzai. That is to say “Hezbollah” in the sense that since studying international law in law school this observer has supported the liberation of Palestine while rejecting the last of the 19th century’s colonial enterprise still occupying Palestine, and in the sense that this observer shares Hezbollah’s resistance goals and their declared responsibility to continue the struggle until achieving the full Right of Return. Oh yes, to be sure, this observer is not a card-carrying member of the Resistance, as I want to remind dear friend Jeff Feltman, who swore at an embassy Christmas party a while back that “Lamb faces ten years hard time in the feds when he dares to set foot on American soil for hobnobbing with terrorists”—though given the fact that Jeff had been imbibing some Christmas cheer when he made that statement to an embassy staffer, he has perhaps forgotten it now, which would be good news.

But at any rate, for Mr. Amin, here is what a fellow supporter of the Resistance is willing to do to possibly help him re-assess his conclusion about what is going on in Yarmouk: I invite Mr. Amin to appear in the lobby of the Dama Rose hotel in Damascus at 9 a.m. sharp on January 24. I will buy him breakfast, and as we dine, two contacts from Yarmouk will brief him on our morning program—a program that will include Mr. Amin discretely accompanying us to the south side of Yarmouk, where, depending on conditions that morning, we will arrive in front of the Zakerin Mosque in Al-Buweida, maybe 300 yards from the Az-Zain neighborhood. Mr. Amin will then need to join us crawling through a rather claustrophobic and smelly 30” diameter drain pipe that is approximately 40 yards in length. We will at this point hopefully end up safely in the basement of “Abu Ali’s” remaining half-house, where several refugees are still trapped. Mr. Amin can also visit with others next door. He should bring some cash, however, because his host doesn’t have much and we may need a bit to bribe a couple of gun-kids from one of the militias to facilitate our exit in case we are ratted out, so to speak.

Finally Mr. Amin will be able to see for himself, and listen to direct testimony, about what presently is, and has been, happening inside Yarmouk. He can ask the weakened residents about the conclusions he confidently presented in his Al Akbar article in which he claimed that the Yarmouk tragedy and crimes are their fault, or, as he so confidently put it, “Today, the unfolding events (in Yarmouk) are 100 percent a Palestinian responsibility.” He may be surprised at what he learns about camp residents still trapped there, people scrabbling to feed themselves, and who have had no say or active role in the deplorable events that have overtaken them.

Just maybe, then, Mr. Amin will be motivated to edit a bit his earlier ridiculous broadside attacking the victims of the Yarmouk siege. And should he feel any contrition, maybe he will devote some of his energy and space in his newspaper to actually working for two elementary civil rights for Palestinians in Lebanon—the right to work and home ownership. Their achievement will benefit Lebanon and the Resistance, both of which Mr. Amin claims to support.

Franklin Lamb in a visiting Professor at the Damascus University Faculty of Law. He is reachable c/o

Greenwald on Obama's 'Paul Revere' NSA Speech

Obama's NSA 'reforms' are little more than a PR attempt to mollify the public 

by Glenn Greenwald - Comment is Free

Obama is draping the banner of change over the NSA status quo. Bulk surveillance that caused such outrage will remain in place
In response to political scandal and public outrage, official Washington repeatedly uses the same well-worn tactic. It is the one that has been hauled out over decades in response to many of America's most significant political scandals. Predictably, it is the same one that shaped President Obama's much-heralded Friday speech to announce his proposals for "reforming" the National Security Agency in the wake of seven months of intense worldwide controversy.

The crux of this tactic is that US political leaders pretend to validate and even channel public anger by acknowledging that there are "serious questions that have been raised". They vow changes to fix the system and ensure these problems never happen again. And they then set out, with their actions, to do exactly the opposite: to make the system prettier and more politically palatable with empty, cosmetic "reforms" so as to placate public anger while leaving the system fundamentally unchanged, even more immune than before to serious challenge.

This scam has been so frequently used that it is now easily recognizable. In the mid-1970s, the Senate uncovered surveillance abuses that had been ongoing for decades, generating widespread public fury. In response, the US Congress enacted a new law (Fisa) which featured two primary "safeguards": a requirement of judicial review for any domestic surveillance, and newly created committees to ensure legal compliance by the intelligence community.

But the new court was designed to ensure that all of the government's requests were approved: it met in secret, only the government's lawyers could attend, it was staffed with the most pro-government judges, and it was even housed in the executive branch. As planned, the court over the next 30 years virtually never said no to the government.

Identically, the most devoted and slavish loyalists of the National Security State were repeatedly installed as the committee's heads, currently in the form of NSA cheerleaders Democrat Dianne Feinstein in the Senate and Republican Mike Rogers in the House. As the New Yorker's Ryan Lizza put it in a December 2013 article on the joke of Congressional oversight, the committees "more often treat … senior intelligence officials like matinee idols".

As a result, the committees, ostensibly intended to serve an overseer function, have far more often acted as the NSA's in-house PR firm. The heralded mid-1970s reforms did more to make Americans believe there was reform than actually providing any, thus shielding it from real reforms.

The same thing happened after the New York Times, in 2005, revealed that the NSA under Bush had been eavesdropping on Americans for years without the warrants required by criminal law. The US political class loudly claimed that they would resolve the problems that led to that scandal. Instead, they did the opposite: in 2008, a bipartisan Congress, with the support of then-Senator Barack Obama, enacted a new Fisa law that legalized the bulk of the once-illegal Bush program, including allowing warrantless eavesdropping on hundreds of millions of foreign nationals and large numbers of Americans as well.

This was also the same tactic used in the wake of the 2008 financial crises. Politicians dutifully read from the script that blamed unregulated Wall Street excesses and angrily vowed to rein them in. They then enacted legislation that left the bankers almost entirely unscathed, and which made the "too-big-to-fail" problem that spawned the crises worse than ever.

And now we have the spectacle of President Obama reciting paeans to the values of individual privacy and the pressing need for NSA safeguards. "Individual freedom is the wellspring of human progress," he gushed with an impressively straight face. "One thing I'm certain of, this debate will make us stronger," he pronounced, while still seeking to imprison for decades the whistleblower who enabled that debate. The bottom line, he said, is this: "I believe we need a new approach."

But those pretty rhetorical flourishes were accompanied by a series of plainly cosmetic "reforms". By design, those proposals will do little more than maintain rigidly in place the very bulk surveillance systems that have sparked such controversy and anger.

To be sure, there were several proposals from Obama that are positive steps. A public advocate in the Fisa court, a loosening of "gag orders" for national security letters, removing metadata control from the NSA, stricter standards for accessing metadata, and narrower authorizations for spying on friendly foreign leaders (but not, of course, their populations) can all have some marginal benefits. But even there, Obama's speech was so bereft of specifics – what will the new standards be? who will now control Americans' metadata? – that they are more like slogans than serious proposals.

Ultimately, the radical essence of the NSA – a system of suspicion-less spying aimed at hundreds of millions of people in the US and around the world – will fully endure even if all of Obama's proposals are adopted. That's because Obama never hid the real purpose of this process. It is, he and his officials repeatedly acknowledged, "to restore public confidence" in the NSA. In other words, the goal isn't to truly reform the agency; it is deceive people into believing it has been so that they no longer fear it or are angry about it.

As the ACLU's executive director Anthony Romero said after the speech:

The president should end – not mend – the government's collection and retention of all law-abiding Americans' data. When the government collects and stores every American's phone call data, it is engaging in a textbook example of an 'unreasonable search' that violates the constitution.

That, in general, has long been Obama's primary role in our political system and his premiere, defining value to the permanent power factions that run Washington. He prettifies the ugly; he drapes the banner of change over systematic status quo perpetuation; he makes Americans feel better about policies they find repellent without the need to change any of them in meaningful ways. He's not an agent of change but the soothing branding packaging for it.

As is always the case, those who want genuine changes should not look to politicians, and certainly not to Barack Obama, to wait for it to be gifted. Obama was forced to give this speech by rising public pressure, increasingly scared US tech giants, and surprisingly strong resistance from the international community to the out-of-control American surveillance state.

Today's speech should be seen as the first step, not the last, on the road to restoring privacy. The causes that drove Obama to give this speech need to be, and will be, stoked and nurtured further until it becomes clear to official Washington that, this time around, cosmetic gestures are plainly inadequate.

Obama's Disassociated Speech: Flogging Paul Revere's Horse

Obama Fans Aren't even Pretending That Was a Good Speech

by David Swanson - War is a Crime

President Barack Obama gave a eulogy for the Fourth Amendment on Friday, and not even his fans are proclaiming victory. In this moment when Obama is actually doing one thing I agree with (talking to Iran), more and more people seem to be slowly, agonizingly slowly, finally, finally, finally, recognizing what a complete huckster he is when it comes to pretty speeches about his crimes.

Obama's speech and new "policy directive" eliminate the Fourth Amendment. Massive bulk collection of everybody's data will continue unconstitutionally, but Obama has expressed a certain vague desire to end it, sort of, except for the parts that are needed, but not to do so right away. The comparisons to the closure of the Guantanamo death camp began instantly.

Far from halting or apologizing for the abuses of the NSA, Obama defends them as necessitated by the danger of a new 911. While drones over Yemen and troops in Afghanistan and "special" forces in three-quarters of the world are widely understood to endanger us, and while alternatives that upheld the rule of law and made us safer would not require secrecy or human rights violations, Obama wants to continue the counterproductive and immoral militarism while holding off all blowback through the omniscience of Big Brother.

However, Obama's own panel and every other panel that has looked into it found zero evidence that the new abusive NSA programs have prevented any violent attacks. And it is well-documented that (even given the disastrous policies that produced 911) the attacks of that day could have been stopped at the last minute by sharing existing data or responding to urgent memos to the president with any sort of serious effort.

Obama has not proposed to end abuses. He's proposed to appoint two new bureaucrats plus John Podesta. Out of this speech we get reviews of policies, a commitment to tell the Director of National Intelligence to read court rulings that impact the crimes and abuses he's engaged in, and a promise that the "Intelligence Community" will inspect itself. (Congress, the courts, and the people don't come up in this list of reforms.) Usually this sort of imperial-presidential fluff wins praise from Obama's followers. This time, I'm not hearing it.

True, after EFF created a great pre-speech scorecard, when Obama scored a big fat zero, EFF said it was encouraged that he might score a point some day. But they didn't sound impassioned about their encouragement.

Obama's promises not to abuse unchecked secret powers (and implied promise that none of his successors or subordinates will abuse them either) is not credible, or acceptable, while it just might be impeachable.

We're talking here about the same government that listens in on soldiers' phone sex, Congress members' daily lives, and everything it can get its hands on related to the actual, rather than rhetorical, promotion of liberty, justice, or peace.

A report today quotes various members of the government with security clearance who want to murder Edward Snowden. 

We're supposed to just trust them with the right to our persons, houses, papers, and effects without probably cause or warrant? Are we also to trust the corporations they ask to do their dirty work, should the theoretical future reform of this outrage involve paying corporations to own our info?

Obama claims the "debate" -- in which no debate opponent was given a minute at the microphone -- is valuable. But the whistleblowers who create such debates "endanger" us, Obama says. This he claims without evidence.

If the debate was so useful, why not give the man who made you hold it with yourself his passport back?

Obama began Friday's speech with a Sarah Palinesque bit of Paul Revere history. Revere is now an honorary NSA spy. In reality, the British would have hit Revere with a hellfire missile if Obama had been their king. It all depends on which side of a war you imagine someone to be on, and on whether you imagine war itself is an acceptable form of human behavior at this late date.

Without the endless war on the world, the need for secrecy would go away, and with it the powers that secrecy bestows, and with them the arrogant speeches by rulers who clearly hold us all in contempt.

Resisters of royalty came up with a cure back in Paul Revere's day. They called it impeachment. Of course it would be highly inappropriate to use. It might get in the way of the Fight for Freedom.

Killing Net Neutrality, Blacking Out Communities of Color

Net Neutrality Ruling Will Disempower Communities of Color


Jessica Gonzalez: As US Court of Appeals rules against net neutrality, internet service providers will restrict access for communities of color.

Jessica Gonzalez leads the National Hispanic Media Coalition's legal and policy work and executes NHMC’s priorities before the federal agencies and in Congress. She has testified before the U.S. House of Representatives, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). Additionally, she played an instrumental role in drafting the historic Memorandum of Understanding between Comcast Corporation and leading national Latino leadership organizations. Before joining NHMC, Jessica was a staff attorney and clinical teaching fellow at Georgetown Law’s renowned Institute for Public Representation (IPR), where she represented NHMC and other consumer, civil rights and public interest organizations before the FCC, the NTIA and in the Courts of Appeal. Prior to law school she was a public high school teacher in Los Angeles, Calif.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Fuku. and the Reagan Crew

Toll Mounts Among U.S. Sailors Devastated by Fukushima Radiation

by Harvey Wasserman - Nation of Change

The roll call of U.S. sailors who say their health was devastated when they were irradiated while delivering humanitarian help near the stricken Fukushima nuke is continuing to soar.

So many have come forward that the progress of their federal class action lawsuit has been delayed.

Bay area lawyer Charles Bonner says a re-filing will wait until early February to accommodate a constant influx of sailors from the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and other American ships.

Within a day of Fukushima One’s March 11, 2011, melt-down, American “first responders” were drenched in radioactive fallout. In the midst of a driving snow storm, sailors reported a cloud of warm air with a metallic taste that poured over the Reagan.

Then-Prime Minister Naoto Kan, at the time a nuclear supporter, says “the first meltdown occurred five hours after the earthquake.” The lawsuit charges that Tokyo Electric Power knew large quantities of radiation were pouring into the air and water, but said nothing to the Navy or the public.

Had the Navy known, says Bonner, it could have moved its ships out of harm’s way. But some sailors actually jumped into the ocean just offshore to pull victims to safety. Others worked 18-hour shifts in the open air through a four-day mission, re-fueling and repairing helicopters, loading them with vital supplies and much more. All were drinking and bathing in desalinated water that had been severely contaminated by radioactive fallout and runoff.

Then Reagan crew members were enveloped in a warm cloud. “Hey,” joked sailor Lindsay Cooper at the time. “It’s radioactive snow.”

The metallic taste that came with it parallels the ones reported by the airmen who dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, and by Pennsylvania residents downwind from the 1979 meltdown at Three Mile Island.

When it did leave the Fukushima area, the Reagan was so radioactive it was refused port entry in Japan, South Korea and Guam. It’s currently docked in San Diego.

The Navy is not systematically monitoring the crew members’ health problems. But Cooper now reports a damaged thyroid, disrupted menstrual cycle, wildly fluctuating body weight and more. “It’s ruined me,” she says.

Similar complaints have surfaced among so many sailors from the Reagan and other U.S. ships that Bonner says he’s being contacted by new litigants “on a daily basis,” with the number exceeding 70.

Many are in their twenties, complaining of a terrible host of radiation-related diseases. They are legally barred from suing the U.S. military. Tepco denies that any of their health problems could be related to radiation from Fukushima. The company also says the U.S. has no jurisdiction in the case.

The suit was initially dismissed on jurisdictional grounds by federal Judge Janis S. Sammartino in San Diego. Sammartino was due to hear the re-filing Jan. 6, but allowed the litigants another month to accommodate additional sailors.

Bonner says Tepco should be subject to U.S. law because “they are doing business in America … Their second largest office outside of Tokyo is in Washington DC.”

Like the lawsuit, the petitions ask that Tepco admit responsibility, and establish a fund for the first responders to be administered by the U.S. courts.

In 2013 more than 150,000 citizens petitioned the United Nations to take control of the Fukushima site to guarantee the use of the best possible financial, scientific and engineering resources in the attempted clean-up.

The melted cores from Units One, Two and Three are still unaccounted for. Progress in bringing down Unit Four’s suspended fuel assemblies is murky at best. More than 11,000 “hot” rods are still scattered around a site where radiation levels remain high and some 300 tons of radioactive water still flow daily into the Pacific.

But with U.S. support, Japan has imposed a state secrets act severely restricting reliable news reporting from the Fukushima site.

So now we all live in the same kind of dark that enveloped the USS Reagan while its crew was immersed in their mission of mercy.

Petitions in the sailors’ support are circulating worldwide on, MoveOn, Avaaz,RootsAction and elsewhere.

Harvey Wasserman has co-authored five books on election protection. To sign on to the election protection movement, see us

Narwani: Taking the Middle Out of the Middle East

There is no "middle" in the Middle East today 

WE Magazine Interview with Sharmine Narwani

The last thing the Middle East needs is another conflict. But Lebanon looks set to once again become the battleground for larger powers vying for regional supremacy. Today this fight has become existential – and Lebanon may be viewed as a last chance to deal a fatal blow to the "Resistance Axis" Iran, Syria, Hezbollah.

The conflict between Sunnis and Shiites seems to deepen in Lebanon. Who is fueling this divide and why?

I am wary anytime I hear about Sunni-Shia conflicts in the Mideast. While there are historic tensions between these two groups, the region is aflood with Sunni-Shia marriages, particularly in those countries – Lebanon, Bahrain, Syria, Iraq – said to be suffering most from Sunni-Shia strife.

I always prefer to say that the real conflict is between “sectarians” and “non-sectarians” – this is a more accurate description because there are Sunni and Shia on both sides of that divide. Those in the “sectarian” grouping are the minority opinion in their own communities, but they are loud and aggressive, so we think there are many of them.

It is very easy to get drawn into the narrative of constant Shia-Sunni discord – it blares from the headlines in all our papers. But at this point in a rapidly destabilizing Middle East, it befits us to dig deeper.

Saudi Arabia is ground-zero for the divisive Sunni-vs-Shia narrative. While the Saudis are extremely conservative Wahhabis (Sunni), this discourse is mainly a convenient political tool to keep Iranian ascendency at bay. After the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, the Saudis were frantic that a grassroots Islamic revolt that successfully overthrew a key US dictator in the region might inspire the Muslim (mostly Sunni) masses, and sought to drive a wedge between Iranians and Arabs, Shia and Sunni.

These negative narratives have been more than 30 years in the making, and they are a key divide-and-rule strategy in nations whose governments or populations are allied with Iran.

Lebanon has been one such playground for this Saudi mischief. Riyadh has thrown money and clout at undermining staunch Iranian ally and Lebanese resistance group Hezbollah for years, and plays a central role in local politics here. You can be assured that there is Saudi or Gulf money behind every vocal Salafist militant calling for reprisals against Hezbollah, Iran or Syria in Lebanon today.

A few days ago a leading figure of Al Qaeda was captured and detained by Lebanese security forces. Then he died in custody. He announced that the "Christians" were his target – in Syria and in Lebanon. Are we slowly entering into another war in Lebanon?

I’m assuming you are speaking of Saudi national Majed al-Majed, leader of the (allegedly) Al Qaeda-linked Abdullah Azzam Brigades that claimed responsibility for the bombing of the Iranian Embassy in Beirut a few months ago – the first suicide-bombing operation that Lebanon has seen for decades, incidentally.

Majed died on January 4 while in custody of the Lebanese Army, and there has been much speculation about his cause of death. The Iranians are outraged and suspect foul play, because had Majed lived, he could have provided some clear-cut answers to which individuals and states are funding terror activity in Lebanon today. The Saudis demanded Majed’s extradition from the time he was apprehended, which cast suspicion their way. The Saudis had very recently, after all, pledged $3 billion to the Lebanese Army.

All these events and developments contribute to the growing apprehension over the security situation in Lebanon – people here have been warning of Syrian “spillover” and being dragged into war for more than two years now.

But let me say this: whatever the political motivations of various parties and their foreign mentors, whatever the level of rage and desire for revenge, there has so far been some kind of universal understanding that Lebanon shall not cross over into a situation of open and widespread warfare.

For starters, the UN Security Council permanent members - including the US, UK and France who have been so intimately involved in fueling the Syrian conflict – are dead-set against any real conflagration in Lebanon. Their appetite for conflict on more than one of Israel’s borders is nil. For other players like the Russians, Iranians and Chinese, a war in Lebanon would muddy the Syrian waters, and they want attention focused on resolving the Syrian conflict right now and pre-empting further destabilization from the Levant to the Persian Gulf.

The two states that will remain opportunistic about conflict in Lebanon are Saudi Arabia and Israel – the Saudis because they view events in Syria as existential, and seem prepared to “set the region on fire” to attain their goals; the Israelis because they will welcome any opportunity to weaken their greatest military adversary, Hezbollah.

Outside Syria Hezbollah and Hamas are allies; inside Syria they fight against each other. Why?

Look, at the heart of politics lies opportunism, and I’m not sure that is a bad thing. Decision makers need to be able to shift positions and alliances as circumstances change around them.

The Resistance Axis (Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, and once Hamas too) is a very unusual grouping. It is the only one in the region that consists of Shia and Sunni, Iranian and Arab, Islamist and Secularist.

At the heart of this Axis is a common political worldview – which is why foreign efforts to divide this group have largely failed. Anti-imperialism, a desire for regional self-determination, anti-Zionism – these are the threads that bind.

Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), was torn when the Arab uprisings helped install mostly MB-related governments backed by Qatar and Turkey, two Islamist governments that took a “Sunni” view of the region, and sought to challenge Iran and its allies in the process. In a sense, Hamas was being forced to decide between their Sunni and Islamist identities and their “resistance” one.

The choice has created some serious splits within the group, so it is a battle that continues for Hamas. They have dealt with it by acknowledging both priorities – I think, to their detriment, because in this Mideast climate, there simply isn’t any “middle.”

There is no "middle" in the Middle East today.

I give some “maturity credit” to the Resistance Axis though – Hamas operatives have worked against Hezbollah in the Syrian military theater and yet, back in Lebanon, they share a common enemy in Israel. Both groups have taken pains to keep their differences from spilling into the public sphere, so there is some determined level of commitment to the relationship. The Resistance Axis has some key allies within Hamas’ military wing in Gaza – this is an asset that they will continue to support come hell or high water.

Where does the Lebanese Army stand?

The Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) is a pretty weak institution, in that it cannot act without consensus between competing political parties, which rarely happens in Lebanon. Furthermore, it has become a pawn in the larger geopolitical game, and cannot receive or purchase the weapons it actually needs to defend the country - mainly from Israel, which is Lebanon’s stated primary enemy.

For instance, Israel conducts illegal overflights over Lebanese territory every single day in violation of international law, but nobody will sell the LAF the anti-aircraft missiles that could put a halt to this practice. If Iran or China offers these weapons, all hell breaks loose in the Lebanese political arena – the LAF is voiceless in these debates, and so it has fallen to Hezbollah to protect Lebanon from Israeli aggression.

What’s interesting about this question is that in 2013 as political violence and sectarian rhetoric took hold in Lebanon, many Lebanese – fed up with their impotent politicians – were saying they wish the Lebanese Army would initiate a coup and take over the state.

It is worth mentioning that during this time in the wider region – from Egypt to Syria – we were seeing a rise in the fortunes of “national armies” and populations entrusting them to secure their states against the rising tide of Islamist militants and jihadists. Lebanon was no different in that regard.

The Saudi pledge of $3 billion dollars is the largest infusion of capital in LAF history, I gather. But it is an embarrassingly transparent attempt to buy-off the Lebanese Army and scuttle cooperation between Hezbollah and the LAF in dealing with (often) Saudi-backed Salafist militancy inside Lebanon. Even more cringe-worthy is the fact that all LAF weapons and ammunition purchases are required to be from France, which is in effect another Saudi pay-off for France’s efforts to sabotage the P5+1-Iran nuclear deal and continued French political support for the Syrian rebellion.

Who is funding the various (militant) groups in Lebanon and what are the goals behind the funding?

This is a very difficult question to answer, because secrecy is the essential nature of these groups. They do not wire funds to each other from banks, nor do they make traceable mobile calls to deliver instructions on the next terror bombing.

Donors change according to the political climate as well. Some are interested in challenging the state or one of its neighbors, others may have sectarian interests or even function as criminal mafias. Today though, weapons and cash are being funneled to these groups to benefit a geopolitical fight against Iran, Syria and Hezbollah. The battle is cast in sectarian terms, which has lit the Takfiri fires from the Levant to the Persian Gulf. Volunteer drives in several Gulf states have funded jihadists from dozens of countries entering fights in Syria and even Iraq.

Lebanon has often been viewed as a resting place for many of these groups, but has now become an active battleground to (allegedly) halt Hezbollah’s assistance to the Syrian army and to shift the Levant’s balance of power back in favor of Saudi interests.

These groups used to be quite ideological, but have become more opportunistic now - and will bury the hatchet with Gulf monarchies for the moment to focus on common sectarian targets.

In Lebanon, the main suspect behind the funding of these groups today is Saudi Arabia, which makes a lot of sense given Riyadh’s existential outlook in regard to Syria and Iran. Those dots began to be connected when the Saudi establishment installed Prince Bandar bin Sultan as intelligence chief – Bandar is known for dirty tricks and his command of jihadist/salafist networks in many regions.

What are the chances and ways for the Lebanese NOT to get drawn into a war?

As mentioned earlier, I believe it is still in the interest of all major Lebanese political parties, their foreign mentors, and global powers to maintain stability in Lebanon. This has become much more urgent since militants began merging their interests (Syria and Iraq) across borders and threatening instability in a long arc across the region.

Again, there are a few hold-outs like Saudi Arabia and Israel, but neither state currently seems to be willing to back a full-on escalation in Lebanon, mostly because the consequences are highly unpredictable right now.
Providing there is no game-changing event, maintenance of the status quo in Lebanon is desirable for all parties. Lebanon continues to be viewed as a “political lever” for many parties – this is the place where they send warning signals and threats to each other. A bombing here, gunfire there…that’s how domestic and foreign players issue missives to each other these days. They never go too far though – at least not yet.

Lebanon’s best bet is to try to maintain a certain neutrality even while its various parties assist in the Syrian conflict and elsewhere. I don’t think the formation of a new government will help a whit – one big event in a neighboring state and little Lebanon’s government will collapse again.

The main thing Lebanon needs to do while it is treading water is to halt the proliferation of militant groups inside the country and to stop foreign fighters from crossing its borders. This isn’t a matter of taking sides – it is the fundamental right of all nation-states to preserve their sovereignty and territorial integrity.

A politically-independent and well-supplied Lebanese Army is essential for this task, but cannot seem to do it right now without assistance from Hezbollah, which tries to take a low-key role in these operations so as not to provoke further sectarianism. Hezbollah’s involvement, in turn, infuriates the other “camp” – but then they too should step up and police their neighborhoods and border towns from foreign infiltration and the influx of heavy weapons and small arms.

If Lebanon is impotent today within the context of larger regional battles, the least it can do is to preserve its territorial integrity in the meantime. Every terrorist attack here seems to empower the LAF a little bit more – popular outrage is demanding this. I’m not sure how then the LAF can take $3 billion in assistance from Saudi Arabia – the very country that is backing Salafist militants who are attacking Lebanese soldiers.