Jan 302012

Tehran cites positive atmosphere in the three-day long inspection tour of UN nuclear watchdog IAEA. However, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta raises stakes by reiterating Iran could produce a nuclear bomb within a year

Students from various universities in Tehran hold
pictures of Iranian scientist Ahmadi-Roshan,
as they wait for arrival of IAEA delegates at
Tehran airport.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi expressed optimism that a visit by U.N. inspectors to Iran’s nuclear facilities would produce an understanding, while U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Iran was only one year away from producing a nuclear weapon.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) team started the three-day inspection tour Jan. 29. “We are very optimistic about the mission and the outcome” of the IAEA mission, Mehr news agency quoted Salehi as saying. Salehi also said the delegation could choose to extend its stay beyond the three days originally planned if it wished. “We are very optimistic on the results of the IAEA trip. They are here for a three-day trip, and if they want, it [the mission] could be extended,” Salehi said.

“We’ve always tried to put transparency as a principle in our cooperation with IAEA,” Salehi said. “During this visit, the delegation has questions and the necessary answers will be given.”

The team is likely to visit an underground enrichment site near the holy city of Qom, 130 km south of Tehran, which is carved into a mountain as protection against possible airstrikes. Earlier this month, Iran said it had begun enrichment work at the site, which is far smaller than the country’s main uranium labs but is reported to have more advanced equipment.

All options on the table

Despite Salehi’s positive remarks, the United States defense secretary reiterated the U.S.’s concerns over Iran’s disputed nuclear program.

“The consensus is that, if they decided to do it, it would probably take them about a year to be able to produce a bomb,” Panetta said during an interview with CBS news. Panetta also highlighted Obama’s opposition to Iran’s nuclear program and said the U.S. shared common goals with Israel in its opposition to the program. “If they proceed and we get intelligence that they’re proceeding with developing a nuclear weapon then we will take whatever steps are necessary to stop it,” he added.

The visit was set to coincide with a vote in Iran’s Parliament on a bill that would require the government to immediately cut the flow of crude oil to Europe in retaliation for sanctions. Lawmakers postponed the vote Jan. 29 to further study the bill, and no date for a vote has yet been set. The draft bill is Iran’s response to an European Union decision last week to impose an embargo on Iranian oil. After the delay Iran’s Oil Minister Rostam Qasemi said the Islamic state would soon stop exporting crude to “some” countries, the state news agency IRNA reported.

Compiled from AP, AFP and Reuters stories by the Daily News staff.

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Jan 302012

The U.S. Defense Department cannot account for about $2 billion it was given to cover Iraq-related expenses and is not providing Iraq with a complete list of U.S.-funded reconstruction projects, according to two new government audits.

The reports come from the office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction.
The Iraqi government in 2004 gave the Department of Defense access to about $3 billion to pay bills for certain contracts, and the department can only show what happened to about a third of that, the inspector general says in an audit published Friday.

Although the Department of Defense (DoD) had “internal processes and controls” to track payments, the “bulk of the records are missing,” the report says, adding that the department is searching for them.

Other documents are missing as well, including monthly reports documenting expenses, the audit says.

“From July 2004 through December 2007, DoD should have provided 42 monthly reports. However, it can locate only the first four reports.”

A letter accompanying the report is signed by Stuart Bowen, the inspector general. The audit was overseen by Glenn Furbish, assistant inspector general for audits.
In a response letter also contained in the report, Defense Under Secretary Mark Easton acknowledges “a records management issue.”

The audit says it believes records management is to blame, and “has been an ongoing problem for DoD in Iraq. By all accounts, DoD established good internal processes and controls to account for and report on” the funds it was given after the Coalition Provisional Authority dissolved.

Where the records did exist, they matched other records and contained “good financial documentation supporting individual payments.” Also, there is “sufficient evidence” that required monthly reports were sent to the government of Iraq, even though they can’t be found, the audit said.

The audit deals with a time when Iraq’s government was undergoing a transition. The Coalition Provisional Authority ran the country for 14 months from 2003 to 2004. During that time, the authority awarded numerous contracts. When it dissolved in 2004, the Iraqi government gave the U.S. Defense Department access to the $3 billion to pay bills for contracts the provisional authority had awarded.

The Defense Department letter from Easton – the department’s deputy chief financial officer – thanks the inspector general’s office for “the collaborative effort and professional courtesy” in a series of audits.

Separately, the inspector general’s office sent a letter Sunday to the U.S. ambassador to Iraq complaining that the U.S. government is not providing Iraq with a complete list of reconstruction projects.

The U.S. criteria for selecting which projects to report to Iraq – which include only those valued at $250,000 or more – is a central part of the problem, the letter says.
The U.S. Embassy says the system is designed to help Iraq “focus its limited resources on sustainment of infrastructure and other large capital projects done through U.S. reconstruction efforts,” the report notes.

The inspector general’s office argues that the limited list – which is also “hampered by unreliable data and other data entry problems” – does not allow Iraq to decide where to focus its resources, and notes that the country might consider some smaller projects more important than those that are reported.

“Without more comprehensive knowledge about reconstruction projects the (Iraqi government) will not be in a position to maximize the use of its resources,” the report says.
Billions of dollars in spending are not reported to Iraq under the current system, the report says.

In a response letter, Peter Bodde, assistant chief of mission for the U.S. Embassy in Iraq, says that while the current system is incomplete, “it does capture the vast majority of reconstruction projects and there is no other alternative that captures more.”
He also notes that the Iraq reconstruction effort “is now in its very last stages, and all remaining capital projects will be reported through the asset transfer process.”
The Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction was created in 2004 to continue oversight of Iraq reconstruction programs.

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Jan 302012

Contact: dontsuppressows@yahoo.com

These past several months have witnessed something very different in the U.S. People from many different walks of life came together to occupy public space in nearly 1,000 cities in the U.S. They stood up to vicious police violence, they broke through the confines of “protest as usual,” and in the middle of all that, they built community. Even in the face of media attempts to ridicule, distort, and demonize these protests, their basic message began to get through. People throughout the U.S.—and even the world—took notice of and took heart from these brave and creative protesters.

The political terms of discourse began to shift; the iced-over thinking of people in the U.S. began to thaw. Standing up to the unjust brutality and arrests became a badge of honor.
People began to listen to and read the stories of some of the victims of this economic crisis, and to share their own. And most of all, as the protests spread to city after city, the fact of people occupying public space forced open debate and raised big questions among millions as to what kind of society this is, and what it should be. Why does such poverty and need exist in the face of a relative handful of people amassing obscene amounts of wealth? Why do the political institutions of society seem only to serve that handful?  Why do so many youth feel they face such a bleak future? Why does the insane destruction of the environment continue to accelerate?  And what is needed to overcome all this?

Those who actually wield power in this country regarded these protests, and these questions, as dangerous, and reacted accordingly. Time and again those who wield power violated their own laws and ordered police to pepper spray, beat with clubs, and shoot tear gas canisters at the heads of people who were doing nothing more than non-violently expressing their dissent and seeking community. This reached a peak in the recent coordinated and systematic attacks of the past few weeks against all the major occupations. In fact, the mayor of Oakland admitted on BBC to being part of conference calls that coordinated national strategy against the occupiers. On top of all that, and in another blatant show of illegitimate force and power, they attempted to prevent journalists and photographers from covering these acts of repression—unless they were “embedded” with the police.

To put the matter bluntly, but truly: the state planned and unleashed naked and systematic violence and repression against people attempting to exercise rights that are supposed to be legally guaranteed. This response by those who wield power in this society is utterly shameful from a moral standpoint, and thoroughly illegitimate from a legal and political one.

Now this movement faces a true crossroads. Will it be dispersed, driven into the margins, or co-opted? Or will it come back stronger? This question now poses itself, extremely sharply.

One thing is clear already: if this illegitimate wave of repression is allowed to stand… if the powers-that-be succeed in suppressing or marginalizing this new movement… if people are once again “penned in”—both literally and symbolically—things will be much worse. THIS SUPPRESSION MUST BE MASSIVELY OPPOSED, AND DEFEATED.

On the other hand, this too is true: movements grow, and can only grow, by answering repression with even greater and more powerful mobilization.
The need to act is urgent.

As a first step in the necessary response, there must be a massive political mobilization on a day, or days, very soon to say NO! to this attempt to suppress thought and expression with brutality and violence. This mobilization should most of all be in New York, where this movement started… but it should at the same time be powerfully echoed all around the country and yes, around the world.  This is a call for massive demonstrations—soon—carried out in public spaces where they can have maximum impact and exposure and where the authorities cannot pen in, suppress, and otherwise attempt to marginalize these demonstrations.

These demonstrations must be large enough to show clearly that people will not tolerate that which is intolerable… that people will not adjust to that which is so manifestly unjust. Such demonstrations, along with the efforts to reach out and build them, can draw many more people from passive sympathy into active support and can awaken and inspire even millions more who have not yet been reached. Such demonstrations can powerfully answer the attempt by “the 1%” to crush and/or derail this broad movement. Thousands and thousands in the streets, acting together, can seize new initiative and change the whole political equation. The urgent questions raised by Occupy—and other urgent questions that have yet to be raised in this movement—can once more reverberate, and more powerfully than before.

The repression of the Occupy movement must not stand. Act.
Contact: dontsuppressows@yahoo.com
Signers of this Call include:
Prof. Cornel West
Gbenga Akinnagbe, actor on the HBO series “The Wire”
Carole Ashley
Fr.  Luis Barrios
Renate Bridenthal, Professor of History, Brooklyn College, CUNY, retired
Elaine Brower, World Can’t Wait & Military Families Speak Out
Craig Phipps, Ombudsman, Casa Esperanza
Cynthia Carlson, artist
Nina Felshin, independent curator
Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition, NYC
Harmony Hammond
Barry Holden
Camille Hankins, Founder and Director: Win Animal Rights and No Kill New York
Ray Hill, producer/host of Ray on the Raydio Internet radio show, Houston, TX
Lee Siu Hin, National Coordinator, National Immigrant Solidarity Network
Judith Henry
Rev. Dr. James Karpen, Church of St Paul and St Andrew, New York City
Chuck Kaufman, Executive Director, Alliance for Global Justice
Rev. Earl Kooperkamp, St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, Harlem
Jim Long, artist
Waqas Malik, artist
Lydia Matthews, Dean of Academic Programs, Associate Dean of Parsons/ Professor
Ann Messner, artist
Travis Morales
Dorinda Moreno, Fuerza Mundial / FM Global / Hitec Aztec, U.S. Liaison Secretariat, International Tribunal of Conscience of Peoples in Movement/TICPM
Nick Mottern, ConsumersforPeace.org & kNOwdrones.org
National Immigrant Solidarity Network
Bradley Olson, Psychologist, Activist
Rosemary O’Neill
Lindsay O’Neill-Caffrey
The Rt. Rev. George E. Packard, Retired Bishop of the Episcopal Church for the Armed Services and Federal Ministries
Ana Ratner 
Suzanne Ross, PH.D., Clinical Psychologist
David E. Rousline, Ph.D. Berkeley CA
Rev. Juan Carlos Ruiz, New Sanctuary Movement
Jayce Salloum, artist, Vancouver
Irving Sandler 
Donna Schaper, Senior Minister, Judson Memorial Church
Stephen Soldz, Director, Center for Research, Evaluation, and Program Development, Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis,* Past President, Psychologists for Social Responsibility*
Bob Stein
Rev. Max Surjadinata, Area Coordinator of Friends of Sabeel North America
David Swanson, warisacrime.org
Matthew Swaye
Debra Sweet, Director, World Can’t Wait
Athena Tacha
Dennis Trainor, Jr, Writer, Producer & Host of Acronym TV
Marina Urbach, independent curator, other projects,  New York
Nancy Vining Van Ness, Director, American Creative Dance
Jim Vrettos, Adjunct Professor, John Jay College of Criminal Justice*
Jen Waller
Vince Warren, Executive Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights*
Andy Zee, Spokesperson, Revolution Books
David Zeiger, Displaced Films

*For identification purposes only


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Jan 302012

Riot police fired tear gas and arrested more than 400 Oaklanders, as hordes of anti-Wall Street protesters tried to take over downtown buildings including City Hall, police said.
The clashes began just before 3 p.m. on Saturday when protesters marched toward the vacant Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center and began to tear down construction barricades. The Oakland police said in a statement that the crowd was ordered to disperse when protesters “began destroying construction equipment and fencing.”
Several hours later, some protesters broke into City Hall, the police said. On Sunday, Jean Quan, the mayor of Oakland toured City Hall to survey the damage to the building. Glass display cases had been smashed and graffiti was splashed on the walls, The Associated Press reported. At one point during the protest, The AP quoted Mayor Quan as saying that demonstrators, who broke into the hall burned flags they found inside, broke an electrical box and damaged art displays, including an exhibit of recycled art that had been made by children.
“I do understand that people were enraged by the brutality that they had already seen,” said Omar Yassin, 42, a member of the group’s media committee.
Yassin echoed comments made by other group members that protesters found the door to City Hall ajar on Saturday evening.
The Occupy Oakland Media Committee group issued a statement on Sunday charging that officers had violated the police department’s code of conduct for dealing with protesters, calling the mass arrests “illegal.”
Most of the arrests occurred late Saturday, when large groups were corralled in front of the Downtown Oakland Y.M.C.A. on Broadway.
On a livestream broadcast on the Web site oakfosho.com, dozens of protesters could be seen sitting cross-legged in the darkness in front of the Y.M.C.A. Their hands appeared to be bound behind them while officers stood watch. The protesters occasionally sang or cheered. In a statement on Sunday afternoon, the police said the marchers “invaded” the Y.M.C.A.
Caitlin Maning, 55, a film professor who is a member of the Occupy Oakland media team, said protesters had been invited into the Y.M.C.A. to escape being kettled on Broadway, but ended up being prevented from exiting through a rear door by police.
The events were part of a demonstration dubbed “Move-In Day,” a plan by protesters to take over the vacant convention center and use it as a communelike command center, according to the Web site occupyoaklandmoveinday.org.
“We were going to set up a community center,” said Benjamin Phillips, 32, a member of the Occupy Oakland media team. “It would be a place where we could house people, feed people, do all the things that we have been doing.”
In an open letter to Mayor Quan on the Move-In Day site, the group also said it was considering “blockading the airport indefinitely, occupying City Hall indefinitely” and “shutting down the Oakland ports.” Occupy protesters did briefly shut down the city’s port in November.
In a statement issued before the march, Ms. Quan said that “the residents of Oakland are wearying of the constant focus and cost to our city.” On Saturday night, she added: “Once again, a violent splinter group of the Occupy movement is engaging in violent actions against Oakland. The Bay Area Occupy movement has got to stop using Oakland as their playground.”
Ms. Quan has spent her first term embattled by Occupy protesters who set up camp at the Frank H. Ogawa Plaza in October. After initially embracing the protest, she ordered the camp removed.
After a series of violent episodes, including a clash in which a Marine veteran who served in the Iraq war suffered a fractured skull when struck by a projectile in a confrontation with the police, Ms. Quan relented and permitted the protesters to return. But two weeks later, in response to fears of renewed violence, she ordered the plaza to be cleared again. NY Times
Mr. Phillips, the Occupy media team member, who said he was an Air Force veteran, spoke Saturday night from his home on Grand Avenue, where he had stopped to rinse tear-gas residue from his contact lenses. He described the scene in front of the Y.M.C.A. as “terrifying.”
“This is disgusting, because this is not the way that America is supposed to work,” he said. “You’re supposed to be able to have something like freedom to assemble and air your grievances.”
“It’s bizarre,” he said of the police reaction. “It’s not something you expect to see in the United States, and we’ve seen it over and over in Oakland.”

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Jan 292012
Monty High

I’ve been feeling that the “India buys Iran’s oil with gold” story (e.g. click here) was quite important for understanding the world geopolitical situation and for gold investing, but I wasn’t sure exactly how. Just last night the reasoning to support the feeling came to me.
Let’s review the major, recent geopolitical gold-related news stories:

  • Libya’s Ghadafi pays his mercenaries with gold as he attempts to fend off the Bankster Empire attack masquerading as an Air Campaign to protect citizens from slaughter.
  • Venezuela’s Chavez demands the return of Venezuela’s gold from London. He realizes that Venezuela is definitely on the Bankster’s list of “regimes that need changing”.
  • Iran relies on gold to maintain international trade using gold as the Bankster Empire cuts it off from the dollar system and escalates its increasingly violent (bombs, assinations, etc.) campaign for regime change.
  • India relies on gold to maintain its supply of Iranian oil.
  • China and Russian, still not under the control of the Bankster Empire, eschew dollars for gold, beefing up their gold reserves as fast as they can without driving the price of gold too high, too fast.

Gold is what a nation (regime) relies on should the Bankster Empire turn against that nation.

The first thing the Bankster Empire does when its turning the screws on a regime is to freeze its assets. After that comes the kind of things happening to Iran (funding and supplying internal opponents, preventing them from doing trade by locking them out of the banking system, assinations, bombings, etc.). Throughout, gold reserves held within that nation allow the nation to continue to function and trade with other nations.

So, to any nation that is not fully integrated into the Bankster Empire (a non-aligned nation), gold reserves aren’t a nice investment, they are an integral part of National Security (survival). As we know in the USA, national security trumps all other political priorities.

Here’s my quick estimate of those nations which constitute the core of the Bankster Empire (dark green) and those nations that are clearly either close allies or vassals of the Empire (light green). Dark yellow constitutes those nations which are clearly outside of the control of the Bankster Empire with light yellow nations constituting those that I deem to be mostly outside of Bankster Empire control. Countries which are white are countries that I just don’t know enough about to categorize. Please leave me a comment if you think I have a country misclassified.

As a result of the pattern formed from the Libya, Venezuela, Iran, China, Russia (all non-aligned), I’m expecting that every nation in the world (beginning with the non-aligned nations, but continuing to fully aligned nations like Germany) are going to making the accumulation a significant, no-kidding physical gold bullion reserve located on their own soil as a matter of national security, a top priority.

This major geopolitical shift is an unexpected consequence of the Banker Empire’s squeezing of the Iranians that has enormous long-term bullish implications for the price of gold.

It seems Saddam Hussein’s decision to sell oil in something other than the US dollar (Euros) was the final straw that drove the Bankster Empire to attack Iraq. I think that the Bankster Empire is not at all amused by the Iranian Gold For Oil deal and that they will be escalating their attack on Iran. Jim Rickards and Ron Paul are right. In my view, sanctions are a prelude to war and war with Iran is already underway and that will become more apparent as time goes by. That seems bullish for oil and gold for the short and medium-term.
MontyHigh, www.worldofwallstreet.us

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Jan 292012
The Guardian
Paul Harris

US writers attack conditions at Foxconn plant and call for consumers to act

Apple, the computer giant whose sleek products have become a mainstay of modern life, is dealing with a public relations disaster and the threat of calls for a boycott of its iPhones and iPads.

The company’s public image took a dive after revelations about working conditions in the factories of some of its network of Chinese suppliers. The allegations, reported at length in the New York Times, build on previous concerns about abuses at firms that Apple uses to make its bestselling computers and phones. Now the dreaded word “boycott” has started to appear in media coverage of its activities.

“Should consumers boycott Apple?” asked a column in the Los Angeles Times as it recounted details of the bad PR fallout.

The influential Daily Beast and Newsweek technology writer Dan Lyons wrote a scathing piece. “It’s barbaric,” he said, before saying to his readership: “Ultimately the blame lies not with Apple and other electronics companies – but with us, the consumers. And ultimately we are the ones who must demand change.”

Forbes magazine columnist Peter Cohan also got in on the act. “If you add up all the workers who have died to build your iPhone or iPad, the number is shockingly high,” he began an article that also toyed with the idea of a boycott in its headline.

The New York Times’s revelations, which centred on the Foxconn plant in southern China that has repeatedly been the subject of accusations of worker mistreatment, have caused a major stir in the US. Although such allegations have been made before in numerous news outlets, and in a controversial one-man show by playwright Mike Daisey, this time they have struck a chord.

The newspaper detailed allegations that workers at Foxconn suffered in conditions that resembled a modern version of bonded labour, working obscenely long shifts in unhealthy conditions with few of the labour rights that workers in the west would take for granted. It also mentioned disturbing events elsewhere in China among supplier firms, such as explosions at iPad factories that killed a total of four people and another incident in which 137 workers were injured after cleaning iPhone screens with a poisonous chemical.

Apple has come out fighting, which is no surprise given the remarkable success that the company has seen in recent years.

Through the iPod, iPhone and now the iPad tablet computer, Apple has revolutionised lifestyles across the world and built up a cult of worshippers. It has also generated billions of dollars in profits, in part due to the cheapness of Chinese labour.

But much of the firm’s success rests on its reputation for “cool” among hip urban professionals and a generally positive corporate image. Stories of worker abuse at Chinese firms are a direct threat to that winning combination.

In a lengthy email sent to Apple staff, chief executive Tim Cook met the allegations head-on. “We care about every worker in our worldwide supply chain. Any accident is deeply troubling, and any issue with working conditions is cause for concern,” Cook said. He went on to slam critics of the company. “Any suggestion that we don’t care is patently false and offensive to us… accusations like these are contrary to our values.”

Earlier this month Apple took the unusual step of releasing a list of all the firms in its worldwide supply chain as part of its 2011 audit of human rights conditions at factories where it has partnerships.

However, the company’s own list made for grim reading. It revealed that a staggering 62% of the 229 facilities that it was involved with were not in compliance with Apple’s 60-hour maximum working week policy. Almost a third had problem with hazardous waste.
Cook insisted in his email that Apple did not turn a blind eye to conditions in its supplier network. But he did warn that the firm was likely to discover more problems. “We will continue to dig deeper, and we will undoubtedly find more issues,” he said.

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Jan 292012

Global Research
Shamus Cooke

After meeting again to decide Syria’s fate, the Arab League again decided to extend its “monitoring mission” in Syria. However, some Arab League nations under U.S. diplomatic control are clamoring for blood. These countries — virtual sock puppets of U.S. foreign policy — want to declare the Arab League monitoring mission “a failure,” so that military intervention — in the form of a no fly zone — can be used for regime change.

The United States appears to be using a strategy in Syria that it has perfected over the years, having succeeded most recently in Libya: arming small paramilitary groups loyal to U.S. interests that claim to speak for the local population; these militants then attack the targeted government the U.S. would like to see overthrown — including terrorist bombings — and when the attacked government defends itself, the U.S. cries “genocide” or “mass murder,” while calling for foreign military intervention.

This is the strategy that the U.S. is using to channel the Arab Spring into the bloody dead end of foreign military intervention.

For example, the U.S. media and government are fanatically giving the impression that, in Syria, the local population would like foreign militarily intervention to overthrow their authoritarian president, Bashar Assad. But facts are stubborn things.

After spinning these lies, The New York Times was forced to admit, in several articles, that there have been massive rallies in Syria in support of the Syrian government. These rallies are larger than any pro-government demonstration that the U.S. government could hope to organize for itself. The New York Times reports:

“The turnout [at least tens of thousands — see picture in link] in Sabaa Bahrat Square in Damascus, the [Syrian] capital, once again underlined the degree of backing that Mr. Assad and his leadership still enjoy among many Syrians, nearly seven months into the popular uprising. That support is especially pronounced in cities like Damascus and Aleppo, the country’s two largest.” (January 13, 2012).

The New York Times is forced to admit that the two largest cities — in a small country — support the government (or at least oppose foreign military intervention).

This was further confirmed by a poll funded by the anti-Syrian Qatar Foundation, preformed by the Doha Debates:

“According to the latest opinion poll commissioned by The Doha Debates, Syrians are more supportive of their president with 55% not wanting him to resign.” (January 2, 2012).

If people in Syria do not want foreign intervention — a likely reason that so many attended pro-Assad demonstrations — what about the so-called Free Syrian Army, which the United States has given immense credibility to and which claims to speak for the Syrian people?

The Free Syrian Army — like its Libyan counterpart — appears to be yet another Made-in-the-USA militant group, by route of its ally Turkey, a fact alluded to by the pro U.S.-establishment magazine, Foreign Affairs:

“Why does the Syrian [government] military not rocket their [Free Syrian Army] position or launch a large-scale assault? The FSA fighters are positioned about a mile from the Turkish border, near enough to escape across if the situation turned dire.”
The article also quotes a Free Syrian Army member who states: “Every [Free Syrian Army] group in Turkey has its own job,” Sayeed said. “[The Turks] gave us our freedom to move.” (December 8, 2011).

The article also mentions that the Free Syrian Army is calling for a “no fly zone” over certain regions of Syria, which would destroy the Syrian government military; the possible starting locations of this no fly zone are on the Syrian borders of either Turkey, Jordan, or Iraq — all three are either strong U.S. allies or client states.

A “no fly zone” is the new euphemism that means the U.S. and its European military junior partners in NATO will intervene to use their advanced fighter jets to destroy the Syrian military, as happened in Libya. In Libya the no fly zone evolved into a “no drive zone” and eventually a “no survival” zone for anything resembling the Syrian military — or anybody who armed himself in defense of the Libyan government.

As in Syria, Libya’s largest city, Tripoli, never had large anti-government demonstrations. The anti-Libyan government/pro-U.S. paramilitary group that attacked Libyan forces was so tiny that it took months to take power after 10,000 NATO bombing sorties (bombing missions) that destroyed large portions of Libya’s infrastructure, as documented by the independent Human Rights Investigations.

It’s totally unimaginable that any large section of Syrian society would invite a NATO-backed no fly zone, i.e. war, into Syria. The examples of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya are too glaring for any Middle Eastern nation not to notice. For the Free Syrian Army to demand a NATO invasion of Syria is enough to label the FSA a U.S. puppet group striving for political power, deserving to be condemned.

This strategy of using a proxy army to undermine an anti-U.S. government has a grisly past. This strategy is celebrated in the book Charlie Wilson’s War, which tells the true story of the U.S. government sending weapons and cash to Islamic extremists to wage a terrorist campaign against the Afghan government, which was an ally of the Soviet Union at the time. The attacks eventually led to the Afghan government asking for Soviet military re-enforcements, whose presence in Afghanistan created a degree of popular support for the extremists who eventually became known as the Taliban.

The same scenario also played itself out in Kosovo, where the tiny, U.S.-backed Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) began a terrorist campaign against the government of Yugoslavia, intending to separate Kosovo into an independent nation. When the Yugoslav government attempted to defend itself from the KLA — while imitating its violent tactics — the U.S. and other western governments labeled it genocide, and invaded Yugoslavia, calling it a “humanitarian invasion.” To this day the U.S. is one of few nations that recognizes Kosovo as an independent nation while Kosovo faithfully serves the interests of the United States.

The same proxy war strategy — by the U.S. and other European powers — played a crucial role in numerous wars throughout Africa, which culminated in the massive Congo War that killed over five million people, as French journalist Gerard Prunier describes in his book, Africa’s World War.

In Syria history is repeating itself, and some non-U.S. allies are very aware of it. The New York Times reports:

“[Russia’s Foreign Minister] said that foreign governments [the U.S., Turkey, etc.] were arming ‘militants and extremists’ in Syria.”

The Foreign minister also gave an accurate description of U.S. foreign policy towards Iran:

“Mr. Lavrov offered a similarly grave message about the possibility of a military strike against Iran, which he said would be a “catastrophe.” He said sanctions now being proposed against Tehran were “intended to have a smothering effect on the Iranian economy and the Iranian population, probably in the hopes of provoking discontent.” (January 19, 2012).

Most ominously, the Russian Foreign Minister said that U.S. foreign policy in Syria and Iran could lead to a “very big war,” i.e., a war that becomes regional or even international in scope, as other powers intervene to uphold their interests in the region.

Russia has offered a way to avoid war in Syria and is pursuing it through the UN Security Council; it is the same path being pursued by the pro-U.S. government in Yemen: maintaining the current government in power until elections are called. Unfortunately, Yemen is an ally of the U.S. and Syria is not — the U.S. and its allies are blocking the same approach in Syria in order to pursue war.

The Syrian government opposition bloc inside of Syria, the National Coordination Committee, opposes foreign military intervention. A leader of the NCC is Hassan Abdul Azim, who wisely states;

“We refuse on principle any type of military foreign intervention because it threatens the freedom of our country,” (January 19, 2012).

This is very likely the prevailing opinion inside of Syria, since the threat of no fly zones will result in the same mass bombings experienced by the citizens of Tripoli in Libya. The fake Syrian opposition outside of the country, The Syrian National Council, is yet another U.S. puppet — now allied with the Free Syrian Army — begging for a military invasion of Syria in order to “liberate” it. Of course the western media tells only the perspective of the pro-U.S. Syrian National Council.

The U.S. has proven on multiple occasions that military solutions solve nothing, having torn asunder the social fabric of Afghanistan, Iraq, and now Libya. The working people of Syria and Iran do not desire “help” from the U.S. government and its allies to prevent bloodshed. The working people of these countries could liberate themselves from their authoritarian governments, as did the Tunisians and Egyptians, which is precisely the point: the U.S. is intervening militarily to re-gain control over a region that slipped out of its hands during the Arab Spring. This military approach serves to push the working people of the targeted country into the hands of their government while creating a humanitarian catastrophe for the invaded nation. The working people of the United States have no interest in aggressive war and have a responsibility to learn about U.S. government propaganda so that they can demand its end in the streets.

Shamus Cooke is a social worker, trade unionist, and writer for Workers Action ( www.workerscompass.org  )


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Jan 282012

“The autism community strongly recommends that the proposed DSM-5 autism spectrum disorder diagnostic criteria be revisited with these concerns in mind,” – Sallie Bernard, President of SafeMinds

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Proposed changes to the diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorders in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – 5 (DSM-5) will potentially disrupt appropriate and necessary services to hundreds of thousands of individuals in the US, hamper the ability to track the numbers of people with autism, and interfere with efforts to establish biological causes of autism.

“The proposed criteria make it significantly more difficult to qualify for an autism spectrum diagnosis and they completely eliminate the categories of PDD-NOS and Asperger’s Disorder,” stated Wendy Fournier, National Autism Association President. “In a well-intentioned desire to improve the specificity of an ASD diagnosis, the new criteria may, in fact, go too far and create unintended consequences. It is critically important that any diagnosis address all the symptoms of an individual and allow them the supports they need.”
The new criteria, rationale and previous criteria are available at: http://www.dsm5.org/ProposedRevisions/Pages/proposedrevision.aspx?rid=94
Currently, the federal government is spending millions of dollars to track prevalence of ASDs in 11 states; the 2000 birth cohort is due out this year. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires schools to report the number of students with autism annually. Both sets of data have shown dramatic increases in autism spectrum disorders. One in 110 children in the US is now affected by autism compared to one in 10,000 in the early 1980’s. By significantly changing the criteria for diagnosis, the new DSM-5 will impair the ability of public health officials to compare future rates of autism spectrum disorders to past rates, since the definition will have changed. Accurate projections of trends in autism rates are critical to planning educational interventions, Medicaid and adult services. 
“By analogy, if the medical community chose to only count melanoma in the future instead of all types of skin cancer, it would look like skin cancer rates had gone down, even though other types were still present and needed treatment,” said Ginger Taylor, Canary Party Executive Director.
In addition, incidence and prevalence are critically important to investigating environmental causes of autism. “Toxic exposures to the general population change over time and having good consistent epidemiology allows researchers to judge the likelihood of a toxin being involved in autism,” stated Eric Uram, SafeMinds Executive Director. “The APA’s new criteria should add a specific mechanism to map the old diagnoses onto the new ones in order to allow researchers to compare new and old datasets. We also would like to see the APA address the issue of regressive autism by including age of onset as part of the criteria. The etiologies of infantile vs. regressive autism may be entirely different, but the new criteria do not distinguish them in any way.”
A primary concern for parents is the likelihood that many children on the autism spectrum may not be diagnosed under the new criteria, thereby depriving them of appropriate early intervention and treatment. 

“Even in the states that have passed autism insurance legislation, the tightening of the criteria for autism may exclude children who need treatment with Applied Behavior Analysis,” said Mary Holland, Managing Director of the Elizabeth Birt Center for Autism Law and Advocacy. 
“Our organizations advocate that the criteria should err on the side of over-diagnosing rather than under-diagnosing since no harm is likely from providing educational services to a young child, but great potential can be lost by not providing treatment.” Early intensive treatment improves outcomes for children with autism, making it highly cost-effective for tax-payers when compared to providing adult services.
“The autism community strongly recommends that the proposed DSM-5 autism spectrum disorder diagnostic criteria be revisited with these concerns in mind,” concludes Sallie Bernard, President of SafeMinds. “These issues are too important to remain unresolved.”
For more complete documentation of community concerns and questions, please visit www.safeminds.org. If your organization would like to sign onto these concerns, please contact weisman@safeminds.org.

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Jan 282012

Foreign Policy

President Barack Obama’s administration has been delaying its planned $53 million arms sale to Bahrain due to human rights concerns and congressional opposition, but this week administration officials told several congressional offices that they will move forward with a new and different package of arms sales — without any formal notification to the public.

The congressional offices that led the charge to oppose the original Bahrain arms sales package are upset that the State Department has decided to move forward with the new package. The opposition to Bahrain arms sales is led by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), and also includes Senate Foreign Relations Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee chairman Robert Casey (D-PA), Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-IL), and Sens. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), and Marco Rubio (R-FL).

Wyden and Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) have each introduced a resolution in their respective chambers to prevent the U.S. government from going through with the original sale, which would have included 44 armored, high-mobility Humvees and over 300 advanced missiles.

The State Department has not released details of the new sale, and Congress has not been notified through the regular process, which requires posting the information on the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) website. The State Department simply briefed a few congressional offices and is going ahead with the new sale, arguing it didn’t meet the threshold that would require more formal notifications and a public explanation.

At today’s State Department press briefing, The Cable asked spokeswoman Victoria Nuland about the new sale. She acknowledged the new package but didn’t have any details handy.

Our congressional sources said that State is using a legal loophole to avoid formally notifying Congress and the public about the new arms sale. The administration can sell anything to anyone without formal notification if the sale is under $1 million. If the total package is over $1 million, State can treat each item as an individual sale, creating multiple sales of less than $1 million and avoiding the burden of notification, which would allow Congress to object and possibly block the deal.

We’re further told that State is keeping the exact items in the sale secret, but is claiming they are for Bahrain’s “external defense” and therefore couldn’t be used against protesters. Of course, that’s the same argument that State made about the first arms package, which was undercut by videos showing the Bahraini military using Humvees to suppress civilian protesters.

Regardless, congressional opponents to Bahrain arms sales are planning to fight back. Wyden is circulating a letter now to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stating that Bahrain’s government continues to commit human rights violations and should not be rewarded with U.S. arms sales.

“The Bahraini government has shown little progress in improving their human rights record over the last few months and in some ways, their record has gotten worse,” Wyden told The Cable on Friday. “Protesters are still being hurt and killed, midnight arrests are still happening and the government continues to deny access to human rights monitors. The kingdom of Bahrain has not shown a true good faith effort to improve human rights in their country and the U.S. should not be rewarding them as if they have.”

“Supplying arms to a regime that continues to persecute its citizens is not in the best interest of the United States,” Wyden said. “When the government of Bahrain shows that it respects the human rights of its citizens it will become more stable and a better ally in the region; only then should arms sales from the U.S. resume.”

That point was echoed by McGovern, who pledged to oppose any arms sales to Bahrain.

“The government of Bahrain continues to perpetrate serious human rights abuses and to deny independent monitors access to the country,” McGovern told The Cable. “Until Bahrain takes more substantial and lasting steps to protect the rights of its own citizens, the United States should not reward its government with any military sales.”

A State Department official declined to give specifics of the new arms package to The Cable but said that Bahrain was moving in the right direction.

“We have seen some important initial steps from the Bahraini government in implementing the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry’s recommendations, but more needs to be done,” the official said. “We urge the government of Bahrain to take action on the full range of recommendations that we believe will help lay the foundation for longer-term reform and reconciliation.”

Cherif Bassiouni, the chair of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry that investigated the government crackdown on protests in 2011, recently said in an interview that the administration is not doing enough to pressure the Bahrain regime. “There is merit in naming and shaming and embarrassing, in pushing, in enlisting public opinion, domestic and international. This is not the style of Secretary Clinton or President Obama, and I’m not sure they are necessarily doing the right choice,” he said.
Cole Bockenfeld, director of advocacy for the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED), told The Cable on Friday that the new sale will be perceived by both the government of Bahrain and those in the opposition as a green light for the government to continue its repression.

“In the broader picture of the Arab Spring, this further erodes the credibility of U.S. rhetoric about democracy and human rights in the region,” he said. “Rewarding regimes that repress peaceful dissent with arms sales simply does not square with the administration’s rhetoric. The administration can no longer afford to endorse the status quo in Bahrain.”
Maryam al-Khawaja, the head of the foreign relations office at the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, told The Cable on Friday that the sale of U.S. arms to the Bahraini regime sends the wrong message to the people of Bahrain, and the region in general.

“This message of ‘business as usual’ will only strengthen the regime’s belief that there will continue to be lack of consequences to their human rights violations internationally,” she said. “At a time when the United States is already being criticized for practicing double standards when it comes to the so-called Arab spring, to the protesters in Bahrain, the U.S. selling any arms to the government of Bahrain is exactly like Russia selling arms to Syria. Bahrain has become the United States’ test on how serious they are about standing against human rights violations, and they are failing miserably.”

UPDATE: Late Friday evening, the State Department sent out a lenghty statement on the arms sales:

We are maintaining a pause on most security assistance for Bahrain pending further progress on reform.

During the last two weeks, representatives from the State Department and Department of Defense briefed appropriate Congressional staff on our intention to release some previously notified equipment needed for Bahrain’s external defense and support of Fifth Fleet operations.  This includes spare parts and maintenance of equipment.  None of these items can be used against protestors.

This isn’t a new sale nor are we using a legal loophole.  The items that we briefed to Congress were notified and cleared by the Hill previously or are not large enough to require Congressional notification.  In fact, we’ve gone above and beyond what is legally or customarily required by consulting with Congressional staff on items that do not require Congressional notification.

We have and will continue to use our security assistance to reinforce reforms in Bahrain.  We have seen some important initial steps from the Bahraini government in implementing the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry’s (BICI) recommendations, but more needs to be done.  We urge the government of Bahrain to take action on the full range of recommendations that we believe will help lay the foundation for longer-term reform and reconciliation.
We will continue to consult extensively with Congress on this policy.

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Jan 282012
Common Dreams

In last night’s State of the Union speech President Obama announced the creation of a committee to investigate “the abusive lending and packaging of risky mortgages.”
All across the US, Occupy protestors have been “reclaiming” foreclosed homes and boarded up properties in what some are calling a “tactical shift” in the movement which has targeted the inequality in the distribution of wealth in the US. The ‘investigation’ announcement came just as a bank-friendly ‘settlement’ is about to be announced by the state attorney generals. Reports of the settlement talks, the ‘too-big-to-fail’ banks — Bank of America, Wells Fargo & Co, JPMorgan Chase & Co, Citigroup and Ally Financial Inc — would provide $20 billion to $25 billion of ‘relief’ to homeowners in exchange for being exempted from lawsuits for improper foreclosures and abuses in mortgage loans.

The findings of the new ‘investigation’ would come after the settlement gives the banks a get-out-of-jail-free card.

Matt Taibbi wrote on the proposed settlement: “The current proposed deal is a huge giveaway to the banks, a major shafting to most of the investors, and would probably give homeowners either next to nothing or some cosmetic reward, i.e. a little bit of principal forgiveness, counseling, etc. If the Obama administration was serious about helping actual human beings through this settlement, then it would be fighting for homeowners to get the same bailout the banks would get. If the banks are getting a trillion or more dollars of legal immunity, why shouldn’t homeowners get that much debt forgiveness? Or, half that much? A quarter?”

Democratic state attorneys general and Obama administration officials met on Monday in Chicago to discuss the terms of the settlement. An announcement on the deal is expected any day.

President Obama last night:

“And tonight, I am asking my Attorney General to create a special unit of federal prosecutors and leading state attorneys general to expand our investigations into the abusive lending and packaging of risky mortgages that led to the housing crisis. This new unit will hold accountable those who broke the law, speed assistance to homeowners, and help turn the page on an era of recklessness that hurt so many Americans. “
* * *

Bloomberg News reports:

Obama Will Create Unit to Investigate Mortgage Misconduct After Protests
President Barack Obama said he will create a mortgage crisis unit that includes federal and state officials to investigate wrongdoing by banks related to real estate lending. […]
“This new unit will hold accountable those who broke the law, speed assistance to homeowners, and help turn the page on an era of recklessness that hurt so many Americans,” Obama said in the speech.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman will co-chair the unit along with officials from the Department of Justice, Securities and Exchange Commission and Internal Revenue Service.
* * *

Yves Smith writes at nakedcapitalism:

Is Schneiderman Selling Out? Joins Federal Committee That Looks Designed to Undermine AGs Against Mortgage Settlement Deal
[…] So get this: this is a committee that will “investigate.” The co-chair, Lanny Breuer, along with DoJ chief Eric Holder, hail from white shoe Washington law firm Covington & Burling, which has deep ties to the financial services industry. Even if they did not work directly for clients in the mortgage business, they come from a firm known for its deep political and regulatory connections (for instance: Gene Ludwig, the Covington partner I engaged for some complicated regulatory work when I was at Sumitomo Bank, later became head of the OCC). We’ve written at length on how the OCC is such a shameless tout for the banking industry that it cannot properly be called a regulator. Similarly, the SEC has been virtually absent from the mortgage beat, no doubt because its enforcement chief, Robert Khuzami, was general counsel to the fixed income department at Deutsche Bank. That area included the trading operation under Greg Lippmann who we have described as Patient Zero of so called mezz CDOs, or to the layperson, toxic mortgage paper that kept the subprime bubble going well beyond its sell date. And we don’t need to say much about the DoJ. It has been missing in action during this entire Administration.
Neil Barofsky, former prosecutor and head of SIGTARP, doesn’t buy the logic of this committee either:
A lot of soi-disant liberal groups have fallen in line with Obama messaging, which was the plan (I already have the predictable congratulatory Move On e-mail in my inbox). Let’s get real. The wee problem is that this committee looks like yet another bit of theater for the Administration to pretend, yet again, that it is Doing Something, while scoring a twofer by getting Schneiderman, who has been a pretty effective opponent, hobbled.
If you wanted a real investigation, you get a real independent investigator, with a real budget and staffing, and turn him loose. […]
Put it another way: one thing that would convince me that this committee was serious was if the settlement pact was put on hold until the investigation were completed. The fact that the settlement push is in high gear is yet more proof that this committee is yet another bit of regulatory/enforcement theater, just like the Foreclosure Task Force, or the servicer consent decrees (confirmed as an embarrassment via the use of badly conflicted “consultants”), or the current OCC investigation into foreclosure abuses, which excludes all sorts of injuries inflicted upon homeowners, most notably servicer fees abuses and misapplication of payments. […]
It would be better if I were proven wrong, but this looks to be yet another clever Obama gambit to neutralize his opposition. With all the same key actors in place – Geithner, Walsh, Holder – there is no reason to believe the Administration has had a change of heart until there is compelling evidence otherwise.
* * *

Kai Wright writing at Colorlines:

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman
The question remains whether Schneiderman’s unit will be window dressing for a get-out-of-jail-free settlement with banks that are currently facing heat from state attorneys general over fraudulent foreclosures.
Here’s the reaction from the New Bottom Line, a relatively new coalition of homeowner advocates and community groups that had been making this very demand loudly for years:
President Obama has heard the calls of the 99% and announced a full, federal investigation into the fraudulent activities of big banks…. We will continue to make sure that this investigation uncovers the truth about the activities of the big banks. And in order to provide real and meaningful relief to millions of homeowners, the end result must be at least $300 billion in principal reduction and restitution for those who have lost their homes, especially targeted at the most hard hit communities. This will reset the housing market and the economy.
* * *

David Dayen at Firedoglake:

The unit will be co-chaired by Eric Schneiderman, the New York Attorney General who bravely waged an often lonely battle to stop a misguided settlement on foreclosure fraud. But “co-chair” is the operative word here, and it suggests that the entire maneuver was created to grease the wheels for the pre-arranged settlement, while turning this investigatory arm into nothing so much as regulatory theater. […]
This is a classic Obama move, putting a threat or a rival inside the tent. It happened with Elizabeth Warren and David Petraeus and Jon Huntsman, and it’s happening again. It divides the coalition against a weak settlement, which will at the least shut down state and federal prosecutions on foreclosure fraud and servicing issues. It puts hopes in yet another investigation, one with little chance for success… I’d really like to be wrong about this. But this just reads like a gambit, a fix, a charade.

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