Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Nuclear Free Middle East: Desirable, Necessary, and Impossible

Richard Falk

Dimona nuclear plant in Israel, the
country holding the largest number
of nuclear weapons in the Middle East
            Finally, there is some argumentation in the West supportive of a nuclear free zone for the Middle East. Such thinking is still treated as politically marginal, and hardly audible above the beat of the war drums. It also tends to be defensively and pragmatically phrased as in the NY Times article by Shibley Telhami and Steven Kull (I.15..2012) with full disclosure title, “Preventing a Nuclear Iran.” The article makes a prudential argument against attacking Iran based on prospects of a damaging Iranian retaliation and the inability of an attack to destroy Iran’s nuclear program at an acceptable cost. The most that could be achieved for would be a short delay in Iran’s acquisition of weaponry, and maybe not even that. An attack seems likely to create irresistible pressure in Iran to everything possible to obtain a nuclear option with a renewed sense of urgency.

            This argument is sensibly reinforced by pointing to respected public opinion surveys that show Israeli attitudes to be less war-inclined than had been generally assumed. According to a Israeli recent poll, only 43% of Israelis favoring a military strike, while 64% favored establishing a nuclear free zone (NFZ) in the region that included Israel. In effect, then, establishing a NFZ that includes Israel would seem politically feasible, although not a course of action that would be entertained by the current Tel Aviv governmental political climate. We can conclude that the silence of Washington with respect to such an alternative approach to the dispute with Iran confirms what is widely believed, namely, that the U.S. Government adheres to the official Israeli line, and is not particularly sensitive to the wishes of the Israeli public even to the extent of serving America’s own strong national interest in finding a peaceful solution to the conflict.

            A variant of NFZ thinking has recently been attributed to Saudi Prince Turki Al-Faisal, former Saudi ambassador to the United States and once the head of Saudi intelligence. He too argues that NFZ is a better alternative than the military option, which he contends should be removed from the table. Prince Turki insists that sanctions have not altered Iran’s behavior. His proposal is more complex than simply advocating a NFZ. He would favor sanctions against Iran is there is convincing evidence that it is seeking nuclear weapons, but he also supports sanctions imposed on Israel if it does not disclose openly the full extent of its nuclear weapons arsenal.  His approach has several additional features: extending the scope of the undertaking to all weapons of mass destruction (WMD), that is, including biological and chemical weapons; establishing a nuclear security umbrella for the region by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council; and seeking a resolution of outstanding conflicts in the region in accordance with the Mecca Arab proposals of 2002 that calls for Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian territories and the Golan Heights occupied in 1967, as well as the political and commercial normalization of relations between Israel and the Arab world.

            Prince Turki warns that if such an arrangement is not soon put in place, and Iran proceeds with its nuclear program, other countries in the region, including Turkey, are likely to be drawn into an expensive and destabilizing nuclear arms race. In effect, as with Telhami and Kull, Prince Turki’s approach is designed to avoid worst case scenarios, but is framed mainly in relation to the future of the region rather than confined to the Israel/Iran confrontation. 

It concretely urges establishing such a framework with or without Israeli support at a conference of parties to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty scheduled for later in the year in Finland. Israel, not a party to the NPT, has not indicated its willingness to attend the conference at this point. As long ago as the 1995 NPT Review Conference the Arab countries put forward a proposal to establish in the Middle East a WMD free zone, but it has never been acted upon at any subsequent session. Israel, which is not a member of the NPT, has consistently taken the position over the years that a complete peace involving the region must precede any prohibition directed at the possession of nuclear weapons.

Monday, January 30, 2012

All options on table against nuke-armed Iran: Panetta


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.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Audit: U.S. Defense Department can't account for billions for Iraq


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.

A Call For Mass Action Against The Suppression of The Occupy Movement

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

Police confirm over 400 arrests at Occupy Oakland rally

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.”

Gold Reserves Now A National Security Issue For The World's Governments

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

Apple hit by boycott call over worker abuses in China

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.

The Truth Behind the Coming "Regime Change" in Syria

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."

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Changes in DSM-5 Autism Definition Could Negatively Impact Millions


"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. 

Obama administration using loophole to quietly sell arms package to Bahrain

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.

Banks legally immune in return for $20 billion relief to homeowners

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.

The Crisis of Education in America: "How to Become a Serf" A society in which people exist for the sake of companies is a society enslaved

Global Research
John Kozy

How to Become a Serf

Man is a pathetic creature; a brute trying to be god but traveling in the wrong direction.

Educational systems now train workers to fulfill the needs of companies. A society in which people exist for the sake of companies is a society enslaved. But there's a deep problem with the notion that education should equal vocational training. To paraphrase a very famous and renowned person, man does not live by work alone. Indeed, the knowledge and skills needed to earn a living in a capitalist industrial economy are of little use in human relationships, and human relationships are the core of everyone's life. Schools devoted to vocational training provide no venue for teaching cultural differences, for trying to understand the person who lives next door or in another country. Value systems are never evaluated; alternatives are never considered. As a result, although we all live on the same planet, we do not live together. At best, we only live side by side. At worst, we live to kill each other. Education as vocational training reduces everything to ideology, our devotion to which causes us to reject the stark reality that stares us in the face, because our ideologies color the realities we see and people never get wiser than those of previous generations. People have become nothing but the monkeys of hurdy gurdy grinders, tethered to grinders' organs with tin cups in hands to be filled for the benefit of the grinders. And this is the species we refer to as sapient. What a delusion!

For many years, I have been troubled by what I saw as the results of what passes for education in America and perhaps elsewhere too. Why is it, do you suppose, that one generation does not seem to get any smarter than the previous one? Oh, it may know more of this or that, but what it "knows" does not translate into smarts. In other words, why don't people ever seem to get wiser? Why do they repeat the same mistakes over and over?

For centuries, an education was thought to be comprised of considerably more than one providing the skills and requirements needed to carry on a trade or profession. For instance, consider this passage:

 "Education is not the same as training. Plato made the distinction between techne (skill) and episteme (knowledge). Becoming an educated person goes beyond the acquisition of a technical skill. It requires an understanding of one’s place in the world—cultural as well as natural—in pursuit of a productive and meaningful life. And it requires historical perspective so that one does not just live, as Edmund Burke said, like 'the flies of a summer,' born one day and gone the next, but as part of that 'social contract' that binds our generation to those who have come before and to those who are yet to be born.

An education that achieves those goals must include the study of what Matthew Arnold called 'the best that has been known and said.' It must comprehend the whole—the human world and its history, our own culture and those very different from ours. . . ."

This idea of an educated person was often summarized in the phrases, a Renaissance man, and un homme du monde. But these expressions are hardly heard any more. Educated people no longer exist. We are nothing but the monkeys of hurdy gurdy grinders, tethered to grinders' organs with tin cups in hands to be filled for the benefit of the grinders.

"Governor Rick Snyder wants to tie retraining programs to companies' needs . . . and encourage more Michigan residents to earn math and science degrees under an initiative aimed at making workers more competitive in the global marketplace."

The hurdy gurdy grinder's monkey exists for the sake of the organ grinder; Governor Snyder wants Michigan's residents to educate themselves for the sake of companies. Workers are to fulfill companies' needs rather than vice versa. President Obama has said similar things.

But there's something wrong, something terribly wrong, with this picture. A society in which people exist for the sake of some non-human entity is a society enslaved. And this picture gets even more horrid with the realization that workers are expected to pay to acquire the required skills. Students are being asked to pay for the privilege of becoming serfs.

Living things in the natural world exist as ends in themselves. Everything they do is done for their own benefit or the benefit of their offspring. Horses in the wild do not acquire skills in order to perform tasks that benefit other horses. When a human being acquires a horse and trains it to perform a skill for the person's benefit, the person provides for all the natural needs of his horse. Horses don't come begging to be trained to be ridden. What kind of perversion is the requirement that people should beg to be trained to be serfs?

But neither a hurdy gurdy grinder's monkey or a riding horse are educated; they are trained. There is no such thing as a Renaissance monkey!

Education in America, and perhaps other places too, is as fractured as shattered glass. The federal agency called the Department of Education's only power is the ability to cajole schools mainly by offering them money. There are public and private schools, and the public ones are governed by local school boards, the members of which are not even required to be able to read or write. State school boards exist to have some influence over local boards, but again, the power of the states is limited. Education in America is a local affair. The people on these school boards are the ones that control what is and how it is taught. For instance, creationism is often given equal standing with evolution. Students are often required to engage in practices that are clearly unconstitutional. All of this is done to suit the views of school board members, not society or even students.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Israeli Mossad agents posed as CIA spies to recruit terrorists to fight against Iran'

Barak Ravid

Foreign Policy magazine cites CIA memos from 2007-2008 that the Mossad recruited members of Jundallah terror group to fight against Tehran; U.S. was reportedly furious with Israel and moved to limit joint intelligence programs.

Israeli Mossad agents posed as CIA officers in order to recruit members of a Pakistani terror group to carry out assassinations and attacks against the regime in Iran, Foreign Policy revealed on Friday, quoting U.S. intelligence memos.

Foreign Policy's Mark Perry reported that the Mossad operation was carried out in 2007-2008, behind the back of the U.S. government, and infuriated then U.S. President George W. Bush.

Perry quotes a number of American intelligence officials and claims that the Mossad agents used American dollars and U.S. passports to pose as CIA spies to try to recruit members of Jundallah, a Pakistan-based Sunni extremist organization that has carried out a series of attacks in Iran and assassinations of government officials.

According to the report, Israel's recruitment attempts took place mostly in London, right under the nose of U.S. intelligence officials.

"It's amazing what the Israelis thought they could get away with," Foreign Policy quoted an
George W. Bush and Ehud Olmert AP
Former U.S. President George W. Bush
and former Prime Minsiter Ehud Olmert.
intelligence officer as saying. "Their recruitment activities were nearly in the open. They apparently didn't give a damn what we thought."

According to a currently serving U.S. intelligence officer, Perry reports, when Bush was briefed on the information he "went absolutely ballistic."

"The report sparked White House concerns that Israel's program was putting Americans at risk," the intelligence officer told Perry. "There's no question that the U.S. has cooperated with Israel in intelligence-gathering operations against the Iranians, but this was different. No matter what anyone thinks, we're not in the business of assassinating Iranian officials or killing Iranian civilians."

USS Enterprise False Flag

The Dukes of Hazzard star who could destroy Newt Gingrich ... again

Ed Pilkington

The actor at the centre of Newt's mid-90s tax scandal watches the former speaker's resurrection with amazement and disgust


  As Newt Gingrich fights to save his political life, locked in a potentially decisive battle in the final days of the Florida primary with his bitter rival Mitt Romney, one man is following the struggle with peculiarly intense and personal interest.

Ben Jones is best known by millions of Americans as the actor who played "Crazy" Cooter Davenport, the truck driving mechanic in the hit 1980s TV series, The Dukes of Hazzard. But in politics, Jones is credited with having helped destroy Newt Gingrich's Congressional career by leveling accusations of financial improprieties at him, which ultimately led to his resignation from the speakership.

Jones has watched the improbable resurrection of Gingrich as a presidential contender almost two decades later with a mixture of bemusement and disgust. "It's astonishing to me that this has come back around. It testifies to the fact that Mr Gingrich cannot be destroyed by conventional weapons – he is the abominable Newt Man."

Ben Cooter Jones Gingrich
Ben Jones
Jones sounded the alarm about Gingrich's dodgy practices in September 1994 at a time when he was locked in his own bitter electoral battle with the speaker over a Congressional seat in Georgia. Jones, who by then had served two terms in Congress as a Democratic member having turned to politics after Dukes of Hazzard went off the air, presented the House ethics committee with 450 pages of documents that proved to be incendiary.

They revealed that Gingrich had used charitable donations that were tax-deductible to fund his own political ambitions to launch a conservative revolution in America – a violation of the law that does not allow political activities to be written off against tax.

Over the next three years, his activities were investigated by the ethics committee which discovered that Gingrich had not only committed the tax violation but had misled the committee about what he had done – thus bringing discredit on the House.

The result was a historic $300,000 fine and reprimand by Congress. The blow to Gingrich's standing proved terminal – he failed to be returned by fellow Republicans as Speaker and would quit Congress in 1998.

Jones still has a box of papers relating to the Gingrich ethics investigation gathering dust in his garage. The events of the past few weeks – with Gingrich making a surprise surge to win the South Carolina primary, only to be bombarded with accusations about his unethical past in Florida – has brought the memory of 1994 flooding back.

"It was there in black and white. The documents showed that what he had done was a tax dodge – it was chicanery and it was illegal under tax law."

Jones, 70, thinks that despite the passage of so much time, the contents of that box are still highly relevant. "It shows that what he did was wrong. And it exemplifies the way that he operated then, and operates still."

NYPD found promoting Islamophobia

Gary Anthony Ramsey
This week it was revealed that more than a thousand New York police officers were shown the controversial film called “The third Jihad” while taking anti- terrorism training classes.

Talat Hamdani lost her son Muhammad during the 9-11 attacks. She says she is outraged it was shown to New York public servants who are suppose to protect her rights.

Fear of Muslims in America continues to threaten worshipers of Islam who have been subjected to a number of recent attacks.

Representatives from dozens of Muslim and non-Muslim groups gathered at City Hall to demand the resignation of New York City Police Commissioner.

Ray Kelly and his deputy of public information Paul Browne. Both men at first denied the film was shown then later backtracked on their comments.

The Third Jihad is a 71-minute documentary that claims that much of the Islamic leadership in the US is preaching what they call "Jihad" to its followers. Kelly even gives a 14-second interview in the movie.

The movie was produced by the non-profit Clarion group which has ties to Aish HaTorah - an Israeli organization that opposes any territorial concessions on the West Bank. Documents reveal that more than 14 hundred police officers have seen this film.

The controversy comes as the NYPD has been challenged in court for placing spies and provocateurs in Mosques and community centers. It also happens as the US congress is once again set to hold hearings on the radicalization of Islam - proceedings that many have labeled as racist and inflammatory.

Kelly issued his regrets late Wednesday saying quote “I offer my apologies to members of the Muslim community, in particular, who would find the film inflammatory and it's airing on department property, though unauthorized, to be inappropriate.

The department claims a sergeant placed the film in a display loop that flashed on the walls of the training facility.

Through a number of statements, the NYPD has insisted that its officers are trained to protect all of the citizens of New York regardless of race or religion. But Muslim Americans say that is hard to believe especially if a matter of policy, those officer are shown films that depict them as radical and terrorists that deserve neither protection or respect . 

No Need to Panic About Global Warming

Wall Street Journal

Editor's Note: The following has been signed by the 16 scientists listed at the end of the article:

A candidate for public office in any contemporary democracy may have to consider what, if anything, to do about "global warming." Candidates should understand that the oft-repeated claim that nearly all scientists demand that something dramatic be done to stop global warming is not true. In fact, a large and growing number of distinguished scientists and engineers do not agree that drastic actions on global warming are needed.

In September, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Ivar Giaever, a supporter of President Obama in the last election, publicly resigned from the American Physical Society (APS) with a letter that begins: "I did not renew [my membership] because I cannot live with the [APS policy] statement: 'The evidence is incontrovertible: Global warming is occurring. If no mitigating actions are taken, significant disruptions in the Earth's physical and ecological systems, social systems, security and human health are likely to occur. We must reduce emissions of greenhouse gases beginning now.' In the APS it is OK to discuss whether the mass of the proton changes over time and how a multi-universe behaves, but the evidence of global warming is incontrovertible?"

In spite of a multidecade international campaign to enforce the message that increasing amounts of the "pollutant" carbon dioxide will destroy civilization, large numbers of scientists, many very prominent, share the opinions of Dr. Giaever. And the number of scientific "heretics" is growing with each passing year. The reason is a collection of stubborn scientific facts.

Perhaps the most inconvenient fact is the lack of global warming for well over 10 years now. This is known to the warming establishment, as one can see from the 2009 "Climategate" email of climate scientist Kevin Trenberth: "The fact is that we can't account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can't." But the warming is only missing if one believes computer models where so-called feedbacks involving water vapor and clouds greatly amplify the small effect of CO2.

The lack of warming for more than a decade—indeed, the smaller-than-predicted warming over the 22 years since the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) began issuing projections—suggests that computer models have greatly exaggerated how much warming additional CO2 can cause. Faced with this embarrassment, those promoting alarm have shifted their drumbeat from warming to weather extremes, to enable anything unusual that happens in our chaotic climate to be ascribed to CO2.

The fact is that CO2 is not a pollutant. CO2 is a colorless and odorless gas, exhaled at high concentrations by each of us, and a key component of the biosphere's life cycle. Plants do so much better with more CO2 that greenhouse operators often increase the CO2 concentrations by factors of three or four to get better growth. This is no surprise since plants and animals evolved when CO2 concentrations were about 10 times larger than they are today. Better plant varieties, chemical fertilizers and agricultural management contributed to the great increase in agricultural yields of the past century, but part of the increase almost certainly came from additional CO2 in the atmosphere.

Although the number of publicly dissenting scientists is growing, many young scientists furtively say that while they also have serious doubts about the global-warming message, they are afraid to speak up for fear of not being promoted—or worse. They have good reason to worry. In 2003, Dr. Chris de Freitas, the editor of the journal Climate Research, dared to publish a peer-reviewed article with the politically incorrect (but factually correct) conclusion that the recent warming is not unusual in the context of climate changes over the past thousand years. The international warming establishment quickly mounted a determined campaign to have Dr. de Freitas removed from his editorial job and fired from his university position. Fortunately, Dr. de Freitas was able to keep his university jobThis is not the way science is supposed to work, but we have seen it before—for example, in the frightening period when Trofim Lysenko hijacked biology in the Soviet Union. Soviet biologists who revealed that they believed in genes, which Lysenko maintained were a bourgeois fiction, were fired from their jobs. Many were sent to the gulag and some were condemned to deaWhy is there so much passion about global warming, and why has the issue become so vexing that the American Physical Society, from which Dr. Giaever resigned a few months ago, refused the seemingly reasonable request by many of its members to remove the word "incontrovertible" from its description of a scientific issue? There are several reasons, but a good place to start is the old question "cui bono?" Or the modern updatSpeaking for many scientists and engineers who have looked carefully and independently at the science of climate, we have a message to any candidate for public office: There is no compelling scientific argument for drastic action to "decarbonize" the world's economy. Even if one accepts the inflated climate forecasts of the IPCC, aggressive greenhouse-gas control policies are not justified economically.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Insight: Top Justice officials connected to mortgage banks

Scott J. Paltrow

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder (R) chats with Assistant Attorney General
in the criminal division of the Justice Department Lanny Breuer before
their testimony on the second day of the Financial Crisis Inquiry
Commission hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington January 14, 2010.

(Reuters) - U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Lanny Breuer, head of the Justice Department's criminal division, were partners for years at a Washington law firm that represented a Who's Who of big banks and other companies at the center of alleged foreclosure fraud, a Reuters inquiry shows.

The firm, Covington & Burling, is one of Washington's biggest white shoe law firms. Law professors and other federal ethics experts said that federal conflict of interest rules required Holder and Breuer to recuse themselves from any Justice Department decisions relating to law firm clients they personally had done work for.

Both the Justice Department and Covington declined to say if either official had personally worked on matters for the big mortgage industry clients. Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said Holder and Breuer had complied fully with conflict of interest regulations, but she declined to say if they had recused themselves from any matters related to the former clients.

Reuters reported in December that under Holder and Breuer, the Justice Department hasn't brought any criminal cases against big banks or other companies involved in mortgage servicing, even though copious evidence has surfaced of apparent criminal violations in foreclosure cases.

The evidence, including records from federal and state courts and local clerks' offices around the country, shows widespread forgery, perjury, obstruction of justice, and illegal foreclosures on the homes of thousands of active-duty military personnel.

In recent weeks the Justice Department has come under renewed pressure from members of Congress, state and local officials and homeowners' lawyers to open a wide-ranging criminal investigation of mortgage servicers, the biggest of which have been Covington clients. So far Justice officials haven't responded publicly to any of the requests.

While Holder and Breuer were partners at Covington, the firm's clients included the four largest U.S. banks - Bank of America, Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo & Co - as well as at least one other bank that is among the 10 largest mortgage servicers.


Servicers perform routine mortgage maintenance tasks, including filing foreclosures, on behalf of mortgage owners, usually groups of investors who bought mortgage-backed securities.
Covington represented Freddie Mac, one of the nation's biggest issuers of mortgage backed securities, in enforcement investigations by federal financial regulators.

A particular concern by those pressing for an investigation is Covington's involvement with Virginia-based MERS Corp, which runs a vast computerized registry of mortgages. Little known before the mortgage crisis hit, MERS, which stands for Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, has been at the center of complaints about false or erroneous mortgage documents.

Court records show that Covington, in the late 1990s, provided legal opinion letters needed to create MERS on behalf of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase and several other large banks. It was meant to speed up registration and transfers of mortgages. By 2010, MERS claimed to own about half of all mortgages in the U.S. -- roughly 60 million loans.

But evidence in numerous state and federal court cases around the country has shown that MERS authorized thousands of bank employees to sign their names as MERS officials. The banks allegedly drew up fake mortgage assignments, making it appear falsely that they had standing to file foreclosures, and then had their own employees sign the documents as MERS "vice presidents" or "assistant secretaries."

Covington in 2004 also wrote a crucial opinion letter commissioned by MERS, providing legal justification for its electronic registry. MERS spokeswoman Karmela Lejarde declined to comment on Covington legal work done for MERS.

PREPARING FOR THE NEXT CONQUEST: What does Libya tell us about Intervention in Syria and Iran?

Global Research
Richard Lightbown

Debkafile reported on 17 January that an imminent joint Israeli-US exercise had been cancelled by Israel’s prime minister, and not by the US as widely supposed. Convinced that Iran has made the decision to become a nuclear power Mr Netanyahu is preparing for possible unilateral attacks on Iranian nuclear sites.

       British press reports say agents from the CIA and MI6 are operating within Syria while British and French Special Forces are training members of the Free Syrian Army in Turkey. Pravda has claimed that NATO snipers who fought in Libya have been sent to Syria.

As regional war threatens drastic and unforeseen consequences in the Middle East some commentators claim that humanitarian benefits justify Western intervention in repressive states. This claim is worth considering in the context of the events that have befallen Libya.

No one should be under any illusions about the intentions of Western governments in Libya following their activities throughout the 42 years of Muammar Qadafi’s rule. During this time there were 39 coup attempts inspired by US, British and French agencies, most of which were centred on Benghazi and the province of Cyrenaica. Many involved an attempt at assassination, as did the US fighter-bomber attack on Tripoli in 1986 in which eight of the 18 aircraft flying from Britain specifically targeted Col Qadafi’s private residence.

Qadafi’s overthrow began as an uprising in Benghazi which followed a Facebook call, from London on 17 February 2011, to commemorate the 2005 massacre at Abu Salim prison. In response to the ensuing fighting the UN Security Council unanimously approved resolution 1970 on 26 February. Calling for an end to all violence, it required all member states to apply an arms embargo which also prohibited the provision of technical assistance, training, finance and all other assistance related to military activities. It soon became clear that British forces were in breach of the resolution when six members of the SAS were taken prisoner by rebels in Benghazi on 4 March. What the troop was trying to achieve, and what went wrong with the operation has never been revealed.

Following reports of civilian massacres by Libyan aircraft the Security Council responded by approving resolution 1973 on 17 March 2011, although this time one-third of the fifteen members abstained. (The claims concerning civilian massacres were later refuted by Amnesty International, along with allegations that the Libyan regime had been employing foreign mercenaries.) This called for an immediate cease-fire and for all sides to seek a solution to the crisis while requiring them to protect civilians. Responding to a call from the Arab League it authorised the enforcement of a no-fly zone.

A US-drafted amendment allowed for “all necessary measures [to protect Libyan civilians] under threat of attack”. The American Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, promptly claimed that this allowed for arming the rebels under the terms of the resolution. Jose Cabral, the chair of the Sanctions Committee, disagreed and declared that “the resolution [1973] imposes a full embargo on arms.” The US and NATO however had no interest in legal formalities and large quantities of arms were subsequently supplied to the rebels from Qatar via the Egyptian border. France also in shipped some supplies direct, while NATO Special Forces supplied training and expertise.

On the following day and in response to resolution 1973, the Libyan Foreign Minister announced an immediate ceasefire and a stoppage of all military operations against rebel forces. The next day, 19 March, French aircraft carried out an airstrike which was followed by the launch of 110 Tomahawk missiles by US and British warships against air defences in Tripoli and Misrata. Thus only two days after its approval, the Security Council resolution was rendered a sham by NATO forces which placed civilian lives unnecessarily at risk when they ignored the offer of an immediate cease-fire and refused to seek a solution to the crisis. All subsequent calls for a ceasefire by the Libyan government were summarily dismissed by either the rebels or NATO. By 29 March the Russian Foreign Minister was moved to comment “We consider that intervention by the coalition in what is essentially an internal civil war is not sanctioned by the UN Security Council resolution."

Libya militias torturing detainees: Report


TRIPOLI — Libyan's regular army and array of militias have been torturing loyalists of slain dictator Moamer Kadhafi, several of whom have been killed in custody, human rights groups charged on Thursday.

Amnesty International said that despite promises, Libya's new rulers have made "no progress to stop the use of torture", as Doctors Without Borders suspended its work in the third-largest city Misrata over similar claims.

Their accusations come after a top UN official raised concerns that militias composed of former rebels who helped topple Kadhafi were posing an increasing security risk as they repeatedly clashed with each other.
"Several detainees have died after being subjected to torture in Libya in recent weeks and months amid widespread torture and ill-treatment of suspected pro-Kadhafi fighters and loyalists," London-based Amnesty said in a statement.

It said its delegates met detainees held in Tripoli, in Misrata and in smaller towns such as Ghariyan who showed visible signs of torture inflicted in recent days and weeks.

"The torture is being carried out by officially recognised military and security entities, as well by a multitude of armed militias operating outside any legal framework," it said.

Donatella Rouvera, senior adviser at Amnesty, said in the statement that it was "horrifying to find that there has been no progress to stop the use of torture".

"We are not aware of any proper investigations into cases of torture," she said.

Detainees told Amnesty they had been beaten for hours with whips, cables, plastic hoses, metal chains, bars, wooden sticks and given electric shocks with live wires.

The watchdog said the detainees, both Libyans and foreigners from sub-Saharan Africa, were tortured soon after they were seized by militias in officially recognised detention centres in places like Misrata.

Misrata withstood a devastating siege by Kadhafi's forces during last year's uprising. Its fighters later unleashed a fierce attack on the dictator's hometown of Sirte, where he was killed on October 20.

"Several detainees have died in the custody of armed militias in and around Tripoli and Misrata in circumstances that suggest torture," Amnesty added.
Rouvera said the issue was aggravated as the police and judiciary remained "dysfunctional" cross Libya.

Libyan Justice Minister Ali H'mida Ashur neither confirmed nor denied the allegations, but told AFP that "when such complaints reach the general prosecutor or the military prosecutor, necessary action will be taken."

He said the authorities have set up a committee to monitor jails across the country and acknowledged that some prisons were under the control of militias.

Doctors Without Borders said it has suspended its work in Misrata where detainees are "being tortured and denied urgent medical care."
It said its doctors were increasingly confronted with patients who suffered injuries caused by "torture" during questioning.

"The interrogations were held outside the detention centres," it said.
Its general director Christopher Stokes said some officials have sought to exploit and obstruct its work in Misrata.

"Patients were brought to us in the middle of interrogation for medical care, in order to make them fit for further interrogation. This is unacceptable," he said.

"Our role is to provide medical care to war casualties and sick detainees, not to repeatedly treat the same patients between torture sessions."

On Wednesday, the UN special representative in Libya, Ian Martin, expressed concern about the militias which he said were not under the control of the interim government.

Speaking to the UN Security Council, Martin said fighting in the Libyan town of Bani Walid this week -- at one stage blamed on Kadhafi loyalists -- had been caused by a clash between local people and a revolutionary brigade unit.

"Although authorities have successfully contained these and other more minor incidents that continue to take place across the country on a regular basis, there is the ever present possibility that similar outbreaks of violence could escalate," he said.

Libya's new authorities are struggling to integrate tens of thousands of militiamen into the army and police.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

U.N. rights chief: Guantonamo a Clear Breach of International Law

(AP) GENEVA - The U.N. human rights chief says the U.S. government must close the Guantanamo Bay prison as President Barack Obama promised a year ago.

Navi Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, says "the facility continues to exist and individuals remain arbitrarily detained — indefinitely — in clear breach of international law."

Obama pledged to shutter the U.S. Naval Base prison in Cuba in his annual address to Congress last year.

Pillay said Monday — ahead of Obama's next annual speech Tuesday — that she is deeply disappointed the U.S. government "has instead entrenched a system of arbitrary detention."

Pillay said she also is "disturbed at the failure to ensure accountability for serious human rights violations, including torture, that took place."

Department of Justice Misdirection on Cloud Computing and Privacy

Electronic Frontier Foundation
Cindy Cohn and Katitza Rodriguez

Does using cloud computing services based in the United States create a risk of US law enforcement access to people's data? The US Department of Justice (DOJ) seems to be trying to placate international concern by saying one thing in international fora; but it says something quite different in the US courts.

On January 18, a senior Justice Department official tried to reassure companies and people around the world that hosting their data in the United States creates no increased privacy risk for them from the US government. Deputy Assistant Attorney General Bruce Swartz noted: "Cloud computing has important advantages to consumers (but) doesn't present any issues that have not always been present. Certainly not regarding Internet service issues, but even before that."

Apparently, the DOJ is reacting to decisions by foreign entities to drop US-based services due to concerns about US government access, including British company BAE dropping Microsoft Office 365 and the Dutch government's hesitation about allowing its contractors to use US-based cloud services. In the past, Denmark and Canada have also voiced their concerns about the level of protection the United States can provide to their citizens’ data. EU public tenders of cloud services are also avoiding US cloud services for the same reasons. European-based companies, which have to comply with EU data protection law, see this opportunity as a competitive advantage, as do Australian cloud services.

Yet the DOJ's reassurances ring hollow. While the DOJ may spin its position one way to try to appease foreign audiences, its actual position is quite clear where it really matters: in US courts when it is trying to access subscriber information held by US-based cloud computing services. Indeed, the DOJ's position in its court filings is that very little, if any, privacy protection is available against US government access to the records of users of US-based cloud computing services.

EFF’s recent high-profile case involving DOJ access to Twitter customer records as part of the Wikileaks investigation demonstrates this. There, the DOJ has been unequivocal that cloud users have no right to challenge government access to the tremendous amount of "non-content" information held by these systems -- their location, their contacts, their communications patterns and more. In November 2011, the court agreed, holding that the Twitter users could not challenge the request for their information under the Stored Communications Act or under the constitution, chiefly on the grounds that having "given" their IP address and other information to Twitter in the US, they had no further privacy interest[1]. The DOJ also stated that it has strong doubts about whether foreign users of US-based cloud services had any constitutional privacy rights at all.