The corporate media is focused on the question of how or if Iran could ever break out of its promise under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to eschew nuclear weapons and use reactors only for civilian purposes. So many headlines refer to sanctions imposed against Iran that millions of people mistakenly think Iran has a nuclear arsenal. It doesn’t.
Meanwhile the Congress in January fully funded production of a new B61 thermonuclear gravity bomb, a program dubbed “Life Extension.” This year’s $537 million is the down payment on the new version of the B61 that the millionaires in DC agreed should get $11 billion over the next few years.
Dubbed the “solid gold nuke” by critics, the 700 pound H-bomb is running $28 million apiece at the moment. That much gold bullion is only worth $16 million.
The program to replace today’s B61s with a new “mod12,” is being condemned by our allies in NATO, by Congressional budget hawks and of course by the entire arms control community. Even former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James Cartwright has said the bombs are “practically nil” in military value. (Gen. Cartwright only is partly right: Since it seems the Department of Defense is in the business of producing suicides by the thousands, among veterans and active duty soldiers, the suicidal mission of deploying B61s across Europe — for detonation there — seems a perfect fit.)
“This decision represents the triumph of entrenched nuclear interests over good government. The B-61 is no longer relevant for U.S. national security, but continues to rob billions of dollars from programs that would make America safer,” President Joe Cirincione of the Ploughshares Fund told Hans M. Kristensen for the Federation of American Scientists.
Kristensen reported March 12 that the Pentagon has decided that the new B61 will begin its deployment in Europe next year.
This 300-to-500 kiloton “variable yield” thermonuclear device has 24 to 40 times the destructive power of the US bomb that killed 170,000 people at Hiroshima in 1945. Still, this machine’s threat of meaningless, genocidal, radioactive violence is called “tactical.”
Rush to Deploy New H-bomb Before it’s Killed by Public Opposition
The Air Force budget makes it appear that the older B61s will all be replaced — in Turkey, Italy, Belgium, The Netherlands and Germany — by 2020. This rush job is being hustled through the military-industrial-complex in a very big hurry because the broad international condemnation of the program is gaining depth and breadth.
Even the rightwing Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., along with Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., and Rep Jared Polis, D-Colo., tried to curtail the program last year. Five NATO partners — Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, The Netherlands and Norway — asked four years ago that all B61s be removed permanently from Europe. In Germany, every major political party has formally resolved to pursue final withdrawal of the 20 remaining B61s at Buchel AFB.
Major US allies in Europe informed Gen. Cartwright’s critical opinion. High-level European politicians have been saying the B61s are “militarily useless” since the end of the Cold War. In a widely published op/ed in 2010, former NATO secretary-general Willy Claes and three senior Belgian politicians said, “The US tactical nuclear weapons in Europe have lost all military importance.”
Still, Kristensen reports, “integration” of the new B61 is supposed to take place on Belgian, Dutch, and Turkish F-16 jets and on German and Italian Tornado fighter-bombers soon.
Another reason for the rush to deploy this perfect candidate for dumb bomb retirement is that Germany is considering replacing its Tornado jets in short order. All the expense of refitting its current Tornadoes to carry the “more accurate” and “more usable” B61-mod 12 would be wasted. New B61 production could also be made expensively moot by progress in arms control.
The “nuclear sharing” arrangement with the five technically non-nuclear NATO partners glaringly contradicts, in Kristensen’s words, “the non-proliferation standards that member countries are trying to promote in the post-Cold War world.” In its 2012 posture review, even NATO’s ministers pledged to work for a world without nuclear weapons.
So as the White House and its Secretary of State wag fingers at Iran, we and our NATO friends openly violate the binding promise made in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty “not to receive the transfer from any transferor whatsoever of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or of control over such weapons or explosive devices directly, or indirectly.”
Maybe Iran can arrange for some sanctions to be imposed on us.
John LaForge works for Nukewatch, edits its Quarterly, and lives at the Plowshares Land Trust out of Luck, Wisconsin.
Tehran has slammed as illegal a US court ruling to confiscate the assets of Alavi Foundation in Manhattan, saying the move runs counter to the principle of religious freedom for American citizens.
“The recent ruling regarding the forfeiture of the assets belonging to the foundation is, to all appearances, in contradiction to realities, void of legal validity and even in breach of US commitments to guarantee religious freedom for its citizens,” Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham said in a Friday statement.
“Contrary to the prosecutors’ baseless allegations and the court’s politically-motivated ruling which was a propaganda fuss, the Alavi Foundation is an independent charity institution in the US which has no links with Iran,” she added.
Afkham noted that Iran has been a victim of terrorism itself, dismissing as ridiculous the US court’s claim that Tehran was involved in the 9/11 attacks.
She argued that the US court verdict brings the credibility of the US judicial system into question.
On Thursday, Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara said that federal judge Katherine Forrest approved a deal between the US government and 19 anti-Iran plaintiffs to sell Alavi Foundation’s 36-story Manhattan skyscraper on Fifth Avenue and other properties owned by Iran, following a 2008 lawsuit by the government against the building’s owners.
Under the deal, the US Marshals Service will sell the 36-story building and other so-called Iran-linked property in California, Maryland, Texas, Virginia and the Queens borough of New York. US authorities will also receive the contents of bank accounts of the entities which allegedly served as Iran fronts in the past.
The US government will receive reimbursement for litigation expenses and any costs of the sales and the remainder will be distributed among what the court has called terror-attack victims, including those of the 9/11 attacks and their survivors.
In September 2013, the judge had ruled in favor of the government’s suit, claiming the building’s owners had violated Iran sanctions and money laundering laws.
Prosecutors allege the building’s owners, the Alavi Foundation — a non-profit organization promoting the Islamic culture and Persian language — and Assa Corporation, transferred rental income and other funds to Iran.
What’s the punishment for a 300 million euro tax fraud? If you are in Italy and your name is Silvio Berlusconi it is about a week hanging out with people your age.
A court in Milan ruled earlier this week that as his sentence the 77-year-old billionaire media mogul and thrice Italian PM would be performing community service in the small northern town of Cesano Boscone – “once a week and for a period of no less than four consecutive hours” – in a centre for the elderly and disabled.
The ruling came eight months after his conviction for tax fraud was made definitive by Italy’s supreme court. In August last year the country’s top court had found him guilty of having had a role in allowing his Mediaset company – which has a virtual private terrestrial TV monopoly in Italy – to fraudulently lower its tax bill by buying US film and television rights at inflated prices.
Last August, the supreme court judges handed down a four-year sentence, but immediately commuted it to a year.
Under this week’s ruling, the poor ex-premier will be subject to a curfew of 11pm and will not be able to leave the region of Lombardy.
Except, that is, to go to his home in the centre of Rome. And he will be able to do that every week from Tuesday to Thursday, providing he is back at his vast Arcore palace – the venue of his bunga bunga parties located just 40 kilometres down the road – by 11pm on the Thursday.
Furthermore, the sentence could be further cut for good behaviour to nine months.
It is not just the punishment that is scandalously soft.
Just how appropriate is it? His job may entail entertaining the elderly guests of the home – and his past life as a cruise ship crooner will no doubt help.
But according to Article 47 of the Prison Administration Act community service should only be offered to the criminal “in cases where it can be assumed that the measure…contributes to the rehabilitation of the offender and ensures the prevention of the danger of committing other crimes,” Rossella Guadagnini highlights in the Italian journal Micromega.
As Al Jazeera points out Berlusconi claims total innocence of any crime he has ever been charged with. And he is currently involved in two other court cases.
In a trial set to start on June 20, he will appeal a seven-year prison sentence and lifetime ban from parliament for having sex with an underage 17-year-old prostitute and abusing his official powers. He is also a defendant in a trial for allegedly paying a $4m bribe to get a centre-left senator to join his party in 2006 in a move that helped bring down a rival government.
As a indicator of the seriousness of the crime of robbing a heavily indebted state blind, the punishment speaks for itself. Tax dodging - running at 130 billion euros annually officially but double that figures according to some sources – is bleeding the public coffers dry. The result is two trillion euros in public debts, which are being used as the excuse for swinging cuts to welfare and public services, privatisation, roll back of labour rights, and attacks on public servants’ wages.
Italian businessmen with access to expensive lawyers and good political links (any serious player in Italy has them) will have been taking due note of Berlusconi’s case.
The worst of it is that, as the Guardian reports, although he has been booted out of the Senate and is now banned from office, he’ll still be ‘allowed time’ to continue his political activities – nominally behind the scenes but no doubt very visible on Italians’ screens – as head of Forza Italia.
The party is the third largest political force in the country, behind PM Matteo Renzi’s centre-left Democratic Party and Beppe Grillo’s anti-establishment Five Star Movement, according to recent polls. The first appointment is the European elections next month.
Italy has lost two decades under the rule of Berlusconi, who entered politics in person in 1994 when his political protectors – notably former right-wing Socialist PM Bettino Craxi - melted away under the scrutiny of the same ‘communist’ judges Berlusconi has so long railed against. But if this is the best the toghe rosse can do, it can only be said that communism is well and truly dead in Italy.
The first-ever scientific study that analyzes whether the US is a democracy, rather than an oligarchy, found the majority of the American public has a “minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy” compared to the wealthy.
The study, due out in the Fall 2014 issue of the academic journal Perspectives on Politics, sets out to answer elusive questions about who really rules in the United States. The researchers measured key variables for 1,779 policy issues within a single statistical model in an unprecedented attempt “to test these contrasting theoretical predictions” – i.e. whether the US sets policy democratically or the process is dominated by economic elites, or some combination of both.
“Despite the seemingly strong empirical support in previous studies for theories of majoritarian democracy, our analyses suggest that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts,” the researchers from Princeton University and Northwestern University wrote.
While “Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association,” the authors say the data implicate “the nearly total failure of ‘median voter’ and other Majoritarian Electoral Democracy theories [of America]. When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.”
The authors of “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens” say that even as their model tilts heavily toward indications that the US is, in fact, run by the most wealthy and powerful, it actually doesn’t go far enough in describing the stranglehold connected elites have on the policymaking process.
“Our measure of the preferences of wealthy or elite Americans – though useful, and the best we could generate for a large set of policy cases – is probably less consistent with the relevant preferences than are our measures of the views of ordinary citizens or the alignments of engaged interest groups,” the researcher said.
“Yet we found substantial estimated effects even when using this imperfect measure. The real-world impact of elites upon public policy may be still greater.”
They add that the “failure of theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy is all the more striking because it goes against the likely effects of the limitations of our data. The preferences of ordinary citizens were measured more directly than our other independent variables, yet they are estimated to have the least effect.”
Despite the inexact nature of the data, the authors say with confidence that “the majority does not rule — at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes.”
“We believe that if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organizations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened,” they concluded.
Are whistleblowers—whose anonymity is often their best protection against retribution—made safer by being forced to register as whistleblowers with the U.S. government? Or are they being placed in greater danger?
The Obama administration is demanding they step forward and sign up.
Indeed, exposing government corruption or other wrongdoing often means being discreet, if not anonymous, on the part of the individuals blowing the whistle, unless they want to face retribution from higher-ups involved in the misdeeds. Keeping one’s identity hidden is almost always essential for whistleblowers because of managers’ or executives’ impulse to protect themselves and punish those exposing their mistakes. Thus, any government program that requires whistleblowers to reveal themselves—ostensibly for their own good—might seem disingenuous, if not counterproductive to encouraging workers to expose law breakers.
But the Obama administration is taking this approach by mandating that government employees register as official whistleblowers under the Insider Threat program it established three years ago. This program was adopted, the president said, to protect against internal dangers lurking within federal agencies.
One of the biggest supporters on Capitol Hill of government whistleblowing says the Obama program’s registration requirement is a terrible idea and antithetical to the importance of whistleblowers coming forward.
Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), who coauthored the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 (pdf), addressed the U.S. Senate recently to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the landmark bill. During his speech, Grassley criticized Insider Threat’s effort to expose whistleblowers, citing the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) as a prime concern.
The Republican senator said he’s been trying for months to get the FBI to share its Insider Threat training materials. But the bureau has steadfastly refused.
At one point, the FBI’s top Insider Threat official agreed to meet with Grassley and Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) to discuss how the bureau was training its people to
“distinguish between true insider threats and legitimate whistleblowers.”
The official, according to Grassley’s speech, told them not to worry about the training materials, which they had failed to bring along to the meeting.
“He said whistleblowers had to register in order to be protected, and the Insider Threat Program would know to just avoid those people,” Grassley said in his speech.
The official then “abruptly walked out” of the meeting after being there only 10 minutes.
“These are clearly not the actions of an agency that is genuinely open to whistleblowers or whistleblower protection,” Grassley stated.
The senator, who has served in Congress since 1975, added that Obama’s registration requirement was an idea that “should be pretty alarming to all Americans. Sometimes confidentiality is the best protection a whistleblower has.”
To Learn More:
Grassley Talks About the Anniversary of the Whistleblower Protection Act (Senator Charles Grassley)
Terrorists, Spies, Whistleblowers Treated the Same by Obama Administration (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
Obama Anti-Whistleblower Program Requires Federal Employees to Report Suspicions of other Employees or Risk Punishment (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Danny Biederman, AllGov)
By Irina Galushko | RT | November 26, 2009
The message is clear – we are all going to die from swine flu. It spreads fast, it is dangerous, and it must be feared – says the World Health Organization.
But worry not – there is a way to save yourself. Just get a flu shot – and purchase a remedy for the deadly virus. Those are the instructions from the WHO.
However, the WHO may find itself coughing up explanations, as more and more scientists and health researchers, and even journalists, are starting to question the organization’s motives behind raising the alert so quickly.
According to the Danish Daily Information newspaper, the WHO and pharmaceutical companies are suffering from the profit bug. Or, to put it simply, the chief health care organization in the world has teamed up with the drug makers to create a phantom monster – and to rake in cash by selling a remedy for it.
Plastered all over the front pages and headlines news, swine flu made its triumphant entrance into limelight, heralded as the next “in” virus, which threatened to bring an end to humanity as we know it.
Let’s stop right there and talk numbers for a little bit.
So far, more than 3.5 million people have been reported to be infected with swine flu worldwide. More than 9,000 deaths have been confirmed.
In comparison: every year, up to one billion people get infected with seasonal flu, with up to 500 million deaths. These numbers come from the World Health Organization, but they never make headline news for some reason.
On June 11 of this year, the WHO declared swine flu a pandemic. But few know that, right before doing that, the Organization changed its definition, taking out the word “deadly” from it.
Aleksander Saversky, the chair of the Patient’s Rights Protection League, was one of those who did pay attention. He says it is clear that the WHO dramatized the situation around the H1N1 virus. In an interview to RT, Saversky speculated that it is due to the WHO’s close ties with the world’s major pharmaceutical companies.
And recently, Danish journalists conducted their own research, which resulted in accusations that the WHO, and scientists who appear to be independent are, in fact, on pharmaceutical companies’ payroll.
Saversky points out that the WHO declared the status of pandemic when only a few thousand people were infected with it – something that is highly illogical, he says, considering the hundred thousand more cases of seasonal flu never gets paid such high attention.
The virus was reported to be extremely deadly. Parallels were drawn to the Spanish Flu, which killed roughly 50 million people worldwide in the span of six months.
As panic spread, people rushed to clinics for Tamiflu – $145 a pop and by prescription only in the US – and for vaccinations, which range anywhere from $10 to $50. And despite the fact that many have lost their jobs in the financial crisis, and were left without health insurance, vaccinations and pharmaceutical sales skyrocketed. Nobody wants to die a grisly death from the supposedly new virus.
Aleksander Saversky warns the hullaballoo over swine flu is akin to the fable of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” He says that, because of this hype, the next time a truly dangerous virus comes about, no one will take any precautions. Fooled once already by swine flu, people will ignore the warnings and fall prey to a more dangerous – and deadly virus.
In fact, vaccinating people from swine flu during the seasonal flu outbreak, in Saversky’s opinion, is criminal. People end up having to battle two viruses at the same time, which puts an enormous strain on the immune system.
Saversky puts the blame on capitalism – pharmaceutical companies make billions on people’s fears, combined with asymmetrical information dispersal (meaning that most people know very little substantial information about the virus, whereas the WHO, pharmaceutical companies and researchers know a lot more).
So, what’s to be done to conquer the virus – and stop the WHO?
Saversky says there is one solution – for governments worldwide to step in and take matters into their own hands, by controlling healthcare and pharmaceutical production.
Until that happens, however, remember to check for all common flu symptoms. And should a general disinclination to work of any kind be among them, rest assured – it is most probably a run-of-the-mill case of the Monday Blues.
Australians have been witness to a remarkable conflict in recent days in which their former Foreign Minister Bob Carr denounced the Jewish Lobby and his former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, over the whole series of questions re Australian policy and the demands of Israel and the local Jewish Lobby.
Nothing quite like it has ever been seen or heard before in Australia.
Carr has just published his dairy as Foreign Minister during 2013.
He came to that office in the last year of a sorely troubled Labor Government inheriting the job from Kevin Rudd,a former Prime Minister who took over the Foreign Minister’s portfolio after he, Rudd, was deposed as P.M, but then resigned after more turmoil in the Labor Party.
Carr was no newcomer. Once Premier for 10 years of NSW, the largest state, and seen as a smooth operator if fairly right-wing in his policies and his views, he was seen by many as a likely winner in the new job, in a Government in deep trouble.
A scholar of note, he has written much on one of his favourite topics, American History, with a very good book on the origins of the American Republic.
He came to the Senate, after several years in retirement, as the Government of Julia Gillard lurched from crisis to crisis. It was a job he craved and he got a seat in the Senate and then joined Gillard’s cabinet, where much was expected of him.
The crisis came in the last months of Gillard’s term when the question of Palestinian membership of UNESCO came up for consideration. Gillard was a notorious Zionist from the very inception of her 3-year term, and she was well know for her great support, without any conditions, for Israel. She had links with the Israeli Embassy in Canberra and the Zionist Lobby which also had a fifth column inside the Labor Party, which too has, like it’s US counterpart the Democrats, always had links with the Jewish Lobby.
When Deputy Prime Minister after 2007 Gillard went with a delegation to Israel as guest of a Melbourne Jewish millionaire who organises such events and who provided a job for her hairdresser partner as a salesman for his property empire.
She made no effort while there to visit or see the conditions of the Palestinian people… and one may surmise that her Israeli hosts would have seen to that aspect of her visit. In 2010 she replaced the disastrous Rudd as PM in a” palace coup”, and narrowly won power in a closely divided Parliament.
Her support for Israel never faltered, but when Carr became Foreign Minister in 2013 he had a wider view of the whole Middle East.
We know now that the conflict between Gillard and Carr arose over Israeli matters and appropriate policies in the UN.
Carr was told not to make any criticism of the Settlements on the West Bank, which he wished to do, and when the UNESCO issue arose, he was told to vote (as always) with the USA and Israel. Carr knew the widespread support of Europeans elsewhere in the Asian region for seating the Palestinians in UNESCO. Gillard insisted that he vote with Israel.
Carr demurred and challenged Gillard and then took the matter to the Labor Party Caucus… all members of the federal parliament were then to vote on the matter. Gillard was angry, and a bitter conflict developed.
Carr won out when a majority of the Labor Caucus voted for an Australian abstention in the UN. Carr would have preferred a YES vote but this was a compromise that Gillard, even as P.M. was forced to except she still wanted a NO vote against Palestinian admission, but failed to carry the party.
The Jewish Lobby was outraged and condemned the decision, and Carr for bringing it on. Carr went ahead and abstained, and the vote admitted the Palestinians with a huge margin anyway. The rift between Gillard and Carr was never healed.
Now after the Labor Government’s defeat, Carr is once again in retirement, and his published diary tells the whole story re UNESCO, and the power of the Zionists over Gillard, albeit she was their willing ally.
Not surprisingly he has infuriated the Jewish Lobby and Carr has been denounced in the harshest terms by the very Zionists who run the Lobby, who have described him as “Gillard’s worst appointment” and as “Australia’s worst Foreign Minister.” Carr is known as a tolerant and outgoing man, but none-the-less a Lobby critic has described him as a “bigot”, all in line with the usual Zionist tactics in such cases.
He has replied in kind, saying the Lobby was virtually contracted by Gillard to run Australia’s Middle East policies.
Carr a robust politician has fired back with a furious blast to the Lobby, saying it’s very right-wing and intrusive, and the battle rages now in the media. The Lobby must regret all this as for the first time a senior Labor politician has let the cat out of the bag, re the Lobby.
It will be difficult to get it in that bag again.
There is no word on all this from ex-PM Gillard. She, at the moment, is in Israel.
Brian McKinlay is an Australian Labor Historian who lives in Melbourne and has written widely on Australian history, notably of the Labor Movement, being the author of a 3- volume documentary history of Australian Labor and trade union and radical groups.
Governments spent heavily on Tamiflu starting last decade when public health officials warned of deadly influenzas. But the billion-dollar investment produced only healthy outcomes for the balance sheets of the drug’s manufacturer, Roche.
This conclusion was reached by British researchers who said they could not substantiate claims by Roche and GlaxoSmithKline (which makes a rival flu drug) Relenza, that their products helped people fight off flu effects.
The British government—anticipating the potential death of 750,000 of its citizens in the event of a bird flu outbreak—spent more than $700 million stockpiling 40 million doses of Tamiflu, while the U.S. government forked out $1.3 billion on a massive antiviral reserve that includes the drug. Tamiflu is also listed by the World Health Organization as an “essential medicine.” Yet the researchers found few if any benefits from the two drugs and, in fact, discovered that they produce negative side effects (“psychiatric…renal…and metabolic adverse events”) which were previously dismissed or never acknowledged.
All the money spent by governments around the world on those stockpiles “have been thrown down the drain,” Carl Heneghan, a lead investigator of the study and a professor of evidence-based medicine at Britain’s Oxford University, told Reuters. This is because accurate data about the drugs has long been withheld from government regulators, the medical community and the public.
Five years ago, Tamiflu sales reached nearly $3 billion, in large part because of the H1N1 flu pandemic scare. The Cochrane Collaboration and the British Medical Journal fought for four years to gain access to Roche’s Tamiflu data. Once they succeeded, they conducted a joint analysis.
Roche officials dismissed the researchers’ findings, saying the drug firm “fundamentally disagrees with the overall conclusions” of the study.
“We firmly stand by the quality and integrity of our data, reflected in decisions reached by 100 regulators across the world and subsequent real-world evidence demonstrating that Tamiflu is an effective medicine in the treatment and prevention of influenza,” the company said in a prepared statement.
“Remember, the idea of a drug is that the benefits should exceed the harms,” noted Heneghan. “So if you can’t find any benefits, that accentuates the harms.”
“Why did no-one else demand this level of scrutiny before spending such huge sums on one drug?” Journal editor Fiona Godlee said to Reuters. “The whole story gives an extraordinary picture of the entrenched flaws in the current system of drug regulation and drug evaluation.”
To Learn More:
Researchers, Regulators and Roche row over Stockpiled Drug Tamiflu (by Kate Kelland, Reuters)
Tamiflu: Millions Wasted on Flu Drug, Claims Major Report (by James Gallagher, BBC News)
Neuraminidase Inhibitors for Preventing and Treating Influenza in Healthy Adults and Children (by Tom Jefferson, Mark A. Jones, Peter Doshi, Chris B. Del Mar, Rokuro Hama, Matthew J. Thompson, Elizabeth A. Spencer, Igho Onakpoya, Kamal R. Mahtani, David Nunan, Jeremy Howick, and Carl J. Heneghan; Cochrane Review) (abstract)
Swine Flu Stirred Profits, but Fewer Deaths than Predicted (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
Profiting from Swine Flu (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
The chaos in Ukraine can be viewed, in part, as what happens when a collection of “oligarchs” – sometimes competing, sometime collaborating – take control of a society, buying most of the politicians and owning the media. The political/media classes become corrupted by serving their wealthy patrons and society breaks down into warring factions.
In that sense, Ukraine could be a cautionary tale for the United States and other countries that are veering down a similar path toward vast income inequality, with billionaire “oligarchs” using their money to control politicians and to pay for propaganda through media ventures.
Depending on your point of view, there may be “good oligarchs” and “bad oligarchs,” but the concept of oligarchy is antithetical to democracy, a system in which governance is supposed to be driven by the informed consent of the majority with respect for minority rights. Instead, we’re moving toward a competition among oligarchs with the “people” mostly as bystanders to be manipulated one way or the other.
On Wednesday, a 5-4 majority of the U.S. Supreme Court lifted limits on total amounts that an individual can contribute during a campaign cycle, an extension of the 2010 ruling on Citizens United allowing the rich to spend unlimited sums on political advertising. It was another step toward an American oligarchy where politicians, activists and even journalists compete to satisfy one “oligarch” or another.
Regarding political spending, that can mean the energy tycoon Koch Brothers financing the Tea Party or Americans for Prosperity to tear down government regulations of businesses. Or it can mean casino kingpin Sheldon Adelson staging his own “primary” in which Republican hopefuls compete to show who would do the most for Israel. Or – from a liberal perspective – it can be billionaire investor Tom Steyer pressing for action on man-made climate change.
On the Right, there also have been vast investments in propaganda – from books, magazines and newspapers to talk radio, TV and the Internet – by the likes of Rupert Murdoch and Richard Mellon Scaife, an imbalance countered, in only a relatively small way, by a few liberal “oligarchs” who have started their own big-budget Web sites.
And, despite the appearance of a few “left-of-center” U.S. sites, there continues to be a lock-step consensus – across the nation’s media – regarding most international conflicts, such as the recent crises in Syria and Ukraine. In those cases, these liberal “oligarchic” sites are as likely to go with the conventional wisdom as the right-wing “oligarchic” sites.
So, if you want to find critical reporting on U.S. interference in Ukrainian politics or a challenging analysis of U.S. claims about the Syrian chemical weapons attack, you’re not likely to find them at ProPublica, which is backed by ex-subprime mortgage bankers Herbert and Marion Sandler and is edited by well-paid traditional journalists from the mainstream press, like Stephen Engelberg, formerly of the New York Times. Nor at FirstLook.org funded by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar.
Though both ProPublica and FirstLook do some fine work on certain topics – such as the environment and privacy rights, respectively – they haven’t shown much willingness to get in the way of U.S. foreign-policy stampedes as they run out of control. Presumably, that would make their funders nervous and possibly put their larger business interests at risk.
Another new media “oligarch,” Washington Post owner and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, has shied away from reining in “the neocons who brought us the Iraq War.” He has left neocons like Fred Hiatt and Jackson Diehl in charge of the opinion section of Official Washington’s hometown newspaper. Their positions on Syria and Ukraine have been predictable.
And, of course, other mainstream outlets – like the New York Times, the Daily Beast and the major TV networks – have completely fallen into line behind the conventional wisdom. Most coverage of the Syrian civil war and the Ukraine crisis couldn’t have been more submissive to the U.S. government’s propaganda themes if the stories had been written by Radio Liberty or the CIA.
Anyone looking for journalistic skepticism about the mainstream U.S. narrative on these touchy issues has had to seek out Internet sites like Consortiumnews.com which relies on mostly small donations from readers.
But the broader problem is the debilitating impact on democracy when the political/media process takes on the form of some super-hero movie in which super-human combatants do battle – crashing from building to building – while the regular humans mostly watch as powerless spectators as the chaos unfolds.
The Ukraine Mess
In Ukraine’s case, this process was telescoped in time because of the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, which was followed by the triumphal intervention of Western “free-market” advisers who descended on Kiev – as well as Moscow – with self-confident prescriptions of privatization and deregulation.
Very quickly, well-connected operatives were scoring mind-boggling deals as they gained control of lucrative industries and valuable resources at bargain-basement prices. Billionaires were made overnight even as much of the population descended to near starvation levels of poverty and despair.
In Russia, strong-willed nationalist Vladimir Putin emerged to put some brakes on this process, banishing some oligarchs like Boris Berezovsky into exile and jailing others like Mikhail Khordorkovsky. However, in Ukraine, the oligarchs continued buying politicians and finally created a crisis of confidence in government itself.
Though public resentment of political corruption was a driving force in the large protests that set the stage for the overthrow of elected President Viktor Yanukovych on Feb. 22, the manipulation of that popular anger may end up impoverishing Ukrainians even more by entrenching oligarchic control even further.
Not only has the Washington-based International Monetary Fund moved to impose “macroeconomic reforms” that will slash spending on Ukraine’s already scant social programs, but “oligarchs” are moving to take direct control of the government.
For instance, the coup regime in Kiev appointed billionaire steel magnate Serhiy Taruta as governor of the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine where many ethnic Russians live. Taruta quickly moved to suppress pro-Russian sentiment.
As part of the crackdown, the Kiev regime arrested Pavel Gubarev, who had called himself the “people’s governor.” Mikhail Dobkin, a pro-Yanukovych former regional governor who indicated he would seek the presidency, was arrested on sedition charges.
Governor Taruta also has called for some of the IMF’s more draconian demands to be put off until after political resistance to the new order in Kiev has faded.
“People are concerned with one thing,” Taruta told the Washington Post in a flattering story about his leadership. “If we show we can provide help and support, we will calm the situation down. Three to four months from now is the time to talk about financial reform in Ukraine.”
That would mean delaying the harshest elements of the IMF plan until after the scheduled presidential election on May 25, meaning that the voters will have already gone to the polls before they get a taste of what’s in store for them. By then, they may have another billionaire industrialist, Petro Poroshenko, as their new president. He is now the leading candidate.
According to Forbes magazine, there are now about 1,600 billionaires in the world, worth a total of around $6.6 trillion. The writing seems to be scribbled on the walls of Ukraine as well as the United States and around the globe that we are entering the Age of the Oligarchs.
- Business model of Yatsenyuk is to build oligarchic corporation out of Ukraine (voiceofrussia.com)
A new investigation by the Associated Press into a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) project to create a Twitter-style social media network in Cuba has received a lot of attention this week, with the news trending on the actual Twitter for much of the day yesterday when the story broke, and eliciting comment from various members of Congress and other policy makers. The “ZunZuneo” project, which AP reports was “aimed at undermining Cuba’s communist government,” was overseen by USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI). AP describes OTI as “a division that was created after the fall of the Soviet Union to promote U.S. interests in quickly changing political environments — without the usual red tape.” Its efforts to undermine the Cuban government are not unusual, however, considering the organization’s track record in other countries in the region.
As CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot described in an interview with radio station KPFA’s “Letters and Politics” yesterday, USAID and OTI in particular have engaged in various efforts to undermine the democratically-elected governments of Venezuela, Bolivia, and Haiti, among others, and such “open societies” could be more likely to be impacted by such activities than Cuba. Declassified U.S. government documents show that USAID’s OTI in Venezuela played a central role in funding and working with groups and individuals following the short-lived 2002 coup d’etat against Hugo Chávez. A key contractor for USAID/OTI in that effort has been Development Alternatives, Inc. (DAI).
More recent State Department cables made public by Wikileaks reveal that USAID/OTI subversion in Venezuela extended into the Obama administration era (until 2010, when funded for OTI in Venezuela appears to have ended), and DAI continued to play an important role. A State Department cable from November 2006 explains the U.S. embassy’s strategy in Venezuela and how USAID/OTI “activities support [the] strategy”:
(S) In August of 2004, Ambassador outlined the country team’s 5 point strategy to guide embassy activities in Venezuela for the period 2004) 2006 (specifically, from the referendum to the 2006 presidential elections). The strategy’s focus is: 1) Strengthening Democratic Institutions, 2) Penetrating Chavez’ Political Base, 3) Dividing Chavismo, 4) Protecting Vital US business, and 5) Isolating Chavez internationally.
Among the ways in which USAID/OTI have supported the strategy is through the funding and training of protest groups. This August 2009 cable cites the head of USAID/OTI contractor DAI’s Venezuela office Eduardo Fernandez as saying, during 2009 protests, that all the protest organizers are DAI grantees:
¶5. (S) Fernandez told DCM Caulfield that he believed the [the Scientific, Penal and Criminal Investigations Corps'] dual objective is to obtain information regarding DAI’s grantees and to cut off their funding. Fernandez said that “the streets are hot,” referring to growing protests against Chavez’s efforts to consolidate power, and “all these people (organizing the protests) are our grantees.” Fernandez has been leading non-partisan training and grant programs since 2004 for DAI in Venezuela.”
The November 2006 cable describes an example of USAID/OTI partners in Venezuela “shut[ting] down [a] city”:
11. (S) CECAVID: This project supported an NGO working with women in the informal sectors of Barquisimeto, the 5th largest city in Venezuela. The training helped them negotiate with city government to provide better working conditions. After initially agreeing to the women’s conditions, the city government reneged and the women shut down the city for 2 days forcing the mayor to return to the bargaining table. This project is now being replicated in another area of Venezuela.
The implications for the current situation in Venezuela are obvious, unless we are to assume that such activities have ended despite the tens of millions of dollars in USAID funds designated for Venezuela, some of it going through organizations such as Freedom House, and the International Republican Institute, some of which also funded groups involved in the 2002 coup (which prominent IRI staff publicly applauded at the time).
The same November 2006 cable notes that one OTI program goal is to bolster international support for the opposition:
…DAI has brought dozens of international leaders to Venezuela, university professors, NGO members, and political leaders to participate in workshops and seminars, who then return to their countries with a better understanding of the Venezuelan reality and as stronger advocates for the Venezuelan opposition.
Many of the thousands of cables originating from the U.S. embassy in Caracas that have been made available by Wikileaks describe regular communication and coordination with prominent opposition leaders and groups. One particular favorite has been the NGO Súmate and its leader Maria Corina Machado, who has made headlines over the past two months for her role in the protest movement. The cables show that Machado historically has taken more extreme positions than some other opposition leaders, and the embassy has at least privately questioned Súmate’s strategy of discrediting Venezuela’s electoral system which in turn has contributed to opposition defeats at the polls (most notably in 2005 when an opposition boycott led to complete Chavista domination of the National Assembly). The current protests are no different; Machado and Leopoldo López launched “La Salida” campaign at the end of January with its stated goal of forcing president Nicolás Maduro from office, and vowing to “create chaos in the streets.”
USAID support for destabilization is no secret to the targeted governments. In September 2008, in the midst of a violent, racist and pro-secessionist campaign against the democratically-elected government of Evo Morales in Bolivia, Morales expelled the U.S. Ambassador, and Venezuela followed suit “in solidarity.” Bolivia would later end all USAID involvement in Bolivia after the agency refused to disclose whom it was funding in the country (Freedom of Information Act requests had been independently filed but were not answered). The U.S. embassy in Bolivia had previously been caught asking Peace Corps volunteers and Fulbright scholars in the country to engage in espionage.
Commenting on the failed USAID/OTI ZunZuneo program in Cuba, House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) commented that, “That is not what USAID should be doing[.] USAID is flying the American flag and should be recognized around the globe as an honest broker of doing good. If they start participating in covert, subversive activities, the credibility of the United States is diminished.”
But USAID’s track record of engaging in subversive activities is a long one, and U.S. credibility as an “honest broker” was lost many years ago.
To U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts and the other four Republican justices, the right of wealthy Americans to give maximum donations to as many political candidates as they wish topped the right of average Americans not to have their voices drowned out by the influence of money.
So, on Wednesday, the Court voted 5-4 to overturn federal law setting caps on how much a person can give in each election cycle, a decision that the reform group Public Citizen called “a devastating blow at the very foundation of our democracy.” Dennis J Bernstein discussed the ruling with Public Citizen president Robert Weissman.
DB: Let’s begin by explaining exactly what was decided [by the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday].
RW: Well, the short version of what was decided is that the super-rich, according to the five-vote majority of the Supreme Court, have a constitutional right to spend at least $5.9 million in direct donations to candidates, parties and political committees every two years. That is in place of the current limit of around $123,000. …
This is empowering the 1 percent, except that’s a little bit misleading. Because it’s not really a case about the rights of the 1 percent, it’s a case about the rights of the .0001 percent. There are only a few hundred people who are going to write multi-million-dollar checks following this decision. But they are going to have an absolute stranglehold over elections and policy-making in this country.
DB: I want to ask you to talk a little bit more, in detail, about the logic. What was said [in the majority’s decision] and the logic of the decision coming out of the court. What are they saying? Why is this a move towards “democracy”?
RW: Well, it’s a little bit hard to articulate the, so-called, logic. But, here goes. The system, before today, involved both limits on how much a person can give directly to candidates, just $2,600 in the primary and $2,600 in the general election. And comparable, or similar limits, in what an individual person can give directly to political parties and to political committees. It also involved a limit on the total amount a person can give in a two-year cycle, totaling, like I said, around $123,000.
And the court today upheld the limits still on what you can give to a particular candidate, but they said the total aggregate limit, the limit on how much you can give in total, is unconstitutional. They said “Well, we see why there might be … maybe, there’s a reason to preserve the restriction on donations to particular candidates, but we don’t see why you should be limited in the number of candidates you can give the maximum contribution to. We don’t see why you should be limited in the number of political party committees you should be able to give the maximum to, or to the limit of the political committees you can give the maximum to.”
And if you say okay, well, what does that mean? Then they can give the maximum to all of them, that number $123,000, magically turns into $5.9 million. And there might be some impediment to doing that if you had to write, if you were a rich enough person to make that level of donation, you had to write, you know, 435 checks to candidates for the House of Representatives in the primary, and 435 checks in the general election.
It’s not going to be like that. It’s going to be writing one check to what will be called a joint fundraising committee. Maybe two checks to these joint fundraising committees who will take that money and then distribute it. So who’s going to run to the joint fundraising committee? Who is going to be mostly party leaders and political leaders who will be soliciting multi-million-dollar checks and are going to owe their allegiance to those who can write them.
The logic of the court, as I call it, well there’s a First Amendment right, a speech right for people to contribute as much as they want and, so again, the question further is what is the logic there. What they are really saying is the right to give money deserves the same kind of protection, more or less, as the basic right to speech.
And then you say is there an offsetting value where we should weigh against that, that would justify restrictions on how much a person can give in the aggregate? And the answer was, well, the only thing that we look at is whether this might facilitate quid quo pro corruption meaning will it facilitate illegal bribery or the appearance of illegal bribery? And the answer is, it actually will, but the court says no, it won’t because it actually doesn’t authorize illegal bribery, and therefore there’s no countervailing public interest. So, if you ask the question “Well, what was the logic of the court?” That’s how it goes.
Now, there aren’t very many people who think that way. Unfortunately five of the very few people who do, were able to make the decision today. I think regular people would say “You’re talking about the purported rights of a few hundred people as against the rights of the rest of us to have a functioning democracy. That there will be a huge corruption as a result of this, even worse than we already have post-Citizens United.”
Because it’s a whole new form of giving available now to the super-rich. There’s going to be worse corruption, worse tilting of the playing field in favor of the rich, less political equality. In fact, less real political speech because the rest of us who aren’t able to amplify our voices by giving $5.9 million dollars in a single check, or two checks, are going to be shut out.
DB: Alright, and just to be clear, in terms of this $5.9 million, is it a public donation or can they do this in private and not tell anybody?
RW: These donations will be disclosed. This will not increase the dark money that we’ve seen after Citizens United. There will be a different channel of giving. That dark money is all going to outside organizations that don’t have to report their donors. This money is going to go directly to candidates, directly to Republican or Democratic party committees, directly to political action committees that are required to disclose their major donors.
DB: Alright, now just say a little bit more about how this is – I don’t know if this is right – but sort of Citizens United on steroids. Explain how this moves the game with a little more detail.
RW: I think that’s a reasonable characterization of this decision. It’s certainly at that magnitude of Citizens United. So one way to think about Citizens United was it established the rights of corporations. And this is really a decision about the rights of the super-rich. And I can’t emphasize enough that we’re talking about a very, very small number of people who are going to seriously benefit from this decision, in terms of the amount of money that’s going to go in.
Citizens United enabled this unlimited spending by outside organizations that are supposedly not coordinated with candidates. There’s a lot of wink, wink, nod, nod kind of coordination that does go on. But still the money is outside of the direct control of the candidates. Now, that’s got some upsides for the candidates particularly in enabling massive and overwhelming spending on negative, attack advertising. But it’s got a lot of downsides, too, for the candidates because they aren’t able to exert the same kind of control as if the money is in their own coffers.
So this is going to now enable massive increases in the amount of money that goes directly to the candidates. And there will be, I think, a lot of influence on the broad number of beneficiary candidates who get this new money, but the real nexus of influence is going to be between these super donors and the top political leaders and party leaders who are going to be soliciting the giant checks. These are going to be the most important people, the most powerful people in politics. They are going to have a new kind of dependence to and allegiance to the super-rich donors.
DB: Let me ask you to step back a little bit and talk about this in the context of one person, one vote. There’s always been a big to-do about voter fraud, making sure things are clean and done well. But this really changes the whole nature of voting in this country or solidifies a different way of conducting what is continued to be called a democracy.
RW: If you step back from this vision and look at what the Supreme Court has done in the last several years on the voting rights side, particularly with the recent Shelby County decision, where they eviscerated crucial provisions of the Voting Rights Act, the court is making it harder for people to vote, especially people of color, low-income people, making it harder for people to vote, and enabling state officials to make it more difficult for people to vote, that’s on the one hand. And then on the other hand, they are empowering the super-rich and corporations to dominate the election process.
Now part of what they are doing is spending huge amounts of money on negative ads that are intended to deter people from voting. But more generally, they are trying to take control of the electoral process through this expenditure, through these massive expenditures. So it’s kind of a squeeze, from both sides, on electoral democracy. And, you have to say, electoral democracy, at this point, is screaming. I mean this is a really dire situation that’s going to call for a very dramatic response from the American people.
I think there’s no doubt for us after Citizens United about the need for a constitutional amendment to both overturn that decision and other Supreme Court decisions to really restore the functioning of our democracy. But for those who did have doubts about that, I think after today it’s crystal clear that we just can’t have a functioning democracy where these kinds of decisions, where these massive floods from different sources now, of super-rich and corporate money are coming to the electoral process, and just overwhelming what is supposed to be a one person, one vote democratic system.
DB: And, finally, it certainly is, isn’t it, a stunning turnaround in the things that began to happen after the revelations around Watergate and dirty money. It looked like there was going to be some slow movement towards real campaign finance reform and that is all gone, wiped out.
RW: That’s right. I mean we had a pretty rapid reversal of the momentum post-Watergate with the Buckley decision and then also other decisions that established corporate rights to spend, at least in the area first of election referendum, and then increasingly in other areas. So the court took a bad turn starting in 1976, but really in the last several years, this Roberts court is so hostile to the most commonsense kinds of restraints on campaign spending, that it has become very difficult to talk about reform absent a constitutional amendment.
There are small reforms that one might do to try to mitigate some of the harms of [Wednesday’s] decision and we’re going to aggressively pursue those, as will others. But those are so inadequate at this point because the court has created a jurisprudence that makes regulators contort so much to try to comply that it just can’t do things. So that’s going to be true for both the Federal Election Commission and for Congress.
So I think there’s still space for fundamental legislative reform to get in place systems of public financing. But given what the court’s done even in that area, public financing is going to take place against the backdrop of these things. Public financing has to be voluntary, according to the court, and you can opt out and chose to accept these giant contributions, choose to be the beneficiary of giant Citizens United outside spending. So even public financing, which we are strongly pushing in the states and in the Congress, is going to suffer against the backdrop of these decisions.
We really have to sweep them away which is why it’s so important that there’s already been this really fast-growing grassroots movement for a constitutional amendment that I think now is going to pick up enormous steam. … We’ve got 38 states involved in this on the same day and I think that is both indicative of how strong the movement has become in the last four years and how much stronger it’s going to grow in the days, weeks and months ahead. We have a lot of work to do. And we don’t have any choice but to do it.
DB: And I must ask you, what about the politics? Is there any indication that this decision coming right before the mid-term elections is in any way going to help one side or the other?
RW: Well, one of the parties that helped bring this case was the Republican National Committee. So, you know, I think it’s going to help them. It’s going to help generally, by the way, it’s going to help the parties, such as they are, raise more money. Because the parties are going to be able to raise money from very rich people … in amounts that were previously impermissible. So the Democratic Party is going to raise more money as a result of this decision. The Republican Party is going to raise more additional money as a result of this decision. You know, from a partisan point of view it is going to clearly benefit the Republican Party. And the case was driven by Republican Party operatives.
That said, you know, I really think there is really bipartisan opposition to this system, and the poll data is very convincing on this. Overwhelming numbers of Democrats, but also overwhelming numbers of Republicans oppose the giant influence of the super-wealthy and corporations in Washington. They oppose overwhelmingly the big money influence over the election process. They oppose overwhelmingly the Citizens United decision.
As soon as we get poll data on this decision, I’m sure people just having commonsense are going to oppose this as well. And, again, it’s going to be across party lines. The trick is going to be both to mobilize people and convert the public anger about this into meaningful action by our elected representatives who are part of this system that we’re trying to reform.
Dennis J Bernstein is a host of “Flashpoints” on the Pacifica radio network and the author of Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom.
Tel Aviv district court on Monday convicted former prime minister Ehud Olmert in a trial for corruption linked to a major property development in Jerusalem, Israeli media reports said.
The ruling marks the first time a former Israeli premier has been convicted of bribery in what has been called one of the worst corruption scandals in the country’s history.
According to public Channel 1 television, Olmert was convicted on two counts of receiving bribes linked to construction of Jerusalem’s massive Holyland residential complex dating from when he was the city’s mayor.
Olmert, 68, who could face up to 10 years in prison when sentencing is handed down at a later date, will appeal the verdict, his spokesman Jacob Galanti said.
In 2012, Olmert was acquitted of major charges in separate cases involving his links to a US businessman while he was Jerusalem mayor and an Israeli cabinet minister.
Handing down the conviction on Monday, Judge David Rosen told Tel Aviv District Court the case “exposed governance that grew more corrupt and rotten over the years”, with bribes paid to public officials.
“We’re talking about corrupt and filthy practices,” David Rosen said while reading out the verdict, his remarks playing out across all Israeli media.
He also spoke of a “corrupt political system which has decayed over the years… and in which hundreds of thousands of shekels were transferred to elected officials.”
Rosen also said the former premier had lied to the court in a bid to “blacken the name” of the state’s witness.
Olmert, who is remembered in Lebanon for spearheading the 2006 assault on the country that killed over 1,200 people, reportedly sat expressionless throughout the verdict.
In 2010, Olmert was named the key suspect in the so-called Holyland affair on suspicion that he received bribes totaling some 1.5 million shekels ($430,000, 312,000 euros at today’s exchange rate), although the prosecution later reduced the sum received by about half.
He was mayor of Jerusalem from 1993 to 2003, after which he served as a cabinet minister, holding the trade and industry portfolio as well as several others, before becoming premier in 2006.
He resigned from the premiership in September 2008 after police recommended that he be indicted in several graft cases.
In July 2012, a Jerusalem court found Olmert guilty of breach of trust in a closely watched corruption case, but cleared him on two more serious charges related to the alleged receipt of cash-stuffed envelopes and multiple billing for trips abroad.
He was fined $19,000 and given a suspended jail sentence for graft.
The conviction related to favors that Olmert granted a former colleague while serving as the trade and industry minister.
(AFP, Reuters Al-Akhbar)