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The Trans-Pacific Sellout

Guaranteed profits—at any price

By Jason Hirthler | Dissident Voice | April 26, 2015

Last Tuesday, President Barack Obama told beltway bullhorn Chris Matthews that Senator Elizabeth Warren was “wrong” about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the largest trade deal in American history, linking United States and Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam in a pervasive and binding treaty. The president was referring to Warren’s claim that the trade treaty will license corporations to sue governments, and her contention that this was, to put it mildly, a bad idea.

Warren isn’t wrong, Obama is. And he knows it. The entire TPP, as understood, is based on a single overarching idea: that regulation must not hinder profiteering. This is a fundamentally anti-democratic concept that—if implemented—would effectively eliminate the power of a demos to make its own law. The final authority on any law’s validity would rest elsewhere, beyond the reach of popular sovereignty. From the TPP point-of-view, democracy is just another barrier to trade, and the corporate forces behind the draft treaty are intent on removing that barrier. Simple as that.

That’s why the entire deal has been negotiated in conclave, deliberately beyond the public purview, since the president and his trade representatives know that exposing the deal to the unforgiving light of popular scrutiny would doom it to failure. That’s why the president, like his mentor President Clinton, has lobbied hard for Trade Promotion Authority, or Fast Track, which reduces the Congressional role in the passage of the bill to a ‘yea’ or ‘nay.’

Cracks have begun to show in the formidable cloak behind which the deal has been structured. A coalition of advocacy groups advanced on the U.S. Trade Representatives office this week. Wikileaks has obtained and released chapters from the draft document. Senator Harry Reid declared his position on Fast Track as “… not only no, but hell no.” Warren has proved to be a persistent thorn in the side of White House efforts to smooth over troubling issues with the deal. But the monied interests that rule the beltway have all pressed for passage. And as a Fast Track draft makes its way through Congress, stakes are high. The TPP is, in the apt estimation of political activist Jim Hightower, a “corporate coup d’état.”

Not for the first time, the president and his Republican enemies are yoked by the bipartisan appeal of privilege against this faltering fence of protest. The marriage of convenience was described in last Friday’s sub-head to a New York Times article on TPP: “G.O.P. Is Allied With President Against His Own Party.”

All The Usual Suspects

Who else supports the TPP? Aside from this odd confection of neoliberals, the corporations that rule the beltway feverishly back the TPP. From the leak of Sony digital data we learn that it and its media peers have enthusiastically pressed for the passage of the deal. Sony is joined by major agricultural beneficiaries (Monsanto), mining companies like Infinito Gold, currently suing Costa Rica to keep an ecology-harming mine pit active, as well as pharmaceutical coalitions negotiating stiff intellectual property rights unpopular even in Congress, and various other technology and consumer goods groups. And don’t forget nicotine kingpins like Philip Morris.

Obama reinforces the corporate line: “We have the opportunity to open even more new markets to goods and services backed by three proud words: Made in America.” Perhaps he isn’t aware that our leading export is the workforce that once took pride in that moniker. We’ve exported five million manufacturing jobs since 1994, largely thanks to NAFTA, the model on which the TPP is built. The TPP will only continue that sad trend. The only jobs not being offshored are the ones that can’t be: bartenders and waitresses and health care assistants. That’s the Obama economy: a surfeit of low-wage service jobs filled by debt-saddled degree holders. As Paul Craig Roberts argued in The Failure of Laissez Faire Capitalism, between 2007 and 2014, some eight million students would graduate from American universities and likely seek jobs in the United States. A mere one million degree-requiring jobs would await them. The irony of Obama’s statement is that the TPP would actually move to strip the use of labels like, “Buy American,” since they unduly advocate for local goods.

In truth, the authors of the treaty already know all this. The bill concedes as much, with Democrats building in some throwaway provisions of unspecified aid to workers whose jobs have been offshored, and a tax credit to ostensibly help those ex-workers purchase health insurance. Cold comfort for the jobless, as they are exhorted by the gutless paladins of globalization to ‘toughen up’ and deal with the harsh realities of a globalized economy. As neoliberal stooge Thomas Friedman has said, companies in the glorious global marketplace never hire before they ask, “Can this person add value every hour, every day — more than a worker in India, a robot or a computer?” Of course, the answer is invariably no, so the job goes to Bangladesh or a robot. No moral equation ever enters the picture. Just market discipline for the vulnerable and ingenious efforts by a captive state to shelter capital from the market dynamics it would force on others.

The Investment Chapter

Despite Obama’s disingenuous clichés about “… fully enforceable protections for workers’ rights, the environment and a free and open Internet,” the trade deal makes it clear that labor law and environmental law are both barriers to profitability. We know this thanks to Wikileaks, which once again proved its inestimable value by acquiring and releasing another chapter from the cloak-and-dagger negotiations. This time it was the investment chapter, in which so much of the treaty’s raison d’etre is expressed.

As Public Citizen points out in its lengthy analysis of the chapter, any domestic policy that infringes on an investor’s “right” to a regulatory framework that conforms to their “expectations,” is grounds for a suit. Namely, the suit may be pressed to “the extent to which the government action interferes with distinct, reasonable investment-backed expectations.”

Here’s what the TPP says about such legislation as it relates to investor expectations:

For greater certainty, whether an investor’s investment-backed expectations are reasonable depends, to the extent relevant, on factors such as whether the government provided the investor with binding written assurances and the nature and extent of governmental regulation or the potential for government regulation in the relevant sector.

Try putting that tax on financial transactions. Forget it. Barrier to a reasonable return. Don’t believe it? Just read the TPP investment protocols that would ban capital controls, which is what a financial tax is considered to be by TPP proponents. Try passing that environmental legislation. Not a chance. Hindrance to maximum shareholder value. Just ask Germany how it felt when a Swiss company sued it for shutting down its nuclear industry after Fukushima. Try enacting that youth safety law banning tobacco advertising. Sorry. Needless barrier to profits. Just ask Australia, which is being sued by Philip Morris for trying to protect kids from tar and nicotine.

Public Citizen has tabulated that, “The TPP would newly empower about 9,000 foreign-owned firms in the United States to launch ISDS cases against the U.S. government, while empowering more than 18,000 additional U.S.-owned firms to launch ISDS cases against other signatory governments.” It found that “foreign investors launched at least 50 ISDS claims each year from 2011 through 2013, and another 42 claims in 2014.” If these numbers seem small, recall that for a crucial piece of labor legislation to be struck down, only one firm need win in arbitration in order to financially hamstring a government and set a precedent that would likely ice the reformist urge of future legislatures.

As noted earlier, the text also appears to suggest to ban the practice of promoting domestic goods over foreign—another hurdle to shareholder value. This would effectively prohibit a country from implementing an import-substitution economy without threat of being sued. Governments would be relieved of tools, like tariffs, historically used to protect fledgling native industries. This is exactly what IMF prescriptions often produce—agricultural reforms, for instance, that wipe out native crop production and substitute for it the production of, say, cheap Arabica coffee beans, for export to the global north. Meanwhile, that producer nation must then accept costly IMF lending regimes to pay to import food it might have grown itself.

Of course, it is rarely mentioned that protectionism is how the United States and Britain both built their industrial economies. Or that removing competitor market protections is how they’ve exploited developing economies ever since. The TPP would effectively lock in globalization. It’s a wedge that forces markets open to foreign trade—the textual equivalent of Commodore Perry sailing his gunships into Tokyo Harbor.

ISDS Tribunals

The bill’s backers point to language in which natural resources, human and animal life, and public welfare are all dutifully addressed in the document. The leaked chapter explicitly says that it is not intended to prevent laws relating to these core concerns from being implemented. So then, what’s the problem? The problem is that these tepid inclusions lack the teeth of sanctions or punitive fines. They are mere rhetorical asides designed to help corporate Democrats rationalize their support of the TPP. If lawmakers really cared about the public welfare, they’d move to strip the treaty of its various qualifiers that privilege trade over domestic law. By all means, implement your labor protection, but just ensure “… that such measures are not applied in an arbitrary or unjustifiable manner, or do not constitute a disguised restriction on international trade or investment.”

If lawmakers cared about national sovereignty, they wouldn’t outsource dispute settlement to unelected arbitration panels, more fittingly referred to as, “tribunals.” (Think of scrofulous democracy hunched in the dock, peppered with unanswerable legalese by a corporate lawyer, a surreal twist on the Nuremberg Trials.) Just have a glance at Section B of the investment chapter. Suits will be handled using the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) model, itself predicated on the tribunal precedent. And in the event a government lost a suit or settled one, legal costs would be picked up by taxpayers, having been fleeced by an unelected committee whose laws it has no recourse to challenge.

Perhaps investor protections like ISDS were once intended to encourage cross-border investment by affording companies a modicum of reassurance that their investments would be safeguarded by international trade law. But the ISDS has been used for far more than that. The ISDS tribunals have a lovely track record of success (first implemented in a treaty between Germany and Pakistan in 1959). Here’s Public Citizen:

Under U.S. “free trade” agreements (FTAs) alone, foreign firms have already pocketed more than $440 million in taxpayer money via investor-state cases. This includes cases against natural resource policies, environmental protections, health and safety measures and more. ISDS tribunals have ordered more than $3.6 billion in compensation to investors under all U.S. FTAs and Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs). More than $38 billion remains in pending ISDS claims under these pacts, nearly all of which relate to environmental, energy, financial regulation, public health, land use and transportation policies.

New Era, New Priorities

Now the ISDS is a chisel being used to destroy the regulatory function of governments. All of this is being negotiated by corporate trade representatives and their government lackeys, which appear to have no qualms about the deleterious effects the TPP will have on the general population. But then the corporations these suits represent have long since discarded any sense of patriotic duty to their native nation-states, and with it any obligation to regulate their activities to protect vulnerable citizenries. That loyalty has been replaced by a pitiless commitment to profits. In America, there may have been a time when “what was good for Ford was good for America,” as memorably put by Henry Ford. But not anymore. Now what’s good for shareholders is good for Ford. This was best articulated a couple of years ago by former Exxon CEO Lee Raymond, who bluntly reminded an interviewer, “I’m not a U.S. company, and I don’t make decisions based on what’s good for the U.S.” Those decisions usually include offshoring, liberalizing the labor market, practicing labor arbitrage, relocating production to “business friendly climates” with lax regulatory structures, the most vulpine forms of tax evasion, and so on—all practices that ultimately harm the American worker.

Apple says it feels no obligation to solve America’s problems nor, one would assume, any gratitude to the U.S. taxpayer for funding essential research that Apple brilliantly combined in the iPod and iPhone. Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich finally admits corporations don’t want Americans to make higher wages. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce encourages shipping American jobs abroad. World Bank chiefs point to the economic logic of sending toxic waste to developing nations. Wherever you look, there seems to be little if any concern for citizenry.

The Financial Times refers to ISDS as, “investor protection.” But what it really is, is a profitability guarantee, a legal bulwark against democracy expressed as regulation. Forgive me for thinking that navigating a fluid legislative environment was a standard investment risk. Evidently the champions of free trade can’t be bothered to practice it. Still the White House croons that it has our best interests at heart. If that were true, it would release the full text, launch public charettes to debate its finer points, or perhaps just stage a referendum asking the American people to forfeit their hard-won sovereignty. No such thing will ever happen, of course. As it turns out, democracy is the price of corporate plunder. After all, the greatest risk of all is that the mob might vote the wrong way. And, as the language of the TPP makes explicitly obvious, there are some risks that should be avoided at all costs.

Jason Hirthler can be reached at: jasonhirthler@gmail.com.

April 26, 2015 Posted by | "Hope and Change", Civil Liberties, Economics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Fighting for bread and social justice in Egypt

By Mai Shams El-Din | Mada Masr | April 26, 2015

Chants for bread and social justice didn’t emerge out of the January 25, 2011 revolution. Long before 2011, a strong protest movement existed against the economic policies of former President Mubarak and his regime, which gained momentum in 2006 through the protests and strikes of labor workers in Mahalla al-Kubra.

Nadeem Mansour, director of the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR), speaks to Mada Masr about the challenges facing the labor movement in Egypt and the battle for bread and social justice.

Mada Masr: Why do you think demands for social justice were masked by an identity battle post-January 25, 2011?

Nadeem Mansour: My work is still about the struggle for bread, social justice and the minimum wage, but after January 25, political organizations — the Muslim Brotherhood, Salafis and liberal groups — used the media to wage a very public battle over identity politics that masked this fight to some extent. Those who chanted for social rights in 2011 were not able to achieve their aims for numerous reasons — they didn’t have parties to speak for them, nor a media interested in propagating their ideals. Private media in Egypt is owned almost entirely by businessmen, who often have personal interests that are in conflict with labor movements.

At the ECESR, we have a monitor for economic and social protests. We’ve noticed that many protests over the last four years have had economic and social demands, and there have been a lot of them. In 2013, for example, the number of protests exceeded 5000. Our role is to support these demands. Social justice is the key to making any real change, and to all of the problems facing Egyptian society today. For example, terrorism will only be confronted and stability brought about by ensuring structural and social inequalities are addressed.

MM: How has the absence of political support for economic and social rights affected your work at the center?

NM: Support of the poor and marginalized has never received much genuine political interest. Such attention fluctuates according to the political climate. Part of our role as an entity that offers legal, research and media services, and supports syndicates and local communities, is to help people find solutions to their problems on a local level, and then ensuring attention is given to their problems more widely.

Take the case of the minimum wage, as an example. Before we started the campaign and filed the lawsuit, the issue was not even a matter of discussion. The last minimum wage was set in 1982, as far as I remember, and it was around LE34. The campaign — both research and online — was initiated in partnership with workers, as there were no independent trade unions or syndicates at the time. We succeeded in raising the minimum wage from LE34 to LE400, and then to LE700 after the revolution. Now the minimum wage stands at LE1200, and we are still demanding its increase. By setting the minimum wage as a revolutionary demand, it became a public issue, not just one concerning workers.

We are also interested in working more on specific cases, such as the issue of the Misr Shebin al-Kom Spinning and Weaving Company [the country’s largest textile company, based in Mahalla], which was sold to an Indian investor who already owned some of its competitors. He bought it illegally at a cheap price in order to destroy its equipment and decrease production and thus competition. This case prompted the government to issue a law protecting contracts, which we believe is unconstitutional and have challenged in court.

We partnered with a group of workers and farmers in 2012, when the constitution was being revised, to issue a document, “Workers and farmers write the constitution.” While the conflict over the civil or Islamic identity of the state continued, and there were many calls for workers and farmers to be educated about their rights, we decided to go and ask them about what they thought these rights should be. We went to 22 governorates and we talked with thousands of people. We put them together in a legal document and ended up with something similar to the international Covenant on Economic and Social Rights in its relation to health, work and water. This is part of our work, empowering local communities to make decisions that impact on their own lives.

MM: What about the syndicates and unions for workers?

NM: The syndicates and unions are weak because they are part of a nascent movement that is also facing attacks from many directions, and lacks organizational capacity. Additionally, the strength of these organizations is closely related to that of local communities and their capacity to mobilize and sustain action.

The question is, can these problems be solved by uniform state action, or do they require a decentralized approach?

The economic and social crisis in Egypt is partly due to corruption and government bureaucracy. Attempts at reform often happen in a very centralized manner, whereas capacity building has to be conducted locally.

There are between 1500 and 3000 syndicates, and the union’s [Federation of Independent Trade Unions] capacity for representation is limited. Also, there is no legal framework to structure their work, meaning the right to strike is not protected.

The syndicates are weak right now, and consequently so is the union. The ability to mobilize in the public domain is difficult in Egypt currently, and the attention of the public is focused on political parties and activists. But the attack on syndicates is much fiercer.

MM: How would you describe this attack?

NM: Workers face many problems, including: Dismissal, lack of financial rights, penalties against striking workers, threats, jail, physical assaults, torture and death — in extreme cases. The Protest Law also applies to workers, and is often enforced more vigorously. We have workers who are currently being tried for going on strike. Over the last 10 years, Egypt has developed a strong strike movement. The public mobilization on Jan 25 and June 30 were related to strikes over economic and social issues.

The entire movement is not often suppressed, as it is so vast, but smaller attacks are waged. During Morsi’s term in office, workers at the Portland Company in Alexandria were attacked by police dogs, and some were thrown from the second floor of the building, leading to severe injuries.

Just a few days ago, we were able to secure the release of a worker who criticized the administration of his employer on Facebook and is being investigated for it. Such attacks are often arbitrary, so we try to raise the profile of them in the media as much as we can.

Violence and the interference of the security services in the public domain have reached levels we haven’t witnessed in the last 10 years. The general climate is one of fear.

In one incident, a private company ended negotiations with its workers after military intelligence got involved. This is documented in the company’s official records.

MM: How do you deal with legislative obstacles to your work?

NM: We have strong objections to the current law regulating the work of civil society and against various drafts of the newly proposed law.  The state is attempting to restrict rights-based work without understanding this will hinder democratic reform.

The Center is registered according to the law. We are not an association, but a legal services company, providing consultancy on legal and economic matters. We are a legal office and as such pay the appropriate taxes and have the required documents. Our work is transparent and open.

We are, however, interested in the law governing non-governmental organizations, because we are interested in the ways people organize and in supporting this locally and nationally. We want a law that supports activities and solidarity work. If I’m a legal firm that wants to provide free services, I should be able to do so. Why am I being dealt with as an association in this case?

MM: When and why did you decide to work in human rights?

NM: I began work as a trainee researcher at the Hisham Mubarak Law Center in 2008. I then started the ECESR with Khalid Ali and two other colleagues in 2009.

My interest in rights stems from my study of political economies, which focused on the relationship between the state, local communities and the labor movement. In human rights centers, there are many opportunities for young researchers to expand and develop their ideas.

Many people benefit from our legal services that wouldn’t have access to them otherwise. This motivates me to continue. Our work builds on that of many other generations and organizations. The public domain expanded dramatically after the revolution, enabling rights work to gain ground and the number of organizations dedicated to it to increase. The scale of such work was much more limited in the 90s, for example.

MM: Do you think the current restrictions on civil society will deter young people from getting involved in rights-based work?

NM: I don’t think this will prevent new generations from joining. There have always been restrictions on rights-related work. Under Mubarak, and even before I started in the 90s and 2000s, we suffered consistent and fierce attacks. The intensity of the attack on the movement has also increased with its ability to make an impact.

As long as people’s rights are violated, there will be a need for such organizations to exist.

This is part of a series of interviews with human rights workers in Egypt that will be published in the coming weeks.

April 26, 2015 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Economics, Solidarity and Activism | , | 1 Comment

The Media Fall for Hillary Clinton’s Gensler Gambit

By William K. Black | New Economic Perspectives | April 16, 2015

Richard Cordray (former Attorney General of Ohio), the head of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPG) and Gary Gensler (a former disaster under Bill Clinton and Goldman Sachs) have been the two great appointments by President Obama in the field of finance. Obama’s other appointments at Treasury, the financial regulatory agencies, and the (non) prosecutors who are supposed to specialize in financial prosecutions have been nightmarishly bad.

Gensler was another Rubinite from Goldman Sachs who, under Bill Clinton, helped destroy Brooksley Born’s effort to protect the nation from the financial derivatives that blew up AIG and much of the financial world through passage of the infamous Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000. As Obama’s appointee to chair the Commodity Futures Trade Commission (CFTC), however, Gensler justly earned praise for attempting to restore effective regulation. Gensler was a grave disappointment to Obama’s administration, which thought it was sending a reliably pro-finance Rubinite to run a fairly obscure agency he had helped emasculate. When Gensler showed a spine Obama refused to reappoint him and replaced Gensler with Timothy G. Massad, a Timothy Geithner minion noted for his pro-industry views. Massad’s claim to fame was being one of the principal unprincipled architects of the failed homeowner relief programs. As I pointed out in my first Bill Moyers interview, failing (for the right political reasons) proves you are a reliable “team player” and gets you promoted in Washington, D.C. As Geithner found out, succeeding gets you your walking papers. Jesse Eisinger, as his norm, wrote a great piece about Massad when Obama nominated him in November 2013.  An alternative view can be found in the American Banker, which gave prominently space to an op ed praising Massad’s nomination written by the head of a firm that trains CFTC staff.

Massad’s tenure represents a regulatory retreat at the CFTC, but in fairness, as bad as Obama is on financial regulation the Republicans are vastly worse. They are trying to force the wholesale repeal the Dodd-Frank protections on financial derivatives and they have waged an unholy war on the CFTC’s budget to try to make it impossible for the agency to protect the public. The GOP also fought hard to prevent Cordray’s appointment because they (more precisely, their donors), rightly, feared his integrity and skills.

One might think that Obama, and Democratic Party candidates for the presidential nomination would be campaigning on the issue of Republicans being in the pocket of the industry and trying to recreate Bush’s anti-regulatory “Wrecking Crew” (as Tom Frank aptly labeled it) that produced the financial crisis. But leaders of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) (aka “new Democrats,” which include both Clintons and Obama – by his own words) cannot bring themselves to channel their inner FDR and take on big finance. (The DLC is defunct as a formal organization, but its political leaders and pro-finance and anti-regulatory dogmas remain intact.) Big finance is the DLC’s financial base. Senator Bernie Sanders may run. If he does the Republican Party’s unholy war on regulation will be one of his primary issues.

Hillary Clinton’s Successful Gensler Gambit

The financial media is abuzz today with the leaked news that Hillary Clinton is hiring Gensler as a senior campaign staffer. From H. Clinton’s perspective, the media buzz was perfect. Bloomberg’s article bears this gushing one sentence summary: “Hillary Clinton will bring on one of Wall Street’s fiercest critics to oversee her campaign’s finances.” The article explains the politics.

“For Clinton, who has been fighting her left flank’s concern that she is too cozy with Wall Street, Gensler is a notable hire. He became known as someone with sharp elbows —even during his negotiations within the Obama administration—in his push for tighter regulation.”

In short, H. Clinton’s campaign got the ideal spin from what could have been a very hostile financial media. Hiring, and leaking, Gensler’s hire was a very smart political move.

Just One Little Catch

But here’s the catch. Gensler is being hired for a job that will take 150% of his available time given H. Clinton’s ability to raise money and the obscene rules that make modern campaign finance a sport in which both parties routinely devise “black box” funding devices to allow the wealthy to rule American politics secretly. This has two critical implications. Gensler will not be working to block the power of the secretive wealthy – he will be doing the opposite, at least 16 hours a day. It also means that he was not hired to advise H. Clinton on the crimes of Wall Street banksters and the vital need for vigorous regulation and prosecutions. Even if he had the desire to fill that role he will have no time to do so and he will be busy secretly catering to the needs of the wealthy and politically dominant criminal class.

Gensler Was No Godzilla When He Led the CFTC

Gensler’s stint at the CFTC is a nice story of redemption. He did try to be a vigorous regulator over great opposition from the industry, much of Congress (including many House Democrats), and Treasury. Gensler’s desire to be an effective regulator was unacceptable to Obama, who in another act of “revealed preferences” refused to reappoint Gensler.

But Gensler is not, remotely, “one of Wall Street’s fiercest critics.” Quick: memory association: what’s Gensler’s “fiercest” criticism of Wall Street? You came up blank, didn’t you? I checked the Wall Street Journal and did a more general web search. The WSJ was happy to see that Obama refused to reappoint him (the cover story is that Gensler did not want to serve another term) and it criticized him as harsh – but I could not find a story quoting any harsh denunciation of Wall Street by Gensler. Given that even life-long banking apologists like Geithner’s replacement as President of FRBNY now routinely refer to the corrupt culture of Wall Street, Geithner is not even one of the harsher critics of Wall Street within the none-too-critical Obama administration.

The “sharp elbows” claim is pure invention by Geithner’s worse than useless minions.  Anyone who refused to brownnose the finance industry was considered far too aggressive by Geithner. Geithner and his team launched the same smear at Sheila Bair (FDIC chair) and Neil Barofsky (SIGTARP). We (the S&L regulators) were routinely referred to as “Nazis,” the “Gestapo,” and the “KGB.” The political, dirty tricks, and litigation attacks on us were far more severe and consequential because our actions were sending elites to prison and humiliating their political patrons who rushed to return campaign contributions from those we exposed as frauds.

Back in the S&L days under the team assembled by Federal Home Loan Bank Board Chairman Edwin Gray, the Reagan administration detested us precisely because Gensler (in his CFTC incarnation) would have been somewhere in the middle of the distribution of regulatory vigor. The comparison is conjectural because under Gray’s leadership, which generally became so supportive of regulatory vigor, and the tutelage of Joe Selby and Mike Patriarca (the Nation’s consensus choices as the most effective and vigorous financial regulators), Gensler might have developed into a far more effective regulator. Gensler’s mentor, Robert (“Bob”) Rubin, inflicted a severe impediment to regulatory effectiveness that Gensler had to struggle to try to overcome.

Conclusion

Ignore the media crush on Gensler’s appointment. As campaign CFO for H. Clinton his job is the care and feeding of the DLC’s financial base – the finance industry. H. Clinton’s Gensler gambit is smart politics, but if you think it means she is seeking progressive advice you are being played – successfully.

April 26, 2015 Posted by | "Hope and Change", Corruption, Deception, Economics | , , , , | Leave a comment

City and State Pension Funds Pay Billions in Undisclosed Fees to Private Equity Companies

By Steve Straehley | AllGov | April 26, 2015

A good portion of the money that is supposed to be going to government retirees is being skimmed off by Wall Street as fees, much of them undisclosed, charged by private equity companies.

CEM Benchmarking, which compares costs for various public and private equity funds, says in a report (pdf) that “Less than one‐half of the very substantial [private equity] costs incurred by U.S. pension funds are currently being disclosed.” The difference can be as much as $60 million on a portfolio valued at $3 billion, CEM reported.

Private equity funds say they’re worth the fees they charge because they bring in better returns on investments. However, it’s difficult to verify this claim because long-term returns are mostly self-reported by the equity firms.

Of this country’s $3 trillion in public pension fund assets, roughly 9% ($270 billion) gets invested in private equity firms. The industry’s 2% management fee therefore pays the equity industry about $5.4 billion a year. But if CEM’s calculations apply uniformly, that could mean that in fact more than $10 billion a year, half of that in hidden fees, are being taken from retirees at the same time that governments are trying to cut benefits, according to the International Business Times.

One recent example of this is in New Jersey, where big fees for handling government pensions have gone to fund managers who supported Republican Governor Chris Christie’s election campaigns. In the five years since Christie took office, the International Business Times reported, fees have quadrupled at the same time Christie has said the funds don’t have enough money to pay all the benefits to which retirees are entitled. New Jersey pension trustees have announced an investigation of the funds.

“With billions of public worker and taxpayer dollars put at risk in the highest-cost, most opaque investment schemes ever devised by Wall Street for a decade now, investigations that hold Wall Street profiteers accountable are long, long overdue,” former Securities and Exchange Commission attorney Ted Siedle wrote in Forbes.

Other governments aren’t waiting around. Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, in the Philadelphia suburbs, has switched most of its retirement funds from private equity to low-fee stock index funds. California’s massive retirement system, CalPERS, announced last year that it would be divesting itself of hedge funds because of their high costs.

To Learn More:

Cities and States Paying Massive Secret Fees to Wall Street: Report (International Business Times )

Public Pension Fund Analysis (Private Equity Growth Capital Council) (pdf)

The Time Has Come for Standardized Total Cost for Private Equity (CEM Benchmarking) (pdf)

State Government Revenues Tops Expenditures Thanks to Pension Fund Investments (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov )

California Pensions to Dump $4-Billion Hedge Fund Investments (by Noel Brinkerhoff, Steve Straehley and Ken Broder, AllGov California )

“Vulture” Capitalists Strike Vulnerable Cities and Counties (by Matt Bewig, AllGov )

April 26, 2015 Posted by | Economics, Corruption | , , | Leave a comment

Facebook’s Internet.org, the Anti-Net Neutrality in Action

By Steve Straehley | AllGov | April 26, 2015

The idea sounds great—provide Internet access for the millions of people in developing areas that don’t have it. But in the process of putting that knowledge at the fingertips of that under-served community, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s Internet.org has drawn a bright line between the haves and have-nots.

Zuckerberg’s plan, developed with manufacturers such as Nokia, Ericsson, Qualcomm and Samsung, allows free access via mobile phones in developing areas only to certain parts of the Internet. Surprise—Facebook is one of the applications able to be reached by way of the Internet.org app. Wikipedia is also available as are weather and a few other sites. But if you want to go to a site not on the app, you must either pay a fee or you’re out of luck.

Latin American leaders, such as Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, have applauded the Internet.org strategy, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). But others, including Carolina Botero, executive director of the Karisma Foundation in Bogotá, have reservations. Karisma supports the positive use of technology as it pertains to human rights. Botero said: “We have serious concerns that Internet.org is presented as a public policy strategy for universal access to the Internet. This initiative compromises everyone’s rights and blurs the government’s obligation to reduce the digital divide for its citizens for compromised access to certain applications. No matter how interesting they are, these services are associated with a commercial interest of a multinational which the state is directly supporting.”

Zuckerberg claims that because Internet.org doesn’t specifically block sites or charge sites more to run faster, the app conforms with net neutrality principles. But more businesses are starting to see it the other way and are opting out of the program, among them a group of Indian publishers.

“We support net neutrality because it creates a fair, level playing field for all companies—big and small—to produce the best service and offer it to consumers,” The Times Group, one of the publishers that withdrew from Internet.org, said in a statement. Other Indian companies to opt out of Internet.org are travel website Cleartrip and information site Newshunt. “What started off with providing a simple search service has us now concerned with influencing customer decision-making by forcing options on them, something that is against our core DNA,” Cleartrip said in a statement, according to The Wall Street Journal.

“The problem runs deeper than simply which sites to which poor users should have subsidized access,” wrote EFF’s David Boagado and Katitza Rodriguez. “It lies in the very concept that Facebook and its corporate partners, or governments, should be able to privilege one service or site above another. Despite the good intentions of Facebook and the handful of allied companies, Internet.org effectively leaves its users without a real Internet in the [Latin American] region.”

The result is “having access to only a sliver of what is supposed to be the worldwide web,” wrote Issie Lapowsky at Wired. “As we’ve said before, this creates ‘an Internet for poor people.’”

Zuckerberg’s response, basically, is that half a loaf is better than none. “Arguments about net neutrality shouldn’t be used to prevent the most disadvantaged people in society from gaining access or to deprive people of opportunity,” he wrote April 17 in a Facebook post. “Eliminating programs that bring more people online won’t increase social inclusion or close the digital divide. It will only deprive all of us of the ideas and contributions of the two thirds of the world who are not connected.”

To Learn More:

Does Internet.org Leave Latin Americans Without A Real Internet? (by David Bogado and Katitza Rodriguez, Electronic Frontier Foundation)

Mark Zuckerberg Can’t Have It Both Ways on Net Neutrality (by Issie Lapowsky, Wired )

Indian Companies Pull Out of Internet.org amid Battle over Net Neutrality (by Aditi Malhotra, Wall Street Journal )

Supreme Court Upholds Cyber Freedom in India (by Karan Singh, AllGov India )

April 26, 2015 Posted by | Economics, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

GOP presidential hopefuls woo big donors in Las Vegas

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Press TV – April 25, 2015

US Republican presidential hopefuls and some other GOP lawmakers were in the state of Nevada on Saturday to attract big donors for their campaign funding.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, Texas Governor Rick Perry, Senator Rob Portman (OH), Governor Mike Pence (IN), and Senator Lindsey Graham (SC), all Republicans, were in Las Vegas for the annual Republican Jewish Coalition’s spring meeting which began on Thursday.

The candidates wrapped up 3 days of lobbying for Israel to attract potentially billions of dollars in donations in the biggest gambling hub in the US.

They were there to win big donations from casino tycoons, most notably Zionist Sheldon Adelson who is the largest campaign donor in the US.

As far as the GOP contenders in Las Vegas are concerned, the fight to win Adelson’s support and others in Las Vegas is all about showing support and solidarity for Tel Aviv.

Former Texas Governor Rick Perry said, “Ignoring the lessons of history, our president aims to sign an agreement with… the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

“Sadly, the American friendship and alliance with Israel has never been more imperiled than it is right now today under this administration,” said Ted Cruz, one of the Republican presidential candidates.

About 800 members of the summit enthusiastically cheered the consecutive slaps on Obama and on a potential nuclear agreement with Iran and promises of loyalty to Tel Aviv.

In fact, Adelson was not there on Saturday, according to local media, because that’s when the session was open to the media.

It is reported that Adelson has a favorite candidate so far, and that’s Senator Marco Rubio who the tycoon “speaks to once every 2 weeks.”

Adelson spent almost $150 million in the last presidential election in 2012 and he is set to throw in millions of more dollars behind his favorite contender in 2016.

Adelson, a Jewish American and the country’s eighth-wealthiest person, has said that he will not invest in the 2016 elections based on personal loyalty but on a more strategic aim.

He is a prominent supporter of Israel’s Likud Party, which is currently headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He is also known for his anti-Iran rants.

During a speech at Yeshiva University in New York City in October 2014, Adelson said that the US should drop a nuclear bomb on Iran before beginning negotiations with Tehran over its nuclear program.

April 26, 2015 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Corruption, Wars for Israel | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Merkel Knew German Intelligence Was Spying on German Companies for US

Sputnik | 26.04.2015

Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service has been spying for US intelligence agencies for years. Merkel’s Office should have been informed in 2008 about this practice, but the federal government has not undertaken any corresponding measures, a German magazine wrote.

It became known on Thursday the German Federal Intelligence Service (BND) overheard communications of European companies and politicians for the NSA, according to Deutsche Wirtschafts Nachrichten.

However, Merkel’s Office seems to have done nothing to stop these activities, though it was informed about US espionage attempts in 2008.

According to the available information, the NSA was trying to get information about the multinational arms companies EADS and Eurocopter. This was contrary to German interests, and the BND had rejected the requests at that time.

However, now it has become clear that the BND assisted the US National Security Agency (NSA) in spying on European targets over the last few years.

The revelation was perceived by many German politicians as “scandalous”. They demanded an end to such ‘collaboration’ with the US and argued that the chancellor’s office should probably have been aware of the spy agencies’ cooperation.

April 26, 2015 Posted by | Corruption, Economics, Illegal Occupation | , , , , | Leave a comment

Missouri Police Officer Tackles and Arrests Man Strolling Through Neighborhood for Not Providing ID

By Carlos Miller | PINAC | April 25, 2015

A man taking a stroll through his neighborhood was tackled and arrested by a Missouri police officer when he refused to identify himself, even though the cop did not have a reasonable suspicion that he was involved in a crime.

The incident took place in September in Breckenridge Hills, a municipality of St. Louis County with less than 5,000 residents, not too far from Ferguson.

But the video was not posted until Friday under the Youtube username, Chris Hoglan, with the following description:

I left for a walk at 12:17am on Sept. 4, 2014 and didn’t come home. I headed out on my own as I often do. My path crossed Officer Mathew Tyler Badge #272 of the Breckenridge Hills, Mo Police Department 20 minutes later. I was never told that I was suspected of any crime or given any reason as to why I was being detained. I asked many times if I was free to go and the end result was Officer Tyler #272 and Officer Allemann Badge #247 tackling me to the ground. I was then taken to jail and questioned. I never answered any questions and never gave them my ID through the entire 10 1/2hours I was held. I was searched and brought to the police station and questioned without being read my Miranda rights. I told them I was invoking my 5th amendment right too not answer any questions with legal representation and was still questioned. They ultimately charged me with “Police Interference”. It costs me a $500 bond to get out the next morning at 11am. I contacted my lawyer immediately and showed them the video. We requested a jury trial from Breckenridge Hills, Mo for the Police Interference charge and they dropped my charges. My attorneys and I met with the Chief of Breckenridge Hills, Mo on Feb. 5, 2015 in person and filed an Internal Affairs Complaint. We have been waiting for Breckenridge Hills to complete their internal investigation.

I have a full written statement that I typed out the next day with every detail I could remember. If anyone is interested in more details, private message me your email and I will send it your way.

Hoglan responded to a comment from PINAC, promising to send more details about the incident, which will be published when we get them. Hoglan also posted the video on Reddit, where it is being discussed.

Three months before this incident, the Breckenridge Hills City Council considered shutting down its local police department, allowing the neighboring St. Ann Police Department to take over because it would have cost the city $850,000 instead of $1.3 million.

But the city council voted against it because it “felt that an outside city would never be as concerned about Breckenridge Hills as are its own officers,” as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch explained.

But we can see now that was probably the wrong decision.

April 26, 2015 Posted by | Civil Liberties | , , | Leave a comment

Fear mongering, the ISIS gambit and Zionist recruitment

By Brandon Martinez | Non-Aligned Media | April 25, 2015

As the fear campaign advances into ever-more delirious extremes, Westerners continue to be submerged in sensationalist headlines about ‘homegrown terrorism’ and ‘ISIS recruits.’

The American, Australian, Canadian, British, French, German and other governments have been on the hunt lately, swooping up a handful of would-be ISIS recruits before they could make their journey to Syria and Iraq. The arrests appear to be part of a stage-managed public relations effort to 1) keep up the false pretense that the West is actually trying to stop people from joining ISIS, when in fact they have been gleefully turning a blind eye to it if not aiding and abetting it, and 2) to justify the growing surveillance state across the West.

ABC News tells us that more than 2000 Westerners, mostly from immigrant communities but also a number of white converts to Islam, have joined ISIS and other terrorist groups fighting to topple the Syrian government. Knowing the high level of surveillance and monitoring that Western agencies already employ against Muslim communities, it beggars belief that all of these individuals simply evaded the all-seeing eye of Western intelligence which includes the “Five Eyes” spy network consisting of the combined espionage might of the US, Canada, UK, New Zealand and Australia. The massive resources of the spy agencies of those countries in conjunction with the data mining brigands of the NSA makes it hard for one to believe that they’re just unable to track and intervene before Western citizens depart for the phony ‘jihad’ against Israel’s adversaries in Syria, Iraq and other parts of the Middle East.

ISIS-MSNBCThe Intercept revealed that in a recent FBI ‘bust’ of an alleged ISIS sympathizer who was purportedly planning an attack inside the US, the suspect was goaded by FBI informants, as is the case with nearly every major foiled ‘terror plot’ in recent American history. John T. Booker Jr., the Kansas man accused of plotting a terrorist attack on behalf of ISIS, had checked himself into a mental hospital about a year before his arrest. The Intercept reports that the two FBI informants who initiated contact with Booker Jr. “provided the 20-year-old with the materials and support that led to his arrest on Friday on charges stemming from his alleged plans to carry out an attack against Fort Riley in support of the Islamic State.”

This example is merely one of many hundreds of cases involving the FBI’s army of 15,000 plus informants who infiltrate Muslim communities then work to incite and coerce impressionable, dejected young Muslims into completely inept and doomed-to-fail ‘terror plots.’

Canadian authorities have been caught mimicking the FBI’s duplicitous and unethical tactics of fabricating terror plots by way of informants. One recent case involved a bumbling British Columbia couple, John Nuttall and his wife Amanda Korody, who were prodded and pushed into a laughable ‘terrorist conspiracy’ by undercover RCMP agents. The Vancouver Sun reported that the undercover agents “spent more than four months in a futile attempt to have John Nuttall articulate a real [terrorist] plan.” Another Sun report described the ‘terror couple’ as “impoverished addicts” and delineated how an undercover agent coddled and encouraged them every step of the way, making suggestions about explosives and targets.

A story that broke earlier this year unveiled the West’s two-faced gambit as it relates to ISIS. The Turkish government exposed the identity of a Syrian national on the payroll of Canadian intelligence who was acting as a human trafficker for ISIS, escorting dozens of Europeans through Turkey and delivering them to ISIS strongholds in Syria, including three British schoolgirls.

“Turkish news agencies reported … that a foreign intelligence agent detained in that country on suspicion of helping the [three British] girls travel to neighbouring Syria to join ISIL was working for the Canadian government,” stated an Ottawa Citizen report on the scandal. The agent in question, Mohammed Mehmet Rashid, told Turkish authorities that he made routine trips to the Canadian embassy in Jordan where he received his marching orders from CSIS, Canada’s spy agency. That embassy was headed by Bruno Saccomani, a former RCMP officer and the former chief of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s security detail. Harper handpicked Saccomani to be the ambassador to Jordan.

Another issue routinely overlooked by mainstream media is that ISIS is not the only violent radical group that Western citizens are bustling to join. Hundreds of Canadians, Americans, Australians and Europeans have joined the Israeli military over the years, participating in the murder of thousands of innocent Palestinian and Lebanese civilians, the mass destruction of property and other war crimes and crimes against humanity.

harper-ZionistIn an article entitled “Supporting ‘terror tourism’ to Israel gets Canadian tax credits,” Yves Engler, an expert on Canadian foreign affairs, observes that in Canada “[i]t is illegal for Somali Canadians to fight in that country but it is okay for Canadian Jews to kill Palestinians in Gaza. And the government will give you a charitable tax credit if you give them money to support it.” Engler documents the activities of pro-Israel charities operating freely in Canada that recruit young Jews to fight for Israel. “At least 25 volunteers from the Greater Toronto Area fought in Gaza during Israel’s 22-day 2008/2009 assault that left some 1,400 Palestinians dead,” notes Engler, adding that “during Israel’s 2006 attack on Lebanon the Canadian Jewish News reported that ‘Canadian youths leave home to join Israeli army.’”

“The double standard is extreme,” Engler writes, pointing out how Canadians are proscribed from recruiting for foreign militaries under the Foreign Enlistment Act, but this law apparently doesn’t apply to Jews who enjoy a privileged status in Canada and other Western countries.

The Canadian government’s pro-Israel extremism showed its ugly face in 2014 when the Harper administration added IRFAN-Canada, a Muslim charity which helped raise funds for the besieged people of Gaza and the occupied West Bank, to its list of banned ‘terrorist organizations.’ According to the Harper regime’s skewed Zionist logic, Muslim charities that work with the democratically elected leadership of Gaza in order to dispense humanitarian aid to the suffering Palestinians are engaged in ‘supporting terrorism.’ Yet Jewish-Zionist charities are allowed, even aided and abetted by the Canadian state through ‘tax credits’ for donors, to raise funds for the Israeli military and even to recruit radicalized Canadian Jews to fight in Israel’s bloody wars of aggression – but this somehow does not constitute material support for terrorism.

Evidently, in Harper’s pro-Zionist fantasy world ‘terrorist’ is a smear word applied exclusively to the opponents of Israeli imperialism, whereas a state birthed through ethnic cleansing and maintained by way of bribery, blackmail, and state-sponsored mass murder is praised to the heavens merely for allowing its privileged Jewish citizens and disenfranchised Arab subjects to vote for whichever hawkish Zionist politician will continue the policies of terror in the holy land.

Copyright 2015 Brandon Martinez

April 26, 2015 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Deception, War Crimes, Wars for Israel | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Israeli military training critically damaging to Palestinian farmers

International Solidarity Movement | April 25, 2015

Aqraba, Occupied Palestine – On 25th April 2015 ISM volunteers met with the mayor of Aqraba, Ayman Bani Fadl, who has asked internationals to document the intrusive Israeli occupation forces’ actions over the past week. The Israeli forces have been using civilian farm land to carry out training operations. The military have an encampment where they have stationed around ten tanks and approximately fifteen more armored vehicles, as well as numerous troops.

Israeli occupation forces present on Palestinian land near Aqraba (Photo by Aqraba Muncipality 24.04.15)

Israeli occupation forces present on Palestinian land near Aqraba (Photo by Aqraba Muncipality 24.04.15)

The military training in this area is hugely damaging to the farming economy, due to the fact that this seasons harvest began earlier in the month. Farmers are now prevented from carrying out their harvest by the presence of the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF). The mayor stated that it is likely the military chose the time and area in a deliberate attempt to disrupt the harvest and the livelihoods of the civilian population. He also claimed the actions of the IOF were strategically designed to expropriate the land, forcing the farmers to leave the area. He went on to say that the military have already designated 150,000 dunams of Aqraba land as a military zone. Meaning, the military have full control of the area. Despite this, the IOF have chosen to carry out their present training operations on the 10,000 dunams that remain accessible to the farmers.

These military operations occur on a regular basis and have a permanent and damaging effect on the community. Not least of which is the unexploded ordinance, carelessly left by the military, which has been responsible for killing four individuals and maiming tens of others, mostly children.

To add to the continuing persecution of Aqraba civilians, four months ago the electricity network, financed by the Belgian government, was demolished by Israeli forces. Due to a lack of funds, the municipality has only been able to temporarily reconstruct a portion of the network.

Furthermore, this continual land grab results in Israeli control over highly fertile agricultural soil and cuts off Palestinian access to the Jordan Valley, restricting freedom of movement and their right to cultivate their own farming land.

The present military operation in Aqraba is just one example of the ongoing violent harassment and disruption that is one of many tactics used by Israeli forces, to make life so intolerable for Palestinians they will leave and abandon their land. Oppressive tactics of a similar nature are rife throughout the West Bank, with towns and villages in and around the Jordan Valley being particularly subject to persecution from the Israeli forces.

April 25, 2015 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing | , , , , | 1 Comment

Embracing the Saudi War on Yemen

By Robert Parry | Consortium News | April 25, 2015

As the humanitarian crisis in Yemen worsens, the Obama administration seems less concerned about the plight of the desperate Yemeni people than the feelings of the Saudi royals who have spent the last month indiscriminately bombing a nearly defenseless Yemen, using high-tech U.S. jets and bombs to reportedly kill hundreds of civilians and damage its ancient cities.

On Friday, the Obama administration took credit for blocking nine Iranian ships from reaching Yemen with relief supplies, claiming that the ships may have carried weapons that the Yemenis could use in their civil war or to defend against Saudi attacks. President Barack Obama had dispatched a U.S. aircraft carrier fleet to the Yemeni coast to enforce an embargo that has helped the Saudis seal off the country from outside help.

A person closely involved with the Yemen crisis told me that the Iranian ships carried food and medicine, not weapons, but turned back to avoid the risk and humiliation of being boarded by the U.S. Navy. Meanwhile, Yemen, already one of the poorest countries in the Arab world, is facing shortages of basic supplies since the Saudis have cut off normal trade routes into Yemen.

Yet, despite the suffering of Yemen, the U.S. government appears more worried about the sensitivities of Saudi Arabia, one of the richest countries in the region. A Defense Department official, speaking anonymously, told the New York Times that it was “important that the Saudis know that we have an arm around their shoulders.”

Defense Department officials also acknowledged that they didn’t know what type of cargo was being transported aboard the Iranian ships, the Times reported. Though the Obama administration had touted the possibility that the Iranian ships carried weapons, the decision by Iran to avoid a confrontation may have reflected Tehran’s desire not to worsen relations with the United States and thus disrupt fragile negotiations over international guarantees to ensure that its nuclear program remains peaceful.

But the losers in this military/diplomatic maneuvering appear to be the Yemenis who, in effect, face a Saudi strategy of starving the country into submission with the help of the United States. While U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power built her public image as a “humanitarian interventionist” asserting a “responsibility to protect” vulnerable populations, she has said little about the Saudi role in Yemen’s humanitarian crisis.

In a statement on April 14, at the height of the Saudi bombing campaign, Power made no mention of the Saudi attacks or the hundreds of civilian dead from Saudi bombs supplied by the United States. She instead focused her denunciations on the Houthi rebels and former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh who have joined forces in a civil war that ousted sitting President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, who then fled to Saudi Arabia.

Power primarily blamed the Houthis, who “have intensified their military campaign, bombed Aden, and extended their offensive to Yemen’s south. These actions have caused widespread violence and instability that threaten the security and welfare of the Yemeni people, as well as the region’s security.”

Though the Saudi air force has bombed a number of cities including the ancient port city of Aden, Power ignored those attacks in her statement. But Power was not alone in her solicitousness toward the Saudis. On Friday, Secretary of State John Kerry even endorsed the Saudi bombing of Houthi targets in Yemen.

Who Are the Houthis?

The Houthis adhere to the Zaydi sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam but one that is considered relatively close to Sunni Islam and that peacefully co-existed with Sunni Islam for centuries. But the Houthis have been resisting what they regard as government persecution in recent decades.

As revealed in leaked U.S. government cables and documented by Human Rights Watch, Yemen’s government used U.S. military aid to support an all-out assault against the Houthis in 2009. HRW said Yemeni government forces indiscriminately shelled and bombed civilian areas, causing significant civilian casualties and violating the laws of war. This repression of the Houthis led to an escalation last fall which ended with the Houthi rebels, who allied themselves with army forces loyal to ex-President Saleh, capturing Sanaa and other major cities.

After these victories, in private contacts with American officials, the Houthis indicated their readiness to take the fight to Al-Qaeda’s Yemeni affiliate. However, since the Saudi airstrikes began a month ago, “Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula” has taken advantage of the limitations on Houthi rebel movements by grabbing more territory in the east and overrunning a prison that held a number of Al-Qaeda militants.

The Saudi royals have a complicated relationship with Al-Qaeda including some princes who are viewed as important financiers of the terror group. The Saudis also promote the same extremist interpretation of Sunni Islam, known as Wahhabism. Now, instead of concentrating on the terror threat from Al-Qaeda, the Saudis have sought to portray the Yemeni civil war as a proxy assault in Saudi Arabia’s backyard by Shiite-ruled Iran.

In that propaganda effort, the Saudis have been helped by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who has relied on the powerful Israel Lobby and his own rhetoric to divert the U.S. Congress from a focus on Al-Qaeda and its hyper-brutal spinoff, the Islamic State, to Iran, which both Saudi Arabia and Israel have designated their primary regional enemy.

In his March 3 speech to a joint session of Congress, Netanyahu cited Yemen as one of the Mideast countries that Iran has been “gobbling up.” Many regional experts, however, considered Netanyahu’s assertion ludicrous given the Houthis’ reputation for stubborn independence.

For instance, former CIA official Graham E. Fuller called the notion “that the Houthis represent the cutting edge of Iranian imperialism in Arabia – as trumpeted by the Saudis” a “myth.” He added:

“The Zaydi Shia, including the Houthis, over history have never had a lot to do with Iran. But as internal struggles within Yemen have gone on, some of the Houthis have more recently been happy to take Iranian coin and perhaps some weapons — just as so many others, both Sunni and Shia, are on the Saudi payroll. The Houthis furthermore hate al-Qaeda and hate the Islamic State.”

But the Obama administration remains sensitive to Israeli-Saudi criticism of its efforts to negotiate a peaceful settlement of the Iranian nuclear dispute. So, to demonstrate that the Americans are comforting the Saudi royals with “an arm around their shoulders,” the U.S. government is embracing the Saudi bombardment of a largely defenseless country and is turning back ships carrying relief supplies.

~

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).

April 25, 2015 Posted by | War Crimes | , , , , | Leave a comment

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