For decades now, federal government and their cohorts in law enforcement have been carrying out theft of the citizenry on a massive scale. We’re not talking about taxes, but an insidious power known as Civil Asset Forfeiture (CAF).
The 1980’s-era laws were designed to drain resources from powerful criminal organizations, but CAF has become a tool for law enforcement agencies across the U.S. to steal money and property from countless innocent people.
No criminal charge is required for this confiscation, resulting in easy inflows of cash for law enforcement departments and the proliferation of abuse. This phenomenon is known as “policing for profit.”
In the last 25 years, the amount of “profit” stolen through CAF has skyrocketed.
According to the US Department of Justice, the value of asset forfeiture revoceries by US authorities from 1989-2010 was $12,667,612,066, increasing on average 19.5% per year.
In 2008, law enforcement took over $1.5 billion from the American public. While this number seems incredibly large, just a few years later, in 2014, that number tripled to nearly $4.5 billion.
When we examine these numbers, and their nearly exponential growth curve, it appears that police in America are getting really good at separating the citizen from their property — not just really good, criminally good.
To put this number into perspective, according to the FBI, victims of burglary offenses suffered an estimated $3.9 billion in property losses in 2014.
That means that law enforcement in America has stolen $600,000,000 more from Americans that actual criminal burglars.
When police surpass the criminal accomplishments of those they claim to protect you from, there is a serious problem.
The good news is that Americans are waking up to this Orwellian notion of police robbing the citizens, and they are taking a stand.
Even police officers are taking a stand against CAF. In an exclusive interview in September, the Free Thought Project talked officer Stephen Mills, chief of police at the Apache, Oklahoma police department. Mills became an outspoken advocate against CAF, after he became a victim of it.
The idea of thieving cops has also united organizations on opposite ends of the political spectrum. In October, the ACLU and the Koch Brothers came together to stop the inherent police theft in America.
While the police keep grabbing your property, it is important to remain vigilant. Only through a lesser ignorance and the spreading of information will we overcome this blatant tyranny. Please share this article with your friends and family to wake them up to the criminal reality that is – civil asset forfeiture.
The US State Department has signed off on the deal to sell $1.29 billion worth of smart bombs to Saudi Arabia, according to the Pentagon. The 22,000 bombs are to be used in the Saudis’ military campaigns in Yemen and Syria.
The Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency, in charge of overseeing foreign arms sales, said in a statement that deal with the Saudis has been approved. The US Congress still has 30 days to block the deal, but is unlikely to do so.
The agency said that the sale would keep the Royal Saudi Air Force from running out of weapons, as well as provide sufficient weapons stocks for its military campaign in Yemen and Syria.
“This acquisition will help sustain strong military-to-military relations between the United States and Saudi Arabia, improve [the ability of Saudi forces to work] with the United States, and enable Saudi Arabia to meet regional threats and safeguard the world’s largest oil reserves,” the statement said.
According to RT website, the $1.29 billion deal consists of 22,000 smart and general purpose bombs, which include 1,000 GBU-10 Paveway II laser guided bombs, as well as over 5,000 Joint Direct Attack Munitions kits, which convert older bombs into precision-guided weapons via GPS.
The sale comes after President Barack Obama promised in May to work with Persian Gulf Arab States on increased security cooperation, particularly “on fast-tracking arms transfers… counter terrorism, maritime security, cybersecurity and ballistic missile defense.”
Persian Gulf States have shown increased interest in US weaponry following the nuclear agreement reached with Iran in July.
In October, the US government approved an $11 billion sale to Saudi Arabia for up to four Lockheed Martin Corp.’s warships, along with weapons, training and logistics support. In September, Washington approved a $5.4 billion sale of 600 advanced Patriot missiles to Riyadh.
Saudi Arabia has been striking Yemen for 236 days now to restore power to fugitive President Abed Rabbu Mansour Hadi. The Saudi-US aggression has so far killed at least 6,579 Yemenis, including hundreds of women and children.
Despite Riyadh’s claims that it is bombing the positions of the Yemeni national military, Saudi warplanes are flattening residential areas and civilian infrastructures.
Last December, before being named Ukraine’s Finance Minister, American-born Natalie Jaresko accepted Ukrainian citizenship as a prerequisite for getting the job, but – in almost one year since – she has not renounced her U.S. citizenship, according to U.S. records and a Ukrainian official.
The Ukrainian Constitution allows for only “single citizenship,” meaning that a foreigner who is granted Ukrainian citizenship must terminate his or her previous citizenship and must submit a document attesting to that renunciation “within two years from the date of granting of Ukrainian citizenship,” said Mariia Budiakova, press secretary of the Ukraine Embassy in Washington.
Ukrainian Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko.
The U.S. government publishes quarterly the names of Americans who have renounced their U.S. citizenship and those names — printed in the Federal Register since last December — do not include Jaresko, who has chosen to remain a U.S. citizen, a fact confirmed by Budiakova.
Jaresko appears to be exploiting the two-year period for submitting proof of renouncing her prior citizenship so she can hold her powerful Ukrainian position for two years with the option of then dropping her Ukrainian citizenship and keeping her U.S. citizenship.
But that manipulation of the process creates the appearance of a carpetbagger with dual loyalties and reinforces the image, highlighted by Russian media, of a Ukrainian government being run behind the scenes by the United States and other outsiders.
There’s also the possibility that Jaresko is exploiting this opportunity to learn all she can about the inner workings of the Ukrainian government to position herself to quit her post after two years, drop her temporary Ukrainian citizenship, and become a well-paid consultant with valuable contacts inside Ukraine’s Finance Ministry.
Such opportunism would fit with Jaresko’s history. Though hailed as the face of Ukrainian “reform,” Jaresko has long used her official connections to enrich herself, an inconvenient truth that undercuts the U.S. government’s desired image for the regime in Kiev as committed to the fight against corruption.
Prior to her appointment as Finance Minister, Jaresko, a former U.S. diplomat, headed the U.S.-taxpayer-financed Western NIS Enterprise Fund (WNISEF), created in the 1990s to help jump-start an investment economy for Ukraine and Moldova. WNISEF was overseen by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
WNISEF officials were limited to $150,000 in compensation a year, but Jaresko maneuvered to exceed that total, ultimately collecting more than $2 million a year by shifting management of WNISEF to her own private company, Horizon Capital, and arranging to get lucrative bonuses when selling off investments, even as the overall WNISEF fund was losing money, according to official records.
For instance, Jaresko collected $1.77 million in bonuses in 2013, according to WNISEF’s latest available filing with the Internal Revenue Service. In her financial disclosure forms with the Ukrainian government, she reported earning $2.66 million in 2013 and $2.05 million in 2014, thus amassing a sizeable personal fortune while investing U.S. taxpayers’ money supposedly to benefit the Ukrainian people.
Meanwhile, WNISEF continued to hemorrhage money, shrinking from its original $150 million to $89.8 million in the 2013 tax year, according to the IRS filing. WNISEF reported that the bonuses to Jaresko and other corporate officers were based on profitable exits from some investments even if the overall fund was losing money. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “How Ukraine’s Finance Minister Got Rich.”]
Hailed as ‘Reformer’
Still, Jaresko and other foreigners who were brought in to fill key positions in the current Ukrainian regime were described as “technocrats” whose only interest was to bring good government to Ukraine, a country long saddled with institutionalized corruption. Jaresko was hailed as a Ukrainian “reformer” who – in the words of New York Times’ columnist Thomas L. Friedman – “shares our values.”
But Jaresko’s business history offers little reason for optimism about Ukraine rooting out official self-interest. Indeed, Jaresko would seem to fit the bill as a classic “crony capitalist,” someone who takes advantage of government connections to line his or her own pockets. Her failure to expeditiously comply with the Ukrainian Constitution and renounce her U.S. citizenship reinforces the view that she is more opportunist than reformer.
According to recent accounts from Ukraine, official corruption remains a deep-seated problem more than a year-and-a-half after the February 2014 overthrow of President Viktor Yanukovych, who was lambasted by the Western media for having a sauna in his official residence, the sauna becoming emblematic of his alleged abuse of power.
Ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.
Prior to his ouster, Yanukovych and his government were targeted by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), which is funded by USAID, the same organization that hired Jaresko to run WNISEF, and Open Society, a foundation headed by George Soros, a hedge-fund billionaire who has profited off the financial destabilization of fragile governments.
OCCRP’s selective outrage over “corruption” raises questions as to whether it is a genuinely journalistic operation or a propaganda front for the U.S. government and Western business interests targeting regimes that don’t play ball. After all, Jaresko’s multi-million-dollar profiting off her relationship with the U.S.-taxpayer-funded WNISEF would seem to be a starker example of corruption than Yanukovych’s sauna.
The new U.S.-backed regime in Kiev also has enacted “reforms” that slash pensions, energy subsidies and other social programs (reducing the living standards of average Ukrainians) while moving to privatize Ukraine’s economy and encouraging large Western corporations to exploit the country’s resources including “fracking” for shale gas in eastern Ukraine.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Ukraine has Europe’s third-largest shale gas reserves at 42 trillion cubic feet, an inviting target especially since other European nations, such as Great Britain, Poland, France and Bulgaria, have resisted fracking technology because of environmental concerns. An economically supine Ukraine is presumably less able to say no. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Beneath the Ukraine Crisis: Shale Gas.”]
This process in Ukraine also appears to have benefited from some greasing of the skids by hiring well-connected Americans besides Jaresko. Just three months after Yanukovych’s ouster, Ukraine’s largest private gas firm, Burisma Holdings, appointed Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, to its board of directors. Burisma – a shadowy Cyprus-based company – also lined up well-connected lobbyists, some with ties to Secretary of State John Kerry, including Kerry’s former Senate chief of staff David Leiter, according to lobbying disclosures.
As Time magazine reported, “Leiter’s involvement in the firm rounds out a power-packed team of politically-connected Americans that also includes a second new board member, Devon Archer, a Democratic bundler and former adviser to John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign. Both Archer and Hunter Biden have worked as business partners with Kerry’s son-in-law, Christopher Heinz, the founding partner of Rosemont Capital, a private-equity company.”
According to investigative journalism inside Ukraine, the ownership of Burisma has been traced to Privat Bank, which is controlled by the thuggish billionaire oligarch Ihor Kolomoysky, who was appointed by the U.S.-backed “reform” regime to be governor of Dnipropetrovsk Oblast, a south-central province of Ukraine (though Kolomoisky was eventually ousted from that post in a power struggle over control of UkrTransNafta, Ukraine’s state-owned oil pipeline operator).
Also, regarding Western energy interests, on Dec. 13, 2013, when neocon Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland was pushing for Yanukovych’s ouster, she reminded Ukrainian business leaders that the United States had invested $5 billion in their “European aspirations” at a conference sponsored by Chevron. She even stood next to the company’s logo.
Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, speaking to Ukrainian and other business leaders at the National Press Club in Washington on Dec. 13, 2013.
Jaresko was only one of several foreigners recruited by President Petro Poroshenko to fill key positions in the Ukrainian government, with these officials also granted instant Ukrainian citizenship. Along with Jaresko’s appointment last December, Poroshenko brought onboard Lithuanian Aivaras Abromavicius, a partner in investment firm East Capital, as Economy Minister and Georgian Aleksander Kvitashvili, who had served as Georgia’s health minister and labor minister, as Health Minister.
Last May, Poroshenko appointed ex-Georgian President Mikheil Saaskashvili to be governor of Ukraine’s restive Odessa region. Saaskashvili, who faces charges in Georgia for alleged abuse of power during his presidency, also received overnight Ukrainian citizenship but — unlike Jaresko — he announced that he had dropped his Georgian citizenship, a move that short-circuited his possible extradition back to Georgia.
Another foreigner whose appointment raised eyebrows was the choice of Estonian Jaanika Merilo to be put in charge of attracting foreign investments. Merilo was a Jaresko associate known more for her personal ties to wealthy business tycoons, such as English businessman and investor Richard Branson, and kinky online photos than her skills as a technocrat.
Janika Merilo, an Estonian brought into the Ukrainian government to oversee foreign investments. (From her Facebook page via Zero Hedge)
The message from the new regime in Kiev may be that Ukraine is open for Western investment, but a less charitable interpretation is that Ukraine is open for unbridled exploitation led by foreign operatives with a history of self-dealing who are overseeing another — and possibly far grander — era of official corruption.
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).
As a University of Chicago Ph.D. candidate, I’ve not only undertaken investigative reporting of my home institution, the famed Obama library site and a college rankings powerhouse, but also used that odd opportunity to sort out consequences from causes and identify our higher ed system’s major problems.
Currently, higher ed’s greatest flaw is its pre-modern, pre-democratic institutional structure: although 99.9% of universities are permanently dependent on taxpayer-funded student loans and research grants, their ultimate authorities are either self-appointing or politically appointed and thus face inadequate checks-and-balances against corruption.
In other words, vital stakeholders like alumni and frontline mission fulfillers of educators and researchers can’t say “enough!” with a simple vote, even when “badmin” seek personal prestige through unduly hasty building campaign or counterproductive cover-ups, or they even go and start blatantly self-enriching through CEO salaries and crony contracts.
This fundamental problem, however, is compounded by a second, even less discussed problem, higher ed’s “scrutiny gap” – that is, the blind spot in press coverage that gives colleges too much free rein with our tax money.
What’s more newsworthy than 8 college administrators receiving $7.6 million through pay raises over 5 years, each getting $450,000 to $3.3 million as a result, and not only that, but in the middle of trustee contracts and even as the school heads toward a credit downgrade? And at the main Obama Library contender of the time, and eventual winner?
That was my striking and substantiated factoid, but publication was difficult even in this best case scenario of a “juicy story”, a situation that in its particulars opens up circumstances plaguing higher ed coverage as a whole.
First off, our country has not completely confronted how universities are legalized old boys clubs tapped into public coffers and set on silently bleeding us dry.
Unaware that pretty much all universities couldn’t function without massive infusions of taxpayer cash, many people I’ve met still give kneejerk reactions like “They’re private!” or “That’s their problem!” when faced with obscene administrative salaries or misbehavior at UChicago or elsewhere.
Accordingly, neither CEO salaries nor crony contracts are seen as symptoms of a single common problem, though similar actions at somewhere like the Environmental Protection Agency would hoist up red flags and maybe even lead to congressional investigations.
More than this, though, any given university out there experiences practically no consistent press scrutiny.
Thorough coverage of all our country’s colleges is beyond the capacity of trade publications like the Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed.
Among geographically limited journalists who could conceivably provide local monitoring, institution-specific stories are infrequent and tend to focus on already-developing scandals of “public” institutions, likely due to the pernicious belief that so-called “private” institutions somehow don’t involve our tax money.
Furthermore, laudable exceptions like the Mercury News’ coverage of San Diego State crony contracts and the attention of Crain’s Chicago Business to University of Chicago finances show that reporters must have patience for and comfort-level with bureaucratic process and number-crunching.
That said, the numbers of such skilled journalists are rapidly thinning. Thus, the “in-house PR firms” of schools’ communications offices can run scrimmage even more effectively, a problem increased by the exemption of so-called “private” schools from sunlight laws like FOIA despite their receipt of tax money hand-over-fist.
Tellingly, I once met a reporter for a well-regarded alternative newspaper at an activist event, and started speaking about the third trustee contract I’d discovered at University of Chicago, to an Obama bundler for parking garage construction, perhaps with cost overruns.
“Oh,” she was like, glancing to somewhere else in the room. “Sounds complicated.”
Nevertheless, media skepticism exists towards freelance investigative reporters.
In my own case, freelancing a straight news piece did not meet with success despite multiple drafts and multiple submissions to higher ed and city news sites, even though some reporting has since resurfaced in places like Crain’s Chicago Business.
Fortunately, a tangential freelancing acquaintance mentored me and recommended that I fold original reporting into “big picture” think pieces in order to maximize chances at publication.
Doubly fortunately, known forums like Jacobin and CounterPunch took an interest and ultimately published that work.
All the same, despite its dearth and social necessity, such serious freelance reporting is very rare, given the required levels of charity and luck.
Beyond these forums, student newspapers seem even less prone to provide the needed scrutiny, sadly.
In addition to the entrance barriers that all reporters face, undergraduates can lack the life experience sometimes necessary to identify and properly frame issues, and their population turnover can militate against the collective memory needed to tease out scandals and sustain long-term series.
True, student newspapers associated with journalism programs and faculty journalist advisers seem to produce better coverage.
For example, the student newspaper of Chicago’s open-enrollment Columbia College admirably identifies and memorably conveys challenging process-and-budget stories. Last spring’s coverage was especially notable; it highlighted a sham of a community input process and the strange decision to simultaneously increase class size and add in high-level, high-earning administrators.
In comparison, the University of Chicago student newpaper’s coverage of a nationwide publicity-getting restrictive elevator policy failed to challenge the school’s president and clearly ask “Who started it?”, while a recent editorial on Aramark’s food, service and health and safety violations fails to mention how the Chairman of the Board of Trustees was a former CEO.
Still other stories read like puff piece press releases from the in-house PR firm of the school’s News Office.
“An organ of the state,” a Slavic Studies professor friend once cracked.
Anecdotally, too, the reporters know that they can’t ask certain questions about pay when granted interview with administrators, because otherwise they’d sacrifice the material that fills their pages.
Such uncertain reporters are also prone to manipulation by News Office personnel, word-on-the-street goes; brush-offs work, as do sly suggestions of “better angles” that derail investigations ultimately benefitting the institution but not its exploitative administrators. I myself have encountered such challenges in pressing simple inquiries on who began the restrictive elevator policy, only to meet with official communications from a then-News Office staffer and current Carnegie Mellon Vice President, who mocked “several false premises you are clinging to, despite our best efforts to help you understand.”
Ironically, then, our country values the students who could get attention with incisive stories but are unsure in confrontation with authority figures, while the less elite students who understand the situation and have the skills to communicate it don’t get much of our attention at all.
Even worse? When some well-known institutions like Butler do produce good papers, badmin are doing their best to gut them and avoid any oversight whatsoever, as Inside Higher Ed has importantly reported.
In sum, then, between public unawareness and sporadic, decreasing media attention at best, higher ed oligarchies can run rampant if they wish, to the degree that they can escape bad publicity and any ensuing public outcry.
Within current laws, however, hope rests in increased public awareness about the use of taxpayer investment, the ambitiousness of competent reporters, and the unionization efforts of precarious faculty, among whom increased security will foster exposure of abuses as well as better instruction.
More importantly, though, our country needs to tie receipt of public monies to better legal oversight that directly takes on badmin through reforms like mandatory sunlight laws, conversion to civil service pay scales, and most of all a ban on trustee contracts alongside opening up their positions to election.
Under such reforms, journalists would have increased tools like a more broadly applicable FOIA, but less material due to less corruption.
Could we be so lucky that higher ed muckrakers will have so much less work to do?
Yes, when we face the crisis around us and reform higher ed, deeply.
Waste of our resources may be festering now, but everyone out there knows that the current path of American higher ed is unsustainable, and that a day of reckoning is coming.
Requests for user data from governmental organizations, as well as content restrictions increased “globally” in the first half of 2015, Facebook says in its report. Half the requests came from the US – only one was made by Russia.
Over 41,000 government requests for account data were received by Facebook during the six months, it revealed in its “Global Government Requests Report” covering January to June 2015, saying the number had increased by 18 percent compared to the second half of last year.
US law enforcement agencies have been the most demanding, with US agencies requesting data from 26,579 accounts. A significant amount of requests also came from the UK, Germany and France. User data requests from Russia totaled one, Facebook said.
“The amount of content restricted for violating local law increased by 112 percent over the second half of 2014,” Facebook said. More than 20,500 pieces of content were restricted by the social media giant following authorities’ demands.
Access to 28 content pieces in Russia have been restricted, following reports by The Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology, and Mass Media “for violating the integrity of the Russian Federation and local law, which forbids activities such as mass public riots and the promotion and sale of drugs,” Facebook said.
At the same time, over 15,000 content pieces – the overwhelming majority – have been taken down following requests from India. Almost 4,500 pieces of content have been restricted following Turkey’s requests.
“Each and every request we receive is checked for legal sufficiency and we reject or require greater specificity on requests that are overly broad or vague,” Facebook said, adding they “respond to valid requests relating to criminal cases.”
The company with a user base of some 1.55 billion people worldwide started revealing such requests “as part of a broader effort to reform government surveillance in countries around the world.”
Government access to subscriber personal data, their account content and IP addresses have been a growing concern for many users since Edward Snowden’s revelations of surveillance programs using modern telecommunications technology.
Although Facebook reveals the general number of requests it gets as part of its “more transparency effort,” specific spy agencies’ and governmental services’ interests in certain user data are not allowed to be made public.
When the police stop you, they have the authority. We are taught to obey their commands. When officers say to show your driver’s license and registration, you hand them over. They say to put your hands where they can see them, you hold the steering wheel. And we’re taught that we can rely on police officers to help us when we need assistance – they’re the ones you’re supposed to call when you need help. But sometimes, officers seriously abuse that trust and authority. One awful abuse of police power is sexual assault by police officers.
The AP just released a report about sexual assault by police officers after studying records from 41 states, spanning from 2009 through 2014. The AP looked at nearly 9,000 cases in which officers lost their law enforcement certification and found that about 1,000 of those officers were decertified for committing: sexual assault, sex crimes like possessing child pornography, or misconduct that ranged from propositioning citizens to on-duty sexual intercourse. Although the AP study is informative, it acknowledges that it vastly undercounts the actual number of police officers committing sexual misconduct while on duty. This is because many states simply fail to keep sufficient track of dirty officers, while others lack a decertification process.
Our law firm, Loevy & Loevy, has represented many brave people who had the courage to speak out about sexual assault by police officers. These cases give you a sense of the breadth of the problem, so I’ll tell you about a few of them:
* A woman accepted a ride home from two Chicago police officers, who were both in uniform and driving a marked police car. The woman reluctantly allowed the officers to escort her into her apartment. One officer raped her, while the other took photos on his cell phone.
* A young woman from Milwaukee called 911 to report someone throwing a brick through her window, and one of the responding officers raped her. When she ran screaming from the house that she had been raped, she was falsely charged with assaulting an officer. Although the local district attorney declined to prosecute the cop, after a federal investigation, the officer was tried and convicted.
* A young woman in Nebraska was pressured into performing oral sex on the officer after he found marijuana in her boyfriend’s car. The officer threatened her with arrest and criminal charges if she did not obey his commands. When questioned about the incident, the officer lied and claimed he was elsewhere, but the GPS system in his cruiser revealed the lie.
* A teenage boy was brutally sodomized by a police officer during what was supposed to be a search for drugs. Medical records supported the boy’s claim, and a jury found in his favor.
Sexual misconduct by police is prevalent, as demonstrated in the AP report. But, as is often the case with sexual assault, these horrible offenses are frequently swept under the rug. There is no consistent system for tracking sexual assault by police officers, so rapist-cops can sometimes just job hop to continue their violent abuse of power.
In at least a half dozen states – including California, New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts – police officers are not decertified when they commit sexual misconduct. In other words, they might be fired for coercing sexual favors from a suspect, but they remain certified police officers who can simply look for a job on another police force.
And they are often fired using euphemisms like “conduct unbecoming an officer,” so their sexual misconduct is never tallied or counted. In about twenty states, officers are only decertified after a criminal conviction, which is extremely rare. So, most of the time, the cop is permitted to just quietly resign due to sexual misconduct, and he remains certified to seek a law enforcement job elsewhere.
Sexual assault by police officers is a serious issue crying out for solutions. Starting with the most obvious, police officers should have license requirements and be banned from licensure for certain type of prior misconduct, like other professionals in positions of public trust such as doctors and teachers. Until then, all police departments should be required to participate in a national decertification registry to track officers who are decertified and the reason for the decertification.
It is time for police departments to abandon complicit codes of silence about police misconduct. The fact that many refuse to do so regarding such an obvious abuse of police power speaks volumes about the need to reform police departments at all levels.
Debra Loevy graduated cum laude from University of Michigan Law School in 1995. She has extensive experience addressing poverty law issues and criminal defense appeals. She is admitted to practice in the U.S. Supreme Court, the Illinois Supreme Court, and multiple courts of appeal and district courts.
Good news for Palestinians: According to several August news reports, a 3G mobile network might be finally coming their way. After years of struggling with 2G speeds, the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority are reported to have come to an agreement that would result in Israel releasing the frequencies required for 3G and possibly 4G services.
As documented by a new report on the country’s telecommunications industry by the Palestinian think tank, Al Shabaka, that speed upgrade has been a long time coming. The Oslo Accords, the agreement struck between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1995, settled that Palestinians should have their own telephone, radio and TV networks, but handed over the details of that to a joint technical committee. As detailed in the Accords, Israel would control all allocation of frequencies and determine where Palestinians could build new infrastructure. Israel consistently foot-dragged since then, delaying Palestinian telcos the ability to upgrade their networks, or share the radio spectrum with Israeli services and companies.
The result is an infamously slow phone network, roundly blamed on the political conflict between the two countries. Palestinians say that they’re the only country without access to 3G, and when President Obama visited the state in 2013, he was greeted by activists’ placards telling him to leave his smartphone at home. But Palestine’s data lines are not only slower and more poorly supported than those of its neighbors; they’re also the worst-case scenario for digital privacy in a centralized and state-managed telecommunications infrastructure.
Access to the Internet shouldn’t be a bargaining chip in geopolitical battles—and neither should privacy. As the Palestinian government and telcos negotiate for their new 3G network, they need to actively address the security of their users’ communications.
We know that telcos can end up compromising their users’ privacy by making secret deals with the government. In the United States, AT&T and others agreed for years to unlawfully hand over data to the government after pressure was applied. Other countries seek and obtain undisclosed access to telecommunications cables. In Palestine, the telecommunication companies are just as dependent on the government for the existence and economic success of their network. But in this case, the government in question is Israel, a state with a different electorate, radically different political motives, and with both the motive and capability to peer into the contents of the users of those companies’ communication lines.
Palestinian vs. Israeli Telcos in the Territories
Palestine and Israel’s ICT infrastructure are deeply intertwined. All international traffic must be routed through Israeli providers, with Palestinian companies paying connection and termination fees to them. Most infrastructure is only permitted within the small area of the West Bank that is theoretically (but not practically) under full Palestinian Authority control and, under the terms of the Oslo Accords, is additionally restricted from Israeli-defined buffer zones and along the separation wall.
Palestinian Internet traffic thus relies on a fragmented, dependent infrastructure. Palestinian phone calls and data traffic go through Israeli companies, onto Israeli soil, and with Israeli security and law enforcement access. Israel probably has a better insight into the movements of Palestinians than their own government does. Asserting the privacy of their communications would be extremely difficult for Palestinians, who have minimal access or redress under Israel’s judicial and administrative system.
The problem becomes more acute in the mobile market. According to 2013 data from the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), nearly 74% of Palestinians living in the West Bank or Gaza have a mobile cellular subscription, a rate on par with Palestine’s neighbors. Like the rest of Palestine’s infrastructure, mobile telephony is controlled by Israel—including spectrum allocation.
In 1999, Israel licensed access to 4.8 MHz in the 900 MHz band to Jawwal, a subsidiary of Palestine Telecom (PalTel), the national telecom provider in the West Bank. According to Al Shabaka’s report, Jawwal still retains the same access, but for more than 2.5 million subscribers compared to only 120,000 in 1999. Palestine’s secondary provider, Wataniya—which only operates in the West Bank—was also granted non-exclusive 2G frequencies in 2007.
Meanwhile, Israeli mobile operators have had access to 3G frequencies for several years now. In January 2015, the government of Israel awarded six companies 4G mobile broadband frequencies in the 1800 MHz band, at the same time as it was continuing to argue over sharing 3G bands with the Palestinian authorities. Israeli companies, with faster connectivity, operate cell towers in settlements throughout the West Bank. And these operators sell SIM cards in the West Bank without paying licensing fees or taxes to the local authorities, as required by the Oslo Accords.
This domination of spectrum and the market for Palestinians allows Israel a greater level of control over Gaza’s telecommunications, as evidenced by the calls and text messages sent by the Israeli military to Gaza’s citizens during its 2014 assault on the territory.
The State of Phone Surveillance in the Territories
Given that Palestine’s telcos are locked down to basic 2G, Israel may also have interception access even to those who use only Palestine’s own telecommunications companies. Earlier generations of tech are more vulnerable to being tapped by parties with no access to the underlying infrastructure. The encryption used to protect over-the-air transmissions by current 2G Palestinian mobiles has long been broken. That means that it’s possible to listen into and decode 2G phone signals with the right receiving equipment and software—technology that is developed and sold by Israeli companies. Civilian researchers believe that 3G and 4G systems are safer from passive surveillance. Mobile phone spying technology (like Stingrays or other IMSI catchers) work by forcing cellphones into their more vulnerable 2G mode, but that requires transmitters that actively communicate with the cellphone, which can be detected or blocked.
Is this why Israel has been so determined to stop Palestinians from upgrading their phones? With the current status quo, Israeli authorities can surveil and eavesdrop (or potentially mass send everyone their own text messages) on traffic coming over Israeli companies’ networks. And if they feel the need to see what’s going on in Palestinian networks, they can passively monitor the 2G systems without detection.
To continue that level of surveillance on an upgraded 3G network run by Palestinian companies, Israel will have to either ensure that it can continue to tap into the network backbone those companies use, or use more detectable active surveillance technology like IMSI catchers. Active surveillance would be detectable: it would also be a violation of the Oslo accords, which declare that both sides “shall refrain from any action that interferes with the communication and broadcasting systems and infrastructures of the other side.”
Back room deals for phone back doors?
Palestinian authorities have many reasons for re-establishing control of their telecommunication network back from the Israelis. For one, it was promised to them in the Oslo Accords. For another, the lack of a decent infrastructure remains a profound limitation the opportunity for digital development and innovation in the Territories. It is also losing them a considerable amount of money in tax revenue.
In contravention of the accords, Israeli companies selling digital services in Palestine pay no taxes. According to Al Shabaka’s report, it is estimated that Palestinian operators lose $80 to $100 million in annual revenue as a result of the lack of 3G services. Similarly, a 2008 World Bank report cites the loss in revenue to the Palestinian Authority as a result of unlicensed Israeli operators to be $60 million [PDF]. Wataniya, one of the private Palestinian mobile operators, paid the Palestinian Ministry of Telecommunications and Information Technology $140M for a 3G contract that it still cannot deploy.
But these supposedly independent Palestine-based telecommunication companies are heavily dependent on Israel’s co-operation to operate at all. Their traffic needs to pass through Israeli territory to reach Gaza and the West Bank or beyond. (All of Gaza’s access points are located within Israel, meaning that all mobile and landline traffic from Gaza must pass through Israel [PDF].)
In an already heavily controlled environment, with money on the line, Palestinian telcos may agree to leave those links unencrypted or otherwise accessible. Even the Palestinian government may see limited harm in conceding continuing Israeli data access in return for greater revenue and their own political control of the networks. It’s notable that in the current round of agreements, neither the Palestinian nor Israeli representatives were willing to discuss the compromises they have struck to move the 3G agreement forward. That’s not a result that should reassure anyone.
But for Palestinians, that means that a long-awaited increase in speed won’t give them any more security from monitoring—surveillance by any of the many powers, Israeli, Palestine or others that seek to control their fundamental right to communicate. They will finally enter the future of faster connectivity promised to them by the Oslo accords, but remain vulnerable to surveillance by two governments.
What might improve communications privacy for Palestine? Upgrading to 3G will certainly help: their current national networks are slow and simple to intercept, while faster networks operated by Israeli companies are vulnerable to Israeli surveillance. But 3G doesn’t guarantee privacy.
The current negotiators need to push for commitments that protect civilian privacy: strong and actively enforced legal safeguards for Palestinian authority access to communications, and secured and encrypted connections when infrastructure passes out of Palestinian control.
Palestine needs more direct links to the rest of the world. Both the Palestinian government and Israel have security needs, but neither should sacrifice the economic benefits of a fast and well-connected data network to those concerns.
Palestinians could also work to build networks that work for them, rather than the negotiated settlement of current Israeli and Palestinian authorities. Al Shabaka’s report suggests that local municipalities could work to provide Wi-Fi links in their own areas, and link those with microwave and fiber to the end-points of their choice. That’s the kind of flexible, decentralized and user-driven network that could take issues of fast, universal access and privacy out of the hands of warring politicians and foreign companies, and into the hands of those most affected by Palestine’s current slow and surveillable mobile market: its citizens.
Marksville, LA — More information is coming to light about the two Marksville City Marshals, who ruthlessly shot to death a 6-year-old boy as he was buckled into the back seat of a vehicle.
Officers Derrick Stafford and Norris Greenhouse, Jr. are currently being held, each with a $1 million bail for the murder of Jeremy Mardis and the attempted murder of his father, Chris Few.
Few’s attorney, Mark Jeansonne said Monday, that the body camera video shows the father of this 6-year-old autistic boy who was shot to death in his car, had his hands in the air and did not pose a threat.
After it was revealed that the officers had fabricated a story about Chris Few having an outstanding warrant and being armed, the family is left wondering why in the world he was stopped in the first place.
Couple their lies with the fact that Few’s attorney said he had his hands up during the stop, and a dark and ominous scenario begins to unfold.
Until now, there was still no logical reason for the stop, leaving everyone wondering why these officers went after Few at all. However, all that changed when Few’s fiancée came forward about her relationship to one of the murdering cops, Norris Greenhouse, Jr.
According to the Advocate, Megan Dixon, Few’s fiancée, said this weekend that Few had a previous run-in with Greenhouse. A former high school classmate of Dixon, Greenhouse had started messaging her on Facebook and had come by the house Few and Dixon were sharing at the time.
“I told Chris, and Chris confronted him about it and told him, ‘Next time you come to my house I’m going to hurt you,’ ” Dixon said.
Now that we know Few told Greenhouse to leave his fiancée alone, we can establish an alleged motive for the stop. Could it be that Greenhouse and the three other officers involved in the stop were abusing their authority to harass a man for being protective of his fiancée?
We’ve certainly seen far worse reasons for police officers to pull people over. However, this time, an officer’s alleged abuse of power ended with the death of an innocent child.
>On Monday, Jeremy Mardis was laid to rest in Mississippi. As members of his family watched the tiny casket get lowered into the ground, their hearts were heavy with grief.
This grief, while incredibly real and horrendous, could have also been prevented. Greenhouse and Stafford had an atrocious history that should have ended their careers in law enforcement far before they were able to murder a child. But they were not fired. Instead, their issues were ‘resolved’ and they were allowed to continue their tyranny.
The fault for the death of Jeremy Mardis does not end with Greenhouse and Stafford. Everyone who’s been complicit in allowing these proven violent and rapacious maniacs to keep their badges is culpable of aiding and abetting murderers.
Before becoming Ukraine’s Finance Minister last December, Natalie Jaresko collected $1.77 million in bonuses from a U.S.-taxpayer-financed investment fund where her annual compensation was supposed to be limited to $150,000, according to financial documents filed with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service this year.
The near 12-fold discrepancy between the compensation ceiling and Jaresko’s bonuses, paid in 2013, was justified in the IRS filing from the Jaresko-led Western NIS Enterprise Fund (WNISEF) by drawing a distinction between getting paid directly from the $150 million U.S. government grant that created the fund and the money from the fund’s “investment sales proceeds,” which were treated as fair game for extracting bonuses far beyond the prescribed compensation level.
Using this supposed loophole, Jaresko and some of her associates enriched themselves by claiming money generated from U.S. taxpayers’ dollars while avoiding any personal financial risks. She and other WNISEF officers collected the bonuses from what they deemed “profitable” exits from some investments even if the overall fund was losing money and shrinking, as it apparently was in recent years.
According to WNISEF’s filing for the 2013 tax year, submitted to the IRS on Aug. 11, 2015, the value of the investment fund had shrunk from $150 million at its start to $93.9 million in the fund’s 2012 tax year and to $89.8 million in the 2013 tax year. (WNISEF’s tax years end on Sept. 30.)
So, Jaresko’s arrangement was something like taking someone else’s money to a roulette table, placing it on black, and claiming a share of the winnings if the ball stopped on black. However, if the ball landed on red, then the someone else absorbed the loss, except in this case the winners were Jaresko and her associates and the losers were the American taxpayers.
The purpose cited by the U.S. Congress in starting the non-profit WNISEF with $150 million in the 1990s was to help jumpstart an investment economy in Ukraine and Moldova for the benefit of the people of those countries. The project was administered by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which selected Jaresko, a former U.S. diplomat of Ukrainian heritage, to run the project.
Last December, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko named Jaresko Finance Minister after awarding her instant Ukrainian citizenship. At that point, she quit WNISEF and has since become the face of Ukrainian “reform,” representing the U.S.-backed government at international banking events at Davos, Switzerland, and elsewhere while appealing for billions of dollars in Western financial aid which she oversees.
Thus, Jaresko’s standards for handling public moneys are relevant to judging whether the new regime is just a reshuffling of who gets to plunder Ukraine or a serious effort at reform. The overthrow of the previous Ukrainian government of President Viktor Yanukovych was largely justified in February 2014 because of allegations about corruption. The new regime has presented itself as committed to reform, even though some outside observers contend that corruption is as bad or worse than under the old government.
Self-Interest v. Public Interest
There is also the question of whether Jaresko is more interested in getting rich than in serving the people of Ukraine. As WNISEF’s chief executive officer, Jaresko seemed to grow dissatisfied with her $150,000 salary. For instance, in 2004, she earned more than double the prescribed amount, paid $383,259 along with $67,415 in expenses, according to WNISEF’s IRS filing for that year.
According to audit documents that I obtained from USAID, an “Expense Analysis” for 2004 showed $1,282,782 being paid out as “Exit-based incentive expense-equity incentive plan” and another $478,195 being paid for “Exit-based incentive expense-financial participation rights.” That suggested that Jaresko was already claiming bonuses from WNISEF’s investments (bought with U.S. taxpayers’ money) and sold during 2004.
In 2006, Jaresko’s compensation for her work with WNISEF was removed from public disclosure altogether after she co-founded two related entities – Horizon Capital Associates (HCA) to manage WNISEF’s investments (and collect around $1 million a year in fees) and Emerging Europe Growth Fund (EEGF), a private entity to collaborate with WNISEF on investment deals.
Jaresko formed HCA and EEGF with two other WNISEF officers, Mark Iwashko and Lenna Koszarny. They also started a third firm, Horizon Capital Advisors, which “serves as a sub-advisor to the Investment Manager, HCA,” according to WNISEF’s IRS filing for 2006.
According to the USAID’s expense analyses for 2004-06, the taxpayer-financed WNISEF spent $1,049,987 to establish EEGF as a privately owned investment fund for Jaresko and her colleagues. USAID apparently found nothing suspicious about these tangled business relationships despite the potential conflicts of interest involving Jaresko, the other WNISEF officers and their affiliated companies.
For instance, WNISEF’s 2012 annual report devoted two pages to “related party transactions,” including the management fees to Jaresko’s Horizon Capital ($1,037,603 in 2011 and $1,023,689 in 2012) and WNISEF’s co-investments in projects with the EEGF. Though the IRS forms have a line for earnings from “related organizations,” WNISEF listed nothing, apparently treating compensation from Horizon Capital and EEGF as “unrelated” for the purposes of reporting compensation for Jaresko and other officers.
So, the scale of how much Jaresko was making from her association with WNISEF was unclear until last week when the IRS released WNISEF’s 2013 tax filing of Aug. 11, 2015, in response to a request from Consortiumnews.com. Though the filing still did not disclose all of Jaresko’s WNISEF-related compensation, it did list her $1.77 million share of the $4.5 million in bonuses awarded to her and two other WNISEF officers, Iwashko and Koszarny.
WNISEF filings also said the bonuses were paid regardless of whether the overall fund was making money, noting that this “compensation was not contingent on revenues or net earnings, but rather on a profitable exit of a portfolio company that exceeds the baseline value set by the board of directors and approved by USAID” – with Jaresko also serving as a director on the board responsible for setting those baseline values.
Though compensation for Jaresko and other officers was shifted outside public view after 2006 – as their pay was moved to the affiliated entities – the 2006 IRS filing said: “It should be noted that as long as HCA earns a management fee from WNISEF, HCA and HCAD [the two Horizon Capital entities] must ensure that a salary cap of $150,000 is adhered to for the proportion of salary attributable to WNISEF funds managed relative to aggregate funds under management.”
KPMG auditors, who reviewed WNISEF finances, also took a narrow view of how to define income for Jaresko and other officers, only confirming that no “salary” exceeded $150,000, apparently not looking at bonuses and other forms of compensation. Neither USAID officials nor Jaresko responded to specific questions about WNISEF’s possible conflicts of interest, how much money Jaresko made from her involvement with WNISEF and its connected companies, and whether she had fully complied with IRS reporting requirements.
After Jaresko’s appointment as Finance Minister — and her resignation from WNISEF — I reviewed WNISEF’s available public records and detected a pattern of insider dealings and enrichment benefiting Jaresko and her colleagues. That prompted me in February to file a Freedom of Information Act request for USAID’s audits of the investment fund.
Though the relevant records were identified by June, USAID dragged its feet on releasing the 34 pages to me until Aug. 28 when the agency claimed nothing was being withheld, saying “all 34 pages are releasable in their entirety.” However, when I examined the documents, it became clear that a number of pages were missing from the financial records, including a total of three years of “expense analysis” – in three-, six- and nine-month gaps – since 2007.
Part of KPMG’s “Independent Auditors’ Report” for 2013 and 2014 was also missing. The report stated that “except as discussed in the third paragraph below, we conducted our audits in accordance with auditing standards generally accepted in the United States of America,” accountant-speak that suggests that “the third paragraph below” would reveal some factor that did not comply with generally accepted accounting principles (or GAAP).
But three paragraphs below was only white space and there was no next page in what USAID released. After I pointed out the discrepancies to USAID on Aug. 31, I was told on Sept. 15 that “we are in the process of locating documents to address your concern. We expect a response from the bureau and/or mission by Monday, September 28, 2015.”
After the Sept. 28 deadline passed, I contacted USAID again and was told on Oct. 2 that officials were “still working with the respective mission to obtain the missing documents.” On Oct. 22, USAID sent me one additional page from KPMG’s audit report stating that its review of WNISEF’s books lacked “an external quality control review by an unaffiliated audit organization” – as required by the U.S. government’s auditing standards – because no such program is offered in Ukraine. Other pages are still missing.
An earlier effort by Jaresko’s ex-husband Ihor Figlus to blow the whistle on what he considered improper business practices related to WNISEF was met by disinterest inside USAID, according to Figlus, and then led to Jaresko suing him in a Delaware court in 2012, using a confidentiality clause to silence Figlus and getting a court order to redact references to the abuses he was trying to expose.
Figlus’s complaints related to what he saw as improper loans that Jaresko had taken from Horizon Capital Associates to buy and expand her stake in EEGF, the privately held follow-on fund to WNISEF. After Figlus discussed this issue with a Ukrainian journalist, Jaresko sent her lawyers to court to silence him and, according to his lawyer, bankrupt him.
The filings in Delaware’s Chancery Court are remarkable not only because Jaresko succeeded in getting the Court to gag her ex-husband through enforcement of a non-disclosure agreement but the Court agreed to redact nearly all the business details, even the confidentiality language at the center of the case. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Ukraine’s Finance Minister’s ‘American Values.”]
Earlier this year, I sent detailed questions to USAID and to Jaresko via several of her associates. Those questions included how much of the $150 million in U.S. taxpayers’ money remained in WNISEF, why Jaresko reported no compensation from “related organizations,” whether she received bonus money, how much money she made in total from her association with WNISEF, what AID officials did in response to Figlus’s whistle-blower complaint, and whether Jaresko’s legal campaign to silence her ex-husband was appropriate given her current position and Ukraine’s history of secretive financial dealings.
USAID press officer Annette Y. Aulton got back to me with a response that was unresponsive to my specific questions. Rather than answering about the performance of WNISEF and Jaresko’s compensation, Aulton commented on the relative success of 10 “Enterprise Funds” that USAID has sponsored in Eastern Europe, adding:
“There is a twenty year history of oversight of WNISEF operations. Enterprise funds must undergo an annual independent financial audit, submit annual reports to USAID and the IRS, and USAID staff conduct field visits and semi-annual reviews. At the time Horizon Capital assumed management of WNISEF, USAID received disclosures from Natalie Jaresko regarding the change in management structure and at the time USAID found no impropriety during its review.”
One Jaresko associate, Tanya Bega, Horizon Capital’s investor relations manager, said she forwarded my questions to Jaresko, but Jaresko did not respond.
Despite concerns that Jaresko may have enriched herself at the expense of U.S. taxpayers and then used a Delaware court to prevent disclosure of possible abuses, Jaresko has been hailed by the U.S. mainstream media as a paragon of reform in the U.S.-backed Ukrainian regime.
Last January, New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman cited Jaresko as an exemplar of the new Ukrainian leaders who “share our values” and deserve unqualified American support. Friedman uncritically quoted Jaresko’s speech to international financial leaders at Davos, in which she castigated Russian President Vladimir Putin:
“Putin fears a Ukraine that demands to live and wants to live and insists on living on European values — with a robust civil society and freedom of speech and religion [and] with a system of values the Ukrainian people have chosen and laid down their lives for.”
Exactly which Western “values” Jaresko actually shares remains unclear because of the fog surrounding her actions at WNISEF and her unwillingness to reveal how much she made from her association with a U.S.–taxpayer funded project. However, if those Western “values” include putting citizens’ interests before self-interest and believing that transparency is critical for a democracy, Jaresko may need some remedial training.
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).
Ahmed Chalabi, age 71, has died of a heart attack in Baghdad. As a close observer of his unique role in provoking the Iraq War – a foreign policy and strategic military disaster 12 years ago – I can’t help but look back on that time as an age of innocence. That may sound ironic, but I think it’s true given that many Americans now see that even elections don’t change much.
As painful as it was to watch the U.S. government plunge into the Iraq War based on false WMD warnings – raised in part by Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress – there was still a sense of hope back then that the truth could be told and the culprits could be held accountable. That seems now to have been a naïve dream.
In 2003, Chalabi was on track to become the new leader of Iraq, just as soon as Paul Wolfowitz’s projected “cakewalk” was finished. Towards this end, he was using, and being used by, the neoconservative cabal of Bush/Cheney appointees in the Pentagon, the National Security Council and the State Department.
Yet, despite the fact that the “cakewalk” turned into a blood-soaked grind – and has now spread disorder across the Middle East and into Europe – many of the same men and a few women are still advising and influencing the Obama administration’s security policies toward Eastern Europe, the Mideast, Russia and China.
Now, as then, this group of neocons and their “liberal interventionist” pals lack the good sense that God gave a chicken. They still march off without a recognizable moral compass (even as they assert their moral superiority) and still without the slightest respect for either the Constitution or the soldiers and marines they gleefully send into harms’ way.
At least with Chalabi, in the early 2000s, the U.S. government had a dapper and hopeful spokesperson for what Iraq was supposed to become. Some saw Chalabi as smooth while others viewed him as oily – a conman with his own checkered past – but he was purported to be the kind of modern Iraqi who could make Iraq a better place.
Chalabi’s optimism, his delusions of grandeur, and his faith in the conspiracy of empire led him to the hubris of the neocons, those vainglorious sorcerers wielding the bureaucratic power of the Pentagon and the White House. Together, they were a perfect match. Chalabi’s fantasies for Iraq were the natural product of his fundamental criminality, but his delusions also were vital to the neocons as they spun their spell to entrance the American public.
Still, Chalabi could be understood as a character in a Edith Wharton novel, trapped in his own era, not overly complex, but certainly earnest. The same cannot be said for the American neoconservatives who used him. Even in his guile there was a sense of guilelessness. After the U.S. invasion of Iraq failed to turn up the promised WMD or confirm Saddam Hussein’s alleged links to Al Qaeda, Chalabi defended the falsehoods, calling himself “a hero in error.”
There was a time when I saw Chalabi as a big part of our foreign policy conundrum, but the past decade has shown us where the real evil lies. Today, I see Chalabi more as a victim of his bad assumptions about the neoconservatives, who privately celebrate the cost, chaos, destruction and decimation of whole countries and cultures, in the name of their twisted vision.
In 2003, the canaries in this dark coal mine were warning about the lies told by President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and political appointees throughout Washington to justify an American satrapy in Iraq. While some of us could see a future far grimmer, far more dangerous, and far more destructive than the neocon promises of American soldiers being welcomed by children throwing flowers and candy – many Americans could not. Chalabi was a useful part of why that was.
The warnings from government whistleblowers, knowledgeable observers around the world, and independent-minded journalists and historians were hushed, silenced and buried until Iraq was burning and a quarter of that country’s population had been made refugees by an unwinnable war and a hated occupation.
It took years for the fraud committed by the neoconservatives, their allies in mainstream media, and the Bush administration to sink in, though many Americans still appear confused as to how they should assess what happened. The bottom line is that what occurred was a crime against the American people, the Constitution, international law, the Iraqis and their neighbors. Yet, there has been a stunning lack of accountability for the culprits who perpetrated this crime.
A dozen years after the war began, Chalabi’s promised golden age for Iraq and the Middle East has turned to dross. Today, it is common knowledge that the “word” of the United States is rarely good. Today, the world understands the ambitions of the United States as reptilian rather than republican, driven by a kind of rabid hostility and covetousness that in 2003 most did not easily perceive.
Today, to seek a partnership with the Pentagon or State Department as you try to shape your own small country’s history means you are more gambler than statesman, more fool that patriot.
The actions of the United States in places such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Georgia, Ukraine, Egypt, Libya and Syria – alliances of greed and dependency that Washington has maintained throughout this era – reveal an ugly truth. U.S. foreign policy is not about democracy and self-determination, it is not about hope. Rather, it is about crony capitalism, old-style imperialism, theft and tyranny, all wrapped up in a maelstrom of bureaucratic infighting and budget padding.
No one is trusted in the conduct of America’s never-ending “wars.” Today, when a Russian airliner crashes, the U.S. is as likely to be blamed as a terrorist group, and the terrorist groups themselves are differentiated by their degree of U.S. support and their use of U.S. weaponry – with some Sunni jihadists in Syria now firing U.S.-supplied TOW missiles and being hailed by U.S. politicians as “our guys.”
We’ve come a long way since 9/11 when President Bush said aiding or harboring a terrorist made one as guilty as the terrorist.
Since 2003, many Americans have discovered that their political leadership is addicted to arrogant mayhem. What worked to create public support for foreign wars in 2003 is now laughed at, or ignored, by a cynical citizenry. We have learned to distrust our government, on issues both foreign and domestic.
Chalabi, though his passing has been little noticed and less mourned, reminds us of how U.S. foreign policy with its military adventurism was formed and still is formed. The world that made him a celebrity now faces the cold reality of the widening chaos that is the result of the past dozen years.
We may not see another charlatan like Chalabi soon. One surely can hope that Americans would quickly spot a new Chalabi today and discount the optimistic messaging that he or she is selling. In a troubling way, that is a good thing. These days, the U.S. President no longer even attempts to sell new wars, invasions, occupations and assassinations to the war-exhausted public. He just conducts them in the shadows.
Chalabi’s passing reminds us that we live in a post-heroic world, where the U.S. war machine rumbles along on borrowed money – without a coherent strategy, vision, success or accountability and also without a soul and without heroes. That sad fact is certainly worth a moment of quiet reflection.
Karen Kwiatkowski is a retired USAF Lt Col, who publicized what she saw in the Pentagon at her final assignment in the Office of the Secretary of Defense in the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. She farms with her family in western Virginia, and writes occasionally for LewRockwell.com, and other outlets.
Israel has provided the United States with a list of weapons that it would like to have available as part of the US aid package, Israel’s Yedioth Ahronoth revealed yesterday.
According to the newspaper the list included a modern aircraft carrier and a squadron of F-15 aircrafts as well as material assistance to support Israel’s anti-ballistic missile system, Arrow 3.
According to the newspaper Israeli officials have asked for these weapons during closed-door meetings with US officials attended by Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon and US Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter in Washington.
The list of arms exceeded the maximum assistance provided by the United States each year, amounting to nearly $3 billion, therefore it has been referred to US President Barack Obama before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to the White House scheduled for next week, the paper reported.
As in other parts of North America, beekeepers in New York have been experiencing unsustainable losses of honeybee colonies. In 2014-15, annual colony losses in New York reached 54 per cent, according to the Bee Informed Partnership survey. And though losses were lower in preceding years, they consistently exceeded the economic threshold of 15 percent loss. At great expense, beekeepers have been able to recoup their winter and summer losses, but for declining native bee species the prospects are even less rosy. For example, the rusty-patched bumblebee (Bombus affinis) for example, once common in New York and the Northeastern US, is now a candidate for the endangered species act.
An impressive worldwide body of scientific evidence implicates neonicotinoids as a major contributor to the decline of honeybee and wild bee populations (e.g. Lu et al., 2014). This is due to a combination of their acute toxicity, sub-lethal, intergenerational, neurotoxic, and immune system effects, their systemic behavior in plants and their persistence in soil and water (See the IUCN’s Worldwide Integrated Assessment of the Impacts of Systemic Pesticides on Biodiversity and Ecosystems, 2015 (1)). This relatively new family of insecticides is now believed to be the most commonly used global pesticide.
Unlike Europe and Ontario, Canada, the US has not acted to restrict the use of neonicotinoids. However, the federal government has specifically urged states to create pollinator protection plans. Some states are working on them and a few have completed them (2).
But at the first meeting of the New York State’s Pollinator Task Force (Aug 6 2015), commercial beekeeper Jim Doan was flabbergasted to learn that state officials had appointed two representatives of the national pesticide industry to the 12-member panel. “It’s very difficult for a beekeeper to think he can get a fair shake,” he commented.
Consequently, I decided to see for myself. I attended the September 11 and October 1 Task Force meetings and listened to the recording of the August 6 meeting.
The New York State Pollinator Task Force
The NY state Task Force was set in motion by Governor Andrew Cuomo.
“Pollinators are crucial to the health of New York’s environment, as well as the strength of our agricultural economy,” Cuomo said in his announcement. “By developing a statewide action plan, we are expanding our efforts to protect these species and our unparalleled natural resources, and making an important step forward in our commitment to New York’s ecological and economic future.”
Thus, on April 23, 2015 Cuomo directed the state departments of agriculture and markets (NYSDAM) and environmental conservation (NYSDEC) to develop a state pollinator protection plan, involving stakeholders and research institutions in the process.
By July stakeholders were receiving invitations to serve on the state Pollinator Task Force, which was constituted with 12 “advisors” from the private and NGO sectors. Officials from NYSDAM and DEC serve as co-chairs. In addition, Cornell IPM program director Jennifer Grant sat with Task Force members and played an advisory role, though not as a Task Force member.
Task Force membership
In terms of its personnel, three groups represent pesticide interests on the Task Force: CropLife America and Responsible Industry Supporting the Environment (RISE) are the pesticide industry’s agricultural and non-agricultural trade groups respectively. Both are headquartered at the same Washington DC office. The NYS Agribusiness Association is the third agrochemical group. Dan Digiacomandrea, a technical sales specialist at Bayer CropScience, one of two makers of neonicotinoids, attended one Task Force meeting as that group’s alternate.
Agriculture also got three seats, with appointees from the state farm bureau, state vegetable growers association and the fruit sector. The state vegetable growers consistently sent an alternate, Rick Zimmerman. His resume includes many years as a Farm Bureau lobbyist followed by a career as NYSDAM deputy commissioner. Today he heads up the Northeast Agribusiness and Feed Alliance. The state turf and landscape association has a seat, too.
Three NGOs were appointed to the Task Force: The Nature Conservancy, Audubon New York and the Natural Resources Defense Council. Member Erin Crotty, who is executive director at Audubon NY, previously served as DEC commissioner under Republican Governor Pataki. NRDC, which has sued EPA on neonicotinoids, was represented by one of two alternating attorneys at each meeting. Like the aforementioned industry representatives, no one from these organizations appeared to have any specific expertise on pollinators. The first two NGOs proposed ways to increase pollinator habitat but did not indicate concerns about pesticides.
Finally, beekeepers were apportioned two seats. With 12 hives, hobby beekeeper Stephen Wilson has chaired the Apiary Industry Advisory Committee for over 15 years. The other representative is Empire State Honey Producers Association president Mark Berninghausen, a small commercial migratory beekeeper from St. Lawrence County. This group has about 100 members out of the 3,000 or 4,000 beekeepers in the state.
The state has also been accepting public comments (though this was apparently not publicized and no deadline has been announced). These comments must be submitted to the governor’s office, not to the Task Force directly (initially NYSDAM was accepting them). As of this writing, these comments have not been shared with task force members.
Given the make-up of New York’s Pollinator Task Force — one-quarter pesticide industry plus one-third agriculture and turf care industries – and the allegiances of the two convening agencies, the complex issue of pesticides was therefore always likely to be handled with kid gloves.
The timeline and the content
At the kickoff meeting task force advisors had a chance to lay out their positions on what the state should do to protect bees. The second meeting focused on research needs and the third dealt with habitat enhancement and best management practices (BMPs).
Presentations took up much of the second and third meetings. For example, a series of managers from six state agencies described their land management practices and initiatives to provide habitat in respect to bees.
A highpoint was the talk by Cornell’s new honeybee extension entomologist Emma Mullen. A Canadian who just moved to the US, she had been part of the team of scientists that worked on Ontario’s Pollinator Health Protection Plan. Particularly illuminating was her explanation of the province’s new program to decrease the corn and soybean acreage planted with neonicotinoid-treated seeds by 80% by 2017. She also outlined current Cornell research on bees.
NYSDAM commissioner Richard Ball, a vegetable grower, chaired the meetings and NYSDEC deputy commissioner Eugene Leff played a supporting role. Leff, whose portfolio includes pesticide regulation, previously presided over another stakeholder task force charged with dealing with an equally polarizing issue: preventing pesticide pollution of Long Island’s groundwater. As with the pollinator task force, pesticide and agricultural interests were well represented on Long Island. (The 126-page strategy document that came out of that task force’s work indicates that these interest groups succeeded in delaying any restrictions on suspect pesticides.)
To frame the initial Pollinator Task Force discussion, Commissioner Ball reiterated what has come to seem like the official US dogma on bee decline — there is no single cause and we must consider multiple areas of concern. While the list of pollinator threats varies, USDA, EPA and institutions like Cornell cite factors such as habitat loss, pests and pathogens, pesticides, genetics and/or climate change when they state that view.
Indeed, the most notable feature of the meetings was the overall reluctance to delve into the problem of pesticides except in so far as they induce immediate bee kills. Only two members of the 12-member task force (beekeeper Stephen Wilson and a Natural Resources Defense Council attorney) urged any limitations on the use of neonicotinoids.
Meetings without minutes or structure
A number of additional aspects of these meetings support the idea that the Task Force exists primarily for appearance’s sake. First, no one appeared to be taking official notes and no minutes were made available, despite advisor Stephen Wilson’s request for minutes at the second meeting. (Recordings are posted on NYSDAM’s website.) Second, no one wrote down ideas on a whiteboard or easel to capture them as they came up. Third, Task Force discussions were freewheeling, unstructured and all over the map.
The state’s short timeline also challenges the notion of a deliberative process informed by science. The whole process, from the first of three Task Force meetings to the submission of priority recommendations to the governor, is scheduled to take only three months (3).
Yet the meeting agendas presume that in an hour or two of meetings these advisors will contribute content to the pollinator plan, generate a meaningful research agenda, and cobble together BMPs to protect bees. For all this to happen fails to pass the laugh test.
Thus, in the final portion of the third meeting, Task Force advisors were asked to consider a series of BMPs listed on a handout prepared in advance (presumably by NYSDAM or DEC) but not distributed until the actual meeting. Task Force members had not gotten through the first item on the list when time ran out (4).
Perhaps there was no real need to carefully craft a plan because the conclusions appeared to have been pre-ordained. In his closing comments at the third meeting, DEC deputy commissioner Leff referred back to the governor’s blueprint for the state pollinator plan. In particular, Leff highlighted the BMPs designed to reduce pesticide exposure to managed pollinators through better communication among beekeepers and farmers. Leff stressed the need for landowners and pesticide applicators to know where hives are located and how to contact beekeepers before they spray. Beekeepers would have to be ready to move their hive, he said (5).
If his recommendations go into effect the onus of protecting bees from pesticides would fall on beekeepers. This is at odds with the historical assignment of such responsibility to pesticide applicators. In fact, pesticide labels carry legal weight in prohibiting pesticides considered acutely toxic to bees from being applied when flowers are in bloom or bees are present.
Leff’s proposal to shift responsibility is radical, but it is not new; the essential elements of Leff’s proposal are contained in the Guidance for State Pollinator Protection Plans, a June 2015 document produced by the State FIFRA Issues Research and Evaluation Group (6). (SFIREG is a committee of the Association of American Pesticide Control Officials. SFIREG used to have the document on its website, but has since removed it.) Among the six “critical elements” it identified for pollinator plans are methods for growers to know if managed pollinators are located near where pesticides are used and for contacting beekeepers prior to applying pesticides.
Thus it seems that pesticides are sometimes acknowledged to be causing at least part of the decline in pollinators, but the approach proposed by Leff and SFIREG ignores much of what is known–that systemic insecticides like neonicotinoids can harm bees months after application, for example via the planting of treated seeds (Lu et al., 2014), and that insecticides are not the only agrichemicals that harm bees. For example, a new study has found that exposure to low levels of glyphosate impairs honeybee navigation (Balbuena et al., 2015). And of course, warning beekeepers of impending pesticide applications does nothing to protect native pollinators, though ostensibly these plans are intended to protect them, too.
As the meeting was ending, I was able to pose a practical question. How easy is it for beekeepers to move their hives when they get a call that pesticides will be applied? Roberta Glatz, an older woman who serves on the state Apiary Industry Advisory Committee, replied from the audience.
She said that beekeepers aren’t necessarily where their bees are. “They may be in North Carolina raising queens.” She outlined other concerns as well. There are limited places where you can put your bees, and it takes a lot of negotiation to put in a bee yard. Logistics also come into play. Mud can impede access. Hives are heavy and usually have to be moved in the middle of the night when the bees are home. (And beekeepers often have day jobs, another beekeeper told me once the meeting ended.)
So while even the beekeepers of New York are having a hard time getting a fair shake in a protection plan for their own bees, in terms of pesticides it seems that Bombus affinis and other native bees should expect even less of one.
(1) Worldwide Integrated Assessment of the Impacts of Systemic Pesticides on Biodiversity and Ecosystems 2015 (IUCN’s Task Force on Systemic Pesticides)
(2) The Pollinator Stewardship Council is the best clearinghouse of state government pollinator protection activities around the country. Another resource is a May 2015 white paper from the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture. It claims to provide links to the MP3s (“managed pollinator protection plans”) of North Dakota, California, Mississippi, Florida and Colorado, but of these states only North Dakota seems to have developed an actual plan.
(3) The timeline called for the state to circulate the NYS Pollinator Protection Action Plan Recommendations to task force members on October 19. In turn, they would have 7 days to comment. As of October 28, a beekeeper on the Task Force reported that he hadn’t received anything from the state yet.
(4) Discussion of specific BMPs was overshadowed by the contentious issue of whether beekeepers should be required to register all honeybee hives with the state and disclose their locations. BMPs listed on the handout pertained to such things as beekeepers’ care for their colonies and control of mites and other parasites/diseases, landowners and state agencies enhancing pollinator habitat and forage, the correct and judicious use of pesticides and of Integrated Pest Management, and the roles of beekeepers, landowners and pesticide applicators in protecting honeybees from pesticides.
(5) Some beekeepers fear that New York’s plan will follow North Dakota’s template, thus transferring the burden of protecting honeybee colonies from pesticides onto the beekeepers.
(6) FIFRA, which stands for the Federal Insecticide Fungicide Rodenticide Act, provides the nation’s regulatory framework for pesticides.
Balbuena, M. S., Tison, L., Hahn, M. L., Greggers, U., Menzel, R., & Farina, W. M. (2015). Effects of sub-lethal doses of glyphosate on honeybee navigation. The Journal of Experimental Biology, 10 July 2015. doi: 10.1242/ dev.117291
Lu C, Warchol KM, Callahan RA (2014) Sub-lethal exposure to neonicotinoids impaired honey bees winterization before proceeding to colony collapse disorder. Bull Insectol 67:125–130.