WASHINGTON — The United States’ weapons and logistical support for Saudi Arabia’s military campaign in Yemen signals that Washington is backing Riyadh’s goal to crush Houthi rebels despite UN calls for a political solution, experts told Sputnik on Friday.
The United States is providing intelligence and refueling support to enable a four-month-old Saudi-led air campaign against Houthi rebels and allied forces.
On Thursday, Washington decided to provide Riyadh with $500 million in ammunition to replenish stocks used up in the campaign.
“The Saudis want an extended war that leads to a Houthi defeat, and the United States is effectively backing that strategy with the arms deal,” Charles Schmitz, a specialist on Yemen at the Middle East Institute told Sputnik.
“The Saudis don’t want a political settlement; they want a Houthi surrender,” he added.
This week’s $500 million weapons deal, which includes ammunition, tracers, artillery shells and mines, is meant to resupply the Saudi military in its campaign against Houthi rebels, according to the State Department.
The sale was approved as Saudi Arabia has come under criticism for human rights abuses and violations of the international law of war by targeting and killing civilians in Yemen.
The conflict has claimed the lives of at least 1,900 civilians and has injured more than 4,000, according to the UN, while leaving 80 percent of the country in need of humanitarian assistance.
“The new sale by the United States of $500 million of munitions to Saudi Arabia is yet another example of how America is actually an active combatant in the Saudi war on the people of Yemen,” Haykal Bafana, Managing Director of Bafana Advisory, told Sputnik from Sana.
“Whether the US munitions are distributed by Riyadh for use by its Yemeni proxy forces or by the Kingdom [of Saudi Arabia] itself, the effect is similar: the United States is contributing actively to the deaths of more Yemenis,” Bafana added.
The multi-front war in Yemen pits Houthi rebels and loyalists of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh against ousted President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi’s Sunni forces, tribes and south Yemen secessionists based in Aden.
Al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula and the ISIL have also taken advantage of the situation to strengthen their hold in Yemen.
Saudi trained Yemeni proxies loyal to former president Hadi have recently pushed Houthi forces from Aden as several humanitarian ceasefires and political talks have broken-down.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has delayed a pledge to provide $274 million in humanitarian aid to Yemen as the UN and Riyadh discuss the terms of the assistance, the UN’s humanitarian chief said this week.
The road to war is paved with a thousand lies. A fresh fib was tossed on the lie-cluttered warpath to Syria, when it was announced that the U.S. and Turkey would create a “safe zone” inside of Syria — supposedly to be aimed against ISIS.
This “safe zone” is a major escalation of war, but it was described in soft tones by the media. In reality a “safe zone” is a “no-fly zone,” meaning that a nation is planning to implement military air superiority inside the boundaries of another nation. It’s long recognized by the international community and U.S. military personnel as a major act of war. In a war zone an area is made “safe” by destroying anything in it or around that appears threatening.
Turkey has been demanding this no-fly zone from Obama since the Syrian war started. It’s been discussed throughout the conflict and even in recent months, though the intended target was always the Syrian government.
And suddenly the no-fly zone is happening — right where Turkey always wanted it — but it’s being labeled an “anti-ISIS” safe zone, instead of its proper name: “Anti Kurdish and anti-Syrian government” safe zone.
The U.S. media swallowed the name change without blinking, but many international media outlets knew better.
For instance, the International Business Times reported “ [the safe zone deal]… could mark the end of [Syrian President] Assad…”
And the Middle East Eye reported:
“…[the safe zone] marks a breakthrough for Turkey in its confrontation with the Bashar al-Assad government in Syria. If the no-fly zone does come into being it will be a body blow for Assad and his supporters”
Even U.S. media outlets acknowledged that the primary goal of Obama’s safe zone ally, Turkey, was defeating the Kurdish fighters and the Syrian government, both of whom have been the most effective fighters against ISIS.
Syrian regime change is also the goal of the ground troops who will be filling the void left by ISIS, who the New York Times labeled “relatively moderate Syrian insurgents,” a telling euphemism.
The New York Times confirmed the goals of the safe zone allies:
“…both the Turks and the Syrian insurgents see defeating President Bashar al-Assad of Syria as their first priority…”
If the Syrian government wasn’t the target of the safe zone, then Syrian government troops would be the ones to control the safe zone post ISIS, as they did before ISIS. And if regime change wasn’t the target, then the Syrian government would have been consulted and coordinated with to attack ISIS, since Syria is involved with heavy fighting against ISIS in the same region that the safe zone is being carved out.
These steps weren’t taken because the “safe zone” plan is much bigger than ISIS.
Obama hasn’t detailed who the “relatively moderate” fighters are that will control the safe zone, but it’s easy to guess. We only have to look at the Syrian rebels on the ground who are effective fighters and control nearby territory.
The most powerful non-ISIS group in the region recently re-branded itself as the “Conquest Army,” a coalition of Islamic extremists led by Jabhat al-Nusra — the official al-Qaeda affiliate — and the group Ahrar al-Sham, whose leader previously stated that his group was “the real al Qaeda.” The Conquest Army actively coordinates with Turkey and Saudi Arabia, and is also populated with U.S.-trained fighters.
These groups share the ideology and tactics of ISIS, the only difference being their willingness to work with the United States and Turkey. It’s entirely likely that once the “safe zone” operation starts, many ISIS troops will simply change shirts and join Jabhat al-Nusra, since there is no principled difference.
Obama knows that the foreign ground troops controlling the “safe zone” are targeting the Syrian government; consequently, U.S. military planes will be acting as the de-facto air force for Al-Qaeda against the Syrian government.
Thus, direct military confrontation with the Syrian government is inevitable. President Assad is already attacking ISIS in the area that the U.S.-Turkey alliance wants to make “safe” via its coordinated military operation. Syrian fighter jets will eventually be targeted, since the goal is to allow extremist groups a “safe zone” to continue their attacks on the Syrian government after ISIS is dealt with.
This danger was also acknowledged by the New York Times:
“Whatever the goal, the plan [safe zone] will put American and allied warplanes closer than ever to areas that Syrian aircraft regularly bomb, raising the question of what they will do if Syrian warplanes attack their partners [“relatively moderate rebels”] on the ground.”
The answer seems obvious: U.S. and Turkish fighter jets will engage with Syrian aircraft, broadening and deepening the war until the intended aim of regime change has been accomplished.
This is exactly how events developed in Libya, when the U.S.-NATO led a “no-fly zone” that was supposedly created to allow a “humanitarian corridor,” but quickly snowballed into its real goal: regime change and assassination of Libya’s president. This epic war crime is still celebrated by Obama and Hillary Clinton as a “victory,” while Libyans drown in the Mediterranean to escape their once-modern but now obliterated country.
If Obama’s goal in Syria was actually defeating ISIS, this could have been achieved at any time, in a matter of weeks. It would simply take a serious and coordinated effort with U.S. regional allies, while coordinating with the non-allies already fighting ISIS: Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah.
If Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Jordan were involved in the fight on ISIS it would be quickly strangled of cash, guns, and troops, and be massively out-powered. War over.
The only reason this hasn’t happened is that the U.S. and its allies have always viewed ISIS as a convenient proxy against Syria, Hezbollah, and Iran, not to mention leverage against the Iran-friendly government of Iraq.
Turkey remains the biggest obstacle to defeating ISIS, since it’s been helping it for years. ISIS has long used the Turkish border to escape Syrian government attacks, seek medical assistance, and get supplies and reinforcements. ISIS is so welcomed inside Turkey that ISIS promotes Turkey on social media as the international transit hub for jihadis wanting to join ISIS. Turkish immigration and customs looks the other way as does the Turkish border control.
In discussing the “safe zone,” the U.S. media always ignore the concept of national sovereignty — the basis for international law. The boundaries of countries are sacred from the standpoint of international law. The only just war is a defensive one. When one country implements a no-fly zone in another country, national boundaries are violated and international law is broken by an act of war.
The Obama administration is aware of the above dynamics, but has again tossed caution to the wind as he did in 2013, during the ramp up to its aborted bombing campaign against the Syrian government.
A U.S.-Turkish no-fly zone will deepen an already regional war: Iran and Hezbollah have recently ramped up direct support of the Syrian government. As Turkish and the U.S. military enter the war space for the first time, confrontation is inevitable. Confrontation is the plan.
Jimmy Carter called a war waged in Vietnam by the United States — a war that killed 60,000 Americans and 4,000,000 Vietnamese, without burning down a single U.S. town or forest — “mutual” damage. Ronald Reagan called it a “noble” and “just cause.” Barack Obama promotes the myth of the widespread mistreatment of returning U.S. veterans, denounces the Vietnamese as “brutal,” and has launched a 13-year, $65 million propaganda program to glorify what the Vietnamese call the American War:
As we observe the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, we reflect with solemn reverence upon the valor of a generation that served with honor. We pay tribute to the more than 3 million servicemen and women who left their families to serve bravely, a world away . . . They pushed through jungles and rice paddies, heat and monsoon, fighting heroically to protect the ideals we hold dear as Americans.
Which ideals might those have been? Remember, this was the bad war in contrast to which World War II acquired the ridiculous label “good war.” But the Pentagon is intent on undoing any accurate memory of Vietnam. Members of the wonderful organization, Veterans For Peace, meanwhile have launched their own educational campaign to counter the Pentagon’s at VietnamFullDisclosure.org, and the Vietnam Peace Commemoration Committee has done the same at LessonsOfVietnam.com. Already, the Pentagon has been persuaded to correct some of its inaccurate statements. Evidence of the extent of the killing in Vietnam continues to emerge, and it has suddenly become universally acceptable in academia and the corporate media to acknowledge that presidential candidate Richard M. Nixon secretly sabotaged peace talks in 1968 that appeared likely to end the war until he intervened. As a result, the war raged on and Nixon won election promising to end the war, which he didn’t do. There would seem to be at work here something like a 50-year limit on caring about treason or mass-murder. Imagine what it might become acceptable to say about current wars 50 years hence!
And yet, many lies about Vietnam are still told, and many truths are too little known. After Nixon sabotaged peace negotiations, U.S. and Vietnamese students negotiated their own People’s Peace Treaty, and used it to pressure Nixon to finally make his own.
“Suppose Viet Nam had not enjoyed an international solidarity movement, particularly in the United States,” writes Madame Nguyen Thi Binh. “If so, we could not have shaken Washington’s aggressive will.”
The People’s Peace Treaty began like this:
Be it known that the American and Vietnamese peoples are not enemies. The war is carried out in the names of the people of the United States and South Vietnam but without our consent. It destroys the land and people of Vietnam. It drains America of its resources, its youth and its honor.
We hereby agree to end the war on the following terms, so that both peoples can live under the joy of independence and can devote themselves to building a society based on human equality and respect for the earth. In rejecting the war we also reject all forms of racism and discrimination against people based on color, class, sex, national origin, and ethnic grouping which form the basis of the war policies, past and present, of the United States government.
1. The Americans agree to the immediate and total withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Vietnam.
2. The Vietnamese pledge that, as soon as the U.S. government publicly sets a date for total withdrawal, they will enter discussions to secure the release of all American prisoners, including pilots captured while bombing North Vietnam.”
Nine leaders of the U.S. antiwar movement of the 1960s have put their current thoughts down in a forthcoming book called The People Make the Peace: Lessons from the Vietnam Antiwar Movement. The movement of the 1960s and early 1970s was widespread and dynamic beyond what we know today. It was part of a wider culture of resistance. It benefitted from the novelty of televised war and televised protest. It benefitted from hugely flawed but better-than-today economic security, media coverage, and election systems, the impact of the draft, and — of course — the creativity and courage and hard work of peace activists.
Those contributing to this book, and who recently returned to Vietnam together, are Rennie Davis, Judy Gumbo, Alex Hing, Doug Hostetter, Jay Craven, Becca Wilson, John McAuliff, Myra MacPherson, and Nancy Kurshan. Their insights into the war, the Vietnamese culture, and U.S. culture, and the peace movement are priceless.
This was a war that Vietnamese and Americans killed themselves to protest. This was a war in which Vietnamese learned to raise fish in bomb craters. This was a war in which U.S. peace activists illegally traveled to Vietnam to learn about the war and work for peace. This is a war in which people still die from weapons that explode these many years later or from poisons that take this long to kill. Third-generation victims with birth defects live in the most contaminated areas on earth.
Nixon recorded himself fretting about the People’s Peace Treaty with his staff. Two years later, he eventually agreed to similar terms. In the meantime, tens of thousands of people died.
And yet the Vietnamese distinguish clearly, as they always did, U.S. peace advocates from the warmongering U.S. government. They love and honor Norman Morrison who burned himself to death at the Pentagon. They carry on without bitterness, hatred, or violence. The rage still roiling the United States from the U.S. Civil War is not apparent in Vietnamese culture. Americans could learn from Vietnamese attitudes. We could also learn the lesson of the war — and not treat it as a disease called “the Vietnam syndrome” — the lesson that war is immoral and even on its own terms counter-productive. Recognizing that would be the beginning of health.
67.8% of respondents to a Google Consumer Survey said Israel should receive no compensation for the US finalizing a deal with Iran over its civilian nuclear program, which was begun at the behest of the US when Washington’s puppet, the Shah, one of the world’s worst human rights violators, ruled over Iran.
Obama is currently offering Israel increased aid to compensate for the agreement. Israel is the biggest recipient of US aid at over $3 billion per year, and Obama has increased aid to Israel after each of Israel’s major massacres in the Gaza refugee camp since Obama assumed power.
The major study of the issue of citizen impact on US government policy, conducted in 2014 by research teams out of Princeton and Northwestern universities, looked at nearly 2,000 policies and found that average-income US citizens have “near zero, statistically non-significant” impact on them, while the most affluent citizens essentially dictate policy. This dynamic has been illustrated by previous research, such as by Larry Bartels of Vanderbilt.
Another issue to watch for: the “world’s most influential” think tank, the Washington-based Brookings Institute, has suggested (among other options), as a way for the US to gain dominance over Iran, making it appear that Iran has rejected a “great” deal, then using Israel to attack Iran. (Note the above poll asks if Israel should be given long-range bombers and “bunker-buster” explosives.)
The US and Israel have both continued to make threats of force, criminal acts under the UN charter adopted by both countries, against Iran since the agreement, and Obama’s anti-democratic offering of increased aid to Israel could possibly signal that the “leave it to Bibi” strategy is still being entertained, along with any number of other goals.
Author is a US-based researcher focusing on force dynamics, national and global. @_DirtyTruths
After Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush declared the Philippines a second front in the war on terror (“Operation Enduring Freedom-Philippines”). The Philippine government used this as an opportunity to escalate its war against Muslim separatists and other individuals and organizations opposing the policies of the government. The egregious human rights violations committed by the Philippine military and paramilitary forces are some of the most underreported atrocities in the media today.
The International Peoples’ Tribunal on Crimes Against the Filipino People, held July 16-18 in Washington, D.C., drew upward of 300 people. An international panel of seven jurors heard two days of testimony from 32 witnesses, many of whom had been tortured, arbitrarily detained and forcibly evicted from their land.
Some testified to being present when their loved ones, including children, were gunned down by the Philippine military or paramilitary. I testified as an expert witness on international human rights violations in the Philippines, many of which were aided and abetted by the U.S. government.
Thirty-one-year-old Melissa Roxas was a community health adviser who went to the Philippines in 2009 to conduct health surveys in central Luzon, where people were dying from cholera and diarrhea. In May of that year, 15 men in civilian clothes with high-powered rifles and wearing bonnets and ski masks forced her into a van and handcuffed and blindfolded her. They beat her, suffocated her and used other forms of torture on her until releasing her six days later. Roxas was continually interrogated and even threatened with death during her horrific torture. She was likely released because she is a U.S. citizen (she has dual citizenship).
But WikiLeaks revealed that although the U.S. Embassy was aware of Roxas’s torture and abduction, it did nothing to secure her release. Roxas convinced the Philippines Court of Appeals to grant her petition for writ of amparo, which confirmed she had been abducted and tortured. Nevertheless, the Philippine government refuses to mount an investigation into her ordeal. And although she lives in the United States, Roxas remains under surveillance.
“Whenever you work with communities,” Roxas testified, “[the Philippine government] vilifies you as a member of the New Peoples Army [NPA].” Ironically, the Philippine military claimed it was the NPA, the armed wing of the Philippine Communist Party, that abducted Roxas. Her physical and emotional scars remain. But, Roxas told the tribunal, “I have the privilege of being in the United States,” unlike many other Filipino victims of human rights violations.
People and groups have been labeled “terrorists” by the Philippine government, the U.S. government and other countries at the behest of the U.S. government. The Philippine government engages in “red tagging” — political vilification. Targets are frequently human rights activists and advocates, political opponents, community organizers or groups struggling for national liberation. Those targeted for assassination are placed on the “order of battle” list.
The tribunal documented 262 cases of extrajudicial killings, 27 cases of forced disappearances, 125 cases of torture, 1,016 cases of illegal arrest, and 60,155 incidents of forced evacuation — many to make way for extraction by mining companies — from July 2010 to June 30 of this year by Philippine police, military, paramilitary or other state agents operating within the chain of command.
As part of the U.S. “war on terror,” in 2002 the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo government created the Oplan Bantay Laya, a counterinsurgency program modeled on U.S. strategies, ostensibly to fight communist guerrillas. After 9/11, the Bush administration gave Arroyo $100 million to fund the campaign in the Philippines.
The government of Benigno Aquino III continued the program in 2011 under the name Oplan Bayanihan. It does not distinguish between civilians and combatants, which is considered a war crime under the Rome Statute and the Geneva Conventions.
Oplan Bayanihan has led to tremendous repression, including large numbers of extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, torture and cruel treatment. Many civilians, including children, have been killed. Hundreds of members of progressive organizations were murdered by Philippine military and paramilitary death squads. Communities and leaders opposed to large-scale and invasive mining have been targeted. Even ordinary people with no political affiliation have not escaped the government’s campaign of terror.
One witness testified that although the counterinsurgency program was presented in the guise of “peace and development,” it was really an “operational guide to crush any resistance by those who work for social justice and support the poor and oppressed.”
Philippine military and paramilitary forces apparently rationalize their harsh treatment as necessary to maintain national security against people and organizations that seek to challenge, or even overthrow, the government.
However, the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) says, “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as justification for torture.” Both the Philippines and the United States are parties to the convention on torture.
A 14-year-old boy testified that as he was walking with family members to harvest their crops, “We were fired upon” by soldiers. “We said, ‘We are children, sir.’ ” But the soldiers killed his 8-year-old brother. “I embraced him. The soldier said we were enemies. He was bleeding, the bullet exited in the back. He was dead when my mother saw him. We made an affidavit against the soldiers but it was dismissed by the prosecutor.”
Raymond Manalo was an eyewitness to kidnapping, torture, rape and forced disappearances. He testified that he saw civilians burned alive by soldiers and paramilitary forces. Two women were hit with wooden sticks and burned with a cigarette. Sticks were inserted into their genitals. The two women disappeared and have not been seen since. Although a case was filed, there has been no resolution.
Cynthia Jaramillo testified that her husband, Arnold, was one of nine unarmed men killed in a massive military operation that lasted almost a month. Although Arnold was a member of the NPA, “They were not killed during a legitimate running battle,” she said. “The state of their bodies when recovered clearly indicated the torture, willful killing and desecration of the remains.”
Arnold was taken alive and killed at close range by multiple gunshot wounds, his internal organs lacerated, his jaws and teeth shattered. This violates the Geneva Conventions and constitutes illegal extrajudicial killing off the battlefield.
Continuing the Bush policy of the pivot to Asia-Pacific, as a counterweight to China, President Barack Obama enlisted the Aquino government last year to negotiate the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement. While paying lip service to the Philippines’ maintaining sovereignty over the military bases in their country, it actually grants tremendous powers to U.S. forces.
The United States also wants to return to its two former military bases at Subic Bay and Clark, which it left in 1992. Those bases were critical to the U.S. imperial war in Vietnam. A U.S. return would violate the well-established right of peoples to self-determination enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) includes a prohibition on aiding and abetting liability for war crimes. An individual can be convicted of a war crime in the ICC if he or she “aids, abets or otherwise assists” in the commission or attempted commission of the crime. This includes “providing the means for its commission.”
Between 2001 and 2010, the U.S. government furnished more than $507 million in military aid to the Philippine government, enabling it to commit war crimes. U.S. political and military leaders could be liable in the ICC for war crimes as aiders and abettors.
The United States planned and helped carry out the botched Mamasapano raid on Jan. 25, 2015. Dozens died when commandos from the Special Action Force of the Philippine National Police entered Mamasapano, where the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front had a stronghold.
The Obama administration had put a $5 million bounty on terror suspect Marwan’s head. According to the Philippine Daily Inquirer, U.S. drones identified Marwan’s hiding place, led the commandos to it, and provided real-time management capacity for the operation off the battlefield. Marwan was killed but his finger was severed and disappeared. It then appeared at an FBI lab in the United States a few days later. DNA tests on the finger confirmed it was Marwan who had been killed.
Murder, torture and cruel treatment constitute war crimes under the Rome Statute and the Geneva Conventions. Both the United States and the Philippines are parties to the Geneva Conventions. But although the Philippines is a party to the Rome Statute, the United States is not. In fact, the U.S. government offered the Philippine government $30 million in additional military aid to secure an agreement that U.S. soldiers in the Philippines would not be turned over to the ICC.
The jury in the tribunal found defendant Aquino and defendant Government of the United States of America, represented by Obama, guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity. “Indeed,” the panel wrote, “the Prosecution has satisfied the burden of proving satisfactorily that the Defendants, in concert with each other, willfully and feloniously committed gross and systematic violations of Filipino people’s basic human rights.”
The jurors decided, “The killings and disappearances follow a pattern. The victims are vilified as members of the Communist Party of the Philippines, and subjected to red tagging … after vilification, the victims are subjected to surveillance and then later killed or abducted.”
The panel noted, “These are not random violations.” They are “not isolated, but state-sponsored, part of a policy deliberately adopted to silence the critics of the government.” The jurors called it “state terror,” drawing an analogy with the military and authoritarian regimes in Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s, which were also supported by the United States.
“Terrorist tagging,” according to the jurors, is not just intended to define military targets but also to “sabotage the peace process between the National Democratic Front (NDF) and the Philippine government.”
In fact, Jose Maria Sison, the NDF’s chief political consultant, has been classified by the United States as a “person supporting terrorism.” Sison’s assets have been frozen and he is forbidden to travel, in violation of the ICCPR. The European Union’s second-highest court ruled to delist Sison as a “person supporting terrorism” and reversed a decision by member governments to freeze assets. Yet he remains on the U.S. terrorism list.
Moreover, the jury determined, “the failure of the Philippine government through Defendant Aquino to identify, investigate and/or prosecute the perpetrators of these violations is among the contributing factors to the prevailing impunity in the Philippines.”
The jury urged the defendants to undertake “proper remedial measures to prevent the commission or continuance of such illegal and criminal acts, to repair the damages done to the Filipino people and their environment, compensate the victims and their families for their atrocities, and to rehabilitate the communities, especially indigenous communities that have been destroyed by the criminal acts of the Defendants.”
The panel concluded, “We also encourage the peoples of the world to seek redress, to pursue justice [under universal jurisdiction], and to transform this oppressive, exploitative and repressive global state of affairs exemplified by the experience and plight of the Filipino people, to challenge the international ‘rule of law,’ and to construct a global order founded on full respect for the rights of all peoples, everywhere.”
Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and former president of the National Lawyers Guild. Her most recent book is Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues.
Attempts at humor over bombing huge numbers of people, and inflicting death is increasingly considered acceptable and this has a subtle effect on the population, says David Swanson, blogger and activist, author of ‘War Is A Lie’.
US President Barack Obama made an appearance on America’s Daily Show hosted by Jon Stewart taking the chance for a bit of light-hearted foreign policy banter.
RT: The situation in Yemen and Iraq is no laughing matter. Is it acceptable for the President to be laughing about these subjects?
David Swanson: It really isn’t. Jon Stewart jokes “We still get to bomb people, right?” and there is no stern rebuke from the President as there is when he is accused of allowing Americans to be held hostage in Iran and not caring about them and so forth, there is no offense taken, it’s all for laughs. Who are we bombing? President Obama has no idea specifically who he’s bombing not even with drone strikes and the tangled mess that Jon Stewart points to is far beyond what he listed. Making peace with Iran in order to fight a war with Iran, going to war in Syria on the opposite side in 2014 as you were told, as you head into 2013, US weapons in the hands of Islamic State, US allies funding IS – it’s an incredible mess and Jon Stewart, although it’s his last chance, last interview with the president, makes jokes instead of asking questions. He makes a joke about trying diplomacy for once after bombs, proxies and arming and so forth, but it’s a joke, Obama doesn’t answer. Jon Stewart could have said “Why, if diplomacy is an option in one case do you not use it in all these other cases?” He didn’t ask the question.
RT: How do jokes about foreign policy influence the public?
DS: A certain segment of the public including myself is not laughing about war and doesn’t think it’s a laughing matter, but I think it influences the public very subtly that jokes about war are acceptable. I heard a weapon’s contractor on national public radio in the US joke about wanting a big new invasion and occupation when another one might be ending – ha-ha. When jokes about things like sexual abuse or racism or all kinds of cruelty, anti-morality are absolutely not acceptable, absolutely excluded from public discussion in US media, but jokes about war, about bombing huge numbers of people to death, injury and trauma are acceptable and that does have an impact.
RT: Obama had previously joked about predator drones. Does that make the matter more mundane, perhaps more acceptable? Politically, how intentional are such jokes?
DS: It points to this huge contrast in the US between the immorality of war and any other kind of immorality. President Obama this week said that jokes about rape in US prisons are absolutely offensive and unacceptable; it’s not something that should ever be joked about. The US, I believe, is the first society in the history of the world where the majority of rape victims are male and it’s in prison and it’s an epidemic. He is absolutely right, don’t you joke about it. But when it comes to war, to murder with weapons of war, spying, massive surveillance and the whole package of militarism, jokes seem to be totally acceptable – even for the President speaking to the journalists and reporters who are actually supposed to know the horror and suffering of war.
Another benefit of a single payer national health insurance system is that it gets rid of the obscenity of the revolving door between the health insurance industry and the government payer.
There is no revolving door because there is no door.
There is no door because the health insurance companies are put out of their misery.
One public payer. Everybody in. Nobody out.
If we had single payer, we wouldn’t be witnessing the obscenity we witnessed this month.
Take the case of Marilyn Tavenner.
She’s the Obama official who was in charge of the rollout of Obamacare.
She stepped down from her job in February and will become president of America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) — the insurance industry lobbying group representing the likes of Aetna, Anthem, Humana, Kaiser Permanente and many Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies.
Taking her place at the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is former UnitedHealth executive Andy Slavitt.
Don McCanne of Physicians for a National Health Plan (PNHP) says that Karen Ignagni, AHIP’s previous president and CEO, essentially had carte blanche in the White House as Obamacare was being crafted.
“She also was very influential in obtaining the concessions that protected the excess payments to the Medicare Advantage plans, measures which greatly benefit UnitedHealth Group and others,” McCanne says. “It seems more than a coincidence that UnitedHealth Group dropped out of AHIP shortly after the resignation of Karen Ignagni.”
“Without insider information, it is very difficult to determine the degree of control held by each of the players, but there is no question that HHS/CMS, AHIP, and UnitedHealth and the other insurers are all participating in advancing the privatization of Medicare by enhancing the private Medicare Advantage plans with our taxpayer dollars,” McCanne says. “It is particularly disconcerting that this agenda is supported by Congress and the Obama administration.”
“Imagine what those excess funds could do for our traditional Medicare program, especially in reducing out-of-pocket expenses for premiums, deductibles, coinsurance and catastrophic losses,” McCanne says.
“That would be far better than wasting them on the administrative excesses of the private insurers and on the dishonest activities they engage in to increase their profits by measures such as upcoding or gaming risk adjustment.”
Why is there no public outcry?
“It is simply because the Medicare Advantage plans are able to use about one-third of the extra funds to reduce deductibles and coinsurance, making them appear to be superior products, plus there is no need to purchase supplemental Medigap plans,” McCanne says. “Most of the beneficiaries who are satisfied with their private plans would not be inclined to support increased taxpayer funding of the traditional Medicare program since it doesn’t concern them anymore. And efforts to reduce Medicare Advantage funding to the same levels as traditional Medicare are met with loud protests orchestrated by AHIP. Those in the traditional Medicare program usually have supplemental retiree or Medigap plans with which they are satisfied, and thus they are not advocates for change either.”
“It is really difficult to explain to people that what is a good deal for them is a bad deal for all of us together since it perpetuates high costs and extraordinary administrative waste,” McCanne says. “If their programs seem to be working for them, they don’t want change.”
McCanne says that we need to improve the traditional Medicare program so that it is more comprehensive and provides greater value, and then use it to cover everyone.
“Our task is made much more difficult by the powerful forces that support corporate control of our healthcare system,” he says. “After all, they are the ones with the money. And Tavenner and Slavitt will be there as their agents, working inside and outside of the government. And most people won’t care.”
See if you can spot the mistake in this activist email I received recently:
“In 2001, the Clinton Administration handed George Bush peace, prosperity, and record budget surpluses. Eight years later, Bush handed Barack Obama two disastrous wars and a global economic crash that destroyed over 8 million American jobs. Now that President Obama has finally brought those jobs back – in the face of vicious GOP opposition – Bush’s brother Jeb is now blaming American workers for not working hard enough. If you’re as outraged as we are, please click here to sign Hillary Clinton’s petition telling Jeb Bush that Americans need a raise, not a lecture.”
OK, it was a trick; there’s more than one mistake. Let’s list a few:
Here are things Bill Clinton is now apologizing for: mass incarceration, Wall Street deregulation, the drug war, and corporate trade agreements. Here are a few of the things he should also be apologizing for: destroying welfare, creating media monopolies, expanding NATO toward Russia, creating a precedent for illegal NATO wars without Congressional or UN authorizations, and 500,000 children killed by sanctions in Iraq.
Here are a few little-known facts about President Barack Obama: the war on Afghanistan is more his than Bush’s by any measure, he had regularly voted to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as a senator, he broke his promised schedule for ending the war on Iraq and never fully ended it and soon revived it, he’s supported coups in Honduras and Egypt and Ukraine, he’s claimed the power to murder anyone anywhere by drone, he’s expanded the military into numerous nations laying the groundwork for future hostilities, and his war on Libya followed the Clinton model of blatant illegality rather than the Bush Jr. approach of at least bothering to lie to Congress and the United Nations.
Another activist group sent me an email this week reading, in part: “The truth is, Republicans don’t want diplomacy to work. They want another costly war like the one they started in Iraq in 2003.” In reality, a Republican House and a Democratic Senate voted for the war on Iraq in 2002. The same parties hold the same branches now. There’s a wise saying that goes something like this: those who convince themselves of a bullshit version of history may be condemned to repeat what actually happened.
Those who study what actually happened may be less shocked to discover how grotesquely corrupt Hillary Clinton is, how murderous, how fervently she promoted that war on Iraq, how very long she has been so disastrous, how she out-hawks almost any hawk, how awful she is for feminism, how brutal she can be, how close she is to Wall Street Republicans and oil barons and Henry Kissinger, how hard it would be to actually elect her, how she used the State Department to market weapons and fracking and pushed weapons on governments she called soft on terrorism while waiving restrictions on sales to brutal governments that donated to her foundation, how she backs mass surveillance, how she believes in representing banks, and how greedy she is.
Former engineer Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, according to investigators, was a lone gunman with no prior infractions who this week targeted two US military facilities in Tennessee, killing four militants and no civilians.
Salman bin Abdulaziz is one of the world’s worst dictators. He has many prior infractions, such as publicly announcing becoming a rogue nuclear state, beheading and torturing hundreds of people and repressing millions, and is currently carrying out a war of aggression against one of the poorest countries in the world, Yemen, killing thousands of civilians and enforcing a blockade that risks starving millions, as Yemen imports almost all of its food.
The despot Abdulaziz is one of Washington’s top allies. His terrorist regime is the recipient of the biggest shipment of weapons in US history, approved by Obama in 2010 (the US is the world’s biggest arms trafficker). These killing machines are now being used on the people of Yemen. In 2013, Obama sent the despot almost a billion dollars worth of banned cluster bombs, which both Obama and Abdulaziz have now used against Yemenis.
Many foreign nationals are trapped in the war-zone in Yemen, and eight countries, including India, China, and Russia, are performing risky missions to rescue civilians, their own citizens as well as others. While there are thousands of US civilians trapped in Yemen, Washington vocally refuses to rescue them, issuing a facile claim that it would be too risky, while at the same time performing rescue missions for Saudi pilots whose planes have gone down in Yemen.
Washington is also personally coordinating with dictator Abdulaziz on the strikes, and is refueling the US planes being flown by Saudi pilots.
Obama continues to bomb Yemen himself, killing hundreds of suspects and civilians in a death campaign he has been pursuing for years. He is also participating in enforcing the blockade, which human rights groups say has led the country to the brink of a mass humanitarian catastrophe.
The attack by Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez is a small and diluted taste – no explosives were used and no suspects or civilians were killed – of what drone strikes on one’s country are like.
Whenever the US gets a small taste of its own medicine, it doesn’t like it, yet continues to administer the medicine to others in mega-doses. Washington elites know their violence causes violent retaliation, but continue it because they themselves are insulated and safe, and only lower-level grunts and civilians, their human shields, will take the hits.
The Tennessee shooter is quoted in his high school year book as saying that his name, Abdulazeez, “causes national security alerts”. This is now literally true, but is dependent on circumstances. One attack by an Abdulazeez is saturating US headlines and receiving stark condemnation from the US government/oligarchy (Obama called it “heartbreaking”), while an incomparably worse attack by an incomparably worse Abdulaziz, raining down on thousands of people, including US Americans abandoned by their oligarchy, is met with media silence and extreme support and participation from Washington.
Author is a US-based researcher focusing on force dynamics, national and global. @_DirtyTruths
After the death of President Tito in 1980 the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia slid towards chaos. In the 1990s the plunge accelerated into civil war and one of the regions most affected was Kosovo from which Serbia withdrew after a NATO bomb and rocket offensive from 24 March to 11 June 1999. That blitz involved over 1,000 mainly American aircraft conducting some 38,000 airstrikes on Yugoslavia that killed approximately 500 civilians and destroyed much of the economic and social infrastructure of the region.
The destruction and outcome were not quite as tragic and catastrophic as those from NATO’s fatuously-named Operation Unified Protector against Libya in 2011 when its seven month aerial jamboree of 9,658 air strikes caused collapse of governance and gave rise to the present infestation of Islamic savages and a massive refugee problem, but it was still calamitous, as blitzes go.
NATO said its air bombardment of Serbia was essential to halt repression of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo and justified the deaths of hundreds of women and children as being necessary to defeat a “great evil.” The air attacks were not authorized by the United Nations Security Council and there is no article in the North Atlantic Treaty that justifies such a war. It resulted, however, in Kosovo declaring independence from Serbia in 2008.
On March 26, 2014 President Barack Obama said in a speech in Brussels that regarding the 1999 war on Yugoslavia, “NATO only intervened after the people of Kosovo were systematically brutalized and killed for years. And Kosovo only left Serbia after a referendum was organized not outside the boundaries of international law, but in careful cooperation with the United Nations and with Kosovo’s neighbours.”
The President of the United States, whose State Department has some 15,000 experts to keep him informed about international affairs, told the world that Kosovo had held an independence referendum “in careful cooperation” with the United Nations Organization. He added that “None of that even came close to happening in Crimea,” which was an intriguing pronouncement.
Because as reported on Fox News, “During his speech in Brussels, President Obama showed a lack of knowledge of the political situation in Kosovo. Kosovo never organized any kind of referendum, but the Assembly of Provisional Institutions of self-government of Kosovo made a unilateral declaration of independence on February 17th 2008.”
Fox News went on to report Doctor James Ker-Lindsay, a Senior Research Fellow on the Politics of South East Europe at the London School of Economics, as saying that “Surely there must have been someone at hand who would have known that there was no UN organised referendum in Kosovo. It really was not that long ago . . . It will be interesting to see if a retraction or correction is issued by the White House.”
And correction came there none.
Although there was no referendum in Kosovo before its declaration of independence from Serbia it is apparent that the majority of Kosovans desired independence and would have voted for separation from Serbia if they had been given the opportunity to do so. And according to Mr Obama there was and remains no reason for their wishes to be denied.
After all, in 2010 the UN International Court’s Advisory Opinion concerning Kosovo indicated that “international law contains no prohibition on declarations of independence,” a clear-cut endorsement of Kosovo’s actions — and of other such decisions around the world.
No doubt Mr Obama approved of the opportunity given to the people of Scotland to vote in an Independence Referendum a few months after his enthusiastic endorsement of a non-existent plebiscite in Kosovo. In the Scottish Referendum I wasn’t allowed to vote, in spite of being Scottish-born and educated, because I live outside Scotland (in France, in which place of residence I have a vote in the UK’s general elections — in a Scottish constituency).
In other blatant attempts to influence voting, the Scottish National Party decided (in the already independent Scottish Parliament which met first in May 1999, coincidentally at the height of the US-NATO blitz on Serbia) to reduce the voting age from 18 to 16 and to forbid Scottish soldiers serving outside Scotland — in Afghanistan, for example — to vote unless they had a residence address in Scotland.
All the attempted manipulation didn’t work, and the majority of Scots voted against independence (much to the vexation of many English people), but justice was seen to be done.
Just as justice was done in the Crimea referendum.
I wrote last year that “some 90% of the inhabitants of Crimea are Russian-speaking, Russian-cultured and Russian-educated, and it would be strange if they did not vote for accession to a country that welcomes their kinship, empathy and loyalty” and that there was not “a single case of bloodshed in the run-up to the plebiscite, the free vote as to whether the population wished to accede to Russia or support the “status of Crimea as a part of Ukraine.” The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) was asked by the government of Crimea to send representatives to monitor the referendum but refused to do so.”
It was not surprising that the OSCE rejected the offer to observe the referendum and provide independent assessments of its conduct, because its findings would have been extremely embarrassing for the West and especially for Washington which had no intention of accepting the result of any referendum in which voters would favour Russia. Obama’s assertion that the popular accession of Crimea to Russia was “annexation” is on the same level as his imaginative claim about a non-existent referendum by the citizens of Kosovo.
There were energetic attempts in the West to paint the post-accession treatment of Ukrainian military personnel in Crimea as harsh, but some newspapers refrained from deliberate lies. Even the ultra-right-wing British Daily Telegraph reported that “Like many of the Ukrainian servicemen in Crimea, the 600-strong marine battalion in Feodosia has strong local links. Many of the men are either local recruits or have served here so long they have put down roots. Only about 140 of the 600-strong battalion stationed here are expected to return to Ukraine. The remainder, with local family and friends, have opted to remain in Crimea — the land they call home.”
To President Obama it is irrelevant that the vast majority of Crimean citizens want to belong to Russia. His hatred of Russia and especially of President Putin has tipped any intellectual balance he may have possessed and is now extreme to the point of being malevolently insulting. He is increasingly intent on confrontation and has stated that the decision of the citizens of Crimea to accede to Russia is illegal. The White House announced that “We reject the ‘referendum’ that took place today in the Crimean region of Ukraine,” and Obama declared “I again call on Russia to end its occupation and attempted annexation of Crimea.”
But what is Obama going to do about Crimea? Does he seriously believe that 1.2 million Crimean Russians could accept domination by Ukraine’s Poroshenko? There would be civil insurrection and mayhem if Ukraine took over the country as suggested by Obama.
Mr Obama’s claim that “Kosovo only left Serbia after a referendum was organized not outside the boundaries of international law, but in careful cooperation with the United Nations and with Kosovo’s neighbours,” was bizarrely untruthful — but was clear indication that he approves of UN-supervised independence plebiscites in territories whose citizens indicate that they wish to alter their circumstances of governance.
Given the practicalities of his admirable moral stance it is obvious that in order to clarify matters to his satisfaction he should propose another referendum in Crimea.
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Standing next to a 12-foot nuclear bomb that looks more like a trim missile than a weapon of mass destruction, engineer Phil Hoover exudes pride. “I feel a real sense of accomplishment,” he said.
But as Hoover knows, looks can be deceiving. He and fellow engineers at Sandia National Laboratories have spent the past few years designing, building and testing the top-secret electronic and mechanical innards of the sophisticated B61-12.
Later, when nuclear explosives are added at the federal Pantex Plant near Amarillo, Texas, the bomb will have a maximum explosive force equivalent to 50,000 tons of TNT – more than three times more powerful than the U.S. atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, 70 years ago this August that killed more than 130,000 people.
The U.S. government doesn’t consider the B61-12 to be new – simply an upgrade of an existing weapon. But some contend that it is far more than that.
Hans Kristensen, a nuclear weapons expert at the nonpartisan Federation of American Scientists in Washington, is resolute that the bomb violates a 2010 Obama administration pledge not to produce nuclear weapons with new military capabilities.
“We do not have a nuclear guided bomb in our arsenal today,” Kristensen said. “It is a new weapon.”
Kristensen’s organization was formed in 1945 by nuclear scientists who wanted to prevent nuclear war. And it’s not the maximum force of the B61-12 that worries him the most on that front.
Instead, he says he fears that the bomb’s greater accuracy, coupled with the way its explosive force can be reduced electronically through a dial-a-yield system accessed by a hatch on the bomb’s body, increases the risk that a president might consider it tame enough for a future conflict.
Congress shared similar concerns in rejecting other so-called low-intensity nuclear weapons in the past. But most of the national criticism of this bomb has focused on its price tag. After it goes into full production in 2020, taxpayers will have spent about $11 billion to build 400 B61-12 bombs. That sum is more than double the original estimate, making it the most expensive nuclear bomb ever.
To Kristensen and others, if President Barack Obama’s pledge was serious, the bomb shouldn’t exist at any price.
How the B61-12 entered the U.S. arsenal of weapons is a tale of the extraordinary influence of the “nuclear enterprise,” as the nuclear weapons complex has rebranded itself in recent years. Its story lies at the heart of the national debate over the ongoing modernization of America’s nuclear weapons, a program projected to cost $348 billion over the next decade.
This enterprise encompasses defense contractors, including the subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corp. that runs the Sandia labs for the government, as well as the U.S. Department of Energy and the nuclear weapons-oriented wings of the U.S. military – particularly the Air Force and Navy. With abundant jobs and dollars at stake, the nuclear enterprise is backed by politicians of all stripes.
A review of several thousands of pages of congressional testimony, federal budgets and audit reports, plus an analysis of lobbying and campaign contribution data, shows that the four defense contractors running the two New Mexico nuclear weapons labs, Sandia and Los Alamos National Laboratory, enjoy a particularly symbiotic relationship with Congress.
That relationship begins with money.
Since 1998, these four contractors have contributed more than $20 million to congressional campaigns around the nation. Last year alone, they spent almost $18 million lobbying Washington to ensure that funding for nuclear weapons projects continues even as nuclear stockpiles shrink.
Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, said the outlay is a bargain considering what’s at stake for the contractors.
“It’s an insignificant cost of doing business relative to the potential income from these contracts,” she said.
In arid, impoverished New Mexico, the nuclear weapons enterprise thrives on particularly close connections between business interests and politicians, doors revolving in both directions and successful efforts to minimize oversight of corporate behavior.
Republican Heather Wilson left Congress in January 2009 after a decade as a New Mexico congresswoman. She had lost her bid to jump up to the Senate seat vacated by her mentor, Pete Domenici.
After losing, she set up a consulting business and, within days of leaving office, Wilson – an Air Force veteran – was consulting mainly for the two New Mexico weapons labs.
Over the next two years, Wilson was paid more than $400,000 by Lockheed’s Sandia Corp. and the consortium of contractors running the Los Alamos lab – to help them extend and expand federal contracts and get more business, according to the first of two scathing inspector general reports. Eventually, the contractors were forced to reimburse the government for the federal funds they used to pay Wilson for her advocacy work.
Asked about the significance of that outcome, the Lockheed communications office responded to Reveal via email: “With regards to the inspector general’s report, Sandia has cooperated with the Inspector General’s review and will continue to do so.” Wilson declined to comment.
Wilson’s support for the labs persisted after she left the consulting business in early 2012 and ran for the Senate again. When the Obama administration cut funding for a Los Alamos lab project, Wilson told the Albuquerque Journal : “Not only is this bad for our country and its national security, it’s bad for New Mexico and our economy.”
For New Mexico, the second-poorest state after Mississippi, nuclear weapons and military bases are undeniably a lifeblood. Out of the $27.5 billion in federal dollars poured into the state in 2013, according to a Pew Charitable Trusts study, about $5 billion went to Los Alamos, Sandia and the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, the nuclear weapons waste facility east of Carlsbad, where accidents last year exposed dozens of workers to radiation.
Billions more were spent on the state’s four main military bases. The city of Alamogordo, next to Holloman Air Force Base and the Army’s White Sands Missile Range – home of the Trinity Site, where the first atomic bomb was tested in July 1945 – benefits from $450 million a year in military spending, according to the local chamber of commerce.
The labs and bases, and the defense contractors that run or contract with them, also are an integral part of New Mexico’s economic fabric. Los Alamos, Sandia and White Sands are three of the state’s top 10 employers, together providing about 24,000 jobs.
New Mexico politicians helping the labs has a long history in the state, said local political analyst Joe Monahan. It dates back to World War II and the development of the first nuclear bomb under Los Alamos Director J. Robert Oppenheimer.
“The economic impact is the driver of the politics,” Monahan said.
The engineers behind the weapons
At Sandia labs today, engineers such as Hoover and his boss Jim Handrock, director of weapons system engineering, populate the well-paid professional ranks. They turn ideas into weapons.
Nuclear specifications come to them from the two national security physics labs – Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. They marry those specifications to Pentagon military requirements and design bombs and missile warheads to carry nuclear explosives.
The secrecy of the work is so high that no outside cellphones may be brought into the building, even by Sandia’s public affairs escort. Hoover and Handrock take off their badges before being photographed. National security is their mantra, a value that gained urgency following recent criticism by the National Nuclear Security Administration that Sandia experienced 190 “security incidents” in fiscal year 2014 and the agency’s proposed $577,500 fine for Sandia’s earlier mishandling of classified information.
“We need to make sure that should the president of the United States choose to use the weapons, they will always work, but they will never work in any other situation,” Handrock said.
He joined Sandia labs in 1987 after earning his doctorate in mechanical engineering at the University of Illinois. He has been with the company ever since – first in its small California lab and then in Albuquerque – aside from a several-month special assignment with an Air Force general in Washington in 2008-09.
When Sandia hired Handrock, it was run by a Western Electric Co. subsidiary. He got a new employer in 1993, when Martin Marietta Corp. acquired Sandia Corp. Two years later, Lockheed Corp. and Martin Marietta merged to form the nation’s largest defense contractor.
Similarly influential and powerful companies run New Mexico’s other nuclear facilities. Bechtel Corp., URS Corp. and The Babcock & Wilcox Co. partner with the University of California, Berkeley to operate Los Alamos. URS and Babcock & Wilcox, along with Areva Inc. North America, an offshoot of a large French nuclear company, also manage the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.
Those four contractors and Areva are heavy hitters in Washington, with a combined 164 lobbyists at their disposal – 70 percent of them former members of Congress, congressional aides or federal officials, according to Reveal’s analysis of Center for Responsive Politics data.
“An army of lobbyists is great,” the center’s Krumholz said. “But an army of insiders who know how to navigate the halls of power, can socialize with politicians on weekends and ultimately play the system like a violin is so much better.”
Lockheed said it simply needs to get its perspectives across to federal officials.
“We routinely communicate our point of view with members of Congress and customers who oversee our programs as well as leaders of congressional districts where Lockheed Martin has a significant business presence,” the company said in its emailed response.
Come campaign season, the contractors remember the New Mexico delegation. In the past two decades, the contractors’ political action committees have donated $430,000 to the state’s senators and members of Congress. Hundreds of company officials chipped in another $350,000. Wilson received more than $250,000 of that between 1998 and 2012, the year she ran for the Senate again – and lost again.
New Mexico senators advocate for labs
New Mexico’s current senators are Democrats Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich. Contributions to their campaigns from defense contractors and company officials fall far short of Wilson’s – less than $100,000 each since 1998. Nonetheless, the two play important roles, sitting on subcommittees that determine funding and policy for the nuclear labs.
Both voted for a December budget bill that funds the labs even though it also waters down campaign finance controls and Wall Street reforms they had embraced.
“Udall and Heinrich are both incredibly liberal in their own way on some issues,” said New Mexico-based political analyst Heath Haussamen. “But they still have to balance that with what people in New Mexico want as far as those jobs and research.”
Jennifer Talhelm, Udall’s spokeswoman, described the budget vote as difficult, given the conflicting priorities
“There’s no question that the labs are a major portion of the economy, especially in Albuquerque and northern New Mexico,” she said. “They employ thousands of people.”
She said Udall also has been a strong supporter of the B-61 bomb program both because of the jobs it brings to New Mexico and its role in national security, though she emphasized that he does not get involved in contract funding decisions.
“You could say he is a big part of why the B-61 program still exists,” Talhelm said.
Heinrich, while a congressman from 2009 to 2013, routinely pressed the Obama administration and Republican leaders to spare the labs from budget cuts and government shutdowns. After he joined the Senate in 2013, he advocated for the extension of a Sandia Corp. federal contract during confirmation hearings for a new energy secretary, Ernest Moniz.
“It is now almost a certainty that the current contract will need to be extended further,” Heinrich wrote in a question submitted to the nominee. “This protracted uncertainty, is beginning to impact Sandia’s leadership and ability to fill key management positions.”
In an email to Reveal, Heinrich’s office said the senator is committed to making sure the labs get full funding.
“The labs also strengthen New Mexico’s economy by providing high-paying, high-skilled technology jobs in our state and Senator Heinrich will always fight to protect their missions,” the statement said.
Another New Mexico lawmaker, Democratic Rep. Ben Ray Luján, formed a congressional caucus with three other representatives in 2012 specifically to look out for the interests of the national labs. He has received $32,000 in donations since 2008 from the contractors’ PACs and company officials. Luján’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
The contractors and labs gain influence and access in other ways as well.
Pete Lyons, a top science adviser to Domenici when he was senator in the mid-1990s, came from the Los Alamos lab, where he was an associate director of various programs. Lyons initially was kept on the Los Alamos payroll and assigned to Domenici as a congressional fellow, according to the news release published when he was named a top Energy Department official.
The Los Alamos lab provided the last two science advisers to New Mexico’s governor, too. Current Gov. Susana Martinez’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
Haussamen, the analyst, said such cozy business-political arrangements are not unusual in New Mexico. “Our state ethics laws are weaker than the federal ones. It’s easier to move back and forth between jobs on the state level.”
Energy Department faces congressional criticism
At Sandia, sand-colored office buildings and an array of laboratories and test facilities dot a 22-square-mile area of Kirtland Air Force Base. Most are identified only by numbers. Building 898 is an exception, its big silver letters spelling out: Pete V. Domenici National Security Innovation Center.
Domenici was a patron of the New Mexico weapons labs and renowned as the Senate’s strongest champion of nuclear weapons for more than three decades, until his 2009 retirement.
His support was crucial in the 1990s after the Cold War ended and the United States and Russia focused on reducing their huge nuclear weapons arsenals.
At the time, many analysts – including Ash Carter, then an assistant secretary of defense and now the secretary – challenged the need for the traditional triad of nuclear weapons delivery systems, which relies on airplanes, intercontinental ballistic missiles and submarines. Many considered nuclear-armed submarines, invulnerable when launched, sufficient to deter the Russians or anyone else from launching a first strike.
During the Cold War, the weapons labs had designed and engineered new nuclear bomb and warhead models almost as fast as Detroit released new car models. After the 1992 U.S. moratorium on explosive nuclear testing, they were instructed to shift their focus to keeping weapons in the nuclear stockpile reliable.
The change at the labs was just one challenge for the Energy Department, which had been reeling since the 1980s from charges that it was mismanaging the nuclear weapons complex – highlighted by the extraordinary FBI raid on the Rocky Flats plutonium bomb factory near Denver in 1989.
Congressional criticism grew as the department closed production plants, shrank its bureaucracy and cut jobs.
In 1999, in the wake of a well-publicized but ultimately unsubstantiated security breach at Los Alamos, Domenici championed a bill to create a new agency to oversee nuclear plants and labs: the National Nuclear Security Administration. An independent agency would give the nuclear enterprise more autonomy.
Domenici tangled with then-Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, a Democrat and former New Mexico congressman, over the department’s role. Richardson, who would become New Mexico’s governor four years later, argued that the Energy Department was addressing its problems and that a new agency was unnecessary.
In the end, a compromise was reached. The new agency became semiautonomous, with its own bureaucracy but Energy Department oversight.
Domenici declined to comment. Robert Alvarez, then a senior policy adviser to Richardson, told Reveal that even though Domenici succeeded in establishing the national nuclear agency, “it didn’t work out so well for Domenici, because he had an archenemy running the House energy and water subcommittee – David Hobson.”
Hobson was a conservative Ohio Republican who shot down several nuclear weapons enterprise proposals before leaving office. “He didn’t have any (Department of Energy) facilities in his backyard, and he was basically being fiscally responsible,” Alvarez said.
Foreshadowing the current B61-12 program, the national nuclear agency proposed new warheads and a new plant at Los Alamos to replace Rocky Flats, the by-then-closed bomb factory near Denver. Hobson led a congressional charge that at first seemed to derail the proposal.
“We cannot advocate for nuclear nonproliferation around the globe and pursue more usable nuclear options here at home,” he said in August 2004.
But Hobson’s concerns proved no match for the nuclear enterprise.
Defense contractors assail oversight agency
Eventually, the national nuclear agency came under fire from the defense contractors, which claimed that it was stifling and nitpicking by, for instance, micromanaging lab decisions.
The Energy Department’s inspector general, Gregory Friedman, laid out the problems to a House oversight committee in September 2012. The lab directors complained that “the effectiveness and efficiency of their operations” were being impeded, he told the committee.
“The heart of these assertions,” he continued, “is that oversight of contractors has been excessive, overly prescriptive and burdensome.”
Three months later, Tom Udall – the New Mexico senator – co-sponsored an amendment to the defense budget with Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., to create a 12-member congressional advisory panel to overhaul lab oversight. Jennifer Talhelm, Udall’s spokeswoman, said he wanted to address what he considered legitimate concerns about oversight.
The measure passed as part of the defense spending bill, the piece of legislation most lobbied by Lockheed that year. Half of the panel members eventually appointed by Congress had connections to the nuclear labs.
One of the panel’s co-chairmen was the former chairman of Lockheed, and its other co-chairman was on the board of Babcock & Wilcox. Heather Wilson was appointed, too, even as the audits scrutinizing her consulting work continued.
Others included a former Los Alamos executive director, a member of the Sandia Corp. board and a former California congresswoman, Ellen Tauscher, a member of the Los Alamos Board of Governors.
As the panel deliberated over the next year and a half, Lockheed and Babcock & Wilcox together spent $16 million lobbying the federal government and donated $3 million to members of Congress.
The panel’s report, issued late last year, blasted the national nuclear agency, calling it dysfunctional because, among other things, it lacked “proven management practices.” It said the agency’s oversight of the labs had generated “misunderstanding, distrust, and frustration.” The report called for the Energy Department to reduce the agency’s lab audits, inspections and general oversight.
Energy Department officials did not respond to requests for information on whether any changes have occurred.
Inspector general’s second audit
While that panel was finishing up its report, a second special audit of Wilson’s contract work by the inspector general delved into the question of whether taxpayer dollars had been used illegally for lobbying. In outlining its findings, the audit offered a rare behind-the-scenes look at pressure from Lockheed and Sandia officials to get their federal contract extended without an open bidding process.
In September 2012, the Sandia labs’ federal contract had been set to expire, and the Energy Department already had signaled that it would open it for bids.
Three years earlier, the audit found, a team of Lockheed and Sandia officials had come up with a detailed plan that included enlisting the New Mexico congressional delegation to pressure then-Energy Secretary Steven Chu to extend the contract by lobbying the chairmen and members of key committees.
One memo advised Sandia officials to tell members of the New Mexico delegation to contact Chu directly and let him know that they expect “a contract extension and will follow the matter with personal interest,” the inspector general wrote.
Another memo described a meeting with the national nuclear agency administrator. It said the administrator told company officials that he “has no problem interfacing with Congress and committees on the matter of a Sandia contract extension.”
Other documents showed that one Lockheed official had sent a memo to Chu saying the company wanted the contract extended under the “same terms and conditions,” and another official recommended “if the answer was not in the affirmative, then Lockheed Martin/Sandia should seriously consider initiating some heavy Congressional support.”
Sandia also hired two former employees of the National Nuclear Security Administration as consultants, at least one of whom previously had oversight authority at the lab, according to the full version of the inspector general’s internal report. Their names were redacted from the report, released to The Center for Public Integrity earlier this month.
The investigation also unearthed notes from a meeting during which Wilson’s firm advised that “Lockheed Martin should aggressively lobby Congress, but keep a low profile.”
The contract, giving Sandia Corp. control of an annual lab budget of about $2.4 billion, was extended four times, initially for a year and then twice more for three months each. Finally, in March 2014, it was extended for two more years with the possibility of a third year.
The approach was nothing new: The inspector general unearthed an earlier Sandia Corp. memo that said similar tactics had been used in 2003 to secure a no-bid extension.
The inspector general’s report also exposed details of the relationship between the labs and New Mexico politicians, noting that the delegation routinely received legislative wish lists from Sandia.
“Specifically, each year the New Mexico Congressional Delegation requested that SNL (Sandia National Laboratories) provide them with information on ongoing and future national security and science research,” the report said. “Included in this package was a ‘Next Steps’ or ‘What Could Congress Do’ section, which sometimes included funding requests or expressed an opinion on a Congressional matter.”
This, the inspector general said, could be construed as using federal funds for lobbying activity.
After the audit’s release in November, Wilson issued a statement denying that she lobbied any federal officials to extend the contract and called the report wrong.
Sandia Corp. said it took “these allegations seriously” and was confident it could work out the issues with the Energy Department.
But in its email to Reveal, the Lockheed communications department said such efforts are part of its job. “Sandia routinely provides the New Mexico delegation with information concerning the labs,” it responded. “As a federally funded research and development center, an aspect of Sandia’s performance of its mission encompasses providing information to the federal government including Congress.”
Initially, the inspector general’s report stirred up some public furor, recalled political analyst Joe Monahan, but it quickly died down.
“There is a long leash on this stuff because, again, money talks,” he said. “You’re talking about billions of dollars, thousands of employees, and no one wants to see the egg crack.”
U.S., Russia agree to reduce stockpile
The nuclear weapons enterprise has had plenty at stake in recent years.
In Prague in 2009, Obama called for the elimination of nuclear weapons. A year later, he and Russian leader Dmitry Medvedev signed the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty calling for each country to reduce its deployed strategic warheads to 1,550 by 2018, down from estimates of more than 1,900 for the United States and more than 2,400 for Russia.
Ratification of the treaty required a two-thirds majority vote in the Senate, which followed in December 2010 after considerable debate and negotiation. Defense hawks and their allies exacted a price for the treaty vote: an Obama administration agreement to support $85 billion in nuclear weapons modernization over a decade.
That number has more than quadrupled since to $348 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Other studies say the cost of nuclear weapons could top $1 trillion over the next 30 years, not counting hundreds of billions of dollars for related projects, such as the cleanup of former nuclear weapons production sites.
Sandia and Los Alamos benefited greatly from the Capitol Hill bargaining. Ten of the 19 modernization capital projects approved by the national nuclear agency and 15 of the 36 proposed capital projects for the nuclear security system are based at the two labs, according to the Government Accountability Office.
The B61-12 bomb’s Life Extension Program at Sandia is among those projects. This year, the $643 million for that program accounts for more than a third of Sandia’s $1.8 billion Energy Department budget.
“It’s the largest nuclear weapons program we have going on at Sandia currently,” said Jim Handrock, the lab’s weapons systems director.
But the program hasn’t experienced perfectly smooth sailing in Congress.
A 2012 Pentagon study concluded that the B61-12 bombs would cost $10.4 billion for development and production, excluding at least $1 billion for the new tail kit, more than double the national nuclear agency’s original estimate. That overrun influenced the Senate Appropriations Committee’s vote the following year to chop by one-third the Obama administration’s $537 million budget request for fiscal year 2014, over strong objections from committee member Udall.
House-Senate negotiations on the omnibus budget bill at the end of 2013 restored the full amount for the B61-12. Udall trumpeted the outcome.
“I’m also very pleased that we were able to reverse an attempt to cut funding for the B61” Life Extension Program, his news release said. “A cut would have harmed our effort to keep our nuclear weapons stockpile safe and secure, and it would have put jobs at risk at our national labs.”
Concern over bomb’s capabilities
The bomb’s name, B61-12, reflects its position as the 12th model of what the government calls a family of bombs. It is descended from the first U.S. hydrogen bomb tested in the Marshall Islands in 1952, which used a plutonium bomb to detonate a thermonuclear explosion 520 times more powerful than the plutonium bomb tested seven years earlier at the remote Trinity Site south of Albuquerque.
Today’s stockpile contains five B61 models, including three tactical versions intended for short-range warfighting. The new B61-12 will consolidate those three models and one more highly explosive strategic bomb, using the nuclear package from one of the existing models.
Unlike the free-fall gravity bombs it will replace, the B61-12 will be a guided nuclear bomb. Its new Boeing Co. tail kit assembly enables the bomb to hit targets precisely. Using dial-a-yield technology, the bomb’s explosive force can be adjusted before flight from an estimated high of 50,000 tons of TNT equivalent force to a low of 300 tons.
And that’s where the debate over the B61-12 moves beyond cost overruns, zeroing in on the granular details of its capabilities.
Congress rejected funding for similar nuclear weapons at least twice during the past 25 years, saying enhanced precision coupled with less force would lead to less collateral damage – such as radiation fallout that could harm allies – and thus a greater likelihood that the military would recommend that the president use the weapons.
Obama, following the lead of Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, laid out the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. strategy in an April 2010 document entitled the “Nuclear Posture Review Report.” It stated that the fundamental role of nuclear forces is to deter nuclear attack.
“Indeed, as long as nuclear weapons exist, the United States will sustain safe, secure, and effective nuclear forces,” the review said. “These nuclear forces will continue to play an essential role in deterring potential adversaries and reassuring allies and partners around the world.”
Obama pledged that the United States would produce no new nuclear warheads and that life extension programs of existing weapons would not provide “new military capabilities.”
Officials from the Obama administration, Pentagon and Energy Department continue to argue that the B61-12 stays within the bounds of that pledge by modernizing an aging family of bombs and in the process ensuring a reliable nuclear arsenal to scare off adversaries.
Air Force Gen. C. Robert Kehler, then the commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, testified about the B61-12 program at an October 2013 congressional subcommittee hearing.
“This consolidation offers opportunities for cost savings and significant stockpile reductions while maintaining U.S. national security objectives and extended deterrence commitments,” Kehler said.
After that hearing, subcommittee member Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., submitted a written question to Assistant Secretary of Defense Madelyn R. Creedon, who also had testified at the hearing. He noted that the administration had pledged to add no new nuclear weapon capabilities.
“Specifically on the B61, the lower yield is being compensated by higher accuracy provided by a new tailkit … would this provide new capability?” Cooper asked.
Creedon responded in writing that “the B61-12 tail-kit assembly (TKA) does not provide a new capability to the weapon. The TKA simply improves the reliability of the bomb.”
Today, Cooper indicates he was satisfied with that response.
“Ms. Creedon is a dedicated public servant who testifies before our subcommittee in both public and classified hearings,” he told Reveal in an email. “The transition of the B-61 from a gravity bomb to one with a tail kit should make it a more reliable weapon without changing its basic nature.”
Back at Sandia, engineer Phil Hoover is the one in charge of integrating the tail kit instruments with those inside the footwide weapon’s body, which includes more than 30 major components such as radar along with thousands of other parts.
“The tail kit provides the ability to get more accuracy,” he said. “We’re reducing the potential for collateral damage.” This kind of guided system, he continued, is “consistent with our digital aircraft today.”
High on the list of aircraft that could carry the bomb is Lockheed’s new F-35 fighter jet. This stealth plane, designed to evade radar, is a $400 billion weapon delivery system that has been plagued by technical problems and cost overruns.
The idea of stealth fighters carrying B61-12 nuclear bombs worries some outside experts, including Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists.
“If the Russians put out a guided nuclear bomb on a stealthy fighter that could sneak through air defenses, would that add to the perception here that they were lowering the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons?” he asked. “Absolutely.”
Hoover said questions about warfighting scenarios involving the B61-12 are not his purview.
“It’s something the Air Force and the warfighters should address,” he said. “It’s really not for us to comment on.”
Hoover referred Reveal to the U.S. Strategic Command, or STRATCOM, a command of the Defense Department that is in charge of nuclear weapons. After requesting written questions, STRATCOM referred Reveal to the Air Force.
Maj. Kelley Jeter, an Air Force spokeswoman, declined Reveal’s interview request but agreed to answer questions via email. Asked what effect stealth fighter jets carrying low-yield B61-12 nuclear bombs would have on an adversary during a conflict, she responded: “To effectively deter potential adversaries, the weapons and platforms fielded by the Air Force must credibly provide options for the President to demonstrate U.S. resolve and support deterrence options for the President to deal with emerging crises.”
But, she added, “the B61-12 will not provide new military capabilities.”
This story was edited by Amy Pyle and copy edited by Sheela Kamath and Nikki Frick.
Len Ackland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and Burt Hubbard can be reached at email@example.com.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower broke diplomatic relations with Cuba on January 3, 1961. Fifty-four years later, on Monday the 20th of July, the United States and Cuba will advance toward normalization of diplomatic relations. Presumably, the US will no longer treat Cuba as its enemy and treat the island simply as its next-door neighbor. Maybe …
The raising of the flags at the embassies on the 20th of July is much anticipated. But what does this all really mean? After more than 56 years of trying to destroy the Cuban Revolution through US sponsored terrorism, an invasion organized and launched by the CIA, biological warfare, an economic and commercial blockade, clandestine infiltrations and a permanent propaganda campaign against Cuba, what would constitute “normal” relations between Washington and La Habana?
The word normal derives from the Latin normalis. In the context of US-Cuba relations it refers to civilized diplomatic behavior, according to historically established philosophical precepts: norms or rules of peaceful conduct between nations.
What rules of peaceful conduct by the United States towards Cuba may we expect from now on? Which normative rules could be considered normal and which abnormal?
It’s normal for two neighboring countries, separated by a mere 90 miles of water, to have diplomatic relations. It’s not normal for the United States to impose an economic, financial and commercial blockade against Cuba.
It’s normal for the US to have an embassy in Havana and for Cuba an embassy in Washington. It’s not normal for the US embassy in Cuba to function without an ambassador, simply because some in the Senate oppose it.
It’s normal for US citizens to travel to Cuba, but it´s not normal to prohibit tourists from the US to travel to the island.
It’s normal for US citizens to travel to Cuba and engage in “people to people” contact, but it’s not normal that the Office of Finance and Assets Control (OFAC) limit it to only group-travel through licensed organizations, thus making travel to Cuba prohibitively expensive and inconvenient for many Americans.
It’s normal for Washington to permit businesses in the US to engage in commerce with private individuals in Cuba, but it’s not normal to make it illegal to do business with state enterprises on the island.
It’s normal for the United States to want a second consulate in Cuba to better serve the public, but it’s not normal that it uses its diplomats to intervene in Cuba’s internal affairs.
It’s normal for the United States to support a process of legal and orderly immigration from Cuba, but it’s not normal for Washington to maintain a Cuban Adjustment Act as a tool to stimulate an illegal, dangerous and disorderly immigration of Cubans to the United States.
It’s normal for the United States Embassy in Havana to provide an open-door policy for Cubans. It’s not normal for its diplomats to organize, direct and employ as salaried dissidents a few Cubans of their choosing.
It’s normal for Washington to contribute to the entertainment of the Cuban people with radio and television programs. It’s not normal for it to maintain a multi-million dollar budget to fund Radio and TV Marti as propaganda instruments.
It’s normal for Washington to want a reputation as a great defender of human rights. It’s not normal for the United States to imprison without due process or civil rights dozens of persons in Guantánamo, as well as torturing them in Cuba.
It’s normal for the United States to have an embassy in Cuba, even a large one, located in prime real estate on the famous Malecón overlooking the bay in Havana. It’s not normal for the United States to occupy, against the wishes of the Cuban people, a large swath of Cuban territory in the province of Guantánamo.
It’s normal for the Pentagon not to invade or send military drones to Cuba. It’s not normal that Washington earmarks a $30 million budget for fiscal year 2016 for a project whose declared purpose is to remove the government of Cuba from power.
It’s normal for Mississippi to be one of the 50 states of the US. It’s not normal for Washington to assume that it has jurisdiction in Cuba as well.
It’s normal for the US to do business with Cuba, but it’s not normal for the US to intervene in her internal affairs.
It’s normal for Washington to condemn terrorism. It’s not normal that it protect in Miami dozens of terrorists, including Luis Posada Carriles, who have committed heinous crimes against civilians in Cuba.
The US blockade against Cuba is a relic of the Cold War whose days are numbered. President Obama’s new Cuba policy, announced on the 17th of December, is a chronicle of the blockade’s death foretold. And it unleashed a torrent of enthusiasm from American businessmen who want to make money by investing there. Businessmen will pressure the Congress to lift the Helms-Burton law that codified parts of the blockade.
But let’s not be naïve. In order to truly say that relations between the US and Cuba are normal, Washington must understand that Cuba does not belong to it, that it is a violation of international law for the US to try and foment regime change in a foreign country and that Cuba must and ought be respected for what it is: a sovereign nation.
President Obama’s Cuba policy is a seismic shift in strategy for the United States. “The old policy did not work. It is long past its expiration date”, said Obama, in his most recent State of the Union speech before Congress. “When what you’re doing doesn’t work for fifty years, it’s time to try something new.”
What is the end game for the United States regarding Cuba? What is it that US Presidents wished had worked? Clearly, the major premise of Washington’s Cuba policy was always regime change. It failed, and the Cuban Revolution remains strong. That is why President Obama said that Washington should “try something new.” Perhaps business can do what isolation could not. Engagement is the new strategy to try and topple the Cuban Revolution.
Cuba is ready for Washington’s policy of engagement. Just as she learned to build trenches to defend the island from invasion, terrorism, biological warfare and a brutal blockade, Cuba will now help the bridges that American businesses will cross to invest there. But Cuba will also be wary. To be sure, Cuba knows that Washington’s end game remains regime change. Cuban laws have always regulated foreign business ventures, and American investment in Cuba will be no different.
Cuba welcomes better relations with the United States and hopes to advance toward normalization. But unless and until the government of the United States has a political metanoia and cancels its desire to dominate Cuba, as if she were its vassal state, normal relations in the true sense of the word will not come to pass.
José Pertierra is an attorney in Washington, DC.