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Friday, September 13, 2013

Assad agrees to sign convention banning chemical weapons

Syrian President Bahar al-Assad has signed a decree stating that Syria will accede to international law governing chemical weapons, according to a UN spokesperson.
The spokesperson for UN, secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon, said: "The secretary general has today received a letter from the government of Syria, informing him that President Assad has signed the legislative decree providing for the accession of Syria to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction of 1992. In their letter, the Syrian authorities have expressed their commitment to observe the obligations entailed by the convention even before its entry into force for Syria." Assad had already said in an interview on Russian TV that he was ready to sign the law. Assad said that he was placing his chemicals under international control at Russia's request, not because of the US threat of force. Assad repeated his position that he was not responsible for the chemical attack in the Damascus suburbs on August 21, but blamed terrorists who had weapons supplied by other countries.
 Assad promises that thirty days after signing the international convention, he will begin handing over data about his chemical stockpile. This is too slow a pace for John Kerry as he says in the appended video. On the face of it, Assad's announcement appears as a positive development. However after his announcement he added on qualifications that basically make his whole project completely unacceptable to the US and its allies. 
In a Russian interview, Assad said: "It doesn’t mean that Syria will sign the documents, fulfill the obligations and that’s it. It’s a bilateral process aimed, first of all, at making the US stop pursuing its policy of threats against Syria. Terrorists are trying to provoke American strike against Syria." Assad calls all the rebels terrorists. Assad went even further suggesting that no country in the Middle East should have weapons of mass destruction. Ensuring the Middle East was free of such weapons would mean no devastating and expensive wars in the area. However, there have been such wars even without the use of weapons of mass destruction for the most part. Assad made specific reference to Israel: “If we want stability in the Middle East, all the countries in the region should stick to [international] agreements. And Israel is the first state that should do so, since Israel possessed nuclear, chemical, biological and all other kinds of weapons of mass destruction." 
The diplomatic process will fail if both sides put conditions in their proposals which doom them from the beginning. This happened in the French draft resolution for the UN which would place the blame for the chemical weapons attack on Assad and also allow the use of force if Assad did not keep his commitments under the resolution. Russia would veto any such resolution. If Assad thinks that he can get Obama to take the use of force off the table that is also unrealistic and there is no way he can expect the US and its allies to stop providing weapons for the rebels. He is also dreaming if he thinks Israel would give up its nuclear weapons. Israel signed but has not yet ratified the international convention banning chemical weapons. Probably Assad will follow Israel's example on chemical weapons. 
 John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, flew to Geneva today along with a team of officials to study the Russian proposals and meet with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov. I hope that much of what each side has said so far is just posturing, and that behind the scenes the Russians and Americans can actually work out a solution. However, so far there is little reason for optimism.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Obama administration now targeting encryption providers to ensure spying is made easy

Another secure email service that encrypts mail for customers has announced that it is shutting it doors to avoid "becoming complicit" in crimes against the American citizens it serves.
Silent Circle is the second company to close down within just a few hours both for the same reason. Founder Jon Callas who helped start the company in 2011 along with Phil Zimmerman said the two saw the handwriting on the wall and decided it was best to shut down now. Zimmerman is also the creator of the widely-used email encryption program Pretty Good Privacy or PGP. Zimmerman told RT earlier in the year: “We’ve created an architecture that doesn’t share cryptographic keys with the servers that we control. So if the government tries to persuade us to hand over something that we might have on our servers, we can’t give them the keys and we can’t give them the decrypted messages. We don’t keep logs of the connections between people. So a court order can’t make us give them something we don’t have,” Mike Janke, the chief executive of Silent Cirlce, said the company’s customers included heads of state, members of royalty and government agencies. Lavabit.com the encrypted emaill service that was reportedly used by NSA whistle blower Edward Snowden also went offline recently. The administrator of the site claims that the company is legally prevented from explaining the reasons why it has gone off line. The homepage of the service had a letter announcing the shut down said that operations had ceased after a six-week ordeal that has led the company to take legal action. The US government is carrying out a vendetta against whistle blowers who have revealed the extent of NSA spying now it is taking action to close down any encryption service that might prevent them from reading any communications it decides to target. The owner and operator of Lavabit , Ladar Levison of Dallas Texas said in a statement:“I have been forced to make a difficult decision: to become complicit in crimes against the American people or walk away from nearly ten years of hard work by shutting down Lavabit. After significant soul searching, I have decided to suspend operations, I wish that I could legally share with you the events that led to my decision. I cannot. I feel you deserve to know what’s going on--the First Amendment is supposed to guarantee me the freedom to speak out in situations like this. Unfortunately, Congress has passed laws that say otherwise. As things currently stand, I cannot share my experiences over the last six weeks, even though I have twice made the appropriate requests.” Global Post published an article on July 12 linking Snowden to an email address at Lababit.com. The conference at Sheremetyevo Airpot in Russia held by Snowden was announced to human rights groups with the email address "edsnowden@lavabit.com" and also signed Edward Joseph Snowden. Max Fisher of the Washington Post and Glenn Greenwald of the Guardian also have claimed that Lavabit was Snowden's email provider. Another article suggests that the two companies in effect committed suicide as the only way to avoid government demands they could not in conscience carry out. Levison of Lavabit had a bit of advice for American users of the Internet: “This experience has taught me one very important lesson: without Congressional action or a strong judicial precedent, I would strongly recommend against anyone trusting their private data to a company with physical ties to the United States, In response to US moves, two of the largest German internet providers are intending to encrypt customer's emails by default as many of their customers suspect that unencrypted messages will be caught in surveillance nets. Deutsche Telekom AG and United Internet AG account for about two thirds of primary email addresses in Germany.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Snowden still stuck in Moscow Airport transit area

- Ecuador has asked Russia for talks concerning Edward Snowden according to a Russian state broadcaster. Snowden is seeking asylum in Ecuador to avoid trial in the US.
Snowden is believed to be in the transit zone of the Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow. This is confirmed by Russian president Vladimir Putin. As reported earlier in the Digital Journal, President Corea of Ecuador has revoked the travel papers that were issued by the Ecuadorean consul in London. This makes it difficult for Snowden to travel on to Ecuador since his US passport has already been revoked.
Ecuador has insisted that Snowden must be on Ecuadorean territory to be given refugee status. Perhaps the talks are aimed at allowing Snowden transit to the Ecuador embassy in Moscow. Alexei Pushkov, the Russian parliamentary foreign affairs committee chair, said on Twitter that the case was tragic."The idealist Snowden was apparently convinced that it would be like in a Hollywood movie: he would blow the whistle, and democracy would prevail. But life and the US are harder."Perhaps this is a sign that Snowden will be turned over to the US as part of improving relations but we will just have to wait and see.
Ecuador says a decision on asylum could take months. and has asked that the US argue its case for extradition. Translated this probably means that Ecuador wants to know what it can get in return for turning over Snowden. The US has alternated between the good cop, bad cop routine. On the one hand there are threats to end preferential access of Ecuadorean goods to the US and on the other hand Joe Biden is the good cop who was praised by President Corea. Corea noted the good manners of Biden in contrast to some "brats" in the US Congress: "He communicated a very courteous request from the United States that we reject the (asylum) request."
Correa said that he would respect US opinion in evaluating Biden's request but that Ecuador cannot even begin to process Snowden's application until he reaches Ecuadorean soil. By revoking Snowden's travel papers, Corea has made this difficult. Corea is a game theorist and economist and a politician to boot. This hardly makes him trustworthy.
So far, Putin has insisted that he will not extradite Snowden. In claiming that he is in the transit area, Putin can claim as well that he has not even entered Russia. However Russian law requires any travellers staying in the area for more than 24 hours to obtain a transit visa for up to three days. There is no confirmation that Snowden has such a visa or when it might expire. Several refugees have actually stayed in the airport for months. The longer the situation is unresolved the more Russian US ties are strained.


CIA provided information to South African police that led to arrest of Mandela in 1962

While the US now celebrates and praises Nelson Mandela as the father of South Africa, in the past Mandela was regarded as a dangerous revolutionary associated with violence and communists. The CIA apparently helped ensure his arrest in August of 1962.
In an article published in January of 2005, William Blum sets out the background of the CIA involvement in the arrest of Nelson Mandela. Ultimately Mandela was convicted and was jailed for a total of 28 years.
By the time Mandela was released in February of 1990, his stature had changed dramatically and then President George Bush Sr. telephoned Mandela to say that Americans rejoiced at his release. Blum points out that this was the same George Bush who once was head of the CIA and who was second in power during an administration that worked closely with South African Intelligence service to provide information about Mandela's African National Congress. The African National Congress was seen by the US as part of the "International Communist Conspiracy".
In the early forties, Mandela had already contact with communists and went to meetings although he did not join the party because Mandela, as a Christian, opposed their atheism, and he also saw the South African struggle as based primarily on race rather than class:"Staying with a cousin in George Goch Township, Mandela was introduced to the realtor and ANC activist Walter Sisulu, who secured him a job as an articled clerk at law firm Witkin, Sidelsky and Edelman. The company was run by a liberal Jew, Lazar Sidelsky, who was sympathetic to the ANC's cause.[38] At the firm, Mandela befriended Gaur Redebe, a Xhosa member of the ANC and Communist Party, as well as Nat Bregman, a Jewish communist who became his first white friend.[39] Attending communist talks and parties, Mandela was impressed that Europeans, Africans, Indians and Coloureds were mixing as equals. However, he stated later that he did not join the Party because its atheism conflicted with his Christian faith, and because he saw the South African struggle as being racially based rather than class warfare."
On August 5 of 1962 Mandela had been hiding from police for 17 months when his car was flagged down outside the town of Howick in Natal at a roadblock. Only later did stories appear explaining why the police set up the roadblock in that place. Three South African newspapers, and the London Press, ran stories that claim a CIA officer Donald Rickard who worked undercover as a consular official in Durban had tipped off the South African Special Branch that Mandela would be disguised as a chauffeur in a car headed for Durban. Rickard obtained this information through an informant in the ANC.
Apparently, a year later, at a party, he is reported to have said that he had been due to meet Mandela on that night. However, Rickard later refused to discuss the issue when he was approached by CBS. While Mandela went on to serve 28 years in prison where he suffered tuberculosis from the damp cell he was in for years and other health problems, Rickard retired comfortably in Pagosa Springs Colorado. Still, Mandela has managed to survive into his nineties as a revered figure while Rickard is forgotten by most people.
The New York TImes also had an article on the issue citing a report from Cox News:"The report, scheduled for publication on Sunday, quoted an unidentified retired official who said that a senior C.I.A. officer told him shortly after Mr. Mandela's arrest: ''We have turned Mandela over to the South African Security branch. We gave them every detail, what he would be wearing, the time of day, just where he would be.'' "
A good summary of Mandela's political activity is given in Wikipedia.


Saturday, June 29, 2013

US National Security Agency spied on both the UN and the European Union in US and Brussels


The well-known German newspaper Der Spiegel claims that the US National Security Agency spied on European Union computer networks in Washington and also at the the UN.The source of the claims are a September 2010 "top secret" document that whistleblower Edward Snowden had taken with him. Journalists from Der Spiegel had read the document in part. The document shows how the NSA  bugged offices and spied on internal EU computer networks in both Washington and the United Nations. The NSA not only listened to conversations and phone calls but were able also to peruse documents and emails. The document specifically referred to the EU as a target. These reports, if confirmed, could be highly damaging to relations between the US and the EU.
Not surprisingly,[url=http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/10150905/NSA-suveillance-US-bugged-EU-offices.html t=_blank] EU officials [/url]have already demanded that the US explain the alleged bugging.  The NSA also targeted telecommunications at a building in Brussels that houses the European Council, the group of European Union governments.
 US officials have yet to comment but the European Parliament chief Martin Schulz said that more information was needed , but if the charges of spying were confirmed, it would be a huge scandal. [url=http://www.aljazeera.com/news/americas/2013/06/20136300321519491.html t=_blank]Schultz [/url]said in statement: [quote]"On behalf of the European Parliament, I demand full clarification and require further information speedily from the US authorities with regard to these allegations".[/quote]  The Foreign Minister of Luxembourg said that it the reports are true it is disgusting.[quote]"The United States would be better off monitoring its secret services rather than its allies. We must get a guarantee from the very highest level now that this stops immediately."[/quote]

  Snowden is apparently still in a Moscow airport transit area. President Corea of Ecuador revoked his transit papers to Ecuador where he seeks asylum. However Snowden first has to reach Ecuador which will be difficult without the transit papers.[url=http://www.aljazeera.com/news/americas/2013/06/20136291811995947.html t=_blank] Joe Biden[/url] spoke to president Corea and has asked Ecuador to refuse the request for asylum.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Canada-Europe free trade deal is about expanding corporate power and shrinking democratic control

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is busy promoting CETA, the Canada-European Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement while on his travels in Europe. Critics claim that the agreement is less about free trade and more about extending the power of huge global corporations.
The deal has been criticized ever since negotiations began. Among the claims of critics is that the deal could add up to $3 billion to the price of Canadian drugs by extending patent lengths. It could also restrict the manner in which local governments are able to spend money and also ban any buy local policies. The Wall Street Journal reports that Canadian negotiators have agreed that their will be no investment review on any European firm's takeover or investment in a Canadian firm unless it is over $1.5 billion. Currently any deal over $330 million is subject to review. The higher amount would be phased in over several years. As it liberalizes the rules for giant global European based corporations Canada has at the same time increased the scrutiny of international state-owned enterprises. The rules are for the interest of global capital not enterprises that might further the interests and agenda of a particular country. This is seen by the fact that much of the deal has to do with copyright and ensuring that both sides enforce intellectual property laws. As an article in Wikipedia puts it: Part of the Agreement is stricter enforcement of intellectual property, including liability for Internet Service Providers, a ban on technologies that can be used to circumvent copyright, and other provisions similar to controversial ACTA, DMCA, PIPA, and SOPA..., Electronic Frontier Foundation stated that this "trade agreement replicates ACTA's notorious copyright provisions". Americans should take notice since a similar deal is planned between the US and Europe. CETA would ban both 'buy local' or even "buy Canadian policies. In March of this year a UN report on poverty in Canada suggested that poverty reduction measures could be "undermined by the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with the European Union, currently in draft form, which would prohibit municipal governments from using procurement of goods and services valued over $340,000 in a way that favours local or Canadian goods, services or labour." Several municipalities from Nanaimo in BC to Toronto in Ontario have requested they be excluded from CETA provisions. The agreement would set up an investor-state dispute settlement process that could stymie attempts to legislate environmental protections or other measures that were regarded as interference in trade. Some Canadian banking regulations could be challenged by European banks. Stephen Harper, Canadian Prime Minister said that although there difficulties within the negotiating process: ".. both of our countries look to considerable gains from an eventual agreement, and we will continue to work with that objective in mind." Canadian Trade Minister Ed Fast claims that the deal could boost the Canadian economy by $12 billion a year and create 80,000 jobs. A joint study by Canada and Europe in 2008 shows that Europe would benefit even more. The negative effects pointed out by critics are conveniently left out of the picture. Global capital is busy promoting other "free trade" deals as well including the TPP or Trans-Pacific Partnership. The article on the TTP notes:Anti-globalization advocates accuse the TPP of going far beyond the realm of tariff reduction and trade promotion, granting unprecedented power to corporations and infringing upon consumer, labour, and environmental interests.[56][57] One widely republished article claims the TPP is "a wish list of the 1%" and that "of the 26 chapters under negotiation, only a few have to do directly with trade. The other chapters enshrine new rights and privileges for major corporations while weakening the power of nation states to oppose them."[57] As with CETA negotiations they take place behind closed doors and terms being negotiated are often known only through leaks.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Obama to nominate former Bush official and Republican for FBI director

President Obama will nominate James Comey to serve as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The date when Obama will make the nomination is not known.
Obama apparently is anxious to please Republicans, Wall Street, and the military-industrial complex. Comey was a former counsel for Bridgewater Associates, a huge hedge fund , and also a senior official in the Bush administration:"As Deputy Attorney General, Comey was the second-highest ranking official in the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) and ran the day-to-day operations of the Department, serving in that office from December 2003 through August 2005."
No doubt Democrats will play up Comey's role in refusing to reauthorize a program for eavesdropping without warrant when he served as acting attorney general during the Bush administration. This event is played up by the PBS news report appended.However, an even stronger recommendation will be his role in the Arar case where a Canadian citizen was rendered to Syria for torture and interrogation and then tried to sue the US attorney general. Comey deftly stopped the suit in its tracks by invoking the state secrets privilege:" The privilege was invoked against a case where Maher Arar, a wrongfully-accused and tortured victim, sought to sue Attorney General John Ashcroft for his role in deporting Arar to Syria to face torture and extract false confessions. It was formally invoked by Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey in legal papers filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York. The invocation read, "Litigating [the] plaintiff's complaint would necessitate disclosure of classified information", which it later stated included disclosure of the basis for detaining him in the first place, the basis for refusing to deport him to Canada as he had requested, and the basis for sending him to Syria."
At present Comey teaches at Columbia Law School, but for several years he was also General Counsel and Senior Vice President of Lockheed Martin. The law, hedge funds, and military contractors, all prime references to serve in a government that serves the military-industrial complex not to mention the fact that he is a good Republican who donated to the McCain and Romney campaigns. Choosing Comey will no doubt ensure that Obama will not face problems from Republicans at confirmation hearings.
Comey may face questions about his three years working as counsel for the world's largest hedge fund, a job he gave up just earlier this year. Senator Charles Grassley notes:“The administration’s efforts to criminally prosecute Wall Street for its part in the economic downturn have been abysmal, and his agency would have to help build the case against some of his colleagues in this lucrative industry."No doubt Comey will continue the good work of doing an abysmal job of convicting his former colleagues.


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Car bombing targets French Embassy in Libya


The French embassy in Tripoli, the capital of Libya, was the target of a car bombing early this morning (April 24). Two French guards were wounded in the attack according to early reports.
A French official told Reuters: "There was an attack on the embassy. We think it was a booby trapped car. There was a lot of damage and there are two guards wounded."French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius condemned the attack and said that everything would be done to find the perpetrators:"I send my solidarity and deepest sympathy to the two injured French guards and my wishes for their recovery."
Asad Naeeli, a witness living near the embassy, told Al Jazeera that the bomb went off around 7 in the morning: “This is a big concern as a Libyan. You hear about things happening in different cities and now it is close to home. It is a big concern for the security of Libya, it will delay many things."
The car, laden with explosives, was detonated just outside embassy building. The embassy is located in an upscale residential area. As well as wounding the two guards, the blast started a fire that burned some offices inside the building, and also set fire to two parked cars. Nearby buildings were also damaged. A teenage girlin a nearby house was also hurt by the blast.
This incident follows upon the devastating attack targeting the US consulate in the eastern city of Benghazi last September that killed the US ambassador and three other Americans. This is the first attack on an embassy in the capital. The attack could be by Islamic militants in reaction to French intervention against Islamists in northern Mali.


Sunday, April 7, 2013

Violence greets General Dempsey's Afghan visit with 11 children and American troops killed


The Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Dempsey arrived for a visit aimed at assessing the training of Afghan security forces. Several incidents have been reported one involving Americans and the other children, victims of a NATO air strike.
Dempsey no doubt wants to assess the progress made in training Afghan forces to take over security when the main combat troops are withdrawn from Afghanistan at the end of 2014.
In one attack, a suicide bomber, detonated a car bomb just as an American convoy passed that was accompanying the provincial governor of Zabul. Three US troops were killed as well as two US civilians and an Afghan doctor who was accompanying the governor. Several Americans and Afghans were wounded including two of the governors' bodyguards.
Meanwhile in Shigal district in Kunar province on the Pakistan border, local officials in the region report that eleven children and a woman were killed in an air strike during a NATO operation that targeted Taliban commanders in the area.
The civilian deaths were confirmed by Wasefullah Wasefi a spokesperson for the provincial governor. He said that eleven children and a woman were killed in the air strike. The Interior Ministry did not mention any civilian casualties. A Reuters journalist also reports seeing the bodies of the 12 children. Such overwhelming evidence of the deaths will make denial difficult.
A Shigal district chief said the women and children were killed when houses collapsed on them. As usual the ISAF officials said only that they were aware of the reports of civilian casualties and were investigating them. Karzai has constantly criticized NATO air attacks of this type and has banned Afghans from calling in air support in these situations. An ISAF spokesperson Captain Luca Carniel said that ISAF provided "air support" and that the air support had been called in by coalition forces not Afghans. So to get around the ban on calling in air support the boss just issues the order not the Afghans.
The provincial governor's spokesperson also said that a US adviser to the Afghan intelligence agency was also killed during the attack that lasted several hours. There were two important Taliban commanders also reported killed. The civilian deaths will simply further exacerbate the anti-US sentiments in the area and help the Taliban recruit more Afghans to their cause.

Violence escalates as Iraq elections approach


As provincial elections scheduled for April 20 draw closer violence continues in Iraq, including a savage attack on a political rally for a Sunni candidate in Baquba
The suicide bomber attack on the rally for Muthana al-Jourani was launched during a luncheon with hundreds of supporters in attendance. At least 22 people were killed and over fifty wounded. Among the wounded were al-Jourani himself and three other candidates. A New York Times report puts the death toll at 20 with about 55 wounded and claims that there were two explosions one from the bomber and another from a home-made bomb. The BBC reports that a grenade was thrown into the tent where the supporters were assembled for lunch and just seconds later a suicide bomber inside the tent blew himself up.
In the last few weeks more than 11 candidates in the elections have been killed. In two provinces polls have been postponed because of the security situation. Some of the opposition claim that the al-Maliki government is trying to use the violence as a reason to postpone elections because they fear they may lose.
Baquba, north of the capital Baghdad, is the capital of Diyala Province whose population is a mix of Sunni and Shiite Muslims. Al Qaeda has been active of late in Iraq and is attempting to ignite sectarian conflict between Shia and Sunni groups. The rally was in a poor section of the city.
Violent attacks took place in several other places in Iraq. In Samarra a bomb killed three police and also wounded three civilians. In Shirgat a policeman and his brother were hurt when two bombs exploded. A gunman was also killed in Shirgat when a bomb the gunman was planting exploded. In Mosul in the north two soldiers were wounded when there was a clash at their checkpoint and a civilian was killed. In two other incidents in different places two policemen were wounded.
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Sunday, March 10, 2013

Divisions within Chavism


Michael Lebowitz is professor emeritus of economics at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver Canada. He was director of the Program in Transformative Practice and Human development in Caracas, Venezuela from 2006-2011
Lebowitz discusses the divisions within Chavism and the outlook for Venezuela during Chavez's fourth term. Much of the material for this article is taken from an interview with a Croatian newspaper published on November 1st 2012. The original interview in Croatian can be found here. Although the interview was long before Chavez' death it nevertheless shows many of the problems that the revolutionary movement in Venezuela faces and gives a brief history of developments there that put the situation in context. Lebowitz discusses his general views on socialism, and the problems of promoting socialism in the 21st century, in the interview on the appended video.
Before Chavez was elected, Lebowitz descibes Venezuela as a rentist economy depending upon oil revenues, and a political culture that grew up around and depended upon oil rents. There was a culture of corruption and clientalism. Neoliberal policies resulted in cutbacks to social services and ending of subsidies on basic goods and also privatization. By the 1990s the situation was a disaster, and this helped Chavez get elected at the end of the decade.
Chavez gained power not only with the support of social movements and the poor but much of the middle class who also were fed up with the situation. At the time Chavez was calling for a ""good capitalism" and an ending of neoliberal policies.
He funneled oil revenues into education and health services. While Lebowitz sees these moves as basically populist, meant to maintain and develop political support, he also notes that they meet real needs and gave people the power to develop. In particular Chavez developed communal councils at the local neighbourhood level. These local councils grouped together to form communes which were designed to deal with wider problems.
These groups are what Chavez considered the cells of a socialist state. Also developed were workers' councils. These give working people a say in decision-making. However, Lebowitz points out that the transformation of Venezuelan society is far from smooth.
WIthin Chavism, Lebowitz identifies three main groups. One group is associated with the base and social movements, the local communities, and sections of the working class. A second group are people who have risen along with Chavism and who have enriched themselves through their positions. They continue corruption and clientalism exactly as did political leaders in the old regime. They think the revolution should now stop. They have a nickname in Venezuela the "boli-boourgeoisie". Finally, there is a third group who want to continue the process of change but through authoritarian means from the top down. They see themselves as vanguard leaders whose duty is to impose the proper socialist order from above.
The growth of cooperatives under Chavez has been astonishing. In 1998 when Chavez took power, there were 762 cooperatives in Venezuela but not long ago there were already 84,000. As Lebowitz points out, many of these small cooperatives fail or are discontinued although there are some in rural areas that have been quite successful. Lebowitz sees these cooperatives as schools where people learn to cooperate and to discover that they can carry out useful projects together. However, Lebowitz thinks that even more important as a training ground is involvinng workers in managing state enterprises
Lebowitz's vision of socialism involves people developing their powers through transforming both their circumstances and themselves through their practice. Venezuela has taken steps towards what he calls a protagonistic democracy. Lebowitz sees a considerable struggle within Chavism as well as with the opposition who want to curb the power of the people and return to an earlier period.
Meanwhile Chavez is still demonized quite often by the media in the west often being called a dictator even though he is an elected president in elections with international observers. The issue of demonization is discussed in this Al Jazeera discussion

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Rand Paul filibustering Brennan's appointment to CIA head


Representative Rand Paul is carrying out an old-fashioned filibuster that will hold up for an indefinite period the confirmation of John Brennan as chief of the CIA.
Rand_Paul is focusing on the dangers of drone strikes against Americans in the US. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said today (March 6) that any Republican attempt to block a vote would lead him to start the process of ending debate. However, Reid did not actually begin the paperwork that would allow him to do this. As a result Reid cannot break in on Paul while he is holding the floor. The only solution seems to be for Paul to finally yield.
Rand Paul is a Republican and junior United States Senator for Kentucky.He is a member of the Tea Party and describes himself as a constitutional conservative and libertarian. He is the son of the recently retired libertarian and former representative from Texas, Ron Paul. Rand Paul said:“I will speak as long as it takes, until the alarm is sounded from coast to coast that our Constitution is important, that your rights to trial by jury are precious, that no American should be killed by a drone on American soil without first being charged with a crime, without first to be found guilty by a court."
Paul was angry at the response of Attorney General Eric Holder to a letter Rand had written. Holder claimed that there were extraordinary circumstances in which a drone could be used to target a US citizen on US soil. Paul went on:"That Americans could be killed in a cafĂ© in San Francisco or in a restaurant in Houston or at their home in Bowling Green, Ky., is an abomination. It is something that should not and cannot be tolerated in our country. I don't rise to oppose John Brennan's nomination simply for the person. I rise today for the principle.”
Paul admitted that he did not actually worry that Obama would give an order to kill a US suspect in the US, but he was concerned that this was not ruled out. Paul acknowledged as well that he cannot block Brennan's eventual nomination. However, Paul took the opportunity to criticise what he calls the overreach of the president's power. The president gives himself the power to be judge, jury, and executioner. As Rand put it, theoretically, an American suspect could be driving down Constitution Avenue in Washington and randomly killed in an air strike.
Paul's filibuster was drawing attention on Tea Party blogs, and also on Twitter where many praised his attack on drone policy. Rand's Republican colleagues were apparently unaware of Paul's plans and had expected to vote on Brennan's nomination some time today (March 6). Another Senator, Ted Cruz of Texas, also criticized Holder's response to Paul's letter.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Australian helicopter attack kills two Afghan children herding cattle


In a rare apology NATO admitted a helicopter fired on two boys herding cattle mistaking them for insurgents in Uruzgan province.
General Joseph Dunford said in a statement : "I offer my personal apology and condolences to the family of the boys who were killed....I am committed to ensuring we do the right thing for the families of those we harmed, as well as for the community in which they lived."The children, aged seven and eight, were killed while herding cattle. Insurgents apparently had fired at the helicopter that shot the children.
There have been numerous incidents in which civilians are killed in air attacks called in when there is a conflict with Taliban fighters or other incidents. Here are a few examples:
13 Feb 2013: 10 people killed, including women and children, in a NATO air strike in Kunar province
14 Oct 12: Three civilians die during a NATO operation in Helmand province
6 Jun 12: 18 civilians killed in a NATO air strike in Logar province
Karzai has constantly complained when civilians are killed. The Taliban use them as an effective propaganda tool by collecting photos and video clips of the dead civilians and bombed villages to show the foreign troops as occupiers and killers of Afghans.
Apparently, the children were shot by Australian troops who had come under attack from the Taliban. The governor of Uruzgan, a central province, told AFP :"The children were killed by Australian troops, it was a mistaken incident, not a deliberate one." Following an incident last month the Afghan president barred Afghan forces from calling in air support during their operations. Apparently this was an Australian operation.
Previous deaths have resulted in demonstrations against the presence of foreign troops. Perhaps these deaths will cause similar protests. Most of the over 1500 Australian troops in Afghanistan are in Oruzgan province engaged in training Afghan forces.


Women in Afghanistan often jailed for "moral crimes"




   Even though the Taliban government in Afghanistan fell more than ten
years ago, the justice system is still discriminatory in its treatment
of women as is the legal system.
Al Jazeera reporter, Jennifer Glasse reports from Herat at a women's jail. Many in Afghan
jails are in jail for fleeing domestic abuse or violence. Even rape
victims are jailed for what are called "moral crimes" as the appended
video shows, Afghanistan is unique even among those countries which base
 their judicial system on Sharia law in that Afghanistan is the only
jurisdiction which claims there is a crime of fleeing. Heather Barr,
 Afghan Researcher, at Human Rights Watch said: "Afghanistan is the only
 Islamic government in the world that specifically criminalised running
away." There is no mention of the offense in Afghan law. The problem of
running away could be solved if Afghanistan had more women's shelters
and other programs.


A report issued
 by Human Rights Watch last year, claims that hundreds of women and
girls are imprisoned for the moral crimes of running away from home, and
 sex outside of marriage.The report had called for an estimated 400
women to be freed so that the Afghan government would fulfill its
obligations under international human rights law.


Kenneth Roth,
 executive director of Human Rights Watch said:"It is shocking that 10
years after the overthrow of the Taliban, women and girls are still
imprisoned for running away from domestic violence or forced marriage."
  Actually, it is not that surprising. Many of the former warlords whom
the west helped triumph over the Taliban were just as violent against
women if not worse than the Taliban. Also, there are so-called reformed
Taliban in the government. They probably hold the same views about women
 as unreformed Taliban but support the government.


The criminalisation of "running away" results from a certain latitude given judges under article 130 of the Afghan constitution:
 "When there is no provision in the Constitution or other laws regarding
 ruling on an issue, the courts’ decisions shall be within the limits of
 this Constitution in accord with the Hanafi jurisprudence and in a way
to serve justice in the best possible manner."


Afghan judges and prosecutors say that this allows judges to
interpret Islamic law and justifies their ruling on fleeing. Heather
Barr says that the judges and prosecutors are ignoring the limits of the
 section in that the interpretations should be consistent with other
provisions of the constitution and lead to a just outcome. Heather Barr
thinks that the decisions violate article 130 of the constitution which
says: "No person can be punished but in accordance with the decision of
an authorised court and in conformity with the law adopted before the
date of offense". Some local Afghan rights workers were critical of the
report for not examining the laws more carefully upon which distinctions
 are made and not interviewing women who have run away and are actually
in shelters to determine the different circumstances that determine
legal outcomes.


Ahraf Nemat, an Afghan human rights campaigner, said that the Human
Rights Watch report would be taken as a general statement of impunity
for the 400 or so women imprisoned. Nemat said that it is equally
important that women who commit crimes should face justice.




   Even though the Taliban government in Afghanistan fell more than ten years ago, the justice system is still discriminatory in its treatment of women as is the legal system.
Al Jazeera reporter, Jennifer Glasse reports from Herat at a women's jail. Many in Afghan jails are in jail for fleeing domestic abuse or violence. Even rape victims are jailed for what are called "moral crimes" as the appended video shows, Afghanistan is unique even among those countries which base their judicial system on Sharia law in that Afghanistan is the only jurisdiction which claims there is a crime of fleeing. Heather Barr, Afghan Researcher, at Human Rights Watch said: "Afghanistan is the only Islamic government in the world that specifically criminalised running away." There is no mention of the offense in Afghan law. The problem of running away could be solved if Afghanistan had more women's shelters and other programs.
A report issued by Human Rights Watch last year, claims that hundreds of women and girls are imprisoned for the moral crimes of running away from home, and sex outside of marriage.The report had called for an estimated 400 women to be freed so that the Afghan government would fulfill its obligations under international human rights law.
Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch said:"It is shocking that 10 years after the overthrow of the Taliban, women and girls are still imprisoned for running away from domestic violence or forced marriage." Actually, it is not that surprising. Many of the former warlords whom the west helped triumph over the Taliban were just as violent against women if not worse than the Taliban. Also, there are so-called reformed Taliban in the government. They probably hold the same views about women as unreformed Taliban but support the government.
The criminalisation of "running away" results from a certain latitude given judges under article 130 of the Afghan constitution: "When there is no provision in the Constitution or other laws regarding ruling on an issue, the courts’ decisions shall be within the limits of this Constitution in accord with the Hanafi jurisprudence and in a way to serve justice in the best possible manner."
Afghan judges and prosecutors say that this allows judges to interpret Islamic law and justifies their ruling on fleeing. Heather Barr says that the judges and prosecutors are ignoring the limits of the section in that the interpretations should be consistent with other provisions of the constitution and lead to a just outcome. Heather Barr thinks that the decisions violate article 130 of the constitution which says: "No person can be punished but in accordance with the decision of an authorised court and in conformity with the law adopted before the date of offense". Some local Afghan rights workers were critical of the report for not examining the laws more carefully upon which distinctions are made and not interviewing women who have run away and are actually in shelters to determine the different circumstances that determine legal outcomes.
Ahraf Nemat, an Afghan human rights campaigner, said that the Human Rights Watch report would be taken as a general statement of impunity for the 400 or so women imprisoned. Nemat said that it is equally important that women who commit crimes should face justice.
- See more at: http://digitaljournal.com/article/344667#sthash.A60Fj9Pe.dpuf

Friday, March 1, 2013

Taliban are infiltrating Afghan Local Police

The Taliban are infiltrating local militias funded and trained by the US to attack the Taliban and control security in local areas.
   A recent attack that killed 17 local police was carried out by Taliban infiltrators. Earlier reports, such as this one in Digital Journal, did not go into details about the attack. The New York TImes now reports that several members of the Afghan Local Police drugged 17 of their fellow police officers and then executed them. They then stole all their weapons and fled after setting a police vehicle afire. Afghan officials subsequently said that the attackers were Taliban infiltrators. The Taliban said that the attack was in revenge for atrocities and crimes carried out by these forces against local people. There have been numerous complaints about such forces from local people. A Taliban spokesperson said: “Locals in the area were tired of the atrocities and crimes of these [irregular militias] and their lives and property were not safe."
   Recently Karzai ordered all US special forces out of Wardak provinces because of actions of the ALP who are trained by US special forces. Charges included, torture, illegal detentions, and even killing as reported earlier in Digital Journal. The Afghan Local Police (ALP) are fundamentally armed militias that are funded by the US and supported and trained by US special forces.
  A New York Times article notes: " “Many residents complain that the groups often operate outside the law, extort unofficial taxes from local residents and are prone to act on the basis of ethnic loyalties.”" A Human Rights Watch report in September of 2012 documented cases of killings, rapes, arbitrary detentions, abductions, and illegal raids perpetrated by the ALP. The ALP program was a favorite initiative of General Petraeus who was commander of the ISAF forces in Afghanistan during the second half of 2010 and first half of 2011, before he became head of the CIA.. Petraeus considered the ALP program a key part of his counterinsurgency strategy. Yet the program in many places has been a shambles.
   The appended video illustrates some of the issues even before Petraeus left office. Yet the program continues, and in Wardak mentioned in one video, US special forces have been ordered out of the province. As well as engaging in abuse of locals, several units of the ALP have simply gone over to the Taliban weapons and all. Another group simply gave their weapons to the Taliban. Now it seems they have infiltrated a unit and killed all their fellow recruits.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

United Arab Emirates spends $1.4 billion at arms show in Abu Dhabi


- Sales at the IDEX arms show in Abu Dhabi have been brisk as in total about $2.7 billion in defence contracts have been signed by a number of different countries.
The International Defence Exhibition or IDEX is the largest arms exhibition in the Middle East. For the past several years the exhibition has been held in the capital of the UAE Abu Dhabi. Sheikh Khalifa Al Nahyan who is President of the UAE and also Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed forces is benefactor of the show.
The UAE expenditure of $1.4 billion includes drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV's)The largest deals, which were announced on Tuesday February 19, were for 750 mine-resistant, ambush-protected, all-terrain vehicles from Oshkosh Corp worth $380 million.
The number of drones purchased was not announced. The unarmed Predator drones were bought from the privately-owned US firm, General Atomics, and had a price tag of $197 million. The drones are said to be designed so that armaments cannot be added. This is the first sale of the unarmed drones by General Atomics in the Middle East. The UAE awarded the contract to buy the drones to a local group International Golden Group for the purchase from the US firm. Major General Obeid al-Ketbi told reporters: "UAVs are significant for any armed forces in present times. There is a lot of demand for these,"
According to Wikileaks cables the UAE and Saudi Arabia had asked the US to sell them armed drones but the US has always refused. The US claims that it is committed to an international agreement to limit the spread of long range precision weapons and this would include drone exports. The unarmed Predator approved for export has no "hard points" where missiles could be attached and is said to be engineered so that adding weaponry would be impossible according to General Atomics.
General Ketbi also said that the contracts included a $117.2 million deal with US firm Raytheon for materials used in the GBU12 as well as GBU58 bombs. The total number of deals signed as of Tuesday came to $2.76 billion.
The UAE is a federation of seven emirates, each ruled by a hereditary emir. The emirs choose a president of the UAE from among their memgers. The following belong to the UAE: Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras-al-Khaima, Sharjah, and Umm al-Quwain. Abu Dhabi, where IDEX took place, is the capital.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Bolivia nationalizes Spanish firm that operates Bolivian airports


Bolivia nationalized the company that runs the three largest airports in Bolivia because the government claims the company did not invest in improving the airports.
Servicios de Aeropuertos Bollivianos SA (Sabsa) is a division of Spain's Abertis Infraestructure SA but Sabsa is also partly owned by Aena Aeropuertos SA based in Madrid. Bolivian president Evo Morales said that the privatization of Sabsa in 1997 was equivalent to "robbery" and "looting". He claimed that since that time the company's profits have been exorbitant and investments "ridiculous".
Since taking office in 2006 Morales has moved to put telecommunication, energy and water industries in the hands of the state. As reported in Digital Journal he took over Spanish power companies the end of last year.
The parent company of Sabsa says that it respects the government's decision but trusts it will receive adequate compensation. The company claims that the government had frozen the fees that Sabsa can collect a decade ago. This new decree marks the third time in the space of a year that Morales has nationalized Spanish companies that operate in Bolivia. In 2006 he took over oil and gas fields, and refineries owned by by Brazil's own state-run Petroleo Brasileiro.
Spain's Foreign Ministry was more negative than the company nationalized:“The Spanish government deeply regrets the Bolivian government’s decision to nationalize Sabsa, and particularly the police occupation of its headquarters. Spain does not consider this a friendly act.”
While foreign investors may be wary of investing in Bolivia, the economy is estimated to have grown by at least 5% in 2012 according to the International Monetary Fund. Finance Minister Luis Arce told reporters that he expected the economy to grow by 5.5% in 2013. As the appended video explains, nationalization is sometimes used as a threat to get companies to provide more for Bolivians rather than risk being taken over. Obviously, it is not an idle threat.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A rare protest in Singapore against new population plan


On February 16, a rare protest of about 3,000 people took place in Singapore. They were protesting government plans to increase the population of the city state.
Protesters worry that a government plan that would raise the current population from 5.3 million to a high as 6.9 million by 2030 will make already strained public services worse and also push up the cost of living.
Singapore has an image of political stability and efficient governance but also is known for attempts by the long-ruling People's Action Party to try to stifle opposition. The party has ruled since 1959. There are also strict regulations on public protests. The main organizer of the protest, Gilbert Goh, said the protest is meant to show the public's displeasure with the population plan that was endorsed by the parliament on February 8 :"They want to tell the government, please reconsider this policy. The turnout is a testimony that this policy is flawed and unpopular on the ground."
The government plan calls for bolstering infrastructure and social programs to serve the more than one million new residents. By 2030 non-foreigners would form between 3.6 and 3.8 million somewhat more than half the entire population. Despite some opposition in parliament the plan was approved by a wide majority.
Singapore has a falling birthrate and an aging population. The Prime Minister Lee Loong said in parliament:"In my view in 2030, I think 6 million will not be enough to meet Singaporeans' needs as our population ages because of this problem of the baby boomers and bulge of aging people,"Loong also claimed that 6.9 million was not a target but a figure to be used to plan infrastructure development and social programs. The present birth rate in Singapore is below the replacement value of two babies per mother. In 2010, the World Bank estimated Singapore's fertility rate to be just 1.2 births per woman one of the lowest birth rates in the world.
Singapore attracts many immigrant workers from other Asian neighbours such as China and Indonesia who work as maids and construction workers. At the same time it attracts foreign high-income earners who are attracted by Singapore's political stability and high standard of living. However, this influx of people has caused public transport to be overcrowded and property prices to go extremely high. The result is resentment against foreigners.
Samantha Chia, one of the rally speakers, said :"Immigrants come at such a fast pace that they're not able to assimilate. It's unfair for them as well and a lose-lose situation."Singapore is touted as a beacon of capitalist development and prosperity but critics complain that the government has pursued growth at any cost.
Vincent Wijeysingha, a university lecturer and a member of an opposition party said:
"We want the government to put the vast resources that are at their disposal at the service of us, the people. Because we are not machines and our neighborhoods are not factories, and our island is not a hotel."
A native Singaporean Hayatt Shah is one among many who have left Singapore because of the skyrocketing cost of living. He has moved to Japan where he also pays a high price for accommodation but not as high he claims as in Singapore. Shah said:"I refuse to pay such a high price to live in a box that I have a lease on for 99 years. It's crazy that property prices here in Saitama [in Japan] are more affordable than properties in Singapore."Shah is a musician and English instructor but found it more and more difficult to maintain his accustomed lifestyle in Singapore, where he was born and lived all his life. He claimed that he did not feel at home in Singapore any longer.
Singapore boasts that it grew from a small island nation to a rich country with a booming economy, that is sustained by foreign investment and migrant workers. Many think that the increasing problems Singapore faces will erode support for the ruling party and perhaps eventually lead to its defeat.


Monday, February 18, 2013

Facebook earns over a billion but ends up with net tax benefits of over $400 million


Facebook manages to get a $429 million net tax refund. The refund is not because Facebook had a loss. Facebook earned almost $1.1 billion in profits during 2012.
Corporations are able to claim deductions that are not available to individual filers. In Facebook's case the company is able to deduct executive stock options that are used as part of their compensation:"That tax break reduced Facebook’s federal and state income taxes by $1,033 million in 2012, including refunds of earlier years’ taxes of $451 million."
This situation is not unique to Facebook. Many large corporations use stock options to compensate not just executives but other employees. The options allow the holders to buy stocks at favorable prices in the future. When the options are exercised the corporations are able to deduct the difference between what the employee paid for the stock and what it is worth. The employee is required to report this difference as a taxable wage. This article reports that 185 other large corporations also use this tax deduction.
There is nothing illegal about what Facebook and the other corporations are doing. The conceptual basis for the deduction is that the non-cash compensation such as these stock options can be thought of as equivalent to a certain cash compensation and hence an expense just as salary, that reduces profit and thus taxes.
Facebook relies more on stock options and restricted stock units as a form of compensation than many corporations. A lot of these were paid out when it was a private company and are now being exercised and so appear on the company books as a deduction.
In Facebook financial statements you won't actually find any $429 million tax refund. In fact the company claims that it had a $559 billion tax liability for 2012. Yet, in a footnote the records point out that Facebook had a $1.03 billion "excess tax benefit" last year that was related to “stock option exercises and other equity awards.” Factoring this amount in turns the over half a billion tax liability into a refund!
Facebook has even more of these offsetting amounts in the bank for future use to the tune of $2.7 billion that it can carry forward. A spokesperson for Facebook Ashley Zandy would not discuss the tax break but referred to Chief Financial Officer, David Ebersman's conference call with analysts. Ebersman said in the call that the company ended the year with nearly $10 billion in cash as well as the accumulated tax benefits. He said that this gave the company great flexibility and risk protection.
Facebook was a private company until an Initial Public Offering (IPO) was offered on May 17, 2012. The share price was $38 a share. The company was valued at $104 billion. The share value soon dropped, as shares were grossly overvalued. The latest stock value on February 15 was $28.52 still well below its initial value.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Environmentalists press Obama to reject Keystone XL pipeline


While Obama stressed the importance of the environment in his State of the Union speech, environmentalists are pressing him to prove it by rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline..
Already this week, 50 people were arrested while demonstrating against the XL pipeline outside the White House in Washington DC.
An even larger rally is planned for this Sunday, Febrruary 17th, in Washington. The rally is billed as being the largest environmental rally in history.
The upcoming rally is designed to convince Obama to reject construction of the Keystone XL pipeline that would carry oil from the Alberta tar sands to a port in Texas. While on one side Obama is under pressure from environmentalists to not approve construction, he is under pressure to approve the project from many in Congress and his own party, as well as business interests and big oil companies in particular.
Just last month, the Democratic-controlled Senate urged approval, after what was said to be an exhaustive environmental review. The senators said that it was in the US national interest to build the pipeline because it would cut dependence on foreign oil. Note that the US senate does not seem to count Canadian oil as foreign oil. There is good reason for that, since were are bound by NAFTA to share our oil with the US even in times of shortages: Despite the fact that we are running out of natural gas, and that we import 49% of the oil we consume, NAFTA dictates that Canada’s government cannot reduce the percentage of oil and gas we now export to the United States even in times of domestic shortages.
NAFTA also prohibits Canada from selling oil at lower prices in Canada than it does to the US. Many countries that have large oil supplies give their own citizens a break on costs but not Canada: NAFTA also prohibits Canada from charging a lower price to domestic oil consumers than to those purchasing exports. It's common practice for countries that are self-sufficient in oil to give domestic oil consumers a discount from the world price, in essence, to control domestic prices. Back in March of this year when vaulting oil prices pushed up the cost of refined products such as gasoline, residents in some oil-rich countries hardly noticed. Kuwaitis were paying 81 cents per gallon for gasoline. Saudis paid 45 cents. And, Venezuelans were paying just 6 cents.It is not surprising then that US senators do not see Canadian oil as foreign oil since our oil policy regulated through NAFTA is designed to supply the US market at favorable prices. The market in eastern Canada is supplied not by western Canada but by expensive imported oil. We are not even self-sufficient in oil supplies in spite of our resources.
Nebraska, which had rejected the original route, now approves a revised route. Dave Heineman, the governor of Nebraska, approved a new route that avoids the Sandhills region of the state. Heineman claimed the project would bring $418.1 million in economic benefits to the state, as well as $16.5 million in taxes from construction materials. Charles Ebinger of the Brookings Institution said:"Any pipeline can have an accident but if one looks at all the pipelines in the country that cross the Ogallala reservoir for many, many years - both oil and natural gas pipelines - I think without great environmental havoc occurring, on balance I think it makes sense to approve the pipeline and get that oil into the market. "
Many environmental critics of the Keystone XL are really against development of tar sands oil per se, since even the extraction of the heavy oil produces much more in the way of emissions than for conventional oil and it can cause serious problems in the local environment particularly on first nations territory.
While some claim that a "yes" by Obama would entrench the oil sands fuel as a major source of energy and a "no"' would make the extraction unprofitable for oil majors, this seems to me too simplistic a view. There are other alternatives. While a pipeline to the Canadian west coast may be even more contested than the Keystone XL project, a pipeline to eastern Canada would not be out of the question. It would make sense too, if the pipeline is blocked, to consider more refining capacity in Alberta or adjacent provinces to create a move valuable product to be transported by rail or truck to markets. Environmentalists might not have the power to block these developments within Canada. We will see soon which pressure on Obama has the greatest force. My own guess is that he will give in to those who want the project to go forward but he will attempt to negotiate a quid pro quo in return.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

US Senators considering secret court to rule on additions to kill list


The idea is that a secret court would consider evidence that a suspect should be on a targeted killing list and hence could be attacked by a drone. The court would issue what might be called a "death warrant".
The secret drone court would be modeled on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court that was created in 1978. This court approves national security surveillance on US soil. Earlier these decisions had been the prerogative of the president. The court has almost never rejected requests for surveillance warrants although at times they have modified them. The court has also complained at times that evidence presented to the court was not well verified. George Bush carried out surveillance without bothering to go to the court on a number of occasions..
The suggestion of such a court is obviously an attempt to establish some type of legal legitimacy for the drone program by providing judicial oversight that could then be touted as due process. As of now, the due process is simply the operation of the hidden group that advises the president on who should be added to the kill list. The president makes the ultimate decision. Usually, due process is understood as the accused being charged and brought before a court with legal representation, where he or she can know the charges and the evidence against him or her and have his lawyer question that evidence. Such a model does not fit with the prevalent view of the US administration which considers the globe a battlefield between the US and Al Qaeda. Suspected terrorists are not criminals accused of a crime but unprivileged combatants in a battle. Given this conceptualisation of the status of the suspected terrorist due process, as understood in charges against cirminals, does not really enter into the situation. The stark contradiction between the legal framework of the war on terror and normal legal processes should be emphasized more.
People are rightly horrified at the idea that the President,in effect, becomes judge, jury, and executioner. The processes by which the decision to kill are made have no input from the accused and involve no formal charges, simply an assessment that the suspect is an imminent threat to the US, where "imminent" could mean as little as that the person is thought to be planning attacks against the US or its forces. No one from outside the closed system is allowed input into the process.
The situation is little changed if a secret court were to be involved. The evidence presented would be from those who want a suspect declared a legitimate target. No one is present to argue against that evidence except the judge. The court would end up being for the most part a rubber stamp for administrations requests. If there was some resistance or if the process seemed to slow and cumbersome, the administration would probably simply go ahead on its own, as happened with the FISA court under Bush. However, in politics perception is probably at least 80% of reality so the court idea could come to fruition.
Robert M Chesney a law professor at the University of Texas said:“We’ve gone from people scoffing at this to it becoming a fit subject for polite conversation." Chesney said court approval for adding names to a kill list is not beyond the realm of political possibility, at least for US citizens. Chesney noted further:“People in Washington need to wake up and realize the legal foundations are crumbling by the day,”
Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California and chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, promised to review proposals to establish a secret court. She was supported by Senator Angus King, an independent from Maine. King said:“Having the executive being the prosecutor, the judge, the jury and the executioner all in one is very contrary to the traditions and the laws of this country." His remarks suggest the conventional idea of due process, which is never going to have a place with respect to terror suspects unless the war conceptualisation is changed to a view of the terrorist as a criminal.
Brennan disclosed that the Obama administration had actually held talks internally about the feasibility of such a court. Brennan said:“I think it’s certainly worthy of discussion. What’s that appropriate balance between the executive, legislative and judicial branch responsibilities in this area?”
If such a court were to be formed its jurisdiction would likely be limited to approving names for a kill list rather than approving drone strikes. Many believe though that extending the court's review to foreign suspects would infringe on the role of the president as commander in chief. Senator King felt that the court would be constitutional only if limited to ruling on names of American suspects to be placed on the kill list. Apparently, there is concern about judicial oversight only if US citizens are involved.
Of course all this does nothing to dampen concerns about civilian deaths in the strikes, how decisions are made on targeting foreign suspects, or about public disclosure about the strike rules and procedures. As William Banks, a national security law expert at Syracuse University put it:“In terms of the politics and the optics, aren’t you in the same position that you are now? It’s still secret. The target wouldn’t be represented. It’s a mechanism that wouldn’t satisfy critics or advance the due process cause much.”
Hina Shamsi of the ACLU's national security project said that the drone court would actually represent a step backward. A better approach would be extradition and criminal prosecution of suspected terrorists. However this misses the point. This is conceptually a war. In a war you do not charge your opponent with a crime. If you apprehend an opponent he or she is held in effect as a prisoner until hostilities end. Of course in the war on terror, hostilities never end and so the logical extension of that is indefinite confinement without charge as happens in Guantanamo, for the most part.
Shamsi continues: “I strongly agree that judicial review is crucial. But judicial review in a new secret court is both unnecessary and un-American.”But FISA does exactly the same type of thing and has been in place since 1978. In the war on terror, secrecy is as American as apple pie.