The Surveillance State Behind Russia-gate

Exclusive: Amid the frenzy over the Trump team’s talks with Russians, are we missing a darker story, how the Deep State’s surveillance powers control the nation’s leaders, ask U.S. intelligence veterans Ray McGovern and Bill Binney.

By Ray McGovern and Bill Binney

Although many details are still hazy because of secrecy – and further befogged by politics – it appears House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes was informed last week about invasive electronic surveillance of senior U.S. government officials and, in turn, passed that information onto President Trump.

This news presents Trump with an unwelcome but unavoidable choice: confront those who have kept him in the dark about such rogue activities or live fearfully in their shadow. (The latter was the path chosen by President Obama. Will Trump choose the road less traveled?)

What President Trump decides will largely determine the freedom of action he enjoys as president on many key security and other issues. But even more so, his choice may decide whether there is a future for this constitutional republic. Either he can acquiesce to or fight against a Deep State of intelligence officials who have a myriad of ways to spy on politicians (and other citizens) and thus amass derogatory material that can be easily transformed into blackmail.

This crisis (yes, “crisis” is an overused word, but in this highly unusual set of circumstances we believe it is appropriate) came to light mostly by accident after President Trump tweeted on March 4 that his team in New York City’s Trump Towers had been “wiretapped” by President Obama.

Trump reportedly was relying on media reports regarding how conversations of aides, including his ill-starred National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, had been intercepted. Trump’s tweet led to a fresh offensive by Democrats and the mainstream press to disparage Trump’s “ridiculous” claims.

However, this concern about the dragnets that U.S. intelligence (or its foreign partners) can deploy to pick up communications by Trump’s advisers and then “unmask” the names before leaking them to the news media was also highlighted at the Nunes-led House Intelligence Committee hearing on March 20, where Nunes appealed for anyone who had related knowledge to come forward with it.

That apparently happened on the evening of March 21 when Nunes received a call while riding with a staffer. After the call, Nunes switched to another car and went to a secure room at the Old Executive Office Building, next to the White House, where he was shown highly classified information apparently about how the intelligence community picked up communications by Trump’s aides.

The next day, Nunes went to the White House to brief President Trump, who later said he felt “somewhat vindicated” by what Nunes had told him.

The ‘Wiretap’ Red Herring

But the corporate U.S. news media continued to heckle Trump over his use of the word “wiretap” and cite the insistence of FBI Director James Comey and other intelligence officials that President Obama had not issued a wiretap order aimed at Trump.

As those paying rudimentary attention to modern methods of surveillance know, “wiretapping” is passé. But Trump’s use of the word allowed FBI and Department of Justice officials and their counterparts at the National Security Agency to swear on a stack of bibles that the FBI, DOJ, and NSA have been unable to uncover any evidence within their particular institutions of such “wiretapping.”

At the House Intelligence Committee hearing on March 20, FBI Director Comey and NSA Director Michael Rogers firmly denied that their agencies had wiretapped Trump Towers on the orders of President Obama.

So, were Trump and his associates “wiretapped?” Of course not. Wiretapping went out of vogue decades ago, having been rendered obsolete by leaps in surveillance technology.

The real question is: Were Trump and his associates surveilled? Wake up, America. Was no one paying attention to the disclosures from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013 when he exposed Director of National Intelligence James Clapper as a liar for denying that the NSA engaged in bulk collection of communications inside the United States.

The reality is that EVERYONE, including the President, is surveilled. The technology enabling bulk collection would have made the late demented FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s mouth water.

Allegations about the intelligence community’s abuse of its powers also did not begin with Snowden. For instance, several years earlier, former NSA worker and whistleblower Russell Tice warned about these “special access programs,” citing first-hand knowledge, but his claims were brushed aside as coming from a disgruntled employee with psychological problems. His disclosures were soon forgotten.

Intelligence Community’s Payback

However, earlier this year, there was a stark reminder of how much fear these surveillance capacities have struck in the hearts of senior U.S. government officials. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow that President Trump was “being really dumb” to take on the intelligence community, since “They have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you.”

Maddow shied away from asking the logical follow-up: “Senator Schumer, are you actually saying that Trump should be afraid of the CIA?” Perhaps she didn’t want to venture down a path that would raise more troubling questions about the surveillance of the Trump team than on their alleged contacts with the Russians.

Similarly, the U.S. corporate media is now focused on Nunes’s alleged failure to follow protocol by not sharing his information first with Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. Democrats promptly demanded that Nunes recuse himself from the Russia investigation.

On Tuesday morning, reporters for CNN and other news outlets peppered Nunes with similar demands as he walked down a corridor on Capitol Hill, prompting him to suggest that they should be more concerned about what he had learned than the procedures followed.

That’s probably true because to quote Jack Nicholson’s character in “A Few Good Men” in a slightly different context, the mainstream media “cannot handle the truth” – even if it’s a no-brainer.

At his evening meeting on March 21 at the Old Executive Office Building, Nunes was likely informed that all telephones, emails, etc. – including his own and Trump’s – are being monitored by what the Soviets used to call “the organs of state security.”

By sharing that information with Trump the next day – rather than consulting with Schiff – Nunes may have sought to avoid the risk that Schiff or someone else would come up with a bureaucratic reason to keep the President in the dark.

A savvy politician, Nunes knew there would be high political cost in doing what he did. Inevitably, he would be called partisan; there would be more appeals to remove him from chairing the committee; and the character assassination of him already well under way – in The Washington Post, for example – might move him to the top of the unpopularity chart, displacing even bête noire Russian President Vladimir Putin.

But this episode was not the first time Nunes has shown some spine in the face of what the Establishment wants ignored. In a move setting this congressman apart from all his colleagues, Nunes had the courage to host an award ceremony for one of his constituents, retired sailor and member of the USS Liberty crew, Terry Halbardier.

On June 8, 1967, by repairing an antennae and thus enabling the USS Liberty to issue an SOS, Halbardier prevented Israeli aircraft and torpedo boats from sinking that Navy intelligence ship and ensuring that there would be no survivors to describe how the Israeli “allies” had strafed and bombed the ship. Still, 34 American seamen died and 171 were wounded.

At the time of the award ceremony in 2009, Nunes said, “The government has kept this quiet I think for too long, and I felt as my constituent, he [Halbardier] needed to get recognized for the services he made to his country.” (Ray McGovern took part in the ceremony in Nunes’s Visalia, California office.)

Now, we suspect that much more may be learned about the special compartmented surveillance program targeted against top U.S. national leaders if Rep. Nunes doesn’t back down and if Trump doesn’t choose the road most traveled – acquiescence to America’s Deep State actors.

Ray McGovern served as a CIA analyst for 27 years and conducted one-on-one briefings of the President’s Daily Brief under Ronald Reagan from 1081 to 1985.

Bill Binney was former Technical Director, World Geopolitical & Military Analysis, NSA and co-founder of NSA’s SIGINT Automation Research Center before he retired after 9/11.




Trump’s Incoherent Foreign Policy

President Trump’s foreign policy is sinking into incoherence from the Middle East to the Far East, with his promise of less interventionism and budget savings disappearing from view, as Ivan Eland reports.

By Ivan Eland

The recent North Korean missile tests raise questions about contradictions in President Donald Trump’s national security policies. During his campaign Trump implied that the United States should fight fewer wars overseas and demanded that U.S. dependents, Japan and South Korea, do more for their own defense, perhaps even getting nuclear weapons.

Yet a recent article written by David Sanger, a national security reporter for the New York Times, noted that Trump had tweeted that North Korean acquisition of a long-range missile “won’t happen” and that his administration was considering preemptive military strikes on North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs or reintroducing U.S. tactical (short-range) nuclear missiles into South Korea, which were removed 25 years ago.

So which is it — demanding U.S. allies do more or ramping up America’s efforts to make them even more reliant on American power? And this is not the only Trump policy contradiction.

If Trump is demanding that wealthy allies — both East Asian and European — put out more of an effort for their own security and if Trump wants to fight fewer wars overseas, then why does the defense budget need to be increased by a whopping 10 percent? That proposed increase is roughly equivalent to the entire Russian annual defense budget. In fact, couldn’t U.S. defense spending be cut to help ameliorate the already humongous $20-trillion-dollar national debt?

Moreover, the Department of Defense is the worst run agency in the federal government, as demonstrated by its being the only department to repeatedly fail to pass an audit ? thus not being able to pinpoint where many trillions of dollars over many years have been spent. In 2001, the department’s comptroller admitted to me that the department’s broken accounting system would not be able to pass such an audit for a long time to come. Sixteen years later it still can’t.

How does the American taxpayer know that the already almost $600 billion defense budget each year is spent wisely or even not stolen outright? Despite this niggling elephant in the room, the Congress regularly gives the department, and the military services within it, almost a free pass, because of “patriotism,” political pressure from defense industries, and the aura of secrecy surrounding this bureaucracy.

Because the nation’s founders were almost universally suspicious of large standing militaries — in the late 1770s, European monarchs used them for external conquest and plunder and internal repression of their own peoples — militarism covered by the veneer of “patriotism” is as inauthentic and vile as it is prevalent in Twenty-first Century America.

Also, much of the shroud of secrecy surrounding the military is overdone; many employees of the security bureaucracies admit that much information is over-classified. That includes threat information, which the department has a conflict of interest in hyping, because it justifies more spending on research, weapons, operations, maintenance, and all other things military.

The Terrorist Hype

Trump is also hyping terrorist threats to justify stanching foreign travel and immigration to the United States, as well as indirectly his higher defense budgets. Yet leaked documents from his own Department of Homeland Security say that discrimination by national background is a poor way of identifying potential terrorists and that most people who have committed recent terrorist acts in the United States were radicalized long after coming here.

Despite all the media hype, terrorism is still a rare phenomenon, and North America has always had fewer foreign terrorists than most other places, because it is a long way away from the world’s centers of conflict — for example, the Middle East. So much for the value of “extreme vetting” of arriving individuals from selected Muslim countries and increasing defense spending to combat terrorism.

Pressure by the military-industrial-complex (MIC) is another major driver of excessive defense spending. MIC lobbying has led to monumental wasting of taxpayer dollars over the years. For example, according to David Sanger, efforts to develop and field a limited national missile defense system to protect against the likes of relatively primitive North Korean missiles has cost taxpayers about $300 billion since the days of Eisenhower but has given them a system that, even under perfect conditions, can only hit an incoming missile 44 percent of the time. And most analysts say real world conditions will rarely be perfect. This effort should have been abandoned long ago, but the MIC uses “the legacy of Ronald Reagan” to win conservative support in seeming perpetuity, no matter the poor results of the program.

There are countless other weapons programs in the Department of Defense that are underperforming, vastly exceeding original cost estimates, and are way behind schedule. Thus, taxpayers and their members of Congress need to cast a jaundiced eye on Trump’s desired military spending increase.

Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at the Independent Institute. [This article first appeared as a blog post at HuffingtonPost.]




US Media’s Global Warming Denialism

Exclusive: Besides nuclear war, arguably the greatest threat to human civilization is global warming, but the U.S. news media virtually ignored the issue in 2016, bowing to economic and political pressures, writes Jonathan Marshall.

By Jonathan Marshall

Emperor Nero may (or may not) have fiddled while Rome burned, but commercial U.S. TV networks definitely fiddled last year on climate coverage while the Earth grew dangerously hot.

An annual climate report issued this month by the World Meteorological Organization confirms that average global temperatures and global sea levels continued their inexorable rise in 2016, setting new records. Global sea ice dropped to an “unprecedented” extent. Extreme weather conditions, probably aggravated by climate disruption, displaced hundreds of thousands of people, left millions hungry, and caused “severe economic damage.”

Yet in the midst of such frightening changes, and a national presidential campaign with enormous consequences for U.S. climate policy, the four major broadcast networks — ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox News Sunday — significantly decreased their coverage of climate issues on evening and Sunday news programs, according to a new analysis by Media Matters. Television programs like these are the major source of news for 57 percent of adult Americans.

The four networks devoted a mere 50 minutes on their evening and Sunday news programs to climate change in all of 2016. That was a two-thirds drop from the meager time they gave to perhaps the most important issue of our time in 2015. (These figures reflect deliberate coverage by the networks, not incidental mentions of climate by talk show guests.)

Remarkably, ABC managed to beat even Fox for the least climate coverage last year — only six minutes (down from 13 in 2015). Fox provided a grand seven minutes of coverage. CBS topped the group with 27 minutes, but that was still a sharp drop from the 45 minutes it devoted in 2015.

The networks can hardly claim there was nothing of substance to cover. Audiences love news about political controversy, weather, and disasters — and the issue of climate disruption provided all three. The 2016 election, for example, offered a stark and highly controversial choice between Donald Trump, who dismissed global warming as a “hoax” and promised to revive dirty coal as a fuel of choice in the United States, and Hillary Clinton, who supported major new investments in clean energy.

Yet the major TV network news programs “did not air a single segment informing viewers of what to expect on climate change and climate-related policies or issues under a Trump or Clinton administration,” according to Media Matters.

Similarly, their reporters did not ask even one question about climate change during all of last year’s presidential and vice presidential debates. Instead, they waited until after the election to inform viewers about how the country’s vote for Trump would affect the future of climate policy.

Media Matters notes that plenty of other climate-related stories also cried out for attention last year, including, “extreme weather events tied to climate change, like Hurricane Matthew and the record-breaking rainfall and flooding in Louisiana (which the American Red Cross described as ‘the worst natural disaster to strike the United States since Superstorm Sandy’); the signing of the Paris climate agreement and the U.N. climate summit in Morocco; the official announcement from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that 2015 was the hottest year on record by far; and investigations by state attorneys general into whether ExxonMobil committed fraud by misleading the public on climate change.”

Ignoring Links

Yet not once last year did NBC or Fox report on the link between climate disruption and extreme weather, such as the record rainfall in Louisiana or the devastating wildfires that consumed more than 100,000 acres across seven states in the Southeast. ABC gave the topic only one news segment.

Fox News Sunday was the only show to address the climate context for the fight by Native American tribes to block construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline. Several networks offered slightly more coverage of the climate issues surrounding the Keystone XL pipeline, which will transport heavy tar sands oil from Canada, but ABC managed to ignore that topic as well. (The State Department previously reported that completion of Keystone could increase annual greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 27 billion metric tons per year, the equivalent of adding several million passenger vehicles to the roads.)

The Sunday shows did not invite any scientists to discuss climate issues last year. And aside from NBC Nightly News, no commercial network covered the link between climate change and public health, including the spread of mosquito-borne diseases like the Zika virus.

PBS NewsHour crushed the competition in terms of the frequency, length, and seriousness of its climate coverage. It was the only show to inform voters about the policy impacts of a Trump or Clinton presidency before the election. It ran 18 segments on climate science, compared to 11 on all the other evening news shows combined. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Trump administration proposes eliminating funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which supports the NewsHour.

The coverage choices of America’s most-watched networks have great ramifications, starting with the election of climate denier Donald Trump. His choice as EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, is a notorious climate denier, and is surrounding himself with former aides to Oklahoma Senator James Imhofe, an even more notorious denier. His Energy Secretary, Rick Perry, notoriously favored closing that agency altogether. President Trump issued executive orders reviving the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines. He eliminated references to global warming on the White House web site.

The Trump administration also proposes killing the EPA’s popular Energy Star program, which helps consumers save money by choosing more energy efficient appliances. His budget also would wipe out clean-tech research and development programs at the Department of Energy.

This week, President Trump plans to sign an executive order instructing the EPA to consider repealing the Clean Power Plan, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. His order reportedly will also encourage coal-mining leases on public lands, ease oil and gas drilling rules, and direct agencies to find ways to promote more energy production.

These actions not only fly in the face of science, they also run counter to his promises to create new jobs. A new Sierra Club analysis finds that across the nation, “clean energy jobs outnumber all fossil fuel jobs by over 2.5 to 1, and they exceed all jobs in coal and gas by 5 to 1.”

In the long run, nothing the Trump administration does about health insurance, tax reform, or military spending — short of getting us into nuclear war — will matter nearly as much as its determined efforts to prevent global action on climate disruption.

“We are moving into unchartered territory at a frightening speed,” warned Michel Jarraud, the secretary general of the World Meteorological Organization. “Every year we report a new record in greenhouse gas concentrations. Every year we say that time is running out. We have to act now to slash greenhouse gas emissions if we are to have a chance to keep the increase in temperatures to manageable levels.”

Jarraud issued that plea nearly a year and a half ago. Time is, indeed, running out.

Jonathan Marshall is author of “Global Warming’s Threat to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago,” “Dangerous Denial of Global Warming,” “To Fight Global Warming, Canada Ponders a Carbon Tax,” and “Global Warming Adds to Mideast Hot Zone.”




Gorsuch’s Soft Style and Hard Line

After blocking President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee for the past year, the Republicans got President Trump to put up a soft-spoken but hard-line right-winger in Judge Neil Gorsuch, as Marjorie Cohn described for Truthdig.

By Marjorie Cohn

When Donald Trump’s chief of staff Reince Priebus addressed the Conservative Political Action Committee in February, he identified two priorities of the administration: the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, and deregulation.

It turns out that elevating Gorsuch to the Supreme Court and achieving deregulation are inextricably linked. During Gorsuch’s confirmation hearing, Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee challenged him on his pro-business positions.

Minnesota Sen. Al Franken pressed him on a case — that of the now-infamous “frozen trucker” — in which the judge reached what Franken characterized as an “absurd” result. Alphonse Maddin was driving a truck for TransAm Trucking Inc. in 2009 when the brakes froze on the trailer he was hauling. The heater inside the truck wasn’t working, and the temperature outside was minus 27 below zero.

Maddin contacted his employer, who arranged for a repair unit to come to Maddin’s location. While waiting for help to arrive, Maddin nodded off.

“I awoke three hours later to discover that I could not feel my feet, my skin was burning and cracking, my speech was slurred, and I was having trouble breathing,” he said at a recent event in Washington, D.C. When Maddin stepped out of the truck, he said he “was on the verge of passing out. I feared that if I fell, I would not have the strength to stand up and would die.” Maddin was exhibiting symptoms of hypothermia. He called his employer again to report that he was leaving to seek shelter. His supervisor ordered him “to either drag the trailer [with no brakes] or stay put.”

“In my opinion, clearly, their cargo was more important than my life,” Maddin said.

Faced with defying his employer’s order to remain with his disabled trailer or freezing to death, Maddin chose to unhitch the trailer and drive his truck to safety. TransAm fired Maddin for disobeying orders, and he filed a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, an agency of the Department of Labor. The operative statute in this case forbids employers from firing an employee who “refuses to operate a vehicle because the employee has a reasonable apprehension of serious injury to the employee or the public.”

The Labor Department found that TransAm had violated the law, concluding that the word “operate” includes not only driving, but also “other uses of a vehicle when it is within the control of the employee.” Maddin had refused to operate his vehicle in the manner his employer had ordered — with the trailer hitched to the truck.

Of the seven judges who ultimately ruled on the case, Gorsuch was the only one who voted to uphold Maddin’s firing. He decided that Maddin did “operate” his vehicle, which took him outside the statutory language that protects an employee who refuses to operate his vehicle.

What source did Gorsuch consult to construe the word “operate?” He turned to the Oxford English Dictionary, refusing to defer to the Department of Labor’s broader interpretation of the statute. Gorsuch characterized “health and safety” concerns as “ephemeral and generic,” writing, “After all, what under the sun, at least at some level of generality, doesn’t relate to ‘health and safety’?”

A Smooth Persona

In his dissent, Gorsuch, who displayed a smooth, compassionate persona while testifying at his hearing, described the conditions Maddin faced as merely “cold weather.” He wrote that for Maddin to sit and wait for help to arrive was an “unpleasant option.”

Maddin’s lawyer, Robert Fedder, told Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman that during oral argument before the appellate panel, “Judge Gorsuch was incredibly hostile.” Fedder noted, “I’ve litigated many cases in appellate courts … [Gorsuch] may have been the most hostile judge I’ve ever appeared before.”

Maddin, who is African-American, later said, “The first thing I noticed was that in his opening reference [in his dissent, Gorsuch] simply called me a trucker and didn’t use my name.” Maddin told The Guardian, “In my heart of hearts, I felt like he willfully tried to negate the human element of my case.”

At Gorsuch’s confirmation hearing, Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin discussed Maddin’s case with Gorsuch, saying that the temperature was minus 14 that night, “but not as cold as your dissent.”

In Gorsuch’s dissenting opinion, he refused to defer to the Department of Labor’s interpretation of the statutory language regarding refusal to operate. Gorsuch was, in effect, refusing to apply the well-established “Chevron deference.”

This doctrine requires that when a law is ambiguous, courts must defer to an agency’s reasonable construction of the statute. Even the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, to whom Gorsuch is often compared, thought that agencies were in the best position to construe regulations that inform their work.

If Gorsuch had his druthers, he would do away with Chevron deference. In fact, he stated as much in his lengthy concurrence in Gutierrez-Brizuela v. Lynch, in which he wrote, “Maybe the time has come to face the behemoth.”

Gorsuch would substitute his own interpretation for that of an agency. But agencies are in the best position to make these determinations about matters within their purview.

Dangers of Second Guessing

In opposing Gorsuch’s nomination to the high court, the nonprofit organization Alliance for Justice wrote of the dangers of second-guessing agency experts: “It is difficult to overstate the damage [Gorsuch’s] position would cause. Judge Gorsuch would tie the hands of precisely those entities that Congress has recognized have the depth and experience to enforce critical laws, safeguard essential protections, and ensure the safety of the American people.”

Courts that have given deference to agency interpretations ensured essential protections, including:

–Deferring to the National Labor Relations Board’s reasonable determination that live-haul workers are employees entitled to protections of the National Labor Relations Act;

–Deferring to the Environmental Protection Agency’s rule requiring states to reduce emissions from power plants that travel across state lines and harm downwind states;

–Deferring to the Department of Labor’s interpretation of portions of the Black Lung Benefits Act that make it easier for coal miners afflicted with black lung disease to receive compensation; and

–Deferring to the EPA’s revision of regulations under the Toxic Substances Control Act that provide more protection from exposure to lead paint.

But Gorsuch’s desire to neuter agency determinations dovetails nicely with Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon’s goal of “deconstruction of the administrative state.” The Trump administration has issued several orders that mandate deregulation:

On Jan. 20, Priebus directed agency heads to refrain from sending new regulations to the Office of the Federal Register until there are administration officials in place to approve them.

On Jan. 24, Trump signed a memo directing his Secretary of Commerce to review the ways in which federal regulations affect U.S. manufacturers in order to reduce as many of them as possible.

On Jan. 30, Trump issued an executive order requiring the mechanistic elimination of two regulations for every new one, and capping spending on new regulations during 2017 at zero.

On Feb. 3, Trump signed an executive order rolling back Dodd-Frank regulations on Wall Street. This will increase the risk of another dangerous recession.

During the confirmation hearing, Franken confronted Gorsuch with the confluence of his confirmation to the Supreme Court and the deconstruction of the administrative state (deregulation), saying,

“[F]or those who subscribe to President Trump’s extreme view, [the Chevron doctrine] is the only thing standing between them and what the President’s chief strategist Steve Bannon called the ‘deconstruction of the administrative state,’ which is shorthand for gutting any environmental or consumer protection measure that gets in the way of corporate profit margins.

“Speaking before a gathering of conservative activists last month, Mr. Bannon explained that the President’s appointees were selected to bring about that deconstruction, and I suspect that your nomination, given your views, is part of that strategy.”

Big Business Interests

Deregulation serves the interests of big business, a key conservative goal. When questioned at his hearing about what ideology he would bring to the court, Gorsuch made the disingenuous claim, “There’s no such thing as a Republican judge or a Democratic judge. We just have judges in this country.”

If that were true, why are the Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society so keen on Gorsuch? He was on a list prepared by the two right-wing groups from which Trump dutifully selected his Supreme Court nominee.

“The president outsourced your selection to far right, big money interest groups, and they have an agenda. They’re confident you share their agenda. That’s why they called you ‘a nominee who understands things like we do,’ ” Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, told Gorsuch at his hearing.

Why has $10 million in “dark money” been spent by anonymous conservative donors to buy Gorsuch a seat on the high court, as Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, charged at the hearing? And why, as Whitehouse added, was $7 million expended on the unprecedented, but successful, campaign to deny Barack Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland a hearing?

Gorsuch is a staunch, longtime conservative judge who, in spite of his refusal to tip his hand about his ideology, has taken positions that confirm his right-wing bona fides. When Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, announced he would vote against Gorsuch’s nomination, he stated that Gorsuch had ruled repeatedly for employers and against workers.

Gorsuch “almost instinctively favors the powerful over the weak,” Schumer said, adding, “We do not want judges with ice water in their veins,” an apt analogy in light of Gorsuch’s dissent in the TransAm case.

Marjorie Cohn is professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, former president of the National Lawyers Guild and deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers. Her books include The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration, and AbuseCowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law and Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues. Visit her website: MarjorieCohn.com. Follow her on Twitter: @MarjorieCohn. [This article first appeared at Truthdig, http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/neil_gorsuch_and_the_deconstruction_of_the_administrative_state_20170326 ]




Another Journalist Killed in Mexico

Doing journalism right – reporting on abuses of power with care and honesty – is never easy, but it requires a special courage in physically dangerous circumstances such as exist in Mexico, reports Dennis J Bernstein.

By Dennis J Bernstein

Mexico has earned the reputation of a dangerous place for journalists, a grim reality underscored by the murder last week of Miroslava Breach Velducea, a correspondent for the national newspaper La Jornada from the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua.

“We are shocked by the brutal killing of Miroslava Breach,” said Carlos Lauría, of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). “This wave of violence threatens citizens’ right to access vital information, and harms Mexico’s democracy by limiting public debate. We urge the Mexican federal government to put an end to this violence by bringing the perpetrators of this crime to justice.”

Breach was shot eight times by heavily armed gunman as she was leaving home in her car, accompanied by one of her three children, shortly after 7 a.m., according to published reports. The child was not injured, but Breach died in transport. Breach was the third journalist to be murdered in Mexico this month, according to CPJ.

I spoke late Friday with Molly Goss, Special Correspondent for Flashpoints on Pacifica Radio, from Mexico City, as she was beginning her investigation in the murder.

Dennis Bernstein: There is a very serious situation unfolding there with the assassination of Miroslava Breach Velducea, a correspondent for the national newspaper La Jornada, an important progressive newspaper coming out of Mexico City. … Tell us about the reporter … Tell us something about what happened here, what led up to this killing?

Molly Goss: This is a reporter named Miroslava Breach Velducea. And she had been a reporter for La Jornada, as you said, a progressive newspaper. It was founded in Mexico City in the mid 80’s. She’d been a correspondent in the north of Mexico for over twenty years. And previous to that she worked for some other publications in the north of the country. She was a really important correspondent, basically reporting on the situation in the State of Chihuahua. That’s where she was based. And recently she’d done a lot of really fearless reporting around the situation with the narco-trafficker, with the drug trafficking situation, particularly in the north of the country.

So, this was a really highly respected reporter, a highly respected correspondent who had done a lot of really courageous work. And, what happened, was … on Thursday, the 23rd, she was leaving her home in Chihuahua, in the capital of the State of Chihuahua, around 7 in the morning, and I’ve heard different reports, but what is clear is at least one gunman, as she was taking her car out of the garage, one gunman shot about 8 times, and killed her on the scene, I believe. There’s some reports of other people being seen around that area.

But, there was definitely one armed man that shot at her, and killed her. It was really awful circumstances. She had her son in the car with her, she was taking him to school. And she was shot down in front of him. So, the other thing is being reported is that … we’re not sure who, but someone left some kind of pasteboard or cardboard note saying something which basically means this is for having a big mouth, or saying too much, for bringing things out into the light that you shouldn’t.

So what’s being investigated at this point, and is… a lot of the research and the articles that she’s written recently for La Jornada in particular, they are around the drug trafficking situation. And a particular area in Chihuahua which is called the Sierra Tarahumara where there’s a lot of people being expelled from their homes, having their land taken away from them, and being taken over by drug traffickers. So that’s according to the governor of the State of Chihuahua, Javier Corral, that is one of the lines of investigation that they are looking at right now is basically, her reporting and the drug trafficking that is a huge problem in the north part of the country.

DB: I know, Molly, you are just beginning to investigate this story, to do a little reporting on it. But do we know… can we trust law enforcement that’s supposed to be investigating now? What can we expect? Will there really be an investigation, based on past experience?

MG: That’s a great question. I know we talked about, a couple years ago, the disappearance of the 43 students, and all of the distrust that exists in the country around investigations, around criminal investigations. So, yes, I… based on that experience I definitely have my doubts about how much we can trust these investigations. For example, the governor of the state who I just talked about, Javier Corral, is already being kind of looked at as somewhat of a shady character. He’s being criticized for having this past week-end been out golfing and not attending to the really difficult situation in his state, in terms of violence.

So, absolutely there’s been murders of three journalists in the last month, in the month of March. There was Miroslava Breach who was just murdered yesterday, and there were two others, one I believe was in Veracruz and another in Guerrero. So, it is very difficult for journalists themselves and for any in the country to trust these investigations. because almost… very, very seldom is anyone brought to justice. People who are supposedly brought to justice, are often questioned… in terms of the 43 students, there’s questions about people being tortured, and getting false confessions.

And, I’m sure it’s been reported on Flashpoints, Mexico is the most dangerous place in Latin America for journalists. There have been three, only, in the month of March. And no one has been brought to justice in any of those cases. So, yes, it is highly questionable how this investigation will take place. I was just reading that it can be investigated by the federal authorities, but at this point it’s just state and local. And there’s lots of talk about corruption, within the state and local police departments. So, it’s definitely something that has to be followed. I know that the Commission on Human Rights, here in Mexico is already on the case. And will be looking at if the investigation is being done in the correct way. But that is a very difficult question whenever there are journalists murdered or human rights workers murdered in Mexico, because unfortunately the authorities… most people here do not believe what the authorities say, and, again, the perpetrators are very seldom brought to justice.

DB: I guess the Committee to Protect Journalist actually came out with an official report, was released yesterday or today that said that that Mexico is the most dangerous country in the hemisphere to be reporting on, at this time, in history. And, I guess, we’re going to keep a very close eye on this. Francisco Herrera is here with us Molly and he has a question for you.

Francisco Herrera: As I understand Miroslava, quite a veteran journalist. Actually, she wrote much of the work, and especially when my wife was doing human rights work there in the 80’s and 90’s. So, she was quite a hard worker. Right now, what we are hearing of the State of Chihuahua, and some of the other states, people in the north don’t realize what a state of war Mexico is in right now, Molly. And that’s precisely part, as we talk about immigration, this is precisely the kind of information that people in this country, and in Mexico, in fact, are not getting, as to why people are crossing the borders so desperately.

When my brother-in-law was murdered in 2010 there was at least thirty bodies a day being discovered, thrown in the side of the roads. And now people are saying it’s not so bad because they’re only finding sixteen bodies a day. Could you speak a little bit to the state of war that Mexico is living through, whether anybody wants to admit it or not?

MG: Sure. Yeah, that’s a huge topic. I just moved back from living in the State of Michoacan, for about a year and a half. So, I can speak to this because previous to that I’ve been living in Mexico City. And Mexico City is like any big city, it has its problems, but it’s probably the safest place to live in the country. And so for those first few years I was here, I was reporting on different things. I was reporting on the 43 missing students. But you can kind of get into a state of “well, it’s not that bad here. It can’t possibly be quite as awful as they’re reporting in the states, in the provinces.”

And then I did move to Michoacan. I was in a safe part of the state, however, I did some traveling… Michoacan is one of the states where there is a lot of drug trafficking activity going on. And, so, I was able to talk to people. I remember in particular, I was on a bus going from Michoacan to Mexico City, and I had a woman sitting next to me who told me very nonchalantly, nonchalantly in the sense that this was just normal life for her, at this point. That both her brother and one of her cousins had been disappeared, had disappeared three years ago and they have no idea where they were, and they had no hope of going to anyone, or going to the police to find out where they were because the police are… there’s so much collusion between the police and drug traffickers.

So, I have the experience of being outside of Mexico City, being outside of kind of what is the bubble, where things are pretty safe here. And, yes, going out to places like Michoacan… for example, Veracruz they just found, I believe, two different mass graves in the State of Veracruz. I mean the situation is incredibly, incredibly dangerous, for many people. People who don’t have the resources to move to Mexico City and get away from the violence, and as you said, in terms of immigration, this is a really important issue because there are people at the border trying to ask for asylum from Mexico.

And, some of these we’ve reported on in the past on Flashpoints, being turned away. Being turned away, and being told that people from Mexico can’t receive asylum, when there’s this incredibly dangerous, and awful situation that many people are going through, where, if they don’t leave, the state where their from, where their families is from, they very likely could be murdered. So, it’s such an interesting situation in that you can be in Mexico City, and feel completely safe, and kind of be protected, or ignore what’s going on in the rest of the country. But, if you leave the city, there are many people living there, many people living their lives, normally as well. But there’s a lot of violence going on that causes people to flee, and often flee to the United States. So, it’s a very complicated situation.

DB: Before we let you go, just want to sort of get your… just sort of your Rorschach on life in Mexico, after Trump. Is there a noticeable difference? Is there a noticeable reaction on the street? Stuff like that.

MG: Yeah, I, before the election I went out of my way to ask people what they thought about… because I worked in immigration, immigration cases. I’m interested in Latin American, U.S. policy, foreign policy. And, so I had lots of conversations, particularly in Michoacan where I lived. And, people were, I think in some ways, people were more realistic about the possibility of him winning and what that would do for their compatriots in the U.S. Many people I talked to thought it very possible, he could win, and were very worried about their family members, and their friends in the U.S. After the election, in these last two months, again, I think because people here are very cynical about politics, and very cynical about politicians, they’re not surprised by Trump’s actions. I feel like a lot of people say well, the president we have, the current president of Mexico, [Enrique] Pena Nieto, who we’ve talked about on your show before, is also not liked at all. He’s done lots of awful things, that we could talk about for hours.

But, again, people are not surprised by Trump. People are not surprised by his actions. I think people are much more realistic about the possibility of him winning, here than in the United States. And, of course, people here are very sad for their family members who are in the U.S. and are afraid of deportation. So, there are some people that look at possible positive outcomes, of Trump being president in the U.S. And what I mean by that is, if people are deported, if people are forced to come back to Mexico then possibly it can work towards changing the system here, politically. There are some people who have that kind of point of view. But, in general, I think they have a much more realistic kind of viewpoint on how politicians work, than many kind of more idealistic people in the United States.

Dennis J Bernstein is a host of “Flashpoints” on the Pacifica radio network and the author of Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom. You can access the audio archives at www.flashpoints.net.




America Digs Its Own Afghan Grave

Afghanistan has long been called the “graveyard of empires,” the site of failed invasions. But the U.S. – in its 15-plus-year endeavor – seems determined to dig its own grave there, as ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar describes.

By Paul R. Pillar

Fifteen years and counting. America’s longest war keeps getting longer. The very duration of the expedition, with an end no more in sight now than it had been at any of several points one could have chosen over the last several years, ought to indicate the need for a fundamental redirection of policy. And yet there continue to be calls, including from influential members of Congress, to sustain and even enlarge the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan.

That campaign has now continued under three U.S. presidents, two Afghan presidents, too many U.S. military commanders to count, and a variety of operational strategies associated with the different generals. Different levels of U.S. troops also have been tried, with the peak of just over 100,000 American troops reached in 2011.

Something approaching peace and stability will come to Afghanistan the only way it ever has come to Afghanistan in the past: through deals reached among the different factions, power centers, and ethnic groups within Afghanistan. External military intervention does not negate or obviate that process, and instead becomes the object of Afghan resistance to outside interference. It is not for nothing that the place is called the graveyard of empires.

The shape of any deals reached among Afghan factions matters relatively little to the United States. One need make no apologies for borrowing from old speeches in describing the current conflict in Afghanistan as a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing. Unlike the circumstances in which that phrase was first used, there is no hostile and threatening power poised to exploit passivity on our part.

The U.S.-led intervention in Afghanistan in the fall of 2001 was, at that time, a just response to an attack on the U.S. homeland by a group that was enjoying the hospitality of the Afghan Taliban, which constituted the de facto regime ruling most of Afghanistan. One of the fundamental mistakes in how Americans have viewed Afghanistan ever since — in addition to the mistake of treating as an investment the sunk costs, including 2,400 American dead — is to think that the circumstances of 2001 still prevail.  They don’t.

The Afghan Taliban never have been interested in international terrorism. Their focus always has been on the social and political structure of Afghanistan. The past alliance with al-Qa’ida was one of convenience, in which the payoff for the Taliban was assistance in prosecuting their civil war against Afghan opponents.

There is nothing special about Afghanistan, distinguishing it from many other strife-ridden places such as Yemen or Somalia, that connects it today with a terrorist threat against U.S. interests. 9/11 itself was the work of Arabs, not Afghans. And with the gloves having been taken off after 9/11, the Taliban know, as everyone else does, that if anything at all like the 2001 al-Qa’ida presence were to begin being re-established in Afghanistan, the United States would promptly bomb the heck out of it.

Breeding Terrorism   

The United States had an earlier experience injecting armed force into Afghanistan, with its provision of lethal aid — most notably Stinger anti-aircraft missiles — to mujahedin fighting against the Soviets in the 1980s. During that effort, U.S. policymakers showed little or no concern with the political nature and direction of the forces they were aiding, which included what we would today quickly label as violent Islamists. Those forces were used as a tool to bleed the Soviets, who got themselves stuck in a military expedition that reached a strength just slightly bigger (about 115,000 troops) than the later U.S. expedition.

Russians noticed what the United States was doing, and they remember it today. And maybe roles are reversing and the bleeding is coming full circle. U.S. General Curtis Scaparrotti, who is the top NATO commander in Europe, told a Congressional committee this week that Russia appears to be increasing its role in Afghanistan and may be providing material support to the Taliban. The situation is unclear; a spokesman for the Russian foreign ministry strongly denied the accusation, and a careful tally of other relevant Russian interests would not argue in favor of aiding the Taliban.

Nonetheless, it would not be surprising if Moscow — with irony and with what many Russians probably would consider just deserts — took a page from the U.S. playbook of the 1980s. The underlying idea would be that Afghanistan has become for America today what it was for the USSR back then.

The Soviets did get out of the graveyard of empires, even with no more claim to victory than the United States would have today. The last Soviet soldier to leave Afghanistan was the commander, Lieutenant General Boris Gromov, who walked across a bridge spanning the Amu Darya River into Soviet Uzbekistan on Feb. 16, 1989. His departure marked nine years and 50 days since the initial Soviet intervention. The United States exceeded that mark years ago.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is author most recently of Why America Misunderstands the World. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.) 




Risks to US from War on North Korea

Exclusive: The murders of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi – after they surrendered their WMD – taught North Korea’s Kim Jong-un not to give up his, setting the stage for a dangerous crisis, explains Jonathan Marshall.

By Jonathan Marshall

When a hostile government, armed with atomic and chemical weapons and the world’s fourth largest army, declares “the situation is already on the brink of nuclear war,” Americans should sit up and take notice. Compared to North Korea, ISIS and Al Qaeda terrorists are insignificant threats to U.S. security.

Experts agree that within a few years, at most, North Korea will have mastered the ballistic missile technology needed to destroy U.S. cities with nuclear warheads. It recently demonstrated the use of solid-fuel technology in intermediate-range missiles, and earlier this month the regime tested a sophisticated new rocket engine that even South Korea called a technical breakthrough.

The Trump administration did take notice. Although North Korea has never threatened to use nuclear weapons except in self-defense, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned this month that the regime must “abandon its development of nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, and other weapons of mass destruction,” or face the threat of the United States and its allies using military force to stop it.

More than a few elite pundits have endorsed preemptive war as an option. A recent Washington Post editorial conceded that striking North Korea’s nuclear and missile facilities could trigger “a potentially catastrophic war,” but declared nonetheless that “further steps by North Korea toward deploying nuclear-armed ICBMs might compel such action.”

Last fall, the influential Council on Foreign Relations issued a major white paper calling North Korea’s weapons program “a grave and expanding threat” and asserting that Washington may have no choice but to “consider more assertive military and political actions, including those that directly threaten the existence of the [North Korean] regime and its nuclear and missile capabilities.”

Such threats are foolhardy and counterproductive. As many analysts point out, a pre-emptive attack by the United States cannot guarantee to destroy all of North Korea’s hidden nuclear weapons or mobile missile launchers. Missing even a handful would guarantee the incineration of Seoul, Tokyo, and other nearby cities in radioactive fireballs. Even in the best case, North Korea could respond by flattening Seoul with artillery barrages, and killing tens of thousands of Koreans and Japanese with chemical weapons.

How North Korea Could Hit U.S.

An America-First madman in the White House might view such casualties as an acceptable price to pay for eliminating a latent threat against the U.S. homeland. But hardly anyone has pointed out that North Korea can and almost certainly would retaliate against U.S. cities as well.

Even without long-range missiles, they can simply float atomic bombs into U.S. harbors aboard innocuous-looking commercial freighters. No anti-missile shield can stop them from wiping out big parts of New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, or Houston in response to a U.S. attack.

Back in 2000, reporter Sydney Freedberg, Jr., called attention to the near impossibility of detecting a shielded bomb packed into one of the 45,000 shipping containers that enter the United States every day. “Hiding a bomb there would be a lethal needle in a huge haystack,” he remarked.

Although major U.S. ports have since installed radiation detectors to prevent bombs from being smuggled into their waters, “if there is highly enriched uranium metal that’s shielded and below the water line, it’s going to be really tough to detect at long range,” said Matthew Bunn, an expert on nuclear terrorism at Harvard University.

Even a small bomb detonation would do immense damage. A 2003 study by Abt Associates for the U.S. Department of Transportation concluded that “The economic impact of even a single nuclear terrorist attack on a major U.S. seaport would be very great . . . A successful attack would create disruption of U.S. trade valued at $100-$200 billion, property damage of $50-$500 billion, and 50,000 to 1,000,000 lives could be lost. Global and long-term effects, including the economic impacts of the pervasive national and international responses to the nuclear attack . . . are believed to be substantially greater.”

Three years later, experts at the RAND Corporation conducted an even deeper analysis of a simulated terrorist attack on the Port of Long Beach with a 10-kiloton nuclear bomb, which is well within the yield of North Korea’s current weapons. Among the plausible outcomes it described:

–“Sixty thousand people might die instantly from the blast itself or quickly thereafter from radiation poisoning.

–“One-hundred-fifty thousand more might be exposed to hazardous levels of radioactive water and sediment from the port, requiring emergency medical treatment.

— “The blast and subsequent fires might completely destroy the entire infrastructure and all ships in the Port of Long Beach and the adjoining Port of Los Angeles.

— “Six million people might try to evacuate the Los Angeles region.

— “Two to three million people might need relocation because fallout will have contaminated a 500-km2 area.

— “Gasoline supplies might run critically short across the entire region because of the loss of Long Beach’s refineries — responsible for one-third of the gas west of the Rockies.

— “The early costs of the Long Beach scenario could exceed $1 trillion, driven by outlay(s) for medical care, insurance claims, workers’ compensation, evacuation, and construction.”

Cascading Dangers

And that’s only the beginning. Insurers might stop writing commercial policies. Workers at other ports might flee to avoid a similar attack.

“Given these conditions, all U.S. ports would likely close indefinitely or operate at a substantially reduced level following the attack,” the report noted. “This would severely disrupt the availability of basic goods and petroleum throughout the country.”

Bottom line: a preemptive attack on North Korea’s real WMD would make the Bush administration’s disastrous attack on Iraq’s non-existent WMD look like a cake walk. Millions of people would almost certainly die in South Korea and Japan. Millions more Americans might die from nuclear retaliation against U.S. port cities and infrastructure. Every American would suffer the staggering economic and moral consequences.

That’s why we should all be concerned with Secretary Tillerson’s recent — and entirely unwarrantedrejection of efforts to find a peaceful political and diplomatic solution with North Korea.

The Trump administration appears to hope that stepping up economic sanctions, and bullying China, will miraculously convince North Korea to disarm. But strong-arm measures, which reinforce Pyongyang’s conviction that Washington wants nothing less than regime change, will ensure that war becomes not just one of many options on the table, but the only option.

Someday soon, the only question left may be whether it is North Korea or the United States that initiates all-out war in an insanely reckless attempt at self-preservation.

Jonathan Marshall previously authored “North Korea Fears ‘Regime Change’ Strike,” “Behind the North Korean Nuke Crisis” and “The Negotiation Option With North Korea.”

 




Pretending Israel Is Innocent of Apartheid

Without doubt Israel practices apartheid toward Palestinians who are broadly denied human rights, but Israel’s political clout is such that the reality must be denied at the U.N. and in the U.S., as Lawrence Davidson explains.

On March 15, the United Nations’ Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) published a report on Israeli practices and policies toward the Palestinians. Using international law as its comparative criterion, the report came to a “definitive conclusion” that “Israel is guilty of Apartheid practices.”

The term Apartheid was not used in the report merely in a “pejorative” way. It was used as a descriptor of fact based on the evidence and the accepted legal meaning of the term.

Such was the immediate uproar from the United States and Israel that U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres, in a moment of moral failure, ordered the report’s withdrawal. The head of ESCWA, the Jordanian diplomat Rima Khalaf, decided that she could not, in good conscience, do so and so tendered her resigation.

The initial New York Times coverage of the incident paid little attention to the accuracy of the report, an approach which, if pursued, would have at least educated the Times’ readers as to the real conditions of Palestinians under Israeli domination. Instead it called the report, and those involved in producing it, into question.

For instance, the NYT told us that “the report provoked outrage from Israel and the United States.” The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki R. Haley, was quoted as declaring that, “when someone issues a false and defamatory report in the name of the U.N. it is appropriate that the person resign.” At no point in the NYT story was it noted that Ms. Haley’s charge that the report was false, was itself false. Other coverage by the NYT improved only slightly.

The NYT did pay attention to the fact that, among the authors of the report, was former U.N. human rights investigator Richard Falk. Falk served six years as U.N. Special Rapporteur for the Occupied Territories. According to the NYT, his presence “gall[ed] many Israeli supporters who regard him as an anti-Semite.” There is something troubling about a newspaper that claims to represent the epitome of professional journalism reporting such slurs without properly evaluating them.

Richard Falk, who is Jewish, has an impeccable record of both academic achievement and public service. His reputation for honesty and dedication to the cause of human rights exemplifies the best practice of Jewish values. Thus, he has every right to say, “I have been smeared in this effort to discredit the report” – a study which “tries its best to look at the evidence and analyze the applicable law in a professional manner.”

Israel’s Behavior

An objective consideration of Israel’s behavior makes it hard to escape the brutal reality of its officially condoned practices.

On March 17, at the same time as the forced withdrawal of the ESCWA report, the U.S. State Department released a report on “grave violations against Palestinian children living under Israeli military occupation.” This was part of the department’s annual “country reports on human rights practices.” Among the problems cited were Israel’s practice of unlawful detention, coerced confessions and excessive use of force, including torture and killings.

Usually, these annual human rights reports are made public by the Secretary of State. This year Rex Tillerson, who presently holds the office, was nowhere in sight. And, of course, President Trump failed to issue any of his characteristic tweets in reference to the Israel’s barbaric behavior.

Earlier, on Feb. 8, it was reported that “Israel has banned anesthesia gas from entering the Gaza Strip.” There is a current backlog of some 200 patients in Gaza requiring surgical care, and some will die due to Israel’s ban.

A week later, on Feb. 14, it was reported that Israeli officials were blackmailing Palestinian patients seeking permission to enter Israel for necessary medical treatment. A 17-year-old Gazan boy who suffered from congenital heart disease and needed a heart valve replacement “was explicitly told that in order to [leave the Gaza Strip and] have his operation, he would have to cooperate with the security forces and spy for Israel.” He refused and subsequently died. This is not a new or unusual tactic for the Israelis.

Blackmail All Around

The moral failure at the U.N., represented by the withdrawal of the ESCWA report, is the result of Secretary General Guterres’s decision to acquiesce in a denial of reality – the reality of Israel’s practice of Apartheid.

On the other hand, it probably also stems from Guterres’s acceptance of the reality of U.S. financial leverage along with the apparent threat to bankrupt the United Nations. This is, of course, a form of blackmail. Significantly, U.S. use of its financial clout at the U.N. mimics the same practice by the Zionist lobby in the halls of Congress.

Obviously the United Nations, to say nothing of U.S. politicians, needs alternate sources of income. My wife Janet once suggested that the UN be awarded the right to exploit and profit from all undersea resources. Not a bad idea. Likewise, U.S. politicians should agree to, or be forced to rely upon, government-based campaign funding rather than be pressed into putting themselves up for sale.

However, such changes do not appear imminent. As it stands now, reality in Palestine is what the Americans and Israelis say it is because politicians and international leaders literally can’t afford to challenge their corrupted views.

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism. He blogs at www.tothepointanalyses.com.




Surveillance State Goes After Trump

Democrats are so eager to take down President Trump that they are joining forces with the Surveillance State to trample the privacy rights of people close to Trump, ex-FBI agent Coleen Rowley tells Dennis J Bernstein.

By Dennis J Bernstein

Since Donald Trump’s election, former Special FBI Agent Coleen Rowley has been alarmed over how Democratic hawks, neocons and other associates in the “deep state” have obsessed over “resurrecting the ghost of Joseph McCarthy” and have built political support for a permanent war policy around hatred of Russia.

Rowley, whose 2002 memo to the FBI Director exposed some of the FBI’s pre-9/11failures, compared the current anti-Russia hysteria to “the

‘Red Scare’ fear of Communism” famously associated with legendary FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover who collaborated with Sen. Joe McCarthy’s hunt for disloyal Americans in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

In an interview, Rowley told me that while Trump was wrong about his claim that President Obama ordered a surveillance “tapp” of Trump Tower, the broader point may have been correct as explained by House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes, R-California, who described how U.S. intelligence apparently picked up conversations by Trump associates while monitoring other targets.

Dennis Bernstein: A former high-level FBI whistleblower says Trump is vindicated on his claims of being surveilled by the previous administration. Joining us to take a close look at what’s been going on, what’s been unfolding in Washington, D.C. is Coleen Rowley. She’s a former FBI special agent and division council. She wrote a May 2002 memo to the FBI director that exposed some of the FBI’s pre-9/11 failures, major failures. She was Time magazine’s person of the year in 2002. … Help us explain what chairman Nunes reported in terms of the collecting process and Trumps innocence or guilt?

Coleen Rowley: I think the Chairman Nunes said [Wednesday] that Trump was monitored instead of wiretapped. And these are terms of art that for three weeks or so, no one has fully understood and so there’s been all this confusion. Trump, himself, did not understand, and was clumsy in saying “my campaign was wiretapped.” Wiretapping itself is almost obsolete. It means tapping into a wire, that’s the old way, when the way communications used to go over wires and now they’re digital and they… Snowden, if you remember, all of the disclosures from Edward Snowden, and other NSA whistleblowers, there’s something going on now called collect it all, massive surveillance. And that is done, there are some targets, but then lots and lots of Americans are incidentally monitored… they aren’t monitored but their conversations, and their phone numbers that they’re dialing and their e-mails that they’re e-mailing are collected.

And, of course, when Trump was under investigation it would be natural that they would have some… not his… not necessarily him personally, but his campaign staff obviously, that’s going to mean surveillance of those people.

DB: Now, monitoring, does that mean that Obama was in fact, surveilling? Is that a good word? Was Trump being surveilled? Were his claims essentially correct?

CR: I think Trump is vindicated, again he didn’t understand the terms that he was using. And he did misuse the term, so when Comey said “No”… that that tweet about being wiretapped, we have found no evidence of that.” Comey was able to be honest because a wiretap has a specific meaning. But, you notice, in five hours Comey never said that there’s been no surveillance of anyone connected to the Trump campaign. In fact, he implied the opposite. He implied that the Trump campaign, some persons, he didn’t mention names, but some of them have been investigated since this summer.

And, so, obviously that does mean that, for starters, if you think… remember all of the disclosures from Edward Snowden and the other NSA whistleblowers, they can access all of the communications that have already been collected. That’s for starters, so if you have somebody that you are now investigating, you can go back into these NSA databases and say pull up everything on so-and-so. And I’ve just got to add one more thing, the NSA whistleblowers including Edward Snowden all warned for really now for two or three years, we have been warning the American public that this “collect it all” is really a recipe for, not only a lack of privacy, but even for hurting our own democracy.

If you go back to Frank Church, for instance, the reason the Church committee… well it was because Frank Church, Senator Frank Church was, himself, under surveillance by the NSA. And we warned now for two or three years, that they tell the public “Don’t worry, you have nothing to hide. Why would you worry about any of these NSA… they’re helping us catch terrorists. And you don’t have anything to hide.”

But, of course, the politicians in Washington are the ones that have things to hide. They could have conflicts of interests, there’s all kinds of things going on, certainly just political opposition, partisanship. So this is always an ongoing game in Washington, to try to find out dirt about your opponent, etc. So, they are the ones, actually, who should have been more aware of how this could be used against themselves. And yet, they just disregarded these warnings and told the public “Oh, don’t worry you have nothing to hide.”

DB: We’ve got Donald Trump vindicated about, in essence, being monitored, surveilled. without his own knowledge although I would imagine he should have known, or assumed. But now that tells us that there has been a lot of information collected and we can now assume, I guess, that all the… a lot of the communications from the Trump people, in Washington, also, at Trump Tower, so even though it wasn’t wiretapped, it was monitored.

CR: It was collected. And, again, this isn’t necessarily about Trump personally, just cause it’s not about Obama, personally ordering. What this is about is if there are even members of Trump’s campaign staff, or even associates, that could even be a little bit distant from the actual campaign, but just associates. It may be that they were the actual targets. And, still, might be the targets. But, then incidentally Trump could have ended up being, himself, intercepted.

I’m going to go back to Martin Luther King, Jr.. Martin Luther King, Jr., if you understand the microphones in his hotels. And he was the subject of Title 3 orders. This was all based on guilt by association. And I think it was simply a paragraph or two, there was very little probable cause. It was a paragraph or two alleging that an associate or a cousin of an associate was a communist. That’s what it amounted to. And that’s how, then, J.Edgar Hoover was allowed to go and do all these things in hotel rooms. And, in the same era, the NSA was actually monitoring Senator Frank Church.

We think after all these years that we’ve grown up and we’ve understood the problems that occurred back then. And, obviously, history is totally repeating. It may well be there’s a legitimate investigation of somebody in the periphery of the Trump campaign, a staffer or somebody connected, that’s legitimate.

But when they have a “collect it all” motto which they’ve had now since 9/11. They’ve turned on these monitoring things, Hayden and others turned them right on, illegally, I should say, for starters, illegally. And now they have all this database. And, so, there’s only a couple of ways to try to protect privacy. And they are supposed to be on their honor to minimize Americans.

And you now see that this has completely failed in the case of Flynn and others, because, again, that’s all they have is on their honor, they say they won’t leak out identities of Americans if they are “incidentally” collected. And, now, that doesn’t even apply. And, I would say that the people who have leaked are not – I’ve said this many times now – are not what I would term a good whistleblower.

These are leakers who seem to be high level, as opposed to somebody like Edward Snowden or Chelsea Manning, at a lower level, who is motivated for the public good. I think that the leaks that you’ve seen in the past couple of months, or three months, have actually come from high levels, top appointees, and political partisanship are the motivations. They’re not saying this is for the public good. And, again, this is something we all warned about, the NSA and our veteran intelligence professionals for sanity probably have written half a dozen times, about these problems. And, now it’s just really all happened the way we predicted and warned about.

DB: Now, we have, sort of, a hundred, almost smoking guns. I want to ask you Coleen Rowley, as somebody who has been… worked for the FBI, evaluated information, collected information, you’re an attorney in this context. In terms of what we know. Do they got Donald Trump? Is he owned by the Russians? What have you been able to confirm?

CR: Well, I don’t think there has… and it’s not just myself, it’s really most of our veteran intelligence professionals, retired CIA, retired NSA, we’ve all been conferring for a while on this. And we have asked, we actually put out a…memo asking for evidence. Because it’s just been assertions and innuendoes, and demonization…

We see a lot of demonization of the Russian T.V. channel. But we have not seen any actual evidence of Russians… and there’s a lot of reasons to think that this would be illogical. Even if, and I would grant that Comey mentioned this in his testimony, that Putin and other top Russians hated Hillary Clinton. Well, even if you assume that, that they didn’t like Hillary Clinton, as much as Donald Trump. They considered Donald Trump their lesser evil, or whatever. Even if you think that, why would they take the risk? Because, at the time Hillary Clinton surprised everyone by… everyone thought she was going to win. So it would have been completely illogical for them to have done these things, to take that kind of a risk, when it was presumed that she was going to be the next president. There’s just so many things here that don’t add up, and don’t make sense.

And yet, and yet, because our mainstream media is owned by what?…half a dozen big conglomerates, all connected to the military industrial complex, they continue with the scenario of that old movie… the Russians are coming!…the Russians are coming! And unfortunately the Democrat Party has become the war party, very clearly. They’re the ones that don’t see the dangers in ginning up this very dangerous narrative of going after Russia, as meddling, or whatever. And they should ask for, we all should ask for the full evidence of this. If this is case, then we deserve to know the truth about it. And, so far, we haven’t seen anything. Look at that report. There’s nothing in it.

DB: And, this is the same media who for the last… ever since Trump claimed that he was wiretapped using the wrong terminology, these

journalists they couldn’t stop saying “if he did lie, this is a felony. He did lie. He did accuse the former president of the United States…” So, you’re saying, based on your long experience and information this was just a confusion of a term of art, and the idea of the possibility of Trump Towers being under investigation, this was all incredibly not strange, not crazy, and totally normal in the context of an investigation.

CR: Yes, and I again, there could be grounds for legitimate investigation of the periphery of the Trump campaign, certain staffers. And you know what, corruption in Washington, D.C. is quite rampant. And I think many, many of the politicians if they actually put them under the microscope they could find… just as you look at foreign leaders, Netanyahu was indicted for corruption, whatever. It’s not uncommon to have conflicts of interests, and under the table deals. That’s very possible.

So, that’s not what our news is saying. Our mainstream news is saying that, what you said at the beginning, the Russians own Trump, and basically that this has undermined our democracy and our electoral process. That part of it we have seen no evidence of. And, Trump is partially vindicated, because obviously whether he was personally targeted, his campaign at least seems to have been monitored, at least in part.

DB: Were you amazed that, for instance, the FBI director raised the issue of the Clinton investigation, but not the Trump investigation?

CR: Well, I’ve been trying to figure that out. Because back, during … when he went public, he was put into the spot because Loretta Lynch should have been the one to be public on these things. But she was tainted because of having met with Bill Clinton on the tarmac. And so my explanation was that that Comey shouldered the burden from Loretta Lynch. He was doing her a favor in a way because he thought it would look like this is more independent and more professional coming from the FBI. Because at the time Loretta Lynch was under a cloud. And I think that is the explanation for why he was so public at the time.

And, of course, things have developed… the summer, if any investigation started during the summer, again, it was not known. It was probably legitimate if they got some information in about some act of corruption, or whatever, it was certainly legitimate. But since this summer what has happened is this whole narrative has just gone on steroids, because of the leaks about the Russians, etc. And the fact that they put out this report, the FBI, the NSA, and the director of National Intelligence. And I think that that’s the problem right now is the public just is so confused because there has been so much wrong information out there in the media. And no one knows what to believe.

Actually, to Comey’s credit he did say this a couple of times that these media accounts are not accurate. And, I think that, again, we… there’s been a lot of “sources” anonymous sources which I do not think are whistleblowers. But these anonymous sources seem to have come from political operatives, and even higher level people. I’m guessing some of this came from the Obama administration appointees, not Obama, of course, personally.

And, who knows if he knew anything about this, but some of those prior appointees, I think, when all is said and done will be seen as the ones, if they can ever uncover this. It’s hard with anonymous sources. But I think they were probably the ones leading this. And maybe over time we can get back to some sanity here without so much of this planted information, and wrongful leaks. And I, again, I’m all for whistle blowing. But, I don’t agree with leaks like Scooter Libby’s where they were actually using the media to plant false info.

Dennis J Bernstein is a host of “Flashpoints” on the Pacifica radio network and the author of Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom. You can access the audio archives at www.flashpoints.net.




Democrats Trade Places on War and McCarthyism

Exclusive: The anti-Russia hysteria gripping the Democratic Party marks a “trading places” moment as the Democrats embrace the New Cold War and the New McCarthyism, flipping the script on Republicans, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Caught up in the frenzy to delegitimize Donald Trump by blaming his victory on Russian meddling, national Democrats are finishing the transformation of their party from one that was relatively supportive of peace to one pushing for war, including a confrontation with nuclear-armed Russia.

This “trading places” moment was obvious in watching the belligerent tone of Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee on Monday as they impugned the patriotism of any Trump adviser who may have communicated with anyone connected to Russia.

Ranking Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, acknowledged that there was no hard evidence of any Trump-Russia cabal, but he pressed ahead with what he called “circumstantial evidence of collusion,” a kind of guilt-by-association conspiracy theory that made him look like a mild-mannered version of Joe McCarthy.

Schiff cited by name a number of Trump’s aides and associates who – as The New York Times reported – were “believed to have some kind of contact or communications with Russians.” These Americans, whose patriotism was being questioned, included foreign policy adviser Carter Page, Trump’s second campaign manager Paul Manafort, political adviser Roger Stone and Trump’s first national security adviser retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn.

In a 15-minute opening statement, Schiff summed up his circumstantial case by asking: “Is it possible that all of these events and reports are completely unrelated and nothing more than an entirely unhappy coincidence? Yes, it is possible. But it is also possible, maybe more than possible, that they are not coincidental, not disconnected and not unrelated.”

As an investigative journalist who has covered (and uncovered) national security scandals for several decades, I would never accuse people of something as serious as betraying their country based on nothing more than coincidences that, who knows, might not be coincidental.

Before we published anything on such topics, the news organizations that I worked for required multiple layers of information from a variety of sources including insiders who could describe what had happened and why. Such stories included Nicaraguan Contra cocaine smuggling, Oliver North’s secret Contra supply operation, and the Reagan campaign’s undermining of President Carter’s Iran-hostage negotiations in 1980.

For breaking those stories, we still took enormous heat from Republicans, some Democrats who wanted to show how bipartisan they were, and many establishment-protecting journalists, but the stories contained strong evidence that misconduct occurred – and we were highly circumspect in how the allegations were framed.

Going Whole-Hog

By contrast, national Democrats, some super-hawk Republicans and the establishment media are going whole-hog on these vague suspicions of contacts between some Russians and some Americans who have provided some help or advice to Trump.

Given the paucity of evidence – both regarding the claims that Russia hacked Democratic emails and slipped them to WikiLeaks, and the allegations that somehow Trump’s advisers colluded in that process – it would appear that what is happening is a political maneuver to damage Trump politically and possibly remove him from office.

But those machinations require the Democratic Party’s continued demonization of Russia and implicitly put the Democrats on the side of escalating New Cold War tensions, such as military support for the  fiercely anti-Russian regime in Ukraine which seized power in a 2014 U.S.-backed putsch overthrowing elected President Viktor Yanukovych.

One of the attack lines that Democrats have used against Trump is that his people toned down language in the Republican platform about shipping arms to the Ukrainian military, which includes battalions of neo-Nazi fighters and has killed thousands of ethnic Russian Ukrainians in the east in what is officially called an Anti-Terrorism Operation (or ATO).

The Democratic Party leaders have fully bought into the slanted Western narrative justifying the violent overthrow of Yanukovych. They also have ignored the human rights of Ukraine’s ethnic Russian minorities, which voted overwhelmingly in Crimea and the Donbass to secede from post-coup Ukraine. The more complex reality is simply summed up as a “Russian invasion.”

Key Democrats also have pressed for escalation of the U.S. military attacks inside Syria to force “regime change” on Bashar al-Assad’s secular government even if that risks another military confrontation with Russia and a victory by Al Qaeda and other Sunni extremists.

In short, the national Democratic Party is turning itself into the more extreme war party. It’s not that the Republicans have become all that dovish; it’s just that the Democrats have become all that hawkish. The significance of this change can hardly be overstated.

Questioning War

Since late in the Vietnam War, the Democrats have acted as the more restrained of the two major parties on issues of war, with the Republicans associated with tough-guy rhetoric and higher military spending. By contrast, Democrats generally were more hesitant to rush into foreign wars and confrontations (although they were far from pacifists).

Especially after the revelations of the Pentagon Papers in the 1971 revealing the government deceptions used to pull the American people into the Vietnam War, Democrats questioned shady rationalizations for other wars.

Some Democratic skepticism continued into the 1980s as President Ronald Reagan was modernizing U.S. propaganda techniques to whitewash the gross human rights crimes of right-wing regimes in Central America and to blacken the reputations of Nicaragua’s Sandinistas and other leftists.

The Democratic resolve against war propaganda began to crack by the mid-to-late 1980s – around Reagan’s Grenada invasion and George H.W. Bush’s attack on Panama. By then, the Republicans had enjoyed nearly two decades of bashing the Democrats as “weak on defense” – from George McGovern to Jimmy Carter to Walter Mondale to Michael Dukakis.

But the Democratic Party’s resistance to dubious war rationalizations collapsed in 1991 over George H.W. Bush’s Persian Gulf War, in which the President rebuffed less violent solutions (even ones favored by the U.S. military) to assure a dramatic ground-war victory after which Bush declared, “By God, we’ve kicked the Vietnam Syndrome once and for all.”

Fearful of being labeled disloyal to “the troops” and “weak,” national Democrats scrambled to show their readiness to kill. In 1992, Gov. Bill Clinton left the campaign trail to return to Arkansas to oversee the execution of the mentally impaired Ricky Ray Rector.

During his presidency, Clinton deployed so-called “smart power” aggressively, including maintaining harsh sanctions on Iraq even as they led to the unnecessary deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children. He also intervened in the Yugoslavian civil war by bombing civilian targets in Belgrade including the lethal destruction of the Serb TV station for the supposed offense of broadcasting “propaganda.”

After the 9/11 attacks in 2001, many leading congressional Democrats – including presidential hopefuls John Kerry, Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton – voted to authorize President George W. Bush to invade Iraq. Though they offered various excuses (especially after the Iraq War went badly), the obvious real reason was their fear of being labeled “soft” in Republican attack ads.

The American public’s revulsion over the Iraq War and the resulting casualties contributed to Barack Obama’s election. But he, too, moved to protect his political flanks by staffing his young administration with hawks, such as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Gen. (and later CIA Director) David Petraeus. Despite receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, Obama also became comfortable with continuing Bush’s wars and starting some of his own, such as the bombing war against Libya and the violent subversion of Syria.

By nominating Hillary Clinton in 2016, the Democratic Party completed its transformation into the Party of War. Clinton not only ran as an unapologetic hawk in the Democratic primaries against Sen. Bernie Sanders – urging, for instance, a direct U.S. military invasion of Syria to create “no fly zones” – but positioned herself as a harsh critic of Trump’s hopes to reduce hostilities with Russia, deeming the Republican nominee Vladimir Putin’s “puppet.”

Ironically, Trump’s shocking victory served to solidify the Democratic Party’s interest in pushing for a military confrontation with Russia over Ukraine. After all, baiting Trump over his alleged “softness” toward Russia has become the centerpiece of Democratic hopes for somehow ousting Trump or at least crippling his presidency. Any efforts by Trump to ease those tensions will be cited as prima facie evidence that he is Putin’s “Manchurian candidate.”

Being Joe McCarthy

National Democrats and their media supporters don’t even seem troubled by the parallels between their smears of Americans for alleged contacts with Russians and Sen. Joe McCarthy’s guilt-by-association hearings of the early Cold War. Every link to Russia – no matter how tenuous or disconnected from Trump’s election – is trumpeted by Democrats and across the mainstream news media.

But it’s not even clear that this promotion of the New Cold War and the New McCarthyism will redound to the Democrats’ political advantage. Clinton apparently thought that her embrace of a neoconservative foreign policy would bring in many “moderate” Republicans opposed to Trump’s criticism of the Bush-Obama wars, but exit polls showed Republicans largely rallying to their party’s nominee.

Meanwhile, there were many anti-war Democrats who have become deeply uncomfortable with the party’s new hawkish persona. In the 2016 election, some peace Democrats voted for third parties or didn’t vote at all for president, although it’s difficult to assess how instrumental those defections were in costing Clinton the key states of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.

More broadly, the Democratic obsession with Russia and the hopes for somehow exploiting those investigations in order to oust Trump have distracted the party from a necessary autopsy into why the Democrats have lost so much ground over the past decade.

While many Democratic leaders and activists are sliding into full-scale conspiracy-mode over the Russia-Trump story, they are not looking at the party’s many mistakes and failings, such as:

–Why did party leaders push so hard to run an unpopular establishment candidate in a strongly anti-establishment year? Was it the fact that many are beholden to the Clinton cash machine?

–How can Democrats justify the undemocratic use of “super-delegates” to make many rank-and-file voters feel that the process is rigged in favor of the establishment’s choice?

–What can the Democratic Party do to reengage with many working-class voters, especially downwardly mobile whites, to stop the defection of this former Democratic base to Trump’s populism?

–Do national Democrats understand how out of touch they are with the future as they insist that the United States must remain the sole military superpower in a uni-polar world when the world is rapidly shifting toward a multi-polar reality?

Yet, rather than come up with new strategies to address the future, Democratic leaders would rather pretend that Putin is at fault for the Trump presidency and hope that the U.S. intelligence community – with its fearsome surveillance powers – can come up with enough evidence to justify Trump’s impeachment.

Then, of course, the Democrats would be stuck with President Mike Pence, a more traditional Religious Right Republican whose first step on foreign policy would be to turn it over to neocon Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, a move that would likely mean a new wave of “regime change” wars.

At such a point, that might put the Democrats and Republicans in sync as two equally warmongering parties, but what good that would do for the American people and the world is hard to fathom.

[For more on this topic, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Yes, Hillary Clinton Is a Neocon” and “Democrats Are Now the Aggressive War Party.]

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