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January 8, 2013 · By Phyllis Bennis
Phyllis Bennis wrote this blog post for The Nation.
Chuck Hagel isn’t anyone I’d pick to be in a position of power. He’s a conservative Republican, a military guy who volunteered to fight in Vietnam. According to Forbes magazine, during Hagel’s tenure in the Senate “he favored school prayer, missile defense and drilling in Alaska, while opposing abortion, same-sex marriage and limits on assault guns. He voted in favor of every defense authorization bill that came up during the dozen years he served, while opposing extension of Medicare benefits to prescription drugs. Such stances earned him a lifetime rating of 84 percent from the American Conservative Union.” Forbes, of course, thinks this is all great.
Me, not so much. But okay, we’re talking about Secretary of Defense, not someone responsible for domestic and social policy. Well, first of all, if I had to choose a secretary of defense, I’d start with someone who recognized that their first requirement would be to transform the US war machine from an aggressive into a defensive institution…something it’s never been before. If we assume it had to be a member of Congress, I’d start with Barbara Lee or Dennis Kucinich, not Chuck Hagel.
But that isn’t the choice we face. The alternatives to Hagel won’t be the heroic Oakland congresswoman or the committed defender of the Department of Peace, they’ll be military bureaucrats who have never said a word outside their respective boss’s talking point boxes.
At the end of the day, this isn’t about Hagel vs. anybody. This is about what President Obama is signaling by his nomination of Hagel as Secretary of Defense—and about the political forces arrayed against him.
October 5, 2012 · By Saul Landau
Five Cubans fighting terrorism in South Florida have served 14 years of prison, more than enough time for the U.S. public to learn from its media about the horrific injustice done by the U.S. government to these Cuban men. But the media has barely touched the grotesque frame-up of Gerardo Hernandez, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando Gonzalez, Ramon Labanino and Rene Gonzalez, the Cuban Five as they are called.
These Cuban intelligence agents volunteered in the 1990s to infiltrate violent groups of Miami-based Cuban exiles who had orchestrated bombings in Cuba of tourist spots – hotels, restaurants, clubs and bars, and even the Havana airport where vacationers from Canada and Europe arrive. By scaring foreigners with violence they hoped to intimidate tourists from visiting Cuba, and thus hurt the island’s economy.
Cuban intelligence chiefs sent agents into South Florida because the FBI had done nothing to stop the bombing plots or indeed discourage the exile plotters from continuing their terrorist war against Cuba. The agents’ job was to discover the plots, and alert Havana so the local police could thwart the violence.
Havana then recycled the agents’ information to the FBI. On some occasions, thanks to these men’s information, the Bureau did intercept caches of explosives and weapons destined to do harm inside Cuba. But the Bureau did not bother the terrorists. Instead in September 1998, FBI agents busted the Cuban agents, and the Justice Department charged them with conspiracy to commit espionage and one of them with murder. The last charge referred to a prosecution-concocted story that Gerardo Hernandez, the controller of the web of agents, had advised Havana of the date and time of Brothers to the Rescue’s planned flight time on February 24, 1996, and that he might possibly drop weapons into Cuba. Cuban aviation authorities warned the three small planes not to enter Cuban air space, but the pilots ignored the warning, and Cuban MIGs shot down two of the planes, killing both pilots and co-pilots. The craft carrying the Brothers’ leader, Jose Basulto, returned unscathed to Miami.
August 8, 2012 · By Salvatore Babones
The recession has been hard on everyone. Tens of millions of people lost their jobs. Many of those who didn't lose their jobs suffered salary cuts. Retirement savings and home values have plummeted.
Even people who have kept their jobs and homes have had to worry about the possibility of losing them.
But the recession is officially over. In fact, it has officially been over since June 2009, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. Last month, we entered the fourth year of recovery.
The reality, though, is that in America there are two of everything. There are white and black schools. There are white and black stores. There are even white and black rappers.
And of course there have been two recessions: a White Recession and a Black Recession.
The White Recession was sharp and painful, but soon over. White America is slowly returning to normal. It's a shade poorer normal to be sure, but normal all the same.
For white men, October 2009 brought the highest unemployment rate of the past sixty years. White male unemployment maxed out at 9.7 percent. It's now stable at 6.9 percent.
This rate is still too high, but it's not catastrophic - unless you're one of the 6.9 percent.
The white female unemployment rate is now even lower: just 6.8 percent. Throughout the recession, it never rose above 7.3 percent.
The White Economy is weak, but it's been weak for a long time. It's been dragged down by long-term wage stagnation, cuts in government professional employment and declining union membership.
The Black Economy, on the other hand, is still in full-blown recession.
The Black Recession has now dragged on for four years, if not forty. Black male unemployment is 14.8 percent, and the current trend is up.
The unemployment rate for black men maxed out at 18.0 percent in August 2011, but even that wasn't a record. In the early 1980s recession, the black male unemployment rate went over 20 percent.
The black male unemployment rate has now been over 10 percent for 49 consecutive months. But that's normal. It's been over 10 percent in more than half of all months on record since measurement began in 1972.
That 10 percent figure is for men who are in the labor market and actively seeking work. It doesn't include, for example, the 5 percent of black men who are currently in jail.
Black women also face serious challenges in the job market. The black female unemployment rate is 11.5 percent, down from a recession high of 13.9 percent in December 2011.
The unemployment rate for black women has now been over 10 percent for 42 consecutive months. Like the black male unemployment rate, it's been over 10.5 percent for over half of all months on record since 1972.
The Black Recession is the proverbial elephant in the room. No one talks about it, but it's there. It's been there for four years, or forty years, if it's been there a day.
In America's cultural and racial climate, it's understandable that President Obama prefers to avoid the subject of the Black Recession. But as he is fond of pointing out, he is the president of all Americans, and that includes black Americans.
Mr. President, the elephant in the room is not a Republican. It's long past time to put an end to the Black Recession. Above all, that means jobs. If the private sector won't provide them, the government should. That means you.
We can't have a jobs program that's just for blacks. But we can have a jobs programs that provides work with dignity to all Americans and that includes black Americans. Roosevelt did it. Johnson did it. Obama can do it.
Mr. President, put America back to work.
August 3, 2012 · By Saul Landau
As a child I played war games (cowboys killing Indians). My friends and I routinely shot each other - with toy guns, of course. In my south Bronx neighborhood, older gang members had real guns and sometimes shot each other. Like in the movies! The cartoons I adored as a kid were loaded with violence as were the war movies Hollywood churned out to make propaganda for the actual war against Germany and Japan.
When James Holmes mowed down twelve people and wounded almost sixty at a movie theater in Colorado, I felt fresh violence enter my body as if a masseuse had greased me with liquid hostility before beginning the massage. Aggression penetrated my pores, inundated my brain and covered the cells of my heart. While the media reported the number of rounds fired, the kinds of weapons possessed by the assassin, and the anatomy of Holmes' booby-trapped apartment, President Obama and aspirant Romney uttered bland statements about the need for prayer, and consolation to the victims' families. Neither mentioned control of guns or the culture of violence that defines America. Freedom seems to equal gun possession for the National Rifle Association and many of its members.
Violence, more American than apple pie and baseball, has become a major social issue and a serious public health problem. Almost daily someone shoots another dead in countless metropolitan areas. Families suffer, cops say they are investigating and newspapers and TV stations get lead stories. I, like tens of millions, see the TV blood stories and easily fall into the fascination pit of the aftermaths and consequences of violence. But the media does not analyze or look for underlying themes in Aurora or similar horrifying acts. Instead, they use them to sell news shows, newspapers, and get advertisers.
Indeed, the media soak us with the culture of violence. In Hollywood and TV films, violent death has become the only formula for adequate retribution. Movie villains suffer hideous ends – movie justice. Violence as the cultural metaphor well suits a country that for decades has lived with perpetual war, backed by the owners of the war economy.
June 14, 2012 · By Saul Landau
The Syrian conflict continued to boil - or boil over - when Syrian troops fired across the Turkish border on April 9, apparently killing either fleeing refugees or armed combatants. However, despite continued words of caution from the Pentagon and White House about getting into another messy Middle East war, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton pressed for more intervention.
The Syrian Accountability Act of 2003 began the formal U.S. attempt to bring down Assad, but Clinton, the imperial princess, now demands Syrian President Assad resign in favor of the Syrian National Council (SNC). This hastily formed group composed of exiled Syrian Muslim Brotherhood members, and other groupings, many in exile, would magically transform Syria via fair elections into a good democracy - and sheep will fly.
Washington's "humanitarian" assistance fund for Syria escalated into "non-lethal" aid -- sophisticated satellite communications equipment, and night-vision goggles so "rebels" could "evade" Syrian government assaults. U.S. and Western media have underscored Assad's butchery, but offered little of substance on the opposition and its often savage behavior.
Just weeks after the first March 2011 protests - Arab Springtime - the media disregarded eyewitness evidence of armed groups shooting at and killing members of Syria's security forces as well as civilians. Reporter Pepe Escobar witnessed "the shooting deaths of nine Syrian soldiers in Banyas" as early as April 10, 2011 (Asia Times, April 6, 2012). By focusing only on Assad's violence, Western leaders could promote a lopsided view of the conflict. In recent weeks, however, the media could not ignore all "photos and video footage of armed men with heavy weapons proudly declaring their stripes - some of them religious extremists advocating the killing of civilians based on sectarian differences."
Suicide bombings took place in Damascus and Aleppo, and al-Qaeda called its minions "to battle." The U.S. government ignored al-Qaeda's role and refers only to the "good" SNC, the majority who appear to ally themselves with Syria's Muslim Brotherhood. At a March meeting in Istanbul, sponsored by Turkey and Qatar, however, an unlikely source of dissent emerged. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said: "We reject any arming [of Syrian rebels] and the process to overthrow the [Assad] regime, because this will leave a greater crisis in the region."
Al-Maliki questioned the motives of Qatar and Saudi Arabia who "are calling for sending arms instead of working on putting out the fire." Iraq, he continued, opposed "arming" the Free Syrian Army and he feared, "those countries that are interfering in Syria's internal affairs will interfere in the internal affairs of any country." Maliki, who governs Iraq as a result of the U.S. invasion and devastation of that country, questioned equating a cause backed by Saudi funding with freedom. "What's wrong with the Free Syrian Army getting funding from Saudi Arabia? Or, when did Saudi Arabia ever support freedom?" he asked (Suadad al-Salhy, Reuters, April 1, 2012).
These remarks were not featured in headlined stories; nor did TV or radio news provide coverage of Maliki's statement. Until recently, we might have depended on Al Jazeera, whose Iraq war coverage won it praise from journalists. However, the network's Syria reports led some reporters to resign over the network's biased reporting. Hassan Shaaban, the Beirut bureau's managing director, resigned in March, "after leaked emails revealed his frustration over the channel's coverage."
Shaaban had filed a story showing armed men fighting with the Syrian army in Wadi Khalid. Al Jazeera dropped the story. Two other Al Jazeera staff quit for the same reasons. Al Akhbar claimed Qatar's foreign policy influenced the reporting on Syria. Al Jazeera maintains headquarters in Qatar and the royal family helped establish the network.
The question in Washington should be: will adding fuel to the violence make matters worse? Assad's forces have defeated -- with huge civilian casualties -- the formal rebel uprisings, but the SNC could sponsor a prolonged terrorist war, which would increase civilian casualties, and not succeed in removing Assad or his Party [the Baath Party] from power.
Logic and reason dictate that Obama should follow the Syrian majority. A February 2012 poll showed "55% of Syrians want Assad to stay," [NOT] motivated by fondness for his government, but "by fear of civil war." The poll also ascertained "that half the Syrians who accept him staying in power believe he must usher in free elections in the near future." (YouGov Siraj poll on Syria commissioned by The Doha Debates, funded by the Qatar Foundation, connected to the royal family. The family has taken a hawkish position on Syria. See Jonathan Steele, The Guardian, January 17)
These facts have not oozed into State Department consciousness, where the rush for U.S. entanglement appears contagious. Good sense should command Secretary Clinton to help save the process former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan set in motion for a negotiated cease fire. The opposition and the Assad side negated the April 10 deadline. This means Syrians will pay a higher human toll. The suffering is already immense.
On April 14, the UN Security Council backed a deployment of the first wave of U.N. military observers to monitor the tentative cease-fire between the Syrian government and opposition combatants. Before the arrangements become final, Washington should weigh in now with Russia, China and the western powers - not Saudi Arabia and Qatar - to pressure both sides to stop shooting and start serious talking.