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JFP 8/3: USA Today calls for military cuts on scale of sequester; JFP @ Avaaz
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 3 August 2012 - 3:47pm
Just Foreign Policy News, August 3, 2012
USA Today calls for military cuts on scale of sequester; JFP @ Avaaz
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I) Actions and Featured Articles
*Action: UK: Don't Allow US Extradition of Assange
Under extradition law, Sweden couldn't extradite Julian Assange to the United States without the permission of the UK government. Urge UK Home Secretary Theresa May to publicly state that she would not permit the extradition of Julian Assange from Sweden to the United States.
*Action: JFP at Avaaz: Boot Rep. Bachmann from House Intelligence Committee!
With her recent witch hunt against American Muslims, this time GOP Congresswoman Michele Bachmann has gone too far. So far that a group of respected foreign policy experts are now demanding Bachmann gets the boot from a key Congressional committee. If tens of thousands of us back the plan, Congressional leadership won't be able to ignore this common sense call. http://www.avaaz.org/en/petition/No_Intelligence_for_fools_Boot_Rep_Bachmann_from_House_Intelligence_Committee/
Former U.S. officials call for Bachmann to be replaced on Intelligence Committee
By promoting anti-Muslim conspiracy theories, Rep. Michele Bachmann is undermining U.S. policy in the Middle East. That's why former U.S. officials are calling for her removal from the House Intelligence Committee.
7,508 dead from cholera in Haiti
657 days, 7,508 dead, 588,962 ill since the UN brought cholera to Haiti. Still there is no apology, no compensation, no implementation of an effective plan to eradicate the disease. Now the UN is considering renewing the mandate for UN troops in Haiti. Shouldn't addressing the cholera crisis caused by the UN be a condition for renewing the mandate for UN troops?
1) The right way to make reductions to military spending of the size of the automatic cuts of the sequester is to phase them in, giving the Pentagon time to plan and more flexibility to choose what goes and what stays, argues USA Today in an editorial. Military spending has more than doubled since 9/11, and with the US out of Iraq and planning to leave Afghanistan in 2014, there's room for reductions, USA Today says. Military spending should be cut as part of the negotiations on replacing the sequester, the editorial argues.
2) Ynet's Atilla Shomfalvi quotes unnamed government insiders who say Netanyahu can't order a military strike against Iran, because the security establishment is unanimously opposed and the cabinet won't approve an action over the defense chiefs' opposition, the Jewish Daily Forward reports.
3) Julian Assange's fears of extradition to and persecution in the US, and therefore his plea for political asylum, are eminently reasonable, argues Michael Ratner in the Guardian. There are several unambiguous signs that the US is on track to prosecute Assange for his work as a journalist. If Ecuador grants Assange asylum, and should the UK or the US retaliate against Ecuador, that would be a violation of the law, Ratner says. Granting asylum is a peaceful and humanitarian act and cannot be regarded with hostility.
4) Long before he was going after top State Department official Huma Abedin, anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist Frank Gaffney was targeting two men connected with the Conservative Political Action Conference: Grover Norquist and former Bush Administration official Suhail Khan, the Huffington Post reports. "Grover Norquist is credentialing the perpetrators of this Muslim Brotherhood influence operation. ... We are in a war, and he has been working with the enemy for over a decade," wrote Gaffney in January 2011.
Cleta Mitchell, a prominent conservative attorney who also serves on the American Conservative Union board, thoroughly investigated Gaffney's claims against Norquist and Khan and found them to be completely baseless. Regarding Norquist, for example, Mitchell wrote, "With respect to Mr. Gaffney's allegations against Grover, those are purely and simply character assassination. ... And I'm certain that Mr. Gaffney's hatred is further fueled by the fact that Grover is married to a Muslim-American woman (who also has worked for the United States government in very responsible positions, I might add!)."
5) President Obama has signed a secret order authorizing U.S. support for rebels seeking to depose Syrian President Assad and his government, Reuters reports. Precisely when Obama signed the secret intelligence authorization, an action not previously reported, could not be determined, Reuters says. A U.S. government source acknowledged that under provisions of the presidential finding, the US was collaborating with a secret command center operated by Turkey and its allies which is based in the same city as a US military base in Turkey.
6) 26 organizations sent a letter to Congress urging support for Rep. Grijalva's Arms Sale Responsibility Act, Rebecca Griffin writes for Peace Action West. The bill that would prohibit arms sales if there is significant risk that the weapons would be used to commit or facilitate human rights abuses. The letter cited the Administration's recent decision to continue to supply arms to Bahrain in arguing the need for Congressional action.
7) In a remarkable performance, even by the standards of the Washington Post, Juan Forero managed to write a whole piece about "threats to democracy in Latin America" without talking about Honduras or Paraguay, notes Peter Hart for FAIR. Forero's piece appears to suggest that we should only be concerned about "threats to democracy" if the governments concerned oppose policies of the U.S.
8) According to the UN, the Gaza power plant has been operating at best at a third of its capacity, or has been completely shut down by severe fuel shortages since February 2012, Inter Press Service reports. This has led to scheduled blackouts in homes of 6-18 hours a day, besides the random unscheduled cuts. The UN says the generating capacity of this plant has been significantly impaired after the destruction of six transformers in an Israeli airstrike in 2006, restrictions on the import of parts and equipment to repair the transformers, lack of fuel as a result of Israel's blockade, and a dispute between the PA and authorities in Gaza over funding of the plant's operations. The Palestinian Energy Authority says Qatar has donated fuel to alleviate the electricity crisis in Gaza but 90% of that fuel has been sitting in tankers in the Suez canal for two months, blocked by Egypt's military.
9) In a letter to JTA, Kate Gould defends the focus of CMEP and FCNL on supporting Palestinian and Israeli nonviolent resistance against the Israeli occupation. She notes that more than 1,500 Palestinian prisoners joined the recent hunger strike, or more than a third of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, making it one of the largest hunger strikes in history, and that as a result of the hunger strike Israeli authorities agreed to some of the prisoners' demands.
10) The U.S. government has implored the Bahraini opposition to keep protests against the Bahraini government nonviolent, writes Cole Bockenfeld of the Project on Middle East Democracy in Foreign Policy. But the U.S. has remained silent as the Bahrain government has blocked peaceful protests.
11) A group of employees and ex-employees of the Colombian branch of General Motors began a hunger strike in front of the U.S. embassy in Bogota to protest the firing of colleagues on sick leave, according to Colombia Reports. The (ex-) workers said that while the U.S. government is demanding Colombia to respect labor rights, the U.S.' largest car producer itself is violating the rights of its Colombian workers.
1) Cut defense spending, but not mindlessly
Editorial, USA Today, August 2, 2012
There's a growing outcry, bordering on hysteria, about the cuts in military spending slated to take effect in January. "Doomsday," says Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. "Crippling," says Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. "Devastating," says former vice president Dick Cheney. About 10,000 workers might have to be laid off, warns Lockheed Martin, a major contractor.
OK, let's take a calm look at this, starting with why the cuts are looming. The sky-is-falling crowd has a point, but a limited one, and getting this right is important.
The reason these cuts could kick in five months from now is because Congress and the Obama administration agreed to them last year. Yes, the cuts provoking such angst today were willingly approved by both parties as the alternative if a congressional "supercommittee" couldn't find some way to reduce the deficit. The supercommittee then predictably did nothing, triggering the cuts.
The defense reductions would be harmful not so much for their size — about $55 billion each year for nine years — but for the way the Pentagon would be required to make them: mindlessly across the board, slashing crucial programs as well as ones that ought to be cut. The right way to make reductions this size is to phase them in, giving the Pentagon time to plan and more flexibility to choose what goes and what stays.
Here's the important thing, though: Defense spending has more than doubled since 9/11, and with the United States out of Iraq and planning to leave Afghanistan in 2014, there's room for reductions. This year's military outlays are expected to reach $716 billion, up from $294 billion in 2000. As troops come home and the fighting ends, it's time to cancel the post-9/11 blank check and think seriously about how big a military the nation can afford.
Defense contractors and their allies in Congress argue that the Pentagon is already absorbing significant cuts under the same agreement that spawned the supercommittee.
True, but in the context of out-of-control deficits and a dangerous rise in the national debt, defense can do more.
[In fact, the "significant cuts" absorbed so far were cuts from previously projected increases; the status quo path, not counting the sequester, is roughly for the military budget to increase in line with inflation over the next ten years - JFP.]
An analysis by the Center for Strategic and International Studies shows that the post-9/11 spending surge was bigger in inflation-adjusted dollars than the buildups for the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the Cold War. All three of those conflicts were followed by spending drawdowns that averaged about 37%. Today, plans call for a defense drawdown of about 8% over 10 years; adding a cutback the size of the one scheduled to start next year would bring that to 17%.
[Again, the 8% drawdown is from a previously projected increase -JFP.]
Many of the same members of Congress who complain so loudly about the impending defense cuts repeatedly block the Pentagon from making smart reductions. The military suggested closing more unneeded military bases and raising the super-low premiums and copays for the Tricare health insurance program for military retirees. Congress wasn't interested, but it continues to insist on building planes, tanks and other hardware the Pentagon doesn't want.
Defense outlays, which represent about one-fifth of the federal budget, should be dealt with as part of a bipartisan "grand bargain" on long-term debt reduction that balances spending cuts and revenue increases. Such a plan fell apart last summer but could rise from the ashes after the election as members of Congress confront a "fiscal cliff" of tax and spending changes.
2) 'Bibi Can't OK Iran Strike As Defense Chiefs Demur'
J.J. Goldberg, Jewish Daily Forward, July 31, 2012, 7:05pm
Ynet's Atilla Shomfalvi quotes unnamed government insiders who say Prime Minister Netanyahu can't order a military strike against Iran, even though it's his decision to make, because the security establishment is unanimously opposed and the cabinet won't approve an action over the defense chiefs' opposition.
"Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared last night [Tuesday] that he is responsible for deciding on military action in Iran, but senior political figures involved in the discussions reckon that in light of the determined opposition at this point of the heads of the security establishment—the chief of staff, the director of the Mossad, the chief of military intelligence, the IDF chief of operations and the heads of Mossad directorates—it is unlikely that ministers asked to vote for an attack will do so."
Shomfalvi writes that although Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak strongly favor an attack, Netanyahu has permitted his ministers to debate the issue freely behind closed doors. The eight-minister security cabinet reportedly is evenly split between advocates and opponents of a strike, as it has been for months.
3) Julian Assange Is Right to Fear US Prosecution
There are clear signs that the US is on track to prosecute the WikiLeaks founder, which, as his US lawyer, I advise him to heed, despite the denials of the Obama administration
Michael Ratner, Guardian, Thursday 2 August 2012 08.50 EDT
As the drama unfolds over Julian Assange's bid for political asylum in Ecuador, a troubling irony has emerged: the besieged founder of WikiLeaks is seeking refuge in this small Andean nation because he fears persecution from the United States, a nation whose laws famously grant asylum to people in precisely Assange's situation. Indeed, the US has demonstrated its commitment to be a safe haven for those being persecuted for their political beliefs by recognising that journalists punished for expressing political opinions in places like China meet the criteria for asylum under the US's own laws.
The journalistic function and legacy of WikiLeaks cannot be disputed. The site has published 251,287 leaked US diplomatic cables and military documents that revealed the inner workings – warts and all – of US foreign policy. These publications illuminated state-sponsored human rights abuses in Iraq and Afghanistan, exposed a secret war in Yemen, and revealed the Obama administration's interference with independent efforts to prosecute Bush officials for torture and other war crimes.
So why is Assange so concerned? Are his fears of persecution due to his political beliefs and expression reasonable?
There are several unambiguous signs that the US is on track to prosecute Assange for his work as a journalist. A grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia, empanelled to investigate violations of the Espionage Act – a statute that by its very nature targets speech – has subpoenaed Twitter feeds regarding Assange and WikiLeaks. An FBI agent, testifying at whistleblower Bradley Manning's trial, said that "founders, owners and managers" of WikiLeaks are being investigated. And then there is Assange's 42,135-page FBI file – a compilation of curious heft if the government is "not interested" in investigating its subject.
In this context, Assange's fears of extradition to and persecution in the US, and therefore his plea for asylum, are eminently reasonable.
What's more, Assange is rightly concerned about how he will be treated if he is extradited to the US. One need only consider how the US treated Bradley Manning, the army private who allegedly leaked the cables to WikiLeaks to see why. Manning spent close to a year in pre-trial solitary confinement for 23 hours a day, and then eight months under conditions designed to pressure him into providing evidence to incriminate Assange. During this time, Manning was stripped of his clothing and made to stand nude for inspection. Thousands of people, including scores of legal scholars and the United Nations special rapporteur on torture, have condemned Manning's treatment as inhumane, and state that it may constitute torture. There is no reason for Assange to expect he will be treated any better.
Most disturbingly, the US government is more concerned with investigating a journalist and publisher than the high-level government officials whose alleged war crimes and misdeeds Assange and his cohorts brought to light. Why? To send a message to others who might dare to expose government misconduct, who believe that transparency, exposing abuses, and dissembling hypocrisy strengthen democracy – and who act on those beliefs. In short, the US is intent on persecuting a crusading journalist and publisher for his political expression.
These are the circumstances under which Ecuador is considering whether it will grant Assange the asylum he is entitled to under law. If it does, and should the UK or the US retaliate against Ecuador, that would be a violation of the law. Granting asylum is a peaceful and humanitarian act and cannot be regarded with hostility.
4) Frank Gaffney Plotting To Take Down Grover Norquist With Muslim Brotherhood Accusations
Amanda Terkel, Huffington Post, 08/02/2012 9:36 pm
Washington -- If Frank Gaffney gets his way, Grover Norquist won't be at a high-profile conservative gathering known as the Conservative Political Action Conference in October. Not only that, but the anti-tax crusader and his allies will be totally discredited and branded as supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Gaffney is head of the Center for Security Policy and committed to raising the alarm about what he sees as the growing influence of Islam in American politics. Most recently, his work inspired Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and four other conservative lawmakers to write to federal agencies and ask them to investigate whether the Muslim Brotherhood is infiltrating the U.S. government. Those accusations were harshly denounced by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, political pundits and a long list of religious and secular groups.
But long before he was going after top State Department official Huma Abedin, Gaffney was targeting two men connected with CPAC: Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform, and Suhail Khan, a former official in the administration of President George W. Bush. Both are board members of the American Conservative Union, which runs CPAC.
"Grover Norquist is credentialing the perpetrators of this Muslim Brotherhood influence operation. ... We are in a war, and he has been working with the enemy for over a decade," said Gaffney in a January 2011 WorldNetDaily op-ed.
Cleta Mitchell, a prominent conservative attorney who also serves on the ACU board, thoroughly investigated Gaffney's claims against Norquist and Khan and found them to be completely baseless. The rest of the conservative board unanimously stood with Mitchell, and Gaffney was essentially shut out of the conference. He was not allowed to speak at the gathering, despite having done so for the past 15 years.
Gaffney is now out to redeem himself -- and to take down Mitchell, Norquist and Khan in the process.
The Huffington Post obtained an email sent by Gaffney on July 6 to fellow conservatives, outlining his strategy for raising a ruckus about the Muslim Brotherhood issue in advance of October's regional CPAC in Denver:
As we will discuss on today's Victory Coalition call, an opportunity has arisen to begin to push back on the insidious Muslim Brotherhood influence operation mounted by Grover Norquist and his Brotherhood-affiliated protégé, Suhail Khan. It comes in the form of the upcoming October 4 Conservative Political Action Conference in Denver. I believe that, by using this event as leverage, we have a shot at raising enough hell in Colorado and elsewhere about Norquist and Khan that we can force the ACU Board, at a minimum, to rescind the resolution it adopted last September condemning me and a endorsing them. If we create enough of a stir, it might even be possible to induce the Board to force their resignations and that of the third Board member who enabled that resolution, Cleta Mitchell, from the ACU leadership."
The letter drafted by Gaffney faults the ACU board for endorsing Norquist and Khan "despite abundant evidence that they have engaged in activities that American conservatives and others who love freedom would find abhorrent."
That behavior, according to Gaffney, includes "the enabling and conduct of influence operations by the Muslim Brotherhood as part of its 'civilization jihad' against this country and, in particular, targeted at the conservative movement and the Republican Party."
Norquist told The Huffington Post he had not heard about Gaffney's latest effort. "Frank's argument is, 'If you knew what I knew, you'd understand.' But the problem is the people who read all of his stuff are the ones who are the least sympathetic to his conspiracy theories," said Norquist.
Mitchell's September 2011 letter reviewing Gaffney's claims against Norquist and Khan was definitive in finding no support whatsoever for the allegations.
Regarding Norquist, for example, Mitchell wrote, "With respect to Mr. Gaffney's allegations against Grover, those are purely and simply character assassination. ... And I'm certain that Mr. Gaffney's hatred is further fueled by the fact that Grover is married to a Muslim-American woman (who also has worked for the United States government in very responsible positions, I might add!)."
Furthermore, Mitchell said she has personally tried to persuade Gaffney to stop his baseless allegations. "I have tried to talk Mr. Gaffney into ceasing these attacks -- but to no avail," she wrote. "I have done everything I know to do to try and bring this to a halt, including private conversations and public appearances saying essentially what I have said in this letter. I have taken whatever official actions in my capacity as a board member of various organizations to vote against any motion that would support Mr. Gaffney's allegations and will continue to do so."
Last year, Gaffney also went after Virginia Del. David Ramadan (R-South Riding), who was running for office at the time.
In a Washington Times op-ed about Ramadan in August 2011, Gaffney wrote, "As we are seeing play out in the Middle East at the hands of Islamists of various stripes, democracy is no guarantee against people who are hostile to it -- some of whom are perfectly capable of concealing that hostility to advance their purposes."
Gaffney's allegations, however, were rebutted by one of the conservative movement's stalwarts: Edwin Meese, who served as President Ronald Reagan's attorney general. Meese endorsed Ramadan in part, he later explained, because of Gaffney's campaign. "I felt that this was an unfair attack and persisted in my support of him because of that," said Meese, adding, "I think it's always serious when any American is disparaged ... solely because of their religion or their background when there's no basis for it."
5) Obama authorizes secret support for Syrian rebels
Mark Hosenball, Reuters, Wed Aug 1, 2012 9:04pm EDT
Washington - President Barack Obama has signed a secret order authorizing U.S. support for rebels seeking to depose Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his government, sources familiar with the matter said.
Obama's order, approved earlier this year and known as an intelligence "finding," broadly permits the CIA and other U.S. agencies to provide support that could help the rebels oust Assad.
This and other developments signal a shift toward growing, albeit still circumscribed, support for Assad's armed opponents - a shift that intensified following last month's failure of the U.N. Security Council to agree on tougher sanctions against the Damascus government.
The White House is for now apparently stopping short of giving the rebels lethal weapons, even as some U.S. allies do just that.
But U.S. and European officials have said that there have been noticeable improvements in the coherence and effectiveness of Syrian rebel groups in the past few weeks. That represents a significant change in assessments of the rebels by Western officials, who previously characterized Assad's opponents as a disorganized, almost chaotic, rabble.
Precisely when Obama signed the secret intelligence authorization, an action not previously reported, could not be determined.
The full extent of clandestine support that agencies like the CIA might be providing also is unclear.
A U.S. government source acknowledged that under provisions of the presidential finding, the United States was collaborating with a secret command center operated by Turkey and its allies.
Last week, Reuters reported that, along with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Turkey had established a secret base near the Syrian border to help direct vital military and communications support to Assad's opponents.
This "nerve center" is in Adana, a city in southern Turkey about 60 miles from the Syrian border, which is also home to Incirlik, a U.S. air base where U.S. military and intelligence agencies maintain a substantial presence.
Turkey's moderate Islamist government has been demanding Assad's departure with growing vehemence. Turkish authorities are said by current and former U.S. government officials to be increasingly involved in providing Syrian rebels with training and possibly equipment.
European government sources said wealthy families in Saudi Arabia and Qatar were providing significant financing to the rebels.
On Tuesday, NBC News reported that the Free Syrian Army had obtained nearly two dozen surface-to-air missiles, weapons that could be used against Assad's helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. Syrian government armed forces have employed such air power more extensively in recent days.
NBC said the shoulder-fired missiles, also known as MANPADs, had been delivered to the rebels via Turkey.
On Wednesday, however, Bassam al-Dada, a political adviser to the Free Syrian Army, denied the NBC report, telling the Arabic-language TV network Al-Arabiya that the group had "not obtained any such weapons at all." U.S. government sources said they could not confirm the MANPADs deliveries, but could not rule them out either.
Current and former U.S. and European officials previously said that weapons supplies, which were being organized and financed by Qatar and Saudi Arabia, were largely limited to guns and a limited number of anti-tank weapons, such as bazookas.
While U.S. and allied government experts believe that the Syrian rebels have been making some progress against Assad's forces lately, most believe the conflict is nowhere near resolution, and could go on for years.
6) 26 organizations tell US to stop arming human rights abusers
Rebecca Griffin, Peace Action West, August 2, 2012
The Arab Spring brought the United States' long history of selling weapons to human rights abusers into stark relief. Protesters in Egypt pointed out tear gas canisters bearing "made in the USA." The US government harsly condemned leaders like Gaddafi and Assad, while the Bahraini government receives tepid criticism and US arms sales.
Sadly, this is not new, and it's not over. Zach Toombs and R. Jeffrey Smith from the Center for Public Integrity recently compared the State Department's military assistance report with its human rights report, and found that the US is still sending billions of dollars in weapons to human rights abusers.
Rep. Raul Grijalva has responded by introducing the Arms Sale Responsibility Act, a bill that would prohibit arms sales if there is significant risk that the weapons would be used to commit or facilitate human rights abuses. Today, 26 organizations sent the letter below to representatives urging them to cosponsor the bill:
"Dear members of Congress
On behalf of our supporters nationwide, we the undersigned organizations urge you to cosponsor the Arms Sale Responsibility Act, HR 5749."
"The impacts of these flawed policies can be seen in the US government's recent decision to proceed with limited sales to the government of Bahrain, the full details of which have not been publicly disclosed. Serious concerns about human rights in Bahrain have not been resolved since the decision to move forward with these secret sales. Amnesty International has continued to receive reports of ill-treatment of protesters following the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry's report.
A Bahraini court recently upheld the convictions of nine doctors, giving them sentences of up to five years in prison for tending to wounded protesters. While five were released for time served, all should have their convictions and sentences quashed, because they were imprisoned solely for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly. Another example is that of eleven-year-old Ali Hasan, who was arrested in May and charged with "participating with others in an illegal gathering of more than five people, in order to disturb public security by way of violence." Police reportedly threatened to shoot the young boy and later interrogated him. He was sentenced on July 5th to one year of monitoring, after being released following 23 days without seeing a lawyer and nearly a month in juvenile detention.
These examples illustrate the need for a consistent US policy for weapons sales and human rights. The Arms Sale Responsibility Act would prohibit arms sales if there is substantial risk that the weapons would be used to commit or facilitate human rights abuses."
7) The Threat–Again–of Left-Wing Latin American Democracy
Peter Hart, FAIR, 08/01/2012
You can count on U.S. corporate media to express alarm about the threat posed by left-wing governments in Latin America. Sometimes it's military hype (think Soviet MiGs in Nicaragua), but more typically it takes the form of a generalized concern about certain governments' commitment to democratic ideals.
But how do you sound the alarm about left-wing threats to democracy when actual elected left-wing leaders are being removed in anti-democratic coups? That's no easy feat, but some reporters are up to the challenge.
In the Washington Post on July 22 (under the headline "Latin America's New Authoritarians"), reporter Juan Forero explains that today's quasi-dictators are clever enough to rule in what are nominally democracies:
"More than two decades after Latin America's last right-wing dictatorships dissolved, a new kind of authoritarian leader is rising in several countries: democratically elected presidents who are ruling in increasingly undemocratic ways.
Unlike the iron-fisted juntas of a generation ago, these leaders do not assassinate opposition figures or declare martial law.
But in a handful of countries, charismatic populists are posing the most serious challenge to democratic institutions in Latin America since the 1980s, when rebel wars and dictators were the norm."
Forero notes in passing that U.S.-allied leaders have been criticized, but the real problem are the leftists, as Forero notes with some alarm:
"Today, the most prominent and powerful of a handful of democratically elected leaders who enjoy near-total control of the political life of their countries is Chavez. Even as he recovers from cancer, the former lieutenant colonel is running for reelection in October's presidential vote as he seeks to extend a presidency that began in 1999.
Other presidents who have consolidated their hold on power–controlling, among other institutions, the courts, which then give them leverage over opponents–include Ecuador's Correa, Bolivia's Evo Morales and Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega.
All vocally oppose the Obama administration, favor state intervention in the economy and have moved to strengthen alliances with Washington's adversaries, among them Cuba, Iran and Russia."
As Keane Bhatt wrote for NACLA (7/30/12), a notable omission in a piece about threats to democracy are the very recent removals of democratically elected presidents in Paraguay and Honduras: 'in Forero's account of "creeping authoritarianism" in the region, it's as if two prominent examples of this phenomenon–the Honduran coup and last month's illegitimate ouster of Lugo–never happened.'
8) When the Lights Go Out, Talk
Mohammed Omer, Inter Press Service, Aug 2 2012
Gaza City - When the lights go out, Gazans look for generators to switch on. And, they find people to talk to. With so many power cuts over so long now, people are giving themselves the somewhat dubious comfort that human relations may have improved as a result of these power cuts.
According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) the Gaza power plant has been operating at best at a third of its capacity, or has been completely shut down by severe fuel shortages since February 2012. This has led to scheduled blackouts in homes of 6-18 hours a day, besides the random unscheduled cuts.
UNOCHA says the generating capacity of this plant has been significantly impaired after the destruction of six transformers in an Israeli airstrike in 2006, restrictions on the import of parts and equipment to repair the transformers, lack of fuel as a result of Israel's blockade, and a dispute between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the authorities in Gaza over funding of the plant's operations.
The power cuts are a price about 1.7 million Gazans pay for the Israeli blockade, which was imposed when Hamas was democratically elected in Gaza in 2006.
Ahmed Abuel Amareen from the Palestinian Energy Authority says the main reason Gaza cannot get more fuel is "arbitrariness from Israel and Egypt, and their failure to permit entry of fuel from Qatar."
Qatar has donated fuel to alleviate the electricity crisis in Gaza but, according to Abuel Amareen, 90 percent of that fuel has been sitting in tankers in the Suez canal for the past two months, awaiting approval from Egypt's military.
The insufficient and irregular power supply impacts Gaza hospitals, with outages having tripled since the beginning of 2012, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). UN statistics show that the average waiting time for orthopaedic surgery at Shifa Hospital increased from three to six months during the first half of 2012.
9) Recognize Palestinian nonviolence
Kate Gould, Letter to the Editor, JTA, August 2, 2012
To the Editor: In his JTA Op-Ed, Rabbi Kenneth Cohen dismissed the Palestinian nonviolence movement as irrelevant as "a Flat Earth Society in Gaza" and opposed an alleged overconcentration on that movement by Churches for Middle East Peace and by Quakers. As a Quaker lobbyist representing the Friends Committee on National Legislation on the CMEP board, I am grateful that CMEP's advocacy conference featured Palestinians and Israelis working for nonviolent solutions to the conflict. Even the Israeli government has acknowledged that the growing nonviolence camp is no Flat Earth Society and must be reckoned with.
What else could explain the deal struck between Israel and Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike? The Israeli government implicitly affirmed the power of this nonviolent action by agreeing to some of the prisoners' demands in exchange for an end to the strike and a denunciation of violence. More than 1,500 Palestinian prisoners joined the strike, or more than a third of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, making it one of the largest hunger strikes in history. The response from the U.S. government was as one might expect toward the Flat Earth Society: radio silence.
Rabbi Cohen wrote that "to the extent that there is a [Palestinian] nonviolent movement, it is just one small cog in an overall strategy characterized by indiscriminate violence." There is no question that some Palestinians have committed horrific acts of violence against Israeli civilians. Palestinian nonviolence, however, is no "small cog in an overall strategy," but rather it is in itself an "overall strategy" with a rich legacy that harkens to civil resistance under Ottoman rule. The Friends Committee on National Legislation has compiled a list of Israeli and Palestinian peace-building organizations for a glimpse into today's movement.
Rabbi Cohen's statement that I "made disparaging remarks about end-of-days fundamentalist support of Israel" is inaccurate. I criticized support from some Christian groups for settlements and other policies that threaten rather than support Israel's security.
FCNL and CMEP advocate for the U.S. to empower peace builders and undercut the false appeal of violent extremism. The nonviolence movement in Israel and the Palestinian territories warrants recognition from the U.S. public and U.S. government.
Kate Gould, Friends Committee on National Legislation
10) U.S. silence on continued Bahraini repression
Cole Bockenfeld, Foreign Policy, Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - 4:07 PM
[Bockenfeld is director of advocacy at the Project on Middle East Democracy.]
This month, the Bahraini monarchy stopped permitting political protests as it continues to respond to unauthorized rallies with brutal force. The act of rejecting permits to protest -- and thus closing off this peaceful channel of dissent -- threatens to drive Bahrainis away from the moderate camp. Closing political space to legally protest is creating a volatile environment, where both police and demonstrators are increasingly resorting to violent means. Without a reversal of this policy, the Prime Minister and his hardline allies within the government will get just what they want -- an excuse to crack down on a violent opposition that has no peaceful outlet to express its political grievances.
In the first six months of this year, opposition parties in Bahrain documented at least 20 requests for peaceful protests that were rejected. According to the government, 88 peaceful protests were also allowed during the same period. Throughout this time, formal political opposition parties played by the government's rules, applying 72 hours in advance to the Ministry of Interior for permits to protest and accepting de facto bans on any demonstration inside the capital of Manama. But in the last month, Bahrain's Ministry of Interior has rejected all opposition applications for planned protests pending further study, citing the need to end street violence and prevent the disruption of traffic. Before the end of July, frustrated opposition parties defied the ban, holding widespread demonstrations across the country and declaring a march in Manama. These unauthorized rallies were met with the same type of excessive force the island has witnessed for the past 18 months: protests across the country were attacked with a flood of tear gas, birdshot, beatings, and raids. According to the largest opposition party, al-Wefaq, the number of rallies denied permits has now reached 30 in July alone.
One lesson to be learned from the Arab Spring is that repressing peaceful protests by force does not make people go home -- it angers and emboldens them. Young activists, beaten down and humiliated, return more determined and potentially more radicalized. When pressed on the excessive use of force by riot police, Bahraini officials regularly point to the increased use of Molotov cocktails and protesters attacking police with iron rods, and warn of foiled terrorist attacks and bomb plots.
For the past year, the U.S. government has implored al-Wefaq and other opposition leaders to keep the streets calm to ensure space for political dialogue with regime moderates. Opposition leaders have repeatedly issued public calls to maintain a nonviolent approach. But, as the government's progress toward reform has stalled, the moderate opposition's ability to ensure that protesters remain patient appears to be eroding. Former al-Wefaq member of parliament (MP) Matar Matar has described the new policy as the government "encouraging the people to disobedience." The February 14th Youth Movement, an anonymous youth group that organizes unauthorized and often confrontational political protests via Facebook, was able to gather 5,000 people in a recent rally -- the movement's largest in months.
As the government of Bahrain moves to eliminate any space for peaceful political protest, the opposition is tasked with an impossible order: in the face of excessive force by police, maintain an environment of total nonviolence while awaiting reforms from the government. For a frustrated population accustomed to weekly protests and violent crackdowns in the absence of meaningful political reform, this approach has little appeal.
As dialogue has reached a year-long standstill, people on the streets have grown increasingly frustrated with the Bahraini government's political runaround. Meanwhile, the U.S. government seems to have lost its voice extolling the universal principle of peaceful assembly in Bahrain. Ever-present in public statements are condemnations of violence by protesters and excessive force by police, but these have been too rarely accompanied by support for the basic freedom to protest in the first place.
In response to the recent moves by the Bahraini government to curtail its citizens' right to assembly, the U.S. government has registered no public objection, despite expressed U.S. support for the right of assembly before this policy was implemented.
With frustrations in Bahrain mounting, the United States needs to publicly convey to our Gulf ally that peaceful assembly is a universal right and that policies that prohibit it represent a red line in the bilateral relationship. U.S. silence in this regard will be perceived as continued support for government actions which are marginalizing moderates and undermining peaceful voices for reform. Sidelining such moderates would fulfill the hard-liners' image of violent protesters bent on the overthrow of the regime and justify a vicious crackdown. The United States must clearly and unequivocally take a stand in support of the universal right to peaceful assembly, or else be seen as complicit in the bloodshed that would follow.
11) Colombian General Motors employees on hunger strike over 'labor rights violations'
Adriaan Alsema, Colombia Reports, Thursday, 02 August 2012 07:01
A group of employees and ex-employees of the Colombian branch of General Motors began a hunger strike in front of the U.S. embassy in Bogota Wednesday to protest the firing of colleagues on sick leave.
The hunger strike followed months after the factory workers set up a provisional shelter in front of the embassy, demanding the company respect labor laws, and talks with the American ambassador and Colombian government.
General Motors "is firing us without just cause, harming us and our families. We are taking this decision because our health has worsened day by day, we have lost our homes, we're basically on the street and we have been forgotten by the government," one of the protesters told Caracol Radio.
"The association of workers and former workers of Geneal Motors Colomotores takes the decision to begin a hunger strike, sewing our lips, until our rightful requests are heard by the company, the ambassador of the United States and the government," a second protester added.
The (ex-) workers told the radio station that while the U.S. government is demanding Colombia to respect labor rights, the U.S.' largest car producer itself is violating the rights of its Colombian workers.
According to newspaper El Tiempo, the United States business attache met with the protesters and promised to inform General Motors headquarters in Detroit about the situation.
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