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JFP 11/5: WSJ corrects Iran lie; WaPo backs drone debate but hides casualty data
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 5 November 2012 - 8:32pm
Just Foreign Policy News, November 5, 2012
WSJ corrects Iran lie; WaPo backs drone debate but hides casualty data
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Go Straight to the News Summary
I) Actions and Featured Articles
*Action: Push the big TV talks shows to talk about specifics of the drone strike policy
Bob Schieffer responded to our call and asked a question about drone strikes in the presidential debate. Now let's press the big TV talks shows to get into the details of the drone strike policy - like attacks on rescuers. Urge the big TV shows to have the authors of the Stanford/NYU report on as guests.
Iran Fact Check: Wall Street Journal Corrects False Claims for War
The Wall Street Journal issued a rare, formal correction to its op-ed setting a deadline for the "crippling" of Iran's economy and war with Iran. In that op-ed, Reul Marc Gerecht and Mark Dubowitz of the neocon "Foundation for Defense of Democracies" falsely claimed Iran's enrichment facilities are subject to international inspections less often than they really occur to justify deadlines for war that were premature even under their own metric.
Kevin Martin, Peace Action: ceasefire in Afghanistan?
"Amid all the grim news in Afghanistan, a new initiative called 2 Million Friends for Peace looks like a ray of hope. The campaign, launched by the youth-led Afghan Peace Volunteers, aims to find two million friends or supporters worldwide - the approximate number of Afghans killed in 40 years of war - and to deliver to the United Nations its call for a cease-fire and negotiated end to the war on December 10, International Human Rights Day."
November 12: Oliver Stone "Untold US History" documentary on "Showtime"
Do you have cable TV and get "Showtime"? Wouldn't watching this with your friends be a nice community activity for a cold November evening?
Glenn Greenwald says:
'Oliver Stone is releasing a new book, entitled "The Untold History of the United States", which highlights key facts in US history over the last century that have been largely ignored or affirmatively distorted. I've read parts of the book and recommend it highly (a summary of his chapter on the Obama presidency is here). Beginning 12 November, Showtime is broadcasting a 10-part documentary to accompany the book; I've seen the first four installments and cannot recommend it highly enough.'
1) In an important editorial, the Washington Post calls for "much more debate" on "the means and objectives of drone attacks." Also noteworthy on the positive side: the Post notes that "the further - in geography, time and organizational connection - that the drone war advances from the original al-Qaeda target in Afghanistan, the less validity it has under the 2001 congressional authorization"; calls for "greater disclosure, more political accountability, more checks and balances"; says drone strikes should not be carried out by the CIA, should be publicly disclosed and subject to congressional review [Human Rights Watch has also called for ending the CIA's involvement in drone strikes.]
Noteworthy on the negative side: claims the drone strikes are internationally legal simply on the grounds of "self-defense" (although implicitly acknowledging that to the extent that they are not agreed by Pakistan, they are illegal); falsely claims that the 2001 AUMF authorized "war against al-Qaeda and those who harbor it" [the 2001 AUMF authorized force against those responsible for the 9/11 attacks and those who harbored them; see below - JFP.]
2) A new Washington Post infographic depicts US covert drone strikes since 2002, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports. But all civilian casualty information has been stripped from the Washington Post's data. TBIJ refused to let the Washington Post use TBIJ data if the Post insisted on stripping out civilian casualty data.
3) The Obama administration has eased restrictions on the sale of medicine to Iran amid signs that concern over the suffering of ordinary citizens could complicate an international campaign to punish Iran for its disputed nuclear program, the Los Angeles Times reports. Last month, the Treasury Department changed the rules to provide what amounts to a "standing authorization" for sales of certain foods and medicines.
4) The effects of Treasury's move to "ease" restrictions on the sale of medicine to Iran are unclear, the New York Times says, since the exporters still face troubles getting paid. Virtually no American or European bank wants to be involved in financial transactions with Iran, no matter what products are involved. Officials in Iran estimate that potentially about six million patients, many of them with cancer, are affected by shortages.
5) The Western failure to respond to the crackdown on dissent in the Gulf states could now could be put to the test as they attempt to muzzle voices of opposition by adopting sweeping measures, such as protest bans and clampdowns on social media, AP reports. Last week the State Department issued unusually blunt criticism of a decision by Bahrain to temporarily outlaw all anti-government protests. Kuwait could bring further questions from the West over its widening clampdowns on an Islamist-led opposition ahead of Dec. 1 parliamentary elections, including bans on public gatherings of more than 20 people. A European Parliament resolution recently denounced "assaults, repression and intimidation" against rights activists in the UAE. A British parliament inquiry investigated possible Saudi human rights violations and its military assistance to Bahrain's monarchy.
6) Labor unions and liberal interest groups are ready to their firepower on Obama if threatens to cut Social Security in a "grand bargain," the Politico reports. [This is a positive development for efforts to cut the Pentagon budget; a "grand bargain" would almost surely cut Social Security and protect the Pentagon budget, whereas if a "grand bargain" fails, then the Pentagon budget will be cut and Social Security will be spared, because the automatic cuts of the "sequester" don't touch Social Security but do hit the Pentagon budget - JFP.]
7) An Israeli TV investigative news program claimed that Netanyahu and Barak ordered their security chiefs in 2010 to have the military ready to attack Iran's nuclear facilities within hours if necessary, but were rebuffed by the security chiefs, the Times of Israel reports. The head of the Mossad reportedly said that the order, if followed, might lead to a war based on an illegal decision. The IDF chief of staff warned that the very order to prepare for a strike might set in motion a deterioration into war even if Israel didn't actually choose to launch one.
8) Tribesmen in North Waziristan condemned a U.S. drone attack that killed a local woman and injured six children, The News of Pakistan reports. The woman was plucking ladyfingers from a field along with her grandchildren, the report says. Tribal elders said those claiming terrorists were being targeted in drone strikes should come see the injured children in the hospital.
9) The arrest of the son of detained Palestinian rights activist Bassem Tamimi points to"the continuing harassment of activist Bassem Tamimi, his family, and the community of al-Nabi Saleh by Israeli military forces," Amnesty International says. "Bassem is a prisoner of conscience, held solely for peacefully protesting Israel's illegal settlement expansion, and must be released immediately and unconditionally," Amnesty said.
10) If US officials think they're going to find Syrian allies to prevent war atrocities, or be able to take swift control of Syria in the event of Assad's defeat and steer it in a pro-US direction, they are going to be sorely disappointed, writes Dan Murphy in the Christian Science Monitor. It's quite likely that weapons provided to the rebels will end up being used in further atrocities, Murphy writes.
11) Partners in Health and their Haitian partners were preparing for an expected bump in cholera cases caused by the Hurricane Sandy, even as money for cholera prevention is running low, the Boston Globe reports. Funding from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is set to expire in February and will not be renewed.
1) Pulling the U.S. drone war out of the shadows
Editorial, Washington Post, November 1
It's been 10 years since the first strike by an armed U.S. drone killed an al-Qaeda leader and five associates in Yemen. Since then, according to unofficial counts, there have been more than 400 "targeted killing" drone attacks in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia - countries where the United States is not fighting a conventional war. About 3,000 people have been killed, including scores - maybe hundreds - of civilians. And though the United States is winding down its military mission in Afghanistan, the Obama administration, as The Post's Greg Miller reported last week, "expects to continue adding names to kill or capture lists for years."
All of this causes increasing unease among Americans of both political parties - not to mention many U.S. allies. They are disturbed by the antiseptic nature of U.S. personnel launching strikes that they watch on screens hundreds or thousands of miles from the action. They question whether drone attacks are legal. They ask why the process of choosing names for the kill list as well as the strikes themselves are secret and whether such clandestine warfare does more harm than good to long-term U.S. interests.
Some of these anxieties seem to us misplaced. But the means and objectives of drone attacks - and the Obama administration's steps toward institutionalizing the system - deserve much more debate than they have attracted during the presidential campaign.
That brings us to the question of whether the United States deserves such censure for the way it is using drones in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia - the three places they have been employed outside a conventional war zone. As we have written previously, the strikes meet tests for domestic and international legality. War against al-Qaeda and those who harbor it was authorized in 2001 by Congress, and the United States has the right under international law to defend against attacks on its homeland, which al-Qaeda forces in Pakistan and Yemen have launched. Moreover, the governments of Yemen, Somalia and, up to a point, Pakistan have consented to the strikes. [Thus, the Post implicitly concedes that to the extent that Pakistan has not consented to the strikes, they violate international law - JFP.]
[In this paragraph the Post made an important error in its account of the 2001 AUMF. The 2001 AUMF did not authorize "War against al-Qaeda and those who harbor it." The 2001 AUMF authorized force against those whom the President determines "planned, authorized, committed, or aided" and those who "harbored such organizations or persons." Here is the full paragraph:
"That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons."
Later in the editorial, the Post says that "The further - in geography, time and organizational connection - that the drone war advances from the original al-Qaeda target in Afghanistan, the less validity it has under the 2001 congressional authorization." It's because the AUMF only targeted those responsible for the 9/11 attacks and those who harbored them that this is true - JFP.]
The Obama administration's heavy and increasing dependence on drones is nevertheless troubling. As Mitt Romney said in endorsing the drone strikes during the last presidential debate, "we can't kill our way out of this." Terrorism can be defeated only by a comprehensive effort to encourage stable and representative governments and economic development in countries such as Pakistan and Afghanistan - a mission the administration, with its harping about "nation-building here at home," appears increasingly disinclined to take on. Moreover, drone strikes do stoke popular hostility and therefore make U.S. political and diplomatic goals more difficult to achieve.
Perhaps most troubling, the relative ease of using drones, combined with the Obama administration's reluctance to detain foreign militants, which would be politically difficult at home, has produced a stark record: Thousands of al-Qaeda suspects killed by drones have been balanced by only one significant capture - a Somali who was held on a U.S. warship for two months before being turned over to the U.S. civilian justice system.
In recent months drone strikes in Pakistan have decreased, partly in response to these negative effects. But The Post's reporting suggests that the administration is working to institutionalize the system of creating "kill or capture" lists and is contemplating the use of drones in more countries where jihadist forces are active, including Libya and Mali. This raises new legal and political quandaries. The further - in geography, time and organizational connection - that the drone war advances from the original al-Qaeda target in Afghanistan, the less validity it has under the 2001 congressional authorization. While the United States has legal cause to retaliate against the terrorists who attacked the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, most of the world is unlikely to accept an argument that the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks justify drone strikes more than a decade later in Northern Africa.
In our view, the continuing fight against al-Qaeda and other Islamic jihadists targeting the United States must be considered a war and conducted as such. Nevertheless, when that war ranges far from conventional battlefields, U.S. interests will be better served by greater disclosure, more political accountability, more checks and balances and more collaboration with allies. Drone strikes should be carried out by military forces rather than by the CIA; as with other military activities, they should be publicly disclosed and subject to congressional review. [Human Rights Watch and others have also called for armed drones to be taken away from the CIA - JFP.] The process and criteria for adding names to kill lists in non-battlefield zones should be disclosed and authorized by Congress - just like the rules for military detention and interrogation. Before operations begin in a country, the administration should, as with other military operations, consult with Congress and, if possible, seek a vote of authorization. It should seek open agreements with host countries and other allies.
There may be cases where the president must act immediately against an imminent threat to the country, perhaps from an unexpected place. But to institutionalize a secret process of conducting covert drone strikes against militants across the world is contrary to U.S. interests and ultimately unsustainable.
2) Analysis: How Washington Post strips casualties from covert drone data
Chris Woods, The Bureau for Investigative Journalism, November 1st, 2012
Alongside the Washington Post's latest blockbuster reports on the Obama administration's drone kill list is a new graphic, depicting US covert strikes since 2002.
Based on studies by monitoring organisations, the graphic lists hundreds of US drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, in what the paper says will be a regularly updated project. Also detailed are 'the names of prominent militant leaders killed in individual strikes,' the paper says.
But there the information stops.
All other casualty information has been stripped from the Washington Post's data. There is no reference to the numbers reported killed in each strike. No names or numbers are put to the civilians killed.
In short, the paper has removed much of the information that is most valuable for assessing the effectiveness of the US drone campaign.
As a series of emails between the Washington Post and the Bureau reveals, the decision to strip out pertinent casualty data was an editorial one, and was part of broader 'reservations and concerns' at the paper concerning casualty counts.
An examination of the Post's reporting indicates the paper frequently omits credible reports of civilian deaths in US covert drone strikes.
So concerned was the Bureau at the Washington Post's intention to strip away casualty information that it has refused permission for the paper to use its work in such a significantly amended form.
In a series of emails with senior Bureau staff, the Washington Post graphics editor noted that 'TBIJ indeed does have the most accurate and comprehensive public representation of drone strikes.'
Nevertheless the Post's plan was to aggregate data from the Bureau, the New America Foundation and the Long War Journal 'in a way that will not highlight casualty counts'.
In response the Bureau noted that while drone casualty counts are a challenge, 'who dies, and in what numbers, are the most critical questions that the data can address'.
While the Washington Post frequently notes the deaths of senior militants, no mention of reported civilian casualties was made by the Post for three of the four 2012 cases cited above. Only for the October 24 event did the Post run an agency report stating that a woman had probably been killed.
The deaths of 11 civilians in an alleged US drone strike in Yemen on September 2 was also not reported by the paper, it seems.
3) U.S. eases rules on sale of medicines to Iran, Los Angeles Times
Washington is apparently worried that suffering among ordinary citizens could erode support for the West's sanctions targeting Tehran's nuclear program.
Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times, November 2, 2012
Washington - The Obama administration has quietly eased restrictions on the sale of medicine to Iran amid signs that concern over the suffering of ordinary citizens could complicate an international campaign to punish Iran for its disputed nuclear program.
Though U.S. rules have always permitted American firms to sell medicine and medical supplies to Iran, exporters have been required to apply for special licenses. Last month, the Treasury Department changed the rules to provide what amounts to a "standing authorization" for sales of certain foods and medicines to ease the paperwork burden, a spokesman for the department's Office of Foreign Asset Control said.
"The goal is not for the sanctions to obstruct this kind of trade," said the spokesman, who declined to be identified, according to his agency's policy.
The rule change, first reported on the website Al-Monitor.com, comes at a time when a propaganda battle seems to be shaping up between Iran and the West over whether ordinary Iranians are suffering under the sanctions. The U.S. and European sanctions were sharply tightened last summer, cutting Iran's oil exports in half, weakening its currency and restricting imports.
Fatemeh Hashemi, head of the Charity Foundation for Special Diseases, a nongovernmental organization supporting 6 million patients in Iran, has been widely quoted in the Iranian and European news media saying that the sanctions have made it difficult to find medicines for such diseases as hemophilia, cancer and multiple sclerosis.
In comments to the Iranian website Tabnak, she said Iranians with these illnesses were suffering "all because of sanctions against banks or problems with transferring foreign currency."
Hashemi wrote U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon asking him to intervene on behalf of Iranian patients who were having their "basic human rights" taken away by the sanctions. She found a sympathetic ear.
Ban said in a subsequent U.N. report that sanctions were, in fact, taking a toll on humanitarian operations in the country. "Even companies that have obtained the requisite license to import food and medicine are facing difficulties in finding third-country banks to process the transactions," he wrote.
U.S. officials have recently shown a new sensitivity to the issue. After emphasizing for much of this year their desire to impose "crippling" sanctions to force the Iranian regime to agree to curbs on its nuclear program, this fall officials began emphasizing their reluctance to harm the Iranian public.
4) Iran Sanctions Take Unexpected Toll on Medical Imports
Thomas Erdbrink, New York Times, November 2, 2012
Tehran - Sitting on one of the many crowded benches in the waiting room of the International Red Crescent's pharmacy in central Tehran, Ali, 26, was working his phone. After nearly six weeks of chasing down batches of Herceptin, an American-made cancer medicine, Ali, an engineer, was wearing out his welcome with friends and relatives in other Iranian cities, who had done all they could to rustle up the increasingly elusive drug.
At home his mother waited, bald and frail after chemotherapy for her breast cancer, but Herceptin had disappeared from pharmacies and hospitals in the capital.
"So you are telling me that a pharmacy in Qazvin has 20 batches left?" Ali asked, talking about a city two hours' drive east of Tehran. "Please buy whatever you can get your hands on."
But five minutes later bad news came: "Gone? O.K., thank you for your troubles. If you do find some please call me by the soonest."
Herceptin, like many other Western-made medicines, has become increasingly hard to obtain in Iran as a result of the American-led sanctions meant to force Iran to stop enriching uranium, a critical element in what the United States says is a nuclear weapons program.
Iranian doctors, patients and officials say that, in particular, a ban on financial transactions is so effective that even medicines and other critical supplies that are exempted from the sanctions for humanitarian reasons are no longer exported to the Islamic Republic.
Officials here estimate that potentially about six million patients, many of them with cancer, are affected by the shortages.
For Iran's sick, it amounts to life on what feels like the front lines of a battle between governments.
Every day patients and their relatives line up at special pharmacies in Tehran, where those suffering from cancer, hemophilia, thalassemia, kidney problems and other diseases are increasingly told the foreign-made medicines they need are no longer available.
For Ali and his family, the nightmare started eight months ago, when his mother, a 56-year-old homemaker, felt a small, painful lump in her right breast. After a series of examinations, her doctor told her that she had an aggressive form of breast cancer.
As the members of the family became familiar with long waits in hospital hallways and difficult conversations with soft-spoken physicians, they swore to one another that they would beat the disease. But they never expected to have to go out hunting for medicine.
Ali, who does not want his family name mentioned because he said he had been punished for political activities in college, said that trying to deal with his mother's cancer had been hard. She needed 14 more batches of Herceptin, he said. Instead of hoping her treatment would cure her breast cancer, he said, he was devoured by worries about obtaining the medicine she needed.
"My mom, us, other patients, we are all caught in the middle of this political battle," he said. "We don't have any influence on nuclear policies. We are victims."
In Iran's health care system, the government and private employers insure most of the population, paying up to 90 percent for drugs and medical treatments. Medical standards are higher compared with most neighboring countries, and many of those with special diseases receive treatment.
In the 13 Aban pharmacy, Kokan Tashakori, 72, said she left her house at 6:30 a.m. to be first in line for Paclitaxel to treat her bladder cancer. Mrs. Tashakori, a former nurse, had come to the same pharmacy for three days straight, but each time the pharmacists had told her nothing had arrived.
While waiting, she chatted with Soroud Qazi, 53, from the western Iranian city of Arak, who had a relative undergoing chemotherapy in the capital. "Don't lose your spirit, my sister," Mrs. Tashakori told Mrs. Qazi, who was sitting next to her. "But I am losing all hope," Mrs. Qazi replied, saying her sick family member became depressed when she heard the medicines were not available. "God will save us," Mrs. Tashakori concluded.
Though the unilateral sanctions put in place by the United States and the European Union have exemptions for medicines and medical equipment, as well as foodstuffs, companies interested in selling such merchandise to Iran require a special license from the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Asset Control.
Last month, the office eased the bureaucracy that American medical and food exporters faced in obtaining these exemptions, by granting them what it called a "standing authorization," which means the exemptions no longer have to be obtained on a case-by-case basis.
But the effects of such a move are unclear, since the exporters still face troubles getting paid. Virtually no American or European bank wants to be involved in financial transactions with Iran, no matter what products are involved.
The Treasury Department has been handing down steep fines to Western banks for doing business with Iran.
In September, the British banking giants HSBC and Standard Chartered said they were in settlement talks with the American authorities after having been accused, among other things, of dealing with Iran. HSBC has told its shareholders it made a $700 million provision to cover a possible fine.
"Banks are either afraid, or can't be bothered to try and do business with Iran," one Western diplomat in Tehran said, requesting to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the subject.
5) Gulf squeeze on opposition brings unusual alarm from Western allies
Associated Press, November 4
Dubai, United Arab Emirates - The Gulf has been the slow burn of the Arab uprisings.
The fraternity of rulers in the oil-rich region has remained intact with tactics ranging from withering force in Bahrain to arrests of perceived dissenters in the United Arab Emirates. And it's been done without too much serious blowback from their Western allies, which count on the region's reliability as an energy supplier and military partner against Iran.
But that now could be put to the test as Gulf states attempt to muzzle voice of opposition by adopt sweeping measures, such as protest bans and clampdowns on social media.
"The Western governments have taken essentially 'do what it takes' policies with the Gulf regimes," said Christopher Davidson, an expert on Gulf affairs at Britain's Durham University. "That requires a certain level of silence and a practice of looking the other way from the West."
Last week, however, State Department spokesman Mark Toner issued unusually blunt criticism of a decision by Bahrain - a strategically located island country that is home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet - to temporarily outlaw all anti-government protests amid rising violence in the nearly 21-month-old uprising against the Western-backed monarchy. Early Sunday, protesters rained homemade firebombs on at least three police stations in yet another sign of the deepening tensions.
Kuwait also could bring further questions from the West over its widening clampdowns on an Islamist-led opposition ahead of Dec. 1 parliamentary elections, including bans on public gatherings of more than 20 people. Protesters, however, have defied the order and on Sunday thousands staged a march in a Kuwait City suburb as security forces countered with tear gas and stun grenades.
The UAE, meanwhile, has angrily challenged a European Parliament resolution last week that denounced "assaults, repression and intimidation" against rights activists and suspected members of an Islamist group that officials consider a threat to the state. More than 60 people have been detained in the past year in one of the quietest ongoing crackdowns of the Arab Spring, rights groups say.
And Saudi Arabia said last month it was "insulted" by a British parliament inquiry into possible Saudi human rights violations and its military assistance to Bahrain's embattled monarchy. Saudi forces also have waged an ongoing battle against groups from the kingdom's Shiite majority that claim they face systematic discrimination.
Across the region, bloggers and social media activists also are facing increasing pressures for violating laws against direct criticism of the sheiks and monarchs that control the Gulf. Last week, a Bahraini man was sentenced to six months in prison after being charged with insulting the king.
The Gulf states host perhaps the highest concentration of Western military might outside NATO, including about 15,000 U.S. ground forces in Kuwait and air bases dotting the desert down to Oman. The arrangement works for both sides because of a shared concern: Iran. The West gets firepower right at Iran's doorstep and the Gulf leaders have resident protectors.
Authorities in Bahrain - facing nonstop clashes and unrest since February 2011 - have increasingly blamed Shiite power Iran or its proxies for encouraging the protests by the island nation's Shiite majority. No clear evidence has emerged to back up the claims - and Iran denies any direct role - but it has become a central narrative of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council anchored by regional Sunni power Saudi Arabia.
[Not only has no clear evidence emerged to back up the claims; U.S. officials have repeatedly said that they don't believe these claims - JFP.]
In the UAE, the main target is an Islamist group, al-Islah, that authorities worry could try to undermine the control of the ruling clans in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and other emirates. Al-Islah says it only seeks a wider public voice in the country's affairs - but even that is considered dangerous territory in a nation that allows no political parties and swiftly stamps out any signs of public protests.
Dubai's police chief, Lt. Gen. Dahi Khalfan Tamim, warned in September of an "international plot" to overthrow the governments of Gulf Arab countries by Islamist factions inspired by the rise to power of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
"The Muslim Brotherhood does not believe in the nation state," said the UAE's foreign minister, Sheik Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, last month. "It does not believe in the sovereignty of the state."
Curiously, the claim came just weeks after the UAE's president, Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, offered an invitation to Egyptian President, Mohammed Morsi to visit Abu Dhabi.
6) Liberals fear grand bargain betrayal if President Obama wins
Carrie Budoff Brown, Politico, 11/2/12 4:26 AM EST
Labor unions and liberal interest groups are going all-out for President Barack Obama's reelection - but they're just as ready to turn that firepower back on him if he betrays them with a grand bargain.
These groups fear a victorious Obama would ink a deal with Republicans during the fiscal cliff negotiations that slashes entitlement benefits. And that could hurt the very coalition of voters - minorities, women and low- and middle-income families - that would claim credit for his second term. Even as they turn out the vote in public to keep Obama in office, in private they're plotting a strategy aimed at pressuring him to protect those who reelected him.
The dual-track campaign, led by the AFL-CIO, MoveOn and a network of progressive advocacy organizations, highlights the political [vise] grip that awaits Obama if he wins Tuesday.
He wants a large-scale deficit deal. But it would inevitably mean making concessions to Republicans that infuriate the Democratic base that spent the past two years and tens of millions of dollars trying to return him to the White House. Progressives worry about which Obama will show up after Election Day: the pragmatist who offered benefit cuts to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) in the 2011 debt ceiling talks or the partisan chastened by a failed deal to slice into prized Democratic programs.
"The base is not going to be happy with ham and egg justice" that requires disproportionate sacrifice from all but the wealthy, said Van Jones, Obama's former green jobs czar and founder of Rebuild the Dream, a progressive advocacy group. "It is a fiscal showdown. We're not going to blink. There is no reason in the world why the pillars of middle-class security, the earned benefits that our parents fought for, should be on the chopping block."
The course Obama chooses would set the tone for his second term - and it's not just Democrats he would need to massage. Republicans are likely to retain control of the House, and with it the power to derail or approve large items on the president's agenda, such as immigration reform. They will demand major fixes to entitlement programs and a renewal of the Bush-era tax rates for the wealthiest Americans.
Obama, if he wins, will assert that voters had a choice - and his vision on taxes, entitlements and the deficit prevailed.
"If I've won, then I believe that's a mandate for doing it in a balanced way," Obama said this week in an interview on MSNBC's "Morning Joe." "We've already made a trillion dollars worth of cuts. We can do some more cuts. We can look at how we deal with the health care costs in particular under Medicare and Medicaid in a serious way. But we are also going to need some revenue."
But the big unknown is where Obama would draw the line once he plunges into the give-and-take of congressional deal making.
Progressive activists say they're reasonably confident that the president won't compromise on ending the upper-income tax cuts. It's the entitlements that worry them.
They want him to stick more closely to the deficit-reduction plan he released in September 2011 that didn't go as aggressively after savings from beneficiaries.
But Obama signaled last week that he could revive the offer he made to Boehner, which was a mix of new revenues, reduced federal spending and entitlement benefit cuts such as raising the Medicare eligibility age and lowering the cost-of-living increases for Social Security recipients.
"It will probably be messy. It won't be pleasant," Obama told The Des Moines Register editorial board. "But I am absolutely confident that we can get what is the equivalent of the grand bargain that essentially I've been offering to the Republicans for a very long time, which is $2.50 worth of cuts for every dollar in [taxes], and work to reduce the costs of our health care programs."
Administration officials say the range of options that Obama has considered in the past are well known, so it shouldn't be a surprise if they are resurrected.
But progressive leaders don't want Obama to go back there. Privately, they use words like "debacle" and "betrayal" to describe the backlash that would ensue. They are far more measured in their public statements ahead of the election.
They won't match the $30 million behind the Campaign to Fix the Debt, a group of CEOs that's urging Congress to strike a grand bargain. But the coalition of unions and liberal advocacy groups, which is still finalizing its plans, vows to activate its network of grass-roots supporters.
"MoveOn's 7 million members have made clear that ending the Bush tax cuts for folks earning over $250,000 and preventing any benefit cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are top priorities - that's a key reason why MoveOn members are working so hard to reelect President Obama and elect progressive champions to Congress," said Ilya Sheyman, campaign director for MoveOn.org Political Action. "After Election Day, our members will expect Congress and the president to focus on passing a real jobs program, instead of making job-killing cuts, even if it requires working into January or beyond."
The AFL-CIO and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees will keep their organizers in the field well after Tuesday to pressure lawmakers as their attention turns from electoral politics to deficit deal making.
The network will hold what they're calling a national day of action Nov. 8 and follow up later in the month with lobbying events. They'll also release results of an election night survey by Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg on why voters went to the polls.
"It is safe to say many groups are very concerned that a grand bargain will be foisted on the Congress that goes against what Democratic candidates promised on the campaign trail," said Roger Hickey, co-director of the Campaign for America's Future. "And it is clear the president is considering making the grand bargain that he offered to Boehner previously."
7) Security chiefs refused order from PM in 2010 to prepare military to strike Iran within hours if necessary, TV report says
According to Channel 2, chief of staff and Mossad chief adamantly opposed demand to initiate highest level of military readiness, and Netanyahu and Barak backed down
Times of Israel, November 4, 2012, 10:26 pm
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak ordered their security chiefs in 2010 to have the military ready to attack Iran's nuclear facilities within hours if necessary, but were rebuffed by the security chiefs, an Israeli TV investigative news program claimed on Sunday.
The order to step up military readiness was given by Netanyahu and Barak to the then-chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, Gabi Ashkenazi, and to the then-head of the Mossad, Meir Dagan, at a meeting on an unspecified date, the report claimed. But Dagan reportedly retorted that the order, if followed, might lead to a war based on an illegal decision. And Ashkenazi, reportedly declaring that such an attack would be "a strategic mistake," also warned that the very order to prepare for a strike might set in motion a deterioration into war even if Israel didn't actually choose to launch one.
Netanyahu and Barak chose not to insist that the security chiefs follow their orders, the program indicated.
The dramatic events unfolded at a meeting of "the forum of seven" most senior ministers with the security chiefs in Jerusalem, the Channel 2 program, "Uvda" (Fact), claimed. The full documentary is to be broadcast on Monday; short excerpts were screened on Sunday night.
Netanyahu and Barak reportedly instructed the heads of the defense establishment to initiate the highest level of military alert and prepare the military for a strike - within hours if necessary - on Iran's nuclear facilities. But the move was stymied.
The report cited sources close to Ashkenazi and Dagan – who since stepping down from their respective posts have both been outspoken in their opposition to a strike on Iran – to the effect that as the two men were leaving the meeting, Netanyahu "matter-of-factly" instructed them to initiate the "P Plus" code, which is essentially a readying of the military to imminently launch an attack.
Ashkenazi and Dagan reportedly vehemently objected to the order. "This isn't the sort of thing that you do unless you're certain that you'll end up launching an operation," Ashkenazi was quoted as saying. "It's like an accordion that makes music even if it is merely handled."
According to the sources quoted by the report, Ashkenazi meant that the "P Plus" alert would cement "facts on the ground" that could trigger a chain of events that would culminate in war – whether or not Israel actively decided to pursue military conflict.
Dagan, the report said, was even more ardent than the chief of staff in his dissent. "You may end up going to war based on an illegal decision," the former intelligence chief was quoted as saying. "Only the security cabinet is authorized to make such a decision."
Later, Dagan would say that "the prime minister and the defense minister tried to steal a war – it was as simple as that."
8) Tribesmen protest drone strike in North Waziristan
Malik Mumtaz Khan & Mushtaq Yusufzai, The News, Friday, October 26, 2012
Miranshah/Peshawar: The tribesmen on Thursday condemned the United States drone attack in North Waziristan that killed a local woman and injured six children on Wednesday.
The drone had fired two missiles and targetted a woman, wife of retired school principal Dareshmeen Jan, and his six grandchildren.
The woman was plucking ladyfingers from a nearby field along with her grandchildren at Ghundi village in Tappi area, 13 kilometers east of Miranshah, the headquarters of North Waziristan. She had died on the spot while her six grandchildren were injured.
The family members and relatives immediately went there and rescued the injured children. They didn't know that the old woman was also there in the field. It was almost an hour later when they found her mutilated body from a nearby field.
The injured children were identified as 18-year old Kaleemur Rahman son of Siddiqur Rahman, Shahidur Rahman, 12, son of Rasool Badshah, a student of 7th class, Zubair Khan, 11, son of Rafiqur Rahman, 6th class, Samad Rahman, 9, son of Siddiqur Rahman, 5th class, and two girls, a four-year old Asma daughter of Rafiur Rahman and five-year old Saira daughter of Atiqur Rahman.
Talking to The News, Naheedullah, nephew of a retired school principal Dareshmeen Jan, said Kaleem was in stable condition after undergoing the surgery.
He said all the kids were the grandchildren of Dareshmeen Jan, and were helping their grandmother in the field when they came under the drone attack.
"Some of them children were sons of his sons while others were his daughters' sons. The daughters' sons came to the house and later went to the nearby field with cousins when hit by the drone," Naheedullah Khan, an electrician by profession, recalled.
He said there was no truth to the report that the drone targetted a vehicle or a house, saying the house of his uncle was situated at a distance of other houses in the village and then there was no road on which the car could travel.
"Had his house been located near other houses, there was a possibility that the drone might have targetted them by mistake but our aunt and her grandchildren were working in the field, away from the village when they were hit," he argued.
Before his retirement eight years ago, Dareshmeen Jan had served as principal of the Government High School Miranshah.
The tribal elders on Thursday held a press conference at the Miranshah Press Club and condemned the killing of innocent people.
They said those claiming that terrorists were being targetted in drone strikes should come to Miranshah and see the injured children in the hospital or meet the injured admitted to a hospital in Peshawar.
9) Israeli soldiers arrest son of detained Palestinian activist at West Bank protest
Amnesty International, 2 November 2012
The 16-year-old son of Bassem Tamimi, a detained Palestinian rights activist in the occupied West Bank, was himself arrested by Israeli soldiers today during the regular weekly protest against the encroachment of Israeli settlers onto Palestinian land.
Wa'ed Tamimi was arrested along with four activists during the demonstration on Friday afternoon in the West Bank village of al-Nabi Saleh, 21km northwest of Ramallah.
"Today's arrest of Wa'ed Tamimi while he was walking peacefully in his village points to the continuing harassment of activist Bassem Tamimi, his family, and the community of al-Nabi Saleh by Israeli military forces," said Ann Harrison, Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director. "This harassment must stop".
"Wa'ed Tamimi and the four others arrested in al-Nabi Saleh today must be allowed access to lawyers and should be released immediately unless they are to be charged with a recognizably criminal offence. His father Bassem is a prisoner of conscience, held solely for peacefully protesting Israel's illegal settlement expansion, and must be released immediately and unconditionally."
Bassem Tamimi has been detained since his arrest on 24 October following a non-violent demonstration in a supermarket in the settlement of Sha'ar Benjamin. He faces a further prison sentence after appearing before the Ofer Military Court on Wednesday.
All Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank are illegal under international law. Amnesty International is calling for their construction and expansion to stop as a first step towards removing the Israeli civilians living there.
10) War crimes and the fantasy of 'controlling' Syria's rebels
An atrocity in the strategic Syrian town of Saraqeb is a reminder that the landscape of that country's civil war is a place where angels fear to tread.
Dan Murphy, Christian Science Monitor, November 2, 2012
If US officials think they're going to find Syrian allies to prevent war atrocities, or be able to take swift control of Syria in the event of Assad's defeat and steer it in a pro-US direction, they are going to be sorely disappointed.
As evidenced by a graphic video uploaded to YouTube yesterday that shows a terrified group of at least a dozen men, defeated fighters for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, huddled together on a bare concrete floor in a battle-scared building in the market town of Saraqeb, Syria, the other day as their scowling captors, kicked and cursed them into a pile before executing them.
The jumpy footage shows the following: Men in rags, many stripped of their shoes. Some appear dazed from the wounds of a battle they'd just lost. Others appear to be hyperventilating out their last prayers and thoughts. One pleads for his life. A rebel walks among the prisoners, getting in a few last kicks to the head of one of them.
Then, the cries of "God is great" from the triumphant murderers are drowned out by a buzzsaw of automatic rifle fire.
This latest atrocity is hardly out of character for Syria's civil war. Pro-government troops massacre captives too, and the Assad regime has been bloodthirsty in its torture of not just captured fighters but their family members.
The execution appears to have been carried out by one of the jihadi militias that have grown ever more prevalent in the fight against Assad. Even the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based group that supports the uprising against Syria's Baathist regime, suggests that the murders were carried out by an Al Qaeda-inspired rebel group. Rami Abdelrahman of the observatory told Reuters that the killings were carried out by the Jabhat al-Nusra militia.
But what happened at Saraqeb is about more than the prevalence of jihadis in Syria's civil war. The "Free Syrian Army" is a nice concept. In practice, however, the fighters against Assad are a loosely affiliated patchwork of militias, with no unified command.
The behavior of these irregular units varies widely, as do their sources of funding. Some groups have received a trickle of communications and non-lethal aid from the likes of the US. Others have received weapons from states like Qatar or right private donors in fellow Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia.
The influence of the exiled Syrian National Council – which Secretary Clinton declared a failure Wednesday when she announced that the US was withdrawing support – over fighters on the ground is near zero.
So in that sense, the Obama administration is right to look to spend its money and political influence elsewhere. But if Clinton or anyone else in the government thinks they are going to find Syrian allies to steer it in a pro-US direction, they are going to be disappointed.
But on the ground, many Syrians say the US reluctance to support their cause is yielding more jihadists, and more radical ones. And it's questionable whether American reluctance is significantly hampering the flow of weapons to jihadists.
"If the Americans do not give us weapons, then the jihadists will get them from somewhere else," says Abu Baraa, a local Aleppo commander. In his view, current US policy "has opened the doors for jihadist Islam, not for moderates."
Abu Baraa's complaint is a common one, though not necessarily true.
During the US occupation of Iraq, the US provided plenty of weapons and support to its erstwhile allies there, yet jihadis nevertheless poured in Iraq from Saudi Arabia. And Jordan. And Libya. And Syria.
The Syrian war, its factions and regional implications, grow more entangled and complicated by the day. Can the intervention of outside powers tip the outcome in favor of the rebels, in a general sense? Certainly. Will the weapons provided end up being used in further atrocities? Quite likely.
11) Sandy expected to lead to more cholera in Haiti, as Partners in Health faces loss of funding
Chelsea Conaboy, Boston Globe, October 31, 2012
Partners in Health facilities in Haiti's Central Plateau escaped most of the flooding experienced by other parts of the country when Hurricane Sandy blew through. But the staff of the Boston-based aid organization and their Haitian partners were preparing this week for an expected bump in cholera cases caused by the storm, even as money for cholera prevention is running low.
Funding from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is set to expire in February and will not be renewed, said Cate Oswald, the organization's director of programs in Haiti.
The outbreak that began two years ago has diminished considerably. Partners in Health treated about 300 people per month during dry periods this summer, compared with 15,000 per month during the peak in 2011, Oswald said.
Still, she said, continued prevention efforts are critical to sustain those gains. To date this year, there have been 77,000 cholera cases in Haiti and more than 550 deaths. "Without this dedicated attention to ongoing needs for water and sanitation improvements, there is a concern," she said. "Babies without built-in immunity will be incredibly susceptible."
The CDC this year contributed $2 million, about 7 percent of Partners in Health's overall budget in Haiti, Oswald said. "We've been incredibly grateful and so lucky for the funding that we've received, but with congressional priorities and such, the funds are just not allocated anymore," she said.
The organization has put out an appeal to donors to contribute to the organization's treatment and prevention efforts, which include vaccinations, distribution of chlorine tablets, education by community health workers in rural areas, and latrine building.
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