Truthout Stories http://www.truth-out.org Tue, 30 Jun 2015 10:35:59 -0400 en-gb Historic Iran Nuclear Deal Hangs in the Balance as Talks Enter Final Round http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/31650-historic-iran-nuclear-deal-hangs-in-the-balance-as-talks-enter-final-round http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/31650-historic-iran-nuclear-deal-hangs-in-the-balance-as-talks-enter-final-round

Today marks the deadline for Iran and six world powers to reach a comprehensive agreement on curbing Iran's nuclear program. Iran has dispatched two top officials to Vienna in a last-minute push for a diplomatic breakthrough, but the talks will likely be extended. The outstanding differences include access to international inspectors and Iranian nuclear activity in the deal's final years. Negotiators are also trying to determine the timing of sanctions relief and the scope of Tehran's nuclear research. We are joined from Tehran by Reza Sayah, a journalist who has covered Iran for CNN International for the last seven years.

Please check back later for full transcript.

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News Tue, 30 Jun 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Where Are Mayors Opposing Police Militarization? http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/31649-where-are-mayors-opposing-police-militarization http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/31649-where-are-mayors-opposing-police-militarization

In cities across the United States, we have seen how the militarized mold of policing and the supply of armored vehicles, assault weapons and the like have resulted in police forces who no longer see their role as one of protecting and serving, but as an occupying army. These localized armies -- backed by racist laws, upheld by stagnant leadership and fueled by the war machine itself -- are battling it out to the death with the very civilians they swore to protect in our own streets. Confrontation with this war-ready mentality is a daily lived experience for black and brown citizens across the country, and the implications impact us all. It is incumbent to get weapons out of our streets, and take the necessary steps to change the current mentality and methods of police and civilian engagement. We must return to a state where law enforcement serves and protects the communities they are in, and we need the support of local leadership to do so.

In 2011, Mayor Kitty Piercy of Eugene, Oregon championed CODEPINK's "Bring Our War Dollars Home Resolution" at the US Conference of Mayors. Along with the fearless leadership of 20 other visionary leaders who co-sponsored the resolution, we celebrated its unanimous adoption. This resolution was the first anti-war resolution since the Vietnam War to address military spending, and called for an end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Months ago, as the snow began to melt and the #BlackSpring emerged, CODEPINK drafted a resolution calling for the demilitarization of local law enforcement, which included putting restrictions and regulations on the Department of Defense's 1033 program, and prioritizing the need for cultural sensitivity training. This resolution went out to a group of Mayors, set to attend the US Conference of Mayors, June 18th- 22nd 2015 in San Francisco, with hopes of gaining support and sponsorship. Most notably the resolution was sent to the Mayors' part of the standing committee roster for Criminal and Social Justice.

On May 18th 2015, President Obama announced a plan to ban certain military weapons from reaching the hands of local law enforcement, citing the feeling of "an occupying force" and subsequent tensions between police and communities of color. With the call to reform law enforcement at a local level echoing throughout communities nationwide, and the President announcing his own plan for reform -- surely some mayor stepped would step up to champion this resolution....

Not a single Mayor stepped up.

Locally elected officials hold the power to make a difference in our own communities. To neglect that opportunity means risking more lives for the sake of the status quo. We applaud and honor actions taken to call for an end to war on a global scale -- but who is there to call for an end to the wars carnage in our own streets?

Where are the mayors who stand for local peace?

According to the The Defense Logistics Agency Disposition Services, since its inception in 1990 the 1033 Program has transferred more than $5.1 billion in property. Although some of the equipment was created in the military arena and, in many cases, was created for military use, law enforcement agencies have been able to repurpose the property for domestic law enforcement uses. Currently, "over 8,000 U.S. federal and state law enforcement agencies, from all 50 states and the U.S. territories participate in the program. A law enforcement agency is defined as a "government agency whose primary function is the enforcement of applicable federal, state, and local laws and whose compensated law enforcement officers have the powers of arrest and apprehension."

According to The Guardian, as of June 16, 2015 the number of people killed by law enforcement in the United States is 515-- that number reflects this year alone.

U.S. mayors need to look at the record, read the names, view the photos and videos and listen to their constituents who have experienced, or fear experiencing, the horror of having a loved one die in this way.

Illustrating the real-life pain and implications of the pernicious wedge that has been driven between the public and local law enforcement agencies is The Millions Mom March. This past Mother's Day, CODEPINK marched with a rally of dozens of grieving mothers, whose children were taken from them by police and racist vigilante violence. The rally to the Justice Department in D.C. demanded an end to racist and fatal police practices.

Mayors must show up for the powerful rallies remembering those killed by police; commit to ending these killings and other abuse; and promote peaceful methods of resolving conflict, dealing with the mentally ill, and supporting the rights of all -- no matter the race, color, sexual orientation or national origin. Mayors want to be proud of their cities. Ending police violence and abuse of city residents will go a long way toward making American cities places for genuine, not forced, civic pride.

In the words of Reverend Wanda Johnson, whose son Oscar Grant was unjustly killed by a policeman on a San Francisco, BART platform on January 1, 2009:

"We have had enough of police militarization and violence, which only perpetuates fear in our communities. We deserve to live in peace and we deserve justice for the crimes committed against our children."

The world is watching and acting; and grieving communities are waiting, desperately for change... for justice.

To our Mayors... where do you stand?

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Opinion Tue, 30 Jun 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Global Governance ... Into the Future http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/31648-global-governance-into-the-future http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/31648-global-governance-into-the-future

Global governance is failing when we need it most. The paradox of our times is that, as global problems become more complex and threatening, our global institutions lose their force as organizing frameworks for inter-state cooperation. Starting from the Lorenzetti's painting "The Allegory of the Good and the Bad Government," David Held, Master of University College, Durham and Professor of Politics and International Relations at Durham University, explains what are the reasons for such gridlocks.

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News Tue, 30 Jun 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Thousands Kept in Solitary Confinement in Illinois Prisons http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/31647-thousands-kept-in-solitary-confinement-in-illinois-prisons http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/31647-thousands-kept-in-solitary-confinement-in-illinois-prisons

Click to open full-size in a new window. (Infographic by Sarah Turbin)Click to open full-size in a new window. (Infographic by Sarah Turbin)

A class action lawsuit filed this week on behalf of former and current inmates is challenging the widespread use of solitary confinement by the Illinois Department of Corrections.

A total of about 2,300 state prison inmates -- including about 15 percent of those housed in maximum security facilities -- are kept in solitary confinement, often for relatively minor offenses, said Alan Mills, executive director of Uptown People's Law Center, which filed the legal challenge with the law firm Winston & Strawn.  Solitary confinement is generally defined as 22 to 24 hours of isolation a day and can last years, he said. The United Nations considers isolation lasting 15 days or longer to be torture.

"I don't know anybody who spent more than a few months in solitary who doesn't come out quite damaged," Mills told the Reporter.

The suit is aimed at getting the state corrections department to implement the American Bar Association's standards on segregation, which limit how long individuals are held in solitary confinement and recommend that people living with mental illness not be subjected to the punishment.

The Illinois Department of Corrections declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The Chicago Reporter is a non-profit investigative news organization that focuses on race, poverty and income inequality.

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News Tue, 30 Jun 2015 00:00:00 -0400
The Right's Rights http://www.truth-out.org/art/item/31646-the-right-s-rights http://www.truth-out.org/art/item/31646-the-right-s-rights ]]> Art Tue, 30 Jun 2015 00:00:00 -0400 Billions Pledged for Nepal Reconstruction, but Still No Debt Relief http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/31645-billions-pledged-for-nepal-reconstruction-but-still-no-debt-relief http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/31645-billions-pledged-for-nepal-reconstruction-but-still-no-debt-relief

United Nations - A major donor conference in Nepal's capital, Kathmandu, came to a close on Jun. 25 with foreign governments and aid agencies pledging three billion dollars in post-reconstruction funds to the struggling South Asian nation.

An estimated 8,600 people perished in the massive quake on Apr. 25 this year, and some 500,000 homes were destroyed, leaving one of the world's least developed countries (LDCs) to launch a wobbly emergency relief effort in the face of massive displacement and suffering.

Two months after the disaster, scores of people are still in need of humanitarian aid, shelter and medical supplies.

Speaking at the conference Thursday, Nepal Prime Minister Sushil Koirala assured donors that their funds would be used in an effective and transparent manner.

Rights groups have urged the government to focus on long-term rebuilding efforts rather than sinking all available monies into emergency relief.

In a statement released ahead of the conference, Bimal Gadal, humanitarian programme manager for Oxfam in Nepal, warned of the impacts of unplanned reconstruction and stated, "The Nepalese people know their needs better than anyone and their voices must be heard when donors meet in Kathmandu. They have been through an ordeal, and now it is time to start rebuilding lives."

"This conference is a golden opportunity to get people back on their feet and better prepared for the future," he said.

"This can only happen if the government of Nepal is supported to create new jobs, build improved basic services like hospitals and clinics, and to ensure all new buildings are earthquake-resilient."

Despite a huge thrust from civil society organisations, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has announced that the country does not qualify for debt relief under its Catastrophe Containment and Relief (CCR) Trust, which recently awarded 100 million dollars in debt relief to Ebola-affected countries in West Africa.

The Jubilee USA Network, an alliance of over 75 U.S.-based organisations and 400 faith communities worldwide, has been pushing for major development banks, including the IMF, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to ease debt payments from Nepal, one of the world's 38 low-income countries eligible for relief from the IMF's new fund.

According to Jubliee USA, "Nepal owes 3.8 billion dollars in debt to foreign lenders, including 54 million dollars to the IMF and approximately three billion dollars to the World Bank and Asian Development Bank.

"According to the most recent World Bank numbers," said Jubilee USA in a statement, "Nepal paid 217 million dollars in debt in 2013, approximately 600,000 dollars in average daily debt payments, or more than 35 million dollars since the earthquake."

Considering that the earthquake and its aftershocks caused damages amounting to about 10 billion dollars – about one-third of the country's total economy – experts have expressed dismay that the country's creditors have not agreed on a debt-relief settlement.

"This is troubling news," said Eric LeCompte, a United Nations debt expert and executive director of Jubilee USA Network. "Given the devastation in Nepal, it's hard to believe that the criteria was not met."

"This fund was created for situations just like this and debt relief in Nepal could make a significant difference," said LeCompte.‎ "Beyond the IMF, the World Bank and Asian Development Bank who hold about three billion dollars of Nepal's debt have unfortunately not announced any debt relief plans yet."

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News Tue, 30 Jun 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Sticks, Stones and Names That Can Hurt: Cracking Down on Dissent in Peru http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/31644-sticks-stones-and-names-that-can-hurt-you-cracking-down-on-dissent-in-peru http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/31644-sticks-stones-and-names-that-can-hurt-you-cracking-down-on-dissent-in-peru

By many accounts, Peru is doing well. Investments have poured into the mining and energy sectors thanks to government efforts to create a welcome environment for foreign capital. And while economic growth has tapered off in the last year, the average annual rate from 2010 to 2014 was an impressive 5.8 percent. The country's poverty rate fell by half between 2000 and 2012, while the middle class grew faster than that of any other country in Latin America. By drawing revenue from the mining and energy sectors, the government has increased spending on education to an unprecedented 3.5 percent of its GDP and has made some progress in reducing chronic child malnutrition.

In anticipation of the Summit of the European Union and the Community of Latin America and Caribbean States (EU-CELAC) this month, the EU-CELAC ambassador congratulated Peru for becoming a "stable and developing country" with "responsible macroeconomic policies." She noted that over 50 percent of foreign investments in Peru now come from Europe while a substantial portion of Peru's exports are sold to European countries. Peru's progress in reducing poverty and childhood malnutrition was also touted as President Ollanta Humala signed the Schengen visa waiver agreement to ease travel restrictions to and from Europe for Peruvian citizens. The EU is one of Peru's most important partners, as he expounded, and the two share "a common history in terms of culture." The visa agreement is just one step in the plan to fortify that partnership.

Not Everyone Is Impressed

Back home, however, not everyone is so impressed by Peru's developmental path. Throughout much of southern Peru and Cajamarca region in the north, farmers and community organizations have declared their opposition to a $1.4 billion USD copper mining project known as Tía María. The project belongs to Southern Copper Corporation, which is owned by Grupo México, a Mexican American mining company.

Tía María, which would consist of two open pit mines, is to be located in the Tambo Valley in the province of Islay. Tambo Valley communities and those in surrounding regions fear the health and environmental dangers that come with the use of heavy metals in open pit mining. Agriculture is the mainstay of the local economy and nearly all agricultural produce in the region and 88 percent of the fishing catch go toward feeding the population in the southern area of the country. Community members are quite familiar with Southern Copper's dismal record in neighboring regions where its mining projects have dried up water supplies and contaminated surrounding lands. The result for indigenous and other rural people has been serious illness and the loss of employment in farming and fishing. With this in mind, the Tambo Valley communities rejected the project by a resounding 93.4 percent during a popular consultation in 2009.

In an attempt to reassure the communities, Minister of Energy and Mines Pedro Sanchez promised to bring "environmental procedures to a higher standard of excellence." In 2010, the government signed an agreement with the UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS) for a review of 100 separate environmental studies. As was hoped, the deal brought a halt to the social protests going on at the time.

Nonetheless, Tía María was unexpectedly cancelled in March 2011. As the Tambo Valley communities learned soon after, the UNOPS report on Tía María included 138 "observations" or areas of concern regarding the project. Among the most serious observations was the finding that the company's own Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) contained no hydrogeological study. Further, the water to be used at the mine would not come from the sea as the company had claimed "but rather from an estuary—a very sensitive area due to the diversity of species present and its shallowness." Nor did the EIA take into account the company's plan to extract gold in addition to copper, a process that entails the use of mercury. During the mining process, mercury can enter into the water supply and the atmosphere, causing damage to the ecosystem and serious dangers to human health.

In 2014, Southern Copper sought to revive the project by producing another EIA, which indicated that the company would create an on-site water desalination plant. At that point, however, any trust that the Tambo Valley communities may have had in Southern Copper had eroded. Few residents were convinced that the open pit mines, one of which would be a mile wide and two thirds of a mile deep, would not cut into the water table and affect the water supply. In March, an indefinite strike was declared in Islay bringing thousands of people into the streets in protest, many of whom blocked bridges and highways. By mid-May, a small but virulent group calling themselves espartambos had formed and were using sling shots to pelt stones at the police. Many are suspected of being former members of the military.

In May, Humala responded by declaring a state of emergency in nine districts of Islay, deploying hundreds of military troops into the region, and freezing the bank accounts of the various municipalities involved. Constitutional rights including the right to hold meetings and travel freely have been suspended as military troops have moved into homes, patrolled streets, imposed curfews, and even detained schoolchildren.

A quick assessment of the casualties that have occurred since the strike began indicates that most of the protestors are rural indigenous people. Many say that they feel overwhelmed by the power of the mining industry and betrayed by their president, who had vowed to support them during his presidential campaign several years ago. Instead, the land has been gradually sold out from under them—69.9 percent of the province of Islay, including 96.2 percent of the city of Cocachacra in the Tambo Valley, is now under concession to mining corporations.

In addition, the Ministry of Environment, created in 2008 to set standards for acceptable levels of pollutants, has since been stripped of this power. With little input from this ministry, EIAs are often carried out by the mining companies themselves and then placed on a fast track for government approval. In the meantime, the concerns of the affected communities are ignored, while their elected leaders can be jailed for speaking out. Furthermore, like many other private companies, Southern Copper is able to hire the local police for its private security purposes, thereby undermining the very notion of public safety.

Cracking Down on Dissent

Tía María's supporters, on the other hand, seem to have plenty of tools for advancing their interests. In the last few years, the Peruvian Congress has passed laws that make members of the police and Armed Forces less accountable for using their weapons during social protests. Legislative Decree 1095 legalized intervention in conflicts by the military without a declaration of a state of emergency. In addition, the law now treats mass protest action such as roadblocks as a form of extortion punishable by up to twenty-five years in jail. The law also prohibits local officials, who are a key source of leadership in rural areas, from engaging in protest. Rural and indigenous protestors suffer inordinately from these measures due to the greater tolerance for violence against indigenous people and the lack of adequate media coverage in remote areas.

Another powerful weapon that has been wielded against the protestors lies in the use of language. Along these lines, company officials, political leaders and the mainstream press have all been quite adept at demonizing those opposed to Tía María. As the strike began, Southern Copper spokesperson Julio Morriberón, proclaimed, "We are obliged to report this as being a totally anti-mining terrorism minority group, which is using violence to blackmail the majority who are in favor of this project." Note his use of the words "terrorism" and "blackmail" with their potential to conjure up hatred and legitimize acts of violence by the government. The expressions "anti-mining" and "minority" frame the protesters as mere ideologues with no acknowledgement of their very normal concerns about the health and well being of their communities.

This kind of language has been picked up by public officials, members of the press, and commentators in the business community. Congressman Juan Carlos Eguren called the decision to cancel the contract a "triumph of radical anti-mining interests that had taken advantage of the warmth and mediocrity" of Humala's government. In declaring the state of emergency in Islay, Humala associated the Tambo Valley protestors withSendero Luminoso, the terrorist organization that had plagued the country during the 1980s and 1990s. "There is a campaign of misinformation and stigmatization of projects for ideological and often pre-election purposes," he added. Similarly, Police Chief Eduardo Perez Rocha stated that Sendero Luminoso appeared to be "infiltrating the people." Carlos Galvez, head of Peru's National Society of Mining, Petroleum and Energy, has contended that Tía María's opponents are simply politicians courting votes in the countryside machinations and "outsiders" who whip up "anti-mining" sentiment. "Here everyone is anti," he said. "If you're anti-mining then you're in fashion." Foreigners, NGOs, leftists, radicals, and Venezuelan "chavistas" have all been cited as the real cause of the demise of poor Tía María.

What We Would Never Tolerate

The kinds of health and environmental risks that the Tía María mine now poses would not be tolerated in this or any other "developed" country. Nor would we accept the jailing of mayors, governors and legislators for speaking out on behalf of their constituents. And we would hardly take to having police officers freely enter our homes to carry out warrantless searches and arrests and impose restrictions on our free speech, gatherings, and travel, occasionally beating us up in the process. Yet all of this is currently taking place in Islay and other communities. While much of Peru has benefited from mining revenue, those communities at the mining sites are paying the price in health risks, increased repression, and the loss of their land, homes, and way of life.

As it now stands, Humala is caught between a copper mine and a hard place. Commodity prices and economic growth rates are falling steadily along with his approval ratings. His excursion to the EU is part of a larger plan to bolster investments and rescue his legacy before the end of his term in 2016. By supporting multi-billion dollar projects that fail to gain the trust of surrounding communities, however, he will likely leave a fractured society and embittered rural communities under military rule in his wake. We can only hope that Peru's journey toward greater integration with Europe and other parts of the world will bring about a greater demand for protecting the rights of its rural and indigenous populations.

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News Tue, 30 Jun 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Russia vs. China: The Conflict in Washington Over Who Should Lead the US Enemies List http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/31643-russia-vs-china-the-conflict-in-washington-over-who-should-lead-the-us-enemies-list http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/31643-russia-vs-china-the-conflict-in-washington-over-who-should-lead-the-us-enemies-list

America’s grand strategy, its long-term blueprint for advancing national interests and countering major adversaries, is in total disarray. Top officials lurch from crisis to crisis, improvising strategies as they go, but rarely pursuing a consistent set of policies. Some blame this indecisiveness on a lack of resolve at the White House, but the real reason lies deeper. It lurks in a disagreement among foreign policy elites over whether Russia or China constitutes America’s principal great-power adversary.

Knowing one’s enemy is usually considered the essence of strategic planning. During the Cold War, enemy number one was, of course, unquestioned: it was the Soviet Union, and everything Washington did was aimed at diminishing Moscow’s reach and power. When the USSR imploded and disappeared, all that was left to challenge U.S. dominance were a few “rogue states.” In the wake of 9/11, however, President Bush declared a “global war on terror,” envisioning a decades-long campaign against Islamic extremists and their allies everywhere on the planet. From then on, with every country said to be either with us or against us, the chaos set in. Invasions, occupations, raids, drone wars ensued -- all of it, in the end, disastrous -- while China used its economic clout to gain new influence abroad and Russia began to menace its neighbors.

Among Obama administration policymakers and their Republican opponents, the disarray in strategic thinking is striking. There is general agreement on the need to crush the Islamic State (ISIS), deny Iran the bomb, and give Israel all the weapons it wants, but not much else. There is certainly no agreement on how to allocate America’s strategic resources, including its military ones, even in relation to ISIS and Iran. Most crucially, there is no agreement on the question of whether a resurgent Russia or an ever more self-assured China should head Washington’s enemies list. Lacking such a consensus, it has become increasingly difficult to forge long-term strategic plans. And yet, while it is easy to decry the current lack of consensus on this point, there is no reason to assume that the anointment of a common enemy -- a new Soviet Union -- will make this country and the world any safer than it is today.

Choosing the Enemy

For some Washington strategists, including many prominent Republicans, Russia under the helm of Vladimir Putin represents the single most potent threat to America’s global interests, and so deserves the focus of U.S. attention. “Who can doubt that Russia will do what it pleases if its aggression goes unanswered?” Jeb Bush asserted on June 9th in Berlin during his first trip abroad as a potential presidential contender. In countering Putin, he noted, “our alliance [NATO], our solidarity, and our actions are essential if we want to preserve the fundamental principles of our international order, an order that free nations have sacrificed so much to build.”

For many in the Obama administration, however, it is not Russia but China that poses the greatest threat to American interests. They feel that its containment should take priority over other considerations. If the U.S. fails to enact a new trade pact with its Pacific allies, Obama declared in April, “China, the 800-pound gorilla in Asia, will create its own set of rules,” further enriching Chinese companies and reducing U.S. access “in the fastest-growing, most dynamic economic part of the world.”

In the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, the military strategists of a seemingly all-powerful United States -- the unchallenged “hyperpower” of the immediate post-Cold War era -- imagined the country being capable of fighting full-scale conflicts on two (or even three fronts) at once. The shock of the twenty-first century in Washington has been the discovery that the U.S. is not all-powerful and that it can’t successfully take on two major adversaries simultaneously (if it ever could). It can, of course, take relatively modest steps to parry the initiatives of both Moscow and Beijing while also fighting ISIS and other localized threats, as the Obama administration is indeed attempting to do. However, it cannot also pursue a consistent, long-range strategy aimed at neutralizing a major adversary as in the Cold War. Hence a decision to focus on either Russia or China as enemy number one would have significant implications for U.S. policy and the general tenor of world affairs.

Choosing Russia as the primary enemy, for example, would inevitably result in a further buildup of NATO forces in Eastern Europe and the delivery of major weapons systems to Ukraine. The Obama administration has consistently opposed such deliveries, claiming that they would only inflame the ongoing conflict and sabotage peace talks. For those who view Russia as the greatest threat, however, such reluctance only encourages Putin to escalate his Ukrainian intervention and poses a long-term threat to U.S. interests. In light of Putin’s ruthlessness, said Senator John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a major advocate of a Russia-centric posture, the president’s unwillingness to better arm the Ukrainians “is one of the most shameful and dishonorable acts I have seen in my life.”

On the other hand, choosing China as America’s principal adversary means a relatively restrained stance on the Ukrainian front coupled with a more vigorous response to Chinese claims and base building in the South China Sea. This was the message delivered to Chinese leaders by Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter in late May at U.S. Pacific Command headquarters in Honolulu. Claiming that Chinese efforts to establish bases in the South China Sea were “out of step” with international norms, he warned of military action in response to any Chinese efforts to impede U.S. operations in the region. “There should be... no mistake about this -- the United States will fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows.”

If you happen to be a Republican (other than Rand Paul) running for president, it’s easy enough to pursue an all-of-the-above strategy, calling for full-throttle campaigns against China, Russia, Iran, Syria, ISIS, and any other adversary that comes to mind. This, however, is rhetoric, not strategy. Eventually, one or another approach is likely to emerge as the winner and the course of history will be set.

The “Pivot” to Asia

The Obama administration’s fixation on the “800-pound gorilla” that is China came into focus sometime in 2010-2011. Plans were then being made for what was assumed to be the final withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq and the winding down of the American military presence in Afghanistan. At the time, the administration’s top officials conducted a systematic review of America’s long-term strategic interests and came to a consensus that could be summed up in three points: Asia and the Pacific Ocean had become the key global theater of international competition; China had taken advantage of a U.S. preoccupation with Iraq and Afghanistan to bolster its presence there; and to remain the world’s number one power, the United States would have to prevent China from gaining more ground.

This posture, spelled out in a series of statements by President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and other top administration officials, was initially called the “pivot to Asia” and has since been relabeled a “rebalancing” to that region. Laying out the new strategy in 2011, Clinton noted, “The Asia-Pacific has become a key driver of global politics.  Stretching from the Indian subcontinent to the western shores of the Americas... it boasts almost half of the world’s population [and] includes many of the key engines of the global economy.” As the U.S. withdrew from its wars in the Middle East, “one of the most important tasks of American statecraft over the next decade will therefore be to lock in substantially increased investment -- diplomatic, economic, strategic, and otherwise -- in the Asia-Pacific region.”

This strategy, administration officials claimed then and still insist, was never specifically aimed at containing the rise of China, but that, of course, was a diplomatic fig leaf on what was meant to be a full-scale challenge to a rising power. It was obvious that any strengthened American presence in the Pacific would indeed pose a directchallenge to Beijing’s regional aspirations. “My guidance is clear,” Obama told the Australian parliament that same November. “As we plan and budget for the future, we will allocate the resources necessary to maintain our strong military presence in this region. We will preserve our unique ability to project power and deter threats to peace.”

Implementation of the pivot, Obama and Clinton explained, would include support for or cooperation with a set of countries that ring China, including increased military aid to Japan and the Philippines, diplomatic outreach to Burma, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, and other nations in Beijing’s economic orbit, military overtures to India, and the conclusion of a major trade arrangement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), that would conveniently include most countriesin the region but exclude China.

Many in Washington have commented on how much more limited the administration’s actions in the Pacific have proven to be than the initial publicity suggested. Of course, Washington soon found itself re-embroiled in the Greater Middle East and shuttling many of its military resources back into that region, leaving less than expected available for a rebalancing to Asia. Still, the White House continues to pursue a strategic blueprint aimed at bolstering America’s encirclement of China. “No matter how many hotspots emerge elsewhere, we will continue to deepen our enduring commitment to this critical region,” National Security Adviser Susan Rice declared in November 2013.

For Obama and his top officials, despite the challenge of ISIS and of disintegrating states like Yemen and Libya wracked with extremist violence, China remains the sole adversary capable of taking over as the world’s top power.  (Its economy already officially has.) To them, this translates into a simple message: China must be restrained through all means available. This does not mean, they claim,ignoring Russia and other potential foes. The White House has, for example, signaled that it will begin storing heavy weaponry, including tanks, in Eastern Europe for future use by any U.S. troops rotated into the region to counter Russian pressure against countries that were once part of the Soviet Union. And, of course, the Obama administration is continuing to up the ante against ISIS, most recently dispatching yet more U.S. military advisers to Iraq. They insist, however, that none of these concerns will deflect the administration from the primary task of containing China.

Countering the Resurgent Russian Bear

Not everyone in Washington shares this China-centric outlook. While most policymakers agree that China poses a potential long-term challenge to U.S. interests, an oppositional crew of them sees that threat as neither acute nor immediate. After all, China remains America’s second-leading trading partner (after Canada) and its largest supplier of imported goods. Many U.S. companies do extensive business in China, and so favor a cooperative relationship. Though the leadership in Beijing is clearly trying to secure what it sees as its interests in Asian waters, its focus remains primarily economic and its leaders seek to maintain friendly relations with the U.S., while regularly engaging in high-level diplomatic exchanges. Its president, Xi Jinping, is expected to visit Washington in September.

Vladimir Putin’s Russia, on the other hand, looks far more threatening to many U.S. strategists. Its annexation of Crimea and its ongoing support for separatist forces in eastern Ukraine are viewed as direct and visceral threats on the Eurasian mainland to what they see as a U.S.-dominated world order. President Putin, moreover, has made no secret of his contempt for the West and his determination to pursue Russian national interests wherever they might lead. For many who remember the Cold War era -- and that includes most senior U.S. policymakers -- this looks a lot like the menacing behavior of the former Soviet Union; for them, Russia appears to be posing an existential threat to the U.S. in a way that China does not.

Among those who are most representative of this dark, eerily familiar, and retrograde outlook is Senator McCain. Recently, offering an overview of the threats facing America and the West, he put Russia at the top of the list:

“In the heart of Europe, we see Russia emboldened by a significant modernization of its military, resurrecting old imperial ambitions, and intent on conquest once again. For the first time in seven decades on this continent, a sovereign nation has been invaded and its territory annexed by force. Worse still, from central Europe to the Caucuses, people sense Russia’s shadow looming larger, and in the darkness, liberal values, democratic sovereignty, and open economies are being undermined.”

For McCain and others who share his approach, there is no question about how the U.S. should respond: by bolstering NATO, providing major weapons systems to the Ukrainians, and countering Putin in every conceivable venue. In addition, like many Republicans, McCainfavors increased production via hydro-fracking of domestic shale gas for export as liquefied natural gas to reduce the European Union’s reliance on Russian gas supplies.

McCain’s views are shared by many of the Republican candidates for president. Jeb Bush, for instance, described Putin as “a ruthless pragmatist who will push until someone pushes back.” Senator Ted Cruz, when asked on Fox News what he would do to counter Putin, typically replied, “One, we need vigorous sanctions… Two, we should immediately reinstate the antiballistic missile batteries in Eastern Europe that President Obama canceled in 2009 in an effort to appease Russia. And three, we need to open up the export of liquid natural gas, which will help liberate Ukraine and Eastern Europe.” Similar comments from other candidates and potential candidates are commonplace.

As the 2016 election season looms, expect the anti-Russian rhetoric to heat up. Many of the Republican candidates are likely to attack Hillary Clinton, the presumed Democratic candidate, for her role in the Obama administration’s 2009 “reset” of ties with Moscow, an attempted warming of relations that is now largely considered a failure. “She’s the one that literally brought the reset button to the Kremlin,” said former Texas Governor Rick Perry in April.

If any of the Republican candidates other than Paul prevails in 2016, anti-Russianism is likely to become the centerpiece of foreign policy with far-reaching consequences. “No leader abroad draws more Republican criticism than Putin does,” a conservative website noted in June. “The candidates’ message is clear: If any of them are elected president, U.S. relations with Russia will turn even more negative.”

The Long View

Whoever wins in 2016, what Yale historian Paul Kennedy has termed “imperial overstretch” will surely continue to be an overwhelming reality for Washington. Nonetheless, count on a greater focus of attention and resources on one of those two contenders for the top place on Washington’s enemies list. A Democratic victory spearheaded by Hillary Clinton is likely to result in a more effectively focused emphasis on China as the country’s greatest long-term threat, while a Republican victory would undoubtedly sanctify Russia as enemy number one.

For those of us residing outside Washington, this choice may appear to have few immediate consequences. The defense budget will rise in either case; troops will, as now, be shuttled desperately around the hot spots of the planet, and so on. Over the long run, however, don’t think for a second that the choice won’t matter.

A stepped-up drive to counter Russia will inevitably produce a grim, unpredictable Cold War-like atmosphere of suspicion, muscle-flexing, and periodic crises. More U.S. troops will be deployed to Europe; American nuclear weapons may return there; and saber rattling, nuclear or otherwise, will increase. (Note that Moscow recently announced a decision to add another 40 intercontinental ballistic missiles to its already impressive nuclear arsenal and recall Senator Cruz’s proposal for deploying U.S. anti-missile batteries in Eastern Europe.) For those of us who can remember the actual Cold War, this is hardly an appealing prospect.

A renewed focus on China would undoubtedly prove no less unnerving. It would involve the deployment of additional U.S. naval and air forces to the Pacific and an attendant risk of armed confrontation over China’s expanded military presence in the East and South China Seas. Cooperation on trade and the climate would be imperiled, along with the health of theglobal economy, while the flow of ideas and people between East and West would be further constricted. (In a sign of the times, China recently announced new curbs on the operations of foreign nongovernmental organizations.) Although that country possesses far fewer nuclear weapons than Russia, it is modernizing its arsenal and the risk of nuclear confrontation would undoubtedly increase as well.

In short, the options for American global policy, post-2016, might be characterized as either grim and chaotic or even grimmer, if more focused. Most of us will fare equally badly under either of those outcomes, though defense contractors and others in what President Dwight Eisenhower first dubbed the “military-industrial complex” will have a field day. Domestic needs like health, education, infrastructure, and the environment will suffer either way, while prospects for peace and climate stability will recede.

A country without a coherent plan for advancing its national interests is a sorry thing. Worse yet, however, as we may find out in the years to come, would be a country forever on the brink of crisis and conflict with a beleaguered, nuclear-armed rival.

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News Tue, 30 Jun 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Ruling Against "Three Strikes" Sentencing Law Opens Door to Reform http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/31642-supreme-court-rules-against-three-strikes-federal-sentencing-law-provision-opens-door-for-further-reform http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/31642-supreme-court-rules-against-three-strikes-federal-sentencing-law-provision-opens-door-for-further-reform

The recent decision in Johnson v. United States reinforces the need to address sentencing policies that have lengthened prison terms and contributed to mass incarceration. At the federal level, Congress can address sentencing enhancements that lengthen statutory punishments.

Prisoners in a gymnasium that because of overcrowding has been converted into a housing room at the California Institution for Men, in Chino, Calif., May, 24, 2011. (Photo: Ann Johansson for The New York Times)Prisoners in a gymnasium that, because of overcrowding, has been converted into a housing room at the California Institution for Men, in Chino, California, May, 24, 2011. (Photo: Ann Johansson for The New York Times)

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Friday's Supreme Court decision in Johnson v. United States highlights the complicated nature of sentencing provisions that result in lengthy prison terms, a leading cause of mass incarceration. The ruling struck down a sentencing provision that lengthened prison terms for certain federal prisoners and potentially impacts the lives of thousands of people who have received enhanced federal sentences.

Stakeholders interested in practical remedies to address the nation's incarceration rate should closely consider the ruling and look for opportunities to remedy similar laws. The case before the court was filed by Samuel James Johnson, a white nationalist affiliated with the Aryan Liberation group. He was convicted of gun crimes and received a 15-year prison term because the sentencing judge considered a past conviction for possession of a sawed-off shotgun as a "violent felony."

While this case presents an argument on behalf of a defendant whose conduct is disturbing in many ways, it nonetheless raises issues that should be of concern for the values of due process and investment of public safety resources.

In an 8-1 decision, the court, led by conservative Antonin Scalia, found a salient provision of the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), which lengthens sentences for people with three prior serious drug crimes or "violent" felony convictions, to be unconstitutionally vague. The provision lengthened federal prison terms on average to 188 months from 59 months.

The discretion granted to prosecutors and judges to decide what counted as a "violent felony" was found to be unclear.

According to the United States Sentencing Commission, there are approximately 7,000 individuals imprisoned for ACCA-enhanced sentences, and although most are not sentenced under the residual clause, others may be eligible for resentencing; more than half of defendants who received enhanced sentences in 2014 were African American.

The sentencing structure that resulted in Johnson's prison sentence evolved during the "tough crime" era, in which mandatory minimums, truth-in-sentencing laws and recidivist statutes were adopted to lengthen prison sentences. California's notorious "three strikes" law is perhaps the most well-known "recidivist" or "persistent offender" statute that allows for life prison terms for defendants, who have two prior felony convictions, on their third felony conviction.

Defendants can also receive longer prison terms depending on the location of the crime; most states and federal sentencing structures allow for enhancements in cases of drug crimes that take place near schools. Other circumstances resulting in longer prison terms include a prior conviction, even if the previous offense was a misdemeanor, and possession of a weapon, even if not used.

Interpretation of the Armed Career Criminal Act expanded prosecutorial authority to enhance sentences for any crime that involved "conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another" - even if the crime doesn’t actually involve violence.

The practical implementation of that interpretation resulted in prosecutors enhancing prison terms (as in the case of Johnson, for the possession of a sawed-off shotgun). The Armed Career Criminal Act was reportedly used to lengthen prison terms in cases where defendants had priors considered "violent" for drunk driving, attempted burglary and failing to report for incarceration.

The Johnson ruling reinforces the need to address sentencing policies that lengthen prison terms and have contributed to growth in the nation's incarceration rate. Similar provisions are present in state criminal codes and lead to harsher penalties. In Missouri for example, persons convicted under the Armed Criminal Action laws provision - when the defendant is in possession of a dangerous weapon - serve a mandatory sentence of three years in addition to the penalty for the crime of conviction.

Sentencing enhancements were adopted to serve several purposes, including deterrence. Yet, research demonstrates that offenders "age out" of crime - so the 25-year-old who commits an armed robbery generally poses much less risk to public safety by the age of 35.

At the federal level, to implement the court's ruling, Congress can address sentencing enhancements that lengthen statutory punishments.

There are opportunities to revisit similar policies at the state level for stakeholders interested in addressing mass incarceration. Lawmakers could repeal sentencing enhancement laws and allow judges to depart from statutory minimums. Nevada, for example, granted discretion to judges to impose shortened enhanced sentences for eligible offenses. Prior to the law change, a person convicted of a felony committed on school property would face the statutory punishment for the charged conduct, plus a sentence enhancement equal to the statutory punishment.

Prosecutors should alter their approach to charging defendants with penalties that result in excessive prison terms. In recent years, prosecutors in New York and Milwaukee have modified their charging practices in ways that contribute to declines in prison admissions.

The court’s decision in Johnson, while substantial for federal sentencing matters, raises opportunities for state stakeholders as well. The nation's high rate of incarceration is a challenge to lawmakers, advocates and practitioners to reform sentencing policies that have contributed to mass incarceration.  

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News Tue, 30 Jun 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Protest Is the New Terror: How US Law Enforcement Is Working to Criminalize Dissent http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/31641-protest-is-the-new-terror-how-us-law-enforcement-is-working-to-criminalize-dissent http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/31641-protest-is-the-new-terror-how-us-law-enforcement-is-working-to-criminalize-dissent

It's well established that the FBI surveilled civil rights and other activists from Martin Luther King Jr. to leaders of the National Lawyers Guild as part of its wide ranging COINTELPRO (counter intelligence program) during the 1960s and early 70s. The use of planted news stories, faked communications to create dissension within activist groups, informants to make dubious cases and even assassinations was revealed by a group of activists called the Citizens' Commission to Investigate the FBI, who broke into a bureau office in Media, Pennsylvania, in 1971 and found ample evidence of the agency's misdeeds. This is generally seen as an era of terrible government overreach in the name of fighting "communism."

The problem is that the use of similar tactics has been discovered again and again in the years since. Following the anti-globalization protests of 1999, the 9/11 attacks, and the Occupy protests of 2011, similar strategies, enhanced by modern technology, have been ratcheted up and deployed against an ever-increasing number of activists and political groups of all ideological stripes as part of the even more dubious "wars" on drugs and terrorism.

Part of this is due to the fact that there simply aren't enough real threats of terrorism to justify all the money and toys that have been given to U.S. law enforcement. Add to this the fact that police at all levels seem eager to see potential terrorism in even the mildest forms of dissent and you have a recipe for disaster. In one of the most recent instances, it was revealed that the FBI has been coordinating with local law enforcement to target the Black Lives Matter movement.

Another story, unrelated to current anti-racist organizing, is a bizarre case out of Minneapolis in the lead up to the Republican national convention in 2008. According to the City Pages, a Univ. of Minnesota police officer who was the department's only officer on the local Joint Counter Terrorism Task Force worked with an FBI Special Agent to recruit college students who acted as paid informants at "vegan potlucks" hoping they'd discover activist plans to disrupt the city's upcoming convention.

Extending the Long Arm of the Law

Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTFs), of which there are currently 104 located in cities and towns across the United States, were created in the 1980s and greatly expanded in the aftermath of 9/11. They were set up to coordinate between diverse federal agencies and local law enforcement, and often work in tandem with "Fusion Centers" that are supposed to collect and analyze data related to potential terrorism.

To see how these task forces can overstep their bounds, take the case of Eric Linsker, who police tried to arrest for allegedly trying to throw a trash can over the side of a walkway on the Brooklyn Bridge during the large, mostly peaceful protests that erupted in New York City following the failure to indict the officer whose choke-hold led to the death of Eric Garner. Other protesters intervened to stop the arrest but Linkser left his bag behind which, according to authorities, contained "his passport, three hammers, and a small amount of marijuana."

While police may have been well within their rights to track down Linsker and charge him if the vandalism allegations were true, it's who did the arresting that is problematic: rather than the NYPD, it was the New York JTTF that brought Linkser in, perhaps believing that the hammers were potential instruments of terror. This should be a cause for worry, since it means either law enforcement's definition of terrorism has become far too broad, or they are targeting more than just terrorism.

Stingrays and the Dangers of Technology

Activists with Occupy Wall Street, and later Black Lives Matter, have relied on social networks and technology to organize their efforts. Ubiquitous phones with video recording capacity have revealed abuses of power by law enforcement and discredited official stories. Smart phones are also useful during marches to inform other protesters on the fly about concentrations of police, allowing demonstrators to change their routes to avoid confrontation.

As one "counter-terrorism expert" told the New York Post in regards to Black Lives Matter protests in early December: "They wore me out. Their ability to strategize on the fly is something we haven't dealt with before to this degree."

Unfortunately, like most 21st century technology, the use of smart phones by activists has become a double-edged sword, exposing them to surveillance risks that were unimaginable in previous eras. One such technology is Stingray, produced by Harris Technology, which mimics a cell phone tower and allows law enforcement to pull GPS and other data from phones within their range.

In an interesting case reported by Wired magazine, police in Erie County, NY, used the technology 47 times in the last five years and only received the required permission from a court once. Even in that case, "they asked for a court order rather than a warrant, which carries a higher burden of proof... (and) mischaracterized the true nature of the tool."

The same story notes that the New York Civil Liberties Union posted documents online that showed the FBI and local police departments had made binding agreements to keep their use of the technology secret, even going so far as to ask courts to dismiss criminal cases in which the use of Stingray might be revealed.

The unique moment created by anti-police brutality protests throughout the U.S. last year - and coming on the heels of a federally coordinated effort to dismantle Occupy encampments in 2011 - revealed that federal police agencies, especially the FBI, working with local police have directed their resources as much against protesters, dissenters and those practicing and civil disobedience as they have against the threat represented by terrorists, whether homegrown "lone wolves" or organized outside groups.

While the recent NSA reform bill passed in Congress represents a victory for civil liberties and privacy advocates, there's still a ways to go. Because while the right to dissent remains a fundamental American freedom, the fear of terrorism being openly exploited by law enforcement has allowed police to resurrect COINTELPRO in all but name.

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News Tue, 30 Jun 2015 09:19:57 -0400