Category Archives: Governance

Headline of the day: The price of austerity

From the Washington Post:

Young Greek women selling sex for the price of a sandwich, new study shows

Sex in Greece is some of the cheapest on offer in Europe after six years of painful austerity pushed the country to the financial brink.

Roman Polanski wins another legal battle

If California Gov. Jerry Brown had a lick of common sense, he’d pardon Roman Polanski and end a wrong-headed and probably illegal campaign by the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office to drag the world famous director back to the U.S. to “serve out” a prison sentence that he had already completely 39 years ago.

Yet even the American press, which covered the case extensively at the time, fail to note that Polanski’s time at a California state prison was the sentence agreed to by all parties in the case: Polanski, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office, the young woman on whom Polanski committed statutory rape, her family, and the corrupt judge who presided over the case, Laurence J. Rittenband, whose best friend was one of the country’s most powerful gangsters.

We know about the case firsthand, covering every court session and interviewing the key legal figures in depth as a reporter for the Santa Monica Evening Outlook. And we have posted extensively about the case and the corruption at the heart of the ongoing extradition efforts.

A few years ago we even played a major role in a documentary film about the case, Roman Polanski, Wanted and Desired.

The woman at the center of the case has repeatedly called for the Los Angeles District Attorney to stop the extradition efforts and leave Polanski alone, and the deputy district attorney who prosecuted Polanski has stated for the record that the director fulfilled all the obligations imposed by the plea agreement.’

But the DA’s won’t given up, even though Rittenband demonstrably breached the canons of judicial ethics by discussing the case with reporters [us most notably, and with pals from the Hillcrest Country Club, once he began to have second thoughts after drawing criticism from the spouses of those Hillcrest pals].

We have no idea how many hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of dollars have been wasted on the DA’s office, fueled in part by frankly erroneous reports from newspaper like the Washington Post, which ought to know better.

The Swiss rejected a prolonged attempt to extradite Polanski from their country, declaring, as the Guardian reported at the time, that:

[I]ts decision to reject extradition for Polanski was based in part on US authorities’ failure to provide transcripts of secret testimony given by the attorney who originally handled the director’s case [Deputy District Attorney Roger Gunson, one of the most honorable people we have ever met — esnl]. The testimony “should prove” that Polanski actually served his sentence while undergoing a court-ordered diagnostic study after charges were filed, the Swiss justice ministry said.

“If this were the case, Roman Polanski would actually have already served his sentence and therefore both the proceedings on which the US extradition request is founded and the request itself would have no foundation,” the ministry said. They also noted that Polanski’s victim, Samantha Geimer, has repeatedly asked that the case be dropped.

But that decision came only after Polanski had been jailed, then subjected to nine months’ house arrest.

And now a second effort by the L.A. District Attorney has been conclusively overturned by yet another European government.

From Reuters:

A Polish court’s decision to deny the extradition of film-maker Roman Polanski to the United States over a 1977 child sex conviction became legally binding on Friday after an appellate prosecutor’s office said it found no justification to appeal it.

The case of the Oscar-winning director, now 82, who holds Polish and French citizenship, has been an international cause celebre nearly four decades after the crime, with some demanding harsh punishment and others urging the case be let go.

“Speaking for Polanski, I can say that we feel a great relief that this case has ended,” Jan Olszewski, one of Polanski’s lawyers said. “And this means that it will be possible for Polanski to start making a planned film in Poland.”

The appellate prosecutor’s office in the city of Krakow said in a statement on Friday that its analysis of the evidence collected in the case showed the earlier court decision on denying extradition had been correct.

So get on with it, Jerry Brown, issue a pardon and spend the state’s money on more worthy causes, like building housing for the poor.

ISIS and the U.S., legacy of a troubled history

Until 2003 Chris Hedges held one of the most prestigious jobs in American journalism, Mideast bureau chief for the New York Times, until he was reprimanded by the paper for speaking against the American invasion of Iraq at a college commencement in Rockford, Illinois.

These days he hosts Days of Revolt, a weekly interview series for Telesur English.

Today we’re posting a two-part discussion on the rise of ISIS and the long troubled history of imperial ambitions in the Middle East with Professor Sabah Alnasseri, a native of Basra, Iraq, who teaches Middle East politics at York University in Toronto.

And with that, the first episode:

Days of Revolt – ISIS, The New Israel

From the transcript:

HEDGES: So let’s begin with ISIS, which is historically an extremely important movement within the Middle East. The 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement, which is named for the French and British diplomats that carved up the Middle East among the colonial–among the empire, essentially turning countries in the Middle East into protectorates, has only been changed twice. The first time was the Israeli independence movement, which rose up in Palestine, and now with ISIS, which controls an area roughly the size of Texas.

The mechanisms that were used to redraw the map in the Middle East are the same: the use of foreign money, the use of foreign fighters, the tactics of ethnic cleansing and terrorism, and this mythical vision, in the case of Israel, the re-creation of Judea and Samaria from the Bible, the land of Israel, and in the case of ISIS, the re-creation of the seventh century caliphate.

And these tactics have could prove quite effective. In both cases, in the case of Israel and in the case of ISIS, you could argue, especially with ISIS having roughly 20,000 foreign fighters, that these are forces that are as dependent on the areas outside the Middle East as within the Middle East. And I wondered if you could kind of address that phenomenon, this phenomenon that we are watching.

ALNASSERI: Right. Right. I mean, you are right, because ISIS has a kind of settler colonialist form the way they occupy space, cleanse the space, plunder the resources.

HEDGES: Which is what–as Israel does.

ALNASSERI: Exactly, and carve out territory for itself.

But to understand the phenomenon of ISIS, we needed to contextualize it within the setbacks and counterrevolution against the Arab revolutions, the amount of violence, of intervention, in Libya, for instance, the war in Libya, the civil war in Syria, now the war also in Yemen, and–.

HEDGES: And Egypt. We can’t forget Egypt.

ALNASSERI: Exactly. We don’t forget Egypt. And the failure of this peaceful, nonviolent revolutions, this amount of violence, of counterrevolutionary violence, created this Frankenstein, this phenomenon. So you can say ISIS is a Hegelian-Fischer synthesis of two form of violence.

Now, what is so interesting about ISIS and why it is so attractive for many young, unemployed, mostly Arab fighters–most of the fighters, by the way, they come from Libya or Tunisia and so on, less from Europe, etc. It’s mostly from the Middle East. What attracted them to ISIS is that when these peaceful revolution failed, revolutions turn into kind of jihadism, that ISIS is much more effective in its leadership, organization, logistical structure, and its geologies, than all the other peaceful, nonviolent movements, mass movements.

And the second part:

Days of Revolt – The Revolutionary Age

From the transcript:

HEDGES: So I think what we want to focus on in this segment is the dynamics of revolutionary change in an age of globalism and neoliberalism, how it will look like revolutions in the past, and how it will look like something else. And I know this is something you have examined.

ALNASSERI: Right. Right. I will start with the end of the Cold War and the breakdown of of the Soviet Union, because this world historical context is very important in understanding any kind of politics, revolutionary or otherwise.

Since the ‘90s, we observe the dominant political form [of] Europe, the United States, but also other parts of the world is populism. Before, at least until the ‘70s, political parties were organized around specific classes, articulated interests of classes, the social democracy for the working class, etc. But since the ‘90s, the dominant political form of the ruling classes is populism. And that’s not a coincidence with this neoliberal offensive, with half of the world open to be conquered by neoliberalism after the breakdown of the Soviet Union. There is a radical shift in the form of politics, articulation of interests, representation, etc. So what we see is that the majority of the population on a worldwide scale actually are excluded from the political system, are not represented. Their interests are not articulated.

So I believe that within this context–and that’s why the current revolutions are different than the historical one–that revolutions and revolt probably is the only political form available for the popular classes to introduce a radical change in the [crosstalk]

HEDGES: Well, I agree completely, and that is the thesis of my own book, Wages of Rebellion. But what about nationalism? I mean, nationalism still remains a powerful force.

ALNASSERI: Yes, yes and no, because nationalism now is embedded in an international and global context. So even nationalist movement, if they are not linked to a wider movement and solidarity and support, their prospective of success is almost zero. You can see this. Take the example of SYRIZA in Greece. SYRIZA, the first right approach was to say that you need a Europe-wide movement and solidarity in order to empower SYRIZA in Greece to deal with the European Central Bank, with the IMF, etc., and E.U. Commission, etc. So there’s a sense of embedding nationalist, or nationalist, say, movement within a wider context, a regional or international context. I think this is very important. It’s different than the old form of internationalism we knew in the 19th and 20th century, because the old form of internationalism was different in three instances. The first one, it was mostly European-centered, not international in this sense. The second point is it was mostly class-based. And third, all these revolt and revolution were organized by a political party with a strong leadership.

HEDGES: But that wasn’t true for the Communist Party. There was an internationalist element to that.

ALNASSERI: Yeah, but again, if you look at it historically, we’ll see mostly within Europe–there are some connection to other part of the world, but mostly it was within Europe, and I think that’s a big difference today. We have–you can call it the first international of the people. And it’s cross-class. It’s not nation- or nation states-centered, and it’s not articulated, organized by a specific political party.

Operation Condor is coming home to roost

Operation Condor, by Brazilian cartoonist Carlos Latuff.

Operation Condor, by Brazilian cartoonist Carlos Latuff.

Wednesday marked the 40th anniversary of the start of Operation Condor [previously], a U.S.-backed pogrom of leftist and populist leaders in Latin America, carried out with the help of then Sceretary of State Henry Kissinger and the Central Intelligence Agency.

In the ensuing purge a thousand or more political activists were tortured and murdered, and a leader figure of the Latin Left, along with a young American woman, died in a car bombing in this nation’s capital. An unknown number of dissidents were disposed of by being stripped naked as they were flown out over the South Atlantic and dropped into the ocean, the basis for the Latuff cartoon.

As for that bombing in Washington, the National Security Archive of George Washington University reported on 8 October:

The CIA concluded that there was “convincing evidence” that Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet “personally ordered his intelligence chief to carry out the murder” of exiled critic Orlando Letelier in Washington D.C., according to a SECRET memo prepared for President Ronald Reagan in 1987. “Pinochet decided to stonewall on the US investigation to hide his involvement,” the CIA review also noted, and as part of the cover-up considered “even the elimination of his former intelligence chief,” DINA director Manuel Contreras, who had overseen the assassination plot.

The CIA intelligence review remains classified. But it was quoted in a dramatic report to President Reagan, dated on October 6, 1987, from his Secretary of State, George Shultz, as part of his efforts to convince the president to cut U.S. ties to Pinochet and press for the return of democracy in Chile. “The CIA has never before drawn and presented its conclusion that such strong evidence exists of his [Pinochet’s] leadership role in this act of terrorism,” the Secretary of State informed the President.

The National Security Archive today said it would file a Freedom of Information Act petition to secure the declassification of the CIA assessment and the raw intelligence reports it was based on. “This document is clearly the holy grail of the Letelier-Moffitt case,” said Peter Kornbluh who directs the Archive’s Chile Documentation Project. Kornbluh called on the agency “to release this document to complete the Obama administration’s special declassification project on Chile.”

Letelier, a former minister in the Allende government, and his 25-year old colleague, Ronni Karpen Moffitt, were killed by a car-bomb planted by agents of the Chilean secret police on September 21, 1976, as they drove to work down Massachusetts avenue in Washington D.C. Moffitt’s husband, Michael, was the sole survivor of the bombing.

The memory of the horrors of Operation Condor remain very much alive, and a trial now underway may finally win some small measure of justice for the survivors.

From CCTV America:

Operation Condor: A dark time for Latin America

Program notes:

On November 25th, 1975 – high-ranking officials from several South American countries gathered for a meeting in Santiago with a dark agenda. It was then that Operation Condor was launched and military dictatorships were able to swap information to hunt down political opponents.

Headline of the day: Don’t you hate it when. . .

From the London Daily Mirror earlier this month but just brought to our attention:

Worrying footage shows nuclear warhead get rear-ended by its own armed escort on busy motorway

This ‘Bent Spear’ incident causes a nuclear drama as plans for smooth transportation of warhead go awry

This astonishing film shows the moment a nuclear weapon in transit is rear-ended by its own armed escort earning it the title of a “Bent Spear” incident.

According to reports the weapon of mass destruction was being transported on the back of a lorry surrounded by a convoy of heavily-armoured cars along a busy motorway in the United States.

Eyewitnesses say a number of helicopters were flying overhead as a police escort and the army attempted to transit the dangerous load near Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana.

And here’s the video, from vlogger Paul Tedford:

Nuclear missile gets rear ended!

Program notes:

Have you ever seen a nuclear missile being transported in a convoy? Several helicopters in the air and federal marshals leading the way. The crazy thing is that the fed pulled over and was yelling and waving his hands that I can’t record this video! And then a truck rear ended the nuke!

Militarizing academia, a list and an omission

We begin with the latest edition of Days of Revolt, the new weekly broadcast series from Chris Hedges produced by The Real News Network for  Telesur English:

Days of Revolt – Militarizing Education

Program notes:

In this episode of Days of Revolt, host Chris Hedges discusses the militarization of higher education institutions with journalist Alexa O’Brien. They uncover the trail of money and influence from the national security state to college programs. Hedges and O’Brien identify the ways in which this apparatus has long-been in effect, and what it could mean for the future.

While we generally agree with her critique of the military’s increasing grasp on the military, we find one peculiar omission from the list of the 100 most militarized universities she published in VICE News.

Not on the list is the University of California, now headed by former Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano.

Lest we forget, it was UC Berkeley’s own Robert Oppenheimer who headed the immense World War II scientific research program responsible for developing the atomic bomb. Berkeley is still involved in running Lawrence-Livermore National Laboratory, where new nuclear weapons are developed, and appoints three members to the board of Los Alamos National Laboratory, birthplace of the atomic bomb. And it was UC Berkeley’s John Yoo who provided the guiding legal advice justifying torture in the wake of 9/11.

The University of California also provided nearly half of the scientists of the Jason group, the secret, self-selected cabal of academics who provide research and advice to the Pentagon.

Among the Jasons’ “gifts” to humankind are the border patrolling drone and border-installed remote sensing devices, developed for the Vietnam War under the rubric of the Air-Supported Anti-Infiltration Barrier [PDF].

A 2007 College Quarterly review of Ann Finkbeiner’s 2006 book The Jasons: The Secret History of Science’s Postwar Elite, noted:

She was able to contact a number of Jasons and succeeded in interviewing thirty-six (published estimates of the total roster range from forty to about one hundred). Some refused to be interviewed. Some agreed only on condition of anonymity. Her book reveals that the $850 a day now paid to Jasons, while worthwhile, seems to be among the least of the motives for joining. More important is the sense of self-importance to be had from playing the part of a confident Washington insider. More likely still are altruistic, if naïve, beliefs that the Jasons make positive contributions to society by, if nothing else, exposing strategic errors or technological flaws in government plans and, of course, also solving real scientific problems in the bargain. They certainly have the skills to do so. Nobel laureates and giants of the intellectual community including Dyson, Hans Bethe, Steven Weinberg and the legendary Murray Gell-Mann have been Jasons. Too often, however, Finkbeiner concludes that their bargain is ultimately Faustian.

Jason has applied its collective braininess to such projects as the “electronic infiltration barrier” that did not, as it happens, protect South Vietnam from North Vietnam’s flow of troops (they tunnelled underground). Jason also worked out puzzles in adaptive optics, allowing telescopes to correct for atmospheric interference – information kept under wraps for a decade until the military found a use for it in Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (“Star Wars”). Today, they may be providing advice on the occupation of Iraq; but, we won’t get the details on that soon, if ever.

The Jasons have also served as a model for other nations, as noted in a 10 November 2009 report in Nature, the world’s leading scientific journal:

The British government has recruited a group of academics to tackle tricky scientific problems related to defence, Nature has learned.

The programme is similar to a group known as the JASONs, which the US government has consulted on technical issues since the 1960s. “You hear a lot about the JASONs and how much credibility they have in the United States,” says Mark Welland, the UK Ministry of Defence’s chief scientific adviser. Britain needs a similarly “fast-moving, free-floating entity”, he says.

Scientific advice is frequently sought in Britain, but on security-related issues the advice usually comes from inside the government. Scientists at government labs such as the Atomic Weapons Establishment in Aldermaston are consulted on sensitive topics, in part because academic researchers lack the necessary security clearances.

Though the Pentagon created the group in 1958, it was only in 1971 that their existence became known to the public, thanks to the leak of the Pentagon Papers.

While the group’s membership remains a secret, some names surfaced in 1972, thanks to the release of the in-depth report on the group, authored by UC Berkeley Professor Charlie Schwartz and colleagues.

According to one published estimate, fully half of the Jasons have come from the University of California, primarily Berkeley.

The Federation of American Scientists maintains a database of declassified Jason reports.

So any way you look at it, the University of California belongs on any list of the nation’s most militarized universities.

Charts of the day: A problem of basic trust

Two revealing charts from Beyond Distrust: How Americans View Their Government [PDF], a new report from the Pew Research Center:

First up, the stunning slide in Americans’ trust in their own government, with the catastrophic escalation of the Vietnam War and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy coinciding with the onset of collapse:

BLOG Gov trust

Next, a major player in that distrust, a rising suspicion that government now longer functions of, by, and for the people:

BLOG Gov trust rationale