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Yearly Review By Harper’s Magazine

December 30, 2013

The civil war in Syria counted its 100,000th death, and the Syrian government formally acceded to the international convention banning chemical weapons and agreed to the inventory, seizure, and removal or destruction of its chemical weapons and chemical-weapons facilities by mid-2014. Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi was deposed by the country’s military, sparking protests and violence that culminated in August with the deaths of at least 638 people during the clearing of encampments set up by Morsi’s supporters. More than 8,000 people were killed by sectarian violence in Iraq. Pakistan underwent the first democratic transfer of power in its 66-year history. Iran claimed to have launched monkeys named Pishgam and Fargam into space, and agreed to halt the enrichment of high-grade uranium for six months in exchange for the relaxation of international sanctions. In Nairobi, gunmen stormed the Westgate shopping mall and killed at least 62 people; in Algeria, 38 hostages and 29 militants were killed during a four-day standoff at a natural-gas refinery in the Saharan outpost of Ain Amenas; and in Mali, militants set fire to the Timbuktu’s Ahmed Baba Institute, which houses manuscripts dating to the twelfth century. “They are bandits,” said institute employee Ali Baba.

The United Nations warned of a risk of genocide in the Central African Republic, where more than 650 people died in December during sectarian violence between Christians and Muslims, and discovered mass graves in South Sudan, where thousands of people died during fighting in December. North Korea hosted NBA hall-of-famer Dennis Rodman three times, executed the ex-girlfriend and the uncle of Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un, nullified its 1953 armistice with South Korea, and sent a fax to the South Korean government warning that it might strike without warning. Typhoon Haiyan killed at least 6,100 people in the Philippines; flash floods and landslides killed at least 5,700 in the Indian state of Uttarakhand; the Rana Plaza garment factory collapsed in Bangladesh, killing 1,127 people; and a 7.7-magnitude earthquake killed at least 825 people in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province. One hundred and six prisoners participated in an ongoing hunger strike at the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay. Uruguay became the first country to legalize the cultivation, sale, and consumption of marijuana, and a construction company bulldozed a 2,300-year-old Mayan temple to make road fill in Belize. “Mind-boggling,” said archaeologist Jamie Awe. A Reykjavík court granted a 15-year-old officially known as “girl” the right to use the name Blær, and New Zealand barred its citizens from naming their children Lucifer and Anal. Pope Benedict XVI retired, as did David Beckham, Jack Nicholson, and the world’s most prolific streaker.

The Vatican recalled 6,000 medals recounting a story about Lesus, opened a Vacant See, and elected to the papacy the Argentine Jesuit priest Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who became the first Pope Francis. A Catholic diocese in southern Austria was fined for mass texting. Malawi accused Madonna of bullying. Saudi Arabia expelled three Emirati men for being too handsome. Turkey exonerated a kestrel accused of spying for Israel, and sculptors built a snow replica of an M75 missile on the Temple Mount. Russia ordered its soldiers to start wearing socks, and Pakistan ordered its civil servants to go sockless. India shut down the world’s last remaining telegraph service. Representatives from the House of Keys declared their support for a lesbian couple denied an apartment on the Isle of Man, and Uganda passed a law making “aggravated homosexuality” punishable by life imprisonment. Russia passed an antigay bill banning “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” and imprisoned, then freed, the punk band Pussy Riot and 30 members of Greenpeace.

Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi was sentenced to seven years in prison for paying for sex with an underage dancer known as Ruby the Heart-Stealer. Olympic sprinter and double-amputee Oscar Pistorius was charged with the murder of his girlfriend. Icelandic police shot and killed a civilian for the first time, then apologized. Nelson Mandela died, as did Hugo Chávez and Margaret Thatcher; authors Chinua Achebe, Tom Clancy, Evan S. Connell, Seamus Heaney, Elmore Leonard, and Doris Lessing; film critic Roger Ebert; cruciverbalist Araucaria; the original Dear Abby; athletes Walt Bellamy, Stan Musial, Bill Sharman, and Earl Weaver; actors Annette Funicello, James Gandolfini, Peter O’Toole, and Harry Reems; musicians Richie Havens, George Jones, Yusef Lateef, Lou Reed, and John Tavener; computer programmer Aaron Swartz; the inventors of the AK-47 and Twister; and a skydiver in Yolo County, California. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge gave birth to a son and named him George Alexander Louis.

The world’s oldest bird hatched a chick.


The Hazards of Revolution A Long Ferment in the Middle East

Weekend Edition December 27-29, 2013


Soon after the Libyan capital fell to the rebels in August 2011 I got to know a 32-year-old man called Ahmed Abdullah al-Ghadamsi. We met when he tried to evict me from my hotel room, which he said was needed for members of the National Transitional Council, in effect the provisional government of Libya. I wasn’t happy about being moved because the hotel, the Radisson Blu on Tripoli’s seafront, was full of journalists and there was nowhere else to stay. But Ahmed promised to find me another room, and he was as good as his word.

He was lending a hand to the provisional government, he said, because he was strongly opposed to Gaddafi – as was the rest of his family. He came from the Fornaj district of the city, and was contemptuous of the efforts of government spies to penetrate its network of extended families. He derided Gaddafi’s absurd personality cult and his fear of subversive ideas: ‘Books used to be more difficult to bring into the country than weapons. You had to leave them at the airport for two or three months so they could be checked.’ He had spent six years studying in Norway and spoke Norwegian as well as English; on returning to Libya he got a job on the staff of the Radisson Blu. One of Gaddafi’s sons, Al-Saadi, had a suite in the hotel, and he watched the ruling family and their friends doing business and enjoying themselves.

Ahmed was a self-confident man, not noticeably intimidated by the sporadic shooting which was keeping most people in Tripoli off the streets. I asked him if he would consider working for me as a guide and assistant and he agreed. Tripoli had run out of petrol but he quickly found some, along with a car and driver willing to risk the rebel checkpoints. He was adept at talking to the militiamen manning the barricades, and helped me get out of the city when the roads were blocked. After a few weeks I left Libya; I later heard that he was working for other journalists. Then in October I got a message saying that he was dead, shot through the head by a pro-Gaddafi sniper in the final round of fighting in Sirte on the coast far to the east of Tripoli. It turned out that there was a lot that Ahmed hadn’t told me.

When the protests started in Benghazi on 15 February he had been among the first to demonstrate in Fornaj, and he was arrested. His younger brother Mohammed told me that ‘he was jailed for two hours or less before his friends and the protesters broke into the police station and freed him.’ When Gaddafi’s forces regained control of Tripoli, Ahmed drove to the Nafusa Mountains a hundred miles south-west of the capital to try to join the rebels there, but they didn’t know or trust him so he had to return. He smuggled weapons and gelignite into Tripoli and became involved in a plot, never put into action, to blow up Al-Saadi Gaddafi’s suite in the Radisson. Mohammed said Ahmed felt bad that he’d spent much of the revolution making money and, despite his best efforts, had never actually fought. He went to Sirte, where Gaddafi’s forces were making a last stand, and joined a militia group from Misrata. He had no military experience, as far as I know, but he didn’t flinch during bombardments and was stoical when he was caught in an ambush and wounded by shrapnel from a mortar bomb, and the militiamen were impressed. On 8 October his commander told Ahmed to take a squad of five or six men to hunt for snipers who had killed a number of rebel fighters. He was shot dead by one of them a few hours later.

remainder: http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/12/27/a-long-ferment-in-the-middle-east/

All in play in the New Great Game

By Pepe Escobar

The big story of 2014 will be Iran. Of course, the big story of the early 21st century will never stop being US-China, but it's in 2014 that we will know whether a comprehensive accord transcending the Iranian nuclear program is attainable; and in this case the myriad ramifications will affect all that's in play in the New Great Game in Eurasia, including US-China.

As it stands, we have an interim deal of the P5+1 (the UN Security Council's five permanent members plus Germany) with Iran, and no deal between the US and Afghanistan. So, once again, we have Afghanistan configured as a battleground between Iran and the House of Saud, part of a geopolitical game played out in overdrive since the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 along the northern rim of the Middle East all the way to Khorasan and South Asia.

Then there's the element of Saudi paranoia, extrapolating from the future of Afghanistan to the prospect of a fully "rehabilitated" Iran becoming accepted by Western political/financial elites. This, by the way, has nothing to do with that fiction, the "international community"; after all, Iran was never banished by the BRICS, (ie Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), the Non-Aligned Movement and the bulk of the developing world.

Those damned jihadis
Every major player in the Barack Obama administration has warned Afghan President Hamid Karzai that either he signs a bilateral "security agreement" authorizing some ersatz of the US occupation or Washington will withdraw all of its troops by the end of 2014.

in full: http://atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/MID-03-231213.html

The Deadly Pawns of Saudi Arabia


Donors in Saudi Arabia have notoriously played a pivotal role in creating and maintaining Sunni jihadist groups over the past 30 years. But, for all the supposed determination of the United States and its allies since 9/11 to fight “the war on terror”, they have showed astonishing restraint when it comes to pressuring Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies to turn off the financial tap that keeps the jihadists in business.

Compare two US pronouncements stressing the significance of these donations and basing their conclusions on the best intelligence available to the US government. The first is in the 9/11 Commission Report which found that Osama bin Laden did not fund al-Qa’ida because from 1994 he had little money of his own but relied on his ties to wealthy Saudi individuals established during the Afghan war in the 1980s. Quoting, among other sources, a CIA analytic report dated 14 November 2002, the commission concluded that “al-Qa’ida appears to have relied on a core group of financial facilitators who raised money from a variety of donors and other fund-raisers primarily in the Gulf countries and particularly in Saudi Arabia”.

Seven years pass after the CIA report was written during which the US invades Iraq fighting, among others, the newly established Iraq franchise of al-Qa’ida, and becomes engaged in a bloody war in Afghanistan with the resurgent Taliban. American drones are fired at supposed al-Qa’ida-linked targets located everywhere from Waziristan in north-west Pakistan to the hill villages of Yemen. But during this time Washington can manage no more than a few gentle reproofs to Saudi Arabia on its promotion of fanatical and sectarian Sunni militancy outside its own borders.

Evidence for this is a fascinating telegram on “terrorist finance” from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to US embassies, dated 30 December 2009 and released by WikiLeaks the following year. She says firmly that “donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide”. Eight years after 9/11, when 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis, Mrs Clinton reiterates in the same message that “Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support for al-Qa’ida, the Taliban, LeT [Lashkar-e-Taiba in Pakistan] and other terrorist groups”. Saudi Arabia was most important in sustaining these groups, but it was not quite alone since “al-Qa’ida and other groups continue to exploit Kuwait both as a source of funds and as a key transit point”.

in full: http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/12/09/the-deadly-pawns-of-saudi-arabia/

My tribute to vintage Nelson Mandela of South Africa

* excellent tribute to Mandela..I did not put this together, was first posted
in I/P. ( Long but worth every minute )

Here is a 1990 video from my collections. I got this tape from ABC in a VHS in 1990, I recently transferred it to a DVD format so I can share with all. It is a 1990 Town Hall meeting with Nelson Mandela of South Africa anchored by Ted Koppel on ABC Nightline in New York.

This meeting was among the programs planned for the First visit of Nelson Mandela to USA, immediately he was released after 27 years in prison. I served as a volunteer in the Oakland Ca. planning committee with Representative Ron Dellon as our chairman. I was and still deeply moved and impressed by his response to questions. I have watched this video for up to 100 times, and every time I do I would want to watch it over and over again. The main reason has been that Ted Koppel was/is regarded then/now as a hard core interviewer, while on the other hand Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years. So we were worried that Nelson Mandela was going to be beaten black, red and blue. That after the interview we were going to have a lot of spin job to do. But alas Nelson Mandela made us all proud because he held his ground and eloquently explained his positions and that of the ANC. This was the first time I saw this ICON speak and it has affected my life ever since. Although its been 23 years now, please after watching let me know your thoughts.

Why are we building new walls to divide us?

Using satellite imagery, users' pictures, video and first-hand testimony, Guardian reporters across the world chart the new walls being built to divide people from their neighbors.

• Jon Henley: an illusion of security from Berlin to the West Bank

Our walled world


Whatever Israel says, it is Iran that's offering the concessions

World View: A deal on nuclear weapons has been on the cards since President Obama decided not to attack Syria

The decision by President Obama not to launch air strikes on Syrian government forces after the apparent use of chemical weapons by them on 21 August prepared the ground for a possible US-Iranian deal on Iran's nuclear programme. By its actions, the US showed it was not prepared to undertake military action to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad, Iran's one crucial ally in the Arab world. The US-led assault on Syria was more or less openly directed against Iran, so its abandonment was a decisive turnaround in the 30-year confrontation between the US and Iran. And the fact that this was not simply a zigzag in US policy was born out by popular and congressional hostility towards American involvement in another war in the region.

Iranian officials had long described the threat to the regime in Damascus by the US and its allies as directed in large part at their own government in Tehran. Not only would they have lost an allied state, but Hezbollah would have been isolated in Lebanon if a post-Assad Syria were ruled by a Sunni regime supported by the US, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. The solid band of Shia-controlled or influenced countries, stretching from Iran's border with Afghanistan through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon's coastline on the Mediterranean, would have been broken up. The Sunni counteroffensive against the Shia would have won its first real victory.

The deal between Iran and the US and its allies being negotiated in Geneva this weekend is usually analysed in terms of the likelihood of success and identifying which side is giving the most concessions. The answer to the question about who comes out ahead – contrary to what the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been saying – is that Iran is, for the moment, doing most of the conceding on its nuclear programme, and not getting much back in terms of a relaxation of the economic blockade. Core sanctions on Iran remain, and bankers throughout the world will stay scared of inviting legal retribution from Washington if they have any dealings with Iran.

snip*But history will be complicated to reverse. Sanctions on Iran may be difficult to modify because they were put in place by Congress as instruments of its own anti-Iranian policy. One reason why the White House wants to negotiate with Iran now is to stop Congress from passing a fresh round of sanctions. On the other hand, the Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid was arguing that once the political tide behind sanctions started to ebb they would be swept away willy-nilly, because international businesses were queuing up to get into Iran. It might be good if this were true, though the forces against an accommodation with Iran are impressively powerful: Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies abroad, much of Congress at home.

in full: http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/whatever-israel-says-it-is-iran-thats-offering-the-concessions-8930811.html

A Living Death: Sentenced to Die Behind Bars for What? ( ACLU )

For 3,278 people, it was nonviolent offenses like stealing a $159 jacket or serving as a middleman in the sale of $10 of marijuana. An estimated 65% of them are Black. Many of them were struggling with mental illness, drug dependency or financial desperation when they committed their crimes. None of them will ever come home to their parents and children. And taxpayers are spending billions to keep them behind bars.

Patrick W. Matthews: Stealing Tools from a Tool Shed

Patrick W. Matthews
Stealing Tools from a Tool Shed

Patrick Matthews was arrested while riding in the truck of a friend who pawned stolen tools and a welding machine, which he was convicted of stealing. Patrick is now 25. Since he was sentenced to die in prison three years ago, he has completed his GED, and participates in Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous. "I never in the world would've thought that could happen," he says. "Made one mistake and was treated like a murderer." Patrick had no violent criminal history and had never served a single day in a Department of Corrections facility. He desperately misses his two young children, Blayton and Hayley, who are eight and six years old. One of the judges who reviewed Patrick's appeal said he did not "believe that the ends of justice are met by a mandatory sentence for this 22-year-old," but that legislation mandated sending Patrick away for the rest of his life because of unarmed burglary convictions when he was 17.

Teresa Griffin: Carrying Drugs for an Abusive Boyfriend

Teresa Griffin was sentenced to die behind bars for her first offense. She was 26 and seven months pregnant when police apprehended her with $38,500 of her boyfriend's cash and half a pound of his cocaine. Several years before, she told her boyfriend that she was leaving him. According to Griffin, he hit her and threatened to kill her and take two of her children away if she left him. He was extremely jealous and controlling, and forbade her to go to school or work. Teresa says her boyfriend used her as a mule to transport drugs between Texas and Oklahoma, and forced her to pick up the cash proceeds of his drug sales. Griffin, now 47, has served 22 years in prison and says she feels immense remorse for her actions. "I would give anything…to be able to make different decisions," she says. "I know I did something wrong, but not enough to take away my life."

Can you imagine a mother without her oldest son? A father who will never make it home for his kids’ birthdays?

It’s not too late to give these families hope.

Watch this video and help us fight extreme sentences for nonviolent crimes – sentences that have reached absurd, tragic and costly height.


Darien, Ct Board of Education found in violation of IDEA ( Heroic SLP's memo )

** To all who stand up to the status quo.

The Gamm report on special education in Darien

CORRECTION: The state Department of Education randomly sampled 25 IEPs before Osypuk took over as director. The state found errors in 13 of the IEPs, according to Gamm’s report, as they were not consistent with the IEPs on file in the district’s system. Osypuk changed the IEPs so that they were consistent, but did not notify parents of these changes, according to Gamm.

Additionally, Osypuk found more than 200 IEP errors that affected more than 100 student records. Osypuk again corrected the errors, but did not inform parents.

“Dr. Osypuk indicated that she did not believe it was necessary to notify parents of IEP corrections relating to the SEDAC upload process because the corrections did not impact student services,” Gamm wrote, adding that she was told by district employees that it had not been a practice to inform parents when “technical” changes were made to IEPs.

“Furthermore, the director indicated that the process for notifying parents would have been very time-consuming because of the large number of IEPs with errors,” Gamm continued.


Background: The silence has died.

In the wake of a growing and deepening public school crisis, current and former Darien Schools employees are stepping forward to shine some light on an assortment of problems that happened last year and which ended in findings of illegal activity and the resignation of the district’s superintendent.

The spark that ignited this firestorm of opinions? An eight-page letter from Julie Bookbinder to then-Superintendent Steve Falcone in September of 2012. The letter, sent via email, was released to The Darien Times through a Freedom of Information Act request.

• A district in ‘turmoil’: Special ed problems exposed

The Torture Doctors

November 4, 2013

An expert panel concludes that the Pentagon and the CIA ordered physicians to violate the Hippocratic Oath

By Scott Horton

The Hippocratic corpus, which requires that a physician “first do no harm” to his patient, lies at the heart of medical ethics. Now, an important independent study of the conduct of doctors engaged by the CIA and Defense Department at the Guantánamo Bay detention facility has concluded that the U.S. government forced these doctors to systematically violate their oaths by aiding in the torture and abuse of patients in their care. The study also makes clear that CIA and Defense Department officials were conscious of the ethics guidelines their policies would violate, and took measures to exempt medical professionals in their service from ethics requirements. The DoD and CIA also consistently refused to cooperate with state ethics boards investigating the unethical conduct of physicians at Guantánamo, effectively leaving the boards unable to act.

The two-year study, whose findings were issued in a report called “Ethics Abandoned: Medical Professionalism and Detainee Abuse in the “War on Terror,” was conducted by the Institute on Medicine as a Profession at Columbia University, and was supervised by a board of nineteen preeminent physicians, lawyers, and health-policy experts. After extensively surveying publicly available information, the report’s authors concluded that health professionals at Guantánamo had “designed and participated in cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment and torture of detainees.”

The report acknowledges that the Obama Administration has made changes to the Guantánamo system, but expresses serious concerns about systematic and ongoing ethics lapses in the detention center’s notorious force-feeding program. The Pentagon, it notes, “continues to follow policies that undermine standards of professional conduct” with respect to interrogation, hunger strikes, and the reporting of abuse. Doctors and nurses at Gitmo are required to participate in the force-feeding of detainees, who are placed in extensive bodily restraints for up to two hours twice a day, which the report’s authors conclude (as the American Medical Association did earlier this year) violates basic ethical rules.

The report leaves little doubt that intelligence services and the Pentagon have offered doctors a sort of pact, amounting to: Leave your professional ethics behind when you come to work with us, and torture your patients if we ask you to. In exchange, we will keep quiet about what you’ve done, and will ensure that the ethics bodies responsible for policing the medical profession won’t get the evidence they need to act against you. What this equation leaves out, of course, is the patients — both those who were abused, and the ones these doctors might treat in the future, who have a right to know who is treating them. A doctor who is willing to torture his patients can hardly be counted upon to render the highest standards of professional care, even without the CIA standing over his or her shoulder. Or, as one of the study’s researchers, Columbia University professor of medicine Gerald Thomson, put it:

The American public has a right to know that the covenant with its physicians to follow professional ethical expectations is firm regardless of where they serve.

in full: http://harpers.org/blog/2013/11/the-torture-doctors-2/
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