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Letter to PBS’s NewsHour

October 25, 2012
by

Dear NewsHour,

I am writing to express my profound concern with your recent reporting regarding the disputed Iranian nuclear program and how it relates to U.S. foreign policy.  On two recent occasions your reporters have refered to Iran’s, “Nuclear weapons program” (Jeff Brown, October 22) and Iran’s, “Pursuit of nuclear weapons”, (Ray Suarez,10/5/12 ).  No is no evidence for this, as repeated statements by various Iranian officials, many reports and inspections by the IAEA, and even the most recent U.S. government NEI report concludes that Iran has not yet decided whether or not it will pursue a weapons program in the future.  On top of all this, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta stated that Iran is not trying to build a nuclear weapon on Face The Nation, 01-08-12

It is the responsibility of journalist to investigate the claims made by power and report on what is known versus claims that are made.  In this case, the careless reporting of a set of claims about a supposed Iran nuclear weapons program is presented as established fact, a dangerous and irresponsible folly in light of past history, most notably the WMD claims that led to the Iraq War.  If anything, journalist should be extra critical of similar claims made about Iran due to there lack and complicit role in the run up to the destruction of Iraq.

I look forward to hearing back from you and seeing a correction made in your reporting in regards to Iran.

Respectfully,
Theodore Johnson
Duluth, MN

Santos claims lead in first round of Colombian Elections

June 1, 2010

Israeli Piracy on the High Seas: Murder of Activists attempting to break the Siege of Gaza

June 1, 2010

The attack of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla by the Israeli Defense Forces and the subsequent killing of between 10-20 activists with upwards of 50 injured has sparked protests and outrage around the globe.  Israel has taken one more step down the road of de-legitimization in the eyes of the world.  Whatever the power calculations were made before the authorizing of this operation in the Israeli government and the IDF, it seems clear that the result has been to isolate Israel even more in the international community and take a step closer to joining the ranks of outlaw regimes the like of apartheid era South Africa and North Korea.  While Israel still enjoys the patronage of the most powerful state in the world, the US, it is steadily adopting an ever more untenable position.  US support is not indefinite and without some conditions, however modest these may be.  The way the Israeli government has been acting lately, with a total disregard to international law and conventions, with impunity to the human rights of millions of people stigmatizing them in the eyes of a vast majority of the world, and even with calculated snubs aimed at its US backer, it seems as if the leadership of that country has become completely blinded by its own hubris.  Israel’s nemesis may be coming sooner than later.

Colombian Elections draw nearer

May 27, 2010

The upcoming election in Colombia on May 30th has been surrounding by an expectation of change in the country.  This atmosphere has been growing over the past few months as current president Alvaro Uribe was denied the possibility to run for a third term in office due to a ruling by the constitutional court.  His annointed successor and former defense minister, Juan Manuel Santos seemed assured of an easy victory,  but has slipped considerably in the polls as of late due to recent scandals and a growing sense of a need for a break from the status quo.  Santos’ fall in the polls has corresponded with a rise for the Green Party candidate, Antanas Mockus, whose campaign has captured the imagination of a large segement of the Colombian urban population.  The attitude in the vast rural sectors of the country, where the decades long civil war is still taking place, is less well understood.  As the election date draws nearer the Colombian people are potentially bracing themselves for a change of political leadership that is a departure from the regional isolationism of the Uribe years.  Reproachment with Venezuela and Ecuador (which was experienced a cross border military raid by the Colombian Armed Forces in 2008) figures to be significant possible outcome in the event of a Mockus victory.

The following is from an interview conducted by Gabriel Elizondo:

Question: What is at stake in this election in Colombia?

Natalia Springer: What is at stake is the transition to avoid another cycle of violence. Either we go to a transition to a real, sustainable peace where not only violence but the structural reasons that have provoked this violence are addressed. Or we are into a new wave of violence. This is what is at stake.

Question: Some of the violence is down in Colombia but you have said the violence numbers don’t tell the whole story. What do you mean by that?

Natalia Springer: Reality is very complex in Colombia. On one hand it’s true, for example, that violence we experienced in the past in Bogota is down. There was a fight against violence and that fight has rendered some very good numbers. But the war in other regions of the country is not over and you have the impression it’s getting worse. In the south and in the pacific regions, around the area of Buenaventura, for example, violence is still very bad. So the impression we have is that certain numbers have went down, for example kidnappings and the big impact violence is down. But on the other hand, displacement has been growing a lot, poverty and extreme poverty, too. Seventeen per cent of Colombians live in the streets. It’s extreme poverty. Forty-six  per cent of Colombians are poor or extremely poor. And inequality has grown dramatically in our country.

Question: But the current Colombian government has implemented some aid programmes for the poorest people. How do you view those programmes?

Natalia Springer: The government really went hard for granting some sort of help to very poor people, familias guardabosques is one example. These efforts were supported by much of the international community. It’s a kind of programme that gives help to poor people in the form of money. But it has not helped poverty, it has made poverty worse. Because people were getting money from the state, but it was not helping them get out of poverty or get work. So labour conditions did not improve. And foreign investors were given incentives to invest in Colombia, but that investment had no impact in the quality of labour for the people.

Question: Let’s switch back to Sunday’s election. What are people voting for?

Natalia Springer: Change. The country has reached a point where we cannot stand another scandal. Especially since the amount of scandals in this government have gone over the reasonable limits. Every government has a scandal; politics is the exercise of reality. However it’s very difficult to stand the scandals that have hit this country. We cannot stand this anymore. You can feel it all around. People might feel some certain sympathies for the efforts of our president, President Uribe, but we are all fed up with all those scandals. We don’t see truth, we don’t see transparency, we do not see justice acting but being obstructed. So I think this campaign has been very much influenced by the sense of outrage.

Question: You speak with a positive tone about Antanas Mockus – candidate for president. He has sky-rocketed in the polls in recent weeks to where he and Juan Manuel Santos are the clear front runners. What is it about Mockus that so many people, especially the youth, are gravitating to all of a sudden? How do you explain his fast rise in the polls?

Natalia Springer: Mockus has talked a lot about education and his plan of legality, institutionalisation, and revolution of education and this is what has caught so much attention. It’s a sense of love of country. What is so new about him is that he is not making a campaign on money, or friends, or the usual elites that controlled the politics in the regions. He is just going alone – with the best brains of this country – around Colombia talking about legality, education, health, poverty and telling the truth. And that is what has made him so attractive to many people.

Question: What is different about this election from others in Colombia?

Natalia Springer: We are not afraid anymore. Violence is not commanding this election. And I am not talking about the last two elections. I am talking about last 5 or 6 elections Candidates were killed systematically by guerillas or the paramilitary in the past. We didn’t have peaceful elections; we could not decide freely.

And this is the first time we are really deciding over matters of national interest and not matters of fear. Issues such as health, education, international affairs. These are the central points of this election.

Question: Finally, you said this could be one of Colombia’s most interesting elections ever. How so?

Natalia Springer: Four months ago if you asked me how I see this election I would say it was really boring. At the time we thought the re-election (third term) of President Uribe would happen. He would be allowed to run again for another term. But once the Constitutional Court decided this is no longer an option, the entire country suffered a revolution. And we started one of the most interesting campaigns ever. We have seven or eight candidates with wonderful qualities. But just four months ago people were saying, ‘It has to be Uribe, we have no other leader.’ And Uribe was seen for many as the savior, a maximum leader, a figure that represented everything for us and if he left we would be left in fear. But right now, the discussion is very different. In this campaign we are being allowed to make a critical, transparent evaluation of these past two terms and now we are able to see the past eight years critically. And see what he really achieved and really represents, and what is the vision for the Colombia we really want to have.

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou Talks with Al Jazeera

May 27, 2010

BP attempts to stop oil leak with mud, Could actually worsen leak

May 25, 2010
by

Al Jazzera English reports:
A flotilla of rigs, barges and other heavy machinery stood ready at the site on Tuesday [Reuters]

Amid an investigation into just how cosy the relationship between a government oversight department and the oil industry was, BP is getting ready to attempt a so-called “top kill” manoeuvre to choke off the gushing oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico.

As early as dawn on Wednesday, the oil company will try to choke the gusher with heavy drilling mud and cement – a tactic called a “top kill” that has been used above ground but has never been tried 1,500 metres underwater.

Patience is running out and anger has been growing over the oil giant’s inability to stop the oil leak that sprang more than a month ago after an offshore drilling rig exploded on April 20.

Eleven workers were killed in the blast and by the most conservative estimate, 26.5 million litres of crude have spilled into the Gulf of Mexico, fouling Louisiana’s marshes and coating birds and other wildlife.

Leak could worsen

But the top kill procedure could also make the leak worse.

Engineers were doing at least 12 hours of diagnostic tests on Tuesday, checking five spots on the well’s crippled five-storey blowout preventer to make sure it can withstand the heavy force of the mud.

A weak spot in the device could blow under the pressure, causing a brand new leak. The mud could also tear a new hole in the leaking well pipe.

BP has been drafting plans for the top kill for weeks but had to delay it several times as crews scrambled to assemble the equipment at the site 80km off the coast.

A flotilla of rigs, barges and other heavy machinery stood ready there on Tuesday with a stockpile of some 50,000 barrels of the heavy mud, a manufactured substance that resembles clay.
Wells said it could take anywhere from a few hours to two days to determine whether the top kill was working.Tony Hayward, BP’s chief executive, said chances of the top kill succeeding were 60 to 70 per cent, while Kent Wells, a BP senior vice-president, said the procedure could be delayed or scuttled if Tuesday’s pressure readings were poor.

If it succeeds, BP plans to inject a stream of cement to permanently seal up the well and may also install a new blowout preventer.

BP has had limited success with a mile-long tube it installed more than a week ago to siphon up some of the oil, capturing more than 1.9 million litres but also allowing untold amounts to escape into the sea.

Once the results of Tuesday’s diagnostic tests are in, BP said, it will consult with government officials, including scientists with the Minerals Management Service (MMS), before deciding whether to press on with the top kill.

Investigation ordered

But the MMS has been accused of having too cosy a relationship with the very oil companies it is supposed to have oversight of.

Ken Salazar, the US interior secretary, on Tuesday ordered an investigation into whether the rig involved in the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was properly monitored by the MMS.

The investigation follows a report citing workers from the MMS – which is under the interior department – accepting gifts and possibly allowing oil workers to fill out their own inspection reports.

An area slightly smaller than the size of Greece is now closed to fishing [GALLO/GETTY]

The report found it was commonplace before 2007 for MMS employees at a Lake Charles, Louisiana office to receive gifts including sporting event tickets and hunting trips from energy companies.

“This deeply disturbing report is further evidence of the cosy relationship between some elements of MMS and the oil and gas industry,” Salazar said in a statement.

Salazar, whose interior department has been criticised in recent weeks for not doing enough to prevent the oil rig explosion, said he had directed the agency’s acting inspector-general, Mary Kendall, to look into whether MMS employees adequately inspected and enforced standards on the Deepwater Horizon rig.

He also asked the inspector to determine if the improper behaviour outlined in the report had continued since he took office at the department.

The report said a confidential industry source accused some MMS inspectors of allowing energy company workers to fill out their own inspection forms for their platforms, but investigators have so far not been able to determine if any of the files they reviewed were fraudulent.

An inspector-general report released in 2008 found that MMS employees at another office received gifts, as well as used illegal drugs and had sex with workers from the oil companies they were supposed to oversee.

In response to the scandal then, Salazar instituted new ethics rules after he took the helm of the department in 2009.

Salazar and Kendall are set to testify before the House of Representatives’ Natural Resource committee on Wednesday on the oil spill.

Also on Tuesday, US officials expanded a fishing ban in the Gulf of Mexico by more than 20,000 square kilometres amid the spreading oil slick.

Some 140,000 square kilometres of water – an area slightly smaller than the size of Greece – are now closed to fishing, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said, but added that 77 per cent of the Gulf remains open.

Secret Documents reveals Israeli possession of nuclear weapons

May 25, 2010

The secret military agreement signed by Shimon Peres and P W Botha

The secret military agreement signed by Shimon Peres, now president of Israel, and P W Botha of South Africa. Photograph: Guardian

The Guardian reports:

Secret South African documents reveal that Israel offered to sell nuclear warheads to the apartheid regime, providing the first official documentary evidence of the state’s possession of nuclear weapons.

The “top-secret” minutes of meetings between senior officials from the two countries in 1975 show that South Africa‘s defence minister, PW Botha, asked for the warheads and Shimon Peres, then Israel’s defence minister and now its president, responded by offering them “in three sizes”. The two men also signed a broad-ranging agreement governing military ties between the two countries that included a clause declaring that “the very existence of this agreement” was to remain secret.

The documents, uncovered by an American academic, Sasha Polakow-Suransky, in research for a book on the close relationship between the two countries, provide evidence that Israel has nuclear weapons despite its policy of “ambiguity” in neither confirming nor denying their existence.

The Israeli authorities tried to stop South Africa’s post-apartheid government declassifying the documents at Polakow-Suransky’s request and the revelations will be an embarrassment, particularly as this week’s nuclear non-proliferation talks in New York focus on the Middle East.

They will also undermine Israel’s attempts to suggest that, if it has nuclear weapons, it is a “responsible” power that would not misuse them, whereas countries such as Iran cannot be trusted.

A spokeswoman for Peres today said the report was baseless and there were “never any negotiations” between the two countries. She did not comment on the authenticity of the documents.

South African documents show that the apartheid-era military wanted the missiles as a deterrent and for potential strikes against neighbouring states.

The documents show both sides met on 31 March 1975. Polakow-Suransky writes in his book published in the US this week, The Unspoken Alliance: Israel’s secret alliance with apartheid South Africa. At the talks Israeli officials “formally offered to sell South Africa some of the nuclear-capable Jericho missiles in its arsenal”.

Among those attending the meeting was the South African military chief of staff, Lieutenant General RF Armstrong. He immediately drew up a memo in which he laid out the benefits of South Africa obtaining the Jericho missiles but only if they were fitted with nuclear weapons.

The memo, marked “top secret” and dated the same day as the meeting with the Israelis, has previously been revealed but its context was not fully understood because it was not known to be directly linked to the Israeli offer on the same day and that it was the basis for a direct request to Israel. In it, Armstrong writes: “In considering the merits of a weapon system such as the one being offered, certain assumptions have been made: a) That the missiles will be armed with nuclear warheads manufactured in RSA (Republic of South Africa) or acquired elsewhere.”

The significance of this revelation is that it is the first documentary evidence that Israel possesses nuclear weapons.  It is an open secret that Israel has for years been in the possession of (an estimated) 200 nuclear warheads, although its official policy has always been a refusal to either confirm or deny nuclear capabilities.  Or rather that it would not be the first country to “introduce” them to the Middle East, meaning that it would possess them and let everyone know it, but refrain from making it official policy.

The exposure of the documents between Israel and apartheid-era South Africa is damaging on two fronts.  First, retroactively in the respect that Israel was ready to pursue a policy of proliferating nuclear weapons to non-nuclear weapon states.  Although the deal fell through due to costs on the South African side, it is a damning indictment of past Israeli state actions and the willingness to cooperate and foment the dissemination of weapons of mass destruction to other states, which is bad enough own its own but takes on a somewhat more unpalatable moral taint when the state in question was the racist and oppressive apartheid regime in Pretoria.  Granted, condemning a state for its past actions is often a more than useless effort, for though the present is built on that past, it is also free from it in that it has its own prerogatives and responsibilities to answer for in the here and now.  But it worth noting that it is not some distant past that is being condemned, far disconnected from today’s Israel; indeed some of the key political figure in power in 1975, such as then defense minister and now Israeli president Shimon Peres, are still at the top of the government today.

Secondly, the matter of possessing nuclear weapons is clearly quite relevant both in the context of Israeli politics and the broader regional relations of the Middle East.  One of the main themes that continues to surface in domestic Israeli politics is the threat that Iran poses to the Jewish state, specifically in relation to the Iranian uranium enrichment program, which Israel, the US, and more broadly Europe maintains is aimed at developing weapons-grade material, an allegation which Iran has vehemently denied.  The Iranian position has been backed up by a systematic lack of evidence from its accusers as well as multiple reports from the IAEA that there is no evidence for such allegations.  To go further, the latest US intelligence estimates on Iran have discounted the possibility of Iran having an active nuclear weapons program and stated that the emergence of one in the near future is not a pressing threat.  But leaving the Iranian program aside, the stance of Israel (and its US sponsor) is hypocritical for a number of reasons.  Iran is a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty along with every other country in the world outside Israel, Pakistan, India, and North Korea.  As such it nuclear facilities are open to inspectors of the IAEA and it is part of the established international framework for nuclear regulation.  Israel has decided to remain outside of this international consensus and thus is far more of a rouge state in this sense than Iran.  A rouge state with nuclear weapon capability.

Secondly, Iran has attempted numerous times to pass declarations in the UN general assembly to declare the Middle East a nuclear free zone, something that one would think would be welcomed by all parties involved that share in the desire to see a safer and more peaceful world.  These efforts have been routinely blocked by Israel and the US as they are a direct reference to the nuclear arsenals that the two countries maintain in the Middle East.  So we have the scenario where a country that has no nuclear weapons and is calling for the establishment of a nuclear weapons free zone in the region (Iran) is being threatened with attack and sanctions for having the possible potential of developing nuclear weapons at some unknown future date by countries (Israel, US) that actually do possess nuclear weapons, known for their historically aggressive military tendencies, and in the case of Israel, remain outside of all international law and regulations regarding nuclear weapons.  It is hard to fit all the twists and turns into one coherent sentence, but the hypocrisy of the situation should be clear to all.

Without being an apologist for the Iranian regime, Iran is entitled to rights as a signatory of the NPT and one of those rights is the free development of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.  Israel, in seeking to contain the regional influence of Iran, which in economic or military terms is certainly far less than its political and rhetorical means, has been taking a stance that is not tenable.  The majority of the world is on the side of Iran in this matter and the days of the US calling the shots, often though its client proxy states such as Israel, are coming to an end.  The Israeli hawks see a nuclear Iran as a worst possible scenario, but the downward spiral that Israel is currently experiencing both domestically and internationally is due to its many internal contradictions, not least of which are the ongoing occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the development of an apartheid society both within the Occupied Territories and within Israel proper, as well as the aforementioned nuclear hypocrisy, is slowly but surely bringing the world together in opposition to the Zionist regime.  This is true of it traditional opponents, such as the masses of the Muslim world, as well those who have traditionally shown support for the Jewish state in Europe and elsewhere.  As Israeli exceptionalism grows it only serves to turn the Jewish state into a pariah in the eyes of world.

Paul Woodward has been following this story and provides more analysis and information on his War In Context site.  As always I recommend a visit to his site for the latest on this story.

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