Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Chronology of the Ukrainian Coup

Listening to the US media, even the most diligent news junkie would find it difficult to know that the U.S. State Department played not only a vital role in the violence and chaos underway in Ukraine but was also complicit in creating the coup that ousted democratically elected President Viktor Yanuyovch.    Given the Russian Parliament’s approval of Putin’s request for military troops to be moved into Crimea, Americans uninformed about the history of that region might also be persuaded that Russia is the aggressor and the sole perpetrator of the violence.

Let’s be clear about what is at stake here:     NATO missiles on the adjacent Ukraine border aimed directly at Russia would make that country extremely vulnerable to Western goals and destabilization efforts while threatening Russia’s only water access to its naval fleet in Crimean peninsula, the Balkans, the Mediterranean Sea and the Middle East – and not the least of which would allow world economic dominance by the US, the European Union, the IMF, World Bank and international financiers all of whom had already brought staggering suffering to millions around the globe. 

The fact is that democracy was not a demand on the streets of Kiev.  The current record of events indicates that protests of civil dissatisfaction were organized by reactionary neo-Nazi forces intent on fomenting a major domestic crisis ousting Ukraine’s legitimate government.   As events continue to spiral out of control, here is the chronology of  how the coup was  engineered to install a government more favorable to EU and US goals.

April 11, 2011 - A Kiev Post article entitled “Ukraine Hopes to Get $1.5 Billion from IMF in June” states that the loan is dependent on pension cuts while   maintaining cooperation with the IMF, since it influences the country's interaction with other international financial institutions and private investors” and further that the “attraction of $850 million from the World Bank in 2011, depended on cooperation with the IMF.”   Well, that about says it all - if Ukraine played ball. then the loan money would pour in. 

November 21, 2013 -  fast forward to the EU summit in Lithuania when President Yanuyovch  embarrassed the European Union by rejecting its Agreement in favor of joining Russia’s Common Union with other Commonwealth Independent States. 

November 27, 2013 – it was not until February 23, 2014 when  Anonymous Ukraine hackers released a series of emails from a Lithuanian government advisor to opposition leader and former boxer Vitaly Klitschko regarding plans to destabilize Ukraine; for example:

“Our American friends promise to pay a visit in the coming days, we may even see Nuland or someone from the Congress.”  12/7/2013 

“Your colleague has arrived ….his services may be required even after the country is destabilized.” 12/14/2013                                                                      

“I think we’ve paved the way for more radical escalation of the situation.  Isn’t it time to proceed with more decisive action?” 1/9/2014

November 29, 2013 -  well-orchestrated protestors were already in the streets of Kiev as European Commission President Jose Manual Barroso announced that the EU would “not accept Russia’s veto” of the Agreement.

December 13, 2013 - As if intent on providing incontrovertible evidence of US involvement in Ukraine, Assistant US Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia Victoria Nuland proudly told a  meeting of the International Business Conference sponsored by the US-Ukrainian Foundation that the US had ‘invested’ more than $5 billion and ‘five years worth of work and preparation” in achieving what she called Ukraine’s ‘European aspirations.” Having just returned from her third trip to Ukraine in five weeks, Nuland boasted of her ‘coordinated high level diplomacy’ and a more than two hour ‘tough conversation’ with Yanukovych.  Already familiar with Nuland as former Secretary Clinton’s spokesperson at State, one can imagine her discourteous tone and manner when she says she made it “absolutely clear” to Yanukovych that the US required “immediate steps” …to “get back into conversation with Europe and the IMF.”   While Western media have portrayed Yanukovych as a ‘weak’ leader, Nuland’s description of a ‘tough’ meeting can only mean that he resisted her threats and intimidations.  In what must have been a touching moment, Nuland spoke about a show of force by government police on demonstrators who “sang hymns and prayed for peace.” 

What Nuland did not reveal on December 13 was that her meetings with ‘key Ukrainian stakeholders’ included neo-Nazi Svoboda party leader Oleh Tyahnybok and  prime minister wannabe Arsenly Yatsenyuk of the Fatherland Party.   At about the same time Nuland was wooing fascist extremists, Sen. John McCain (R-Az) and Sen. Chris Murphy (D- Conn) shared the stage in Kiev with Tyahnybok offering their support and opposition to the sitting government.   The Svoboda party which has roots with extreme vigilante and anti-semitic groups has since received at least three high level cabinet posts in the interim government including deputy prime minister.   There is no doubt that the progenies of west Ukraine’s historic neo-fascist thugs that fought with Hitler are now aligned with the US as represented by Victoria Nuland.

January 24, 2013 – President Yanukoyvch identified foreign elements participating in Kiev protests warning that armed radicals were a danger to peaceful citizens.  Independent news agencies also reported thatnot all of Kiev’s population backs opposition rule, which depends mainly on a group from the former Polish town of Lvov, which holds sway over Kiev downtown - but not the rest of the city.” 

January 30, 2013 -   The State Department’s website Media Note announced Nuland’s upcoming travel plans that ”In Kyiv, Assistant Secretary Nuland will meet with government officials, opposition leaders, civil society and business leaders to encourage agreement on a new government and plan of action.”  In other words, almost a month before President Yanukovych was ousted, the US was planning to rid the world of another independently elected President.

February 4, 2013 -  More evidence of Ms. Nuland’s meddling with extremist factions and the high level stakes of war and peace occurred in her taped conversation with U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt discussing their calculations of who’s in and who’s out to replace Yanukovych.   Note mention of Nazi leader Oleh Tyahnybok.   Here are some selected excerpts:

Nuland:   “What do you think?”

Pyatt:   “I think we’re in play… the [Vitali] Klitsch piece is obviously the complicated electron here especially the announcement of him as deputy prime minister. Your argument to him which you’ll need to make,  I think the next phone call  we want to set up is exactly the one you made to Yats [Yatsenyuk].  And I’m glad you sort of put him on the spot on where he fits in this scenario and I’m very glad he said what he said in response.”

Nuland:   “I don’t think Klitsch should go into government. I don’t think its necessary. I don’t think it’s a good idea.”

Pyatt:    “yeah…I mean I guess.  You think…what…in terms of him not going into the government,  just let him sort of stay out and do his political homework and stuff.   I’m just thinking in terms of  the process moving ahead, we want to keep the moderate democrats together.  The problem is going to be Tyahnybok and his guys.  I’m sure that’s what Yanukoyvch  is calculating on all this.”

Nuland:   “I think Yats is the guy who’s got the economic experience, the governing experience.  What he needs is Klitsch and Tyahnybok on the outside and he needs to be talking to them four times a week you know…I think with Klitsch going in at that level working for Yats, it’s not going to work.” 

Nuland:   “My understanding is that the big three [Yatsenyuk, Klitsch and Tyahnybok] were going in to their own meeting and that Yats was going to offer in that context a three plus one conversation with you.”

Pyatt:  “ That’s what he proposed but knowing the dynamic that’s been with them where  Klitsch has been top dog;  he’s going to take a while to show up at a meeting, he’s probably talking to his guys at this point so I think you reaching out to him will help with the personality management among the three and gives us a chance to move fast on all this stuff and put us behind it before they all sit down and he explains why he doesn’t like it.”

Nuland:  … “when I talked to Jeff Feltman this morning, he had a new name for the UN  guy …Robert Serry  – he’s now gotten both Serry and Ban ki Moon to agree that Serry could come in Monday or Tuesday… so that would be great I think  to help glue this thing and have the UN help glue it and you know fuck the EU.” 

Pyatt:   “Exactly.   I think we’ve got to do something to make it stick together because you can be pretty sure the Russians will be working behind the scenes.    ….Let me work on Klitchko and I think we want to get somebody with an international personality to come out here and  help midwife this thing.”

Nuland:  ”…Sullivan’s come back to me saying you need Biden  and             I said probably tomorrow for an” ‘atta’ boy’ and get the deeds to stick    so Biden’s willing.”

February 20, 2014   Foreign ministers from Poland, Germany and France visiting Kiev secured President Yanukovych’s  agreement that would commit the government to an interim administration, constitutional reform and new parliamentary and presidential elections.  With “no clear sign that EU or US pressure has achieved” the desired effect, opposition leaders rejected Yanukovych’s compromise which would have ended the three month stand-off.  Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called on the German, French and Polish foreign ministers to step in and take responsibility for upholding the deal they helped forge and not let “armed extremists” directly threaten Ukrainian sovereignty.

February 21, 2014  -  At a special summit in Brussels, European foreign ministers agreed to adopt sanctions on Ukraine including visa bans and asset freezes. The EU decision followed “immense pressure from the US for the European powers to take punitive action against the Ukrainian regime.”  Washington had already imposed travel bans on 20 leading Ukrainians.

February 22, 2014  An hour after refusing to resign, the Ukrainian Parliament voted, according to Russian president Vladimir Putin, in an unconstitutional action to oust President Yanukovych and that pro-EU forces staged a ‘coup’.  Yanukovych departed Kiev in fear for his life.     

March 1, 2014 - During a  conversation initiated by the vice president, Biden delivered his ‘atta boy’ with a phone call to newly installed prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk  reaffirming US support for Ukraine’s ‘territorial integrity.”

All of the above machinations expose an incoherent and corrupt American foreign policy with a litany of US hypocrisy that might be hilarious if not for potentially grave global implications.   The comment “you just don’t behave by invading another country on completely trumped up pretext” might just win Secretary of State John Kerry the Hypocrisy of the Year Award.   Kerry, of course, famously supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq seeking weapons of mass destruction.

But then again, the President’s own comments that “..countries have deep concerns and suspicions about this kind of meddling..” and that “…as long as none of us are inside Ukraine trying to meddle and intervene.. with decisions that properly belong to Ukrainian people…” while  announcing  $1 billion aid  package to Ukraine (but not Detroit) would be a close runner-up for the Award.



Friday, July 19, 2013

Juror B37 and the Acquittal of George Zimmerman

As the bitter disappointment and initial anger subside after an all-female jury’s verdict in George Zimmerman’s trial for the murder of Trayvon Martin, provocative questions linger about their Not Guilty judgment.  It is, of course, appropriate to question not only whether the State Attorney’s Office, far more accustomed to convicting young black men rather than defending their rights, put their best effort forward in a case that was always going to be circumstantial but whether the entire judicial process failed to provide justice to the Martin family. 

Early on, Circuit Judge Debra Nelson handed the prosecution a critical blow when she ruled that ‘racial profiling’  could not be mentioned during the trial, limiting the State Attorney to only ‘profiling’ despite Zimmerman’s racially charged statements to the 911 operator.

Given juror B37’s unexpected timing and desire for public exposure with a lengthy public interviews with CNN’s Anderson Cooper as well as the refutation of her statements by four other jurors, it is also proper to consider her role in shaping the ultimate not guilty verdict.  Originally expressing surprise at the national demonstrations of outrage protesting the unfairness of the verdict and public cynicism at the failure of the judicial system, B37 stepped forward to make a multitude of stunning admissions. With considerable public attention focused on her, juror B37 announced a deal with a literary agent contacted on a Sunday afternoon to write a memoir with her attorney-husband about the trial.   Then, just as quickly, announced the next day that she would not be pursuing a literary career, perhaps with the forewarning that some of her juror peers were coming forward to dispute, in general terms, her version of events.   
One of six jurors, there is a reasonable question as to how the prosecution passed on B37 to allow her to be seated when most professional jury  selection consultants would have quickly raised red flags  not just regarding  her enigmatic responses but also displaying a less than open and inquiring mind.   See voir dire video here.  For instance, it could be argued that a distinct political bias existed as B37 repeated three times during voir dire that Sanford experienced ‘rioting’ which never occurred.   In a considerable stretch of credulity, she stated that she never, not once, not to her attorney husband or her two adult daughters (one of whom lives at home) expressed any opinion or discussed any of the events that were occurring in the community at the time and that no family member ever expressed an opinion to her.   Based on B37’s recent CNN interview, her earlier  commitment to both defense attorney Mark O’Mara and assistant state attorney Bernie de la Rionda during voir dire that she had not formed an opinion in the case, had not been influenced or had any predisposition either way is now in serious doubt. 
 If, in fact, B37 was as uninformed as she claimed, where did she get the idea that rioting had occurred? 
 While she  was encouraging the prosecution and defense to believe that she was a totally disinterested  citizen  who would be an unbiased juror and stressed her availability to be sequestered, we now know  that  B37 emerged during her Cooper interviews  speaking authoritatively about the legal implications of Florida’s Stand Your Ground law and was considerably more opinionated than she had been during voir dire; thus, now unencumbered by the need for neutrality to parrot virtually every “theory of defense’ element used by Zimmerman’s attorneys.   
We don’t yet know exactly what it was in her statements that prompted four other jurors to publicly distance themselves from B37’s media grab but it has raised questions as to her leadership during  jury deliberations including her new-found assertiveness, a marked departure from her more reserved yet prickly style during voir dire.   Still unknown is which juror served as  “foreman’ but if it was B37, that would account for her assuming a public platform as if spokesperson for the entire jury as well as having  encouraged  her to assume an influential role during deliberation.   
More explicit detail on B37’s assertion that the jury spent ‘hours deliberating over the law’  including her follow up “that’s how we got to the point of everybody being not guilty” is a crucial statement and might  shed light on how and why three jurors originally in favor of a guilty verdict turned around to acquit Zimmerman.   Unless one of the other jurors has an attack of conscience to clear the public record, we may never know  whether B37 was a ringer right out of John Grisham’s  Runaway Jury  or simply a bored housewife desirous of writing a best seller or whether her attorney co-author husband might have influenced her  participation and the final verdict in any way.   
Confused Jury instructions have been cited as leading the jurors to acquit Zimmerman as another of Judge Nelson ‘s rulings from the bench benefitted the defense when she withdrew the ‘first aggressor’ instruction which could have allowed the jury to find Zimmerman the ‘initial aggressor’; thereby denying his claim of self-defense.

Monday, July 1, 2013

NSA Revelations Refute Obama interview

While much of the country’s media was tracking whistleblower Edward Snowden’s whereabouts or questioning Glenn Greenwald’s journalistic credentials, President Obama took the opportunity to support NSA’s massive surveillance programs in a recent interview with Charlie Rose.

Ever cool and personable, even as his approval ratings continued to slide, the president’s enviable ability to remain unruffled in defense of  the government’s highly controversial surveillance policy deflects a deeper understanding of what makes the inner man tick.   As the conversation moved from the shambles of war in the mideast and onto NSA’s role, the President maintained his usual upbeat and optimistic demeanor uttering predictable responses; yet following a one-dimensional script disconnected from the magnitude of the country’s disapproval.  
As the Obama Administration has favored a big stick approach instead of diplomacy in its demands for the return of Snowden, with Secretary of State John Kerry and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) in screed-mode displaying little political finesse.  Kerry hilariously called on other countries to ‘uphold the rule of law’ and predicted that ‘people may die” while the insipid Schumer was threatening Russia with ‘serious consequences’all that came before the revelation that NSA had been collecting data on  many of our European allies since 2010.
Russian President Valdimir Putin brushed off the US snit-fit as “ravings and rubbish” as the President joined  Rose just prior to attending the G8 meeting in Ireland where he was attacked in the Irish Parliament as a ‘war criminal’ and the target of protest demonstrations in Berlin and South Africa. 
President Obama responded to the allegation of Chinese cyber hacking US private and public sectors assuring Charlie that “we had a very blunt conversation about cyber security” suggesting that he administered a stern dressing-down to President Xi Jinping with “this can adversely affect the fundamentals of US/China relationship” at their meeting in early June in California.

What is key here is that the conversation with President Xi was prior to the Snowden disclosure that the US had hacked Tsinghua University, Pacnet, Asia’s largest independent tele communications service and the City of Hong Kong.  One can only imagine President Xi’s chagrin upon belatedly discovering that after having been chastised by Obama, that the US President was fully aware that the US had been doing exactly what China was being accused of.  Here was an opportunity for Charlie to clarify how the foregoing endangers ‘national security’ or  determine whether the real crime is more like intense political embarrassment.

As the interview moved to the 1.7 billion electronic messages intercepted each day, the President skillfully described how innocuous, how matter-of-fact  NSA surveillance was as he offered the “unequivocal ” assurance that  NSA cannot listen to your telephone calls or read your email without a ‘probable cause’ warrant from the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Security Act) Court.  Unfortunately for the President, the entire world now knows that the President’s assertion does not jibe with top secret rules signed by Attorney General Holder in 2009 (and revealed by Edward Snowden) which details the procedure for data collection of US and non-US persons.

Charlie missed the scoop of his life when he failed to ask the President if he supported the omnipotent  ability of General Keith Alexander, NSA Director to intercept all communications of every Member of Congress, every Fortune 500 CEO and members of the Cabinet including The Big Man on Campus himself. 

With earnestness, the President offered repeated assurances that sufficient oversight and safeguards were in place describing the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Security Act) court as ‘transparent’ with ‘independent federal judges overseeing the entire program’ adding that ‘you’ve got Congress overseeing the program.  Not just the intelligence committee, not just the judiciary committee but all of Congress.”   

But that’s not exactly how it works, Mr. President -  only select members of Congress (without staff) are allowed to visit the inner sanctum where uber-classified documents are secreted.   They are prohibited from taking any notes and depart without any copies of documents to review.

Assurances of  legislative oversight are at odds with Senators Mark Udall and Ron Wyden, among other Members of Congress,  who have been requesting documentation and complaining about NSA’s  stonewall citing “significant inaccuracies” regarding safeguards for American citizens.   Most recently, 26 Senators have written  James Clapper, National Intelligence Director to protest a secret reinterpretation of the Patriot Act (thus creating a new secret law) and its application to NSA data collection described by Sen. Wyden as raising "serious civil liberty concerns and all but removes the public from an informed national security and civil liberty debate.”

The FISA Court was established in 1979 to oversee requests for surveillance warrants with eleven judges appointed by the Chief Justice with one to be on-call 24-7 for emergencies.  The court meets in secret, all proceedings are ex parte and evidence is presented only by the Department of Justice with no opportunity for the hearings or information collected to be public.    Since its formation, the court has denied eleven surveillance warrants out of over 33,000 warrant requests – far from the kind of ‘checks and balance’ that the President has assured.

Mention of the Court prompted Charlie to inquire whether ‘any of those (warrants) have been turned down?”  The President appeared not to hear the question and steered the conversation elsewhere, no doubt confident there would be no follow-up.   Undeterred, Charlie gave it another go when he asked ‘but has the FISA court turned down any requests?”  The President responded amiably, ‘first of all Charlie, the number of requests are surprisingly small’ but failed to elaborate.

With no discussion about how NSA surveillance has impeded the war on terror, the President was asked what’s going to change, was he going to give James Clapper any instructions?  The President announced that the intelligence community is now reviewing whether any unspecified declassifications would be appropriate - raising the question of how such declassification might impact the government’s case against Edward Snowden.

The President told Charlie he would meet with his Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board  which he described as made up of ‘independent citizens, including some fierce civil libertarians’ with the goal of setting up the structure for a “national conversation” on the broader question of surveillance.

Boasting that the NSA is “bigger and better than everybody else and we should take pride in that,”  the reality is that the President’s promises are feeble attempts to dissemble his way out of what may be the most severe, on-going crisis of his Presidency – the one that will taint his legacy into future generations.


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

With TPP's Fast Track Authority, Who Needs Congress?

Despite the Obama Administration’s well-known penchant for secrecy, enough information has leaked out of its closed-door negotiations on the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) Free Trade Agreement (FTA) to reveal there is much to oppose about the Mother of all Trade Agreements.  
Rarely mentioned in trade discussions is the inevitable connection between establishing a global corporate-financial apparatus within the military-economic objectives of American foreign policy.  After all, what country would dare reject American demands for ‘trade’ in the face of the most domineering military presence since the Roman Empire.   

According to “The Rise and Fall of Fast Track Authority” by Public Citizen’s Lori Wallach, only five TPP chapters out of 29 are strictly devoted to ‘trade’ with the remainder focused on a broad array of public policy issues.  How would the American public respond if they knew that TPP’s agreed-upon authority will take absolute precedence over all relevant US Federal and state law representing a grave threat to our democratic federal republic.

As the TPP slides under the radar to Congressional approval, one of the more egregious elements of the Agreement is the not-so-innocuous-sounding Trade Promotion Authority (TPA).  Also known as ‘fast track’ authority, the TPA is receiving little attention given TPP’s gargantuan nature with more widespread tentacles than any previous agreement that reaches far beyond  a basic trade agreement. Since the President considers ‘fast track’ essential to assure passage of what would otherwise be highly controversial if the American public were informed, the TPA will apply to not just a seriously-flawed TPP but to all future trade agreements, with a separate Congressional vote on the TPA  expected in June. 
After two years of clandestine discussions with a dozen, mostly Pacific Rim, countries, revelations have identified TPP’s  extraordinary attack on the sovereignty of established US law subject to an international tribunal as the Agreement takes a giant leap to generate a massive economic integration steamrolling toward a fully corporatized global economy.   

Never meant to be a vehicle for economic equality or noble ideals, here are two brief examples of how 600 participating corporations expect to amass unprecedented power to own the world:  the TPP would give companies the right to circumvent the judicial process as it challenges Federal and state regulations and ‘investor states” would allow corporations to sue a host government with a panel of private attorneys to act as judges.   

As proposed, the TPA would eliminate Congress’ Constitutional responsibility as defined in Article I, Section 8  to ‘regulate commerce with foreign nations.”  There is nothing ambiguous about Constitutional intent in 1789 – having just concluded a revolutionary war against an imperial autocrat with trade disputes a central issue, separation of powers and  ‘checks and balance’ were a clear decision by the country’s Founders to prevent a strong Executive from usurping power from the legislative branch – and that included foreign trade.   

What’s at issue is not just the TPA being used by a determined Executive to seize Congressional authority, much as the War Powers Act has been appropriated, but as a guise to push an objectionable trade agreement without the American public understanding how trans-national corporations are destabilizing the democratic principles of self-government.

Keeping in mind the magnitude of the issues encompassed by TPP (many details are still secret), here’s how ‘fast track’ would subvert Constitutional intent,  Congressional protocol and the public’s right to know:   there would be no public hearing, no witness testimony or debate by any Congressional committee, no ‘mark up’ of the TPP,  no amendments and no vote for adoption.  Instead, the TPP would go directly to the House/Senate floor for action within a prescribed timetable during which there would be no floor debate and no amendments with only one up-or-down vote – with the Senate probably not requiring the usual 60 vote majority.   In other words, if and when Congress approves the TPA, it will have willfully acquiesced its own legal authority and its legislative prerogative as well as its proper oversight role on Executive decision-making - as if intent to further destroy its already-dismal credibility.  

Since the Administration has refused to provide a draft for Congressional review,  and  no member of Congress has so far been allowed to attended the hush-hush negotiations, there will be no Congressional input into the TPP content with no assurance that the Agreement will reflect the needs of the American people.  Admittedly it might be delusional to suggest that a mediocre Congress might  have the intellectual wherewithal to make a meaningful contribution or that a comatose Congress might recognize the stunning revelation that the TPA  violates the fundamental rules of American governance.

None of this should come as a surprise.   Since President Richard Nixon initiated the first fast track authority on trade agreements in1974, Congress has voted to diminish its own Constitutionally- mandated role six times, according to Lori Wallach.   Despite labor union opposition, the Democratic establishment in Congress has consistently supported trade agreements when Vice Presidential candidate Al Gore called NAFTA a ‘good deal for the country.’  (See CNN’s classic video of the 1993 Gore-Perot NAFTA debate)

By 2008, after five million American manufacturing jobs had been shipped overseas, Presidential candidate Barack Obama criticized Sen. Hillary Clinton for her support and referred to NAFTA  as  ‘a mistake.’ Obama went on to make repeated promises to renegotiate and enforce labor and environment improvements.   Even as Obama was suggesting that the US leave NAFTA if it could not be renegotiated, the New York Times was reporting that Austen Goolsbee, a senior campaign economic advisor, was quietly assuring the Canadians that the candidate’s words “should be viewed as more about political positioning than a clear articulation of policy plans.”  

According to Wallach, candidate Obama promised to “ensure that Congress plays a strong and informed role in international economic policy” and that he would “replace fast track” as a process.

Meanwhile, talks have begun with the EU on a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) to further eliminate market and regulatory barriers to trade.