Thursday, June 25, 2015

Protest Is the New Terror: How U.S. Law Enforcement Is Working to Criminalize Dissent

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

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It’s well established that the FBI surveilled civil rights and other activists from Martin Luther King Jr. to leaders of the National Lawyers Guild as part of its wide ranging COINTELPRO (counter intelligence program) during the 1960s and early 70s. The use of planted news stories, faked communications to create dissension within activist groups, informants to make dubious cases and even assassinations was revealed by a group of activists called the Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI, who broke into a bureau office in Media, Pennsylvania, in 1971 and found ample evidence of the agency’s misdeeds. This is generally seen as an era of terrible government overreach in the name of fighting “communism.”
The problem is that the use of similar tactics has been discovered again and again in the years since. Following the anti-globalization protests of 1999, the 9/11 attacks, and the Occupy protests of 2011, similar strategies, enhanced by modern technology, have been ratcheted up and deployed against an ever-increasing number of activists and political groups of all ideological stripes as part of the even more dubious “wars” on drugs and terrorism.
Part of this is due to the fact that there simply aren’t enough real threats of terrorism to justify all the money and toys that have been given to U.S. law enforcement. Add to this the fact that police at all levels seem eager to see potential terrorism in even the mildest forms of dissent and you have a recipe for disaster. In one of the most recent instances, it was revealed that the FBI has been coordinating with local law enforcement to target the Black Lives Matter movement.
Another story, unrelated to current anti-racist organizing, is a bizarre case out of Minneapolis in the lead up to the Republican national convention in 2008. According to the City Pages, a Univ. of Minnesota police officer who was the department’s only officer on the local Joint Counter Terrorism Task Force worked with an FBI Special Agent to recruit college students who acted as paid informants at “vegan potlucks” hoping they’d discover activist plans to disrupt the city’s upcoming convention.
Extending the Long Arm of the Law
Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTFs), of which there are currently 104 located in cities and towns across the United States, were created in the 1980s and greatly expanded in the aftermath of 9/11. They were set up to coordinate between diverse federal agencies and local law enforcement, and often work in tandem with “Fusion Centers” that are supposed to collect and analyze data related to potential terrorism.
To see how these task forces can overstep their bounds, take the case of Eric Linsker, who police tried to arrest for allegedly trying to throw a trash can over the side of a walkway on the Brooklyn Bridge during the large, mostly peaceful protests that erupted in New York City following the failure to indict the officer whose choke-hold led to the death of Eric Garner. Other protesters intervened to stop the arrest but Linkser left his bag behind which, according to authorities, contained “his passport, three hammers, and a small amount of marijuana.”
While police may have been well within their rights to track down Linsker and charge him if the vandalism allegations were true, it’s who did the arresting that is problematic: rather than the NYPD, it was the New York JTTF that brought Linkser in, perhaps believing that the hammers were potential instruments of terror. This should be a cause for worry, since it means either law enforcement’s definition of terrorism has become far too broad, or they are targeting more than just terrorism.

US home ownership rate hits lowest level in two decades

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The economic recession that began with the collapse of the housing market in 2007 officially came to an end in June 2009—more than six years ago. But by most indications, American households are significantly worse off than they were at the depth of the downturn. Despite the drop in the official unemployment rate, household incomes have fallen, wages have stagnated and student loan debt has soared.
A study by Harvard University’s Joint Center For Housing Studies released on Wednesday points to another sign of the widespread economic distress affecting broad sections of the US population: the persistent fall in the share of households who are able to achieve the “American Dream” of homeownership.
According to “The State of the Nation’s Housing 2015,” the share of American households who owned their own home fell to 64.5 percent last year, the lowest level in two decades, based US Census data. This was down from a homeownership rate of over 69 percent in 2004, and was unchanged from the homeownership rate in 1985, three decades ago.
The fall in homeownership was prevalent in all age groups, but younger households were among the most affected. The ownership rate for 35-44 year-olds was down 5.4 percentage points from 1993, and has hit a level not seen since the 1960s. Only slightly more than one-third of households headed by those aged 25-35 owned their own homes.
The report attributed the continuous decline in homeownership to falling incomes, persistent long-term unemployment and a significant tightening of credit.
As the report notes, “Despite steady job growth since 2010 and a drop in unemployment to less than 6 percent, the labor market recovery has yet to generate meaningful income gains. At last measure in 2013, median household income was $51,900—still 8 percent below the 2007 level in real terms and equivalent to 1995 levels.”
In fact, the “steady job growth” is largely fictional, with the official drop in unemployment due mainly to the departure of hundreds of thousands of people from the labor force. This is itself a significant factor in the persistence of low wages and the decline in household income.
Even as household incomes have been eroded, banks have severely tightened credit, particularly to those households who need it most. One survey covering the period between 2001 and 2013 found a 37 percent drop in home loans issued to borrowers with poor credit scores, compared with a 9 percent decrease among borrowers with higher scores.
Lenders’ current tight-fisted lending practices are the polar opposite of their policies in the run-up to the 2008 financial crash. Between 2000 and 2008, Wall Street banks made billions of dollars suckering families into taking on mortgages for homes they could not afford, then selling off the worthless mortgages in the form of mortgage-backed securities. When this Ponzi scheme collapsed, the federal government handed the banks hundreds of billions in bailout funds.
For working families, there was no bailout, and after more than 10 million foreclosures, about 13 percent of homes remain “underwater,” with owners paying mortgages for more than their homes are presently worth.
The growing inability of families to afford their own homes had led to soaring demand for rental properties, and a corresponding increase in prices. Last year, rents rose at twice the pace of overall inflation.
This has led to a growing share of households who expend a large portion of their monthly incomes simply on paying rent. The report noted that over the past 10 years, the share of young renters who spent one-third or more of their incomes on housing increased from 40 percent to 46 percent, while those paying more than half of their incomes on housing rose from 19 percent to 23 percent.
Growing housing costs add to the litany of other financial pressures facing younger households. The report notes, “The share of renters aged 25–34 with student loan debt jumped from 30 percent in 2004 to 41 percent in 2013, with the average amount of debt up 50 percent, to $30,700.”
“Much to their detriment, cost-burdened households are forced to cut back on food, health care, and other critical expenses,” notes the Harvard report. “Affordable housing thus means a dramatic improvement in quality of life for households able to obtain it, but federal assistance lags far behind need.”
This is, to put it mildly, a significant understatement. Even as the need for housing assistance has soared, housing assistance funding has been slashed at every level of government. Hundreds of thousands of families have lost federal housing assistance as a result of the “sequester” budget cuts that began in 2013, while cities throughout the country have cut back on housing programs.
Last month New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio—promoted as a “progressive” Democrat—announced a plan to jack up fees for low-income residents in the city’s public housing projects, while moving to sell off sections of public housing to private developers.
Meanwhile, at the top of society, there is money to burn. The Wall Street Journal noted in a report published Wednesday that CEOs at top US corporations saw their median pay increase by 13.5 percent this year, to an average of about $13.6 million. Billionaire shareholders did even better, with the values of their shares, combined with dividend payments, appreciating 16.6 percent over the past year.
Amid historically low rates of homeownership, particularly among lower-income buyers, homebuilders are adjusting to a market in which buyers are increasingly wealthy. The median size of a new single-family home has increased by 12 percent between 2009 and 2013, while the median size of multi-family homes intended for the rental market shrank.
Real estate companies are scrambling to build extravagant housing for the super-rich. In New York City, developers have been hard at work constructing “vertical mansions” in the areas surrounding Central Park.
One of these buildings, 520 Park Ave, features 31 apartments sprawling to at least 4,600 square feet and listing at $27 million or more. A penthouse in the building is currently selling for $130 million, while at nearby 220 Central Park South, one Qatari billionaire is combining several apartments into a $250 million “mega-penthouse.”
The oligarchs who inhabit these buildings, located in a section of Manhattan known as “billionaires’ row,” are each likely to own several more similarly-priced properties. As one recent report noted, “The average billionaire owns four homes, with each one worth nearly US$20 million….dotted around the globe.”
After six years of the Obama “recovery” it is clear that there has been no improvement in the living conditions of the great majority of the US population. The so-called recovery has been for the corporate and financial aristocracy, whose wealth has soared amid a surging stock market fueled by virtually unlimited free money from the US Federal Reserve.

Impending Global Financial Collapse Will Change the World Order

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Worse than any disease or even leprosy, anyone spouting Austrian economics or even “common sense” (almost extinct today) has been shoved into the outcast corner by the mass delusional majority.  Over the last few years, “theory after theory” has become fact after FACT afterFACT!  There can no longer be any question, conspiracy to delude and defraud has run rampant and is a day to day operation in the Western world.
Originally my thought was to write this piece about and around the perfect response, “but you do agree the government is bankrupt, right?“.  I say this because almost anyone (in the U.S.), no matter what age, sex, religion, race or financial status will generally agree with this.  For those who don’t agree, it is better to leave well enough alone, this is a subset living in their own delusional world.
For those who do agree “the government is broke”, they are broken down into basic subsets.  There are those who “get it” fully.  There are those who know the government is broke but don’t really understand what it means or the ramifications (they can’t connect the dots).  Another group are those who agree and know in the back of their mind this is true …but they don’t REALLY believe it because they simply cannot …”it’s too awful to comprehend”.  Then, we have another group, probably the largest of all, those who agree but think it really doesn’t matter.  They may also believe no financial crisis will ever occur because “the government will never let it happen”.  Let’s talk about this group next.
The “can’t happen here” crowd only need the dots connected for them.  I believe it is best to ask them questions in an effort to lead them to their own answer and understanding.  This is much better than lecturing or “telling” them because they will actually have to think to answer your questions.  Questions such as:
  1. if the government is broke, how will they make good on their obligations such as payrolls, Social Security, food stamps, paying the military and most importantly paying on their debt?  Forget the first four, “do you realize Treasury securities are what funds Social Security, your pension, the bank’s balance sheet which holds your money …AND what underlies the dollar itself?”!
  2. If the above doesn’t work, you might ask if the economy currently “feels good”?  Then ask, do you realize the federal government spends almost 20% of GDP (and their spending is “counted” as part of GDP).  If they are broke and have to drastically cut back on spending, will the economy not shrink by the amount the government can no longer spend?  Do you see without government spending, under any definition we would be in a depression greater than the 1930′s?
I don’t want to go through the entire exercise but please understand, “guiding” someone to their own conclusion which happens to be correct is best done with questions, MANY OF THEM.  If you can, take two, three or even more philosophical roads to help them reach the same conclusion each time …the understanding will be that much more cemented in their mind when they finally do(hopefully) arrive!
Switching gears just a bit, we have seen the “mentality” change somewhat over the last year or so.  Even the mainstream is showing some signs of a shift.  This “shift” has even become evident amongst and within the “old boys club”.  For example, who would have imagined Germany, Netherlands, Belgium and Austria would ever ask for their gold back?  Or Texas building its own depository and using the words “not” and “confiscate” in the legislation for proposed repatriation?
Several very well known and at one time mainstream money managers have publicly told of the dangerous situation.  The latest is a bond manager who has gone entirely to cash, how’s this for putting a crash helmet on?
Just a few weeks ago, Bloomberg put out an article asking if China could gold back the yuan.  This was significant because no news source (other than maybe Kitco) has been as bearish and slandering regarding gold than Bloomberg.
Going to the beginning and back to the top, who exactly was correct in 1999-2000?  Who was correct from 2005-2008 about an impending crisis?  The answer of course is the very same people screaming bloody murder today “the financial system will come apart from the seams”.  Are those who were correct before, now “crying wolf”?  Or are they saying the same things for the same reason and forecasting the same results as before?  “They” (we) were not crazy then and are not crazy now.  In fact, it is even much easier to see now than previous.  As a side note if you recall, we heard in late 2008 and 2009, “who could have seen it coming”?  Or, “no one could have seen it coming”.  This is dead wrong!  In fact, even within the mainstream press there was a concerted effort to silence the truth.  For example, Greg Hunter while at CNN tried to warn of the banking collapse.  He was told “don’t go there” and was rewarded by having his contract not renewed!
“Some” saw the dotcom bubble coming, more saw and warned of the 2008 crisis coming …and even more see this one coming.  Not only are there more and louder voices today, the numbers are growing slowly but surely and even engulfing some mainstreamers who used to laugh at “us tinfoilers”!
I know how difficult it is and has been.
The financial landscape is perverted beyond recognition and any time you open your mouth, you are proven wrong.
Gold goes down the following day along with a new high in stocks so you look “stupid”.  You are not.
“We” cannot make price, we can only tell the truth as we see it and suggest via common sense and logic the need to prepare for the worst.  As I see it, the outcome is not in any doubt and becomes clearer each day.  My fear is we are not in 2008 anymore, the coming collapse will change the world order to one unrecognizable to today.  The U.S. is in fact “broke” as we spoke of at the beginning.  The “realization” of this not only can happen but WILL happen.  Sadly, because of how badly the U.S. has treated the world over these last years, we will be given no mercy when negotiating our bankruptcy.  It will be a real live wolf at our door!

Killing a Nation With Euphemisms: TPP-Eats-Medicare Edition

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This week, legislation to give President Obama fast-track trade agreement authority (TPA) will take its star turn in the GOP-controlled Senate. The cloture vote is said to be taking place on Tuesday, and if the 60-vote threshold is reached, the final vote on the bill will happen the same day, or on Wednesday.
More importantly, however, is the following vote, scheduled for Wednesday or Thursday, on "Trade Adjustment Assistance," (TAA), also known as the "We sent your job to a Pacific Rim sweatshop in a country with no labor laws where people work for $2 a day during 18-hour shifts making the clothes you used to be able to afford before we laid you off, so here's ten dollars so you can take in a movie and get your mind off things, but no popcorn for you" bill.
In other words, TAA is a bill to provide "assistance" for all the people who are absolutely going to lose their jobs if the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement (TPP) passes ... and the passage of that trade bill is what all this TPA and TAA mishigas has been about.
"Trade Adjustment Assistance" ... isn't language just such wonderfully malleable putty? It would not in any way surprise me if, somewhere in the dank bowels of a building in Washington DC, there exists a think tank solely dedicated to the crafting and deployment of crass yet terribly effective euphemisms. "The Clear Skies Initiative," also known as "Let the polluters pollute as much as they want." "No Child Left Behind," also known as "Conformity over creativity and critical thinking." "PATRIOT Act," also known as "We're watching you, bub."
And now, this. You're not fired, laid off, outsourced, downsized, removed, erased, kicked to the curb, bounced, deleted, expunged, cut, dismissed, chucked, or even screwed. Nope. You've been "trade adjusted," right out onto the sidewalk with a box of your stuff in your arms and a disorienting buzzing noise rattling the inside of your skull. Such a kind euphemism for so traumatic an event. The boys in the bowels of that building sure put the work in on that one.
Let's say the TPA survives cloture and is passed ... and let's even say that Mitch McConnell trips over his soul in the men's room and actually allows a vote on TAA, and it survives cloture and then passes ... guess what? The money to "assist" people who suffer "trade adjustment" upon passage of the TPP will come from ...
Wait for it ...
Wait for it ...
Medicare!
That's right! Probably the most successful, well-run social program in US history will take it in the teeth to help support people who lose their jobs to the trade bill that necessitated this "assistance" in the first place.
... and here's the best part. The original plan was to "sequester" - another brilliantly vile euphemism - about $700 million per year from Medicare to fund "assistance" for everyone who gets "trade adjusted" by the TPP. Republicans balked at the number, not because it was stealing from Medicare, but because it was Just Another Government Welfare Program Argle Bargle Blah. After a series of negotiations between congressional Democrats, Republicans and the White House, they settled on carving out $450 million per year to "assist" the "trade adjusted."
It's beautiful, in the way an avalanche on a snow-capped mountain is beautiful before it buries and smothers you.
First, the very existence of the TAA bill means these people in DC know the trade bill will be a job-destroyer in the US. Otherwise they wouldn't bother, period.
Second, $700 million per year isn't nearly enough to help all those who will have to hit the bricks once their jobs go away, so $450 million is basically a bad joke.
Third - and this is where the true poetry of evil finds its clarion cry - everyone put on the street by the TPP will someday qualify for a Medicare that is less capable of serving them, because the program has been compensating for the way they lost their job in the first place.
The politicians in DC are working hammer and tong to take millions of people to the cleaners, coming and going. If you lose your job to the TPP, you will get insufficient "assistance," followed by less-funded Medicare support. If you don't lose your job, you'll still be dealing with the smoking hole in Medicare funding made by the trade bill that caused your neighbor to lose her house after she lost her job.
Like as not, the TPA bill will sail through the Senate this week. US steelmakers, who have been embroiled in a fight to see tariffs imposed on rival imports from overseas, have been promised serious attention from the Senate GOP in exchange for their support of the TPA, and by proxy the TPP. Democratic Senators Bill Nelson and Ron Wyden have pledged their support to the TPA bill. Their votes, along with the twelve other Senate Democrats who voted for fast-track authority last month, virtually assure that the cloture threshold will be reached with votes to spare. The rest is just counting.
As for the "Trade Adjustment Assistance" bill? That's up to Mr. McConnell to bring to a vote, and even if he does, and even if it passes, it's a button Band-Aid on a gaping wound ... and, by the bye, it isn't as if the US job market is going gangbusters right now. The last thing we need is a trade "deal" that kneecaps job availability. Ask the Millennial with the business degree, but only after he serves you your coffee over a corporate formica countertop. Be sure to tip well; he needs whatever he can get to pay down his student loans.
Upon absorbing these grim realities, many people I speak to express some variation of the sentiment, "This country is falling apart." I disagree ... this country is coming together, after many long years of spending on corporate lawyers and corporate congresspeople, around a new corporate paradigm.
I say "new," but in truth, it's actually ancient. Ask the pharaohs, the Stuart Kings, the dynasties, the empires. There is the aristocracy, and there are the muddling masses pitching buckets of piss out of their windows onto the street, laying their shoulders to the foundation block of the pyramid, or dying on a sword in a war they didn't want to fight, because it is how it is, it is what it is, so get in line, you.
Never fear. The boys in the bowels will concoct a euphemism for this, and we'll all feel much better.

The Delphi Declaration

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The Delphi Conference on the European/Russian crisis created by Washington (my address to the conference is here: http://www.paulcraigroberts.org/2015/06/19/paul-craig-roberts-address-international-conference-europeanrussian-crisis-created-washington/ [1]) issued a declaration repudiating the EU attack on the Greek nation.

The Delphi Declaration asks the European peoples, especially the Germans, to do the right thing and object to the plunder of Greece by the One Percent. This appeal to good will is likely to fall on deaf ears even though the pillage of Greece will create a precedent that can then be applied to Italy, Spain, France, and even Germany.

The financial sector in the West no longer funds real investments in plant and equipment. So much of the US manufacturing economy has been moved offshore, and the lack of consumer income growth means that investment opportunities in the US are very limited. With the derivatives, leveraged financial speculation seems to have reached its limits. All of this suggests that looting countries in the name of settling their sovereign debt is the new road to riches.

The financial sector has turned to the looting of the public sector in the Western countries themselves. By destroying Western social welfare systems, as has happened in Greece, public revenues are freed that the One Percent can capture. In the US Obamacare is a mechanism that allows private insurance companies to loot the public funds assigned to health care. The examples are numerous, and privatizations will result in the demise of public goods, from health care, to education, to pensions.

The Delphi Declaration recognizes this and correctly warns the Italians, Spanish, French, and Germans that they are next on the list of countries whose public sectors will be plundered.

The leaders of Russia and China must be amused to watch Western countries consume themselves.

THE DELPHI DECLARATION

On Greece and Europe

By The Conference Participants

delphiinitiative@gmail.com [2]

European governments, European institutions and the IMF, acting in close alliance, if not under direct control of big international banks and other financial institutions, are now exercising a maximum of pressure, including open threats, blackmailing and a slander and terror communication campaign against the recently elected Greek government and against the Greek people.

They are asking from the elected government of Greece to continue the “bail-out” program and the supposed “reforms” imposed on this country in May 2010, in theory to “help” and “save” it.

As a result of this program, Greece has experienced by far the biggest economic, social and political catastrophe in the history of Western Europe since 1945.It has lost 27% of its GDP, more than the material losses of France or Germany during the 1st World War. The living standards have fallen sharply, the social welfare system all but destroyed, Greeks have seen social rights won during one century of struggles taken back. Whole social strata were completely destroyed, more and more Greeks are falling from their balconies to end a life of misery and desperation, every talented person who can leaves from the country. Democracy, under the rule of a “Troika”, acting as collective economic assassin, a kind of Kafka’s “Court”, has been transformed into a sheer formality in the very same country where it was born! Greeks are experiencing now the same feeling of insecurity about all basic conditions of its life, that French have experienced in 1940, Germans in 1945, Soviets in 1991. In the same time, the two problems which this program was supposed to address, the Greek sovereign debt and competitiveness of the Greek economy have, both, sharply deteriorated.

Now, European institutions and governments are refusing even the most reasonable, elementary, minor concession to the Athens government, they refuse even the slightest face-saving formula, if it could be. They want a total surrender of SYRIZA, they want its humiliation, its destruction. By denying to the Greek people any peaceful and democratic way out of its social and national tragedy, they are pushing Greece into chaos, if not civil war. By the way, even now, an undeclared social civil war of “low intensity” is waged inside this country, especially against the unprotected, the ill, the young and the very old, the weaker and the unlucky. Is this the Europe we want our children to live?

We want to express our total, unconditional solidarity with the struggle of the Greek people for its dignity, its national and social salvation, for its liberation from the unacceptable neocolonial rule “Troika” is trying to impose on a European country. We denounce the illegal and unacceptable agreements successive Greek governments have been obliged, under threat and blackmail, to sign, in violation of all European treaties, of the Charter of UN and of the Greek constitution. We ask European governments and institutions to stop now their irresponsible and/or criminal policy towards Greece. We call them to adopt immediately a generous emergency program of support to redress the Greek economic situation and face the humanitarian disaster already unfolding in this country.

We appeal also to all European peoples to realize that what is at stake in Greece it is not only Greek salaries and pensions, Greek schools and hospitals, the fate even of a historic nation, where the very notion of “Europe” was born. What is at stake in Greece are the Spanish, Italian, even the German salaries, pensions, welfare, the very fate of the European welfare state, of European democracy, of Europe as such. Stop believing your media, who tell you the facts, only to distort their meaning, check independently what your politicians and your media are saying. They try to create, and they have created an illusion of stability. You may live in Lisbon or in Paris, in Frankfurt or in Stockholm, you may think that you are living in relative security. Do not keep such illusions. You should look to Greece, to see there the future your elites are preparing for you, for all of us and for our children. It is much easier and intelligent to stop them now, than it will be later. Not only Greeks, but all of us and our children will pay an enormous price, if we permit to our governments to complete the social slaughter of a whole European nation.

We appeal in particular to the German people. We do not belong to those who are always reminding to the Germans the past, in order to keep them in an “inferior”, second-class position, or in order to use the “guilty factor” for their dubious goals. We appreciate much the organizational and technological skills of the German people, its proven democratic and especially ecological and peace sensitivities. We want and we need the German people as one of the main champions in the building of another Europe, of a prosperous, independent, democratic Europe, of a multipolar world.

Germans know better than anybody else in Europe, where blind obedience to irresponsible leaders can lead and has indeed led in the past. It is not up to us to teach them any such lesson. They know better than anybody else how easy is to begin a campaign with triumphalist rhetoric, only to end up with ruins everywhere around you. We do not invite them to follow our opinion. We demand simply from them to think thoroughly the opinion of such distinguished leaders of them like Helmut Schmitt for instance, we demand them to hear the voice of the greatest among modern German poet, of Günter Grass, the terrible prophecy he has emitted about Greece and Europe some years before his loss.

We call upon you, the German people, to stop such a “Faust” alliance between German political elites and international Finance. We call upon the German people not to permit to its government to continue doing to the Greeks, exactly what the Allies did to Germans after their victory in the 1st World War. Do not let your elites and leaders to transform all the continent, finally including Germany, into a dominion of Finance.

More than ever we are in urgent need of a radical restructuring of European debt, of serious measures to control the activities of the financial sector, of a “Marshal Plan” for the European periphery, of a courageous rethinking and re-launching of a European project which, in its present form, has proven to be unsustainable. We need to find now the courage to do this, if we want to let a better Europe to our children, not a Europe in ruins, in continuous financial or even openly military conflicts among its nations.

Pentagon Rewrites ‘Law of War’ Declaring ‘Belligerent’ Journalists as Legitimate Targets

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The Pentagon has released a book of instructions on the “law of war,” detailing acceptable ways of killing the enemy. The manual also states that journalists can be labeled “unprivileged belligerents,” an obscure term that replaced “enemy combatant.”

The 1,176-page “Department of Defense Law of War Manual” explains that shooting, exploding, bombing, stabbing, or cutting the enemy are acceptable ways of getting the job done, but the use of poison or asphyxiating gases is not allowed.

Surprise attacks and killing retreating troops have also been given the green light.

But the lengthy manual doesn’t only talk about protocol for those on the frontline. It also has an extensive section on journalists – including the fact that they can be labeled terrorists.

“In general, journalists are civilians. However, journalists may be members of the armed forces, persons authorized to accompany the armed forces, or unprivileged belligerents,” the manual states.

The term “unprivileged belligerents” replaces the Bush-era term “unlawful enemy combatant.”



When asked what this means, professor of Journalism at Georgetown Chris Chambers told RT that he doesn’t know, “because the Geneva Convention, other tenets of international law, and even United States law – federal courts have spoken on this – doesn’t have this thing on ‘unprivileged belligerents’.”

This means that embedded journalists, who are officially sanctioned by the military and attached to a unit, will be favored by an even greater degree than before. “It gives them license to attack or even murder journalists that they don’t particularly like but aren’t on the other side,” Chambers said.

Even the Obama Administration’s definition of “enemy combatant” was vague enough, basically meaning any male of a military age who “happens to be there,” Chambers added.

The manual also deals with drones, stating that there is “no prohibition in the law of war on the use of remotely piloted aircraft (also called “unmanned aerial vehicles”).” Such weapons may offer certain advantages over the weapons systems. It states that drones can be designated as military aircraft if used by a country’s military.

The book includes a foreword from the General Counsel of the Department of Defense, Stephen Preston, who states that “the law of war is part of who we are.” He goes on to say that the manual will“help us remember the hard-learned lessons from the past.”

The manual is the Pentagon’s first all-in-one legal guide for the four military branches. Previously, each sector was tasked with writing their own guidelines for engagement, which presumably did not list journalists as potential traitors.

The Pentagon did not specify the exact circumstances under which a journalist might be declared an unprivileged belligerent, but Chambers says he is sure “their legal department is going over it, as is the National Press Club and the Society of Professional Journalists.

White House steps up assault on pensions

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The White House has announced details of a plan to slash pension benefits for hundreds of thousands of beneficiaries of multiemployer pension funds, appointing long-time Washington fixer Kenneth Feinberg to oversee the cuts.
Feinberg, who as the Obama administration’s “pay tsar” rubber-stamped multimillion-dollar executive bonuses to Wall Street banks bailed out with taxpayer funds, will now be given power to slash workers’ benefits at his discretion.
The announcement stems from legislation passed by Congress in December allowing multiemployer pension plans to slash the benefits of current retirees, something that was previously barred under federal law. The bill was endorsed by a broad range of unions that oversee multiemployer pension funds, including the Service Employees International Union, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, and North America’s Building Trades Unions.
There are more than 10 million participants in multiemployer pension funds, which cover employees in industries such as building trades, transportation and food service. The White House said in a statement that ten percent of participants are in plans that are significantly underfunded, putting as many as a million current employees and retirees in danger of having their retirement benefits slashed.
Treasury Secretary Jack Lew declared that Feinberg “has a proven track record.” In fact, this “track record” is a sign of what is in store. Over the course of two presidencies, Feinberg has been Washington’s go-to fixer whenever it needed to present a totally inequitable and unfair process as “impartial.”
In addition to his role as “pay tsar” for the bank bailout and “special master” for claims related to the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, Feinberg has been intimately involved in cleaning up after some of the biggest corporate scandals of the past decade. He oversaw the disbursement of a $20 billion settlement fund following the 2010 BP oil spill. The fund paid ruined fishermen, shrimpers and oyster farmers cash up front in exchange for waiving their right to sue the company for damages related to the worst ecological disaster in US history.
General Motors hired Feinberg in 2014 to help manage compensation payments to the families of the more than 114 people killed as a result of the company’s negligence in failing to recall vehicles with ignition switches it knew to be faulty.
Feinberg will continue his service to the banks and corporations by slashing workers’ retiree benefits. Although retirees will nominally have a vote on whether to accept cuts, the White House has given Feinberg the right to unilaterally override the decision of any group of retirees that votes down a proposal to slash benefits.
The attack on multiemployer pension funds is the latest stage in a decades-long drive by Wall Street and major corporations to slash the pension benefits of workers in both the private and public sector. This campaign has been dramatically accelerated in the aftermath of the Detroit bankruptcy, which set a precedent for slashing the benefits of public-sector retirees whose pensions are guaranteed by state constitutions or other laws.
In the months following Detroit’s bankruptcy, cities and states throughout the country have launched an offensive against public employee pensions.
· In California, Democratic politicians have filed a ballot proposal for a constitutional amendment to remove the state’s protection of public employee pensions.
· Last month, the Pennsylvania Senate passed a bill to slash benefits for current workers and eliminate defined-benefit pensions for new-hires.
· In Illinois, Governor Bruce Rauner, a Republican, is campaigning for an amendment to the state’s constitution that would allow him to rip up public-sector pensions. Last month, the Illinois House of Representatives approved a separate plan by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a Democrat, to cut the pension benefits of teachers and municipal employees.
A multiemployer pension plan is defined by the government as “a collectively bargained plan maintained by more than one employer, usually within the same or related industries, and a labor union.” Such plans were created to allow unionized workers to receive a secure retirement even if they switched employers within a single industry.
There are some 1,400 multiemployer defined-benefit pension plans, many of them covering small companies. The plans are jointly administered by trustees appointed by the unions and management.
Multiemployer pension funds, like pension funds more broadly, have for decades been starved of contributions by the corporations that are legally obligated to finance them. As a result, the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, which guarantees the funds against default, posted a record deficit of $ 61.7 billion in 2014 and warns that it will run out of money within a decade.
One major pension plan, the Teamsters Central States plan, pays out $2.8 billion per year in retirement funds, but takes in only $700 million a year from corporations. The plan’s director claims it will run out of money in 10 to 15 years.
The systematic underfunding of multiemployer pension funds had taken place with the full complicity of the unions that help run them. For decades, union officials have allowed corporations to exit the plans in exchange for various perks favorable to the union bureaucracies.
The Teamsters Central States plan suffered a massive blow when Teamsters officials voted to allow United Parcel Service to exit the fund, dramatically reducing its active employees. The Teamsters rubber-stamped UPS’s move in exchange for being allowed to organize the company’s newly acquired freight division (and extract union dues from its employees).
The bill signed into law in December is the outcome of a February 2013 proposal, entitled “Solutions not Bailouts,” from the National Coordinating Committee for Multiemployer Plans, composed of major corporations and labor unions.
“Solutions not Bailouts” lists among those organizations that participated in its development the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM), both of which have since sought to publicly distance themselves from the pension-cutting bill.
While the Teamsters were among the most enthusiastic lobbyists for the proposal in early 2013, union president James P. Hoffa later disassociated himself from the plan after encountering widespread opposition from the rank and file. In an October 28, 2013 letter to Congress, Hoffa withheld his official support from the proposal while declaring that “’Solutions Not Bailouts’ is an extremely thoughtful and sophisticated document.” He added that “the IBT supports many of the proposals in the document.”
Even while publicly claiming to oppose the pension-cutting law, Teamsters officials have participated in preparations to slash benefits for workers covered by funds they help manage. The Teamsters Central States executive director, Thomas Nyhan, has stated that all trustees, including union trustees, support his plan to cut benefits.

The Alice in Wonderland World of Fast-tracked Secret Trade Agreements

Go To Original
`Let the jury consider their verdict,’ the King said, for about the twentieth time that day.
`No, no!’ said the Queen. `Sentence first–verdict afterwards.’
`Stuff and nonsense!’ said Alice loudly. `The idea of having the sentence first!’
`Hold your tongue!’ said the Queen, turning purple.
`I won’t!’ said Alice.
`Off with her head!’ the Queen shouted at the top of her voice.
— Lewis Carroll, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”
Fast-track authority is being sought in the Senate this week for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), along with the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) and any other such trade agreements coming down the pike in the next six years. The terms of the TPP and the TiSA are so secret that drafts of the negotiations are to remain classified for four years or five years, respectivelyafter the deals have been passed into law. How can laws be enforced against people and governments who are not allowed to know what was negotiated?
The TPP, TiSA and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (or TTIP, which covers Europe) will collectively encompass three-fourths of the world’s GDP; and they ultimately seek to encompass nearly 90 percent of GDP. Despite this enormous global impact, fast-track authority would allow the President to sign the deals before their terms have been made public, and send implementing legislation to Congress that cannot be amended or filibustered and is not subject to the constitutional requirement of a two-thirds treaty vote.
While the deals are being negotiated, lawmakers can see their terms only under the strictest secrecy, and they can be subjected to criminal prosecution for revealing those terms. What we know of them comes only through WikiLeaks. The agreements are being treated as if they were a matter of grave national security, yet they are not about troop movements or military strategy. Something else is obviously going on.
The bizarre, unconstitutional, blatantly illegal nature of this enforced secrecy was highlighted in a May 15th article by Jon Rappoport, titled “What Law Says the Text of the TPP Must Remain Secret?” He wrote:
It seems like a case of mass hypnosis. . . .
Members of Congress are scuttling around like weasels, claiming they can’t disclose what’s in this far-reaching, 12-nation trade treaty.
They can go into a sealed room and read a draft, but they can’t copy pages, and they can’t tell the public what they just read.
Why not?
If there is a US law forbidding disclosure, name the law.
Can you recall anything in the Constitution that establishes secret treaties?
Is there a prior treaty that states the text of all treaties can be hidden from the people?
To Congressmen who say they cannot reveal what is in a treaty that will adversely affect the lives of hundreds of millions of people, Rappoport says:
Wrong. You’re lying. You can reveal secret text. In fact, it’s your duty. Otherwise, you’re guilty of cooperating in a RICO criminal conspiracy.
A Corporate Coup d’État
What is going on was predicted by David Korten in his 1995 blockbuster, When Corporations Rule The World. Catherine Austin Fitts calls it a “corporate coup d’état.”
This corporate coup includes the privatization and offshoring of the judicial functiondelegated to the US court system in the Constitution, through Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions that strengthen existing ISDS  procedures.
As explained in The Economist, ISDS gives foreign firms a special right to apply to a secretive tribunal of highly paid corporate lawyers for compensation whenever the government passes a law to do things that hurt corporate profits — such things as discouraging smoking, protecting the environment or preventing a nuclear catastrophe. Arbitrators are paid $600-700 an hour, giving them little incentive to dismiss cases. The secretive nature of the arbitration process and the lack of any requirement to consider precedent give wide scope for creative judgments – the sort of arbitrary edicts satirized by Lewis Carroll in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
To date, the highest ISDS award has been for $2.3 billion to Occidental Oil Company against the government of Ecuador over its termination of an oil-concession contract, although the termination was apparently legal. Under the TPP, however, even larger and more unpredictable judgments can be anticipated, since the sort of “investment” it protects includes not just “the commitment of capital or other resources” but “the expectation of gain or profit.” That means the rights of corporations extend not merely to their factories and other “capital” but to the profits they expect to receive. Just the threat of a massive damage award for impairing “expected corporate profits” could be enough to discourage prospective legislation by lawmakers.
The Trade in Services Agreement adds additional barriers to proposed legislation.  TiSA involves 51 countries, including every advanced economy except the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa). The deal would liberalize global trade in services covering close to 80% of the US economy, including financial services, healthcare, education, engineering, telecommunications, and many more. It would restrict how governments can manage their public laws, and it could dismantle and privatize state-owned enterprises, turning those services over to the private sector. It would also block the emerging trend to return privatized services to the public sector, by limiting or prohibiting governments from creating or reestablishing public utilities and other “uncompetitive” forms of service delivery.
It seems that the TPP, TTIP and TiSA are not about the sort of “free trade” that would free local businesses to sell abroad. They are about freeing international corporations from the government regulation necessary to protect the economy, the people, and the environment. They are about preserving privatized monopolies and preventing competition from the public sector. And they are about moving litigation offshore into private arbitrary tribunals – the sort of tribunal that might have lost Alice her head, if she had not awakened from her bizarre dream.
Urge your local representative to vote “no” on Fast Track. For more information, see —