As Elites Aim To Finalize Secret ‘Profit Over People’ Trade Deal, An Alarm Sounds

Photo courtesy of Stop The TPP-Hawaii (March 14, 2015 Waikoloa Marriott)

Trade ministers will be met in Maui with a colorful demonstration against secret corporate agreement

By Sarah Lazare

As trade ministers gather for negotiations at a luxury resort in Hawai’i on Wednesday to finalize the secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, hundreds of people are planning to stage protests, hold performances, and raise a sacred “call to attention” to send the message that attempts by the global elite to put “profit over people” are not welcome and will not be tolerated.

“The TPP is a threat to our sovereignty as Native Hawaiians, and as human beings,” said Kaleikoa Ka’eo, professor of Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawai’i, in a press statement. “This secret trade agreement would allow corporations to control decisions about how we live without any accountability to us, the people of this land.”

Under the banner “Stop TPP by Land and by Sea,” protesters from organizations including Kāko’o Haleakalā, AiKea, Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery, Public Citizen, and Sierra Club will gather on the Kā’anapali Beach on the island of Maui to voice their opposition to the deal, which has been broadly criticized by social movements and civil societies across the globe.

In the early evening, the protest will culminate in an attempt to break the global record for the “largest number of conch shell (pū) blown at one time,” according to a press statement.

“We chose the pū for this demonstration because in ancient times the sound of the pū was a call to attention; a kahea (call) to recognize something important is about to occur. Today is a call to attention, to join together against this attempt to put profits over people,” said organizer Trinette Furtado.

“This event calls attention to all struggles against entitled behavior across the globe. We send this kāhea of the pū out past this hotel and the secret TPP negotiations, and out into the ocean, through the mountains, around the world,” Furtado continued. “People are awakening, discovering their power. They are hungry to effect a positive change in the world.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. government and multinationals are moving rapidly to strengthen their strangleholds on the global economy. The White House is hoping that this week’s four-day meeting will clinch a final deal—just a month after President Barack Obama signed controversial Fast Track legislation into law.

The accelerated timeline can be attributed at least in part to the political climate in the United States.

Watchdog group Public Citizen said last week in a statement (pdf) that the White House is “desperate” to announce a final accord: “Unless the Obama administration can not only announce a final [TPP] deal by the start of August, but also by then complete a TPP text and give notice to Congress of intent to sign it, a U.S. congressional vote on TPP almost certainly will be pushed into the politically perilous 2016 presidential election year.”

Opponents of the deal say that now is a critical time to mobilize against what they call an unjust and far-reaching corporate giveaway.

The mammoth pact has been negotiated in secret since at least 2008 and includes the U.S. and 11 Pacific Rim countries: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. These countries together represent 40 percent of the world’s GDP, making this the largest trade deal yet.

Its many controversial provisions, revealed almost entirely through leaks, include “investor-state dispute settlement” systems (ISDS), popularly known as corporate tribunals, which would create a parallel legal avenue for corporations to sue governments for loss of “expected future profit,” with the power to overrule national protections of environmental and human rights.

Analysts and campaigners have also warned the deal poses a threat to workers’ rights, protections against human trafficking, and basic privacy.

Humanitarian aid organization Doctors Without Borders declared last week that the TPP is poised to be the “most damaging trade agreement ever for global health.” If approved, the accord would “strengthen, lengthen and create new patent and regulatory monopolies for pharmaceutical products that will raise the price of medicines and reduce the availability of price-lowering generic competition,” the group warned.

Public Citizen said of the talks in Maui: “Whether or not any real deal is made, a ‘breakthrough’ likely will be announced. But for whom would it be a breakthrough?”

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Your Move, US Congress: EU and UN Back Iran Nuclear Accord

Iran resolution at the UN headquarters in New York on July 20, 2015.

International bodies back diplomatic agreement, agree to lift punishing economic sanctions

By Lauren McCauley

Sending a strong signal to the U.S. Congress to follow suit, both the European Union and United Nations Security Council on Monday endorsed the nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers.

As part of the accord, both bodies agreed to end crippling economic sanctions against Iran in exchange for new limits to its domestic nuclear program.

Representatives from each of the 15 countries within the Security Council unanimously voted to back the landmark deal reached last week between Iran and the so-called P5+1 Nations, which include the United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom, France, Germany, and the European Union.

Following the Security Council vote, U.S. President Barack Obama said he hoped the move would “send a clear message that the overwhelming number of countries” recognize that diplomacy is “by far our strongest approach to ensuring that Iran does not get a nuclear weapon.”

According to the text, in exchange for Iran’s compliance, seven UN resolutions passed since 2006 to sanction Iran will be gradually terminated. However, BBC reports, “The resolution also allows for the continuation of the UN arms embargo on Iran for up to five years and the ban on sales of ballistic missile technology for up to eight.”

The UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), is charged with the “verification and monitoring of Iran’s nuclear commitments.”

Meeting in Brussels, EU Foreign Ministers also formally committed to lift economic sanctions against Iran. The lawmakers, though, also elected to maintain the EU’s ban on the supply of ballistic missile technology and sanctions related to human rights, in accordance with the agreement.

The votes mark another step forward within a major worldwide agreement, reached after years of arduous negotiations.

The onus now falls on the U.S. Congress to also approve the accord, which was formally given to both Houses on Sunday, beginning a 60-day deliberation period. Conservative U.S. lawmakers and other warhawks, echoing the words of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have tried to thwart the international agreement.

“There is broad international consensus around this issue,” Obama continued in his address. Then speaking beyond the agreement’s critics, he added: “My working assumption is that Congress will pay attention to that broad basic consensus.”

More than 150,000 people have so far signed a petition calling on Congress to back the deal and take us off “the path to confrontation and war with Iran.”

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The Fire Next Time: On the Next Gaza War

Families walk through the heavily-bombed area of Shujaiya in eastern Gaza on July 27, 2014. (Photo: Iyad al Baba/Oxfam/flickr/cc)

Before Homes Are Even Rebuilt in the Ruins of the Gaza Strip, Another War Looms

By Max Blumenthal

“A fourth operation in the Gaza Strip is inevitable, just as a third Lebanon war is inevitable,” declared Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman in February. His ominous comments came just days after an anti-tank missile fired by the Lebanon-based guerrilla group Hezbollah killed two soldiers in an Israeli army convoy. It, in turn, was a response to an Israeli air strike that resulted in the assassination of several high-ranking Hezbollah figures.

Lieberman offered his prediction only four months after his government concluded Operation Protective Edge, the third war between Israel and the armed factions of the Gaza Strip, which had managed to reduce about 20% of besieged Gaza to an apocalyptic moonscape. Even before the assault was launched, Gaza was a warehouse for surplus humanity — a 360-square-kilometer ghetto of Palestinian refugees expelled by and excluded from the self-proclaimed Jewish state. For this population, whose members are mostly under the age of 18, the violence has become a life ritual that repeats every year or two. As the first anniversary of Protective Edge passes, Lieberman’s unsettling prophecy appears increasingly likely to come true. Indeed, odds are that the months of relative “quiet” that followed his statement will prove nothing more than an interregnum between Israel’s ever more devastating military escalations.

Three years ago, the United Nations issued a report predicting that the Gaza Strip would be uninhabitable by 2020. Thanks to Israel’s recent attack, this warning appears to have arrived sooner than expected. Few of the 18,000 homes the Israeli military destroyed in Gaza have been rebuilt. Few of the more than 400 businesses and shops damaged or leveled during that war have been repaired. Thousands of government employees have not received a salary for more than a year and are working for free. Electricity remains desperately limited, sometimes to only four hours a day. The coastal enclave’s borders are consistently closed. Its population is trapped, traumatized, and descending ever deeper into despair, with suicide rates skyrocketing.

One of the few areas where Gaza’s youth can find structure is within the “Liberation Camps” established by Hamas, the Islamist political organization that controls Gaza. There, they undergo military training, ideological indoctrination, and are ultimately inducted into the Palestinian armed struggle. As I found while covering last summer’s war, there is no shortage of young orphans determined to take up arms after watching their parents and siblings be torn limb from limb by 2,000-pound Israeli fragmentation missiles, artillery shells, and other modes of destruction. Fifteen-year-old Waseem Shamaly, for instance, told me his life’s ambition was to join the Al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas. He had just finished recounting through tears what it was like to watch a YouTube clip of his brother, Salem, being executed by an Israeli sniper while he searched for the rest of his family in the rubble of their neighborhood last July.

Anger with Hamas’s political wing for accepting a ceasefire agreement with Israel in late August 2014 that offered nothing but a return to the slow death of siege and imprisonment is now palpable among Gaza’s civilian population. This is particularly true in border areas devastated by the Israelis last summer. However, support for the Al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas that carries the banner of the Palestinian armed struggle, remains almost unanimous.

Palestinians in Gaza need only look 80 kilometers west to the gilded Bantustans of the Palestinian Authority (PA) to see what they would get if they agreed to disarm. After years of fruitless negotiations, Israel has rewarded Palestinians living under the rule of PA President Mahmoud Abbas with the record growth of Jewish settlements, major new land annexations, nightly house raids, and the constant humiliation and dangers of daily interactions with Israeli soldiers and fanatical Jewish settlers. Rather than resist the occupation, Abbas’s Western-trained security forces coordinate directly with the occupying Israeli army, assisting Israel in the arrest and even torture of fellow Palestinians, including the leadership of rival political factions.

As punishing as life in Gaza might be, the West Bank model does not offer a terribly attractive alternative. Yet this is exactly the kind of “solution” the Israeli government seeks to impose on Gaza. As former Interior Minister Yuval Steinitz declared last year, “We want more than a ceasefire, we want the demilitarization of Gaza… Gaza will be exactly like [the West Bank city of] Ramallah.”

Keeping Gaza in Ruins
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How Hawks Are Using Iraq War Talking Points to Stoke Fear Over Iran Deal

Former Vice President Dick Cheney told Fox News’s Sean Hannity on Tuesday night that the Iran deal will “put us to closer to use—actual use—of nuclear weapons than we’ve been at any time since Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II.” (Image: Fox News, Feb 2014)

By Sarah Lazare

In the immediate aftermath of Tuesday’s announcement of a deal between world powers and Iran, drivers of the 2003 invasion of Iraq are expressing certainty that Iran’s alleged “nuclear weapons program” and “malign activities” pose a grave threat—issuing warnings that analysts say sound eerily similar to their now-discredited claims about Saddam Hussein’s “weapons of mass destruction” more than a decade ago.

But despite the fact that George W. Bush and top aides are known to have told nearly 1,000 lies about WMDs, many of the people who created and repeated this narrative still hold offices and prominent platforms.

On Tuesday, these individuals were busy using their positions to raise the alarm about the accord, which has been championed by civil society groups around the world, including from within Iran, as an important step towards relief from devastating sanctions and away from military escalation and potentially war.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney told Fox News’s Sean Hannity on Tuesday night: “What Obama has done, has in effect sanctioned, the acquisition by Iran of nuclear capability. And it can be a few years down the road. It doesn’t make any difference. It’s a matter of months until we’re going to see a situation where other people feel they have to defend themselves by acquiring their own capability. And that will, in fact, I think put us to closer to use—actual use—of nuclear weapons than we’ve been at any time since Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II.”

This statement echoed apocalyptic predictions Cheney made in the lead up to the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, like these remarks to the August 2002 Veterans for Foreign Wars convention: “Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us.”

Cheney is not alone in spinning this narrative. GOP presidential candidate and South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham told Bloomberg on Tuesday that the Iran deal is “incredibly dangerous for our national security, and it’s akin to declaring war on Sunni Arabs and Israel by the P5+1 because it ensures their primary antagonist Iran will become a nuclear power and allows them to rearm conventionally.”

This is the same man who, on March 2, 2003, told Meet the Press that Saddam Hussein is “lying, Tim, when he says he doesn’t have weapons of mass destruction. For 12 years now, we’ve been playing this game, trying to get this man to part with his weapons of mass destruction.”

Graham’s close colleague Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) released a statement Tuesday which denounced the deal as “delusional and dangerous,” declaring it “will strengthen Iran’s ability to acquire conventional weapons and ballistic missiles, while retaining an industrial scale nuclear program, without any basic change to its malign activities in the Middle East.”

“There’s not a doubt in my mind that Saddam Hussein would give a weapon of mass destruction to a terrorist organization,” McCain told Face the Nation on February 16, 2003. “They have common cause in trying to destroy the United States of America.”

While the people behind the 2003 Iraq War are not running the White House today, their spin is influencing media discourse and the political positions of the mainstream Republican Party and some Democrats. In fact, claims about Iran’s “nuclear weapons program” are central to arguments against the deal, including from lobbyists and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

This is despite the fact that there is no public evidence supporting their claims that Iran has a nuclear weapons program.

“There is a parallel between claims about the certainty that Saddam Hussein had WMDs—claims that have long been debunked by United Nations inspections—and claims about Iran, where you have a scenario in which you have a debate on how dangerous Iran’s nuclear weapons program is, as if Iran had a nuclear weapons program,” Phyllis Bennis, senior fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, told Common Dreams. “In fact all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies from 2007 to 2012 have agreed that Iran doesn’t have a nuclear weapons programs and has not even made a decision whether or not it wants nuclear weapons.”

“Every time anyone gets on Fox News or NBC or NPR and references Iran’s nuclear weapons program, they are pretty much never challenged,” Bennis continued. “It goes into the normal discourse that Iran has a nuclear weapons program, it is dangerous, and we have to stop it. It becomes normalized, when it is such a clear fallacy.”

These lies are important, because Congress could still sink the deal between Iran, the United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom, France, Germany, and the European Union. Thanks to recently-passed legislation, the U.S. House and Senate will have 60 days to review the final agreement. If lawmakers were to vote against the agreement, and amass the votes to override a presidential veto, Obama’s hands would be tied on sanctions relief and the deal would fail.

“These people want a war with Iran, but they cannot say so because of the fiasco with Iraq,” Muhammad Sahimi, professor of chemical engineering and materials science at the University of Southern California and editor of the online Iran News & Middle East Reports, told Common Dreams. “So what happens is they oppose negotiations, which means more sanctions and eventually war. This is just as it happened in Iraq: massive sanctions that harmed ordinary people, and then war.

“The same talking points used against Iraq are being more-or-less used against Iran,” added Sahimi. “In Iran’s case they have already turned out to be false.”

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‘Austerity Kills': Tens of Thousands March in London Against Brutal Cuts

Nation-wide rally demands an ‘alternative to austerity and to policies that only benefit those at the top’

By Sarah Lazare

From across the United Kingdom, tens of thousands of people took to the streets of London Saturday to demand an end to brutal—and deadly—austerity measures.

The mass march, still ongoing at the time of publication, comes just over a month after the Conservative (Tory) Party’s election wins.

The independent anti-austerity forum, the People’s Assembly, declared ahead of the march that protesters aim to send a “clear message to the Tory government; we demand an alternative to austerity and to policies that only benefit those at the top.”

“We’ll be assembling the demonstration in the heart of the City of London right on the doorstep of the very people who created the crisis in the first place, and marching to the doorstep of Parliament,” said the assembly.

Huge numbers heeded this call, with people from diverse backgrounds and numerous families with children taking to the streets with banners and signs that read “Austerity kills” and “No cuts.” Numerous placards urged an end to the scapegoating of immigrants, people of color, and urged investment in common goods that ordinary people depend on, including education, health care, and other public services.

Tobi Seriki, a 28-year-old from Depford, told the Guardian she is marching because “Austerity isn’t working at all and we need to change track.’

Labor unions, environmental groups, and migrant and economic justice organizations could be seen marching through the streets. Celebrities spotted in the crowd include comedian Russell Brand and musician Charlotte Church.

The mass march can be followed on Twitter: #EndAusterityNow

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Washington in Wonderland: Down the Iraqi Rabbit Hole (Again)

American leadership in the world, writes Bacevich, “ought to mean something other than simply repeating and compounding past mistakes. It should require more than clinging to policies that have manifestly failed. To remain willfully blind to those failures is not leadership, it’s madness.” (Photo: via Pentagon Watch)

By Andrew Bacevich

There is a peculiar form of insanity in which a veneer of rationality distracts attention from the madness lurking just beneath the surface. When Alice dove down her rabbit hole to enter a place where smirking cats offered directions, ill-mannered caterpillars dispensed advice, and Mock Turtles constituted the principal ingredient in Mock Turtle soup, she experienced something of the sort.

Yet, as the old adage goes, truth can be even stranger than fiction. For a real-life illustration of this phenomenon, one need look no further than Washington and its approach to national security policy. Viewed up close, it all seems to hang together. Peer out of the rabbit hole and the sheer lunacy quickly becomes apparent.

Consider this recent headline: “U.S. to Ship 2,000 Anti-Tank Missiles To Iraq To Help Fight ISIS.” The accompanying article describes a Pentagon initiative to reinforce Iraq’s battered army with a rush order of AT-4s. A souped-up version of the old bazooka, the AT-4 is designed to punch holes through armored vehicles.

Taken on its own terms, the decision makes considerable sense. Iraqi forces need something to counter a fearsome new tactic of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS): suicide bombers mounted in heavily armored wheeled vehicles. Improved antitank capabilities certainly could help Iraqi troops take out such bombers before they reach their intended targets. The logic is airtight. The sooner these weapons get into the hands of Iraqi personnel, the better for them — and so the better for us. (more…)

IMF Report Admits IMF’s Obsession with Capitalism Is Killing Prosperity

“By releasing this report, the IMF has shown that ‘trickle-down’ economics is dead; you cannot rely on the spoils of the extremely wealthy to benefit the rest of us.”

By Jon Queally

In light of how the International Monetary Fund has spent most of its existence parading around the world telling governments to make their economies more friendly for multinational corporations by suppressing wages, restricting pensions, liberalizing industries, and more or less advocating they ignore the popular will of workers and the less fortunate—all in the name of market capitalism and endless economic growth—a new report released by the IMF on Monday contains an ironic warning: stop doing all that.

Though it perpetuates the idea that economic growth is the master to whom all should bow, the new research—conducted by the IMF’s own economists and submitted under the title Causes and Consequences of Inequality (pdf)—argues that many of the policies promoted by the IMF have actually harmed nations by exacerbating widespread economic inequality. As many have noted, current disparities between the world’s richest and poorest represent a nearly unprecedented level of global inequality which the report described as the “defining challenge of our time.”

In order to strengthen economies, the report declares, nations should admit that “trickle-down” theories of wealth and prosperity do not work. In lieu of those, the study recommends raising wages and living standards for the bottom 20 percent, installing more progressive tax structures, improving worker protections, and instituting policies specifically designed to bolster the middle class.

“Fighting inequality is not just an issue of fairness but an economic necessity,” said Nicolas Mombrial of Oxfam International in response to the report. “And that’s not Oxfam speaking, but the International Monetary Fund.”

This is not the first time the IMF’s own research has bolstered the arguments of its biggest critics. According to the International Business Times, the new analysis on inequality “echoes previous IMF research that show that redistributive policies have a positive effect on countries’ economic output.”

But as the Guardian’s economics editor Larry Elliott notes, the new paper creates obvious “tension between the IMF’s economic analysis and the more hardline policy advice” it continually gives to countries seeking foreign assistance or development funds. With Greece as the most obvious example, Elliott cites details from the report and writes:

During its negotiations with Athens, the IMF has been seeking to weaken workers’ rights, but the research paper found that the easing of labor market regulations was associated with greater inequality and a boost to the incomes of the richest 10%.

“This result is consistent with forthcoming IMF work, which finds the weakening of unions is associated with a higher top 10% income share for a smaller sample of advanced economies,” said the study.

“Indeed, empirical estimations using more detailed data for Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries [34 of the world’s richest nations] suggest that, in line with other forthcoming IMF work, more lax hiring and firing regulations, lower minimum wages relative to the median wage, and less prevalent collective bargaining and trade unions are associated with higher market inequality.”

The study said there was growing evidence to suggest that rising influence of the rich and stagnant incomes of the poor and middle classes caused financial crises, hurting both short- and long-term growth.

No one should be fooled into thinking that the new research aims to alter the IMF’s central commitment to advancing the financial interests of the global elite.

In fact, part of the argument presented in the paper is that such enormous levels of global economic inequality could seriously undermine the institution’s public defense of capitalism’s overall supremacy. “For example,” the paper states, “[too much inequality] can lead to a backlash against growth-enhancing economic liberalization and fuel protectionist pressures against globalization and market-oriented reforms.”

According to a recent report by Oxfam International, almost half the world’s wealth is owned by one percent of the population, while the bottom half of the world’s population owns the same wealth as the richest 85 people in the world. For Oxfam’s Mombrial, who heads the international anti-poverty group’s office in Washington D.C., the IMF’s report is a welcome development that should put a nail in the coffin of the austerity-driven policies prescribed by governments and powerful financial institutions like the IMF, World Bank, and others.

“The IMF proves that making the rich richer does not work for growth, while focusing on the poor and the middle class does,” Mombrial said. “This reinforces Oxfam’s call on how we need to reduce the income gap between the haves and have-nots, and scrutinize why the richest 10 percent and top 1 percent have so much wealth. By releasing this report, the IMF has shown that ‘trickle-down’ economics is dead; you cannot rely on the spoils of the extremely wealthy to benefit the rest of us. Governments must urgently refocus their policies to close the gap between the richest and the rest if economies and societies are to grow.”

As Oxfam and other international campaigners have been saying it for decades, he concluded, “The IMF has set off the alarm for governments to wake up and start actively closing the inequality gap, not just between the rich and poor, but for the middle class too. Their message to them is pretty clear: if you want growth, you’d better invest in the poor, invest in essential services and promote redistributive tax policies.”

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The Sunday Times’ Snowden Story is Journalism at its Worst — and Filled with Falsehoods

By Glenn Greenwald

Western journalists claim that the big lesson they learned from their key role in selling the Iraq War to the public is that it’s hideous, corrupt and often dangerous journalism to give anonymity to government officials to let them propagandize the public, then uncritically accept those anonymously voiced claims as Truth. But they’ve learned no such lesson. That tactic continues to be the staple of how major US and British media outlets “report,” especially in the national security area. And journalists who read such reports continue to treat self-serving decrees by unnamed, unseen officials – laundered through their media – as gospel, no matter how dubious are the claims or factually false is the reporting.

We now have one of the purest examples of this dynamic. Last night, the Murdoch-owned Sunday Times published their lead front-page Sunday article, headlined “British Spies Betrayed to Russians and Chinese.” Just as the conventional media narrative was shifting to pro-Snowden sentiment in the wake of a key court ruling and a new surveillance law, the article (behind a paywall: full text here) claims in the first paragraph that these two adversaries “have cracked the top-secret cache of files stolen by the fugitive US whistleblower Edward Snowden, forcing MI6 to pull agents out of live operations in hostile countries, according to senior officials in Downing Street, the Home Office and the security services.”

Read the full column on The Intercept.

UPDATE: The Sunday Times has now quietly deleted one of the central, glaring lies in its story: that David Miranda had just met with Snowden in Moscow when he was detained at Heathrow carrying classified documents. By “quietly deleted,” I mean just that: they just removed it from their story without any indication or note to their readers that they’ve done so (though it remains in the print edition and thus requires a retraction). That’s indicative of the standard of “journalism” for the article itself. Multiple other falsehoods, and all sorts of shoddy journalistic practices, remain thus far unchanged.

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© 2015 The Intercept / First Look Media

Red Cross Holds a Press Conference In Haiti. It Doesn’t Go Well.

Haitian reporters demand answers from the Red Cross but don’t get many.

By Justin Elliot

Haitian journalists grilled an American Red Cross official Wednesday about the group’s Haiti program, but the official declined to provide any new details of how it spent nearly $500 million donated after the 2010 earthquake.

The Red Cross called a press conference, held at the Le Plaza Hotel in downtown Port-Au-Prince, in response to ProPublica and NPR’s story published last week revealing a string of Red Cross failures in Haiti.
The American Red Cross official at the press conference was repeatedly interrupted by Haitian reporters frustrated that he would not give specifics on its spending.

The official, Walker Dauphin, criticized our story for making “misleading allegations” and said that “in total, more than a hundred projects were implemented.”

But Haiti’s most prominent newspaper, Le Nouvelliste, wrote that Dauphin was merely “retracing the broad strokes of the interventions and expenses … while avoiding going into detail.” The paper ran the story on its front page under the headline, “When the Red Cross drowns the fish,” a reference to sidestepping a touchy subject.

Jean-Max Bellerive, who was prime minister of Haiti when the earthquake hit, also publicly criticized the American Red Cross, telling Le Nouvelliste that the Haitian government must “take legal actions to demand accountability.”

In the United States, Rep. Rick Nolan, D-Minn., has called for the House oversight committee to hold hearings on the Red Cross’ Haiti program. The story has also prompted anger and calls for investigation in a number of states. Watch this video where an activist and Georgia state senator interrupt a Red Cross spokesman: “They do not deny anything that’s been said and just direct you to some website,” said Sen. Vincent Fort.

Red Cross spokeswoman Jana Sweeney said in a statement: “The Red Cross is happy to talk with any member of Congress who has questions about our relief work in Haiti, or elsewhere.”

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UN’s Ban Ki-Moon Caves In, Takes Israel Off List of Serious Child Abusers

By Ali Abunimah

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has caved in to pressure from Israel and the United States and taken the Israeli military off an official list of serious violators of children’s rights, in this year’s report on children in armed conflict.

In doing so, Ban rejected an official recommendation from his own Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Leila Zerrougui and numerous human rights organizations and child rights defenders.

Ban’s act is particularly egregious since the report found that the number of children killed in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip in 2014, at 557, was the third highest only after Iraq and Afghanistan and ahead of Syria.
“The revelation that Israel’s armed forces were removed from the annex of the annual report by Ban Ki-moon is deplorable,” Brad Parker, attorney and international advocacy officer at Defence for Children International-Palestine (DCI-Palestine), told The Electronic Intifada.

“The annual report and its annex, or children’s ‘list of shame,’ has been a strong evidence-based accountability tool proven to help increase protections for children in armed conflict situations. There is ample evidence on persistent grave violations committed by Israeli forces since at least 2006 that should have triggered listing,” Parker added.

“The secretary-general’s decision to place politics above justice and accountability for Palestinian children has provided Israeli forces with tacit approval to continue committing grave violations against children with impunity,” Parker said.

The top UN official’s decision will be greeted with relief by the Obama administration, Israel and others concerned with ensuring such Israeli impunity.

Obama pressure

“The draft 2015 report prepared by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui, recommended adding Israel and Hamas to the annexed list of parties – the so-called ‘list of shame’ – due to their repeated violations against children,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement on 4 June.

Human Rights Watch called on Ban to “list all countries and armed groups that have repeatedly committed these violations, and resist reported pressure from Israel and the United States to remove Israel from the draft list.”

But that pressure proved irresistible to Ban. Foreign Policy reported last week that the Obama administration had made a concerted effort to pressure him to drop Israel from the list for cynical political reasons.

According to an unnamed UN official quoted by Foreign Policy, the Obama administration was concerned about false accusations that “the White House is anti-Israel,” as the US completes sensitive negotiations over Iran’s civilian nuclear energy program.

False balance

Human Rights Watch supported calls on Ban to list Hamas as well as Israel, but this appears to have been a maneuver to look “balanced” and avoid baseless accusations of anti-Israel bias frequently leveled at the organization.

Sources familiar with the final report have told The Electronic Intifada that Hamas is not on the list either.

But the violations attributed to Palestinian armed groups, including the death of one Israeli child last summer due to a rocket fired from Gaza, can hardly be compared in scope to the systematic mass killings with impunity of Palestinian children in the Gaza Strip and West Bank by Israeli occupation forces.

Since Hamas and other Palestinian armed resistance groups are already under international sanctions and arms embargoes and listed by various countries as “terrorist organizations,” adding Hamas to the list would have meant little.

It is Israel whose violations continue not only with impunity but with assistance from the predominantly European and North American governments that arm it.

DCI-Palestine documented the killings of at least 547 Palestinian children during last summer’s Israeli assault on Gaza.

Human Rights Watch cites as part of Israel’s record the “unlawful killing of children” in the occupied West Bank, including Nadim Nuwara and Muhammad Abu al-Thahir, both 17, shot dead by snipers on 15 May 2014.

In April, a board of inquiry set up by Ban found that Israel killed and injured hundreds of Palestinians in seven attacks on United Nations-run schools in the Gaza Strip last summer.

Sabotage

In March, there was an outcry among Palestinian and international human rights advocates when it was revealed that UN officials appeared to be trying to sabotage the evidence-based process that leads to a recommendation of listing, after threats from Israel.

Palestinian organizations called on the mid-level UN officials accused of interfering with the process to resign.

This led to assurances from Special Representative Zerrougui that the decision-making process was still underway and indeed, after gathering all the evidence, Zerrougui did recommend that Israel be listed.

Such a recommendation comes after UN bodies collect evidence in collaboration with human rights organizations, according to specific criteria mandated in UN Security Council Resolution 1612.

But despite the months-long nonpolitical and evidence-based process, the final decision was always in Ban’s hands.

Partner in Israel’s crimes

There was much at stake for Israel and indeed for Ban if he had gone with the evidence instead of submitting to political pressure.

“Inclusion of a party on the secretary general’s list triggers increased response from the UN and potential Security Council sanctions, such as arms embargoes, travel bans, and asset freezes,” Human Rights Watch notes.

“For a country or armed group to be removed from the list, the UN must verify that the party has ended the abuses after carrying out an action plan negotiated with the UN.”

Ban has a long history of using his office to ensure that Israel escapes accountability except for the mildest verbal censures that are almost always “balanced” with criticism of those who live under Israeli occupation.

At the height of last summer’s Israeli attack on Gaza, 129 organizations and distinguished individuals wrote to the secretary-general, condemning him for “your biased statements, your failure to act, and the inappropriate justification of Israel’s violations of international humanitarian law, which amount to war crimes.”

Ban’s record, they said, made him a “partner” in Israel’s crimes. His latest craven decision will only cement that well-earned reputation.

While Israel will celebrate victory in the short-term, the long-term impact will likely be to further discredit the UN as a mechanism for accountability and convince more people of the need for direct popular pressure on Israel in the form of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS).

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