Jun 252014
 

By James Petras, 99GetSmart

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Introduction

There are two major beneficiaries of the two major wars launched by the US government: one domestic and one foreign.  The three major domestic arms manufacturers, Lockheed Martin (LMT), Northrop Grumman (NOG) and Raytheon (RTN) have delivered record-shattering returns to their investors, CEOs and investment banks during the past decade and a half.  The Israeli regime is the overwhelming foreign beneficiary of the war, expanding its territory through its dispossession of Palestinians and positioning itself as the regional hegemon.  Israel benefited from the US invasion which destroyed Iraq, a major ally of the Palestinians; the invasion provided cover for massive Israel’s settler expansion in the Occupied Palestinian territories.  In the course of its invasion and occupation Washington systematically destroyed Iraq’s armed forces and civil infrastructure, shredding its complex modern society and state.  By doing so, the US occupation removed one of Israel’s major regional rivals.

In terms of cost to the United States, hundreds of thousands of soldiers who had served in the war zones have sustained severe physical and mental injuries, while thousands have died directly or indirectly through an epidemic of soldier suicides.  The invasion and occupation of Iraq has cost the United States trillions of dollars and counting.  Despite the immense costs to the American people, the military-industrial complex and the pro-Israel power configuration continue to keep the US government on a wartime economy – undermining the domestic social safety net and standard of living of many millions.

No peaceful economic activity can match the immense profits enjoyed by the military-industrial complex in war.  This powerful lobby continues to press for new wars to sustain the Pentagon’s huge budget.  As for the pro-Israel power configuration, any substantive diplomatic peace negotiations in the Middle East would end their naked land grabs, reduce or curtail new weapons transfers and undermine pretexts to sanction or attack countries, like Iran, that stand in the way of Tel Aviv’s vision of “Greater Israel”, unrivaled in the region.

The costs of almost 15 years of warfare weigh heavily on the US Treasury and electorate.  The wars have been dismal failures if not outright defeats.  New sectarian conflicts have emerged in Syria, Iraq and, now, Ukraine – opportunities for the US arms industry and the pro-Israel lobbies to make even greater profits and gain more power.

The on-going horrendous costs of past and continuing wars make the launch of new military interventions more difficult for US and Israeli militarists.  The US public expresses wide-spread discontent over the burden of the recent past wars and shows even less stomach for new wars to profit the military-industrial complex and further strengthen Israel.

War Profits

The power and influence of the military-industrial complex in promoting serial wars has resulted in extraordinary rates of profit.    According to a recent study by Morgan Stanley (cited in Barron’s, 6/9/14, p. 19), shares in the major US arms manufacturers have risen 27,699% over the past fifty years versus 6,777% for the broader market.  In the past three years alone, Raytheon has returned 124%, Northrup Grumman 114% and Lockheed Martin 149% to their investors.

The Obama regime makes a grand public show of reducing the military budget via the annual appropriation bill, and then, turns around and announces emergency supplemental funds to cover the costs of these wars. . .thereby actually increasing military spending, all the while waving the banner of ‘cost cutting’.  Obama’s theatrics have fattened the profits for the US military-industrial complex.

War profits have soared with the series of military interventions in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia.  The arms industry lobbyists pressure Congressional and Pentagon decision-makers to link up with the pro-Israel lobby as it promotes even deeper direct US military involvement in Syria, Iraq and Iran.  The growing ties between Israeli and US military industries reinforce their political leverage in Washington by working with liberal interventionists and neo-conservatives.  They attack Obama for not bombing Syria and for his withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.  They now clamor for sending US troops back to Iraq and call for intervention in Ukraine.  Obama has argued that proxy wars without direct US troop involvement do not require such heavy Pentagon expenditures as the arms industry demands.  The Obama regime has presented the withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan as a necessary step to reduce US financial and military losses.  This was in response to Wall Street’s pressure to cut the budget deficit.  Obama’s attempt to meet the demands of the US financial sector has come at the price of cutting potential profit for the military industrial complex as well as infuriating Israel and its fanatical supporters in the US Congress.

The Fight over the Military Budget:  Veterans versus the Complex and the Lobby

In the face of rising domestic pressure to reduce the budget deficit and cut military spending, the US military-industrial complex and its Zionist accomplices are fighting to retain their share by eliminating programs designed to serve the health needs of active and retired soldiers.  Soaring disability costs related to the recent wars will continue for decades.  Veteran health care costs are expected to double to 15% of the defense budget in the next five years.  The huge public cost of caring for soldiers and veterans means “bad news for defense stocks” according to financial analysts (Barron’s, 6/9/14, p. 19).

This is reason  why the arms industries promote the closure of scores of Veterans Administration hospitals and a reduction in retiree benefits, using the pretext of fighting fraud, incompetence and poor quality service compared with the ‘private sector’.  The same corporate warlords and lobbyists who clamor to send US troops to back to Iraq and to new wars in Syria and Ukraine, where young lives, limbs and sanity are at great risk, are also in the forefront of a fight to slash funding for the veterans’ medical care.  Economists have long noted that the more dollars spent on veterans’ and military retirees’ health care, the less allocated for war materials, ships and aircraft. Today it is estimated that over $900 billion dollars will have been spent on long-term VA medical and disability services for veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  That number is clearly set to rise with each new intervention.

The corporate warlords are urging Congress to increase co-pays, enrollment fees and deductibles for veterans, retirees and active duty personnel enrolled in military health insurance plans, such as Tricare, as well as limiting access to the VA.

The fight over Pentagon expenditures is a struggle over war or social justice:   health services for troops and veterans versus weapons programs that fatten corporate profits for the arms industry.

Jun 212014
 

Posted by snakearbusto and greydogg, 99GetSmart

Written by Turkish political analyst / blogger, Gürkan Özturan:

Is the Gothenborg-based NetClean software as innocent as it is presented or is it used for silencing political dissent?

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Are Turkey’s notorious attempts to limit freedom of expression on the Internet adopting yet another powerful tool? This is the question that comes to mind when reading the news of the Swedish digital security company NetClean’s possible deal with the Turkish government. It was announced on a pro-government media outlet, Daily Sabah, that the government is to purchase the software for €40 million in order to combat “unwanted content” in the digital public space. As usual, the excuse given to cover the censorship is “child pornography.”

Since last year’s Gezi Park protests and protesters’ intensive use of social-media tools to organize and regroup, Turkey’s government has been taking steps – including a full ban – to discourage millions from using social media to spread political dissent and criticism of government policies. As all other forms of public space and media are under almost absolute control of the governing AKP, social-media platforms and the Internet still serve as the only tool citizens have to express themselves with a degree of freedom.

The head of the Turkish government, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, declared that Twitter was a “menace to society, to all societies,” upon which the government began seeking new ways to prevent the use of the platform for political criticism. The excuse presented was that “all kinds of immorality takes place there, families get separated; this is against the party’s conservative agenda.”

By definition, NetClean presents itself as a company working on software that aims to create a more secure society in the digital sphere by scanning, analyzing and blocking content. Moreover, its primary goal is supposedly to fight child pornography. The software is purchased by governments and ISPs around the world. Yet at what expense?

When one considers the world map of censorship and surveillance, it is not hard to guess which countries would be among the top buyers of this software. The software extends the effects of censorship a step further than WhiteBox initially did. WhiteBox is a software application based on URL blocking that allows users to browse content through filters, using DNS spoofing and ban lists of unwanted URLs. While WhiteBox can be used globally to combat child pornography, various governments have declared intentions to purchase even more advanced software to block content in real time.

In Turkey’s case, one has to remember Prime Minister Erdoğan’s approach to social media platforms, calling them a “source of immorality” and threatening to “eradicate twitter-mwitter all of them.” Moreover, it is important to remember that Turkey’s top general called social media “a threat to state order.”

Last December was a month of chaos for Turkey’s intelligence service. Not only did the intelligence service fail to prevent the spread of news of Turkey’s biggest corruption fiasco yet, but it also proved incapable of detecting the source of the information leak. The leaked sound recordings were allegedly of the Prime Minister’s phone calls with several people, asking for bribes and telling his son to hide the money before a police raid. Although Turkey’s top science institute declared that the sound recordings were a montage, sound/video clips continued leaking and circulating online for months.

Upon the intelligence service’s inability to combat such information leaks, the governing party AKP passed a controversial censorship bill in the parliament in February, allowing state officials to ban Web sites with a simple order, with no requirement of a court warrant or statement of a reason for the blocking. Although this action is in direct violation of the European Convention on Human Rights and the Constitution of the Republic of Turkey, the government has repeated its intention to block “unwanted content” and even remove it from the Web.

Currently Turkey leads the world in demands for removal of content from global digital corporations, even though in most cases these demands are in violation of freedom of expression or the right to acquire information. If the Turkish government showed more respect for democratic governance and human rights, perhaps use of this software would not have caused this level reaction from notable intellectuals, academics, NGOs and individual citizens. But censorship always seems to wear the mask of providing more security, while in fact stripping citizens of yet more liberties.

A question that needs to be answered is why Sweden, a country that claims to promote human rights and stand up for human dignity globally, has agreed to sell software that will obviously target political opposition in Turkey. Looking at current uses of censorship mechanisms in Turkey, it can be seen that content regarding Armenian newspapers, Kurdish political movements, LGBT rights and lifestyle, opposition parties’ Web sites and critical articles, anti-racist Web sites, etc. have been banned. One can’t help but wonder how many of these groups Sweden supports as a nation, yet will contribute to repressing in Turkey… Moreover, when one considers the fact that the company was founded with donations from Queen Sylvia of Sweden, the question arises of what statement Sweden’s royal head of state is making.

Lastly, it might make one issue very clear: Turkey is one of the top countries for censorship of pornography, yet also tops the charts for searches for porn content. The Turkish government cooperates with global allies to combat child pornography, yet unfortunately Turkey is the leading country when it come to searches for child porn. Obviously blocking access or applying censorship does not solve a sociological problem emerging from a mentality of prohibition in the country. If the Turkish government were sincere in protecting children, would it not be more useful to prohibit child labor and child marriage and imprison pedophile rapists rather than letting them go? When children are subjected to bullying and violence on the streets, in schools, and at home and are killed by policemen on streets, how sincere is the government’s attempt to implement a censorship policy with the excuse of combating child pornography when at the same time it declares political dissent illegal?

Many governments use the excuse of protecting children, but somehow the policy rapidly turns into a centralized structure of censorship and surveillance – a system of digital detention of citizens. While decentralization of the Internet is vital for the spread and defense of our liberties and knowledge as global citizens, governments’ policy of blocking access, removing content and censoring the Internet is the greatest obstacle to the advancement of democratic governance globally.

More stories by Gürkan Özturan @ http://theradicaldemocrat.wordpress.com

More stories about Turkey @ http://99getsmart.com/category/turkey/

Jun 172014
 

By James Petras, 99GetSmart

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Introduction

Greece is experiencing a triple crisis which has a profound impact on the economy, society and political system.  The economy has experienced a deep, prolonged depression lasting six years and continuing.  Workers and employees have suffered a 40% loss in income and a commensurate decline in medical, pension, educational and welfare benefits.  The political system has witnessed a precipitous decline in electoral support for previously dominant right and center left parties and the rapid rise of  radical democratic-socialist and fascist parties.

The socio-economic effects of the crash of the economy have been exacerbated by the “austerity programs” imposed by the European Unions’ triumvirate. The economic cuts have undermined any economic recovery and accentuated the reductions in employment, social welfare and public investments.

The political consequences resulting from the extremely harsh policies of the EU and their forceful implementation by the right and center parties have been dramatic.  A vast upheaval has shaken the entire political system.  Previously dominant mainstream parties have been increasingly rejected, while formerly marginal democratic socialist and radical right wing parties have made major advances.

The political consequences of the demise of Greek capitalism require a closer look at the prospects for an electoral victory for the democratic socialists in the immediate future.

The Rise of Syriza

The rise of the democratic socialists, more specifically Syriza, has been rapid and substantial.  Between October 2009 and 2014 it has grown by a multiple of five:  In the elections of October 2009 Syriza got 4.6% of the vote (315,665); in May 2012 16.8% (1,061,928) and in the most recent elections for the Euro parliament 26.l6% (1,516,699).  In contrast the two previously dominant parties, the rightwing New Democracy (ND) and the Panhellenic Socialist Party (PASOK) have experienced a precipitous decline.  In October 2009, combined ,they got 77.4%, (5,308, 261); in May 2012, 32% (2,025,555); and in the recent Europarlimentary elections 30.7% (1,753,592).

The Greek Communist Party has also declined, despite the crises, and the militancy of its trade union sector.  In the October 2009 elections, they got 8.4% (428,151); in the June 2012 elections 4.5% (277,227); and in the 2014 elections 6.1% (347,487).

In contrast the neo-fascist Golden Dawn has grown substantially over the same period.  In the October 2009 elections Golden Dawn got .5% (23,566); in June 2012 7% (440,966); and in the Europarlimentary elections of 2014, 9.4% (536,442).

The demise of the neo-liberal right (New Democracy) is accompanied by the rise of the radical nationalist right.  The collapse of the neo-liberal social democrats (PASOK) is accompanied by the rise of the radical left (Syriza) and a new self-styled “center-left”party calling itself “The River” (POTAMI).

The current electoral map of Greece is not defined by a dominant party or coalition.  The bi-party break-down is accompanied by fragmentation and polarization.  Moreover, the most intransigent opponents of the European Union’s austerity program and its executors in Greece are profoundly divided.  The Communist Party and Golden Dawn are mortal enemies of Syriza, thus eliminating any possibility of an “anti-EU” coalition.

The same problem is evident on the Right.  New Democracy and allied parties combine for only 27.4% of the electorate and are on a downward slope.

PASOK’s embrace of the neo-liberal agenda has led to the loss of nearly 85% of its voters (2.5 million) over the past 5 years. Many of their supporters among public sector employees have turned to Syriza.

The new ‘center-left’ party, “The River”, which gained 6.7% of the electorate has yet to decide which bloc to support, essentially bargaining to see with whom it can gain the most government posts.

Given the current dynamics of declining pro-EU support and increasing radicalization, what options does Syriza have, if it is to come to power?

Syriza:  Perspectives and Options

Syriza is the only realistic political vehicle on the Left with mass support, trade union backing and the electoral machinery for forming a government.  Its political trajectory has been in ascendance – up to point.

The fundamental problem is that after its spectacular rise between 2009 and 2012, it has stagnated.  In the June 2012 elections it got 26.9% and in the May 2014 elections 26.6%.  It appears that Syriza has hit an electoral barrier.  Despite the fact that it is Greece’s leading electoral party; it appears to be unable to advance further and secure a parliamentary majority.  This raises the question of alliances with political parties to the Left or Right.  Moreover, the internal divisions within Syriza complicate any overtures to possible electoral partners.  Syriza has drawn leaders, cadres and supporters from the former Maoist, Trotskyist and radical left.  Numerous PASOK middle level leaders and electoral supporters have flocked to Syriza.  Many defected as a result of PASOK’s responsibility for the crises and support for the “austerity” pact with the EU.  In addition a number of ex-Communist trade unionists are now backing Syriza as the only realistic alternative to the Right; many have repudiated Communist Party sectarianism and hostility toward other leftist formations.  The current leadership of Syriza has, so far, been able to maintain cohesion by balancing harsh critiques of the austerity pact, which satisfies the radical sectors, with a refusal to exit the EU, which accommodates the social-democratic wing of the Party.

At some point in the coming period Syriza will have to make some hard choices,if it is to form an alternative government.  Each of the following options has advantages and disadvantages, costs and benefits.

The Radical Option

Syriza opts to ally with the Communist Party.  This is a very difficult choice as the CP demands full compliance with its program, an equal sharing of key posts in a future government and recognition of its vanguard role.  Given the fact that, electorally, the CP represents less than one-quarter of the voting strength of Syriza these are totally unacceptable terms to all sectors of the democratic left.  The CP would have to accept that it will be a minority partner and that it would have to moderate some of its radical demands.  The CP fears that Syriza is just another version of PASOK – a party that gives left signals and makes right turns.  Its basic argument  that Syriza’s refusal to exit the EU is a sign of its basic opportunism, has some merit.  But it refuses to even consider tactical electoral alliances, or offer critical support in forming municipal governments.

In any case, even if the CP and other smaller radical left groups joined a Left  coalition, it would only add 8.6% to the electoral total, resulting in a precarious parliamentary majority subject to defections from the social-democratic wing of Syriza and face constant threats of defections by Communist maximalists.

The Moderate Option

Syriza could form an alliance with the so-called center-left parties – PASOK and River parties – on the bases of a minimum program which would involve a commitment to remain in the EU based on renegotiating debt payments and the austerity programs, increasing public spending and ending the privatization of strategic economic sectors.  This opening to the Right, would endanger the internal equilibrium of Syriza:  it risks a split with the powerful radical sector, thus reducing its overall representation in Parliament.

Even if the Syriza left were to be pacified by offers of ministerial posts and promises of ‘hard negotiations’ with the EU, it is not likely to succeed in securing substantial concessions from the EU.  Sectors of the latter are likely to welcome a Greek exit.  Others will insist on full compliance with only slight modifications regarding the size of budget surpluses, increases in public spending and the terms of privatization.  For the EU, the substance of the austerity program, the scope and depth of privatization, and the obligations to meet interest payments are non-negotiable.  In other words to remain in the EU, Syriza would have to continue the basic policies of its rightwing predecessor.  To remain in the EU Syriza would have to capitulate and become an updated version of PASOK – and lose its mass base in the next elections.  Syriza leaders could procrastinate, with phony  promises of a future break with the EU when ‘the time is more propitious’ or it could exit from the EU, losing its center-left allies, but hoping to recoup new supporters through alternative policies.

The ‘Middle Road’

Syriza could continue as an independent political movement, without radical left or center-left coalitions, working to accumulate forces from the stagnant Communists and the disintegrating right-center regime.  It could use its leadership of local and regional governments to demonstrate its effectiveness and capacity to govern and ameliorate harsh national policies.  It could transform its voting pluralities in Athens and Attica into majorities via community based councils, administrating social programs, food kitchens, public works, clinics and public security.

Conclusion:  Perspectives

Syriza, in government and out of the EU, could re-allocate debt payments, based on a debt moratorium, to public investments.  It could revert to a national currency and end the fiscal constraints of the EU strait-jacket on budgets, incomes and employment.  Control over monetary policy would allow Syriza to devaluate, to raise the effective taxes on the kleptocratic millionaires.  It could stimulate the economy and end the deflationary effects of the austerity programs.  Protective tariffs, foreign exchange controls and revitalization of public sector enterprises could stimulate the local market.  Flexible monetary policy could increase tourism.  The cut-off of funding from the EU could be compensated by a 50% cut in military spending and an exit from NATO.  The government could finance start-ups of high tech, small and medium size enterprises by the large numbers of educated Greeks currently overseas or unemployed.  Greece could increase its ties with non EU countries across the globe.  Greece would pay a price, especially from the financial markets.  In the immediate period liquidity , external financing and capital flows would dry-up.  Internal opposition from sectors tied to EU markets and imports would intensify.

No doubt sectors of the old right will turn to the neo-fascist Golden Dawn Party, as part of a sharper political polarization.  Sectors of the police and army, with the support of NATO, will conspire to destabilize.

But with mass support in civil society and the civil bureaucracy, with a majority in the armed forces and police backing the constitutional government, a Syriza led recovery of sovereignty and a robust stimulus package could defeat a destabilization conspiracy.

The key to a successful Syriza government is unity and internal cohesion, and sound and equitable economic policies which balance economic growth and job creation with the gradual recovery of social benefits.

Above all Syriza should resist the populist-clientelistic policies which some of its followers will demand.  It must not take the easy and disastrous road of expanding the public bureaucracy.  There must be greater reliance on highly skilled professionals and entrepreneurial local innovators who produce useful goods for the market.  Public firms must be reformed.  The trade unions must understand that the first priority of the economic recovery is to create jobs for the 60% of unemployed youth.

Syriza is Greece’s last best hope . . . because waiting in the wings are the EU aligned oligarchs, fascists and disloyal NATO military officials eager to take advantage of any misstep in order to seize power and turn Greece into another Egypt, Thailand or Ukraine.

Jun 122014
 

Posted by snakearbusto and greydogg, 99GetSmart

Written by Turkish political analyst / blogger, Gürkan Özturan:

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Taksim Solidarity is standing trial today. For raising their voices against all the injustice and crimes committed by the state against civilians. For trying to stop the unlawful destruction and demolition of public spaces. Members of Taksim Solidarity were detained illegally on false charges last year on July 8th, and one after another prosecutors refused to allow a case to be opened. Prosecutors were changed due to active pressure from the government, and finally the newly appointed prosecutor accepted the case and accused Taksim Solidarity of being a “terrorist organization.”

The 26 members of Taksim Solidarity began their defense with Mücella Yapıcı’s remarks. She gave a historical account of the movement and restated the fact that the organization was founded on February 15th 2012, and not on the day when the Gezi Park protests began, May 27th 2013. She emphasized the fact that people who are only making use of their constitutionally guaranteed human rights are being put on trial while murderers and those who gave the orders walk around freely. Yapıcı also stated that the initial aim of Taksim Solidarity was to stop an unlawful attempt to demolish the park and put pressure on authorities to respect the court’s decision to halt illegal construction projects.

Yapıcı continued by telling how she was detained in the first place. In her words, “When governor Mutlu stated that the park was clear and everyone can enjoy it now, we wanted to go to the park, when suddenly hundreds of police started surrounding us and we were arrested for going to the park. When we asked why we were told that we resisted arrest. I only turned my back on the police; if the police accept this I also do. When we were taken to the police station, they carried out a strip search. I was taken to the men’s toilet, where there was a camera. I have a heart condition and I was not given my medication on time.”

Later, when Ali Çerkezoğlu started his defense, he stated “Whereas it is the police, the governor, the mayor and the Prime Minister that are guilty and should be put on trial, we are the ones brought to court. This courtroom is not the place to judge this movement; it is on the squares that this trial should take place.”

The trial is being held at the biggest courthouse in Europe, where the sound systems do not work, thus leaving observers unable to hear the statements. Moreover, only international observers and accredited media members are allowed in the courtroom. Among the observers is listed Amnesty International, which recently released a report stating that 5,500 people are on trial in Turkey for supporting the Gezi Park protests and started a campaign, “I am Taksim” (#IAmTaksim), defending freedom of expression globally and calling for solidarity with Taksim Solidarity. During the recess of the trial for lunch, authorities confiscated copies of Amnesty International’s report from representatives of AI.

Taksim Solidarity consists of over a hundred sub-organizations, including architects, engineers, doctors, lawyers, academics, researchers, etc.

More stories about Turkey @ http://99getsmart.com/category/turkey

Jun 082014
 

By William Blum, 99GetSmart

Edward Snowden

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Is Edward Snowden a radical? The dictionary defines a radical as “an advocate of political and social revolution”, the adjective form being “favoring or resulting in extreme or revolutionary changes”. That doesn’t sound like Snowden as far as what has been publicly revealed. In common usage, the term “radical” usually connotes someone or something that goes beyond the generally accepted boundaries of socio-political thought and policies; often used by the Left simply to denote more extreme than, or to the left of, a “liberal”.

In his hour-long interview on NBC, May 28, in Moscow, Snowden never expressed, or even implied, any thought – radical or otherwise – about United States foreign policy or the capitalist economic system under which we live, the two standard areas around which many political discussions in the US revolve. In fact, after reading a great deal by and about Snowden this past year, I have no idea what his views actually are about these matters. To be sure, in the context of the NBC interview, capitalism was not at all relevant, but US foreign policy certainly was.

Snowden was not asked any direct questions about foreign policy, but if I had been in his position I could not have replied to several of the questions without bringing it up. More than once the interview touched upon the question of whether the former NSA contractor’s actions had caused “harm to the United States”. Snowden said that he’s been asking the entire past year to be presented with evidence of such harm and has so far received nothing. I, on the other hand, as a radical, would have used the opportunity to educate the world-wide audience about how the American empire is the greatest threat to the world’s peace, prosperity, and environment; that anything to slow down the monster is to be desired; and that throwing a wrench into NSA’s surveillance gears is eminently worthwhile toward this end; thus, “harm” indeed should be the goal, not something to apologize for.

Edward added that the NSA has been unfairly “demonized” and that the agency is composed of “good people”. I don’t know what to make of this.

When the war on terrorism was discussed in the interview, and the question of whether Snowden’s actions had hurt that effort, he failed to take the opportunity to point out the obvious and absolutely essential fact – that US foreign policy, by its very nature, regularly and routinely creates anti-American terrorists.

When asked what he’d say to President Obama if given a private meeting, Snowden had no response at all to make. I, on the other hand, would say to Mr. Obama: “Mr. President, in your time in office you’ve waged war against seven countries – Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Libya and Syria. This makes me wonder something. With all due respect, sir: What is wrong with you?”

A radical – one genuine and committed – would not let such a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity pass by unused. Contrary to what his fierce critics at home may believe, Edward Snowden is not seriously at war with America, its government or its society. Does he have a real understanding, analysis, or criticism of capitalism or US foreign policy? Does he think about what people could be like under a better social system? Is he, I wonder, even anti-imperialist?

And he certainly is not a conspiracy theorist, or at least keeps it well hidden. He was asked about 9-11 and replied:

The 9/11 commission … when they looked at all the classified intelligence from all the different intelligence agencies, they found that we had all of the information we needed … to detect this plot. We actually had records of the phone calls from the United States and out. The CIA knew who these guys were. The problem was not that we weren’t collecting information, it wasn’t that we didn’t have enough dots, it wasn’t that we didn’t have a haystack, it was that we did not understand the haystack that we had.

Whereas I might have pointed out that the Bush administration may have ignored the information because they wanted something bad – perhaps of unknown badness – to happen in order to give them the justification for all manner of foreign and domestic oppression they wished to carry out. And did. (This scenario of course excludes the other common supposition, that it was an “inside job”, in which case collecting information on the perpetrators would not have been relevant.)

The entire segment concerning 9/11 was left out of the television broadcast of the interview, although some part of it was shown later during a discussion. This kind of omission is of course the sort of thing that feeds conspiracy theorists.

All of the above notwithstanding, I must make it clear that I have great admiration for the young Mr. Snowden, for what he did and for how he expresses himself. He may not be a radical, but he is a hero. His moral courage, nerve, composure, and technical genius are magnificent. I’m sure the NBC interview won him great respect and a large number of new supporters. I, in Edward’s place, would be even more hated by Americans than he is, even if I furthered the radicalization of more of them than he has. However, I of course would never have been invited onto mainstream American television for a long interview in prime time. (Not counting my solitary 15 minutes of fame in 2006 courtesy of Osama bin Laden; a gigantic fluke happening.)

Apropos Snowden’s courage and integrity, it appears that something very important has not been emphasized in media reports: In the interview, he took the Russian government to task for a new law requiring bloggers to register – the same government which holds his very fate in their hands.

Who is more exceptional: The United States or Russia?

I was going to write a commentary about President Obama’s speech to the graduating class at the US Military Academy (West Point) on May 28. When he speaks to a military audience the president is usually at his most nationalistic, jingoist, militaristic, and American-exceptionalist – wall-to-wall platitudes. But this talk was simply TOO nationalistic, jingoist, militaristic, and American-exceptionalist. (“I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being.”) To go through it line by line in order to make my usual wise-ass remarks, would have been just too painful. However, if you’re in a masochistic mood and wish to read it, it can be found here.

Instead I offer you part of a commentary from Mr. Jan Oberg, Danish director of the Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research in Lund, Sweden:

What is conspicuously lacking in the President’s West Point speech?

  1. Any reasonably accurate appraisal of the world and the role of other nations.
  2. A sense of humility and respect for allies and other countries in this world.
  3. Every element of a grand strategy for America for its foreign and security policy and some kind of vision of what a better world would look like. This speech with all its tired, self-aggrandising rhetoric is a thin cover-up for the fact that there is no such vision or overall strategy.
  4. Some little hint of reforms of existing institutions or new thinking about globalisation and global democratic decision-making.
  5. Ideas and initiatives – stretched-out hands – to help the world move towards conflict-resolution in crisis areas such as Ukraine, Syria, Libya, China-Japan and Iran. Not a trace of creativity.

Ironically, on May 30 the Wall Street Journal published a long essay by Leon Aron, a Russia scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute in Washington. The essay took Russian president Vladimir Putin to task for claiming that Russia is exceptional. The piece was headed:

“Why Putin Says Russia Is Exceptional”

“Such claims have often heralded aggression abroad and harsh crackdowns at home.”

It states: “To Mr. Putin, in short, Russia was exceptional because it was emphatically not like the modern West – or not, in any event, like his caricature of a corrupt, morally benighted Europe and U.S. This was a bad omen, presaging the foreign policy gambits against Ukraine that now have the whole world guessing about Mr. Putin’s intentions.”

So the Wall Street Journal has no difficulty in ascertaining that a particular world leader sees his country as “exceptional”. And that such a perception can lead that leader or his country to engage in aggression abroad and crackdowns at home. The particular world leader so harshly judged in this manner by the Wall Street Journal is named Vladimir Putin, not Barack Obama. There’s a word for this kind of analysis – It’s called hypocrisy.

“Hypocrisy is anything whatever may deceive the cleverest and most penetrating man, but the least wide-awake of children recognizes it, and is revolted by it, however ingeniously it may be disguised.” – Leo Nikolaevich Tolstoi, (1828-1910) Russian writer

Is hypocrisy a moral failing or a failing of the intellect?

The New Cold War is getting to look more and more like the old one, wherein neither side allows the other to get away with any propaganda point. Just compare any American television network to the Russian station broadcast in the United States – RT (formerly Russia Today). The contrast in coverage of the same news events is remarkable, and the stations attack and make fun of each other by name.

Another, even more important, feature to note is that in Cold War I the United States usually had to consider what the Soviet reaction would be to a planned American intervention in the Third World. This often served as a brake to one extent or another on Washington’s imperial adventures. Thus it was that only weeks after the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, the United States bombed and invaded Panama, inflicting thousands of casualties and widespread destruction, for the flimsiest – bordering on the non-existent – of reasons. 1 The hostile Russian reaction to Washington’s clear involvement in the overthrow of the Ukrainian government in February of this year, followed by Washington’s significant irritation and defensiveness toward the Russian reaction, indicates that this Cold War brake may have a chance of returning. And for this we should be grateful.

After the “communist threat” had disappeared and the foreign policy of the United States continued absolutely unchanged, it meant that the Cold War revisionists had been vindicated – the conflict had not been about containing an evil called “communism”; it had been about American expansion, imperialism and capitalism. If the collapse of the Soviet Union did not result in any reduction in the American military budget, but rather was followed by large increases, it meant that the Cold War – from Washington’s perspective – had not been motivated by a fear of the Russians, but purely by ideology.

Lest we forget: Our present leaders can derive inspiration from other great American leaders.

White House tape recordings, April 25, 1972:

President Nixon: How many did we kill in Laos?

National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger: In the Laotian thing, we killed about ten, fifteen [thousand] …

Nixon: See, the attack in the North [Vietnam] that we have in mind … power plants, whatever’s left – POL [petroleum], the docks … And, I still think we ought to take the dikes out now. Will that drown people?

Kissinger: About two hundred thousand people.

Nixon: No, no, no … I’d rather use the nuclear bomb. Have you got that, Henry?

Kissinger: That, I think, would just be too much.

Nixon: The nuclear bomb, does that bother you? … I just want you to think big, Henry, for Christsakes.

May 2, 1972:

Nixon: America is not defeated. We must not lose in Vietnam. … The surgical operation theory is all right, but I want that place bombed to smithereens. If we draw the sword, we’re gonna bomb those bastards all over the place. Let it fly, let it fly.

“Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business.” – Michael Ledeen, former Defense Department consultant and holder of the Freedom Chair at the American Enterprise Institute 2

Help needed from a computer expert

This has been driving me crazy for a very long time. My printer doesn’t print the document I ask it to print, but instead prints something totally unrelated. But what it prints is always something I’ve had some contact with, like an email I received or a document I read online, which I may or may not have saved on my hard drive, mostly not. It’s genuinely weird.

Now, before I print anything, I close all other windows in my word processor (Word Perfect/Windows 7); I go offline; I specify printing only the current page, no multiple page commands. Yet, the printer usually still finds some document online and prints it.

At one point I cleared out all the printer caches, and that helped for a short while, but then the problem came back though the caches were empty.

I spoke to the printer manufacturer, HP, and they said it can’t be the fault of the printer because the printer only prints what the computer tells it to print.

It must be the CIA or NSA. Help!

Notes

  1. William Blum, Killing Hope, chapter 50
  2. Jonah Goldberg, “Baghdad Delenda Est, Part Two”National Review, April 23, 2002
Jun 042014
 

By James Petras, 99GetSmart

Violence mars Brazil anti-World Cup rallies

Violence mars Brazil anti-World Cup rallies

Introduction

For decades social critics have bemoaned the influence of sports and entertainment spectacles in ‘distracting’ workers from struggling for their class interests.  According to these analysts, ‘class consciousness’ was replaced by ‘mass’ consciousness.  They argued that atomized individuals, manipulated by the mass media, were converted into passive consumers who identified with millionaire sports heroes, soap opera protagonists and film celebrities.

The culmination of this ‘mystification’ – mass distraction –were the ‘world championships’ watched by billions around the world and sponsored and financed by billionaire corporations:  the World Series (baseball), the World Cup (soccer/futbol), and the Super Bowl (American football).

Today, Brazil is the living refutation of this line of cultural-political analysis. Brazilians have been described as ‘football crazy’.  Its teams have won the most number of World Cups.  Its players are coveted by the owners of the most important teams in Europe.  Its fans are said to “live and die with football” . . . Or so we are told.

Yet it is in Brazil where the biggest protests in the history of the World Cup have taken place.  As early as a year before the Games, scheduled for June 2014, there have been mass demonstrations of up to a million Brazilians.  In just the last few weeks, strikes by teachers, police, construction workers and municipal employees have proliferated.  The myth of the mass media spectacles mesmerizing the masses has been refuted – at least in present-day Brazil.

To understand why the mass spectacle has been a propaganda bust it is essential to understand the political and economic context in which it was launched, as well as the costs and benefits and the tactical planning of popular movements.

The Political and Economic Context:  The World Cup and the Olympics

In 2002, the Brazilian Workers Party candidate Lula DaSilva won the presidential elections.  His two terms in office (2003 – 2010) were characterized by a warm embrace of free market capitalism together with populist poverty programs.  Aided by large scale in-flows of speculative capital, attracted by high interest rates, and high commodity prices for its agro-mineral exports, Lula launched a massive poverty program providing about $60 a month to 40 million poor Brazilians, who formed part of Lula’s mass electoral base.  The Workers Party reduced unemployment, increased wages and supported low-interest consumer loans, stimulating a ‘consumer boom’ that drove the economy forward.

To Lula and his advisers, Brazil was becoming a global power, attracting world-class investors and incorporating the poor into the domestic market.

Lula was hailed as a ‘pragmatic leftist’ by Wall Street and a ‘brilliant statesman’ by the Left!

In line with this grandiose vision (and in response to hoards of presidential flatterers North and South), Lula believed that Brazil’s rise to world prominence required it to ‘host’ the World Cup and the Olympics and he embarked on an aggressive campaign. . . Brazil was chosen.

Lula preened and pontificated:  Brazil, as host, would achieve the symbolic recognition and material rewards a global power deserved.

The Rise and Fall of Grand Illusions

The ascent of Brazil was based on foreign flows of capital conditioned by differential (favorable) interest rates. And when rates shifted, the capital flowed out.  Brazil’s dependence on high demand for its agro-mineral exports was based on sustained double-digit economic growth in Asia.  When China’s economy slowed down, demand and prices fell, and so did Brazil’s export earnings.

The Workers Party’s ‘pragmatism’ meant accepting the existing political, administrative and regulatory structures inherited from the previous neo-liberal regimes.  These institutions were permeated by corrupt officials linked to building contractors notorious for cost over-runs and long delays on state contracts.

Moreover, the Workers Party’s ‘pragmatic’ electoral machine was built on kick-backs and bribes.  Vast sums were siphoned from public services into private pockets.

Puffed up on his own rhetoric, Lula believed Brazil’s economic emergence on the world stage was a ‘done deal’.  He proclaimed that his pharaonic sports complexes – the billions of public money spent on dozens of stadiums and costly infrastructure – would “pay for themselves”.

The Deadly ‘Demonstration Effect’:  Social Reality Defeats Global Grandeur

Brazil’s new president, Dilma Rousseff, Lula’ protégé, has allocated billions of reales to finance her predecessor’s massive building projects:  stadiums, hotels, highways and airports to accommodate an anticipated flood of overseas soccer fans.

The contrast between the immediate availability of massive amounts of public funds for the World Cup and the perennial lack of money for deteriorating essential public services (transport, schools, hospitals and clinics) has been a huge shock to Brazilians and a provocation to mass action in the streets.

For decades, the majority of Brazilians, who depended on public services for transport, education and medical care, (the upper middle classes can afford private services), were told that “there were no funds”, that “budgets had to be balanced”, that a “budget surplus was needed to meet IMF agreements and to service the debt”.

For years public funds had been siphoned away by corrupt political appointees to pay for electoral campaigns, leading to filthy, overcrowded transport, frequently breaking down, and commuter delays in sweltering buses and long lines at the stations.  For decades, schools were in shambles, teacher rushed from school to school to make-up for their miserable minimum-wage salaries leading to low quality education and neglect.  Public hospitals were dirty, dangerous and crowded; under-paid doctors frequently took on private patients on the side, and essential medications were scarce in the public hospitals and overpriced in the pharmacies.

The public was outraged by the obscene contrast between the reality of dilapidated clinics with broken windows, overcrowded schools with leaking roofs and unreliable mass transport for the average Brazilian and the huge new stadiums, luxury hotels and airports for wealthy foreign sports fans and visitors.

The public was outraged by the obvious official lies:  the claim that there were ‘no funds’ for teachers when billions of Reales were instantly available to construct luxury hotels and fancy stadium box seats for wealthy soccer fans.

The final detonator for mass street protest was the increase in bus and train fares to ‘cover losses’ – after public airports and highways had been sold cheaply to private investors who raised tolls and fees.

The protestors marching against the increased bus and train fares were joined by tens of thousands Brazilians broadly denouncing the Government’s priorities:  Billions for the World Cup and crumbs for public health, education, housing and transport!

Oblivious to the popular demands, the government pushed ahead intent on finishing its ‘prestige projects’.  Nevertheless, construction of stadiums fell behind schedule because of corruption, incompetence and mismanagement.  Building contractors, who were pressured,  lowered safety standards and pushed  workers harder, leading to an increase in workplace deaths and injury.  Construction workers walked out protesting the speed-ups and deterioration of work safety.

The Rousseff regime’s grandiose schemes have provoked a new chain of protests. The Homeless Peoples Movement occupied urban lots near a new World Cup stadium demanding ‘social housing’ for the people instead of new five-star hotels for affluent foreign sports aficionados.

Escalating costs for the sports complexes and increased government expenditures have ignited a wave of trade union strikes to demand higher wages beyond the regime’s targets.  Teachers and health workers were joined by factory workers and salaried employees  striking in strategic sectors, such as the transport and security services, capable of seriously disrupting the World Cup.

The PTs embrace of the grandiose sports spectacle, instead of highlighting Brazil’s ‘debut as a global power’, has spotlighted the vast contrast between the affluent and secure ten percent in their luxury condos in Brazil, Miami and Manhattan, with access to high quality private clinics and exclusive private and overseas schools for their offspring, with the mass of average Brazilians, stuck for hours sweating in overcrowded buses, in dingy emergency rooms waiting for mere aspirins from non-existent doctors and in wasting their children’s futures in dilapidated classrooms without adequate, full-time teachers.

Conclusion

The political elite, especially the entourage around the Lula-Rousseff Presidency have fallen victim to their own delusions of popular support. They believed that subsistence pay-offs (food baskets) to the very poor would allow them to spend billions of public money on sports spectacles to entertain and impress the global elite.  They believed that the mass of workers would be so enthralled by the prestige of holding the World Cup in Brazil, that they would overlook the great disparity between government expenditures for elite grand spectacles and the absence of support to meet the everyday needs of Brazilian workers.

Even trade unions, seemingly tied to Lula, who bragged of his past leadership of the metal workers, broke ranks when they realized that the ‘money was out there’ – and that the regime, pressured by construction deadlines, could be pressured to raise wages to get the job done.

Make no mistake, Brazilians are sports minded.  They avidly follow and cheer their national team. But they are also  conscious of their needs.  They are not content to passively accept the great social disparities exposed by the current mad scramble to stage the World Cup and Olympics in Brazil.  The government’s vast expenditure on the Games has made it clear that Brazil is a rich country with a multitude of social inequalities.  They have learned that vast sums are available to improve the basic services of everyday life.  They realized that, despite its rhetoric, the ‘Workers Party’ was playing a wasteful prestige game to impress an international capitalist audience.  They realized that they have strategic leverage to pressure the government and address some of the inequalities in housing and salaries through mass action.  And they have struck.  They realize they deserve to enjoy the World Cup in affordable, adequate public housing and travel to work (or to an occasional game) in decent buses and trains.  Class consciousness, in the case of Brazil, has trumped the mass spectacle.  ‘Bread and circuses’ have given way to mass protests.

Jun 022014
 

Posted by snakearbusto and greydogg, 99GetSmart

Written by Turkish political analyst / blogger, Gürkan Özturan:

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On the first anniversary of Gezi Park uprising, we the people, with collective consciousness, declared days ago that we wish to commemorate the victims of state violence at ground zero, Gezi Park. There is no need to repeat the fact that according to the Turkish constitution and universal human rights, any kind of peaceful protest can occur without asking for permission of anyone. While the AKP government previously employed plainclothes policemen as provocateurs to make it appear as if police were intervening to suppress violent protests, this time they did not even bother to cover the naked attempt at massacre.

Early on the morning of May 31st, with Gezi Park already closed and Istanbul in lock-down mode, with public transport cancelled, dozens of public buses kept deploying more and more policemen to Taksim Square from the airport where thousands of police officers were brought to Istanbul from all parts of Turkey. Prime Minister Erdoğan declared before the anniversary that anyone showing up on Taksim would have violated laws and that police had received orders to “do whatever it takes to get rid of the people on Taksim Square.”

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25,000 riot police, paramilitary forces, 50 TOMAs (water cannons), dozens of riot vehicles, work vehicles, fire trucks, helicopters, all laid siege to Taksim Square to prevent any citizen from entering the park. Except for the vicinity of Taksim, all major squares, surrounding gathering places, mosques, hospitals, and hotel lobbies were occupied by police so that they would not be used as infirmaries or to treat wounded protesters, as happened last year. Taksim Solidarity’s campaign calling for “1 million people to Taksim” must have been absolutely terrifying for Erdoğan to give such immoral orders to stop people at whatever cost. The plainclothes people armed with uniform backpacks, batons and gas masks unleashed all kinds of savagery and brutality arbitrarily against civilians around Taksim Square.

During the day, there were not many problems. Few incidents were observed. However CNN International’s Istanbul correspondent Ivan Watson was harassed on the air. While Watson was on live report to CNN, police came and harassed him, asking for his press card and passport and later kicking him and detaining him while he was on the air, because he was a foreign journalist. This action was part of a systematic sweep of foreign journalists from the area; the orders came from a government that severely criticized the Egyptian coup government that had given similar orders.

CNN’s Ivan Watson detained by Istanbul Police On-Air:

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Another significant incident that took place before there was even a protest was the raid of the Liberal Democratic Party’s building and the detention of two liberal activists. Several liberal activists from the 3H (Law Liberty Tolerance) Movement had asked for permission to hang a banner on LDP’s party building, reading in big letters “FEAR NOT!”; however only a minute after the banner was hung, police raided the building. When asked why the activists were being detained, police officers replied “we cannot detain you legally of course, so let’s go for a walk together towards the police station.” The activists were taken to the police station, their phones were confiscated and the data inside deleted (all the photos and videos of the banner being hung). Other movement members on Taksim Square taking photos of the banner were detained and the photos from their phones and cameras were deleted too.

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On Taksim Square, when police locked down the park, several young activists took out their books, sat in front of the police, and started reading. After a minute, several police officers started shouting at them, saying “Stop provoking us by reading provocatively, don’t get us nervous like this!” and not long after they pushed the activists away, trying to confiscate their books. Book reading in the park during the sit-in was quite popular on the first day of the Gezi Park protests last year and a Çapulling Library was established in the park during the occupation.

During the day there have been two occupations of train stations on the Anatolian side of Istanbul. While the largest number of policemen were deployed to the European side, the activists in Kadıköy quietly occupied the unaccompanied Haydarpaşa Train Station, which the government wanted to transform into a shopping mall or hotel. Not long after this occupation came a neighboring train station, Göztepe – also targeted by the government to be turned into a shopping mall.

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Until 7 PM, police kept pushing people down from Istiklal avenue, and at exactly 7 PM simultaneous attacks began and all hell broke loose. All of AKP’s armed forces started attacking randomly against everyone, gassing, shooting, beating. Dozens of people suffered terrible tortures in day time, in the middle of streets. The newly appearing plainclothes police – much like Iran’s “Basij” (Islamic revolutionary guards) forces – were armed with batons and wore the same yellow jacket. The ratio of the attacks was often ten on one – whenever a protester fell to the ground, 10 to 15 armed “security forces” would run and beat and kick them on the ground him for several minutes.

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While all these attacks on civilians were taking place, the media did not deviate from last year’s habit, continuing to show irrelevant programs and documentaries. However there were no reports on penguins this time; this year’s trend was a “strawberry documentary” on CNN Turk. The pro-government media broadcast the events in a completely different manner this time, showing empty/quiet areas and stating that nothing is happening and that the people have lost faith in the protests.

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There was no resistance like there was last year. This year’s call for commemoration was simply a day of mourning for the hundreds of miners buried alive as a result of the government’s lack of inspections and indifference towards work-related deaths and for the latest victim of Gezi Park protests: Elif Çermik (64) died in a coma after 159 days as a result of a heart attack caused by tear gas. To commemorate all the deaths that are caused by government’s orders, people wanted to leave flowers in the park, and it is in fact quite a miracle that more deaths did not happen due to uncontrolled police in systematic violation of human rights and attempting to drive all media away from the vicinity.

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When the houses of several citizens were raided by people with batons and yellow jackets, they asked who they were and where their permission/warrant papers were. The answer they received was “We have all kinds of permission from the Chief, so you never mind…”

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There was another alternative protest in Istanbul as well, to commemorate the Mavi Marmara flotilla, which was raided by Israeli Defense Forces. Nine Turkish citizens were murdered on board by Israeli soldiers. A pro-government NGO held a protest rally to commemorate the loss of lives and campaign for the transformation of Hagia Sophia into a mosque as well as to voice their hatred and threats towards Israel. Thousands marched on the streets from the Sultanahmet, frequented by tourists, to where the Mavi Marmara is harbored, Sarayburnu. No police intervened, no one attacked, no one was hurt… But then again, this was an action in line with the government’s agenda. Double standards are a fact of AKP governance.

As the police had been deployed from across the country to Taksim Square very early during the day and served all day non-stop as protests kept spreading to other districts from Taksim, towards midnight they were getting tired and Taksim Solidarity members were actually able to just walk by into Gezi Park. A couple of hours later there was a group of more than 100 people in the park leaving their flowers… When people entered the park, no one was hurt, and a whole day’s unnecessary use of excessive use of force served to illustrate Erdoğan’s claim to his dictatorial throne, by his very own definition:

“If I were a dictator, would you be able to roam around freely on squares?” (24.05.2014) R.T. Erdoğan

More stories by Gürkan Özturan @ http://theradicaldemocrat.wordpress.com

More stories about Turkey @ http://99getsmart.com/category/turkey/