TBR News May 7, 2014

May 06 2014

The Voice of the White House


        Washington, D.C. May 7, 2014: “History has a habit of repeating itself. In 1956, the CIA instigated a revolt in Hungary and when Eisenhower refused to involve the United States when the Russian army moved in, the CIA pretended they had nothing to do with the matter and turned to other things. The same thing has happened in the Ukraine when the CIA-instigated putch recently led to Russian reprisals and threats of future reprisals. Aren’t they lovely people? So nice to be around. And now we learn that many American universities have CIA personnel on their staffs, cunningly disguised as academics with degrees that are entirely invented. These creatures are in place to recruit and use and would be better off somewhere else. A deep quarry would be a good start.”


Side deals with Moscow thwart drive to wean Europe off Russian gas


May 4, 2014

by Henning Gloystein



 LONDON  – While officials in Brussels were calling for Europe to reduce its dependency on Russian natural gas and negotiate with Moscow as a bloc, Austria was quietly bypassing the European Commission to cut its own bilateral deal on building a pipeline.


The deal on the South Stream pipeline, which will be built under the Black Sea to Bulgaria and on to central Europe, shows the European Union’s difficulty in creating a unified energy policy on Moscow during the Ukraine crisis.

While EU officials are calling for Europe to wean itself off Russian gas, private and state-owned firms, with the support of politicians, are pushing ahead with projects to buy ever more.

true  Austrian energy firm OMV agreed last week with Russia’s state-controlled Gazprom to bring the South Stream pipeline to Austria’s Baumgarten gas hub, outmaneuvering Italy which had wanted it to end there.

The deal is also likely to please some in neighboring Germany, as the gas will now be delivered closer to customers.

It shows that when it comes to natural gas diplomacy, European countries still have their own competing interests which are difficult to unite under an EU flag.

The timing of the deal, which coincided with Europe announcing new sanctions on a list of Russians designed to push the Kremlin to reduce its support for separatists in Ukraine, could hardly have been more at odds with official EU policy.

The Commission had put the approval process for South Stream on hold after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region in March, hoping the delay would push Moscow to stop what the West says is its intervention in Ukraine.

Brussels says South Stream does not comply with its regulations on ownership and pipeline access. But Austria and Russia have circumvented this by announcing that their deal is based on a bilateral agreement between the countries rather than an EU accord.

South Stream’s main purpose, like the German-Russian Nord Stream pipeline under the Baltic Sea, is to circumvent Ukraine. This would ensure that disputes between Moscow and Kiev do not interfere with the flow of Russian gas to Europe, much of which crosses Ukraine in existing pipelines.

“If we agree to South Stream, Europe will sell the rope with which Russia will hang Ukraine, and it will also agree to increase its energy dependency on Russia,” said Frank Umbach, at the European Centre for Energy and Resource Security (EUCERS), a research team at King’s College London.




Austria was motivated to push for the South Stream deal after it lost out to Italy in a competition last year over a separate pipeline bringing gas to Europe from Azerbaijan.

OMV’s Nabucco pipeline project was dropped in favor of the rival Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) to Italy. That derailed years of Austrian lobbying, which the EU had initially backed, for Nabucco to bring the Azeri gas to central Europe.

“Current international developments show once again that in the long-term we don’t only have to diversify our energy sources, but also our routes,” said Austrian economy and energy minister Reinhold Mitterlehner. “Should the South Stream pipeline end in Baumgarten, we will get closer to this target.”

Gazprom sources said they had been approached during the last four weeks by Austria, and a deal was put together as fast as possible.

Gazprom and OMV aim to get the remaining permits by the end of next year and start delivering gas by 2017.

“For Russia, this project is a clear signal to Ukraine that it intends to avoid any future disputes or supply disruptions,” said Friedbert Pflüger, director of EUCERS. “The reference to a 2010 bilateral agreement for regulatory approval demonstrates Moscow’s intention to circumvent the EU’s regulations that would make the realization of the project more difficult.”




The Gazprom-OMV agreement continues Russia’s strategy of making bilateral deals that undermine the Commission, the EU’s executive arm, which wants to build up a European front on energy supplies.

Bulgaria, which imports almost all its gas from Russia, also backed South Stream last month in defiance of Commission calls that member states should not enter bilateral deals with Gazprom without its approval.

“South Stream is a project of strategic importance. Now they (the European Parliament) want to stop South Stream. How are we to develop? This crisis at the moment shows that we do not have security of natural gas supplies for Bulgaria,” energy minister Dragomir Stoynev said.

Quietly supporting smaller EU member states such as Austria and Bulgaria is Germany, where the government has said it sees Moscow as a reliable gas supplier and industry has made big investments in securing Russian gas.

Germany is by far Gazprom’s biggest customer in the EU, paying around $15 billion a year for Russian gas.

After years of lobbying by former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, the Nord Stream pipeline began operations in 2011.

Schroeder chairs Nord Stream’s board and has been an outspoken critic of moves to isolate Russia diplomatically. He drew strong criticism in the German press last week for bear-hugging President Vladimir Putin during a visit to Russia.

South Stream’s proposed 2,500 km (1,500 mile) route would stretch from Russia under the Black Sea through Bulgaria and Serbia to Hungary and now Austria.

Germany’s BASF, the world’s biggest chemicals company, is a partner in South Stream through its gas supply subsidiary Wintershall.

The head of BASF’s advisory board is Eggert Voscherau, brother of Henning Voscherau, who is chairman of South Stream Transport’s board of directors and a prominent former politician of Schroeder’s Social Democratic Party.

A government adviser in Berlin, speaking on condition of anonymity said Berlin was happy that the new pipeline was now going to Austria rather than Italy: “Bringing South Stream’s gas to Austria is far better for Germany’s industry and gas security than pumping it far to the South to Italy.”

(Additional reporting by Georgina Prodhan in Vienna, Stephen Jewkes in Milan, and Dmitry Zhdannikov in London; editing by Peter Graff)


Kiev Struggles to Break Russia’s Grip on Gas Flow


May 4, 2014

by Andrew Higgins 

New York Times


            CHASLOVTSY, Ukraine — As Ukraine tries to contain a pro-Russian insurgency convulsing its eastern region, a perhaps more significant struggle for the country hinges on what happens beneath the ground here in a placid woodland in the far west, on the border with Slovakia.

This is where about $20 billion worth of Russian natural gas flows each year through huge underground pipelines to enter Europe after a nearly 3,000-mile journey from Siberia. It is also, the pro-European government in Kiev believes, where Ukraine has a chance to finally break free from the grip of Gazprom, Russia’s state-controlled energy behemoth.

In an effort to do this, Ukraine has for more than a year been pushing hard to start so-called reverse-flow deliveries of gas from Europe via Slovakia to Ukraine, thus blunting repeated Russian threats to turn off the gas tap.

An agreement signed last week between Slovak and Ukrainian pipeline operators opened the way for modest reverse-flow deliveries of gas from Europe, where prices are much lower than those demanded by Gazprom for its direct sales to Ukraine.

But the deal, brokered by the European Union and nudged along by the White House, fell so far short of what Ukraine had been lobbying for that it left a nagging question: Why has it been so difficult to prod tiny Slovakia, a European Union member, to get a technically simple and, for Ukraine and for the credibility of the 28-nation bloc, vitally important venture off the ground?

Some cite legal and technical obstacles, others politics and fear of crossing the Kremlin, but all agree that a major obstacle has been the power and reach of Gazprom, which serves as a potent tool for advancing Russia’s economic and geopolitical interests, and is ultimately beholden to President Vladimir V. Putin.

            All the same, a fog of mystery surrounds the reluctance of Slovakia to open up its gas transit corridor — through which Russia pumps a large portion of its gas to Europe — for large reverse-flow deliveries to Ukraine.

Built during the Soviet era to link Siberian gas fields with European markets, Slovak pipelines, according to Ukrainian officials and experts, could move up to 30 billion cubic meters of gas from Europe to Ukraine a year — more than all the gas Ukraine is expected to import from Russia this year.

Instead, the majority state-owned Slovak company that runs the system, Eustream, has offered only a small, long-disused subsidiary pipeline that still needs engineering work before it can carry gas to Ukraine. Once the work is finished in October, Eustream will provide just a tenth of the gas Ukraine has been looking for from Europe. The company says that small amount can be increased sharply later.

Here in Chaslovtsy, in southwestern Ukraine, where technicians from Ukraine’s pipeline company, Ukrtransgaz, and Gazprom monitor the flow of Russian gas into Slovakia, the Ukrainian head of the facility, Vitaly Lukita, said he wondered if gas would ever flow the other way.

“We are all ready here, but I don’t know why the Slovaks are taking so long,” Mr. Lukita said. “Everyone has been talking about this for a very long time, but nothing has happened.”

Continue reading the main story Andriy Kobolev, the board chairman of Naftogaz, Ukraine’s state gas company, said he was particularly mystified by the recalcitrance of Eustream because in 2011 the company had put forward the idea of using spare capacity in its trunk pipelines for reverse-flow supplies to Ukraine.

He said the Slovaks had rejected this option in recent negotiations, citing secret contracts with Gazprom. He added that he did not know what the problem was exactly, because he had not been allowed to see the contracts.

Eustream executives declined repeated requests for interviews. Vahram Chuguryan, the company’s spokesman, declined to comment on the apparent change of heart or on whether it was related to an ownership shuffle in early 2013, when a group of wealthy Czech and Slovak businesspeople purchased a 49 percent stake in Eustream. At the time, Czech news media speculated that they were acting as a stalking horse for Gazprom.

Daniel Castvaj, a spokesman for Energeticky a Prumyslovy Holding, the company that made the purchase, denied Ukrainian assertions that Eustream has sought to limit reverse-flow deliveries to Ukraine, describing these as “not only untrue but nonsensical” since the pipeline operator, which makes its money off transit fees, has a strong commercial interest in boosting flows regardless of direction.

He said he was unaware of any 2011 offer by Eustream to use the trunk transit system to deliver gas to Ukraine, but added that such an option has always been technically and legally impossible “without the consent of Gazprom,” which has not been given.

European Union officials, frustrated by months of haggling and worried about possible legal problems raised by Gazprom’s contracts with Slovakia, hailed last week’s modest deal as offering at least an end to the logjam. José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, described it as a “breakthrough” but also called it a “first step,” signaling hope that Slovakia may, over time, allow more substantial reverse-flow deliveries to Ukraine.

Ukraine’s dependence on Gazprom to heat homes and power factories — it buys more than half its supplies from Russia — has not only left the country vulnerable to sudden price changes, which fluctuate depending on whether Moscow wants to punish or favor the authorities in Kiev, but has also helped fuel the rampant corruption that has addled successive Ukrainian governments.

When Gazprom raised the price of gas to Ukraine by 80 percent last month and threatened to cut off supplies if Kiev did not pay up, Ukraine’s interim prime minister, Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk, blasted Moscow for “aggression against Ukraine.”

“Apart from the Russian Army and guns, they decided to use one of the most efficient tools, which are political and economic pressure,” he said.

 By pushing to buy the bulk of its gas from Europe instead of from Gazprom and murky middlemen endorsed by Gazprom, Ukraine hopes to protect what it sees as a dangerously exposed flank from Russian attack. The best-known of those middlemen, the Ukrainian businessman Dmytro Firtash, was detained in Austria in April and has been fighting extradition to the United States.

“Imagine where you’d be today if you were able to tell Russia: Keep your gas,” Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. told Ukrainian legislators during a visit to Kiev last month. “It would be a very different world you’d be facing today.”

Nearly all the gas Washington and Brussels would like to get moving into Ukraine from Europe originally came from Russia, which pumps gas westward across Ukraine, into Slovakia and then on to customers in Germany and elsewhere. Once the gas is sold, however, Gazprom ceases to be its owner and loses its power to set the terms of its sale.

            All Ukraine really wants, said Mr. Kobolev, the chairman of Naftogaz, Gazprom’s biggest customer after Germany, is a “fair and transparent price” and a stable, uninterrupted supply.

 The role of natural gas in Ukraine’s economy is key to understand possible outcomes of the political mess in Kiev. The economic trade off is…

            Russia is currently demanding $485 per thousand cubic meters for the gas Ukraine buys directly — instead of the price of $268 it offered the Ukrainian government under President Viktor F. Yanukovych before his ouster — while “Russian” gas sold via Europe, which should be more expensive because of additional transit fees, costs at least $100 per unit less.

Russia denies using gas as a political weapon and says all Ukraine needs to do to secure a stable supply at a reasonable price is pay its bills on time and clear its debts, which Gazprom said total $3.5 billion.

Ukraine has already started taking reverse-flow deliveries from Poland and Hungary. But the quantities, around 2 billion cubic meters last year, have been too small to make much of a difference. Only Slovakia has the pipeline capacity to change the balance of forces.

“We have been struggling for a long time to convince them to find a solution,” said Mr. Kobolev, the Ukrainian gas chief. “We have now identified the problem, which was obvious from the beginning — restrictions placed by Gazprom.” Ukraine’s energy minister, Yuri Prodan, dismissed Gazprom’s legal and technical arguments as a red herring. “I think the problem is political. We don’t see any real objective obstacles to what we have been proposing,” he said.

Opposition politicians in Slovakia, noting that 51 percent of Eustream belongs to the Slovak state, attribute the pipeline company’s stand to the country’s prime minister, Robert Fico, a center-left leader who has sometimes seemed more in sync with Moscow’s views than those of the European Union.

“Fico thinks that it is necessary to be very nice and polite to Mr. Putin,” Mikulas Dzurinda, a former prime minister of Slovakia, said in a telephone interview. “This is the heritage of old communists in a new era: The big guys are still in Moscow,” he said.

At a news conference in April, Mr. Fico insisted that Slovakia was “really ready” to help assist reverse-flow deliveries to Ukraine. But he added, “We naturally protect our own interests” and will not risk punishment by Gazprom for moves that violate Slovakia’s own deals with the Russian energy giant.

Slovakia depends on Gazprom for around 60 percent of its gas supplies and worries that upsetting the Russian company would lead to higher prices for itself or even cuts in supplies.

Alexander Medvedev, the head of Gazprom’s export arm, said he had no problem in principle with reverse-flow supplies to Ukraine but said such arrangements “require the agreement of all parties involved,” including Gazprom.

            “Normally, you can’t arrange a physical reverse flow without a new pipeline,” he added, indicating Gazprom’s opposition to the use of existing Slovak pipelines.

Watching over workers in Chaslovtsy as they laid new underground pipes, Ivan Shayuk, a Ukrainian engineer for Ukrtransgaz, shook his head when asked why the scheme was taking so long.

“What is the problem? The problem is simple — Putin,” he said.


Hana de Goeij contributed reporting from Prague, and Alison Smale from Berlin


NYT Retracts Russian-Photo Scoop

Exclusive: After starting a propaganda stampede – with a lead story about photos of Russian troops purportedly in Ukraine – the New York Times admits the pictures really don’t prove much, and one photo was labeled as snapped in Russia when it was really taken in Ukraine, writes Robert Parry.


April 23, 2014

by Robert Parry

Consortium News


Two days after the New York Times led its editions with a one-sided article about photos supposedly proving that Russian special forces were behind the popular uprisings in eastern Ukraine, the Times published what you might call a modified, limited retraction.

Buried deep inside the Wednesday editions (page 9 in my paper), the article by Michael R. Gordon and Andrew E. Kramer – two of the three authors from the earlier story – has this curious beginning: “A collection of photographs that Ukraine says shows the presence of Russian forces in the eastern part of the country, and which the United States cited as evidence of Russian involvement, has come under scrutiny.”

Photograph published by the New York Times purportedly taken in Russia of Russian soldiers who later appeared in eastern Ukraine. However, the photographer has since stated that the photo was actually taken in Ukraine, and the U.S. State Department has acknowledged the error.

In the old days of journalism, we used to apply the scrutiny before we published a story on the front page or on any other page, especially if it had implications toward war or peace, whether people would live or die. However, in this case – fitting with the anti-Russian bias that has pervaded the mainstream U.S. press corps – the scrutiny was set aside long enough for this powerful propaganda theme to be put in play and to sweep across the media landscape.

Only now do we belatedly learn what should have been obvious: the blurry photographs provided by the coup regime in Kiev and endorsed by the Obama administration don’t really prove anything. There were obvious alternative explanations to the photos that were ignored by the Times, such as the possibility that these were military veterans who are no longer associated with the Russian military. Or that some photos are not of the same person.

And, one of the photos featured by the Times in its Monday lead article, purportedly showing some of the armed men in Russia, was actually shot in the Ukrainian town of Slovyansk, according to Maxim Dondyuk, the freelance photographer who took the picture and posted it on his Instagram account.

Here is the tortured way the Times treated that embarrassing lapse in its journalistic standards: “A packet of American briefing materials that was prepared for the Geneva meeting asserts that the photograph was taken in Russia. The same men are also shown in photographs taken in Ukraine.

“Their appearance in both photographs was presented as evidence of Russian involvement in eastern Ukraine. The packet was later provided by American officials to The New York Times, which included that description of the group photograph in an article and caption that was published on Monday. … The dispute over the group photograph cast a cloud over one particularly vivid and highly publicized piece of evidence.”

Then, after noting Dondyuk’s denial that the photo was snapped in Russia, the Times quoted State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki as acknowledging “that the assertion that the photograph in the American briefing materials had been taken in Russia was incorrect. But she said that the supposedly proving that Russian special forces were behind the popular uprisings in eastern Ukraine, the Times published what you might call a modified, limited retraction.

Buried deep inside the Wednesday editions (page 9 in my paper), the article by Michael R. Gordon and Andrew E. Kramer – two of the three authors from the earlier story – has this curious beginning: “A collection of photographs that Ukraine says shows the presence of Russian forces in the eastern part of the country, and which the United States cited as evidence of Russian involvement, has come under scrutiny.”

Photograph published by the New York Times purportedly taken in Russia of Russian soldiers who later appeared in eastern Ukraine. However, the photographer has since stated that the photo was actually taken in Ukraine, and the U.S. State Department has acknowledged the error.

In the old days of journalism, we used to apply the scrutiny before we published a story on the front page or on any other page, especially if it had implications toward war or peace, whether people would live or die. However, in this case – fitting with the anti-Russian bias that has pervaded the mainstream U.S. press corps – the scrutiny was set aside long enough for this powerful propaganda theme to be put in play and to sweep across the media landscape.

Only now do we belatedly learn what should have been obvious: the blurry photographs provided by the coup regime in Kiev and endorsed by the Obama administration don’t really prove anything. There were obvious alternative explanations to the photos that were ignored by the Times, such as the possibility that these were military veterans who are no longer associated with the Russian military. Or that some photos are not of the same person.

And, one of the photos featured by the Times in its Monday lead article, purportedly showing some of the armed men in Russia, was actually shot in the Ukrainian town of Slovyansk, according to Maxim Dondyuk, the freelance photographer who took the picture and posted it on his Instagram account.

Here is the tortured way the Times treated that embarrassing lapse in its journalistic standards: “A packet of American briefing materials that was prepared for the Geneva meeting asserts that the photograph was taken in Russia. The same men are also shown in photographs taken in Ukraine.

“Their appearance in both photographs was presented as evidence of Russian involvement in eastern Ukraine. The packet was later provided by American officials to The New York Times, which included that description of the group photograph in an article and caption that was published on Monday. … The dispute over the group photograph cast a cloud over one particularly vivid and highly publicized piece of evidence.”

Then, after noting Dondyuk’s denial that the photo was snapped in Russia, the Times quoted State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki as acknowledging “that the assertion that the photograph in the American briefing materials had been taken in Russia was incorrect. But she said that the photograph was included in a ‘draft version’ of a briefing packet and that the information has since been corrected.”

But the misidentification of the photo’s location as Russia, not Ukraine, was not some minor mistake. If the photo was taken in Ukraine, then the whole premise of the claim that these same guys were operating in Russia and have since moved to Ukraine collapses.

Note how the Times framed this point in its Monday article: “Some of the men photographed in Ukraine have been identified in other photos clearly taken among Russian troops in other settings.” Then, the cutline below the photo read: “Soldiers in a group photo of a reconnaissance unit, which was taken in Russia, were later photographed operating in towns in eastern Ukraine.” There was no attribution. The location is stated as flat fact.

Still, the Obama administration is not going to let its sloppy mistake get in the way of a potent propaganda theme. According to the Times, Psaki insisted that there was plenty of other classified and unclassified evidence proving that the Russians are behind the eastern Ukrainian uprisings, but none of that supposed evidence was included in Wednesday’s story.

The problem for the Times, however, is different. Many of the flaws in the photographic evidence were there to see before Monday’s front-page article, but the newspaper was apparently blinded by its anti-Russian bias.

For instance, the article devoted much attention to the Russian skill at “masking” the presence of its troops, but that claim would seem to be contradicted by these allegedly secret warriors posing for public photos.

The Times also ignored the fact that the U.S. Special Forces – and indeed the special forces of many other nations – also seek to blend in with the populations by growing beards and wearing local clothing. This is not some unique tactic employed by the nefarious Russians


Will Ukraine Be NYT’s Waterloo?


As Ukrainian soldiers from the coup regime in Kiev tighten the noose around anti-coup rebels in eastern Ukraine, the New York Times continues its cheerleading for the coup regime and its contempt for the rebels, raising grave questions about the Times’ credibility


May 4, 2014

by Robert Parry

Consortium News



For Americans interested in foreign policy, the New York Times has become the last U.S. newspaper to continue devoting substantial resources to covering the world. But the Times increasingly betrays its responsibility to deliver anything approaching honest journalism on overseas crises especially when Official Washington has a strong stake in the outcome.

The Times’ failures in the run-up to the disastrous Iraq War are, of course, well known, particularly the infamous “aluminum tube” story by Michael R. Gordon and Judith Miller. And, the Times has shown similar bias on the Syrian conflict, such as last year’s debunked Times’ “vector analysis” tracing a sarin-laden rocket back to a Syrian military base when the rocket had less than one-third the necessary range.

But the Times’ prejudice over the Ukraine crisis has reached new levels of extreme as the “newspaper of record” routinely carries water for the neocons and other hawks who still dominate the U.S. State Department. Everything that the Times writes about Ukraine is so polluted with propaganda that it requires a very strong filter, along with additives from more independent news sources, to get anything approaching an accurate understanding of events.

From the beginning of the crisis, the Times sided with the “pro-democracy” demonstrators in Kiev’s Maidan square as they sought to topple democratically elected President Viktor Yanukovych, who had rebuffed a set of Western demands that would have required Ukraine to swallow harsh austerity measures prescribed by the International Monetary Fund. Yanukovych opted for a more generous offer from Russia of a $15 billion loan with few strings attached.

Along with almost the entire U.S. mainstream media, the Times cheered on the violent overthrow of Yanukovych on Feb. 22 and downplayed the crucial role played by well-organized neo-Nazi militias that surged to the front of the Maidan protests in the final violent days. Then, with Yanukovych out and a new coup regime in, led by U.S. hand-picked Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the IMF austerity plan was promptly approved.

Since the early days of the coup, the Times has behaved as essentially a propaganda organ for the new regime in Kiev and for the State Department, pushing “themes” blaming Russia and President Vladimir Putin for the crisis. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Ukraine, Though the US ‘Looking Glass.’”]

In the Times’ haste to perform this function, there have been some notable journalistic embarrassments such as the Times’ front-page story  touting photographs that supposedly showed Russian special forces in Russia and then the same soldiers in eastern Ukraine, allegedly proving that the popular resistance to the coup regime was simply clumsily disguised Russian aggression.

Any serious journalist would have recognized the holes in the story – since it wasn’t clear where the photos were taken or whether the blurry images were even the same people – but that didn’t bother the Times, which led with the scoop. However, only two days later, the scoop blew up when it turned out that a key photo – supposedly showing a group of soldiers in Russia who later appeared in eastern Ukraine – was actually taken in Ukraine, destroying the premise of the entire story.


Soldiering On


The Times, however, continued to soldier on with its bias, playing up stories that made Russia and the ethnic Russians of eastern Ukraine look bad and playing down anything that might make the post-coup regime in Kiev look bad.

On Saturday, for instance, the dominant story from Ukraine was the killing of more than 30 ethnic Russian protesters by fire and smoke inhalation in Ukraine’s southern port city of Odessa. They had taken refuge in a building after a clash with a pro-Kiev mob which reportedly included right-wing thugs.

Even the neocon-dominated Washington Post led its Saturday editions with the story of “Dozens killed in Ukraine fighting” and described the fatal incident this way: “Friday evening, a pro-Ukrainian mob attacked a camp where the pro-Russian supporters had pitched tents, forcing them to flee to a nearby government building, a witness said. The mob then threw gasoline bombs into the building. Police said 31 people were killed when they choked on smoke or jumped out of windows.

“Asked who had thrown the Molotov cocktails, pro-Ukrainian activist Diana Berg said, ‘Our people – but now they are helping them [the survivors] escape the building.’”

By contrast, here is how the New York Times reported the event in its Saturday editions as part of a story by C.J. Chivers and Noah Sneider focused on the successes of the pro-coup armed forces in overrunning some eastern Ukrainian rebel positions.

“Violence also erupted Friday in the previously calmer port city of Odessa, on the Black Sea, where dozens of people died in a fire related to clashes that broke out between protesters holding a march for Ukrainian unity and pro-Russian activists. The fighting itself left four dead and 12 wounded, Ukraine’s Interior Ministry said. Ukrainian and Russian news media showed images of buildings and debris burning, fire bombs being thrown and men armed with pistols.”

Note how the Times evades placing any responsibility on the pro-coup mob for trying to burn the “pro-Russian activists” out of a building, an act that resulted in the highest single-day death toll since the actual coup which left more than 80 people dead from Feb. 20-22. From reading the Times, you wouldn’t know who had died in the building and who had set the fire.

Normally, I would simply attribute this deficient story to some reporters and editors having a bad day and not bothering to assemble relevant facts. However, when put in the context of the Times’ unrelenting bias in its coverage of the Ukraine crisis – how the Times hypes every fact (and even non-facts) that reflect negatively on the anti-coup side – you have to think that the Times is spinning its readers, again.

For those who write for the Times – and the many more people who read it – the question must be whether the Times is so committed to its prejudices here that the newspaper will risk whatever credibility it has left. The coup regime from Kiev may succeed in slaughtering many ethnic Russians in the rebellious east — as the Times signals its approval — but will this bloody offensive become a Waterloo for whatever’s left of the newspaper’s journalistic integrity?


This Land Isn’t Your Land, This Land Is Their Land

An Empire in Decline (City by City, Town by Town)


by Peter Van Buren



As America’s new economy starts to look more like the old economy of the Great Depression, the divide between rich and poor, those who have made it and those who never will, seems to grow ever starker. I know. I’ve seen it firsthand.

Once upon a time, I worked as a State Department officer, helping to carry out the occupation of Iraq, where Washington’s goal was regime change. It was there that, in a way, I had my first taste of the life of the 1%. Unlike most Iraqis, I had more food and amenities than I could squander, nearly unlimited funds to spend as I wished (as long as the spending supported us one-percenters), and plenty of U.S. Army muscle around to keep the other 99% at bay. However, my subsequent whistleblowing about State Department waste and mismanagement in Iraq ended my 24-year career abroad and, after a two-decade absence, deposited me back in “the homeland.”

I returned to America to find another sort of regime change underway, only I wasn’t among the 1% for this one. Instead, I ended up working in the new minimum-wage economy and saw firsthand what a life of lousy pay and barely adequate food benefits adds up to. For the version of regime change that found me working in a big box store, no cruise missiles had been deployed and there had been no shock-and-awe demonstrations. Nonetheless, the cumulative effects of years of deindustrialization, declining salaries, absent benefits, and weakened unions, along with a rise in meth and alcohol abuse, a broad-based loss of good jobs, and soaring inequality seemed similar enough to me. The destruction of a way of life in the service of the goals of the 1%, whether in Iraq or at home, was hard to miss. Still, I had the urge to see more. Unlike in Iraq, where my movements were limited, here at home I could hit the road, so I set off for a look at some of America’s iconic places as part of the research for my book, Ghosts of Tom Joad.

Here, then, are snapshots of four of the spots I visited in an empire in decline, places you might pass through if you wanted to know where we’ve been, where we are now, and (heaven help us) where we’re going.


On the Boardwalk: Atlantic City, New Jersey


Drive in to Atlantic City on the old roads, and you’re sure to pass Lucy the Elephant. She’s not a real elephant, of course, but a wood and tin six-story hollow statue. First built in 1881 to add value to some Jersey swampland, Lucy has been reincarnated several times after suffering fire, neglect, and storm damage. Along the way, she was a tavern, a hotel, and — for most of her life — simply an “attraction.” As owning a car and family driving vacations became egalitarian rights in the booming postwar economy of the 1950s and 1960s, all manner of tacky attractions popped up along America’s roads: cement dinosaurs, teepee-shaped motels, museums of oddities, and spectacles like the world’s largest ball of twine. Their growth paralleled 20 to 30 years of the greatest boom times any consumer society has ever known.

Between 1947 and 1973, actual incomes in the United States rose remarkably evenly across society. Certainly, there was always inequality, but never as sharp and predatory as it is today. As Scott Martelle’s Detroit: A Biography chronicles, in 1932, Detroit produced 1.4 million cars; in 1950, that number was eight million; in 1973, it peaked at 12 million. America was still a developing nation — in the best sense of that word.

Yet as the U.S. economy changed, money began to flow out of the working class pockets that fed Lucy and her roadside attraction pals. By one count, from 1979 to 2007, the top 1% of Americans saw their income grow by 281%. They came to control 43% of U.S. wealth.

You could see it all in Atlantic City, New Jersey. For most of its early life, it had been a workingman’s playground and vacation spot, centered around its famous boardwalk. Remember Monopoly? The street names are all from Atlantic City. However, in the economic hard times of the 1970s, as money was sucked upward from working people, Boardwalk and Park Place became a crime scene, too dangerous for most visitors. Illegal drug sales all but overtook tourism as the city’s most profitable business.

Yet the first time I visited Atlantic City in the mid-1980s, it looked like the place was starting to rebound in the midst of a national economy going into overdrive. With gambling legalized, money poured in. The Boardwalk sprouted casinos and restaurants. Local business owners scrambled to find workers. Everyone and everything felt alive. Billboards boasted of “rebirth.”

Visit Atlantic City in 2014 and it’s again a hollowed-out place. The once swanky mall built on one of the old amusement piers has more stores shuttered than open. Meanwhile, the “We Buy Gold” stores and pawnshops have multiplied and are open 24/7 to rip off the easy marks who need cash bad enough to be out at 4 A.M. pulling off their wedding rings. On a 20-story hotel tower, you can still read the word “Hilton” in dirt shadow where its name had once been, before the place was shuttered.

Trump Plaza, a monument to excess and hubris created by a man once admired as a business magician and talked about as a possible presidential candidate, is now a catalog of decay. The pillows in the rooms smell of sweat, the corners of doors are chipped, many areas need a new coat of paint, and most of the bars and restaurants resemble the former Greyhound bus terminal a few blocks away. People covered with the street gravy that marks the homeless wander the casino, itself tawdry and too dimly lit to inspire fun. There were just too many people who were clearly carrying everything they owned around in a backpack.

Outside, along the Boardwalk, there are still the famous rolling chairs. They are comfortable, bound in wicker, and have been a fixture of Atlantic City for decades. They were once pushed by strong young men, maybe college students earning a few bucks over summer break. You can still ride the chairs to see and be seen, but now they’re pushed by recent immigrants and not-so-clean older denizens of the city. Lots of tourists still take rides, but there’s something cheap and sad about paying workers close to my own age to wheel you around, just a step above pushing dollars into the G-strings of the strippers in clubs just off the Boardwalk.

One of the things I did while in Atlantic City was look for the family restaurant I had worked in 30 years earlier. It’s now a dollar store run by an angry man. “You buy or you leave,” he said. Those were the last words I heard in Atlantic City. I left.


Dark Side of the Moon: Weirton, West Virginia


The drive into Weirton from the east takes you through some of the prettiest countryside in Maryland and Western Pennsylvania. You cross rivers and pass through the Cumberland Gap along the way and it’s easy going into the town, because the roads are mostly empty during typical business hours. There’s nothing much going on. The surrounding beauty just makes the scarred remains of Weirton that much more shocking when you first come upon them. Take the last turn and suddenly the abandoned steel mills appear like a vision of an industrial apocalypse, nestled by the Ohio River.

In 1909, Ernest T. Weir built his first steel mill next to that river and founded what later became the Weirton Steel Corporation. In the decades to come, the town around it and the mill itself were basically synonymous, both fueled by the industrial needs of two world wars and the consumer economy created following the defeat of Germany and Japan. The Weirton mill directly contributed to wartime triumphs, producing artillery shells and raw steel to support the effort, while Weirton’s sons died on battlefields using the company’s products. (A war memorial across the street from the mill sanctifies the dead, the newest names being from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan.)

At its peak, the Weirton Steel Corporation employed more than 12,000 people, and was the largest single private employer and taxpayer in West Virginia. The owners of the mill paid for and built the Weirton Community Center, the Weirton General Hospital, and the Mary H. Weir Library in those glory days. For years the mill also paid directly for the city’s sewers, water service, and even curbside garbage pickup. Taxes were low and life was good.

In the 1970s and early 1980s, however, costs rose, Asian steel gained traction and American manufacturing started to move offshore. For the first time since the nineteenth century, the country became a net importer of goods. Some scholars consider the mid-1970s a tipping point, when Congress changed the bankruptcy laws to allow troubled companies an easier path to dumping existing union contracts and employee agreements. It was then that Congress also invented individual retirement accounts, or IRAs, which were supposed to allow workers to save money tax-free to supplement their retirements. Most corporations saw instead an opportunity to get rid of expensive pensions. It was around then that some unknown steelworker was first laid off in Weirton, a candidate for Patient Zero of the new economy.

The mill, which had once employed nearly one out of every two people in town, was sold to its employees in 1984 in a final, failed attempt at resuscitation. In the end, the factory closed, but the people remained. Today, the carcass of the huge steel complex sits at one end of Main Street, rusting and overgrown with weeds because it wasn’t even cost-effective to tear it down. Dinosaur-sized pieces of machinery litter the grounds, not worth selling off, too heavy to move, too bulky to bury, like so many artifacts from a lost civilization. A few people do still work nearby, making a small amount of some specialty metal, but the place seems more like a living museum than a business.

Most of the retail shops on Main Street are now abandoned, though I counted seven bars and two strip clubs. There’s the Mountaineer Food Bank that looks like it used to be a hardware store or maybe a dress shop. The only still-thriving industry is, it seems, gambling. West Virginia legalized “gaming” in 1992 and it’s now big business statewide. (Nationally, legal gambling revenues now top $92.27 billion a year.)

Gambling in Weirton is, however, a far cry even from the decaying Trump Hotel in Atlantic City. There are no Vegas-style casinos in town, just what are called “cafes” strung along Main Street. None were built to be gambling havens. In fact, their prior history is apparent in their architecture: this one a former Pizza Hut, that one an old retail store with now-blacked out windows, another visibly a former diner.

One sunny Tuesday, I rolled into a cafe at 7 A.M., mostly because I couldn’t believe it was open. It took my eyes a minute to adjust to the darkness before I could make out three older women feeding nickels into slot machines, while another stood behind a cheap padded bar, a cigarette tucked behind her ear, another stuck to her dry lips. She offered me a drink, gesturing to rows of Everclear pure grain, nearly 99% pure alcohol, and no-name vodka behind her. I declined, and she said, “Well, if you can’t drink all day, best anyway that you not start so early.”

Liquor is everywhere in Weirton. I talked to a group of men drinking out of paper bags on a street corner at 8 A.M. They hadn’t, in fact, been there all night. They were just starting early like the cafe lady said. Even the gas stations were stocked with the ubiquitous Everclear, all octane with no taste or flavor added because someone knew that you didn’t care anymore. And as the state collects tax on it, everyone but you wins.

Booze is an older person’s formula for destruction. For the younger set, it’s meth that’s really destroying Weirton and towns like it across the Midwest. Ten minutes in a bar, a nod at the guy over there, and you find yourself holding a night’s worth of the drug. Small sizes, low cost, adapted to the market. In Weirton, no need even to go shopping, the meth comes to you.

Meth and the Rust Belt were just waiting for each other. After all, it’s a drug designed for unemployed people with poor self-images and no confidence. Unlike booze or weed, it makes you feel smart, sexy, confident, self-assured — before the later stages of addiction set in. For a while, it seems like the antidote to everything real life in the New Economy won’t ever provide. The meth crisis, in the words of author Nick Reding in Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town, is “as much about the death of a way of life as the birth of a drug.”

The effects of a lifetime working in the mill — or for the young, of a lifetime not working in the mill — were easy enough to spot around town. The library advertised free diabetes screening and the one grocery store had signs explaining what you could and could not buy with SNAP (food stamps, which have been called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program since 2008). The local TV channels were chock-a-block full of lawyers’ ads urging you to call in if you have an asbestos-related illness. A lot of health was left behind in those mills.

There are some nice people in Weirton (and Cleveland, Detroit, or any of the other industrial ghost towns once inhabited by what Bruce Springsteen calls “steel and stories”). I’m sure there were even nicer parts of Weirton further away from the Main Street area where I was hanging out, but if you’re a stranger, it’s sure damn hard to find them. Not too far from the old mill, land was being cleared to make way for a new Walmart, a company which already holds the distinction of being West Virginia’s largest private employer.

In 1982 at the Weirton mill, a union journeyman might have earned $25 an hour, or so people told me. Walmart pays seven bucks for the same hour and fights like a junkyard dog against either an increase in the minimum wage or unionization.


The Most Exclusive Gated Community: U.S. Marine Corps Base, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina


I grew up in a fairly small Ohio town that, in the 1970s, was just crossing the sociological divide between a traditional kind of place and a proper bedroom suburb. Not everyone knew each other, but certain principles were agreed upon. A steak should be one inch thick or more. A good potluck solved most problems. Vegetables were boiled, faith rewarded. Things looked better in the morning. Kids drank chocolate milk instead of Coke. We had parades every Memorial Day and every Fourth of July, but Labor Day was just for barbecues because school began the next day and dad had to get up for work. In fact, that line — “I’ve got to get up for work” — was the way most social events broke up. This isn’t nostalgia, it’s history.

In 2014, you could travel significant parts of the decaying Midwest and not imagine that such a place had ever existed. But turn south on Interstate 95 and look for the signs that say “Welcome to U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune,” in Jacksonville, North Carolina. Actually, welcome to almost any U.S. military base outside of actual war zones, where a homogeneous military population and generous government spending (re)creates the America of the glory days as accurately as a Hollywood movie. For a first-time visitor, a military base can feel like its own living museum, the modern equivalent of Colonial Williamsburg.

Streets are well maintained, shaded by tall trees planted there (and regularly pruned) for just that purpose. Road, water, and sewer crews are always working. There are no potholes. There is a single school with a prominent football field, and a single shopping area. The restaurants are long-time Department of Defense franchise partners and there’s always a pizza place with a fake-sounding Italian name. Those creature comforts on such bases in the U.S. and around the world come at a cost to taxpayers of billions of dollars a year.

Some of the places employ locals, some military spouses, some high school kids earning pocket money after school. The kids bag groceries. Everybody tips them; they’re neighbors.

The centerpieces of any base like Camp Lejeune are the Base Exchange and the Commissary. The former is a mini-Walmart; the latter, a large grocery store. Both are required by law not to make a profit and so sell products at near wholesale prices. Because everyone operates on federal property, no sales tax is charged. When a member of a Pentagon advisory board proposed shutting down some of the commissaries across the U.S., a step that would have saved taxpayers about $1.4 billion a year, World War III erupted in Congress and halted the idea.

Over in officers’ housing areas, everyone cuts their lawns, has a garage full of sports equipment and a backyard with a grill. Don’t keep up your assigned housing unit and you’ll hear from a senior officer. People get along — they’re ordered to do so.

The base is the whole point of Jacksonville, the town that surrounds it. The usual bars and strip clubs service the Marines, and Camp Lejeune is close to being the town’s sole employer like that old steel mill in Weirton or the gambling palaces in Atlantic City. The base shares another connection to places like Weirton: as men lost their health in the mills thanks to asbestos and other poisons, so Camp Lejeune’s drinking water was contaminated with trichloroethylene, a known carcinogen, between 1953 and 1987.

There, however, the similarities end.

Unlike the archipelago of American towns and cities abandoned to shrivel and die, the “city” inside Camp Lejeune continues to thrive, since its good times are fully covered by taxpayer money. The 23% of the national budget spent on defense assures places like Camp Lejeune of their prosperity.

The Department of Defense, with 3.2 million employees (albeit not all in uniform) is the world’s largest employer. It makes up more than two percent of the American labor force.

And the military pays well; no scrambling for a minimum wage at Camp LeJeune. With combat pay more or less standard since 9/11 (the whole world being a battlefield, of course), the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the average active duty service member receives a benefits and pay compensation package worth $99,000. This includes a livable pension after 20 years of service, free medical and dental care, free housing, a clothing allowance, and more. In most cases, dependents of service members continue to live on a base in the United States while their husbands or wives, fathers or mothers serve abroad. Unlike in the minimum-wage jobs many other Americans now depend on, service members can expect regular training and skills enhancement and a clear path to promotion. Nearly every year, Congress votes for pay increases. The arguments for military benefits may be clear — many service members lead difficult and dangerous lives. The point is, however, that the benefits exist, unlike in so many corporate workplaces today. The government pays for all of them, while Atlantic City and Weirton struggle to stay above water.


Small Town America in the Big Apple: Spanish Harlem


The number of Americans who have visited Harlem, even for a quick stop at a now-trendy restaurant or music club, is unknown but has to be relatively small. Even many lifetime New Yorkers riding the uptown subway under the wealthy upper east side are careful to hop off before reaching the 116th Street stop. Still, get off there, walk a few blocks, and you find yourself in a micro-economy that, in its own way, has more in common with America of the 1950s than 2014.

There are, of course, no shaded areas along the block I was visiting in what has traditionally been known as Spanish Harlem, no boyish Little League games. But what you do find are locally owned stores with hardly a franchised or corporately owned place in sight. The stores are stocked with a wondrous hodge-podge of what people in the area need, including South American root vegetables, pay-as-you-go cell phones, and cheap school supplies.

These stores could not exist in many other places. They are perfectly adapted to the neighborhood they are in. While the quality of goods varies, prices are wondrously below what similar things cost a half-dozen subway stops away in midtown Manhattan. In the stores, the employees of these family businesses speak the same languages as their mostly Dominican immigrant customers, and those who work there are eager to make suggestions and help you find things.

People actually chat with each other. Customer loyalty is important, so prices are often negotiable. When he discovered that his customer was also his neighbor, one shop owner helped carry purchases upstairs. Another store informally accepted and held package deliveries for neighbors.

The guy selling frozen ices on the sidewalk nearby did not work for a conglomerate and doled out healthy-sized servings to his regulars. He told me that he bought his raw materials in the very grocery store we were camped in front of.

Even at night, the sidewalks here are full of people. I never felt unsafe, even though I obviously wasn’t from the neighborhood. People seemed eternally ready to give me directions or suggest a local eatery I shouldn’t miss. The one established mega-corporate store in the area, a Rent-a-Center charging usurious prices for junk, had no customers inside on the day I visited. The shop next to it, with an impressive array of used TVs and small appliances from unknown Chinese manufacturers, seemed to be doing gangbuster business. The owner shifted among English, Spanish, and some sort of Dominican creole based on the needs of his customers.

Few things here are shiny or new. There are vacant lots, an uncomfortable sight at night. Homeless people, some near naked despite the weather and muttering to themselves, are more prevalent than in Midtown. The streets have more trash. I saw drug deals going on against graffiti-scarred walls. There is a busy methadone clinic on a busy street. Not everyone is the salt of the earth, but local businesses do cater to the community and keep prices in line with what people could pay. Money spent in the neighborhood mostly seems to stay there and, if not, is likely sent home to the Dominican Republic to pay for the next family member’s arrival in town — what economist John Maynard Keynes called the “local multiplier effect.” One study found that each $100 spent at local independents generated $45 of secondary local spending, compared to $14 at a big-box chain. Business decisions — whether to open or close, staff up or lay off — were made by people in the area face-to-face with those they affected. The businesses were accountable, the owners at the cash registers.

The stretch of Spanish Harlem I passed through is a galaxy away from perfect, but unlike Weirton, which had long ago given up, Atlantic City, which was in the process of doing so, or Camp Lejeune, which had opted out of the system entirely, people are still trying. It shows that an accountable micro-economy with ties to the community can still work in this country — at least in the short run. But don’t hold your breath. Target recently opened its first superstore not far away and may ultimately do to this neighborhood what cheap foreign steel imports did to Weirton.


Looking Ahead


I grew up in the Midwest at a time when the country still prided itself on having something of a conscience, when it was a place still built on hope and a widespread belief that a better future was anybody’s potential birthright. Inequity was always there, and there were always rich people and poor people, but not in the ratios we see now in America. What I found in my travels was place after place being hollowed out as wealth went elsewhere and people came to realize that, odds on, life was likely to get worse, not better. For most people, what passed for hope for the future meant clinging to the same flat-lined life they now had.

What’s happening is both easy enough for a traveler to see and for an economist to measure. Median household income in 2012 was no higher than it had been a quarter-century earlier. Meanwhile, expenses had outpaced inflation. U.S. Census Bureau figures show that the income gap between rich and poor had widened to a more than four-decade record since the 1970s. The 46.2 million people in poverty remained the highest number since the Census Bureau began collecting that data 53 years ago. The gap between how much total wealth America’s 1% of earners control and what the rest of us have is even wider than even in the years preceding the Great Depression of 1929. Argue over numbers, debate which statistics are most accurate, or just drive around America: the trend lines and broad patterns, the shadows of our world of regime change, are sharply, sadly clear.

After John Steinbeck wrote The Grapes of Wrath, he said he was filled with “certain angers at people who were doing injustices to other people.” I, too, felt anger, though it’s an emotion that I’m unsure how to turn against the problems we face.

As I drove away from Atlantic City, I passed Lucy the Elephant still at her post, unblinking and silent. She looks out over the Boardwalk, maybe America itself, and if she could, she undoubtedly would wonder where the road ahead will take us.


Peter Van Buren blew the whistle on State Department waste and mismanagement during Iraqi reconstruction


Israel ‘crossed red lines’ in US spying: Newsweek report

May 6, 2014


Israel’s espionage activities in the United States have “crossed red lines,” angering  American intelligence officials, according to a new report.
            During confidential briefings in recent weeks, senior US intelligence officials have said that Israel’s spying operations in the US “go far beyond that of other close American allies, such as Germany, France, the UK and Japan,” Newsweek magazine reported on Tuesday.
Tel Aviv’s efforts to “steal US secrets under the cover of trade missions and joint defense technology contracts have crossed red lines,” said the report.
            The assessments were given in confidential briefings to a number of congressional committees discussing a law that would lower visa restrictions on Israeli citizens wanting to come to the US.
            The US visa waiver program would exempt Israeli nationals from having to produce a tourist visa, permitting them to stay in the US for a period of up to 90 days.
            According to a congressional staffer familiar with a briefing last January, the testimony was “very sobering…alarming…even terrifying.” Another staffer called it “damaging.”
“No other country close to the United States continues to cross the line on espionage like the Israelis do,” said a former congressional staffer who attended another classified briefing in 2013.
            “I don’t think anyone was surprised by these revelations,” the former aide said. “But when you step back and hear…that there are no other countries taking advantage of our security relationship the way the Israelis are for espionage purposes, it is quite shocking. I mean, it shouldn’t be lost on anyone that after all the hand-wringing over Jonathan Pollard, it’s still going on.”

Senior US intelligence officials have reportedly told Congress that Israeli’s spying operations are going too far and called the extent of the espionage activities shocking, far exceeding similar activities by any other close allies.


THE TRAITOR: An excerpt

The case against Jonathan Pollard.


The New Yorker, January 18, 1999, pp. 26-33.


A number of officials strongly suspect that the Israelis repackaged much of Pollard’s material and provided it to the Soviet Union in exchange for continued Soviet permission for Jews to emigrate to Israel. Other officials go further, and say there was reason to believe that secret information was exchanged for Jews working in highly sensitive positions in the Soviet Union. A significant percentage of Pollard’s documents, including some that described the techniques the American Navy used to track Soviet submarines around the world, was of practical importance only to the Soviet Union. One longtime C.I.A. officer who worked as a station chief in the Middle East said he understood that “certain elements in the Israeli military had used it” — Pollard’s material — “to trade for people they wanted to get out,” including Jewish scientists working in missile technology and on nuclear issues. Pollard’s spying came at a time when the Israeli government was publicly committed to the free flow of Jewish emigres from the Soviet Union. The officials stressed the fact that they had no hard evidence — no “smoking gun,” in the form of a document from an Israeli or a Soviet archive — to demonstrate the link between Pollard, Israel, and the Soviet Union, but they also said that the documents that Pollard had been directed by his Israeli handlers to betray led them to no other conclusion.

            High-level suspicions about Israeli-Soviet collusion were expressed as early as December, 1985, a month after Pollard’s arrest, when William J. Casey, the late C.I.A. director, who was known for his close ties to the Israeli leadership, stunned one of his station chiefs by suddenly complaining about the Israelis breaking the “ground rules.” The issue arose when Casey urged increased monitoring of the Israelis during an otherwise routine visit, I was told by the station chief, who is now retired. “He asked if I knew anything about the Pollard case,” the station chief recalled, and he said that Casey had added, “For your information, the Israelis used Pollard to obtain our attack plan against the U.S.S.R. all of it. The coordinates, the firing locations, the sequences. And for guess who? The Soviets.” Casey had then explained that the Israelis had traded the Pollard data for Soviet emigres. “How’s that for cheating?” he had asked.






Outrage at civilian loss of life on the Lusitania is regarded as having hastened the US’s entry into the first world war. Photograph: Mpi/Getty Images


Lusitania divers warned of danger from war munitions in 1982, papers reveal


Foreign Office warning that operation ‘could literally blow up on us’ reopens debate over German rationale for sinking liner


April 30, 2014

by Alan Travis, home affairs editor

The Guardian 


A 1980s salvage operation on the wreck of the Lusitania, the Cunard luxury liner that was torpedoed in the first world war, triggered a startling Foreign Office warning that its sinking could still “literally blow up on us”.

Newly released secret Whitehall files disclose that a Ministry of Defence warning that “something startling” was going to be found during the August 1982 salvage operation raised such serious concerns that previously undeclared war munitions and explosives might be found that divers involved were officially warned in the strongest terms of the possible “danger to life and limb” they faced.

Foreign Office officials also voiced serious concerns that a final British admission that there were high explosives on the Lusitania could still trigger serious political repercussions with America even though it was nearly 70 years after the event.

The RMS Lusitania was sunk on 7 May 1915 by a torpedo fired without warning from a German submarine just off the Irish coast with the loss of 1,198 lives, including 128 American civilians. The liner went down in just 18 minutes and the loss of civilian life enraged US public opinion and hastened American’s entry into the first world war.

The Cunard liner was nearing the end of her voyage from New York to Liverpool and her sinking was to feature as a major theme in British propaganda and enlistment campaigns: “Take up the sword of justice – avenge the Lusitania” read one famous poster.

The Foreign Office files released by the National Archives at Kew on Thursday show that news of the imminent salvage operation in 1982 sparked alarm across Whitehall.

“Successive British governments have always maintained that there was no munitions on board the Lusitania (and that the Germans were therefore in the wrong to claim to the contrary as an excuse for sinking the ship),” wrote Noel Marshall, the head of the Foreign Office’s North America department, on 30 July 1982.

“The facts are that there is a large amount of ammunition in the wreck, some of which is highly dangerous. The Treasury have decided that they must inform the salvage company of this fact in the interests of the safety of all concerned. Although there have been rumours in the press that the previous denial of the presence of munitions was untrue, this would be the first acknowledgement of the facts by HMG.”

Marshall said the disclosure of the true nature of the Lusitania’s cargo was likely to spark a public, academic and journalistic debate. He also reveals that Treasury solicitors had even gone so far as to consider whether the relatives of American victims of the sinking could still sue the British government if it was shown the German claims were well-founded.

A senior government lawyer, Jim Coombes at Treasury Chambers, told Marshall that the Admiralty had always denied that the Lusitania was armed or carrying war munitions but that there had always been persistent rumours about the latter.

He said: “It cannot be denied that the sinking of the Lusitania did much to sway American opinion in favour of entering the war. If it were now to come to light that there was after all some justification, however slight, for torpedoing, HMG’s relations with America could well suffer. (Your Republic of Ireland desk is of the opinion is of the opinion that the Irish would seek to create as much uproar as possible.)”

But Coombes added that a 1918 New York court case had established the Lusitania had not been armed or carrying explosives but did have 4,200 cases of small arms ammunition aboard. He added that the cases of cartridges had been stowed well forward in the ship, 50 yards from where the German torpedo had struck.

An urgent Whitehall search of the records was ordered. The Ministry of Defence said they could find no evidence to substantiate the rumours of a secret munitions store. But it was still felt to be prudent to warn the salvage company of the “obvious but real danger inherent if explosives did happen to be present”. For good measure the Salvage Association was also told to deliver a similar warning both orally and in writing.

In 1918 a New York judge had ruled that there were 4,200 cases of safety cartridges, 18 fuse cases and 125 shrapnel cases without any powder charge on board the liner when it went down but that these did not constitute “war munitions”. He added that the Lusitania had not been armed or carried any high explosives.

The 1915 British inquiry into the sinking of the Lusitania, chaired by Lord Mersey, barely touched on the issue. When a French survivor, Joseph Marichal, a former army officer, tried to claim that the ship had sunk so quickly because the ammunition had triggered a second explosion, his testimony was quickly dismissed.

Marichal, who had been in the second-class dining room, said the explosion was “similar to the rattling of a maxim gun for a short period” and came from underneath the whole floor. Mersey dismissed him: “I do not believe him. His demeanour was very unsatisfactory. There was no confirmation of his story.”

The secret report of the inquiry concluded that the Lusitania was not carrying any explosives or any “special ammunition”. The British public were not told at the time about the 5,000 cases of small arms cartridges that had been aboard but were deemed non-military.

Back in 1982 in Whitehall, it was agreed to stick to the official line that there had been no munitions aboard and that it had “always been public knowledge that the Lusitania’s cargo included some 5,000 cases of small arms ammunition.”

Marshall, the senior Foreign Office mandarin, however, remained sceptical. “I am left with the uneasy feeling that this subject may yet – literally – blow up on us,” he said adding his suspicion that others in Whitehall had decided not to tell all that they knew. As for the salvage operation. It did recover 821 brass fuses for six-inch shells but failed to settle the bigger question.


Global Warming Threatens ‘Unstoppable’ Sea Level Rise

New findings show how “uncorking” of area in East Antarctic could unleash 4 meter sea level rise


May 5, 2014 b

by Andrea Germanos, staff writer

Common Dreams


A small amount of ice in the East Antarctic holding back an area of marine ice like a “cork” is at risk from climate change, threatening unstoppable sea level rise that could go on for thousands of years, according to new research.

The findings from researchers at the Germany-based Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) were published online Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change.

The researchers used simulations to study an area previously thought to be more stable in the face of climate change, the Wilkes Basin in the East Antarctic.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center describes the Basin as “a large low-lying region where the ice sheet is up to 2.4 kilometers (1.5 miles) below sea level,” and, as the PIK researchers write, it “holds the largest volume of marine ice that is fully connected by subglacial troughs.”

All that ice is currently held back by a rim of coastal ice acting like a cork, the PIK team describes, but warming oceans could melt that cork.

“East Antarctica’s Wilkes Basin is like a bottle on a slant,” said lead-author Matthias Mengel in a statement. “Once uncorked, it empties out.”

That could bring about a global sea-level rise of 3–4 meters, they write.

Blessed Prozac Moments


On Icky Purity: You Are Married to the Lord and Your Daddy Is Your Boyfriend and If You Have Sex You Will Get Pregnant, Use Drugs, Join Gangs and Then (Obviously) Die


May 5, 2014

by Abby Zimet

Common Dreams


We know change is hard, but this is ridiculous. This weekend the Las Vegas police partnered with a local church (wait, what about that church and state thingy?) to sponsor a “Choose Purity” event at which girls learned that having premarital sex leads inexorably to sexual assault, prostitution, hard drugs, gang violence, limb-decimating meth lab explosions and death from diet pill addiction, or what one critic politely called “a hodgepodge of unrelated fear mongering.”

If you think the Las Vegas event is weird, think again: A reported 48 out of 50 states in this country where you believe you reside hold Purity Balls featuring cross-bearing, ring-presenting, all-white, wedding-like ceremonies where young girls “gift” their virginity to their fathers, who sign a pledge as “high priest of their home and family” to protect their daughters’ chastity until marriage, because, really, the single most important thing about girls is whether they become sluts or remain good girls by having their father as their boyfriend until they marry the Lord, both of which life phases sound kind of creepy.

In his book ‘Purity,’ Swedish photographer David Magnusson places these embracing pairs of fathers and daughters in fields with crosses and horses and oil tanks, arguing that the portraits show “how we are shaped by the society in which we grow up and how we interpret the world through the values we incorporate as our own.”

Which is probably true.

Alas, over 95% of young Americans, including pledge-taking virgins, ultimately go on to have premarital sex, which in turn can lead to pregnancy, STDs and other complications commonly called reality, for which abstinence programs and Purity Balls provide some extraordinarily piss-poor preparation.


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