Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Reducing Tensions in Korea

By Reginald Johnson                                     

   You get the feeling that if left up to the North and South Koreans, there might actually be some progress towards building peace on the Korean Peninsula.
  But whether South Korea’s “Big Brother” --- the United States --- will join in a move towards better relations with North Korea ---- that’s a whole different story.
     In recent months, there’s been several hopeful signs that something positive might be happening between the two Koreas, separated by the 38th Parallel: diplomatic teams from both North and South Korea met in January to have talks for the first time in two years;  in February, athletes from North Korea came south to participate in the Winter Olympic games in Pyeongchang;  the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un came to the games as well, met with South Korean President Moon Jae and extended an invitation from Kim to come to North Korea.
    South Korean officials also said that North Korea representatives told them at a meeting during the Olympics that their country would be interested in talks with the United States.
   But the U.S. has been sending out mixed messages on whether it wants a better relationship with North Korea.
     Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that meeting with the North Koreans is a possibility.
    “My job as chief diplomat is to ensure that the North Koreans know, we keep our channels open on to listen, “ he told the CBS news show “60 Minutes.”
     But on Feb. 23, President Donald Trump announced a new round of trade sanctions against North Korea.  Administration officials said sanctions are designed to put pressure on North Korea to stop its development of nuclear weapons.
   Trump said he hoped the new sanctions would get North Korea to move to stop nuclear missile testing, which has been taking place on a regular basis in recent months.
    Trump threatened to move to “Phase 2” if the sanctions didn’t work. He didn’t spell out what “Phase 2” meant.
   For much of last year Trump and Kim exchanged insults and threats as North Korea launched a number of missile tests prompting criticism from the American side.

Soldiers loading howitzers into a Black Hawk helicopter at US base Camp Humphreys in South Korea (Wikipedia)


 Henry Lowendorf, chairman of the Greater New Haven Peace Council and a representative of the U.S. Peace Council said he believes there’s a good chance for a better relationship between the two Koreas.
    “Absolutely. I think there’s a real possibility,” he said. “I think everyone that looked at the Olympics has seen that as an indication of a willingness at least to talk to each other.  Before North Korea offered to create a joint North and South Korean team, the North Koreans refused to talk to the South Koreans.”
   Lowendorf said North Koreans believed for a long time there was no use in talking to South Korea because the U.S. “controls South Korea militarily” and the Americans would make all key decisions on dealing with the North. But North Korea’s approach seems to have changed.
   “ I think it was a real breakthrough ideologically for them to say ‘let’s talk to the South.’  They may have done this for various reasons, but one reason was they weren’t getting any traction with the United States,” he said.
   Lowendorf added the North Koreans may be trying to separate the South Koreans from the U.S.  “I think that’s exactly what they have to do. They have to encourage rationality on the part of the South Koreans, because they’re certainly not  going to find it with the United States.”
    While he saw a plan for a peace agreement possibly being discussed between the North and South, Lowendorf said the U.S. was likely to throw cold water on it.
   “This administration has no priorities, just game playing and how can they threaten and intimidate the other side, whoever the other side is,” he said.
   Lowendorf  said that the United States had previously rejected a proposal offered by the North Koreans,  the Chinese and the Russians that stipulated that in return for the North Koreans pausing their nuclear missile development program,  the U.S., South Korea and Japan would pause their “war on North Korea exercises” that go on frequently. The North Koreans also asked for a peace treaty with the United States in which both sides would agree not to attack each other.
     “What’s wrong with that proposal?” asked Lowendorf. “I can’t understand what’s wrong with that picture if you’re rational and humane.”
The U.S. maintains a large troop presence in South Korea, and a huge network of bases and military installations. America today has 35,000 troops in South Korea and 115 bases, both large and small, according to Prof. David Vine, the author of “Base Nation --- How US military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World.”
     The U.S. has maintained a substantial military footprint in South Korea ever since the end of the Korean War in 1953. That war ended with a cease-fire but not a full peace agreement and both sides have kept their military forces on high alert on the possibility that fighting could break out again anytime.
  The Korean War was devastating for both sides, but particularly for North Korea. South Korea sustained nearly 1 million civilians killed or wounded.  North Korea sustained 1.5 million civilians killed or wounded and saw all of its major cities reduced to rubble by American bombing.
   Some observers believe the North Koreans are building their nuclear program to deter a possible attack by South Korea and the United States. They point to the fact that in recent years, the United States has attacked Iraq and Libya,  leaving both countries devastated. The U.S. is also involved in Syria, with American military personnel aiding insurgent groups trying to topple the government of Bashar al-Assad.
  For years, the U.S. has demanded that North Korea end its development of the nuclear weapons program, saying it poses a huge threat to South Korea, Japan and even the mainland of the United States. American officials, as well as other leaders around the world have also condemned the repressive nature of Kim’s regime, which has been cited by the UN for serious human rights violations.


Sunday, January 28, 2018

Russia Collusion or Deep State Coup?


By Reginald Johnson

    For over a year now, the American public has been bombarded with stories raising questions about whether Donald Trump colluded with the Russians to win the presidential election in 2016 over Hillary Clinton.

  Claims were made first in the fall of 2016 that Russian agents had hacked the emails of the Democratic National Committee and revealed information damaging to the Clinton campaign, allegedly aimed at benefitting Trump. Later, the contents of a salacious “Russian dossier” were leaked to the press, with a former British intelligence agent, using second and third hand sources, alleging that officials of the Trump campaign had close ties to the Kremlin and that the Russians had a compromising videotape of Trump cavorting with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel room.

  In the spring, Trump, who has steadfastly denied any collusion with the Russians, fired FBI Director James Comey while his agency was investigating Russia ties. The President said he took the action after the Justice Department recommended the director’s dismissal because Comey had bungled the investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server to handle classified information.

   But the Comey firing sparked a furor in Congress and in the media, with Democrats and others claiming obstruction of justice by Trump.  Congress moved to set up a Special Counsel to probe the questions of possible Russia collusion and former FBI Director Robert Mueller was appointed for that job.

  For the last nine months, Mueller’s investigation has been ongoing. Some indictments have been brought against people previously tied to Trump, such as former campaign manager, Paul Manafort.  But none of charges brought so far, including money laundering by Manafort,  relate to the original claim of collusion between Trump and Russia.

   In recent weeks however, evidence has begun to emerge which contradicts the narrative that Russia fixed the election to help Trump.

  In fact, the contents of thousands of cell phone text messages by FBI agents involved in both the Trump investigation and the Clinton email probe ---  released by the Justice Department Inspector General ---  would appear to confirm what some (including this reporter) had suspected last year when the Russia election interference story was first breaking ---- that what had taken place was not a plot by Russia to help Trump win the election, but a plot by U.S. intelligence officials to block Trump from winning the presidency and ensure the election of the more hawkish candidate, Hillary Clinton.

  That scheme turned into a coup attempt after Trump’s surprising victory and the storyline of Russian hacking and a tainted election was gathering steam. First, there was an unsuccessful move to have Electoral College electors switch their votes from Trump and move to install Colin Powell as President. Later, the focus turned to impeachment --- create adverse publicity, with dark talk of collusion with the enemy and even treason, so that Congress would have no choice but to throw Trump out.

 So far, impeachment talk is just that, talk. But should Mueller bring obstruction charges against Trump, impeachment would become a real possibility.. Mueller's team is seeking to interview Trump in the near future.

The White House

  The text messages were between former top FBI counterintelligence official Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page.  The two, who were having an extra-marital affair, exchanged messages over a number of months in 2016 and 2017, at a time when Strzok was first leading the Clinton email investigation ( which concluded with Comey declaring there were insufficient grounds to charge Clinton) and then later serving on Mueller’s special counsel team.

   The two FBI officials show a thorough disdain for Trump, often using profanities to describe him.

   But more pertinently, they make references to what might be an illegal attempt to undermine Trump.

   In one message to Page in August of 2016,  Strzok comments on a meeting which took place in FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe’s office, during which the election chances of Donald Trump were apparently discussed.

      “I want to believe the path you threw out for consideration in Andy’s office --- that there’s no way he gets elected --- but I’m afraid we can’t take that risk. It’s like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before you’re 40,”  Strzok wrote.

  What was meant by an ‘insurance policy?’  A campaign of leaks designed to smear Trump by implying he was colluding with the Russians perhaps?

  “We suddenly have documentary proof that key elements of the U.S. intelligence community were trying to short-circuit the U.S. democratic process.  And that puts in a new and dark context the year-long promotion of Russia-gate. It now appears that it was not the Russians trying to rig the outcome of the U.S. election, but leading officials of the U.S. intelligence community, shadowy characters sometimes called the Deep State,” wrote former CIA analyst Ray McGovern in Consortium News on January 11.

  Strzok also led the investigation into the then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s unauthorized use of a personal email server for classified information.

  In his piece called “The FBI Hand Behind Russia- gate,”  McGovern wrote that Strzok reportedly  “changed the words ‘grossly negligent’ (which could have triggered legal prosecution) to the far less serious ‘extremely careless’ in FBI Director James Comey’s depiction of Clinton’s actions. This semantic shift cleared the way for Comey to conclude just 20 days before the Democratic National Convention began in July 2016 that ‘no reasonable prosecutor’ would bring charges against Mrs. Clinton.

    From May to August of 2017, Strzok was the top FBI official working on Mueller’s investigation into possible links between the Trump campaign and Russia, but was taken off that job when the inspector general learned of the Strzok-Page text message exchanges and told Mueller.

  Both Strzok and Page have been reassigned to different positions in the FBI.
  Another revealing message between Strzok and Page showed Strzok had some doubts about whether there really was anything to the Russia collusion claims. He told Page in May prior to his joining the Special Counsel team that he had a "gut sense and concern, there's no big 'there' there."

  McGovern and others have raised the possibility recently that some of the claims in the Russian dossier --- and much of that information has been discredited --- was used to obtain a critical FISA court warrant to allow the FBI to spy on members of the Trump team.

  If false information was presented to a FISA court judge to obtain the warrant, then officials engaged in that action could be held criminally liable.

   Currently there is a push on by Republican members of Congress to release a memo compiled by the staff of the House intelligence committee which outlines possible abuses by the FBI, CIA and other government officials of surveillance guidelines and other legal procedures during the Trump investigation. The memo contains classified information, and the Justice Department has asked that the document not be released. But a number of congressmen said they will vote to make it public this week.

    Also thousands more phone text messages are expected to be released involving the communications of the FBI officials.


Thursday, January 11, 2018

Activists Say: Shut Down US Foreign Bases!

By Reginald Johnson

    Peace activists from around the country will converge on Baltimore, MD this weekend to take part in a conference to discuss the vast array of American military bases around the world and how to shut them down.

    The meeting, entitled “Conference on U.S. Foreign Military Bases” will take place Friday, January 12 until Sunday, January 14 at the University of Baltimore. The event will be live streamed at

 The conference is being sponsored by a coalition of activists both from the peace movement as well as the environmental and social justice movements who are questioning why the U.S. needs so many bases around the world and are demanding they be dismantled.

   “While we have our differences on other issues, we all agree that US foreign military bases are the principal instruments of imperial global domination and environmental damage through wars of aggression and occupation, and that the closure of US foreign military bases is one of the first necessary steps toward a just peaceful and sustainable world,” reads the unity statement put together by the “Coalition Against US Foreign Military Bases.”

     Probably most Americans have no idea just how many military bases the U.S. maintains.

      People are certainly aware we have bases in the United States itself, that there are some in Europe, some in Japan and Korea, and a few in the Middle East. But that’s about it.

   In reality, the U.S. has a huge network of 1,000 military bases around the world, according to the coalition.  There are U.S. installations in some 80 countries on every continent as well as some bases located on islands in the major oceans.

   In Europe alone, there are hundreds of military installations, with 200 located just in Germany, according to David Vine, professor of anthropology at American University and the author of “Base Nation, How US Military Bases Overseas Harm America and the World.”   Vine said another 100 bases are in Japan and 120 in South Korea.

    The cost of maintaining this far-flung American military empire is huge. By some estimates, the U.S. spends $156 billion a year to fund the bases, where tens of thousands of American troops and other military personnel are stationed.

     In the years following World War II,  during the period of the Korean and Vietnam wars and throughout the Cold War with the Soviet Union, few people, if any, questioned the need for American bases. But times may be changing.

  A growing number of activists and others people are raising their voices against the presence of all the bases, saying that with the Soviet Union gone and the Cold War over, they are no longer justified for national security. They maintain, further, that the spending to keep the bases open (not to mention the rest of the gargantuan US defense budget) represents a huge drain on the federal budget, diverting badly needed financial resources away from funding domestic needs, such as education, housing, health care and infrastructure.

   In the view of many, the bases today simply provide a means for America to exact military and economic control over countries around the globe.

   “These bases are hubs of warmaking, bombing countries like Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen,”  said Henry Lowendorf, Chairman of the Greater New Haven Peace Council and one who’s attending this weekend’s conference.

 Lowendorf added that the bases “send drones to spy and to slaughter. They house regular and special forces whose role is to ensure US corporate domination of the globe. They protect the financial and political interests of the 1%,  not the 99%, in the US or anywhere else.  They prop up unpopular governments.  They threaten the citizens of the country that houses them and its neighbors.  The wars fought from these bases not only kill huge numbers of civilians but generate hatred and fanaticism that lead to reprisals, retaliation and terrorism.”

   For a number of years ---- since the days of broad opposition to the Iraq War --- the peace movement has been divided, with groups taking differing approaches on U.S. involvement in crisis spots like Ukraine, Syria and Libya.

    It’s hoped that the conference on bases may heal some of the divisions.

“We expect that this conference will unify the peace movement to action – educating and mobilizing the public, forcing a discussion that is all but censored in the US about the nature, function and cost – in lives, dollars, assaults on people and the environment, in preventing peace and justice – of the 1000 or more military bases the US maintains on foreign soil,” said Lowendorf.

   Keynote speakers at the conference will be Professor Vine; Ajamu Baraka, 2016 Green Party vice presidential candidate and president of the Black Alliance for Peace; and Ann Wright, retired US Army Colonel, former diplomat and leading member of CODE PINK and Veterans for Peace.

   For more information on the conference, go the coalition website at

Monday, September 18, 2017

Going, Going, Gone


By Reginald Johnson

  A little bit of the spirit of Bridgeport died yesterday when the Bluefish played their last game here. My wife and I went to a number of games over the years, and whenever we did, we had a great time. We’d see old friends, make new ones, and often see some pretty good baseball. And there was always a happy ambiance --- lots of families with kids in their baseball uniforms cheering wildly for the Bluefish, fans jumping for joy when they caught foul balls, people laughing at the goofy Bluefish mascot or singing along when the loudspeaker would blare Ray Charles’ “Hit the Road Jack!” when an opposing pitcher was driven  from the mound by a Bluefish rally.

   As others have pointed out, the coming of the Bluefish 20 years ago seemed to lift the morale of a city that had been demoralized by years of industrial plants leaving town, a general economic decline and City Hall corruption. The Bluefish were the perfect tonic for the Park City. People thronged to the “Ballpark at Harbor Yard” as Bluefish stadium was known in the early years and the team enjoyed great popularity.

 After a number of years there was a fall-off in attendance and there were reports the team was having financial struggles.  I don’t know all the details of the situation, but city officials were also reportedly concerned about the future financial viability of the team. The Bluefish paid rent to the city for use of the publicly owned stadium.

  Still, the team had a strong and loyal fan base and the team did pretty well over the years getting into the playoffs  a number of times in the Atlantic Coast League and winning a championship. It was a point of pride for Bridgeporters and fans in the area to say ‘we have our own professional baseball team – the Bluefish.’

A Bridgeport Bluefish baseball game in August

   But Mayor Joe Ganim, returning for a second go-round as mayor after serving a term in prison for corruption carried out during his first stint as the city leader in the 1990s,  apparently felt that the Bluefish did not have a great financial future and the city might do better using the stadium site for something else. It all came to a head early this year when the city put out a request for proposals for use of the stadium and indicated that the use could either be baseball or some other entertainment. The Ganim administration eventually accepted a plan from a concert promoter who has proposed a series of concerts at the stadium. The proposal still has to be accepted by the City Council.

   The city may have had legitimate financial concerns about the future viability of the Bluefish staying in Bridgeport, but it is not clear whether the plan for more concerts in the city is really a sound idea, either. For one thing the Webster Bank Arena already hosts concerts and officials there have indicated they may have legal issues with the new plan for concerts at Harbor Yard. Also, it should be noted that the concerts at Seaside Park that went on for a number of years called The Gathering of the Vibes had to be ended a couple years ago because the promoters were way behind in their payments to the city for use of the park.

   I have to admit I am partial to baseball, so the idea of a new concert site in the city in place of baseball just doesn’t grab me.  It seems to me that more could’ve been done to try to save the Bluefish and keep them from leaving Bridgeport. Possibly some creative means could’ve been brought into play such as having the University of Bridgeport take over the use of the stadium and participate in a different payment plan with the Bluefish to the city. The UB baseball team already uses the Bluefish field for its games.

   I didn’t get the impression that Mayor Ganim was at all sentimental about having to part ways with the Bluefish, which is too bad. It’s also ironic since it was Ganim --- in his first go round as mayor who brought the Bluefish to Bridgeport as part of a redevelopment plan for the South End.  While Ganim did a lot wrong in his first tenure as mayor one of the things he did right was bringing in the baseball team and the arena.  Now, sadly, it is Ganim who is letting the Bluefish go. The man who brought in the Bluefish didn’t seem to understand in the end how much the team had come to mean to its fans and the city.

   So the word is the Bluefish may now move on to some city in North Carolina, although the details of a move have not been finalized.

Now I know in a small way how the fans felt in Brooklyn when the Dodgers left town in 1958. It’s a sad day for Bridgeport.  

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Blocking Detente

By Reginald Johnson


   There’s a possibility for making a better relationship between the United States and Russia, but the knives are out.

    U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin met last week in Hamburg, Germany and had what appeared to be a very constructive meeting. The two discussed a range of issues including the war in Syria, the battle against terrorism, cyber security and the charges of Russian meddling in the US presidential election last year.

    The two leaders were able to strike an agreement for a cease-fire in a section of Syria and coordinate with each other in the battle against ISIS. They agreed to disagree on the claim of Russian hacking.

   According to Stephen Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian studies at Princeton University and New York University, the Trump-Putin  meeting may augur a new day in Russia-US relations.

  Cohen said the meeting represented a “potentially historic new détente, anti-Cold War partnership begun by Trump and Putin.”  He noted that the relations between the two nuclear-armed superpowers are at their lowest point in decades.

  “What we saw today was potentially the most fateful meeting between an American and Russian president since the wartime (World War II),"  said Cohen, who witnessed the Reagan-Gorbachev summit meetings in the 1980s.  “The reason is the relationship between the US and Russia is so dangerous.”

   But Cohen, speaking on the Tucker Carlson show on Fox television on Friday,  hours after the meeting, cautioned that the proposed new partnership will likely come under “vicious attack.”

   How right he was. Over the next few days there was a fierce pushback. On Sunday,  three longtime critics of Trump and Russia took to the airwaves to criticize Trump’s performance in Hamburg and blast the idea of a partnership.

  Neo-con senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham said it made no sense to forge a new agreement with Russia without punishing Russia first for the alleged cyber attacks in the US election last fall.

  They and others keep insisting that Russian responsibility for the hacking is flat fact, despite serious doubts raised by a number of cyber experts, the fact that the report on the hacking was done not by the FBI but by a company hired by the Democratic National Committee,  the fact that the company’s  chief technical officer is an anti-Putin Russian émigré and the fact that a full National Intelligence Estimate on the hacking,  involving all 17 intelligence agencies, was never done (contrary to assertions by many politicians and the media).

  Speaking on the NBC show “Meet the Press,” Graham said Trump gave a “terrific speech” in Poland earlier in the week on his European trip, but then had what he called a  “disastrous meeting” with Putin in Germany.   The senator said the president has a “blind spot” on Russia and his attitude that we should  “forgive and forget when it comes to Putin regarding cyber attacks is to empower Putin and that is exactly what he is doing.”

  McCain criticized Trump’s tweet over the weekend that he “looked forward to working constructively with the Russians” --- actually, a thoroughly laudable goal, in my view.

  But McCain demanded that Putin must pay a stiff price for the claimed hacking. “Otherwise he’ll be encouraged to do it again,” he said.

  John Brennan, former director of the CIA, also appeared on “Meet the Press” and made similar criticisms about the alleged hacking and Trump’s seeming soft attitude towards it.

   ( I have to digress a bit here. It’s amazing how discredited figures like Brennan can be trotted out by NBC to weigh in as esteemed authorities on issues of law and proper behavior. Under Brennan , the CIA conducted drone strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan that killed many civilians --- a breach of international law. The agency also used unlawful interrogation techniques, including torture, in dealing with prisoners in the years following the September 11, 2001 terror attacks. When a Senate committee began investigating the torture claims, the CIA was reluctant to cooperate and in fact spied on the Senate staff investigators by hacking  (yes, hacking!)  into their computers. But now those days are over and Brennan is suddenly an expert analyst on TV, inveighing against hacking by Russia.)

 As typified by the “Meet the Press” show hosted by Chuck Todd --- who did not bring in a guest who offered a more favorable view of Trump’s Hamburg meeting – the media coverage of the Hamburg meeting, Putin and Russia in general has been decidedly negative.

   On Friday evening, NBC reporter Richard Engel hosted a show called “On Assignment” which presented a scathing, and very one-sided report on Putin and Russia. Basically, he and the guests on the show portrayed Russia as a criminal state where Putin operated as a Mafia boss working with wealthy oligarchs. The show described numerous mysterious killings that have taken place in Russia and outside, in which dissidents and government critics have been murdered. Some of the stories were chilling and had the ring of truth.

However, Engel presented little in the way of countervailing theories in his piece on  the various murders as well as the bombing of an apartment building which killed hundreds of people, and which critics say was ordered by Putin. Government officials were not given any chance to rebut the claims of illegality. Putin was painted from beginning to end as a brutal killer who can’t be trusted.

While some of the claims of Russian government criminality may be true, I have to be skeptical when a reporter is portraying a person or officials as having committed acts of gross illegality or murder but does not bother to give the accused a chance to respond.

 Given the one-sided presentation and the timing of the show --- aired on the evening of the day of the Trump-Putin meeting – the show came across as a hit piece designed to undermine any notion that working with Russia or Putin was a worthwhile goal.

  The avalanche of criticism of Trump and Putin from both Republicans and Democrats continued on Monday on shows like MSNBC’s “Morning Joe”  hosted by bitter Trump critics Joe Scarborough and Mika Brezinski.

So the demonization of Russia, Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump goes on, undermining the prospects of a more positive and less dangerous relationship between the superpowers. Given the size of the two nations’ nuclear arsenals and the areas of the world that could be flashpoints for conflict between the U.S. and Russia, like Syria and Ukraine, that is a shame.