Friday, March 17, 2017

Standing with Standing Rock



By Reginald Johnson
        

        HARTFORD --- About 60 people rallied on the steps of the State Capitol last week to protest plans to build the Dakota Access Pipeline as well as the Keystone XL pipeline.

            Sponsored by the grassroots group CT Stands with Standing Rock, the event saw speakers stress the importance of protecting our environment, particularly our water, and the need to support the Lakota people in their struggle to prevent DAPL from ruining the tribe's water supplies and sacred sites.

     Natives and their supporters were camped out for months in protest of the pipeline at a site near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota. Earlier this year, authorities forcibly removed the protesters, and President Trump gave the go-ahead for both the DAPL and Keystone pipelines.

   "If we don't change the way we're living on this earth now, we don't know if there will be a seventh generation to be able to be born, when you talk about what's going on with the water," said Carol Blodgett, a New Hampshire resident who is Lakota descent.




    Zahir, a representative of a mosque in Meriden, said the Koran teaches that humans have to respect nature. Decrying the widespread damage done already to our air, land and water, Zahir said, "We have to work with nature, not against it, otherwise it will cause us harm and harm to future generations."

  Christine Brooks said she organized the event after watching in horror when the police attacked protesters at the campsite.

    "I couldn't stand being silent," she said.

  Several other rallies on behalf of indigenous right took place around the country, most notably one in Washington, D.C. where thousands marched in the streets of the nation's capital.
  

 












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Saturday, March 4, 2017

City School Funding in Crisis



By Reginald Johnson

      



BRIDGEPORT REPORT
 

  BRIDGEPORT ---  The city’s 21,000 school kids are getting shortchanged again.

  Despite a court ruling last fall that found that school systems in Connecticut’s poorer cities like Bridgeport are being inadequately funded,  city schools this year are due to receive even less money from the state than last year.

  According to Bridgeport Board of Education member Maria Pereira, Bridgeport schools will get $4.6 million less from the state this year, when you figure in the changes in funding formulas for different programs.

  “This is what we get after nine years of a lawsuit,” said Pereira at the Feb. 27 school board meeting.

   Since the financially-strapped city government in Bridgeport is unlikely to make up the gap in state funding, it looks like the board will have to make a number of painful cuts in services. Shortening school bus routes, cutting social workers and guidance counselors, ending the program to deter drop-outs and truancy, and closing the Parents Center, are all being considered, Pereira said.

  A number of people came out to the meeting to blast the board for considering the idea of shortening bus routes, saying children will be put in danger by having to walk longer distances on city streets.

   “These streets are dangerous even for adults,” said one speaker. “People are driving while they’re on their cell phones or they’re texting.”

 Under a state budget plan recently unveiled by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Bridgeport at first blush would seem to be doing better than last year. ECS and special education funding are both being raised. But with the state now insisting that local municipalities pick up one-third of the cost of teacher pensions, together with cuts in other programs, the increases are wiped out and Bridgeport is actually coming out behind, explained Pereira.

  “It’s outrageous. We’re the most underfunded district in the state,” she said.

   Pereira and other board members like chairman Joe Larcheveque urged the public to lobby their state legislators to increase state funding.

    “Please let them know our funding is in dire straits and they need to make sure the funding is equitable,” said Larcheveque.  

    Pereira doesn't buy the idea that Connecticut --- one of the wealthiest states in the country --- "can't afford" to be more generous with school funding.

    She noted that last year Gov. Malloy saw fit to steer $22 million in "aid" to Bridgewater Associates --- one the world's largest and most successful hedge funds --- to help them keep their headquarters in Connecticut.
   
      
  
     



























  

Sunday, February 19, 2017

American Coup?



                                       


By Reginald Johnson


   Elements of the intelligence community appear to be waging a determined campaign to oust Donald Trump from the presidency and block any détente between the United States and Russia.

  Ever since Trump was elected, there has been a string of damaging leaks coming out about classified phone conversations between members of the Trump administration, and Russian officials.

  All the leaks, and the reporting on them in the media, have made it appear that Trump and his top officials are too close to Russia and that Russia ---- an “adversary” nation --- may be taking advantage of the U.S.

  While previous administrations have had to deal with classified leaks, the number that has taken place since Trump got elected has been unprecedented.

  Already the Trump administration has suffered a casualty from this campaign. National Security Advisor Michael Flynn was forced to step down after information leaked that he may have improperly discussed the lifting of sanctions against Russia with the Russian ambassador during a phone call prior to the Trump administration taking office on Jan. 20.

   Since it is the intelligence agencies --- primarily the FBI, NSA and CIA ---  that have access to the contents of intercepted phone calls between U.S. and foreign officials, the obvious conclusion is that it is intelligence officials that are doing the leaking.

 Under law, the disclosure of classified information is a felony criminal violation, no matter who is doing it.

  It’s apparent that a group of people in the intelligence community that don’t like the direction of Trump’s foreign policy due to Trump’s repeated statements about establishing better relations with Russia, want to smear him and thwart any rapprochement with Russia.

  Russia in turn has previously been discredited with a barrage of claims --- none of them substantiated --- that Russian officials somehow “hacked” the November election and helped Trump win.

  Former Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio told an interview on FOX Business last week that it’s clear what’s going on.

  “What’s at the core of this is an effort by some in the intelligence community to upend any positive relationship between the United States and Russia,” he said in the FOX interview, which was also reported by Cleveland.com.

 Kucinich added that war profiteering is threatened by a more peaceful relationship with Russia.

 
“And I tell you there’s marching band and Chowder Society out there. There’s gold in them there hills,” he said. “There are people trying to separate the U.S. and Russia so that this military-industrial-intel axis can cash in.” 
 He added, “What’s going on here with the intelligence community with the new president is unprecedented. They’re making every effort to upend him….This is like Deep State. It’s like some kind of spy novel. But it’s real. The American people have to understand a game is being played with the security of our country.” ( See “Ex-Rep. Dennis Kucinich says intelligence community schemed against Michael Flynn” http://www.cleveland.com/metro/index.ssf/2017/02/ex-rep_dennis_kucinich_says_in.html)

 Eli Lake, a national security columnist for Bloomberg View, in a piece entitled “The Political Assassination of Michael Flynn,” wrote that “Normally intercepts of U.S. officials and citizens are among the government’s mostly tightly held secrets. This is for good reason. Selectively disclosing details of private conversations monitored by the FBI or NSA gives the permanent state the power to destroy reputations from the cloak of anonymity. This is what police states do.”

   By “permanent state” Lake was referring to the intelligence agencies whose employees, except for appointees at the top, stay in place no matter who is president. They hold sweeping powers and their activities are largely kept secret.

  The New York Times and Washington Post, which have led media outlets in giving the anonymous leaks wide play, have reported that a number of people who were part of the Trump campaign are under investigation by the FBI for their ties to Russia.

  A congressional investigation is now underway on the claims of Russian election interference, even though cyber experts and former CIA officials have debunked them.

  It is surprising that so much of the media and many members of Congress are giving the leaks and inferences of wrongdoing so much credence. After all, the contents of any intercepted phone calls with Russian officials have been known for many months going back into the Obama administration. If there was any indication of illegal activity, that information would have been given to the Attorney General (Janet Lynch) and surely a prosecution would have followed.

  But that didn’t happen. Presumably, nothing illegal was found.  So why all the fuss? Why is all this stuff being fed to the press?

  Is there something illegal about talking with a Russian official now? Are we reverting back to the McCarthy era --- people being investigated for “contacting” a Russian?  ‘Are you now or have you ever been consorting with a Russian official’?

  There is something very disturbing going on here. Members of the intelligence community are misusing their power to push this country to pursue a geopolitical agenda that they think is appropriate regardless of what the President wants.

  Kucinich made a very telling point in his interview. He said the abuse of power by the intell community has to be a concern for all Americans, Republican or Democrat.

  “Wake up America,” he said.

 Indeed.
 
 










  



 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Cornering Trump



                                 
 By Reginald Johnson

  

  A campaign appears to be underway to derail the incoming presidency of Donald Trump and possibly force him from power.

   Ever since Trump won the election in a stunning upset over Hillary Clinton on Nov. 8, intelligence officials, some neo-conservatives and prominent media outlets have been demonizing Russia and at the same time raising doubts about whether Trump is too friendly with Russia to be commander-in-chief.

   Leaders of the CIA and NSA, neo-cons in Congress like Sens. John McCain and Lindsay Graham and editorial writers have relentlessly pushed the dubious story that Russia hacked the election, by invading the email networks of the Clinton campaign and feeding derogatory information about Clinton and her surrogates to whistleblower Julian Assange, who then released the information on the Internet.

  Proponents of this theory claim that the Russians did the hacking to help Trump win the election and ensure they got a friend in the White House. Trump has often said that he wants better relations with Russia and has questioned the value of NATO, while Clinton has expressed a more aggressive, interventionist foreign policy and, like other neo-cons, views Russia as a hostile power.

  The Russian election hacking claims claims have been widely debunked by cyber experts, Julian Assange and former distinguished members of the CIA and NSA, such as Ray McGovern and William Binney. The forensics don't add up. The truth is that the Clinton team emails were leaked by a disgruntled Bernie Sanders supporter, who thought the Clinton people were rigging the primaries against Sanders.

   But the drumbeat of charges about "Russian hacking" has continued and members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have uncritically accepted the conclusions by the intelligence leaders and mindlessly parrot their claims of "Russian election interference." 

    The inference in much of the discussion has been that Trump may have colluded with Russian President Vladimir Putin to get the hacking done, and thereby committed treason.
 
  Trump also came under fire when intelligence officials released a  very derogatory report – largely based on hearsay from a former British intelligence agent ---  alleging that Trump had at one time cavorted with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel room. Officials said that if the Russians knew this they could use the information to blackmail him. The President-elect has strongly denied the claims in the “dossier,” which was contained in an appendix to a larger intelligence report on the hacking.

    The bombshell allegations --- though now widely questioned --- were released just eight days prior to Trump’s inauguration (which takes place Friday).

   The claims in the “Russian dossier” and the hacking charges leveled at Russia have put Trump on the defensive for the past number of weeks --- an unusual situation for a newly-elected president. He’s been forced to make some concessions and admit that Russia may have been behind the hacking --- which he had refused to believe before.

   It is clear that high officials of the CIA, NSA, neo-cons in Congress and in the press and top military people are angry over Trump’s pledge to open a new dialogue with Russia. They have no interest in a détente and are determined to block it.
   Their continued negative publicity campaign, centered around national security and Russia, may be aimed at creating a groundswell of doubt about Trump and ultimately to set the stage for a successful impeachment drive. The actual trigger for the impeachment would be based either on some concocted information about misconduct in office or possibly something credible, like a charge that Trump violated the Constitution by taking emoluments through his foreign-based businesses (which could happen if Trump doesn’t totally sever his ties to his various business interests).

  Author Daniel Lazare, writing in Consortium News on Jan. 14 in a piece entitled “The Scheme to Take Down Trump,” maintains that the CIA and other intelligence officials were hoping that the salacious rumors in the Russian dossier might have been enough to shame Trump and force him to step aside. Instead, the bellicose Trump blasted the report as “fake news” and said that the intelligence officials were acting like something out of “Nazi Germany.”

  “The intelligence communities’ hopes, if that’s what they were, were dashed,” Lazare wrote.

  He added, “All of which is thoroughly unprecedented by American political standards. After all, this is a country that takes endless pride in the peaceful transfer of power every four years or so. Yet here was the intelligence community attempting to short-circuit the process by engineering Trump’s removal before he even took office.”

   While the “military-intelligence complex” as Lazare calls it,  has failed so far to force Trump out, they will keep trying.

  “…that doesn’t mean they’re giving up. All it means rather, is they’ll go deeper underground. Trump may enter the White House on Jan. 20. But the big question is how long he will remain.”

  The prospect of Trump being ousted from the presidency may put a smile on the faces of Democrats and progressives, who dislike him, rightfully, for his divisive rhetoric on immigrants and regressive domestic policies. But they should be careful what they wish for.

  If Trump is impeached, Pence will take over, and his views on domestic policy are just as bad as Trump’s. His foreign policy approach is worse.

  But there’s an even bigger point. If Republicans turn on Trump to join an impeachment effort, spurred by concern over Trump’s moves to improve ties with Russia and by anger over bogus claims of Russian hacking,  it will mean that the CIA and other intelligence officials have truly succeeded in manipulating the American democratic process.

   That should be deeply troubling to everyone.


 





 



 
    




  

Friday, January 6, 2017

Free Leonard Peltier




By Reginald Johnson

  
  In his remaining days in office, President Obama has the opportunity to bring some measure of justice to wrongfully-imprisoned Native-American activist Leonard Peltier.

  Peltier has been languishing in prison for over 40 years, following his conviction for murdering two FBI agents during a shootout between law enforcement officers and Lakota Indians on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota in 1975.

   Peltier is a political prisoner --- one whose arrest, conviction and lengthy incarceration was determined not so much by the facts of the case but by Peltier’s activism in the American Indian Movement and the government’s desire to suppress a rebellion by Native Americans in the 1970s.

 The entire process by which Peltier was arrested and tried was fraught with problems.  Witness affidavits supporting Peltier’s extradition from Canada (where he fled after the shootout) prior to his arrest were gained through coercion; during the trial the government withheld key documents, such as ballistics information, that could have aided the defense; witnesses who testified for the prosecution later recanted and said the FBI had pressured them to implicate Peltier.


Leonard Peltier, pictured at Leavenworth federal prison in 1992, is serving two consecutive life sentences for the murders of two FBI agents in 1975.
Leonard Peltier, the Native American activist who is asking for clemency from President Obama after 40 years in prison. (Photo courtesy of The Guardian)
   

   While Peltier was unsuccessful in an appeal of his conviction, the presiding judge in the appeals hearing, Gerald Heaney, harshly criticized the prosecution for the FBI’s “improper conduct” and “clear abuse of the investigative process,” according to a report by the Center for Constitutional Rights.

   It’s also noteworthy, that during the appeals hearing, the government admitted that they couldn’t prove who actually shot the agents. But the government still maintained that Peltier was linked to the murders and therefore was guilty.  

  The idea that someone could be convicted and sent to prison for so many years --- based on such a shaky prosecution case, rife with so many legal problems, is an outrage.

  It is not the kind of thing that is supposed to happen in a democratic republic, with a system that on paper at least provides “liberty and justice for all.”  The Peltier case is more befitting of what happens in a dictatorship.
  
    Obama has a chance to end this outrage by granting Peltier’s request for clemency.  The Native activist has gotten wide support for his plea --- from human rights groups like Amnesty International to Bishop Desmond Tutu to thousands of people signing petitions.  And just this week, Peltier got unexpected support from one of the prosecutors in the original case. Former U.S. Attorney James Reynolds told The Guardian newspaper that it was time for the government to “call it quits” and grant leniency to Peltier.
 
   In addition to the facts of the case and the wide support Peltier has received, Obama should also consider Peltier’s age and his declining health. Now 72, Peltier has suffered a stroke and battled diabetes and a heart condition.
 
  This is not the first time Peltier has sought clemency. In 2000, former President Bill Clinton weighed his request for leniency (just as Clinton was leaving office) but ultimately denied it after members of the FBI Agents Association mounted a furious opposition campaign and picketed the White House.

  The FBI group --- composed of former agents of the federal agency --- are again opposing Peltier’s petition.

  Hopefully President Obama --- who is ending his tenure in the White House on Jan. 20 --- will see the light in this case and not back down. A good sign is that Obama has recently been granting leniency for hundreds of other long-time prisoners --- offenders who were serving excessively long terms for drug convictions.

 President Obama needs to grant freedom to Leonard Peltier --- now.



(For more information on the Leonard Peltier case and to sign a petition calling for his release, go to www.amnestyusa.org. Additional information on Peltier and other political prisoners such as Puerto Rican activist Oscar Lopez Rivera and Army whistle-blower Chelsea Manning as well as NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden, who is being unfairly accused of espionage, can be found at www.lawanddisorder.org, Dec. 19, 2016 show)