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.


Saturday, July 8, 2017

US Mayors: Cut Military Spending

By Reginald Johnson

 Mayors around the country are rallying against President Trump’s federal budget plan, which slashes funding for social services and urban needs, while increasing the military budget.

The United States Conference of Mayors, which represents hundreds of small and large cities,  recently passed several resolutions which demand that Congress oppose Trump’s proposed $54 billion increase in military spending and instead put the money back into human needs including housing, education, health care and job creation.

  “Now, therefore, be it resolved, that the United States Conference of Mayors urges the United States Congress to move our tax dollars in exactly the opposite direction proposed by the president, from militarism to human and environmental needs,” said the resolution.

  A second resolution, introduced by New Haven, CT Mayor Toni Harp, calls on the mayors of each of the member cities to promptly hold public hearings that examine what each city department  needs to carry out their goals and what they could accomplish if funds were available that now go to the military.

 That resolution also urges legislative bodies in all cities to pass resolutions “calling on our federal legislators and the US government to move significant funds away from the military budget to human needs.”

  A number of mayors around the country in recent weeks have expressed concern about the negative impact that the Trump $4.1 trillion budget plan for 2018 would have on their communities. The budget proposal calls for deep cuts in funds for Medicaid, food stamps, education, environmental protection and housing. The budget would wipe out some programs altogether, such as the community development block grant, the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York, for instance, said the budget would have a “hugely negative impact” on the city. New York stands to lose some $912 million in federal aid, if the budget is approved.

Several peace organizations, including the US Peace Council and CODEPINK reacted enthusiastically to the action by the US Conference of Mayors.

  “The Peace Council applauds the resolve of major city mayors to dramatically cut the US military budget and to take the funds saved to provide money for jobs education, housing, transportation, seniors, youth, rebuild our roads, bridges public transportation and much more,” said Henry Lowendorf of the US Peace Council.

  “The mayors understand how pouring the wealth of our great country into building war machines and waging wars around the globe does not make us more secure. To the contrary, this gigantic military budget is strangling our country and the many unnecessary wars only generate death, destruction and enemies.” said Lowendorf, who chairs the Greater New Haven Peace Council.

  Medea Benjamin, of CODEPINK,  said “We are very excited that the entire US Conference of Mayors, from major metropoles such as New York City and Los Angeles to small rural townships, understand that the resources being sucked up by the Pentagon to wage endless wars overseas should be used to address our crumbling infrastructure, the climate crisis and poverty at home and abroad. Congress and the Trump administration should listen to these mayors, as they reflect the needs and hopes of their constituents, not the greed of corporate donors.”

   New Haven’s Board of Alders earlier this year passed a resolution calling on Congress to reduce the appropriation for defense and divert that money into human and social needs. New Haven is one of a number cities and towns around the country that have passed such resolutions.



Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Activists to Blumenthal: Stop Supporting War

By Reginald Johnson

      HARTFORD --- A coalition of peace activists is criticizing U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn for supporting President Trump’s recent decision to launch a missile attack on Syria.

    Members of the Connecticut Peace and Solidarity Coalition recently submitted petitions to Sen. Blumenthal’s office saying that the attack only served to kill more people, make more enemies and contribute to more terrorism.

   “Your support for President Trump’s bombing emboldens the recklessness of military escalation. It emboldens Trump’s wars on Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen. It enables Trump to threaten war with North Korea, China, Russia and the world,” the petition said.
  The group also wrote that by endorsing the missile strikes, Blumenthal was “in actuality” supporting Trump’s proposal to expand the approximately $600 billion military budget by $54 billion. This means more war and less money for social programs like Meals on Wheels, school lunches, food stamps, Medicare and Medicaid, they said.

   “Bombing abroad kills us at home,” the petition reads.

   The statement implores Blumenthal to "Stop Supporting Wars" and "Fund Our Cities."

Peace activists confront Sen. Richard Blumenthal over his support for Syrian missile strikes.

 President Trump ordered the missile strike on April 7 in response to what the administration claimed was a “chemical weapons attack” by the Assad government in Syria days earlier that killed more than 100 people.

  Trump’s decision to launch the strike --- consisting of 59 Tomahawk missiles fired from two aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean at a Syrian airfield --- has won bi-partisan support.

  Blumenthal issued a statement saying that the U.S. attack “sent a message to the murderous Assad regime and his enablers, Russia and Iran.”

    However, the senator did question the legality of the missile strike, since there was no congressional authorization and also noted that the administration needed a broader strategy for dealing with Syria.

   Days after the American strike, members of the coalition decided to protest outside Blumenthal’s office at Statehouse Square and submit the petitions.  The senator heard about the activists gathering and came outside for a brief meeting with the group before he headed off for another appointment.

   Blumenthal listened politely to various comments questioning the U.S. assault, but gave no ground.

  Steve Krevisky, a professor at Middlesex Community College told Blumenthal he was skeptical about the claim that Syrian government forces were responsible for the chemical attack. He noted that initial claims that Assad had used chemical weapons in 2013 --- which nearly prompted an American military response at that time --- were proven wrong after an investigation.

  Blumenthal commented, however, that “there is a lot of evidence” that Assad was guilty this time.

 Henry Lowendorf, of the Greater New Haven Peace Council, also said how the Iraq war – which left hundreds of thousands dead, millions of people displaced and spawned ISIS terrorism ---  was based on the false assertion that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

  “We’re not getting the truth,” he said.

  He also lamented the fact that Congress keeps paying for massive military appropriations, which underwrite the cost of wars.

  “You can’t say stop the wars as long as Congress keeps signing the checks,” he said. 

   “Right,” said Blumenthal, then saying “believe it or not, I have another appointment to go to.”

  The senator said he was glad he had a chance to speak with the group and then left.

Demanding an end to U.S. intervention in Syria

  Asked later how he felt the impromptu meeting with Blumenthal had gone, Lowendorf said, “I think Senator Blumenthal listened to us as best he could, but I don’t think he hears us. I think what he hears is the military-industrial complex, and that’s what he supports.”

   Krevisky said that going forward, “we need to be out there mobilizing” against war. “A lot of us were part of the Vietnam era protests, and they had a very big impact. We need to be out there in large numbers. A lot of us feel that way and that’s why we set up the Connecticut Peace and Solidarity Coalition, to achieve something like that.”
(The next meeting of the Connecticut Peace and Solidarity Coalition is Saturday, May 13, 10 a,m.-12 noon in the student lounge at Middlesex Community College in Middletown. For information contact Joe Wasserman at joewass64@yahoo.com, or Steve Krevisky at SKrevisky@mxcc.commnet.edu or Henry Lowendorf at grnhpeacecouncil@gmail.com)


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.




Saturday, March 4, 2017

City School Funding in Crisis

By Reginald Johnson



  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.