Iran’s chemical weapon survivors show twin horrors of WMD and sanctions

"It is estimated that more than 100,000 survivors of chemical warfare live in Iran, more than any other country. Starting in 1981, Iraq fired countless chemical warheads at Iranian soldiers and civilians. Iraqi troops carried out the first extensive chemical attack on Iran in October 1983, with shells containing tons of sulphur mustard and nerve agents. Later, with the help of West Germany, Iraq began to manufacture mustard gas and nerve agents in large amounts.

There were more than 30 chemical attacks on residential areas in Iran, as well as on the Iraqi Kurdish town of Halabja, where more than 5,000 civilians were killed. Companies based in the UK, France, Germany, Spain, the US, India and Egypt were involved in selling and providing material for these chemical weapons to Iraq.

In theory, medicine is exempt from western sanctions against Iran; in practice, however, with blanket international sanctions on Iranian banking and shipping, it is extremely difficult for any pharmaceutical company to arrange for payment and shipment. Iranian government mismanagement and corruption have only exacerbated the problem.

Ahmad was lucky to befriend someone in a position to help him procure the medicine he requires; others with similarly pressing needs, from survivors of chemical warfare to those suffering from cancer, have very little hope.”

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Iran has to prove to the world that its nuclear program is peaceful but the US, which has the biggest nuclear arsenal in the world and has used the bomb twice, doesn’t have to prove any such intention. 

The Consequences of Long-term Unemployment for 4.6 Million Americans

Last month, 4.6 million Americans had been unemployed for more than six months. Many of them have experienced devastating financial losses, and their job prospects remain grim. No one, not even the distinguished witnesses at Tuesday’s hearing, has been able to find the magic bullet to get them back to work.

Our recent study tallies the financial impact of extended job loss:

  • Between August 2008 and December 2011, 6 percent of workers age 25 or older were unemployed for at least six consecutive months.
  • Half of them experienced income declines of 40 percent or more, and more than a quarter fell into poverty.
  • Long-term unemployment reduced incomes most for African Americans, unmarried workers, men, and college graduates. High school dropouts, African Americans, unmarried workers, and adults age 25 to 34 were most likely to fall into poverty when out of work for six months or more.

The financial toll would have been even worse without the social safety net and help from spouses. Half of the long-term unemployed collected unemployment insurance benefits, which for the typical recipient replaced 43 percent of lost earnings. Spousal earnings also cushioned the financial effects of job loss for many married workers, a form of insurance that wasn’t available to unmarried workers.

However, critical gaps in the safety net are obvious. Half of unemployed workers did not collect any unemployment insurance benefits six months after losing their jobs, primarily because they didn’t earn enough or work long enough to qualify. Coverage rates were lowest for African Americans, workers who did not complete high school, and those younger than 35, groups whose precarious finances even while working make them especially vulnerable during bad times.

For most of the long-term unemployed, other income sources didn’t change much six months after they lost their jobs. Few got financial help from family or friends in those first six months or tapped their retirement savings, and few spouses of the unemployed began working more. Few began receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits (still known to many as food stamps), disability benefits, or other types of government assistance.

Most unemployed workers age 62 or older, however, did begin collecting retirement benefits. Social Security was a vital lifeline for out-of-work seniors, but collecting Social Security early has permanent consequences because it lowers their monthly benefits for the rest of their lives. This can create financial hardship near the end of life when health care costs typically soar.

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What’s the Difference Between McVeigh and Tsarnaev?

The federal government managed to hunt down, arrest, charge, try, convict and execute Timothy McVeigh without junking due process.

When Jared Lee Loughner attempted to assassinate Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, and shot dead a federal judge and a 9-year-old, grandstanding lawmakers did not demand that he be taken into military custody. Nor did they make that demand when James Holmes was arrested for killing 12 people and wounding 70 others at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater.

But now Senator Lindsey Graham is calling for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to be classified as an enemy combatant and “held and questioned under the law of war,” without a lawyer.

What’s the difference? The Boston Marathon bombings are closer to the colloquial and legal definitions of terrorism than the Aurora shooting, but not the Oklahoma bombing, or the Arizona attack.

The real difference is that Mr. Tsarnaev is a Muslim, and the United States has since the 9/11 terrorist attacks constructed a separate and profoundly unequal system of detention and punishment that essentially applies only to Muslims.

Danger In Conflation: Separating Islam From Acts Of Terror

… whom exactly are we supposed to be profiling and using what criteria? The two brothers that we are talking about in this case are from the Caucasus region. They are white, for all practical purposes. Some Muslims, such as myself, are brown. And about a third of the Muslims in America are African-American.

So unless we’re just going to racially profile everybody, the whole idea of racially profiling Muslims is absurd, and furthermore, it should be illegal.

Muslim terrorists should be studied. But to depict them as somehow embodying the essence of Islam, which is exactly what Islamaphobic websites are doing today, is actually to grant the Muslim terrorists the very legitimacy that they crave. And they don’t possess this legitimacy, and they don’t deserve it, and we should not confer it upon them.

(Source : NPR)

Origin of CIA’s not-so-secret drone war in Pakistan

As the battles raged in South Waziristan, the station chief in Islamabad paid a visit to Gen. Ehsan ul Haq, the ISI chief, and made an offer: If the C.I.A. killed Mr. Muhammad, would the ISI allow regular armed drone flights over the tribal areas?

In secret negotiations, the terms of the bargain were set. Pakistani intelligence officials insisted that they be allowed to approve each drone strike, giving them tight control over the list of targets. And they insisted that drones fly only in narrow parts of the tribal areas — ensuring that they would not venture where Islamabad did not want the Americans going: Pakistan’s nuclear facilities, and the mountain camps where Kashmiri militants were trained for attacks in India.

The ISI and the C.I.A. agreed that all drone flights in Pakistan would operate under the C.I.A.’s covert action authority — meaning that the United States would never acknowledge the missile strikes and that Pakistan would either take credit for the individual killings or remain silent.

Mr. Musharraf did not think that it would be difficult to keep up the ruse. As he told one C.I.A. officer: “In Pakistan, things fall out of the sky all the time.”

(Source : The New York Times)

NYPD’s Ray Kelly wanted to “instill fear” in minority youth

In the latest striking revelation about the internal mechanisms of the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk practices, a New York state senator testified that police commissioner Ray Kelly once said he intended to “instill fear” in black and Latino young men with the controversial tactic.

State Sen. Eric Adams, a retired NYPD captain, took the stand Monday in the landmark Floyd vs. City of New York federal trial, which challenges the constitutionality of the racially skewedstop-and-frisk tactic. Adams told the court about a 2010 meeting between Kelly and New York’s then-Gov. David Patterson. Adams, also present at the meeting, testified that the commissioner had expressly stated that black and Latino men should be targeted in police stops. Kelly, according to the city’s attorney, has flatly denied making such claims.

Ryan Devereaux reported for the Guardian:

Adams had traveled to Albany for a meeting on 10 July 2010 with the governor to give his support for a bill that would prohibit the NYPD from maintaining a database that would include the personal information of individuals stopped by the police but released without a charge or summons. In discussing the bill, which ultimately passed, Adams said he raised the issue of police stops disproportionately targeting young African American and Latino men.

“[Kelly] stated that he targeted and focused on that group because he wanted to instil fear in them that every time that they left their homes they could be targeted by police,” Adams testified.

“How else would we get rid of guns,” Adams said Kelly asked him.

Adams told the court he was stunned by the commissioner’s claim and immediately expressed his concerns. “I was amazed,” Adams testified. “I told him that was illegal.”

Mr Obama, on what planet do you live?

In retrospect, worse than speech was the whole concept of the visit itself. Obama should never have undertaken such a visit without an accompanying willingness to treat the Palestinian reality with at least equal dignity to that of the Israeli reality and without some indication of how to imagine a just peace based on two states for two peoples given the outrageous continuing Israeli encroachments on occupied Palestinian territory that give every indication of permanence - not to mention the non-representation and collective punishment of the Gazan population of 1.5 million.

Obama made no mention of the wave of recent Palestinian hunger strikes or the degree to which Palestinians have shifted their tactics of resistance away from a reliance on armed struggle. It is perverse to heap praise on the oppressive occupier, ignore non-violent tactics of Palestinian resistance and the surge of global solidarity with the Palestinian struggle, and then hypocritically call on both peoples to move forward toward a peaceful resolution of conflict by building relations of trust with one another. Mr Obama, on what planet are you living? 

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The roots of terrorism

Not a single study could make a cogent case that terrorism had economic roots. This lack of evidence culminated in a recent review of the literature by Martin Gassebner and Simon Luechinger of the KOF Swiss Economic Institute.

The authors estimated 13.4 million different equations, drew on 43 different studies and 65 correlates of terrorism to conclude that higher levels of poverty and illiteracy are not associated with greater terrorism. In fact, only the lack of civil liberties and high population growth could predict high terrorism levels accurately.

So does this relation also hold for Pakistan? It appears so. Christine Fair from Georgetown University documents a similar phenomenon for Pakistan. By utilising data on 141 killed militants, she finds that militants in Pakistan are recruited from middle-class and well-educated families. This is further corroborated by Graeme Blair and others at Princeton University.

They too find evidence of a higher support base of terrorism from those who are relatively wealthy in Pakistan. In a robust survey of 6,000 individuals across Pakistan, it is found that the poor are actually 23 times more averse to extremist violence relative to middle-class citizens.

My own work too comes to a similar conclusion. Exploiting the econometric concept of Granger causality and drawing on data from 1973-2010 in Pakistan, I document a one-way causality running from terrorism to GDP, investments and exports.

The results indicated that higher incidence of terrorism reduced GDP, investments and exports. However, higher GDP, exports and investment did not reduce terrorism.

The bottom line: when the economy was not doing well, terrorism did not increase and vice versa.

In the present context the Granger causality test ascertains what consistently happens first i.e. do high incomes reduce terrorism in the future rather than higher terrorism reducing incomes in the future and vice versa?

Alan Krueger from Princeton University seems to have an explanation for this “counter-intuitive” phenomenon. After analysing extensive micro- and macro-level data, he too concludes that in fact terrorists are relatively more educated and are recruited from wealthier families.

But he observes another pattern in data: a systematic relationship between political oppression and higher incidence of terrorism.

He relates terrorism to voting behaviour and concludes that terrorism is a “political, not an economic phenomenon”. He defends his results by arguing at length that political involvement requires some understanding of the issues and learning about those issues is a less costly endeavour for those who are better educated.

Just as the more educated are more likely to vote, similarly they are more likely to politically express themselves through terrorism. Hence, political oppression drives people towards terrorism.

To understand what causes terrorism, one need not ask how much of a population is illiterate or in abject poverty. Rather one should ask who holds strong enough political views to impose them through terrorism.

It is not that most terrorists have nothing to live for. Far from it, they are the high-ability and educated political people who so vehemently believe in a cause that they are willing to die for it. The solution to terrorism is not more growth but more freedom.

Economy built for profits not prosperity

Newly released data on corporate profitability for 2012 show the continuation of historic levels of profitability despite excessive unemployment and stagnant wages for most workers. Specifically, the share of capital income (such as profits and interest, which are hereafter referred to as ‘profits’) in the corporate sector increased to 25.6 percent in 2012, the highest in any year since 1950-1951 and far higher than the 19.9 percent share prevailing over 1969-2007, the five business cycles preceding the financial crisis.

This historic share of income going to profits reflects historically high returns on investments, meaning more profit per dollar of assets. A higher profits share could result from an economy becoming more capital-intensive, where more assets are associated with each worker in the production of goods and services. However, the economy has become less capital-intensive since 2007 and is now only modestly more capital-intensive than it was over the preceding four decades. Profitability used to be lower when there was high unemployment, but in this downturn we have already seen the share of income going to profit exceed the high point reached in the last recovery or at any time in the last five recoveries. We now have an economy built to assure high corporate profitability even when it’s operating far below capacity and when most families and workers are faring poorly. This is further evidence that there is a remarkable disconnect between the fortunes of business and those best-off (high-income households) and the vast majority.

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Iraq, Afghan wars will cost to $4 trillion to $6 trillion, Harvard study says

The U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will cost taxpayers $4 trillion to $6 trillion, taking into account the medical care of wounded veterans and expensive repairs to a force depleted by more than a decade of fighting, according to a new study by a Harvard researcher.

Spending borrowed money to pay for the wars has also made them more expensive, the study noted. The conflicts have added $2 trillion to America’s debt, representing roughly 20 percent of the debt incurred between 2001 and 2012.


This shows that austerity is a total joke. The best way to end the debt and go into surplus is to cut all the war spending and have a functional health care system. The reason why there are so many austerity measures everywhere except for in military spending is because the purpose of budget cutbacks is to harm the poor and create precarious social conditions which would allow more labor exploitation to happen.

- Jahanzeb 

(Source : Washington Post)

Human rights groups protest new $49 million Guantánamo prison

If ever there was a sign that the military prison in Guantánamo Bay isn’t closing any time soon, it came Thursday when the United States Southern Command asked Congress for $49 million to construct a new prison building on top of other renovations to the military compound Barack Obama promised to shut down during his first week in office. 

The request increases the potential taxpayer bill for renovating Guantánamo Bay to an estimated $195.7 million, a development that is angering human rights groups who want to see the prison closed, not expanded.

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Recovery in U.S. Is Lifting Profits, but Not Adding Jobs

With $85 billion in automatic cuts taking effect between now and Sept. 30 as part of the so-called federal budget sequestration, some experts warn that economic growth will be reduced by at least half a percentage point. But although experts estimate that sequestration could cost the country about 700,000 jobs, Wall Street does not expect the cuts to substantially reduce corporate profits — or seriously threaten the recent rally in the stock markets.

“It’s minimal,” said Savita Subramanian, head of United States equity and quantitative strategy at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Over all, the sequester could reduce earnings at the biggest companies by just over 1 percent, she said, adding, “the market wants more austerity.”

As a percentage of national income, corporate profits stood at 14.2 percent in the third quarter of 2012, the largest share at any time since 1950, while the portion of income that went to employees was 61.7 percent, near its lowest point since 1966. In recent years, the shift has accelerated during the slow recovery that followed the financial crisis and ensuing recession of 2008 and 2009, said Dean Maki, chief United States economist at Barclays.

Corporate earnings have risen at an annualized rate of 20.1 percent since the end of 2008, he said, but disposable income inched ahead by 1.4 percent annually over the same period, after adjusting for inflation.

“There hasn’t been a period in the last 50 years where these trends have been so pronounced,” Mr. Maki said

(Source : The New York Times)

Prison and the Poverty Trap

“Prison has become the new poverty trap,” said Bruce Western, a Harvard sociologist. “It has become a routine event for poor African-American men and their families, creating an enduring disadvantage at the very bottom of American society.”

Among African-Americans who have grown up during the era of mass incarceration, one in four has had a parent locked up at some point during childhood. For black men in their 20s and early 30s without a high school diploma, the incarceration rate is so high — nearly 40 percent nationwide — that they’re more likely to be behind bars than to have a job.

Epidemiologists have found that when the incarceration rate rises in a county, there tends to be a subsequent increase in the rates of sexually transmitted diseases and teenage pregnancy, possibly because women have less power to require their partners to practice protected sex or remain monogamous.

When researchers try to explain why AIDS is much more prevalent among blacks than whites, they point to the consequences of incarceration, which disrupts steady relationships and can lead to high-risk sexual behavior. When sociologists look for causes of child poverty and juvenile delinquency, they link these problems to the incarceration of parents and the resulting economic and emotional strains on families.

Some families, of course, benefit after an abusive parent or spouse is locked up. But Christopher Wildeman, a Yale sociologist, has found that children are generally more likely to suffer academically and socially after the incarceration of a parent. Boys left fatherless become more physically aggressive. Spouses of prisoners become more prone to depression and other mental and physical problems.

“Education, income, housing, health — incarceration affects everyone and everything in the nation’s low-income neighborhoods,” said Megan Comfort, a sociologist at the nonprofit research organization RTI International who has analyzed what she calls the“secondary prisonization” of women with partners serving time in San Quentin State Prison.

Before the era of mass incarceration, there was already evidence linking problems in poor neighborhoods to the high number of single-parent households and also to the high rate of mobility: the continual turnover on many blocks as transients moved in and out.

Now those trends have been amplified by the prison boom’s “coercive mobility,” as it is termed by Todd R. Clear, the dean of the School of Criminal Justice at Rutgers University. In some low-income neighborhoods, he notes, virtually everyone has at least one relative currently or recently behind bars, so families and communities are continually disrupted by people going in and out of prison.

This social disorder may ultimately have the perverse effect of raising the crime rate in some communities, Dr. Clear and some other scholars say. Robert DeFina and Lance Hannon, both at Villanova University, have found that while crime may initially decline in places that lock up more people, within a few years the rate rebounds and is even higher than before.

New York City’s continuing drop in crime in the past two decades may have occurred partly because it reduced its prison population in the 1990s and thereby avoided a subsequent rebound effect.

Raymond V. Liedka, of Oakland University in Michigan, and colleagues have found that the crime-fighting effects of prison disappear once the incarceration rate gets too high. “If the buildup goes beyond a tipping point, then additional incarceration is not going to gain our society any reduction in crime, and may lead to increased crime,” Dr. Liedka said.

The Rev. Kelly Wilkins sees men like that every day during her work at the Covenant Baptist Church in Washington, which serves the low-income neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River.

“A lot of the men have been away so long that they’re been crippled by incarceration,” she said. “They don’t how to survive in the community anymore, and they figure it’s too late for someone in their 40s to start life over.”

A stint behind bars tends to worsen job prospects that weren’t good to begin with. “People who go to prison would have very low wages even without incarceration,” said Dr. Western, the Harvard sociologist and author of “Punishment and Inequality in America.”“They have very little education, on average, and they live in communities with poor job opportunities, and so on. For all this, the balance of the social science evidence shows that prison makes things worse.”

Dr. Western and Becky Pettit, a sociologist at the University of Washington, estimate, after controlling for various socioeconomic factors, that incarceration typically reduces annual earnings by 40 percent for the typical male former prisoner.

The precise financial loss is debatable. Other social scientists have come up with lower estimates for lost wages after incarceration, but everyone agrees it’s only part of the cost. For starters, it doesn’t include wages lost while a man is behind bars.

Nor does it include all the burdens borne by the prisoner’s family and community during incarceration — the greatest cost of all, says Donald Braman, an anthropologist at George Washington University Law School who wrote “Doing Time on the Outside” after studying families of prisoners in Washington.

“The social deprivation and draining of capital from these communities may well be the greatest contribution our state makes to income inequality,” Dr. Braman said. “There is no social institution I can think of that comes close to matching it.”

Drs. DeFina and Hannon, the Villanova sociologists, calculate that if the mass incarceration trend had not occurred in recent decades, the poverty rate would be 20 percent lower today, and that five million fewer people would have fallen below the poverty line.