Obama’s line on the Iran nuclear deal: A second false narrative

Buying into the narrative that Iran is a rogue nuclear state could harm the thawing of relations between the country and the US

By Gareth Porter

I’m glad that the United States and Iran reached an agreement in Vienna after nearly two years of negotiations and 35 years of enmity. A failure to do so under present political conditions would certainly have left a festering conflict with unpredictably bad consequences. And the successful negotiation of such a far-reaching agreement in which both sides made significant concessions should help to moderate the extreme hostility that has been building up in the United States over the years.

But my enthusiasm for the agreement is tempered by the fact that the US political process surrounding the Congressional consideration of the agreement is going to have the opposite effect. And a big part of the problem is that the Obama administration is not going to do anything to refute the extremist view of Iran as determined to get nuclear weapons. Instead the administration is integrating the idea of Iran as rogue nuclear state into its messaging on the agreement.

Secretary of State John Kerry’s testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday makes the administration’s political strategy very clear. In two sentences, Kerry managed to combine the images of Iranian-supported terrorism and sectarian violence across the entire region and Iranian determination to get nuclear weapons. He told the Committee about the administrations plans to “push back against Iran’s other activities – against terrorism support, its contribution to sectarian violence in the Middle East,” which he called “unacceptable”. Then he added: “But pushing back against an Iran with nuclear weapons is very different from pushing back against Iran without one.”

The administration’s determination to be just as alarmist about Iran’s alleged nuclear ambitions as its opponents creates a US political discourse on the Iran nuclear issue built around two dueling narratives that disagree about the effect of the agreement but have one politically crucial common denominator: they both hold it as beyond debate that Iran cannot be trusted because it wants nuclear weapons; and the only question is whether and for how long that Iranian quest for nuclear weapons can be held off without war.

The Israeli line is that the agreement is merely a temporary lull, and that it will simply embolden Iran to plan for a bomb once the agreement expires ten years hence. But for the administration’s tough-minded diplomatic efforts, Iran would have continued advancing towards getting a nuclear weapon, and that the only alternative to the agreement is war with Iran. (more…)

Human Rights Watch Report Highlights Stories of Palestinian Children Abused by Israeli Forces

As the United States government prepares to increase military aid to Israel by as much as fifty percent, a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report has put focus on Israeli security forces’ brutal treatment of Palestinian children.

The report includes six stories of questionable arrests and abuse six Palestinian children suffered in recent years. Neither of the children were older than 15 years-old when they were arrested.

According to HRW, there have been numerous reports by local human rights organizations and news media about arrests of Palestinian children. The frequent arrests pushed HRW to identify specific cases, interview abused children, and investigate the abuse, which had occurred.

A fourteen year-old girl, Malak Al-Khatib, was arrested on December 31, 2014, in a village in the West Bank. She was beaten by soldiers with “something like a baton,” according to her mother.

Khatib was kicked and a soldier stepped on her neck. She lost consciousness. She was put in a blindfod and endured further abuse as she was taken to a police station.

Her family had no idea she had been arrested. As Ali, her father, recalled, “She had a final exam that morning, in English, and we thought that as usual she had gone for a walk after an exam. Then the Beitin village council called to say she’d been arrested, but nobody knew where she’d been taken.”

Malak claimed the “interrogator yelled at her for two hours to confess, slammed his hand on the table, and threatened to bring in her mother and sister and arrest her father.” As is typical, if she wanted to return to her parents, she was forced to sign a “confession” that was in Hebrew, which the security forces know a vast majority of Palestinians cannot read.

Her lawyer reached a plea deal on January 14. She pled guilty to “throwing rocks at Road 60, a major road near Beitin used by Israeli settlers,” and received a two-month jail sentence and a three year suspended sentence. Her family paid a $1,560 fine.

HRW was unable to find evidence of stone throwing, and whether Malak did throw stones or not, Israeli authorities violated her rights when they refused to inform her parents she had been arrested or allow Malak to consult her parents or lawyer during her interrogation.

It also is a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention to transfer Malak out of the West Bank to Israel. Although the Israeli Supreme Court has upheld this practice as lawful, it is only lawful under domestic law. It violates international standards, which Israel has adopted, and are supposed to supersede domestic law.

This abuse makes it possible for Israel to keep children from seeing their parents during their detention:

Malak’s parents, who have West Bank identification documents and are not permitted to enter Israel, were unable to see her in detention from December 31 until her release on February 12, except during five trial hearings at the Ofer military base and court complex, when they were not permitted to speak with her.

“At the hearings in Ofer, she would be brought in handcuffs. One time there was a boy with her in the dock, he was around 15 years old, also in [handcuffs]. We couldn’t call her on the phone while she was in prison,” her mother said.

(more…)

Black Lives Matter at Netroots Nation: Failing to Recognize the Power of Protest

Screen shot from Netroots Nation 2015’s live stream of the presidential forum

A number of people in attendance at the Netroots Nation presidential forum with Democratic presidential candidates Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders grew upset when black organizers took the stage and launched a protest. There were complaints about the organizers being disrespectful, obnoxious, and impolite.

It was supposedly not constructive. However, less than twenty-four hours later, O’Malley apologized for saying, “All Lives Matter,” and Sanders’ campaign sent messages in support of “Black Lives Matter.” This demonstrates that there are real advantages to protest, particularly at political gatherings like Netroots Nation.

However, a significant faction of Netroots Nation attendees, including some press in attendance, do not appear to recognize the value of this kind of protest in forcing change.

Tia Oso, a national coordinator for the Black Alliance for Just Immigration in Phoenix, took the stage in the middle of O’Malley’s interview with undocumented activist Jose Antonio Vargas. She immediately contextualized the act of protest by acknowledging that Arizona was built on indigenous land and the border was drawn by white supremacists, who believed in “Manifest Destiny.”

She marked the one-year anniversary of Eric Garner’s death at the hands of an NYPD police officer, who put him in a chokehold and made him cry out, “I can’t breathe!”

The crowd of black organizers led a chant of, “Say Her Name!”, as Oso acknowledged Sandra Bland, a young black woman and anti-police brutality activist who was found dead in a jail cell in Texas. They shouted out names, like Rekia Boyd, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Kyam Livingston, Natasha McKenna, and Tarika Wilson, forcing the crowd to remember—and notice—their lives.

Oso stated, “We shouldn’t have to do this. We asked [Netroots Nation] to create space for black activists to connect. They said no so we did it ourselves.”

Following the acknowledgment of black women killed by police and prison guards, the organizers chanted “If I Die in Custody” and shared what they wanted the world to demand of authorities.

Patrise Cullors, who is with the Ella Baker Center and also a lead organizer of Black Lives Matter, declared, “Every single day folks are dying, not being able to take another breath. We are in a state of emergency. We are in a state of emergency.”

“And, if you don’t feel that emergency, you are not human,” Cullors added.

Cullors demanded that O’Malley and Sanders address the fight for black and brown lives. She pleaded with the candidates to speak out against police unions, who are “battering our names after their law enforcement” officers kill their people. She begged the candidates for action plans or concrete proposals for dealing with this crisis.

After the protest, the dominating news headline was that O’Malley had said something at a liberal conference that left-wing activists did not like. He said, “All Lives Matter,” and why should that be such a problem.

The disruption was cast as a sign of division in the Democratic Party. How are candidates going to deal with this? And, since Hillary Clinton declined to participate in the Netroots Nation presidential forum, does this show that she was smart to avoid this ruckus altogether? (more…)

Obama Tries to End Israel’s Temper Tantrum Over Iran Deal By Offering Country More Weapons

Screen shot 2015-07-16 at 12.17.14 PM

President Barack Obama’s administration has offered to increase US military aid by nearly fifty percent in order to calm Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders, who are livid as a result of the Iran nuclear deal.

“The fact that Netanyahu’s temper tantrum about the Iran deal could go towards an increase in aid is disturbing, especially as we know that US aid is being used to kill civilians in Gaza and the West Bank,” Naomi Dann, media coordinator for Jewish Voice for Peace, told Common Dreams.

Discussions around what the US could give to Israel to help it tolerate the Iran deal have been ongoing for months. Israel has apparently requested “between $4.2 billion and $4.5 billion a year for the next 10 years,” which is an increase from around $3 billion a year, according to The New York Times.

Israel uses the billions to purchase US military hardware, including jets and missile defense equipment. It helps fund the country’s “Iron Dome” project.

As Rania Khalek described, a potential package could involve the purchase of “3,000 Hellfire missiles, 12,000 general purpose bombs, and 750 bunker buster bombs that can penetrate up to 20 feet, or six meters, of reinforced concrete.”

The bombs are exactly the weapons Israel uses when attacking Gaza and deliberately targets civilians, including children.

Netanyahu claimed in an interview with Steve Forbes, “I think if the deal goes through we’re in danger of war, and it might be the worst kind of war we can imagine. Because this deal will open the way for Iran not to get a bomb but many bombs. Within a decade it will be free to enrich uranium on an unlimited basis. And it will be able to make the fissile cord for dozens of bombs–indeed, hundreds of bombs–which it can then put on the hundreds of ICBMs it already has.”

“Under this deal Iran is going to get $100 billion to $300 billion, which it will be able to use to fund its terrorism and its aggression in the region–its aim being to destroy Israel,” Netanyahu added. “Given Iran’s history of aggression, I’d say that this double bonanza of a guaranteed pathway to a nuclear arsenal and a jackpot of money to continue its aggression actually makes the danger of war, even nuclear war, a lot greater.”

Netanyahu’s doomsday scenario stems from opposition to the fact that Iran will be allowed to continue to have peaceful nuclear program and sanctions against the country will be lifted for complying with a rather intrusive inspection regime. (more…)

Obama Finally Acknowledges Mass Incarceration But Proposes Reforms That Leave Failed ‘War on Drugs’ Intact

Obama at NAACP 106th Annual Convention

For the first time in President Barack Obama’s administration, he used the phrase “mass incarceration” in a speech and appropriately called attention to the disproportionate impact incarceration has on black and Latinos in the United States.

The president also proposed several policy solutions that could potentially diminish the level of widespread injustice millions, especially nonviolent drug users, have endured. However, Obama declined to call for an end to the “War on Drugs” and proposed solutions would leave most of this destructive and failed strategy intact.

Mass incarceration makes our country worse off, and we need to do something about it,” Obama declared during remarks at the NAACP’s 106th Annual Convention in Philadelphia. 

Obama highlighted statistics that were probably all too familiar to those who have read Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

…The United States is home to 5 percent of the world’s population, but 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. Think about that. Our incarceration rate is four times higher than China’s. We keep more people behind bars than the top 35 European countries combined. And it hasn’t always been the case — this huge explosion in incarceration rates. In 1980, there were 500,000 people behind bars in America — half a million people in 1980. I was in college in 1980. Many of you were not born in 1980 — that’s okay. (Laughter.) I remember 1980 — 500,000. Today there are 2.2 million. It has quadrupled since 1980. Our prison population has doubled in the last two decades alone…

Those are stunning statistics the country should not ignore. It is hugely important that a US president finally talked about this issue openly.

Obama also said, “In recent years the eyes of more Americans have been opened to this truth. Partly because of cameras, partly because of tragedy, partly because the statistics cannot be ignored, we can’t close our eyes anymore. And the good news — and this is truly good news — is that good people of all political persuasions are starting to think we need to do something about this.”

There has been a lot of critical activism on the issue of mass incarceration in the past five to six years. Individuals and organizations engaged in that struggle, coupled with the Black Lives Matter movement of the past year, have forced those in power to confront policies that dehumanize and devalue black lives. As Occupy changed the framework of discussion about economic inequality, Black Lives Matter created a space for Obama to talk about a set of issues too often labeled as Black issues and ignored by white America.

“Over the last few decades, we’ve also locked up more and more nonviolent drug offenders than ever before, for longer than ever before. And that is the real reason our prison population is so high,” Obama added. “In far too many cases, the punishment simply does not fit the crime. If you’re a low-level drug dealer, or you violate your parole, you owe some debt to society. You have to be held accountable and make amends. But you don’t owe 20 years. You don’t owe a life sentence. That’s disproportionate to the price that should be paid.”

Obama had put out a “drug control strategy” that aimed to provide treatment for nonviolent drug users instead of simply putting them in jail. But never had he presented all the statistics showing the human and economic cost and connected how the government treats nonviolent drug users to mass incarceration.

Ahead of a planned visit to a federal prison, Obama stated, “We should not tolerate conditions in prison that have no place in any civilized country. We should not be tolerating overcrowding in prison. We should not be tolerating gang activity in prison. We should not be tolerating rape in prison. And we shouldn’t be making jokes about it in our popular culture. That’s no joke. These things are unacceptable.”

The president even highlighted his own Justice Department, noting that the Department now spends one-third of its budget on incarceration. (more…)

US Spin on Access to Iranian Sites has Distorted the Issue

Access to Iranian sites continues to be a thorny issue and the Americans may be playing a dirty game in the media (photo:PressTV)

By Gareth Porter

A public diplomacy campaign by the Obama administration to convince world opinion that Iran was reneging on the Lausanne framework agreement in April has seriously misrepresented the actual diplomacy of the Iran nuclear talks, as my interviews with Iranian officials here make clear.

President Barack Obama’s threat on Tuesday to walk out of the nuclear talks if Iranian negotiators didn’t return to the Lausanne framework – especially on the issue of IAEA access to Iranian sites — was the climax of that campaign.

But what has really been happening in nuclear talks is not that Iran has backed away from that agreement but that the United States and Iran have been carrying out tough negotiations – especially in the days before the Vienna round of talks began — on the details of how basic framework agreement will be implemented.

The US campaign began immediately upon the agreement in Lausanne 2 April. The Obama administration said in its 2 April fact sheet that Iran “would be required” to grant IAEA inspectors access to “suspicious sites”. Then Deputy Security Adviser Ben Rhodes declared that if the United States wanted access to an Iranian military base that the US considered “suspicious”, it could “go to the IAEA and get that inspection” because of the Additional Protocol and other “inspection measures that are in the deal”.

That statement touched a raw nerve in Iranian politics. A few days later Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei insisted that Iran would not allow visits to its military bases as a signal that Iran would withdraw concessions it made in Lausanne. That reaction was portrayed in media as evidence that Iranian negotiators were being forced to retreat from the Lausanne agreement.

In fact it was nothing of the sort. The idea that IAEA inspectors could go into Iranian military facilities at will, as Rhodes had suggested, was a crude oversimplification that was bound to upset Iranians. The reason was more political than strategic. “It is a matter of national dignity,” one Iranian official in Vienna explained to me.

The Iranian negotiators were still pushing back publicly against Rhodes’s rhetoric as the Vienna round began. Iranian Deputy Foreign Miniser Abbas Aragchi appeared to threaten a reopening of the provisions of the Lausanne framework relating to the access issue in an interview with AFP Sunday. “[N]ow some of the solutions found in Lausanne no longer work,” Araghchi said, “because after Lausanne certain countries within the P5+1 made declarations.”

But despite Araghchi’s tough talk, Iran has not reversed course on the compromise reached in Lausanne on the access issue, and what was involved was a dispute resolution process on the issue of IAEA requests for inspections. In interviews with me, two Iranian officials acknowledged that the final agreement will include a procedure that could override an Iranian rejection of an IAEA request to visit a site.

The procedure would allow the Joint Commission, which was first mentioned in the Joint Plan of Action of November 2013, to review a decision by Iran to reject an IAEA request for an inspection visit. The Joint Commission is made up of Iran, the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) and the European Union.

If this Joint Commission were to decide against an Iranian rejection, the IAEA could claim the right to access even to a military site, despite Iran’s opposition.

Such a procedure represents a major concession by Iran, which had assumed that the Additional Protocol to Iran’s “Safeguards” agreement with the IAEA would have governed IAEA access to sites in Iran. Contrary to most media descriptions, that agreement limits IAEA inspection visits to undeclared sites to carrying out “location-specific environmental sampling.” It also allows Iran to deny the request for access to the site, provided it makes “every effort to satisfy Agency requests without delay at adjacent locations or through other means.”

The dispute resolution process obviously goes well beyond the Additional Protocol. But the Obama administration’s statements suggesting that the IAEA will have authority to visit any site they consider “suspect” is a politically convenient oversimplification. Under the technical annex to the Lausanne agreement that is now under negotiation, Iran would have the right to receive the evidence on which the IAEA is basing its request, according to Iranian officials. And since Iran has no intention of doing anything to give the IAEA valid reason to claim suspicious activities, Iranian officials believe they will be able to make a strong argument that the evidence in question is not credible.

Iran has proposed that that the period between the original IAEA request and any inspection resulting from a Joint Committee decision should be 24 days. But that number incensed critics of the Iran nuclear deal. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who is unhappy with the whole idea of turning the decisions on inspections over to a multilateral group that includes adversaries of the United States, has criticized the idea of allocating 24 days to the process of dispute resolution.

Under pressure from Corker and Senate Republican opponents of the nuclear deal, the US negotiating team has been demanding a shorter period, Iranian officials say.

The determining factor in how the verification system being negotiated would actually work, however, will be the political-diplomatic interests of the states and the EU who would be voting on the requests. Those interests are the wild card in the negotiations, because it is well known among the negotiators here that there are deep divisions within the P5+1 group of states on the access issue.

There are divisions within the P5+1, especially over aspects of what the Security Council should be doing, on how sanctions would be lifted and on access [verification regime]. “We can say with authority that they have to spend more time negotiating among themselves than negotiating with us,” one Iranian official said.

Even as Obama was publicly accusing Iran of seeking to revise the basic Lausanne framework itself, US negotiators were apparently trying to revise that very same framework agreement itself. A US official “declined to say if the United States might agree to adjust some elements of the Lausanne framework in return for new Iranian concessions,” according to a New York Times report.

The Americans may have been doing precisely what they were accusing the Iranians of doing.

——————

© 2015 Middle East Eye

Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist on U.S. national security policy who has been independent since a brief period of university teaching in the 1980s. Dr. Porter is the author of five books, the latest book, “Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare,” was published in February 2014. He has written regularly for Inter Press Service on U.S. policy toward Iraq and Iran since 2005.

LGBT Community Boos Undocumented Transgender Activist for Interrupting Obama at Pride Event

An undocumented transgender woman and activist interrupted President Barack Obama while he was speaking at the White House’s annual LGBT Pride Month reception.

Jennicet Gutiérrez, who is a founding member of Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, was in the audience listening to Obama say how wonderful everything was for the LGBT community. Gutiérrez protested.

“President Obama, stop the torture and abuse of trans women in detention centers!” Gutiérrez shouted. “President Obama, I am a trans woman. I’m tired of the abuse.”

Obama responded, “You’re in my house. As a general rule, I am just fine with a few hecklers, but not when I’m up in the house.”

The LGBT community at the reception erupted into loud applause and cheering. The president scolded Gutiérrez, “It’s not respectful when you get invited to somebody’s [house].” Plus, “You’re not going to get a good response from me by interrupting me like this.”

People who one would think might show solidarity with a person like Gutiérrez booed. Obama escalated his open berating of Gutiérrez, “Shame on you! You shouldn’t be doing this!”

The community of the people launched into a chant. “Obama! Obama! Obama.”

Seeing how that did not convince Gutiérrez to stop trying to get Obama to address a critical issue, the detention and deportation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender immigrants, Obama asked security to escort Gutiérrez out of the reception. She was removed while many in the room stood around laughing at what happened.

Remarkably, Obama stated later in his speech, “We know that transgender persons still face terrible violence and abuse and poverty here at home and around the world.” A person in the audience shouted, “The transsexuals love you.” Everyone applauded and Obama reacted, “Well, that’s the kind of heckling I can always accept.”

After applause, Obama continued, “Seriously, too many folks are still targeted, and transgender women of color are particularly vulnerable. So that kind of ugliness simply doesn’t belong in America. That’s not who we are.”

Apparently, Obama could not have said that when Gutiérrez protested. He had to patronize and shame her for dissenting against him.

In an interview for The Advocate, Gutiérrez said it was the crowd that “most frustrated” her. “I’m just very disappointed with the way it was handled.”

“I’m part of the LGBT community, and they didn’t back me, instead they were booing, which to me was like a slap in the face to all these people in detention centers,” Gutiérrez added.

Initially, Gutiérrez did not plan to protest at the reception. She was able to get on the list of attendees through someone at the group, GetEQUAL. But she “couldn’t help but think about the conditions,” which “LGBTQ Latino/Latina, especially trans women of color, are facing in detention.”

“To me, that was the moment I had to speak up. I had to raise awareness to the President and to everyone else watching that I’m not just going to celebrate, when my trans sisters are facing a lot of violence in the detention centers. [Trans women are facing] sexual and physical abuse, and I just had to send a message.”
(more…)

Congress’s Cat Burglars Are Pulling a Fast One on TPP

June 22, 2015 by Bill Moyers and Bernard Weisberger

This post first appeared on BillMoyers.com.

TELL CONGRESS: Don't Fast Track TPP“With cat-like tread upon our foes we steal.” So boasted Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance as they decided to try a little burglary for a change. And “steal” is the appropriate word.

It’s hardly a surprise that Republican congressional leaders and their cadre of Democratic allies spurred on by Barack Obama are resorting to a bagful of parliamentary tricks to put the Trans-Pacific Partnership on a “take it or leave it but you can’t change it” fast-track to enactment by Tuesday.

No sooner had the first round gone to pro-democracy forces than Speaker Boehner – forever remembered as the man who handed out tobacco lobby checks to members on the House floor — promptly scheduled a new vote allowing time to bring pressure on naysayers.

Remember when Tom De Lay, the former House Republican majority leader used to stop the clock of a legislative day at five minutes to midnight, the lobbyists’ favorite witching hour? That way he could whipsaw doubters into line behind something President George W. Bush wanted but couldn’t get through Congress in the open.

Boehner learned a lot from watching DeLay, and now he, Senate Majority Leader Mitch (“Mr. Dark Money”) McConnell, and assorted cronies are consorting to deliver to Mr. Obama the goods he has promised multinational conglomerates in the laughable name of “free trade.” And they are doing it the old-fashioned congressional way: hocus pocus.

The bill was reintroduced last Thursday, unaccompanied by a controversial provision to assist workers displaced by the pact, and passed 218 to 208. It now returns to the Senate for approval in its new form and there its opponents will make a last stand on Tuesday.

What a terrible contraption it still is, conceived in secret with the imprimatur of multinational corporate attorneys and dedicated to the proposition that American workers are expendable, the environment is mere foodstuff to swell profit margins, and sovereign American laws are subject to second-opinion lawsuits by foreign companies. “What looks like a stone wall to a layman,” a humorist of an earlier century once wrote, “is a triumphal arch to a corporation lawyer.”

This bag of tricks is full of deceptive arguments. Fast-track proponents claim that expanded trade will be good for everybody by creating plentiful new jobs here in the US. Unfortunately, specific examples and illustrations are conspicuously lacking.

International Business Times has just published a new report examining the known text of the TPP treaty that shows it would provide special legal rights to corporations that it denies to unions, small businesses and other public interest, environmental and civic groups. Specifically, while President Obama keeps repeating the misleading promise that the deal would “level the playing field,” instead, the TPP would let corporations sue in international tribunals to try to overturn labor, environmental and human rights laws while prohibiting public-interest groups from suing in the same tribunals. How’s that for a “level playing field?” Please, Mr. President, how about you leveling with us?

They say that without the treaty, America will be pushed out of its strong role in the world’s economy by China and a potential list of Asian satellites. If so, why is it we only know about the terms of the treaty through leaks, or a carefully condensed and edited online site, or a version available to Congress only on heavily restrictive terms? And why an end run around the Constitution by giving the president a sovereign power to deny the members of Congress their right to offer amendments against provisions that they believe harm the interests of their districts? What on earth would the Founding Fathers think?

(more…)

Plan B: Ditch Help For Workers, Just Get Corporations What They Want

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) and Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) have hatched a plan to muscle through Fast Track for President Obama. But there is no guarantee their plan will work.

As a new GOP-led approach to approving Fast Track authority on behalf of the Obama administration materializes, the process itself signals just how noxious the contents of deals like the TPP must be

By Jon Queally

Legislative maneuvering around Trade Promotion Authority (TPA or Fast Track) continued late Tuesday, as GOP leaders in Congress, the Obama administration, and a handful of anti-democracy Democrats hatched a plan to hold a straight vote on Fast Track—handing the White House the authority it wants to pass the Trans Pacific Partnership and other pending corporate-friendly agreements—while separating out a provision offering assistance to workers displaced by future trade deals.

It’s not a simple or guaranteed path forward for Fast Track, but Politico explained the GOP leadership’s latest approach this way:

Under the emerging plan, the House would vote on a bill that would give Obama fast-track authority to negotiate a sweeping trade deal with Pacific Rim countries, sending it to the Senate for final approval. To alleviate Democratic concerns, the Senate then would amend a separate bill on trade preferences to include Trade Adjustment Assistance, a worker aid program that Republicans oppose but that House Democrats have blocked to gain leverage in the negotiations over fast-track.

The leaders’ behind-the-scenes machinations are an attempt to allow both bills — TAA and the fast-track measure known as Trade Promotion Authority — to move to Obama’s desk separately, sidestepping the objections of House Democrats that stalled the package last week. The idea, which has been discussed among top congressional leaders and the White House, would be tantamount to a dare to pro-trade Democrats in both chambers to vote it down.

The plans are fluid and could change. But multiple congressional leaders, speaking anonymously to candidly describe their strategy, said they felt this was the only hope to reverse the trade package’s flagging fortunes.

The big question in the House remains how many of the 28 House Democrats who voted for Fast Track when the worker assistance program, known as Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), was on the table would do so now that it’s been taken off. But even if the GOP-controlled House does pass a clean Fast Track bill, the path in the Senate is not likely to be smooth sailing. As The Hill notes, when the Senate approved Fast Track it included “both programs, and the support from 14 Democrats in the upper chamber hinged in part on that fact.”

And according to the Huffington Post:

As rumors swirled about Boehner being ready to move forward with a stand-alone TPA bill, House Democrats called for an emergency caucus meeting on Wednesday morning, where pro-TPA Democrats were expected to try to garner support for the Republican strategy. That meeting was abruptly canceled late Tuesday, after the House Rules Committee opted not to line up a floor vote on a clean fast-track bill. A committee aide said the panel had no plans to meet again this week to take up TPA.

Despite the committee’s punt on Tuesday, House Republican leaders appear ready to push through a clean TPA bill. Their latest strategy, according to Democratic and Republican aides, is to pass the clean bill and send it to the Senate, where lawmakers would then attach TAA to a separate trade bill for African countries, the African Growth and Opportunity Act. The strategy behind that approach would be to convince members of the Congressional Black Caucus to support TAA this time around, since the controversial funding would then be tied to AGOA.

If House Republicans do pursue a stand-alone TPA bill, it won’t necessarily make matters better for the president’s agenda. Passing a clean bill would be far more difficult in the Senate. Obama has vowed to veto a fast-track bill unless TAA is also passed or attached, and passing a clean bill would be far more difficult in the Senate.

Sen. McConnell, President Obama, and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) have been discussing their options since the defeat last Friday, but it was McConnell on Tuesday who expressed the most optimism that Fast Track could still become law in the coming weeks.

“The Speaker and I have spoken with the president about the way forward on trade,” McConnell told reporters. “It’s still my hope that we can achieve what we’ve set out to achieve together, which is to get a six-year trade promotion authority bill in place that will advantage the next occupant of the White House as well as this one.”

Critics of both the TPP and Fast Track point out that machinations necessary to get them passed through Congress bodes poorly for the contents of the corporate-friendly agreements themselves. As David Morris, executive director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, argued in a piece at Common Dreams on Tuesday, the whole process stinks of an anti-democratic culture in which the contents of so-called “free trade” deals are being actively kept secret from the people—even as lawmakers jump through procedural hoop after procedural hoop in order for multinational corporations to get what they want. Moving forward, hope opponents, Congress should consider how the process has eclipsed substantive debate over the trade agenda’s wide-ranging implications for public health, the environment, and workers’ rights. According to Morris:

We the people would like it to be as transparent and democratic as possible. Public opinion consistently favors trade but just as consistently solidly opposes fast track. We oppose the remarkable, indeed unprecedented secrecy in which the trade pact has been drafted and the inability of the average citizen, unlike giant corporations, to play a part in that drafting. We condemn the prohibition against changing the document in any way after submission.

And perhaps most of all we are furious about fast track’s foreclosure of extensive and intensive debate on a complex document of far reaching consequence.

Morris noted that the existing system ostensibly allows for such debate, explaining that Obama, as president, can always submit a trade agreement—which historically were considered treaties and required approval of the Senate for passage. “If fast track fails the President can still submit a trade bill,” Morris explained. “And we can then launch a much needed and long overdue national conversation about the benefits and limitations of trade and the dangers of ceding sovereignty to a new international constitution whose goal is to limit democracy and expand corpocracy.”

Though the White House, according to the Huffington Post, has been “coy about what efforts are being made behind the scenes to get the trade package passed,” previous reporting by Common Dreams makes it clear that the political “arm-twisting” is happening at the highest levels.

—————–

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

Former Guantanamo Prisoner, Who Speaks Out Against Radicalization of Youth, Told He’s on US No Fly List

Screen shot 2015-06-11 at 4.43.34 PM
Mourad Benchellali (Screen shot from Witness to Guantanamo)

A former Guantanamo prisoner, who uses his experience to speak out regularly against the Islamic State and its recruitment campaigns for youth, was blocked from traveling from France to an anti-radicalization conference in Canada. He was told he could not board his flight because he is on the United States’ No Fly List.

The Associated Press reported Mourad Benchellali was not allowed to travel because the Air Transat flight from Lyon to Montreal went through US airspace.

“Our personnel had to, and duly applied the provisions of a US security program known as Secure Flight, as all airlines must,” the Canadian airline told the AP.

Benchellali, a French citizen, was released from the prison at Guantanamo in July 2004. He faced trial and was convicted of crimes in France in 2007, but the French Court of Appeals overturned his convictions in February 2009. A higher court ordered his retrial in 2010.

He had no idea he was on the watch list, however, this was his first “trans-Atlantic flight.”

The former Guantanamo prisoner planned to attend a conference organized by the Observatory on Radicalization and Violent Extremism. Organizers were shocked that their guest was “banned” from traveling and would not be speaking alongside police and university researchers scheduled to participate. He also was to attend another conference, “48 Hours for Peace.”

In February, President Barack Obama spoke at a “Countering Violent Extremism” summit where he argued that al Qaeda, the Islamic State and other groups were terrorists “desperate for legitimacy. And all of us have a responsibility to refute the notion that groups like [the Islamic State] somehow represent Islam, because that is a falsehood that embraces the terrorist narrative.”

“We must acknowledge that groups like al Qaeda and [Islamic State] are deliberately targeting their propaganda to Muslim communities, particularly Muslim youth. And Muslim communities, including scholars and clerics, therefore have a responsibility to push back.”

People like Benchellali are pushing back. When he was 19-years-old, according to a previous report from the AP, he “viewed the voyage to al Qaeda’s training camp in Kandahar, Afghanistan, as a romantic adventure.” (more…)