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Gary Webb and the 2014 Sandinistas

By: danps Saturday October 25, 2014 5:04 am

Cross posted from Pruning Shears.

The new movie “Kill the Messenger,” about journalist Gary Webb’s investigation into the connection between Contra drug running and the CIA in the 80s, is not exactly water cooler material at the moment. As of this writing Box Office Mojo has its widest release as 427 theaters (compare to 3,173 for the current box office champ), and it doesn’t seem to have much of a marketing push behind it (your mileage may vary). But what it lacks in mainstream buzz it’s making up for in political controversy. Washington Post assistant managing editor Jeff Leen published a piece last Friday decrying Webb’s “canonization” on film, and in doing so invited a new round of scrutiny of the Contra/CIA connection.

The best place to start reviewing the story is the 1989 report by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee titled Drugs, Law Enforcement And Foreign Policy (I’ve scanned it with optical character recognition at the original post if you’d like to copy and paste as well as read). It covers a lot of territory, but the sections on Nicaragua are especially interesting when considering Webb’s reporting seven years later.

What did the Committee have to say? First, on page 6 (page 16 of the PDF – add ten pages to the PDF to get to the corresponding Committee pagination) it acknowledges one of the difficulties with investigating a criminal enterprise: “A number of witnesses and prospective witnesses were convicted felons, having been imprisoned for narcotics-related offenses. The Subcommittee made use of these witnesses in Accordance with the practice of Federal and State prosecutors, who routinely rely on convicts as witnesses in criminal trials because they are the ones with the most intimate knowledge of the criminal activity.” When wading into a cesspool of corruption it is often difficult to figure out which scumbag to believe. Relying on things like statements against interest can help sort things out, but it’s obviously going to be an inexact science.

That acknowledged, here’s what they found. The Contras were involved in drug running and US agencies knew it (p. 36):

While the contra/drug question was not the primary focus of the investigation, the Subcommittee uncovered considerable evidence relating to the Contra network which substantiated many of the initial allegations laid out before the Committee in the Spring of 1986. On the basis of this evidence, it is clear that individuals who provided support for the Contras were involved in drug trafficking, the supply network of the Contras was used by drug trafficking organizations, and elements of the Contras themselves knowingly received financial and material assistance from drug traffickers. In each case, one or another agency of the U.S. government had information regarding the involvement either while it was occurring, or immediately thereafter.

The entire gun/drug scene was mercenary (pp. 36-7):

The Subcommittee found that the links that were forged between the Contras and the drug traffickers were primarily pragmatic, rather than ideological. The drug traffickers, who had significant financial and material resources, needed the cover of legitimate activity for their criminal enterprises. A trafficker like George Morales hoped to have his drug indictment dropped in return for his financial and material support of the Contras. Others, in the words of Marcos Aguado, Eden Pastora’s air force chief:
…took advantage Of the anti-communist sentiment which existed in Central America … and they undoubtedly used it for drug trafficking.

While for some Contras, it was a matter of survival, for the traffickers it was just another business deal to promote and protect their own operations.

They apparently were graduates not of the School of the Americas but the Milo Minderbinder Institute for Profiteering (p. 40):

When the Sandinista insurgency succeeded in 1979, smuggling activity in northern Costa Rica did not stop. Surplus weapons originally stored in Costa Rica for use by the Sandinistas were sold on the black market in the region. Some of these weapons were shipped to the Salvadoran rebels from the same airstrips in the same planes, flown by the same pilots who had previously worked for the Sandinistas.

The drug lords were only too happy to benefit (p. 41):

Following their work on behalf of the Sandinistas and the Salvadoran rebels, the Colombian and Panamanian drug operatives were well positioned to exploit the infrastructure now serving and supplying the Contra Southern Front [a Contra base just across the border in Costa Rica]. This infrastructure was increasingly important to the drug traffickers, as this was the very period [1983] in which the cocaine trade to the U.S. from Latin America was growing exponentially.

The Contras were funded by drug money and that was fine with at least some of the individuals running the show (p. 41):

The logic of having drug money pay for the pressing needs of the Contras appealed to a number of people who became involved in the covert war. Indeed, senior U.S. policy makers were not immune to the idea that drug money was a perfect solution to the Contra’s funding problems.

As DEA officials testified last July before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Lt. Col. Oliver North suggested to the DEA in June 1985 that $1.5 million in drug money carried aboard a plane piloted by DEA informant Barry Seal and generated in a sting of the Medellin Cartel and Sandinista officials, be provided to the Contras. While the suggestion was rejected by the DEA, the fact that it was made highlights the potential appeal of drug profits for persons engaged in covert activity.

[Werner] Lotz [a Costa Rican pilot and convicted drug smuggler] said that Contra operations on the Southern Front were in fact funded by drug operations. He testified that weapons for the Contras came from Panama on small planes carrying mixed loads which included drugs. The pilots unloaded the weapons, refueled, and headed north toward the U.S. with drugs. The pilots included Americans, Panamanians, and Colombians, and occasionally, uniformed members of the Panamanian Defense Forces.

We have the names of some of those running drugs to the US (p. 43):

Pilots who made combined Contra weapons/drug flights through the Southern Front included:

— Gerardo Duran, a Costa Rican pilot in the airplane parts supply business. Duran flew for a variety of Contra organizations on the Southern Front, including those affiliated with Alfonso Robelo, Fernando “El Negro” Chamorro, and Eden Pastora, before U.S. officials insisted that the Contras sever their ties from Duran because of his involvement with drugs. Duran was convicted of narcotics trafficking in Costa Rica in 1987 and jailed.

— Gary Wayne Betzner, drug pilot who worked for convicted smuggler George Morales. Betzner testified that twice in 1984 he flew weapons for the Contras from the U.S. to northern Costa Rica and returned to the United States with loads of cocaine. Betzner is presently serving a lengthy prison term for drug smuggling.

— Jose “Chepon” Robelo, the head of UDN-FARN air force on the Southern front. Robelo turned to narcotics trafficking and reselling goods provided to the Contras by the U.S.

And we know at least one city the drugs were being flown to (p. 46):

In September, 1984, Miami police officials advised the FBI of information they had received that Ocean Hunter [a money laundering operation fronting as a seafood company] was funding contra activities through “narcotics transactions,” and nothing that Luis Rodriguez was its president. This information confirmed previous accounts the FBI had received concerning the involvement of Ocean Hunter and its officers in Contra supply operations involving the Cuban American community.

To recap: Various undifferentiated groups of psychopaths were fighting endless internecine wars against each other and wreaking havoc on the civilian populations that had the misfortune to be nearby. The engine for these conflicts was a professional class of amoral drug kingpins and bagmen who set up a drug pipeline to America. And the US, apparently in search of adventure, decided to pick a side. In other words, an appalling scandal.

The report gives the most generous possible interpretation for this by introducing the “blind eye” narrative (p. 44):

At best, these incidents represent negligence on the part of U.S. government officials responsible for providing support to the Contras. At worst it was a matter of turning a blind eye, to the, activities of companies who use legitimate activities as a cover for their narcotics trafficking.

But there are still some open questions (p. 42):

The State Department selected four companies owned and operated by narcotics traffickers to supply humanitarian assistance to the Contras…In each case, prior to the time that the State Department entered into contracts with the company, federal law enforcement had received information that the individuals controlling these companies were involved in narcotics…A number of questions arise as a result of the selection of these four companies by the State Department for the provision of humanitarian assistance to the contras, to which the Subcommittee has been unable to obtain clear answers:

— Who selected these firms to provide services to the Contras, paid for with public funds, and what criteria were used for selecting them?

— Were any U.S. officials in the CIA, NSC, or State Department aware of the narcotics allegations associated with any of these companies? If so, why were these firms permitted to receive public funds on behalf of the Contras?

— Why were Contra suppliers not checked against federal law enforcement records that would have shown them to be either under active investigation as drug traffickers, or in the case of DIASCA, actually under indictment?

The concern highlights the degree to which the infrastructure used by the Contras and that used by drug traffickers was potentially interchangeable, even in a situation in which the U.S. government had itself established and maintained the airstrip involved.

The whole operation crippled attempts to come to grips with the drug problem (p. 123):

The most graphic example of this Conflict between law enforcement and foreign policy priorities is that of Richard Gregorie, who for eight years led the war on drugs in the U.S. Attorney’s office in Miami. He had achieved a reputation as one of the nation’s most effective and toughest federal narcotics prosecutors.

Yet, Gregorie, in frustration, resigned his position in January of this year due to increasing opposition he was meeting from the State Department to his investigations and indictments of foreign officials.

In an interview with NBC, aired on February 22, 1989, Gregorie said the opposition from the State Department made it almost impossible to pursue top cocaine bosses. He stated, in that interview: “I am finding the higher we go, the further I investigate matters involving Panama, high level corruption in Colombia, in Honduras, in the Bahamas, they are concerned that we are going to cause a problem in foreign policy areas and that that is more important than stopping the dope problem.”

Lastly, the drug runners were remarkably effective at evading law enforcement – but then their luck began running out (p. 53):

Thomas Castillo, the former CIA station chief in Costa Rica, who was indicted in connection with the Iran/Contra affair, testified before the Iran/Contra Committees that when the CIA became aware of narcotics trafficking by Pastorals supporters and lieutenants, those individuals’ activities were reported to law enforcement officials. However, Morales continued to work with the Contras until January 1986. He was indicted for a second time in the Southern District of Florida for a January 1986 cocaine flight to Bahamas and was arrested on June 12, 1986.

In October 1986 Congress approved $100 million in funds for the Contras. Is it too much to think that the plug got pulled on such an unsavory clandestine operation in anticipation of a windfall of taxpayer money? And that there may have been some kind of extraordinary forbearance shown to the drug runners when they had no public funding? Sure, that would mean something more than studied ignorance was going on – which would conflict with the preferred version of events. But the Committee report establishes a solid foundation for anyone looking to fill in the gaps. I don’t know how anyone can read that report and conclude, as Leen does, that it’s the final word on the matter. It’s just the opposite: an invitation to further investigation.

Given the vast scope of the program, its duration, and the abundance of details provided by the report, it strains credulity to think that the entire time US operatives were just standing on the sideline watching. So when, years later, Webb accepted the invitation, the resulting series shouldn’t have been seen as a fundamental change of narrative. Rather, it was a clarification of the blind eye/active encouragement questions left open by the Committee report. Why was it so explosive then? Robert Parry has a thought:

Webb’s series wasn’t just a story about drug traffickers in Central America and their protectors in Washington. It was about the on-the-ground consequences, inside the United States, of that drug trafficking, how the lives of Americans were blighted and destroyed as the collateral damage of a U.S. foreign policy initiative.

In other words, there were real-life American victims, and they were concentrated in African-American communities. That meant the ever-sensitive issue of race had been injected into the controversy. Anger from black communities spread quickly to the Congressional Black Caucus, which started demanding answers.

It’s one thing to write about trafficking and smuggling. It’s quite another to identify the destination of that traffic and into whose hands the smuggled goods ended. Webb’s series has been preserved by Narco News, and you can read part one, part two and part three for yourself. Webb’s pieces sound a number of themes from the Committee report, such as the frustration of drug investigations:

Agents from four organizations — the DEA, U.S. Customs, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the California Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement — have complained that investigations were hampered by the CIA or unnamed “national security” interests.

And the withdrawal of support for the program:

According to a December 1986 FBI Teletype, [Bradley] Brunon [defense attorney for Contra leader and drug dealer Oscar Danilo Blandon Reyes] told the officers that the “CIA winked at this sort of thing. … (Brunon) indicated that now that U.S. Congress had voted funds for the Nicaraguan Contra movement, U.S. government now appears to be turning against organizations like this.”…Blandon has also implied that his cocaine sales were, for a time, CIA-approved. He told a San Francisco federal grand jury in 1994 that once the FDN began receiving American taxpayer dollars, the CIA no longer needed his kind of help.

That last quote actually supports the “blind eye” theory and just calls it a wink instead. But here’s the rub: you can’t reconcile a wink with the change in the smugglers’ fortunes post-Congressional funding. If some person or agency was clearing the field for those activities – and again, the Committee report suggests as much, it’s not new – then the blind eye narrative is blown out of the water.

We aren’t talking blind eye anymore, but neither are we talking about CIA agents selling drugs in south central Los Angeles. So it’s ludicrous for Leen to write Webb claimed “the Central Intelligence Agency was responsible for the crack cocaine epidemic in America.” Why resort to such hyperbolic falsehood? Maybe because knocking out the support from under the blind eye version of events would be incredibly damaging to the CIA’s reputation and credibility (and Leen seems particularly sympathetic to the agency). So instead of trying to re-establish blind eye, Leen makes an outlandish characterization of Webb’s reporting. Readers who are not familiar with it (and Leen unhelpfully does not provide links) will be inclined to think Webb a crank and his reporting discredited.

What’s even more extraordinary is that Leen was “an investigative reporter covering the drug trade for the Miami Herald” during the time in question. While he was on that beat the United States Senate released a report disclosing, among other things, that a money laundering operation in Miami was funding the Contras through drug sales. Yet he writes:

Beginning in 1985, journalists started pursuing tips about the CIA’s role in the drug trade. Was the agency allowing cocaine to flow into the United States as a means to fund its secret war supporting the contra rebels in Nicaragua? Many journalists, including me, chased that story from different angles, but the extraordinary proof was always lacking.

Weren’t the activities of Ocean Hunter, helpfully supplied by the Senate – no chasing required! – worthy of a deep dive? It’s just astounding that the abundance of leads in the Committee report was taken not as the jumping off point for a whole new round of investigations but the final word on the CIA’s blamelessness. Parry has an apt description (via Charles Pierce) of Leen’s brand of investigative journalism:

journalists need “extraordinary proof” if a story puts the U.S. government or an “ally” in a negative light but pretty much anything goes when criticizing an “enemy.”

If, for instance, the Post wanted to accuse the Syrian government of killing civilians with Sarin gas or blame Russian-backed rebels for the shoot-down of a civilian airliner over Ukraine, any scraps of proof – no matter how dubious – would be good enough (as was the actual case in 2013 and 2014, respectively).

However, if new evidence undercut those suspicions and shifted the blame to people on “the U.S. side” – say, the Syrian rebels and the Ukrainian government – then the standards of proof suddenly skyrocket beyond reach.

“Extraordinary proof” is not an ironclad principle adhered to though the heavens may fall, but a tactic that is first evaluated against political exigency.


In the comments to Leen’s piece (the Post doesn’t permalink comments, so either wade through them yourself or trust me on this one) linerider writes:
As stated before Webb all but claimed the CIA created the crack epidemic. Go back and read the articles. Not simply that they ignored their sources in the business; not that drugs weren’t a national security issue to them, but that real, honest-to-god spooks ran drugs. That’s the inference. They didn’t and running with that lead discredited everything else he wrote.

Was the CIA wrong in turning a blind eye to the traffickers? As much so as they are in turning a blind eye to anyone who provides a major need in the fulfillment of our national goals. Would they ignore drug trafficking being done by, say the Kurds, if the Kurds were using the money to fight ISIS? Would the nation consider that acceptable? And would we claim that the CIA was all but running the drugs into the United States by associating with Kurds and ignoring that backdoor funding or would we recognize the nuance – a nuance rarely found in the age of 7 day/24 hour internet reporting?

I have no idea who that individual is, but the comment is a great example of Washington’s perpetual conflict mentality, beginning with the smearing of a credible report (“Webb all but claimed the CIA created the crack epidemic…That’s the inference.”) Go back and read the articles indeed.

The second paragraph is the really interesting one, though. How would we think about its contemporary analogue? Would we be OK with the Kurds running heroin to the US (ideally in a newly engineered form that made it cheaper, more potent, and suitable for transport to America’s urban areas, I suppose)? God knows the war-firsters have been hyping the nonexistent threat from ISIS and would like nothing more than to drop another round of freedom bombs. Launching a new war certainly casts a new light on a little smuggling. So would we recognize the, ahem, nuance? Personally, I’d say absolutely fucking not, and the suggestion that this is some kind of grey area is indicative of a terribly skewed moral compass. But as a window into a certain kind of bellicose mindset I find it fascinating.

More importantly, consider this. In Webb’s first article he describes the Contra war as “barely a memory today.” It turns out the Sandinistas weren’t so important after all. Looking back, it seems hard to believe the US went to such lengths to oppose them. That’s why linerider’s analogy is so valuable. ISIS poses the same threat to us now that the Sandinistas did in the 80s. If we resist the urge to turn them into heroes and martyrs, they will burn out or fade away. Yet now, as then, a wildly exaggerated threat is being hyped. Now, as then, we don’t know much about who we are being asked to support. Now, as then, we don’t really know what’s happening on the ground. You don’t need to be Nostradamus to see how this will all look in twenty or thirty years. But by then we will be on to our next wild ride, and the next Gary Webb – should we be fortunate enough to have one – will be long fallen from respectability.


NOTES

  1. A couple noteworthy comments to the Washington Post article. I found the Committee report courtesy of Patrick J. Kiger:
    Forget about whether or not Webb overreached. Read the Kerry committee report http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB113/north06.pdf In it, you have operatives in a CIA and NSC-run operation who are simultaneously involved in drug trafficking, including (on page 42) a pilot who flew guns to the Contras and then returned to the US with drugs. This is just a sample of the sort of stuff than went on during the Reagan administration, some of which makes the Right’s worst allegations against President Obama look trivial.

    Geri72 wrote the following about the film’s distribution:

    Is it also worth noting that the distributors of this film, Focus, have absolutely killed it. They have done the barest minimum of marketing and instead of slowly increasing the number of screens to allow for word of mouth, they dumped it in a few hundred, which is both too many and not enough; too many to be costly to sustain without an audience primed and ready, too few to get the word out on social media. It is likely they will pull it completely within the next week or so.

  2. Leen makes much of how Webb’s editor “backed away” from (note: not retracted) the story. Among the items:
    Blandon testified he stopped sending cocaine profits to the Contras at the end of 1982, after being in operation for a year.

    The evidence also suggested that millions in profits were sent to the Contras from cocaine sales to Ross and others, Ceppos wrote…”We didn’t know for certain what the profits were, and I feel that we should have made it clear that our figures were estimates,” Ceppos wrote.

    The clarifications don’t change the thesis, though. The Contras were getting drug profits, but for not as long (in one case, anyway) as indicated. They were making lots of money from drug sales, but only estimates are available. It seems to me a journalist worth his salt would take these items as a reason to dig further into rather than bury the story.

  3. Beginning on page 124 of the Committee report is a section titled “THE CONSEQUENCES OF PRIVATIZING U.S. FOREIGN POLICY.” It’s worth looking at both for its historical value and how it foreshadowed subsequent developments in that area.
  4. Lest you think intelligence and executive branch agencies giving Congress the finger is a recent development, look at the following from the report.

    Pp. 38-9 (emphasis added):

    On May 6, 1986, a bipartisan group of Committee staff met with representatives of the Justice Department, FBI, DEA, CIA and State Department to discuss the allegations that Senator Kerry had received information of Neutrality Act Violations, gun running and drug trafficking in association with Contra organizations based on the Southern Front in Costa Rica.

    In the days leading up to the meeting, Justice Department spokesmen were stating publicly that “the FBI had conducted an inquiry into all of these charges and none of them have any substance. At that meeting, Justice Department officials privately contradicted the numerous public statements from the Department that these allegations had been investigated thoroughly and were determined to be without foundation. The Justice Department officials at the meeting said the public statements by Justice were “inaccurate.” The Justice officials confirmed there were ongoing Neutrality. Act investigations in connection with the allegations raised by Senator Kerry.

    At the same meeting, representatives of the CIA categorically denied that the Neutrality Act violations raised by the Committee staff had in fact taken place, citing classified documents which the CIA did not make available to the Committee. In fact, at the time, the FBI had already assembled substantial information confirming the Neutrality Act violations, including admissions by some of the persons involved indicating that crimes had taken place.

    P. 39:

    The Justice Department refused to provide any information in response to this request on the grounds that the information remained under active investigation, and that the Committee’s “rambling through open investigations gravely risks compromising those efforts.”

    P. 60:

    At the May 6, 1986 meeting with Committee staff, the CIA categorically denied that weapons had been shipped to the Contras from the United States on the flights involving Rene Corbo, noting that the material on which they were basing these assertions was classified, and suggested that the allegations that had been made to the contrary were the result of disinformation.

    In fact, as the FBI had previously learned from informants, Cuban American supporters of the Contras had shipped weapons from south Florida to Ilopango, and from there to John Hull’s airstrips in Costa Rica.

    These agencies have learned they can act with impunity towards Congress, which doesn’t inspire confidence in the end product of the upcoming torture report.

 

Saturday Art: Influential Authors: John Jakes

By: dakine01 Saturday October 25, 2014 4:05 am
brak the barbarian

Brak the Barbarian

Please Note: When I began this series, it was to cover a lot of authors whom I have found personally influential, even though this may only be because I enjoyed the stories they have told in their books or short stories. I’m just fortunate enough and well read enough that many of the authors I have personally enjoyed have also been influential on a macro scale as well as micro. rrt

It has been a while since I last read some of John Jakes’ works but there was a time in the ’70s and ’80s when I read just about everything as soon as it was published. I was still in college when I first started seeing a book titled The Bastard on the book racks around town. This book was shortly followed by The Rebels and The Seekers. I did not actually read them though until I was living in New Hampshire in late ’75 with my sister and her then husband. Over the next few years as I moved on into the USAF, I would pick up the new books of the Kent Family Chronicles as they were published. It was simply amazing how the members of the “Kent Family” always managed to be on the periphery of so many historical events and friends with so many historical figures. Why, you’d have thought they were named Forrest Gump or something!

Jakes’ wiki intro is only one sentence:

John William Jakes (born March 31, 1932)[1] is an American writer, best known for American historical fiction. He has used the pen name Jay Scotland.

One interesting fact I discovered about Jakes from his wiki is this:

During this time, he was a member of the Swordsmen and Sorcerers’ Guild of America (SAGA), a loose-knit group of heroic fantasy authors founded in the 1960s and led by Lin Carter. The eight original members were self-selected by fantasy credentials alone. They sought to promote the popularity and respectability of the “Sword and Sorcery” subgenre (such as Brak the Barbarian stories by Jakes).

I had not been aware of Jakes early membership in SAGA although once I started reading The Kent Family Chronicles and saw his list of books, I realized that I had read Brak the Barbarian and a couple of its sequels when I was in college.

Jakes has a second book series that is well known, North and South. From wiki on the trilogy:

North and South is a 1980s trilogy of bestselling novels by John Jakes which take place before, during, and after the American Civil War.[1] The saga tells the story of the enduring friendship between Orry Main of South Carolina and George Hazard of Pennsylvania, who become best friends while attending the United States Military Academy at West Point but later find themselves and their families on opposite sides of the war.[1] The slave-owning Mains are rural gentleman planters while the big-city Hazards live by manufacturing and industry, their differences reflecting the divisions between North and South that eventually led to the Civil War.

The North and South trilogy also became a trilogy of TV mini-series (North and South, North and South, Book II (the second book in the trilogy is titled Love and War), and Heaven and Hellstarring Patrick Swayze and James Read.

The Bastard, The Rebels and The Seekers were all made into TV movies in 1978 and 1979. I have no recollection of even hearing about these movies before but looking through the cast list, there are some quite interesting names.

Looking through the list of Jakes’ books there are some other titles beyond those I have mentioned that I have read and enjoyed – I, Barbarian about a romance in the time of Genghis Kahn, King’s Crusader set during the Crusades with Richard the Lionheart, When the Star Kings Die, and Veils of Salome.

JohnJakes.com gives Jakes’ full bio as well as some discussion on his various series and standard author web site fare.

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Pull Up a Chair — and putting your feet up

By: Elliott Saturday October 25, 2014 12:32 am

What do you do when you need to turn down life’s volume for a brief respite?

I find it difficult to turn off the newsfeeds, yet in a week like this one the news from around the world, and here at home, is overwhelming; seems like it’s getting worse, and worser. So stepping back for a couple hours will do me a world of good.

I like to watch nature documentaries (I miss George Page’s narration, but we still have David Attenborough!). Or maybe a symphony. Books. Movies.

I should make more time to read a good book, I don’t do that enough. I enjoy good mysteries, classics and the like. And I’m always open for suggestions (with regular thanks to dakine for posting books each weekend). Any reading suggestions?

What do you do when you turn off the outside world?

Right now, as soon as I schedule this post, I’m going to spend an hour going down the Shannon River, you can join me (also Netflix).

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Whistleblowers, Protests, Investigations, OH MY!

By: dakine01 Friday October 24, 2014 1:20 pm

I am a US Air Force veteran. After I served in the Air Force, I worked for a couple of years for the Defense Logistics Agency then another ten plus years as a support contractor within the Department of Defense acquisitions universe. All through my years, the one group of people that I have most admired are those individuals who become known as Whistleblowers. One of the things that got me in occasional trouble with my employers and clients was stating that I admired folks like Ernest Fitzgerald.

Here at Firedoglake, I am proud to be able to support Chelsea Manning, John Kiriakou, and Thomas Drake. I always hoped that if the situation arose, that I would have the courage to blow the whistle on wrong doing. These individuals have shown their courage and willingness to stand up for what is right, no matter the odds. Manning and Kiriakou have sacrificed their freedom for their willingness to do what is right.

Firedoglake has reported (sometimes all alone) on Chelsea Manning’s trial, the Occupy Movement, the Proposition 8 trial. Firedoglake readers have provided support for Occupy and have helped send Kevin Gosztola to report on Occupy, Deepwater Horizon, and Ferguson, MO.

One of the many things I have loved about Firedoglake is the issues advocacy rather than supporting individual politicians. I love that FDL is independent enough to believe that if something is bad when done by the Republicans, it is equally bad when done by Democrats.

I also like that Firedoglake recognizes that we need to have fun as a companion to the serious topics. I like to write Saturday Art diaries, for the past year and a half concentrating on various authors I have read and enjoyed over the years. The weekend Book Salons have brought a wonderful mix of timely topics, accomplished authors and hosts.

Unfortunately there are costs to all of the things that Firedoglake accomplishes. I think the DDoS attacks from last year that Jane mentioned are about the best indicator there can be of the impact that FDL makes. If FDL were not making a significant impact, there would be no need for those attacks to happen.

Can you help Firedoglake stay online? If Firedoglake’s coverage of the issues, advocacy for Marijuana legalization and Prison Reform, and willingness to afflict the comfortable while trying to comfort the afflicted means anything to you, please help as much as you can.

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Setting Up The Students

By: anotherquestion Friday October 24, 2014 7:58 am

Our country needs well educated people.

The high cost of college tuition and the worsening penalties for student debt raise the question “Should you go to college?”.  Various disciplines are experiencing declines in enrollment, even areas like law schools.  Where are the good jobs and is the training worth the expense?

Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) are still portrayed an in-demand career choice despite reputable studies to the contrary (Falling Behind? Boom, Bust, and the Global Race for Scientific Talent by Michael Teitelbaum).  A virtual congressional hearing brought together a knowledgeable group concerned about this job market.  The four experts in this hearing have well respected academic credentials on this topic and had a consistent message that increasing the number of H-1B high skill guestworker visas will harm the STEM job market.

Schools, professional societies, and corporations are busy recruiting more students to STEM. A corporation that manages student loans is partnering with a university to encourage more minority students to pursue STEM majors.  The American Statistical Association decided to address falling funding for statisticians by recruiting more students through social media.  They are not lobbying the National Science Foundation, nor partnering with medical researchers, nor lobbying the US Congress.  Bill Gates and friends published an OpEd in the New York Times pleading to remove all limits on legal immigration for computer programmers because their companies are not able to recruit enough US programmers, even as Microsoft is in the process of laying off 18,000 employees.

The programming workforce has issues with diversity.  Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella recently got criticized for his comment that women should wait their turn for pay raises.  Is this gender bias a “bug or a feature”?  IEEE-USA has asked for more than two years how many H-1B guestworker visa hires are male and the White House claims it has too much old technology to answer the question, even though gender is already recorded for each H-1B visa application.

Minorities Earn Tech Degrees at Twice the Rate Top Companies Hire Them”.  So, why don’t they pursue tech jobs and why are tech employers allowed to mingle citizen and non-citizen diversity numbers?

Maybe the question about diversity in STEM is pushed by employers as another path to a cheap, compliant workforce in labor markets that are saturated or in decline.  For example, Facebook has been determined by the US Internal Revenue Service to be legally dependent on H-1B visas, meaning that at least 15% of their workforce are guestworkers on H-1B visas.  The top donors to code.org, a group that pleads for more US students to learn computer programming, helped found FWD.us, a political action committee promoting more H-1B high tech guestworkers.

Our country needs well-educated people.  We used to build bridges and repair roads.  We built skyscrapers during the Great Depression.  Students now usually need to take out loans, so the big question is whether the training is worth the cost.  The local salary for a BS in computer science or MS in statistics is around $35,000-40,000, probably more in industry with less job security.  Is college worth it?  What is it for graduates of nice liberal arts schools?  How are jobs for welders?  Congress is making it easier to get student loans for STEM degrees, but repayment and finding a job are still problems.

Factories got idled in our Great Recession.  Congress acts like we could just fill a bus with engineers and drive them to the factory with no rent money, no salaries, no tools, and no funding to buy raw materials to restart the factory.  There is another way.

So employers want cheap labor.  Colleges want full classrooms.  Professors want cheap labor.  And loan companies want to have more student loans because the rules on these loans have strong coercion to repay.  Will these loans become collateralized just like the junk mortgages?  We’re already seeing a bubble.

The issues are real and real people experience real harm, but be careful of who claims to be your friend.  “If they can get you asking the wrong questions, then they don’t have to worry about the answers.”

Over Easy: FDL is Friendships

By: msmolly Friday October 24, 2014 4:45 am

The primary mission and purpose of Firedoglake is political commentary and activism from a left-leaning “progressive” point of view. But Firedoglake is other things to many of us, and one of the most important is friendship and a sense of community, a shared experience despite our differing circumstances and backgrounds.

So come with me on a journey back in time, to the beginnings of Over Easy, which arose from Lakeside Diner after the sad passing of our beloved Southern Dragon. And Lakeside Diner in turn arose from Early Morning Swim. Many of us remember that Blue Texan hosted Early Morning Swim here at FDL for four years until November 18, 2011, when “real life” beckoned and he moved on. To continue the gathering place, Southern Dragon began hosting a morning thread titled Lakeside Diner, a name suggested by commenter Popyeye99 after reading references to “the biggest booth in the diner.” Here (thank you Elliott!) is the very first Lakeside Diner on November 28, 2011. It was a collection of links to newsworthy items, each accompanied by a few words of Southern Dragon’s incisive commentary. Many of us will never forget his daily “Off to swim in the great capitalist cesspool” when he had to leave to get to his job! Southern Dragon also founded Caturday, a weekly gathering of the many FDL cat lovers, and another way to foster a community of friends. He always closed Caturday posts with, “Saving one animal won’t change the world, but it will change the world for that animal.”

After our Southern Dragon passed away so suddenly, a group of us put our virtual heads together and decided to continue Lakeside Diner, but this time, nonquixote suggested the name Over Easy as a continuation of the “diner” theme. KrisAintX put up a preview the day before to get the ball rolling, and then kicked it off with a bang the next day! And to this day, Ruth Calvo tops her weekly Over Easy post with a picture of eggs prepared “over easy.” The pressures of real life have meant that a couple of our regular authors since have had to give up their weekly spots, but others have stepped up to take their places, and Over Easy remains the morning gathering spot.

In addition to all of the articulate voices, sharp opinions, timely news, progressive activism, and crisp commentary, Firedoglake has become a place for friends to congregate. Most of us have never met in person, although many of us have shared real names and email addresses and other parts of our private lives. We also cheer on the personal activism of Over Easy commenters who bring their political involvement to the local level, in Texas or New Mexico or Wisconsin. The Over Easy morning posts have become what Southern Dragon called “the biggest booth in the diner.” Many lurk and rarely comment, but we know they’re reading because they pop up in a thread when someone’s comment tweaks their desire to speak up.

We want to keep Over Easy, and FDL, strong and active and solid. Your contribution, whatever you can afford, can help make that a certainty.

Please donate $10 or more(!) today, so Over Easy (with eggs!) will continue to be a morning place for news, commentary, and friendships old and new!

Police Go Nuts Over Mumia Abu-Jamal’s Remote Speech in Vermont

By: williamboardman Thursday October 23, 2014 5:59 pm

 

By William Boardman – Reader Supported News   

 

Police Go Nuts Over Mumia Abu-Jamal’s Remote Speech in Vermont  

How a non-event becomes an “event” that ends in anti-climax

 

When Mumia Abu-Jamal was the pre-recorded speaker at a Goddard College commencement in Plainfield, Vermont, in 2008, almost no one outside the Goddard community paid any attention. This year, when Goddard announced that students had chosen Mumia to do a return engagement at their graduation, Philadelphia police, politicians, media, and Fox News went crazy with angry rhetoric aimed at curbing free speech.

 

In the end, this breakdown in civil society resulted in nothing worse than hundreds of police-instigated threats of violence to the Goddard community. For the sake of security, Goddard moved the graduation up three hours, with no public announcement, and the full-house ceremony for 24 students went forward with private security and without incident.

 

In the week between the announcement and the event, “Mumia Abu-Jamal” the symbol served once again as a triggering Rorschach blot exposing aspects of American character in 2014, reflecting and denying realities decades and centuries past. In a sense what Goddard students provoked with their commencement speaker choice was a weeklong confrontation between the symbolic “Mumia Abu-Jamal” and the actual Mumia Abu-Jamal, without much success in joining them in there single, complex reality.

 

What does “Mumia Abu-Jamal” actually mean, or should he just be? 

 

Understanding “Mumia Abu Jamal” in full requires more time and space that is available here. The man and the symbol and those who pillory him all have significant complexity, both real and unreal. There are at least two contexts that are fundamental to understanding the Mumia phenomenon itself and the mini-drama it produced at Goddard:

Russia Today Releases MH-17: The Untold Story

By: operationmindcrime Thursday October 23, 2014 4:56 pm

New RT documentary highlighting the Russian evidence and perspective. New video has also emerged of additional eyewitness testimony filmed by Paris Match. To this date the Dutch Safety Board has shown no interest in interviewing the numerous eyewitnesses who reported a fighter jet in the area nor has the DSB attempted to collect the wreckage to conduct a full investigation.

Link to Paris Match eyewitness testimony:

Paris Match witness states “the aircraft flew to the side and went below and then flew off in the direction of Rostov”.

Link to BBC eyewitness testimony:

Link to Russian radar presentation: