– International pressure against Syria intensified on Monday as United Nations special envoy Kofi Annan began negotiations in Damascus in an attempt to revive his peace plan which appeared more precarious than ever after the massacre of at least 108 villagers.
– Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin E. Dempsey warned on Sunday that ongoing violence in Syria could make military intervention more likely.
– The likelihood of a nuclear breakthrough with Iran appeared to dim after last week’s talks in Baghdad failed to deliver results leading Iran, this week, to a take harsher tone, saying that the Islamic Republic won’t halt enrichment of uranium or reduce it below a 20% threshold, a central demand of the international community in Baghdad.
– A new Gallup poll found that Mitt Romney leads President Obama among veterans. Fifty-eight percent of veterans polled said they preferred Romney while 34 percent said Obama.
– The New York Times reports: “The presidential campaign headquarters of Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister burst into flames Monday night as demonstrators marched in the streets protesting that former official’s confirmation as one of two candidates to advance to Egypt’s runoff election.”
Vice President Biden gave an emotional speech to a group of “Gold Star Families” on Friday, those who have lost a loved one in the military, at an event commemorating Memorial Day in Washington, D.C. The vice president told attendees about the death of his wife and daughter when he was 29 years old and tried to assure those who have lost a family member in war that the memory of their loved one will one day bring “a smile to your lips before it brings a tear to your eye”:
BIDEN: Looking at your kids, most you have kids here, and it was the first time in my career, my life, I realized someone could go out and I probably shouldn’t say this with the press here — but it’s more important, you’re more important.
For the first time in my life I understood how someone could consciously decide to commit suicide. Not because they were deranged, not because they were nuts, because they had been to the top of the mountain and they just knew in their heart, they never get there again, that there was never going to get — there never going to be that way ever again. That’s how an awful lot you have feel.
There will come a day, I promise you, and you parents as well, when the thought of your son or daughter or your husband or wife brings a smile to your lips before it brings a tear to your eye. It will happen. [...]
So, hang onto each other. Hang onto each other. And I can’t tell you, I can’t tell you how deeply the five of us on this stage feel about the sacrifices you’ve made for this country. That doesn’t — that doesn’t fill the black hole. You should know only 1 percent of you have fought these wars and much less thank God than 1 percent of those that fought the wars are going through what you’re going through.
We owe you more than we can ever, ever repay you. As I said, my prayer is that that smile will come sooner than later, but I promise you it will come. God bless you all and my God protect our troops. Thank you.
Memorial Day was started by former slaves |
According to Professor David Blight of Yale University, the first Memorial Day took place on May 1, 1865 in Charleston, SC, after a group of African-Americans, mostly former slaves, gave 257 Union soldiers a proper burial. The black community in Charleston then consecrated the new cemetary with “an unforgettable parade of 10,000 people,” led by 3,000 black school children. It was initially called “Decoration Day.”
By Amanda Peterson Beadle on May 27, 2012 at 12:00 pm
While the unemployment rate for veterans has dropped dramatically in the last year, two veterans advocates told CNN’s Candy Crowley this morning that finding jobs for veterans remains a major issue. Paul Rieckhoff, founder and executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said there has been “huge progress” on helping unemployed veterans because President Obama has instituted policies to reduce veteran unemployment and Fortune 500 companies are also helping returning servicemembers.
The unemployment rate for veterans between ages 18 and 24 is more than 17 percent, down from 29 percent, but Tim Tetz, legislative director of the American Legion, said that younger veterans are still facing a higher unemployment rate than their civilian counterparts, which stands at 15 percent. Older veterans are also struggling to find employment:
TETZ: [O]f the 780,000 veterans who are currently out of a job, two-thirds of them are between the ages of 35 and 64. And they might not have the resources like the GI Bill and many of the other things that these younger veterans have to use.
It is said that, to Washington’s neoconservative pundits, every problem looks a nail, and they have just the hammer: military force. Washington Post columnist and Fox News commentator Charles Krauthammer nicely encapsulated this concept last night on Bill O’Reilly’s show when he said that the U.S. should have sent “weaponry” to the pro-democracy movement that erupted in Iran after the fraudulent presidential elections of June 2009.
Krauthammer said that President Obama should have ramped up rhetoric against Iran during the brutal crackdown on the Green Movement — the distinctly non-violent protest movement born out of Mir Hossien Moussavi’s failed 2009 presidential campaign. And when O’Reilly asked what else Obama could have done, Krauthammer said he should have armed the protesters and order a covert war against Iran:
O’REILLY: But what else could he have done except rhetoric?
KRAUTHAMMER: Weaponry — he could have done a lot of things. Rhetoric is one thing and not to support the legitimacy of the regime. Clandestine operations. Why do we have $50 billion in secret operations in the CIA if not for an opportunity like this? He was hands off. He did nothing and we lost one of the great opportunities in history.
Presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and his ideological comrades have made President Obama’s reaction to the 2009 post-election Iranian government crackdown on Green Movement demonstrators a centerpiece of their criticisms. Romney’s campaign issue page for Iran says Obama “refrained from supporting the nascent Green Movement.” In a Washington Post op-ed, Romney wrote that he would “speak out on behalf of the cause of democracy in Iran and support Iranian dissidents who are fighting for their freedom.”
In reality, Obama didn’t, as Krauthammer put it, “support the legitimacy of the [Iranian] regime.” Daniel Larison has pointed out that, when failed presidential candidate Rick Santorum made the same charge, that unlike many world governments, Obama never recognized the elections. Furthermore, Obama condemned the abuses against demonstrators that June.
But more to the point, one hopes that Romney does not conflate symbolic “fighting” for freedom with literal fighting. Unlike in Syria and Libya, the Green Movement in Iran never took up arms. As Ardeshir Amirarjmand, a top adviser to Moussavi now in exile in France, told an audience at MIT last year, “We do not have any other choice than a nonviolent path toward democracy.” Or, as University of Toronto professor Ramin Jahanbegloo put it, “The Green Movement faces a troubling situation, but it is banking on its strategy of nonviolence as moral capital.” Iranian human rights lawyer and Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi — who, like Iranian civil society as a whole, opposes attacking Iran — told ThinkProgress in 2010 that she disagreed with critics who said that Obama should have spoken more forcefully in support of the Green movement in June 2009.
Krauthammer worries that Obama is not doing enough to support Iran’s democracy movement. But it’s perfectly clear that the Green Movement doesn’t want the kind of support — weapons and covert war — that Krauthammer is offering.
Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) told Bloomberg News’s Al Hunt in an interview to be aired this weekend that presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney is “breathtakingly off target and naive” for calling Russia the nation’s “number one geopolitical foe.” The Hill reports:
“I think that candidate Romney has been breathtakingly off target, and naive and in fact wrong in his judgment about Russia when he said Russia is our number one foe. I cannot think of any statement that frankly is more inappropriately threatening and simply wrong by any calculus than that,” Kerry told Bloomberg.
Kerry revealed that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told him during a recent meeting that Russian leaders also think that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must go. “We have much bigger problems on this planet in the Middle East, with the evolution of Egypt, with the challenge of Syria, terrorism, al-Qaeda in Yemen, and so forth,” Kerry said.
Bush administration Secretary of State Colin Powell similarly criticized Romney this week for his Russia comments. The former four-star U.S. Army general said Romney “really needs to not just accept these cataclysmic sort of pronouncements.” Powell added, “Let’s be mature people and look at the reality of the situation and not find ways to see if we can hyperbolize the situation.”
Campaigning on behalf of presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, Bush administration U.N. ambassador John Bolton told the crowd at a fundraiser (PDF) for the Polk County Republicans of Iowa that the U.S. should focus on military spending at the expense of domestic spending on issues like health care.
In Iowa, the typically über-hawkish Fox News commentator pleaded with event attendees to support Romney even though he “may not have been your perfect candidate,” and later told the crowd:
A dollar well spent on American defense is a lot different than a dollar spent with the Department of Health and Human Services. It’s qualitatively different.
So actually, a dollor spent on the military is “different”: it’s less valuable in terms of job creation than spending on government programs such as those administered precisely by the Department of Health and Human Services. This, however, will probably be news to Mitt Romney and his generously-spending militaristic advisers. What shouldn’t be news to the Romney campaign however, is Bolton’s push to rob social security and health care spending to give more money to the military.
Former Utah governor and GOP presidential candidate Jon Huntsman again criticized Mitt Romney’s harsh rhetoric toward China last night on CNN, calling it “typical” during a campaign.
Romney released an ad yesterday saying that he would get tough on China “on day one” of his presidency should he be elected. “President Romney stands up to China on trade and demands they play by the rules,” the ad says.
During an interview last night with CNN’s Erin Burnett, Huntsman — who has endorsed Romney for president — criticized the former Massachusetts governor and suggested he would pull back if elected:
HUNTSMAN: I think — this is a — this is a typical trajectory where during a campaign season you’re going to talk about China in ways that you’re hearing today. We’ve seen that election cycles gone by. They you get in office and I think Mitt Romney has the prospects of doing that which his most important for the U.S.-China relationship. Strengthening our own domestic economy and giving life and confidence to our creative class so we can get back on our feet.
If you want a strong U.S.-China relationship it starts right here at home and it starts with a stronger economy.
Watch the clip:
Huntsman was less diplomatic in his criticism of Romney on China last February, referring to his China policy as “wrongheaded.”
But Huntsman isn’t the only Romney-backer to differ with the presumptive GOP presidential nominee on China. Earlier this month, right-wing foreign policy don Bill Kristol called Romney’s attacks on the Obama administration’s handling of an escalating situation with a Chinese dissident “foolish.”
Even Romney’s own foreign policy advisers have praised President Obama on China. “I think he has a good policy in Asia, particularly in dealing with China,” neoconservative Brookings scholar Robert Kagan said, adding, “I think he’s strengthened our position in Asia with our allies.”
– The International Atomic Energy Agency has found evidence at an underground bunker in Iran that the Islamic Republic has moved closer to enriching uranium at a closer level needed for nuclear weapons. Diplomats told the AP that the IAEA found traces of uranium enriched up to 27 percent at Iran’s Fordo enrichment plant.
– Egyptians voted yesterday in the first major post-Arab Spring election, likely setting up a run off between the Muslim Brotherhood candidate and a former air force general who served as prime minister in the last days of the fallen Hosni Mubarak regime.
– A new United Nations repot has found that Syrian government forces continue to commit “gross violations” in the country’s ongoing civil war.
The former head of a group that contracts with the Pentagon to produce propaganda material used oversees has admitted to launching a similar disinformation campaign against two U.S.-based reporters.
In April, two USA Today journalists claimedthey were the victims of a deliberate “reputation attack” after they wrote a series of stories about the Pentagon’s contracts with groups that specialize in the production of propaganda. Days after the journalists began speaking with officials at the Pentagon and other sources for the story, fake websites and social media accounts set up in the names of the two reporters were mysteriously registered and began trying to discredit the stories.
Camille Chidiac, the minority owner and former president of Leonie Industries, one of the consulting firms that works with the Pentagon and was featured prominently in USA Today’s reporting, took responsibility for the misinformation campaign. USA Today reports:
“I take full responsibility for having some of the discussion forums opened and reproducing their previously published USA TODAY articles on them,” he said a statement released by his attorney, Lin Wood, of Atlanta.
“I recognize and deeply regret that my actions have caused concerns for Leonie and the U.S. military. This was never my intention. As an immediate corrective action, I am in the process of completely divesting my remaining minority ownership from Leonie,” Chidiac said.
Chidiac says Leonie Industries and the Pentagon had no knowledge of the smear campaign, and no funding from either entity was used in the attack. Leonie Industries has received at least $120 million in Pentagon contracts since 2009.
Earlier this month, Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) called on the Pentagon to launch an investigation into the smear campaign against the USA Today journalists and said it should “consider suspending all contracts with Leonie Industries until such investigation is complete.”
Senate Committee Rejects House GOP’s East Coast Missile Defense System |
Last week the House passed its version of the defense authorization bill that included a measure to establish an East Coast missile defense system — one that experts and military leaders like Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey say is unnecessary. Today, the Senate Armed Services Committee passed its version of the defense authorization bill and rejected the missile defense site. The Hill reports that SASC chairman Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) “said there’s language in the bill for the Pentagon to assess the feasibility of a site, which is far short of the House’s plan to have it operational by 2016.”
Yesterday, a tribal court in Pakistan handed down a 33-year prison term for treason to the doctor who helped the CIA locate Osama Bin Laden in a Pakistani army garrison town. The verdict drew widespread attention in Washington, but Congress and the State Department are having very different reactions.
But the U.S. State Department didn’t ramp up its rhetoric so dramatically, maintaining its position that Afridi is detained without basis. A spokesperson said the U.S. will continue to let the Pakistani government know about that position. The softer line might reflect the possibility that Afridi’s verdict could easily be overturned.
Afridi, who ran a vaccination drive to collect data that the U.S. has credited with helping to find Bin Laden, was tried under a British colonial-era law that does not carry a death penalty, according to the New York Times. (The L.A. Times reported that “Afridi could have been given the death penalty.”) Having never approved of his detention, however, the U.S. still objected to the sentence. Asked about the issue yesterday, spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said:
We will – we continue to see no basis for Dr. Afridi to be held….
I think we’ve said that we don’t see any basis for what’s happened here, and so we will continue to make those representations to the Government of Pakistan.
In February, Clinton said of Afridi: “His work on behalf of the effort to take down Bin Laden was in Pakistan’s interests as well as in America’s.” On CBS’s 60 Minutes in January, Panetta was more outspoken on the matter, calling actions against Afridi a “real mistake on their part” and crediting his help and making a case similar to Clinton’s:
This was an individual who in fact helped provide intelligence that was very helpful with regards to this operation. He was not in any way treasonous towards Pakistan, he was not in any way doing anything that would have undermined Pakistan. As a matter of fact, Pakistan and the United States have a common cause here against terrorism.
A Pakistani lawyer speaking to CNN said it was likely the case could be overturned — something Nuland subtly alluded to in the briefing when she said the legal process wasn’t necessarily complete. The lawyer, Shahzad Akbar, said that the tribal court is not based in Abbottabad, the site of the bin Laden raid. He told CNN: “If this punishment is challenged by Dr. Afridi’s family in the Superior Court of Pakistan, there is a good possibility that the sentence will be turned around.“
Iran Nuclear Talks To Resume Next Month In Moscow |
Talks between Iran and the P5+1 ended today at a diplomatic impasse as Western negotiators pushed for a freeze on Iran’s production of 20 percent enriched uranium while Iran sought relief from sanctions, including a European Union (EU) oil embargo set to go into effect on July 1. “Having held in-depth discussions with our Iranian counterparts over two days…it’s clear that we both want to make progress, and that there is some common ground,” said Catherine Ashton [PDF], the EU’s foreign-policy chief, who led the P5+1 side. “However, significant differences remain.” Iran’s state controlled IRNA news service reported that the package, and limited sanctions relief, offered by the P5+1 was “outdated, not comprehensive and unbalanced.” The next round of talks are scheduled to be held in Moscow on June 17-19.
Increasing anti-Muslim sentiment in the U.S. has shown enormous growth in the past two years, leading the Southern Poverty Law Center to mention three notorious Islamophobes on their list of “30 new activists heading up the radical right.” The SPLC finds that “[a]n anti-Muslim movement, almost entirely ginned up by political opportunists and hard-line Islamophobes, has grown enormously since taking off in 2010, when reported anti-Muslim hate crimes went up by 50%.”
The SPLC’s list of “new activists heading up the radical right” include:
Frank Gaffney: Gaffney, the president and founder the Center for Security Policy, has argued that “Shariah-adherent Muslms” are engaged in “civilization jihad” by infiltrating “government, law enforcement, intelligence agencies, the military, penal institutions, media think tanks, political entities, academic institutions. And they are very aggressively targeting non-Muslim religious communities in the name of ecumenicalism.” The SPLC observes that:
As recently as in 2002, a prominent British newspaper listed him with Iraq invasion cheerleaders Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, and Richard Perle as one of the men “directing” then-President George W. Bush’s post 9/11 security doctrine.
Sometime between then and now, Gaffney seems to have snapped.
Fundamentalists Target Afghan Girls School With Poison |
Following a similar attack last month, 120 Afghan students at a girls school were targeted with poison in the country’s northern Takhar Province. Authorities blamed the Taliban, which has a record of attacking girls schools, for the poisoning. One hundred twenty school girls and three teachers suffered from poisoning due to an unidentified airborne agent. The U.N. mission there called on the U.S.-led NATO forces to “ensure that effective security measures are in place to protect schools, students, and teachers.” Reuters released this photograph of one student being treated in the hospital:
– The rights group Amnesty International accused the United Nations of “failed leadership” for its inability to assert itself in order to stem violence in Syria, where 14 months of crackdowns on anti-government protests have taken thousands of lives.
– Secretary of State Hillary Clinton disclosed that an interagency team called the Center for Strategic Counterterrorrism Communications, housed at the State Department, is part of the department’s efforts to “do a better job contesting the online space, media websites and forums where al-Qaida and its affiliates spread propaganda and recruit followers.”
– “We disagree with those who argue that preserving American military pre-eminence requires maintaining or increasing current levels of defense spending,” the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) authors wrote in a new report urging significant reductions in the Joint Strike Fighter, the littoral combat ship and the Ground Combat Vehicle.