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    Flower Power: National Security, Civil Rights and the Washington Florist

    Truthout - Sat, 02/28/2015 - 11:26

    At first glance, one can be forgiven for thinking that a floral arrangement for a gay wedding doesn't carry much significance for the essential national security of the United States of America. With perilously increasing military tensions spanning the Middle East, Asia, North Africa, and Eastern Europe, one can be absolved for making such an assumption. However, the military implications of this week's historic decision in Washington State by Benton County Superior Court Judge Ekstrom simply canNOT be understated.

    Ekstrom's watershed decision came about when a case was brought before the Benton County Superior Court when the ownership of a small flower shop, Arlene's Flowers, refused to provide services on the professed basis of their Southern Baptist, Christian fundamentalist zeal to a frequent customer who sought arrangements for his same-sex wedding ceremony. Judge Ekstrom struck down this reprehensibly unlawful and unconstitutional behavior when he stated, "While religious beliefs are protected by the First Amendment, actions based on those beliefs aren't necessarily protected." Indeed, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution is NOT a license for private business owners to sanctimoniously bully, marginalize, and violate civil rights as they see fit because of their alleged "relationship with Jesus Christ" (or Allah, Jehovah, Yaweh, Odin, Shiva, Spiderman etc.). Indeed, just as it isn't a license for anyone else to engage in whatever extremist, unlawful practice they might imagine their chosen deity to prefer.

    For those of us who have been leading the civil rights fight of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), the only organization devoted solely to fighting the scourge of extremist Christianity within the U.S. Armed Forces, the story is a common one. Since the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT), we saw that various Dominionist bigots within the military were pathetically prostituting the flimsy gauze of "free speech" as a means towards turning back this historic victory for sex & gender minorities (and by implication, all Americans) within the U.S. armed forces. Squealing like stuck pigs, disingenuously, that DADT's repeal represented a grave offense against their so-called "religious liberty", these reprehensibly homophobic Christian extremist predators created a virtual media cyclone of misinformation, disinformation, and bald-faced lies. As they say, "haters gonna hate."

    However, when the Religious Right echo chambers are filled with hot air, fire, and brimstone concerning some fictitious and utterly specious "War on Christianity," monsters tend to proliferate, and sometimes we even find them in the hallowed halls of Congress. The Constitutionally-derelict Congressman John Fleming (R-LA) is one especially odious fundamentalist Christian monstrosity. Fleming, and other members of Congressman Randy Forbes' (R-VA) "Congressional Prayer Caucus", have repeatedly attempted to warp the meaning of "freedom to worship" via their grossly misnamed "Religious Liberty Amendments" to the recent years' drafts of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) commonly referred to as "The Pentagon Funding Bill." Fleming & Co.'s "Religious Bigotry Amendments" would have torn asunder the unit cohesion, military readiness, morale, good order, and discipline of U.S. servicemembers, adding ANY type of "actions and speech" (including anti-gay, theologically racist, or sectarian hate speech) to the roster of protected religious freedoms of American service members. Further still, it would offer essentially an invulnerable shield of protection for anyone who seeks to use such actions or speech to "actually harm" (i.e. grievously injure) the aforementioned compelling governmental interest of insuring maximum military unit cohesion, good order and discipline et al. At this very same time, we at MRFF stated that if these amendments were allowed to go forward, they would result in a "thoroughly dreadful nightmare of civil rights desecration wrought by a tsunami of unabated fundamentalist Christian supremacy, exceptionalism, and tyranny."

    Thankfully, the law remains the law (oh, and take a good look at the confirming, 1974 Supreme Court case of Parker vs. Levy) and the Fleming thugs' Amendments failed, just like the attempts in court by Arlene's Flowers to justify their hideously bigoted treatment of LGBTQ customers. Individuals' religious beliefs may be protected by the First Amendment; however, those same individual's ACTIONS, based upon those very same religious beliefs, are not necessarily likewise protected. Discerning Americans can see clearly that the actual goal of these fundamentalist Christian jackals isn't at ALL the protection of their twisted "right to worship". Quite on the contrary, their real intention is to furiously cast stones upon the "apostates", the "disbelievers", and those "aberrant" elements who diverge from the "flock" being shepherded by such vile "Good News Gospel" scoundrels as the Rev. Pat Robertson, Rev. Franklin Graham, Lt. Gen. (ret.) Boykin, Tony Perkins, and the rest of the Dominionist rogues' gallery.

    The allowance of such limitless religious oppression and villainy inside the U.S. military would be a national security threat of unparalleled dimension and magnitude.

    However, the courageous decision by Washington state Judge Ekstrom was a decisive deathblow to the dastardly designs and craven mendacity of the embittered Religious Right. Perhaps it would be appropriate to send a floral arrangement to these barbaric wretches as a gesture of our sincerest condolences?

    Hey, I like it: Perhaps a dozen black roses to celebrate the demise of their dreams of fundamentalist religious domination of our United States Constitution?

    Flower Power: National Security, Civil Rights and the Washington Florist

    Truthout - Sat, 02/28/2015 - 11:26

    At first glance, one can be forgiven for thinking that a floral arrangement for a gay wedding doesn't carry much significance for the essential national security of the United States of America. With perilously increasing military tensions spanning the Middle East, Asia, North Africa, and Eastern Europe, one can be absolved for making such an assumption. However, the military implications of this week's historic decision in Washington State by Benton County Superior Court Judge Ekstrom simply canNOT be understated.

    Ekstrom's watershed decision came about when a case was brought before the Benton County Superior Court when the ownership of a small flower shop, Arlene's Flowers, refused to provide services on the professed basis of their Southern Baptist, Christian fundamentalist zeal to a frequent customer who sought arrangements for his same-sex wedding ceremony. Judge Ekstrom struck down this reprehensibly unlawful and unconstitutional behavior when he stated, "While religious beliefs are protected by the First Amendment, actions based on those beliefs aren't necessarily protected." Indeed, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution is NOT a license for private business owners to sanctimoniously bully, marginalize, and violate civil rights as they see fit because of their alleged "relationship with Jesus Christ" (or Allah, Jehovah, Yaweh, Odin, Shiva, Spiderman etc.). Indeed, just as it isn't a license for anyone else to engage in whatever extremist, unlawful practice they might imagine their chosen deity to prefer.

    For those of us who have been leading the civil rights fight of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), the only organization devoted solely to fighting the scourge of extremist Christianity within the U.S. Armed Forces, the story is a common one. Since the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT), we saw that various Dominionist bigots within the military were pathetically prostituting the flimsy gauze of "free speech" as a means towards turning back this historic victory for sex & gender minorities (and by implication, all Americans) within the U.S. armed forces. Squealing like stuck pigs, disingenuously, that DADT's repeal represented a grave offense against their so-called "religious liberty", these reprehensibly homophobic Christian extremist predators created a virtual media cyclone of misinformation, disinformation, and bald-faced lies. As they say, "haters gonna hate."

    However, when the Religious Right echo chambers are filled with hot air, fire, and brimstone concerning some fictitious and utterly specious "War on Christianity," monsters tend to proliferate, and sometimes we even find them in the hallowed halls of Congress. The Constitutionally-derelict Congressman John Fleming (R-LA) is one especially odious fundamentalist Christian monstrosity. Fleming, and other members of Congressman Randy Forbes' (R-VA) "Congressional Prayer Caucus", have repeatedly attempted to warp the meaning of "freedom to worship" via their grossly misnamed "Religious Liberty Amendments" to the recent years' drafts of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) commonly referred to as "The Pentagon Funding Bill." Fleming & Co.'s "Religious Bigotry Amendments" would have torn asunder the unit cohesion, military readiness, morale, good order, and discipline of U.S. servicemembers, adding ANY type of "actions and speech" (including anti-gay, theologically racist, or sectarian hate speech) to the roster of protected religious freedoms of American service members. Further still, it would offer essentially an invulnerable shield of protection for anyone who seeks to use such actions or speech to "actually harm" (i.e. grievously injure) the aforementioned compelling governmental interest of insuring maximum military unit cohesion, good order and discipline et al. At this very same time, we at MRFF stated that if these amendments were allowed to go forward, they would result in a "thoroughly dreadful nightmare of civil rights desecration wrought by a tsunami of unabated fundamentalist Christian supremacy, exceptionalism, and tyranny."

    Thankfully, the law remains the law (oh, and take a good look at the confirming, 1974 Supreme Court case of Parker vs. Levy) and the Fleming thugs' Amendments failed, just like the attempts in court by Arlene's Flowers to justify their hideously bigoted treatment of LGBTQ customers. Individuals' religious beliefs may be protected by the First Amendment; however, those same individual's ACTIONS, based upon those very same religious beliefs, are not necessarily likewise protected. Discerning Americans can see clearly that the actual goal of these fundamentalist Christian jackals isn't at ALL the protection of their twisted "right to worship". Quite on the contrary, their real intention is to furiously cast stones upon the "apostates", the "disbelievers", and those "aberrant" elements who diverge from the "flock" being shepherded by such vile "Good News Gospel" scoundrels as the Rev. Pat Robertson, Rev. Franklin Graham, Lt. Gen. (ret.) Boykin, Tony Perkins, and the rest of the Dominionist rogues' gallery.

    The allowance of such limitless religious oppression and villainy inside the U.S. military would be a national security threat of unparalleled dimension and magnitude.

    However, the courageous decision by Washington state Judge Ekstrom was a decisive deathblow to the dastardly designs and craven mendacity of the embittered Religious Right. Perhaps it would be appropriate to send a floral arrangement to these barbaric wretches as a gesture of our sincerest condolences?

    Hey, I like it: Perhaps a dozen black roses to celebrate the demise of their dreams of fundamentalist religious domination of our United States Constitution?

    Links 2/28/15

    Naked Capitalism - Sat, 02/28/2015 - 07:55
    Categories: political economy

    The War on Genetically-Modified-Food Critics

    Naked Capitalism - Sat, 02/28/2015 - 05:15
    Debunking the idea that genetically modified food has been proven to be safe.
    Categories: political economy

    The War on Genetically-Modified-Food Critics

    Naked Capitalism - Sat, 02/28/2015 - 05:15
    Debunking the idea that genetically modified food has been proven to be safe.
    Categories: political economy

    The War on Genetically-Modified-Food Critics

    Naked Capitalism - Sat, 02/28/2015 - 05:15
    Debunking the idea that genetically modified food has been proven to be safe.
    Categories: political economy

    Nurses Unite to Stop TPP Fast Track

    The Real News Network - Sat, 02/28/2015 - 02:02
    TRNN's Jessica Desvarieux speaks with National Nurses United nurses who met with Congressional lawmakers about the lack of transparency and potential health risks the TPP poses to everyday citizens

    Conservative Audience Laughs as Former NSA Chief Refers to Himself as an ‘Unrelenting Libertarian’

    The Intercept - Fri, 02/27/2015 - 19:21

    For a second year in a row, the Conservative Action Political Conference hosted a debate on the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs.

    This morning, in a stinging rebuke similar to audience jeering of former Gov. Jim Gilmore’s seething criticism of Ed Snowden at last year’s CPAC, former NSA director Michael Hayden received an earful when he awkwardly declared that he is a libertarian.

    Referring to his co-panelist Fox News’s Andrew Napolitano as an “an unrelenting libertarian,” Hayden continued, “So am I.”

    As Mediaite pointed out, Hayden was quickly mocked by the audience with sustained booing and at least two people yelling, “no, you’re not!”

    One person’s laughter was so loud that it is audible on C-SPAN’s video of the event.

    Though Hayden went on to cast his defense of domestic spying as his duty in the pursuit of liberty and homeland security, he also has a direct stake in the debate over surveillance — and it doesn’t make him any more disposed to the libertarian side of that debate.

    Hayden is a principal with the Chertoff Group, a consulting firm for the multi-billion dollar cybersecurity and intelligence industry. He is also on the board of Alion Science and Technology, a military contractor that does intelligence and techical work. For that part-time gig he has been paid approximately $336,500 over the last four years, according to reports filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

    Video: C-SPAN via Mediaite

    The post Conservative Audience Laughs as Former NSA Chief Refers to Himself as an ‘Unrelenting Libertarian’ appeared first on The Intercept.

    Conservative Audience Laughs as Former NSA Chief Refers to Himself as an ‘Unrelenting Libertarian’

    The Intercept - Fri, 02/27/2015 - 19:21

    For a second year in a row, the Conservative Action Political Conference hosted a debate on the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs.

    This morning, in a stinging rebuke similar to audience jeering of former Gov. Jim Gilmore’s seething criticism of Ed Snowden at last year’s CPAC, former NSA director Michael Hayden received an earful when he awkwardly declared that he is a libertarian.

    Referring to his co-panelist Fox News’ Andrew Napolitano as an “an unrelenting libertarian,” Hayden continued, “So am I.”

    As Mediaite pointed out, Hayden was quickly mocked by the audience with sustained booing and at least two people yelling, “no, you’re not!”

    One person’s laughter was so loud that it is audible on C-SPAN’s video of the event.

    Though Hayden went on to cast his defense of domestic spying as a his duty in the pursuit of liberty and homeland security, he also has a direct stake in the debate over surveillance — and it doesn’t make him any more disposed to the libertarian side of that debate.

    Hayden is a principal with the Chertoff Group, a consulting firm for the multi-billion dollar cyber security and intelligence industry. He is also on the board of Alion Science and Technology, a military contractor that does intelligence and techical work. For that part-time gig he has been paid approximately $336,500 over the last four years, according to reports filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

    Video: C-SPAN via Mediaite

    The post Conservative Audience Laughs as Former NSA Chief Refers to Himself as an ‘Unrelenting Libertarian’ appeared first on The Intercept.

    A Revolutionary Diaspora: From Black Power in the Pacific to Cape Verde, Sengal and Beyond!

    I Mix What I Like - Fri, 02/27/2015 - 16:02
    A Revolutionary Diaspora: From Black Power in the Pacific to Cape Verde, Sengal and Beyond! by Imixwhatilike! on Mixcloud Drs. Hate and Todd Steven Burroughs hosted this edition of iMiXWHATiLiKE! which featured interviews with Dr. Quito Swan who discussed further his work on Black Power in the Pacific and Salah Matteos about his amazing life’s work with Malcolm X, Amilcar Cabral and Cheikh Anta Diop. We also got an update from Joe Torres on the latest FCC ruling on a free and open internet.

    The Final Days of a Chechen Commander Fighting in Ukraine

    The Intercept - Fri, 02/27/2015 - 15:43

    IN SEPTEMBER OF 2014, I found myself standing on a narrow, potholed street in Kiev, east of the Dnieper River, in an area known as the Left Bank. I didn’t even know, at that point, whom I was meeting. I knew only that Khalid, my contact in Turkey with the Islamic State, had told me his “brothers” were in Ukraine, and I could trust them.

    When one of them called me, I was given the address of a small street in the Ukrainian capital where I should go, and no other information. When I arrived, I found myself in a maze of Soviet apartment blocks. I immediately noticed two well-built men walking by; they were bearded, with black sunglasses and black leather jackets. When I looked closely, I could see sticking out of their jackets the barrels of small machine guns.

    “Kandahar, Kandahar,” one of them said into his radio, after approaching me.

    Could we go in? “No,” was the answer. The “commander” was still busy.

    The armed men guided me past rows of Soviet-era apartment buildings, and then we waited in a wide, open square among the tall, concrete buildings. After half an hour of waiting, we wove through the housing complex until we approached a 10-story building, then took the elevator up to a mid-level floor and entered a small apartment. The single room was furnished with a bed, a kitchen table and two chairs.

    Sitting inside the small apartment was Isa Munayev. I recognized him immediately, because he was one of the few Chechens serving in Ukraine who was photographed frequently without a mask. He was upset, and shouting into the phone: “We came to die for you, and you don’t even want to do what you promised.”

    Even before he arrived in Ukraine, Munayev was well-known. He fought against Russian forces in both Chechen wars; in the second, he was the commander of the war in Grozny. After the Chechen capital was captured by Russian forces between 1999 and 2000, Munayev and his men took refuge in the mountains. He fought from there until 2005, when he was seriously injured and went to Europe for treatment. Munayev lived in Denmark until 2014. Then war broke out in Ukraine, and he decided it was time to fight the Russians again.

    As Russian-backed separatist forces began battling Ukrainian forces, Munayev came to Ukraine and established one of what would become several dozen private battalions that sprang up to fight on the side of the Ukrainian government, operating separately from the military. Munayev’s group was called the Dzhokhar Dudayev battalion, named after the first president of independent Chechnya, who was killed by Russian forces in 1996. Munayev was the head of the battalion.

    He was not at the front in the fall of 2014, because he was busy training forces and organizing money and weapons, from Kiev. An older man in a leather jacket introduced me to Munayev. “Our good brother Khalid recommended this man,” the man said. (Khalid is today one of the most important leaders of the Islamic State. Khalid and Munayev knew each other from years spent fighting together in Chechnya.)

    Munayev had reason for all the security precautions. Vladimir Putin regarded him as a personal enemy, and so did Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-friendly leader of Chechnya. Yet once I was inside the apartment, Munayev greeted me like an old friend, and we chatted casually about friends and colleagues we both knew from Chechnya; some were dead, a few still alive.

    For those looking for an easy narrative in today’s wars, whether in the Middle East or in eastern Ukraine, the Dzhokhar Dudayev battalion is not the place to find it. The battalion is not strictly Muslim, though it includes a number of Muslims from former Soviet republics, including Chechens who have fought on the side of the Islamic State in Syria. It also includes many Ukrainians. But all are fighting against what they perceive to be a common enemy: Russian aggression.

    Munayev was full of nervous energy, gesturing and talking loudly. He rarely stood still; even in the small apartment, he got up frequently, walked around and sat down again. When I asked whether I could visit him once he moved to the front lines, he told me to call him next time I was in Kiev.

    A few months later when I returned to Ukraine, in early 2015, Munayev was no longer in Kiev. He was fighting in the east, in the so-called Debaltseve “cauldron,” which had become the center of an intense battle between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists. But Munayev gave permission for Rizvan, a member of his battalion, to take me to his secret base.

    I was the first journalist allowed to visit the base, and I would end up being the last journalist to see Munayev before his death.

    THE TRIP FROM Kiev to the base of the Dzhokhar Dudayev battalion in the east winds along 500 miles of poorly maintained roads pocked with holes, and in the winter, often covered in snow. When we passed the city of Dnipropetrovsk, in southeastern Ukraine, we were told to turn off our phones and remove the batteries.

    We approached Munayev’s base late at night after many hours inside a cramped, overheated car. On the last bit of road, Rizvan got lost in the fog. He wasn’t the only one. We stopped at one point to talk with the driver of a Ukrainian army truck; the soldier was completely confused. He didn’t know where to go, and we couldn’t help him. On the horizon, we saw the flash of rockets as troops fired at positions near Donetsk. Dull explosions punctuated the silence of the night.

    We rendezvoused with Munayev’s men at the crossroads of a small village, near a Soviet-era monument to “working women” painted bright white. An armored van, similar to one designed to carry cash to the bank, pulled up next to us. Ihor Kolomoisky, a Ukrainian oligarch from Dnipropetrovsk, had given the car to Munayev’s fighters. From there we drove together to the base.

    The Dudayev battalion base was situated in an old, dilapidated complex of buildings, a former psychiatric hospital that once treated drug addicts, among others. The conditions were tough, but at least the main building was warm, heated by a wood-burning oven. Fighters cut down the trees from around the hospital to feed the oven.
    “There is no one in Chechnya who hasn’t suffered at the hands of the Russian army.”
    - Isa Munayev
    About 50 to 60 fighters were in the building, at least half of them Ukrainians, many from the city of Cherkasy. Others came from Chechnya, and the republic of Kabardino-Balkaria in the North Caucasus. There were also Crimean Tatars, Azeris and one Georgian from Batumi. All were there to defend Ukraine against Russia. “I know how much this great nation needs help, and we really want to help them,” Munayev said.

    Munayev also admitted, however, that he hoped the weapons he got in Ukraine would end up in the hands of militants in the Caucasus. He had a clear goal. “I defend Ukraine and Chechnya,” he told me. “If we succeed in Ukraine, then we can succeed in Chechnya.”

    In Ukraine, Munayev was seeking revenge for the wrongs that he and his people had suffered. Russians had killed his father, his wife and his children. “These are the enemies who murdered my people, who took my country from me,” he said. “They killed all those who were dear to us. There is no one in Chechnya who hasn’t suffered at the hands of the Russian army.”

    Adam Osmayev, the deputy commander of the battalion, is famous in his own right. Two years before the outbreak of war in eastern Ukraine, the British-educated Chechen was arrested in Odessa, a port city in the south of Ukraine, on suspicion of conspiring to assassinate Vladimir Putin. Osmayev initially pleaded guilty, but then withdrew the plea, writing in a statement he submitted before the court that the admission was “obtained through physical and psychological coercion.” Osmayev claimed that after his arrest in 2012, representatives of Ukraine’s security service beat him on the head with fists, gun handles and rifle butts. He said they kicked him, partially suffocated him with a plastic bag over his head, and injected him with drugs.
    Ukrainian oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky helped create the first battalions — the Dnipro and Dnipro-1 — each with about 500 people.
    In the spring of 2014, after a new Ukrainian government came to power, Isa Munayev and three of his men broke Osmayev out of prison, according to Rizvan, who was one of the fighters involved. On the way back to Kiev, special forces surrounded them at one of the militia checkpoints, Rizvan said, and after a dramatic standoff, the Ukrainians allowed the Chechens to go free. (There is no way to confirm Rizvan’s account, but in the fall of 2014, the Odessa court suddenly declared that Osmayev had fulfilled enough of his sentence and had been set free). Osmayev and Munayev came back to Kiev, and the Dudayev battalion was created.

    At the time I visited, most of the fighters were at the front in the vicinity of Luhansk. But the exact number serving in the battalion is a mystery. According to one source, there are 500 volunteers. Assuming that number is correct, it’s a significant force, which is why it’s increasingly feared in Kiev. The battalion is not subject to any political leader in Kiev, or subordinate to any political structure there.

    The Ukrainian oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky helped create the first volunteer battalions — the Dnipro and Dnipro-1 — each with about 500 people. For several months, he also financially supported several other battalions, including Azov, Aidar, Donbass, and Right Sector battalion. In the end, Kolomoisky also invited the Chechens, hoping they would protect his businesses and factories, if needed.

    Since the 1990s, Kolomoisky has been one of the most powerful men in Ukraine. His influence extends across almost the entire Ukrainian economy. Among other companies, he controls PrivatBank, the country’s largest bank, and exercises significant authority over Ukrnafta, its largest oil and gas producer. His influence extends over the media through several television stations, including the popular channel 1+1. The oligarch also owns the football club Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk.

    Most of Kolomoisky’s assets, however, focus on Privat Group, which The Wall Street Journal described as “an informal nebula of companies controlled by Mr. Kolomoisky and his partners.” In 2008, Forbes estimated that Kolomoisky’s fortune was $4.2 billion.

    When Kolomoisky saw that the Russians might capture Dnipropetrovsk — where his business was centered — he decided to cooperate with the new president of Ukraine, who, like him, was a businessman. Kolomoisky also wanted to help bail out the government’s army, which had been hobbled by years of corruption. After Russia annexed Crimea and separatists began fighting in eastern Ukraine, Kolomoisky announced his candidacy for the post of governor of Dnipropetrovsk. He was immediately appointed to the position.

    “If we die, at least we die as soldiers, and not as slaves.”
    - Isa MunayevWhen the Russians stopped approximately 120 miles short of Dnipropetrovsk, Kolomoisky suddenly lost interest and stopped paying the volunteer battalions. The Right Sector battalion responded by seizing his property, but Munayev couldn’t do that. He was a foreigner, and feared the Ukrainian authorities would regard his battalion as an illegal armed group, then disband it. Munayev was bitter, but would not openly speak ill of the authorities in Kiev. The Ukrainian people were still helping his fighters.

    There are three volunteer battalions with a significant number of Muslim fighters operating in Ukraine today (it would be wrong to describe any of the battalions as “Muslim,” since they also include Ukrainians and other nationalities). The Dudayev battalion operates between Donetsk and Luhansk, the Sheikh Mansour battalion, which broke off from the Dudayev battalion, is based close to Mariupol, in the southeast of Ukraine, and in the northeast is the Crimea battalion, based in Krematorsk, which consists mostly of Crimean Tatars. (There is also a separate company of Crimean Tatar fighters that operate as part of a sotnya, a Slavic term for “hundred.”)

    From time to time, Munayev met with representatives of the Ukrainian Security Service, known as the SBU. The Ukrainian government and President Petro Poroshenko fear that Chechens — along with other branches of voluntary battalions dissatisfied with the developments in Ukraine — could one day threaten the government in Kiev.

    That concern isn’t totally without merit. “It doesn’t matter whether the Ukrainian authorities help us or not,” a commander from the Tatar battalion told me. “Now we have weapons and we will never given them up.”

    That commander recently arrived in Ukraine from Syria. He wants to fight to free Crimea, which he does not believe Ukraine will ever recover through negotiations. “It can be done only by force, with weapons in hand,” he said.

    IN THE END, I spent three days at the base with Munayev. As a volunteer battalion, the relationship between commander and fighters relies on mutual trust, rather than traditional military structures. The volunteers weren’t there because they were paid soldiers or conscripts; they were there because they believed in Munayev’s instincts and abilities as a commander. And Munayev believed in them. “These are my fighters,” he said at one point. “These wonderful, beautiful young men.”

    Over the past month, Munayev had been organizing raids behind enemy lines, attacking the command posts, artillery, rocket launchers and entrenched tanks. He would personally go to the front lines for a week or two, then return to the base just to pick up a new group of fighters, allowing the others to rest.

    Munayev went to battle for the last time on Jan. 26. He went to Debaltseve, which the separatists took in February following an intense battle that left much of the city in ruins. Before getting into the white armored van that last day, he told me the same thing he told his fighters — that he didn’t know when he would return. “We are going deep behind enemy lines,” he said. “I hope everything will be fine. If we die, at least we die as soldiers, and not as slaves.”

    Munayev didn’t return. What happened next depends on whom you believe. There are suspicions that his location was betrayed to the Russians. But one of the fighters I spoke with, a Chechen who came to Ukraine with a Turkish passport, does not believe that. According to his account, on Feb. 1 Munayev’s group went to help the volunteer Donbass battalion fighting near Debaltseve. Most of the fighters stayed at the Ukrainian positions, but Munayev took four fighters and went on a scouting mission. He wanted to get to the rear of the enemy. They walked a little over 2 miles into “no man’s land,” between the two sides.

    They came to a small village called Chernukhino, where they stumbled upon Russian soldiers. There was shooting, and the Chechens killed a few Russians — the rest of the Russians withdrew. The Russians, however, managed to give the village’s coordinates to their artillery, and soon all hell broke loose. At the same time, the assault began on Debaltseve, which was defended by the Ukrainian army, as well as volunteer battalions including Donbass and Dudayev.
    Munayev’s body was left on the battlefield, something strictly prohibited by the Chechen honor code.
    The five lightly armed Dudayev fighters were attacked by infantry and tanks, and so they fled. They came upon a courtyard, where they saw a building with a shop. Munayev emptied some rounds into the front door and ordered his men to take refuge inside. When the last one entered, there was an explosion. The room filled with clouds of black smoke. When the dust settled, the commander of the militants was lying at the entrance to the building. Munayev had been hit by shrapnel from a tank shell, and had a large gaping wound. Munayev, who had survived two brutal wars in Chechnya, died instantly. He was 49 years old.

    What happened next is even more controversial. The commander’s body was left on the battlefield, something strictly prohibited by the Chechen honor code. I spoke with a fighter from the Chechen battalion of Sheikh Mansour, which broke away from Munayev’s branch a few months ago. Relations between the two battalions are not good.

    He didn’t want to talk about the death of Munayev, or why the commander was left on the battlefield. Ask the people “who were with Isa in his last moments,” the fighter said when I asked him about it. “Of course we know what happened, but it is not our business.”

    Munayev’s fighters said they didn’t take him from the battlefield because they were too far from the Ukrainian positions, and wouldn’t have been able to carry the body. They were convinced that no one would escape alive. Fleeing, they had to jump over fences, walls and sometimes on top of the roofs of houses. In the evening, they came to the trenches of the Donbass Battalion.

    Before Munayev left the base for the last time, I had asked him what he thought of the Chechens fighting in Syria alongside ISIS and other Islamic organizations. What were they fighting for there?

    “I don’t know what they’re fighting for, but I know what I’m fighting for,” he answered. “I fight for freedom.”

    Adam Osmayev, Munayev’s deputy, was a few miles away fighting alongside the Ukrainian troops when Munayev was killed. When Munayev’s death was reported in the Russian media, one of the claims was that Osmayev had murdered him. Osmayev wouldn’t even comment on that allegation. He said that type of information must have come from Russian security services trying to discredit him.

    Osmayev said that a few days after Munayev’s death, when the fighting “subsided a little,” he went to retrieve his commander’s body. Osmayev carried the body from the battlefield, and he and his comrades buried him in the wild fields of Ukraine. Osmayev’s debt to Munayev was repaid.

    Osmayev, who has now taken over leadership of the Dudayev battalion, said he didn’t know for sure what happened, but he was sure Munayev died like a soldier.

    “He was looking for his end,” Osmayev said. “It found him.”

    Photos: Tomasz Glowacki 

    The post The Final Days of a Chechen Commander Fighting in Ukraine appeared first on The Intercept.

    The Final Days of a Chechen Commander Fighting in Ukraine

    The Intercept - Fri, 02/27/2015 - 15:43

    IN SEPTEMBER OF 2014, I found myself standing on a narrow, potholed street in Kiev, east of the Dnieper River, in an area known as the Left Bank. I didn’t even know, at that point, whom I was meeting. I knew only that Khalid, my contact in Turkey with the Islamic State, had told me his “brothers” were in Ukraine, and I could trust them.

    When one of them called me, I was given the address of a small street in the Ukrainian capital where I should go, and no other information. When I arrived, I found myself in a maze of Soviet apartment blocks. I immediately noticed two well-built men walking by; they were bearded, with black sunglasses and black leather jackets. When I looked closely, I could see sticking out of their jackets the barrels of small machine guns.

    “Kandahar, Kandahar,” one of them said into his radio, after approaching me.

    Could we go in? “No,” was the answer. The “commander” was still busy.

    The armed men guided me past rows of Soviet-era apartment buildings, and then we waited in a wide, open square among the tall, concrete buildings. After half an hour of waiting, we wove through the housing complex until we approached a 10-story building, then took the elevator up to a mid-level floor and entered a small apartment. The single room was furnished with a bed, a kitchen table and two chairs.

    Sitting inside the small apartment was Isa Munayev. I recognized him immediately, because he was one of the few Chechens serving in Ukraine who was photographed frequently without a mask. He was upset, and shouting into the phone: “We came to die for you, and you don’t even want to do what you promised.”

    Even before he arrived in Ukraine, Munayev was well-known. He fought against Russian forces in both Chechen wars; in the second, he was the commander of the war in Grozny. After the Chechen capital was captured by Russian forces between 1999 and 2000, Munayev and his men took refuge in the mountains. He fought from there until 2005, when he was seriously injured and went to Europe for treatment. Munayev lived in Denmark until 2014. Then war broke out in Ukraine, and he decided it was time to fight the Russians again.

    As Russian-backed separatist forces began battling Ukrainian forces, Munayev came to Ukraine and established one of what would become several dozen private battalions that sprang up to fight on the side of the Ukrainian government, operating separately from the military. Munayev’s group was called the Dzhokhar Dudayev battalion, named after the first president of independent Chechnya, who was killed by Russian forces in 1996. Munayev was the head of the battalion.

    He was not at the front in the fall of 2014, because he was busy training forces and organizing money and weapons, from Kiev. An older man in a leather jacket introduced me to Munayev. “Our good brother Khalid recommended this man,” the man said. (Khalid is today one of the most important leaders of the Islamic State. Khalid and Munayev knew each other from years spent fighting together in Chechnya.)

    Munayev had reason for all the security precautions. Vladimir Putin regarded him as a personal enemy, and so did Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-friendly leader of Chechnya. Yet once I was inside the apartment, Munayev greeted me like an old friend, and we chatted casually about friends and colleagues we both knew from Chechnya; some were dead, a few still alive.

    For those looking for an easy narrative in today’s wars, whether in the Middle East or in eastern Ukraine, the Dzhokhar Dudayev battalion is not the place to find it. The battalion is not strictly Muslim, though it includes a number of Muslims from former Soviet republics, including Chechens who have fought on the side of the Islamic State in Syria. It also includes many Ukrainians. But all are fighting against what they perceive to be a common enemy: Russian aggression.

    Munayev was full of nervous energy, gesturing and talking loudly. He rarely stood still; even in the small apartment, he got up frequently, walked around and sat down again. When I asked whether I could visit him once he moved to the front lines, he told me to call him next time I was in Kiev.

    A few months later when I returned to Ukraine, in early 2015, Munayev was no longer in Kiev. He was fighting in the east, in the so-called Debaltseve “cauldron,” which had become the center of an intense battle between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists. But Munayev gave permission for Rizvan, a member of his battalion, to take me to his secret base.

    I was the first journalist allowed to visit the base, and I would end up being the last journalist to see Munayev before his death.

    THE TRIP FROM Kiev to the base of the Dzhokhar Dudayev battalion in the east winds along 500 miles of poorly maintained roads pocked with holes, and in the winter, often covered in snow. When we passed the city of Dnipropetrovsk, in southeastern Ukraine, we were told to turn off our phones and remove the batteries.

    We approached Munayev’s base late at night after many hours inside a cramped, overheated car. On the last bit of road, Rizvan got lost in the fog. He wasn’t the only one. We stopped at one point to talk with the driver of a Ukrainian army truck; the soldier was completely confused. He didn’t know where to go, and we couldn’t help him. On the horizon, we saw the flash of rockets as troops fired at positions near Donetsk. Dull explosions punctuated the silence of the night.

    We rendezvoused with Munayev’s men at the crossroads of a small village, near a Soviet-era monument to “working women” painted bright white. An armored van, similar to one designed to carry cash to the bank, pulled up next to us. Ihor Kolomoisky, a Ukrainian oligarch from Dnipropetrovsk, had given the car to Munayev’s fighters. From there we drove together to the base.

    The Dudayev battalion base was situated in an old, dilapidated complex of buildings, a former psychiatric hospital that once treated drug addicts, among others. The conditions were tough, but at least the main building was warm, heated by a wood-burning oven. Fighters cut down the trees from around the hospital to feed the oven.
    “There is no one in Chechnya who hasn’t suffered at the hands of the Russian army.”
    - Isa Munayev
    About 50 to 60 fighters were in the building, at least half of them Ukrainians, many from the city of Cherkasy. Others came from Chechnya, and the republic of Kabardino-Balkaria in the North Caucasus. There were also Crimean Tatars, Azeris and one Georgian from Batumi. All were there to defend Ukraine against Russia. “I know how much this great nation needs help, and we really want to help them,” Munayev said.

    Munayev also admitted, however, that he hoped the weapons he got in Ukraine would end up in the hands of militants in the Caucasus. He had a clear goal. “I defend Ukraine and Chechnya,” he told me. “If we succeed in Ukraine, then we can succeed in Chechnya.”

    In Ukraine, Munayev was seeking revenge for the wrongs that he and his people had suffered. Russians had killed his father, his wife and his children. “These are the enemies who murdered my people, who took my country from me,” he said. “They killed all those who were dear to us. There is no one in Chechnya who hasn’t suffered at the hands of the Russian army.”

    Adam Osmayev, the deputy commander of the battalion, is famous in his own right. Two years before the outbreak of war in eastern Ukraine, the British-educated Chechen was arrested in Odessa, a port city in the south of Ukraine, on suspicion of conspiring to assassinate Vladimir Putin. Osmayev initially pleaded guilty, but then withdrew the plea, writing in a statement he submitted before the court that the admission was “obtained through physical and psychological coercion.” Osmayev claimed that after his arrest in 2012, representatives of Ukraine’s security service beat him on the head with fists, gun handles and rifle butts. He said they kicked him, partially suffocated him with a plastic bag over his head, and injected him with drugs.
    Ukrainian oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky helped create the first battalions — the Dnipro and Dnipro-1 — each with about 500 people.
    In the spring of 2014, after a new Ukrainian government came to power, Isa Munayev and three of his men broke Osmayev out of prison, according to Rizvan, who was one of the fighters involved. On the way back to Kiev, special forces surrounded them at one of the militia checkpoints, Rizvan said, and after a dramatic standoff, the Ukrainians allowed the Chechens to go free. (There is no way to confirm Rizvan’s account, but in the fall of 2014, the Odessa court suddenly declared that Osmayev had fulfilled enough of his sentence and had been set free). Osmayev and Munayev came back to Kiev, and the Dudayev battalion was created.

    At the time I visited, most of the fighters were at the front in the vicinity of Luhansk. But the exact number serving in the battalion is a mystery. According to one source, there are 500 volunteers. Assuming that number is correct, it’s a significant force, which is why it’s increasingly feared in Kiev. The battalion is not subject to any political leader in Kiev, or subordinate to any political structure there.

    The Ukrainian oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky helped create the first volunteer battalions — the Dnipro and Dnipro-1 — each with about 500 people. For several months, he also financially supported several other battalions, including Azov, Aidar, Donbass, and Right Sector battalion. In the end, Kolomoisky also invited the Chechens, hoping they would protect his businesses and factories, if needed.

    Since the 1990s, Kolomoisky has been one of the most powerful men in Ukraine. His influence extends across almost the entire Ukrainian economy. Among other companies, he controls PrivatBank, the country’s largest bank, and exercises significant authority over Ukrnafta, its largest oil and gas producer. His influence extends over the media through several television stations, including the popular channel 1+1. The oligarch also owns the football club Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk.

    Most of Kolomoisky’s assets, however, focus on Privat Group, which The Wall Street Journal described as “an informal nebula of companies controlled by Mr. Kolomoisky and his partners.” In 2008, Forbes estimated that Kolomoisky’s fortune was $4.2 billion.

    When Kolomoisky saw that the Russians might capture Dnipropetrovsk — where his business was centered — he decided to cooperate with the new president of Ukraine, who, like him, was a businessman. Kolomoisky also wanted to help bail out the government’s army, which had been hobbled by years of corruption. After Russia annexed Crimea and separatists began fighting in eastern Ukraine, Kolomoisky announced his candidacy for the post of governor of Dnipropetrovsk. He was immediately appointed to the position.

    “If we die, at least we die as soldiers, and not as slaves.”
    - Isa MunayevWhen the Russians stopped approximately 120 miles short of Dnipropetrovsk, Kolomoisky suddenly lost interest and stopped paying the volunteer battalions. The Right Sector battalion responded by seizing his property, but Munayev couldn’t do that. He was a foreigner, and feared the Ukrainian authorities would regard his battalion as an illegal armed group, then disband it. Munayev was bitter, but would not openly speak ill of the authorities in Kiev. The Ukrainian people were still helping his fighters.

    There are three volunteer battalions with a significant number of Muslim fighters operating in Ukraine today (it would be wrong to describe any of the battalions as “Muslim,” since they also include Ukrainians and other nationalities). The Dudayev battalion operates between Donetsk and Luhansk, the Sheikh Mansour battalion, which broke off from the Dudayev battalion, is based close to Mariupol, in the southeast of Ukraine, and in the northeast is the Crimea battalion, based in Krematorsk, which consists mostly of Crimean Tatars. (There is also a separate company of Crimean Tatar fighters that operate as part of a sotnya, a Slavic term for “hundred.”)

    From time to time, Munayev met with representatives of the Ukrainian Security Service, known as the SBU. The Ukrainian government and President Petro Poroshenko fear that Chechens — along with other branches of voluntary battalions dissatisfied with the developments in Ukraine — could one day threaten the government in Kiev.

    That concern isn’t totally without merit. “It doesn’t matter whether the Ukrainian authorities help us or not,” a commander from the Tatar battalion told me. “Now we have weapons and we will never given them up.”

    That commander recently arrived in Ukraine from Syria. He wants to fight to free Crimea, which he does not believe Ukraine will ever recover through negotiations. “It can be done only by force, with weapons in hand,” he said.

    IN THE END, I spent three days at the base with Munayev. As a volunteer battalion, the relationship between commander and fighters relies on mutual trust, rather than traditional military structures. The volunteers weren’t there because they were paid soldiers or conscripts; they were there because they believed in Munayev’s instincts and abilities as a commander. And Munayev believed in them. “These are my fighters,” he said at one point. “These wonderful, beautiful young men.”

    Over the past month, Munayev had been organizing raids behind enemy lines, attacking the command posts, artillery, rocket launchers and entrenched tanks. He would personally go to the front lines for a week or two, then return to the base just to pick up a new group of fighters, allowing the others to rest.

    Munayev went to battle for the last time on Jan. 26. He went to Debaltseve, which the separatists took in February following an intense battle that left much of the city in ruins. Before getting into the white armored van that last day, he told me the same thing he told his fighters — that he didn’t know when he would return. “We are going deep behind enemy lines,” he said. “I hope everything will be fine. If we die, at least we die as soldiers, and not as slaves.”

    Munayev didn’t return. What happened next depends on whom you believe. There are suspicions that his location was betrayed to the Russians. But one of the fighters I spoke with, a Chechen who came to Ukraine with a Turkish passport, does not believe that. According to his account, on Feb. 1 Munayev’s group went to help the volunteer Donbass battalion fighting near Debaltseve. Most of the fighters stayed at the Ukrainian positions, but Munayev took four fighters and went on a scouting mission. He wanted to get to the rear of the enemy. They walked a little over 2 miles into “no man’s land,” between the two sides.

    They came to a small village called Chernukhino, where they stumbled upon Russian soldiers. There was shooting, and the Chechens killed a few Russians — the rest of the Russians withdrew. The Russians, however, managed to give the village’s coordinates to their artillery, and soon all hell broke loose. At the same time, the assault began on Debaltseve, which was defended by the Ukrainian army, as well as volunteer battalions including Donbass and Dudayev.
    Munayev’s body was left on the battlefield, something strictly prohibited by the Chechen honor code.
    The five lightly armed Dudayev fighters were attacked by infantry and tanks, and so they fled. They came upon a courtyard, where they saw a building with a shop. Munayev emptied some rounds into the front door and ordered his men to take refuge inside. When the last one entered, there was an explosion. The room filled with clouds of black smoke. When the dust settled, the commander of the militants was lying at the entrance to the building. Munayev had been hit by shrapnel from a tank shell, and had a large gaping wound. Munayev, who had survived two brutal wars in Chechnya, died instantly. He was 49 years old.

    What happened next is even more controversial. The commander’s body was left on the battlefield, something strictly prohibited by the Chechen honor code. I spoke with a fighter from the Chechen battalion of Sheikh Mansour, which broke away from Munayev’s branch a few months ago. Relations between the two battalions are not good.

    He didn’t want to talk about the death of Munayev, or why the commander was left on the battlefield. Ask the people “who were with Isa in his last moments,” the fighter said when I asked him about it. “Of course we know what happened, but it is not our business.”

    Munayev’s fighters said they didn’t take him from the battlefield because they were too far from the Ukrainian positions, and wouldn’t have been able to carry the body. They were convinced that no one would escape alive. Fleeing, they had to jump over fences, walls and sometimes on top of the roofs of houses. In the evening, they came to the trenches of the Donbass Battalion.

    Before Munayev left the base for the last time, I had asked him what he thought of the Chechens fighting in Syria alongside ISIS and other Islamic organizations. What were they fighting for there?

    “I don’t know what they’re fighting for, but I know what I’m fighting for,” he answered. “I fight for freedom.”

    Adam Osmayev, Munayev’s deputy, was a few miles away fighting alongside the Ukrainian troops when Munayev was killed. When Munayev’s death was reported in the Russian media, one of the claims was that Osmayev had murdered him. Osmayev wouldn’t even comment on that allegation. He said that type of information must have come from Russian security services trying to discredit him.

    Osmayev said that a few days after Munayev’s death, when the fighting “subsided a little,” he went to retrieve his commander’s body. Osmayev carried the body from the battlefield, and he and his comrades buried him in the wild fields of Ukraine. Osmayev’s debt to Munayev was repaid.

    Osmayev, who has now taken over leadership of the Dudayev battalion, said he didn’t know for sure what happened, but he was sure Munayev died like a soldier.

    “He was looking for his end,” Osmayev said. “It found him.”

    Photos: Tomasz Glowacki 

    The post The Final Days of a Chechen Commander Fighting in Ukraine appeared first on The Intercept.

    Lineages of Black History: A (Too Brief) Conversation with Bob Rhodes

    I Mix What I Like - Fri, 02/27/2015 - 15:16
    Bob Rhodes is a legendary self-proclaimed (accurately) “idea man” who prefers the background to the limelight. He is one of the most brilliant still-living true Black Leftists who has yet maintained strong ties with the Black nationalist community. I had a chance to capture this portion of a conversation we had in the office of Dr. Conrad Worrill at the Jacob Carruthers Institute for Inner City Studies in Chicago February 21, 2015 as we set to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Malcolm X’s assassination.

    Lineages of Black History: A (Too Brief) Conversation with Bob Rhodes

    I Mix What I Like - Fri, 02/27/2015 - 15:16
    Bob Rhodes is a legendary self-proclaimed (accurately) “idea man” who prefers the background to the limelight. He is one of the most brilliant still-living true Black Leftists who has yet maintained strong ties with the Black nationalist community. I had a chance to capture this portion of a conversation we had in the office of Dr. Conrad Worrill at the Jacob Carruthers Institute for Inner City Studies in Chicago February 21, 2015 as we set to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Malcolm X’s assassination.

    Defense Firms Expect Increased Spending from Republicans as Republicans Decry Increased Spending

    The Intercept - Fri, 02/27/2015 - 15:11

    Despite campaign rhetoric promising a smaller government, defense contractors are confident that the new Republican congressional majority will boost spending on their industry.

    “Friends, this experiment with big government has lasted long enough,” Mitch McConnell, the Republican majority leader, said on election night last November, echoing a common theme among GOP candidates. McConnell’s party won control of the U.S. Senate and increased its ranks in the House of Representatives in the midterm elections.

    For voters promised a leaner federal budget, certain areas, such as food stamps, are already in the crosshairs of legislators. But for the nation’s cyberspying companies and military contractors, “some measure of relief,” is on the way.

    That’s how George Pedersen, the chief executive of ManTech International Corp., a defense contractor that works closely with the National Security Agency, described the expected boost in military spending during a call with investors last week.

    Pedersen, explaining that the days of defense cuts are “behind us,” credited the shift with the change in control of Congress. “We do not know how the new Republican Congress will work with the president and the new secretary of defense,” he noted. But Pedersen predicted that Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, the new chairs of the Armed Services committees, will move “forward an expanded defense budget.”

    Other executives share that view.

    “Our first quarter is usually our worst,” said Tom Brown, president and CEO of LRAD Corp., makers of a sonic-cannon crowd dispersal weapon developed by the Pentagon.  “However,” he told financial analysts, “in 2015, we are off to a good start,” citing continued growth for the LRAD business “both internationally and with the new Republican Congress,” which he anticipated will produce an “increase in the U.S. defense budget.”

    Jim Peterson, the chief executive of Microsemi Corp., a manufacturer of aerospace and systems technology for the military, could barely contain his excitement.

    Asked by a financial analyst how the election would impact his company, Peterson said, “I try to keep away from politics.” Then, holding back a laugh, he said, “but it was nice to see people get out and vote.” He then clarified, “there seems to be a stronger lean towards defense and security spending by another party called the Republicans.”

    During the 2014 campaign cycle, defense companies spent over $59 million in disclosed campaign donations, with money spread among candidates of both parties. The real amount spent on the last election, however, is not known to the public given that corporate interests have increasingly disguised their campaign cash through undisclosed non-profits under the 501(c)(6) and 501(c)(4) sections of the tax code.

    Earlier this month, President Obama released a budget widely perceived as designed to both boost the defense budget and kill the sequester. The ploy, according to Democratic leaders, is to divide the remaining Republicans wary of defense hikes from hawks in the party to win an overall end to the budget-cutting trend in federal spending. By forging a compromise, spending levels can be increased across the board.

    If a budget deal is not reached, sequester-level budget cuts in line with the 2011 Budget Control Act kick in, creating automatic reductions in defense spending, an outcome now vehemently opposed by many in Congress.

    The strategy plays to the growing power of the more militaristic, defense lobby-friendly wing of the GOP, which now wields increasing influence despite media proclamations of a new libertarian mindset within the party. “I think one of the most critical tasks for Congress this year is going to be finding a way to increase defense spending for fiscal year 2016,” declared Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., warning of the looming threat of sequester cuts at a retreat for GOP legislators last month.

    If recent history is a guide, Wall Street and the defense contracting industry have much to look forward to.

    In the lame-duck session of the last Congress, a bipartisan agreement to prevent another government shutdown was reached by filling the stop-gap spending measure with over $1.2 billion in military purchases that weren’t requested by the Pentagon.

    Among the sweetheart, earmark-like items in the package was $120 million more for the M-1 Abrams tank program. Military planners have asked time and time again for Congress to stop funding Abrams tanks, which are outdated for most modern warfare and have repeatedly been destroyed by improvised explosive devices. In a symbolic display of government waste, over 2,000 of these tanks are now stored in the California desert, where they remain unused and unwanted. For the Obama administration and Republican leaders to get along, expect the purchase of more wasteful scraps of metal like these.

    Photo: General Dynamics Land System/AP

    The post Defense Firms Expect Increased Spending from Republicans as Republicans Decry Increased Spending appeared first on The Intercept.

    Defense Firms Expect Increased Spending from Republicans as Republicans Decry Increased Spending

    The Intercept - Fri, 02/27/2015 - 15:11

    Despite campaign rhetoric promising a smaller government, defense contractors are confident that the new Republican congressional majority will boost spending on their industry.

    “Friends, this experiment with big government has lasted long enough,” Mitch McConnell, the Republican majority leader, said on election night last November, echoing a common theme among GOP candidates. McConnell’s party won control of the U.S. Senate and increased its ranks in the House of Representatives in the midterm elections.

    For voters promised a leaner federal budget, certain areas, such as food stamps, are already in the crosshairs of legislators. But for the nation’s cyberspying companies and military contractors, “some measure of relief,” is on the way.

    That’s how George Pedersen, the chief executive of ManTech International Corp., a defense contractor that works closely with the National Security Agency, described the expected boost in military spending during a call with investors last week.

    Pedersen, explaining that the days of defense cuts are “behind us,” credited the shift with the change in control of Congress. “We do not know how the new Republican Congress will work with the president and the new secretary of defense,” he noted. But Pedersen predicted that Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, the new chairs of the Armed Services committees, will move “forward an expanded defense budget.”

    Other executives share that view.

    “Our first quarter is usually our worst,” said Tom Brown, president and CEO of LRAD Corp., makers of a sonic-cannon crowd dispersal weapon developed by the Pentagon.  “However,” he told financial analysts, “in 2015, we are off to a good start,” citing continued growth for the LRAD business “both internationally and with the new Republican Congress,” which he anticipated will “increase in the U.S. defense budget.”

    Jim Peterson, the chief executive of Microsemi Corp., a manufacturer of aerospace and systems technology for the military, could barely contain his excitement.

    Asked by a financial analyst how the election would impact his company, Peterson said, “I try to keep away from politics.” Then, holding back a laugh, he said, “but it was nice to see people get out and vote.” He then clarified, “there seems to be a stronger lean towards defense and security spending by another party called the Republicans.”

    During the 2014 campaign cycle, defense companies spent over $59 million in disclosed campaign donations, with money spread among candidates of both parties. The real amount spent on the last election, however, is not known to the public given that corporate interests have increasingly disguised their campaign cash through undisclosed non-profits under the 501(c)(6) and 501(c)(4) sections of the tax code.

    Earlier this month, President Obama released a budget widely perceived as designed to both boost the defense budget and kill the sequester. The ploy, according to Democratic leaders, is to divide the remaining Republicans wary of defense hikes from hawks in the party to win an overall end to the budget-cutting trend in federal spending. By forging a compromise, spending levels can be increased across the board.

    If a budget deal is not reached, sequester-level budget cuts in line with the 2011 Budget Control Act kick in, creating automatic reductions in defense spending, an outcome now vehemently opposed by many in Congress.

    The strategy plays to the growing power of the more militaristic, defense lobby-friendly wing of the GOP, which now wields increasing influence despite media proclamations of a new libertarian mindset within the party. “I think one of the most critical tasks for Congress this year is going to be finding a way to increase defense spending for fiscal year 2016,” declared Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., warning of the looming threat of sequester cuts at a retreat for GOP legislators last month.

    If recent history is a guide, Wall Street and the defense contracting industry have much to look forward to.

    In the lame-duck session of the last Congress, a bipartisan agreement to prevent another government shutdown was reached by filling the stop-gap spending measure with over $1.2 billion in military purchases that weren’t requested by the Pentagon.

    Among the sweetheart, earmark-like items in the package was $120 million more for the M-1 Abrams tank program. Military planners have asked time and time again for Congress to stop funding Abrams tanks, which are outdated for most modern warfare and have repeatedly been destroyed by improvised explosive devices. In a symbolic display of government waste, over 2,000 of these tanks are now stored in the California desert, where they remain unused and unwanted. For the Obama administration and Republican leaders to get along, expect the purchase of more wasteful scraps of metal like these.

    Photo: General Dynamics Land System/AP

    The post Defense Firms Expect Increased Spending from Republicans as Republicans Decry Increased Spending appeared first on The Intercept.

    2:00PM Water Cooler 2/28/15

    Naked Capitalism - Fri, 02/27/2015 - 14:55
    Today's Water Cooler: Clinton and the Clinton Foundation, Jebbie's disposition, GDP and pending home sales (ick), Jimmy Savile, the dress
    Categories: political economy

    2:00PM Water Cooler 2/27/15

    Naked Capitalism - Fri, 02/27/2015 - 14:55
    Today's Water Cooler: Clinton and the Clinton Foundation, Jebbie's disposition, GDP and pending home sales (ick), Jimmy Savile, the dress
    Categories: political economy

    Killing the Idea After the Man: Revolution as an Idea 50 Years After Malcolm X

    I Mix What I Like - Fri, 02/27/2015 - 14:54
    This was a talk given February 26, 2015 at California State University, Dominguez Hills.
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