The Pentagon plans to send nearly 4,000 additional troops to Afghanistan

from June 18, 2017 at 03:03PM http://bit.ly/2t4Mphc

In a war that has now seen its third president, the Pentagon plans to send nearly 4,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, according to the Washington Post.

The news comes as President Donald Trump recently gave Secretary of Defense James Mattis the authority to establish troop levels and as concerns have come from “the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan that he doesn’t have enough forces to help Afghanistan’s army against a resurgent Taliban insurgency,” according to the Post. Trump has not spoken to or met with Iraq or Afghanistan commander once.

Most of the troops will help train or advise Afghan forces, while a smaller number of troops will be dedicated to “counterterror operations against the Taliban and IS,” according to the Post.

The Post reported:

Although Trump has delegated authority for U.S. troop numbers in Afghanistan, the responsibility for America’s wars and the men and women who fight in them rests on his shoulders. Trump has inherited America’s longest conflict with no clear endpoint or a defined strategy for American success, though U.S. troop levels are far lower than they were under Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush. In 2009, Obama authorized a surge of 30,000 troops into Afghanistan, bringing the total there to more than 100,000, before drawing down over the rest of his presidency.

The resurgence of the Taliban has been forceful as they now control or contest more than 40 percent of territory in Afghanistan which means they now hold “more ground than at any point since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001,” according to the Los Angeles Times. A graphic from Vice also shows their territorial dominance.

In two separate incidents last week U.S. service members in Afghanistan have been shot at by men dressed in Afghan army uniforms who were actually working for the Taliban. One of the incidents left three U.S. soldiers dead. “Mattis has repeatedly stressed that increasing the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan would take place within a broader, long-term strategy for stabilizing Afghanistan,” the Post reported. While answering questions from Congress in a hearing last week it wasn’t clear if Mattis would ask for more troops in the future.

“All wars come to an end,” Mattis told the House Appropriations panel on Thursday, according to the Post. “Our job is to end it as quickly as possible without losing the very mission that we’ve recognized, through several administrations, that was worth putting those young Americans on the line for.”

Read more at: Salon.com http://www.salon.com

Israel Makes an Audacious Request to U.S. to Dismantle Life Support System for 5 Million Palestinians

from June 18, 2017 at 02:48AM http://bit.ly/2sOYJ32

Prime Minister Netanyahu plans to dismantle U.N. regulations with the help of the Trump administration.

Nazareth.

Israeli and US officials are in the process of jointly pre-empting Donald Trump’s supposed “ultimate deal” to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They hope to demote the Palestinian issue to a footnote in international diplomacy.

The conspiracy – a real one – was much in evidence last week during a visit to the region by Nikki Haley, Washington’s envoy to the United Nations. Her escort was Danny Danon, her Israeli counterpart and a fervent opponent of Palestinian statehood.

Danon makes Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu look moderate. He has backed Israel annexing the West Bank and ruling over Palestinians apatheid-style. Haley appears unperturbed. During a meeting with Netanyahu, she told him that the UN was “a bully to Israel”. She has warned the powerful Security Council to focus on Iran, Syria, Hamas and Hizbollah, instead of Israel.

To protect its tiny ally, Washington is threatening to cut billions in US funding to the world body, plunging it into crisis and jeopardising peacekeeping and humanitarian operations.

On the way to Israel, Haley stopped at the UN’s Human Rights Council in Geneva, demanding it end its “pathological” opposition to Israel’s decades of occupation and human rights violations – or the US would pull out of the agency.

Washington has long pampered Israel, giving it millions of dollars each year to buy weapons to oppress Palestinians, and using its veto to block UN resolutions enforcing international law. Expert UN reports such as a recent one on Israel’s apartheid rule over Palestinians have been buried.

But worse is to come. Now the framework of international laws and institutions established after the Second World War is at risk of being dismembered.

That danger was highlighted on Sunday, when it emerged that Netanyahu had urged Haley to dismantle another UN agency much loathed by Israel. UNRWA cares for more than five million Palestinian refugees across the region.

Since the 1948 war, Israel has refused to allow these refugees to return to their lands, now in Israel, forcing them to live in miserable and overcrowded camps awaiting a peace deal that never arrives. These dispossessed Palestinians still depend on UNRWA for education, health care and social services.

UNRWA, Netanyahu says, “perpetuates” rather than solves their problems. He prefers that they become the responsibility of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which looks after all other refugee populations.

His demand is a monumental U-turn, 70 years in the making. In fact, it was Israel that in 1948 insisted on a separate UN refugee agency for the Palestinians.

UNRWA was created to prevent the Palestinians falling under the charge of UNHCR’s forerunner, the International Refugee Organisation. Israel was afraid that the IRO, formed in the immediate wake of the Second World War, would give Palestinian refugees the same prominence as European Jews fleeing Nazi atrocities.

Israel did not want the two cases compared, especially as they were so intimately connected. It was the rise of Nazism that bolstered the Zionist case for a Jewish state in Palestine and Jewish refugees who were settled on lands from which Palestinians had just been expelled by Israel.

Also, Israel was concerned that the IRO’s commitment to the principle of repatriation might force it to accept back the Palestinian refugees.

Israel’s hope then was precisely that UNRWA would not solve the Palestinian refugee problem; rather, it would resolve itself. The idea was encapsulated in a Zionist adage: “The old will die and the young forget.”

But millions of Palestinian descendants still clamour for a right of return. If they cannot forget, Netanyahu prefers that the world forget them.

As bloody wars grip the Middle East, the best way to achieve that aim is to submerge the Palestinians among the world’s 65 million other refugees. Why worry about the Palestinian case when there are millions of Syrians newly displaced by war?

But UNRWA poses a challenge, because it is so deeply entrenched in the region and insists on a just solution for Palestinian refugees.

UNRWA’s huge staff includes 32,000 Palestinian administrators, teachers and doctors, many living in camps in the West Bank – Palestinian territory Netanyahu and Danon hunger for. The UN’s presence there is an impediment to annexation.

On Monday Netanyahu announced his determination to block Europe from funding Israeli human rights organisations, the main watchdogs in the West Bank and a key data source for UN agencies. He now refuses to meet any world leader who talks to these rights groups.

With Trump in the White House, a crisis-plagued Europe ever-more toothless and the Arab world in disarray, Netanyahu wants to seize this chance to clear the UN out of the way too.

Global institutions such as the UN and the international law it upholds were created after the Second World War to protect the weakest and prevent a recurrence of the Holocaust’s horrors.

Today, Netanyahu is prepared to risk it all, tearing down the post-war international order, if this act of colossal vandalism will finally rid him of the Palestinians.

Read more at: Alternet http://bit.ly/1nDoAlo

More Damning Evidence That the U.S. Is Directly Backing Al Qaeda-Linked Groups

from June 17, 2017 at 02:13AM http://bit.ly/2s54s7t

Qatar’s former prime minister admits the U.S. and its Gulf allies backed Salafi jihadists in Syria.

Qatar’s former prime minister admitted in an interview that the United States and its Gulf allies supported Islamist extremists in Syria.

In CIA-run training sites located in Jordan and Turkey, Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber al-Thani explained, the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Qatar, “all of us, we [were] supporting the same groups,” he said. Among them were extremists, al-Thani noted.

This testimony adds to the growing body of evidence that the U.S. government and its proxies backed hard-line Salafi-jihadists in order to weaken the Syrian government and its allies Iran and Hezbollah.

Qatar has recently come under fire by the U.S. and Gulf allies Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which have condemned the country for its support of Islamist groups.

U.S. officials have internally acknowledged that both Saudi Arabia and Qatar aided ISIS and al-Qaeda, but in a diplomatic fracas, Qatar has become a scapegoat for the spread of violent extremism. Saudi Arabia and the UAE have suspended political and economic ties with Qatar and imposed a de facto blockade on the tiny country.

Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber al-Thani, who served as Qatar’s prime minister and foreign minister until 2013, sat down for a June 12 interview with Charlie Rose to discuss the crisis. 

"What is the reason for this coming now?" Rose asked. “Questions have been raised about how much funding Qatar has done to some of the Islamic groups in Syria.” (The exchange begins at 7:30 in the video, which is embedded below.)

“In Syria, everybody did mistakes, including your country,” al-Thani replied.

When the war began in Syria, he went on, “all of us worked through two operation rooms: one in Jordan and one in Turkey.”

In Jordan, al-Thani continued, “There was countries, some of the GCC countries, among them the Saudis, the Emiratis, Qatar, United States, and other allies. And they [were] working from there. And all of us, we [were] supporting the same groups. In Turkey we did the same.” 

The former Qatari prime minister was referring to the U.S. government’s Operation Timber Sycamore, a covert CIA program in which thousands of militants were trained to fight to try to topple the Syrian government.

At its peak, the CIA was spending $1 billion per year training and arming what it claimed were “moderate” Syrian rebels — $1 of every $15 in its entire budget, according to documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Eventually, al-Thani said in the interview, it became clear that some of the armed groups “have other agenda, and we always eliminate them one by one.”

The U.S. also "supported the wrong groups sometimes," he emphasized to Rose. "It doesn’t mean that we did not do something wrong there.”

In one such example, Nour al-Din al-Zinki, a former “moderate” rebel group vetted by the CIA and armed with U.S. anti-tank weapons, joined a rebranded Syrian al-Qaeda-led coalition.

Growing Body of Evidence

Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber al-Thani’s comments are further substantiated by large amounts of evidence.

A 2014 email from former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, citing U.S. government intelligence, states that American allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar supported ISIS in Syria.

In a speech at Harvard University in 2014, former Vice President Joe Biden also admitted that close U.S. allies Saudi Arabia and Turkey had intentionally supported Islamist extremists in Syria.

“They were so determined to take down [Syrian President Bashar al-]Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war. What did they do?" he asked. “They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad, except that the people who were being supplied were al-Nusra, and al-Qaeda, and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world."

Turkey played a double game with ISIS, allowing thousands of Salafi-jihadists from around the world to cross its border into Syria to join the genocidal militant group. Biden added that his “old friend” Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan told him, “You were right; we let too many people through. Now we are trying to seal the border.”

In 2013, former CIA director Mike Morell admitted that Syria’s al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra and the extremist group Ahrar al-Sham were "the two most effective organizations on the battlefield," and "moderate members of the opposition joined forces with them to fight the Syrians.” Yet weapons and support continued flowing in from the U.S. and its allies.

Moreover, a declassified 2012 document from the Defense Intelligence Agency shows that just over one year into the conflict, the U.S. government knew "Salafi[s], the Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria.” The DIA report added that these rebel groups were likely to create a "Salafist principality in eastern Syria,” in the area ISIS eventually took over, “and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime."

Despite this clear understanding, the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey poured billions of dollars into the Syrian opposition, empowering these Salafi-jihadist groups.

The Qatar Controversy

The U.S. government’s acknowledgement that Qatar has supported Islamist extremist groups has not stopped the arms deals from continuing — suggesting that the longtime U.S. policy of using Salafi-jihadist groups to destabilize its enemies will continue.

On June 14, just days after Donald Trump castigated Qatar over its funding of extremist groups, the U.S. president signed a $12 billion deal to transfer F-15QA fighter jets to the country. This was part of a larger $21 billion U.S. arms package with Qatar.

The primary point of dispute in the conflict in the Gulf is over Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt strongly oppose the Muslim Brotherhood and consider it a terrorist organization.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which see Iran as their mortal enemy, have also accused Qatar of being too close to Iran, but Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber al-Thani strongly rejected this claim.

"Qatar supporting Iran is a big joke," the former prime minister said in the interview with Charlie Rose. If Qatar and Iran were supposedly close allies, he added, “we would not fight with them in Syria.”

With Iran, Qatar has “a normal relation,” al-Thani stressed. He noted that other Middle Eastern countries have even larger economic ties with Iran than Qatar does.

Qatar is technically a constitutional monarchy, although there are few checks and balances on the absolute authority of the royal family.

Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber al-Thani is often referred to with the abbreviation HBJ. He was made foreign minister in 1992, and prime minister in 2007. A billionaire notorious for spending large amounts of money on luxury items like a $100 million New York City penthouse, he was one of the scores of politicians mentioned in the Panama Papers.

Though tiny, Qatar has enormous oil reserves, which have made it the richest country in the world, per capita. As al-Thani explained, it has used its vast wealth to punch above its weight on the international stage, including by backing some of the Middle East’s more unsavory actors.

 

Read more at: Alternet http://bit.ly/1nDoAlo

Trump Slashes Grant For Group Combatting White Extremism

from June 24, 2017 at 09:24AM http://bit.ly/2sEoWTp

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — The Trump administration on Friday slashed $400,000 in federal funding for one of the few U.S. groups that combat white extremism but denied it is now focusing only on fighting radical Islamists.

A grant announcement by the Department of Homeland Security eliminated funding for the Chicago-based Life After Hate, which was initially awarded the money in January during the closing days of the Obama administration.

Life After Hate, run by a former skinhead, is among a handful of domestic programs dedicated to helping people leave white power groups including neo-Nazi organizations and the Ku Klux Klan, and it was the only one of the original grant recipients dedicated solely to combatting white extremism.

The co-founder of Life After Hate, Christian Picciolini, said in an emailed statement, “While it’s disappointing that DHS broke its promise to us by changing the rules to the grant after we’d already won it, it is more alarming that the current administration is refusing to acknowledge that white nationalist extremists are a major domestic terrorist threat.”

Picciolini has publicly criticized the Trump administration for ties to white extremists. He pledged to continue serving those in need.

In all, Homeland Security awarded $10 million to 26 police and community organizations, none of which has a specific mission to counter groups in the so-called “alt-right,” a hodge-podge of white supremacists, white populists and white nationalists, many of whom supported Trump for president.

The agency said the grants, awarded under the Combatting Violent Extremism program, will target “all forms of violent extremism, including the rising threat from Islamist terrorism.” Spokesman David Lapan this week denied the program is now concentrating only on Islamic extremism.

Grant applications were re-evaluated based on factors including whether an organization had a track record of combatting violent extremism, the department said, and groups that didn’t were eliminated.

Ten other Obama-approved grants also were cut, including $867,000 for the University of North Carolina to produce anti-jihadist videos and $393,800 for the Muslim Public Affairs Council Foundation, which was critical of the move to cut funding for Life After Hate.

“The Trump administration’s mishandling of the grant process underscores two fundamental flaws in its (Combatting Violent Extremism) policy: It focuses on criminal investigations in a non-criminal space, and it turns a blind eye to white supremacist violence,” the group said in a statement.

The Claremont School of Theology in Los Angeles, which has a division for Islamic studies that had been awarded $800,000 by the Obama administration, opted out of the program under Trump.

Jihad Turk, president of the Bayan Claremont Islamic Graduate School, said questions existed about the government’s approach under Obama, and they got worse under Trump.

“When Trump took over we waited to see which way he would go,” Turk said in a telephone interview. “Everyone sees the direction he is going, and the rhetoric has only escalated.”

New grant recipients include the Tennessee-based Nashville International Center for Empowerment, which works with refugees and immigrants and received $445,110; four police agencies; and the National Governor’s Association, which received $500,000.

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said the agency is “stepping up efforts to counter terrorist recruitment and radicalization,” and he sought a thorough review of the grant program after taking office. That review led to the new list.

“We will closely monitor these efforts to identify and amplify promising approaches to prevent terrorism,” Kelly said in a statement.

___

Caldwell reported from Washington.

Read more at: All TPM News http://bit.ly/1kKyqV3

Report: Election hackers stole private voter data, altered voter information

from June 22, 2017 at 03:04PM http://bit.ly/2t90R8J

Election 2016 Hacking The Vote

FILE – In this Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016 file photo, Brian Varner, a principal researcher at Symantec, inserts an identifying chip card into an electronic voting machine as he demonstrates how to hack an electronic voting machine at a Symantec office in New York. The U.S. voting system, a loosely regulated, locally managed patchwork of more than 3,000 jurisdictions overseen by the states, employs more than two dozen types of machinery from 15 manufacturers. Elections officials across the nation say they take great care to secure their machines from tampering. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File) (Credit: AP)

The hacking of voter databases prior to November’s presidential election was more broad than previously understood — and in addition to stealing personal information, hackers altered voter data in at least one county’s voter database, according to current and former government officials who spoke to Time magazine.

Hackers were able to steal “thousands of voter records that contain private information like partial Social Security numbers,” Time reported. And investigators found in one case, that voter data in a county database had been manipulated — though that data was corrected prior to the election.

While much of the voter database hacking has been linked to Russia, the instance of county-level voter-roll data manipulation has not been linked to any specific actor.

In another case, 90,000 voters’ records were stolen from Illinois — allegedly by Russian state actors. More than 90 percent of those records included driver’s license numbers, and 25 percent of these records “contained the last four digits of voters’ Social Security numbers,” according to Ken Menzel, the general counsel of the State Board of Elections, who was quoted in the Time report.

Congressional investigators are looking into whether any of this information made its way to President Donald Trump’s campaign but have yet to see evidence that would suggest it did. “If any campaign, Trump or otherwise, used inappropriate data the questions are, ‘How did they get it? From whom? And with what level of knowledge?’” said Michael Bahar, the former top Democratic staffer on the House Intelligence Committee, according to Time.

Time also reported:

The House Intelligence Committee plans to seek testimony this summer from Brad Parscale, the digital director of the Trump campaign, CNN reported last week. Hill investigators in February asked the White House and law enforcement agencies to ensure that all materials relating to contacts between the Trump administration, transition team and campaign had with the Russians had been preserved. Parscale did not return messages requesting comment for this story. Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, referred questions regarding the investigations to Trump’s legal team, which did not respond to requests for comment.

Both [the House and Senate] intelligence committees are looking at whether and how the intrusions could have furthered Russia’s larger strategic goals of undermining U.S. democracy, hurting Hillary Clinton and helping Donald Trump. During the run up to the vote, Obama Administration cyber-security officials took steps to prepare for widespread voter registration manipulation, fearing Russia might seek to cause chaos at polling places to undermine the credibility of the election.

The House and Senate committees held hearings on Thursday in order to understand further vulnerabilities in U.S. voting systems. “I’m deeply concerned,” Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., told Time. Burr is chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and is worried that the hacking problem may worsen in the future.

Cybersecurity officials under the Obama administration feared Russia planned to undermine the election, and prepared for contingencies. Yet on Thursday, Trump bashed his predecessor for not doing anything about it.

 

Read more at: Salon.com http://www.salon.com

New Report Exposes Direct Israeli Support for Al Qaeda-Allied Forces in Syria

from June 23, 2017 at 02:08AM http://bit.ly/2t8HpJ4

Beirut-based journalist Nour Samaha has uncovered extensive Israeli government support of anti-Assad forces in southern Syria.

AARON MATÉ: It’s The Real News. I’m Aaron Maté. Of all the foreign countries involved in the Syrian proxy war, one that does not get much attention is Israel. We’ve known for years Israel has provided at least some support to anti-Assad Sunni fighters. This includes offering medical treatment to wounded Al-Qaeda fighters. Well, now a new report reveals a whole lot more. According to Syria Deeply, Israel has carried out an extensive operation backing militant groups near the border with northern Israel. This includes the provision of supplies and even direct financial aid. The report is called Israel’s Quiet Campaign to Gain a Foothold in Southern Syria. It’s by Nour Samaha, a freelance journalist based in Beirut. I spoke to her earlier today. Nour, welcome.

NOUR SAMAHA: Thank you.

AARON MATÉ: We’ve known about Israel’s cooperation with or tacit support for Al-Nusra rebels in southern Syria for quite some time. Most of the focus has been on basically Israel treating wounded fighters in its hospitals. Your piece though goes into detail that I don’t think we’ve heard before. At least for a western audience. Can you explain what you found?

NOUR SAMAHA: Well, first off, it needs to be highlighted that it’s not just Nusra rebels, Nusra fighters that they’re treating, but, obviously, a variety of opposition rebels that are based in opposition-controlled Quneitra, which is along the border or along the technical fence with Israel. What the Israelis have been doing, and they’ve been doing it for several years now, is reaching out beyond humanitarian aid or medical support for fighters, but also distributing aid and educational equipment inside opposition-controlled Quneitra, as well as more recently, funding and arming their own opposition group. That opposition group is called The Golan Knights, or Liwa Forsan al Joulan in Arabic. They’re still relatively small, but they have admitted to accepting aid and arms from the Israelis. This is the first time that this sort of information has come out publicly. I think essentially what it is showing is that the Israelis, although they’re working quite quietly and they still maintain this policy of non-involvement inside Syria, are actually working very, very actively inside southern Syria in order to create an Israeli-friendly zone of influence.

I think it’s, again, important to point out that not only is this reminiscent of what they did in Lebanon during the civil war, but they’re very keen on ensuring that there’s a buffer zone or a safe zone between them and the Syrian forces, and the Syrian government and its allies. In order to do that, they need to be able to make sure that the population, the local population in that area can help them out and is not hostile towards them.

AARON MATÉ: Can you explain further in terms of wanting to create that friendly buffer zone inside Syria? Because it’s very significant. Especially bringing up the comparison to southern Lebanon, where Israeli support for militant forces there has had deadly consequences.

NOUR SAMAHA: Well, in southern Lebanon basically what they did at the beginning of the war was they created, it’s called The Good Fence Policy. The idea was that they set up a liaison unit on the Israeli side of the border and they basically had an open door policy for Lebanese to come into Israel to receive free medical care to help them out in terms of employment.

Eventually what it did was it opened up the possibility for the Israelis to actually be present inside Lebanon, and they then created their own militia, which was the Free Lebanon Army. Then they changed it to the South Lebanon Army. This militia basically controlled southern Lebanon under Israeli guidance. The South Lebanon Army and the Israelis were working side by side in southern Lebanon in order to ensure that it was an area that was productive and helpful for the Israelis.

Now, what we’re seeing in Syria is something very, very similar to what they did in southern Lebanon. They want to create this Israel-friendly zone. I think the mistake that they … I think they’ve learned from their mistakes in Lebanon. I do not think that the Israelis are keen on putting boots on the ground inside Syria. What they would rather have are people that do their bidding for them. What we’re seeing are buses going in and out on a daily basis. Bringing in injured, and wounded, and sick from opposition-held southern Syria into Israel. You have civilians and fighters that can stay up to a year and a half inside Israel hospitals. They’re creating this relationship with the population, like I said, in order to have this Israel-friendly environment, Israel-friendly society.

AARON MATÉ: Part of that, I imagine for Israel too, is establishing a buffer zone that would help it consolidate its annexation of the Golan Heights, which it occupied 50 years ago in 1967.

NOUR SAMAHA: 100%. It’s an absolute … It’s a great plan for the Israelis if you will because, like you said, they’ve occupied the Golan Heights. They considered it to be annexed and part of Israel. The international community has not recognized that. They do consider it to be occupied, and that it is originally Syria territory and should be returned back to Syria. What the Israelis are trying to do with this buffer zone or with this Israel-friendly zone is, again, create distance between the Syrian government and where they’re based and where the Israelis are.

In any future negotiations, this will only go further to cement Israel’s claim over the Golan Heights. Even now they’re using the argument of, ‘Syria’s unstable. It’s very unclear the direction that it’s going to go in. The Golan Heights that’s with us is stable. We’re investing. We’re helping the people. Why would after 50 years or even longer would we return it back to Syria? It should stay with us and it belongs to us.’ Having this zone or this area, again, puts distance between the Israelis and the Syrian government and its forces on the ground, which again helps serve their argument.

AARON MATÉ: I want to play a few of comment of Efraim Halevy. He’s the former head of Israel’s intelligence agency Mossad. He was interviewed by Al Jazeera and asked about Israel treating wounded Al-Nusra or Al-Qaeda fighters in Israeli hospitals. This is what he said.

Mehdi Hasan: Do those reports worry you that Israel’s helping wounded Al-Qaeda aligned fighters?

Efraim Halevy: As I said before in a different context, it’s always useful also to deal with your enemies in a humane way.

Mehdi Hasan: You know better than me the phrase blowback. You don’t think there’s going to be blowback against Israel if you get into bed with a group like Nusra Front?

Efraim Halevy: No, I don’t think so. I don’t think there’s going to be blowback.

Mehdi Hasan: Why?

Efraim Halevy: Because I think that, unfortunately, the rules of the game in Syria are such that you can do anything that is not possible to be done anywhere else.

Mehdi Hasan: I think people said that in Afghanistan too. Would you also treat Hezbollah fighters?

Efraim Halevy: No.

AARON MATÉ: That’s Efraim Halevy, former head of Israel’s intelligence agency Mossad. He was speaking Al Jazeera’s Mehdi Hasan. Nour, interesting there that he dismisses the potential for blowback from Al-Nusra and also says that despite extolling the principal of treating your enemies, he wouldn’t treat Hezbollah. Just Al-Qaeda.

NOUR SAMAHA: It’s an Israeli policy, and also Al-Nusra and the opposition in southern Syria have done absolutely nothing to indicate that they would be any threat whatsoever to the Israelis. The Israelis have worked very closely and very diligently to make sure that these people would not have any sort of impact on Israel. I think we’ve seen that very clearly on the ground. There have been no attacks at all from the opposition onto Israel. Again, from the sources that I have from both the opposition and from the government side, it’s not in their interest to enter into a war with the Israelis.

As far as the Israelis are concerned, the opposition is not a threat. Nusra is not a threat for them. Nothing that’s Nusra’s ever released would ever indicate that Israel is an enemy for them. Hezbollah, on the other hand, is a completely different story. At least with regards to the Israelis. Hezbollah, as far as the Israelis are concerned, is the biggest threat for them. I think this year in their annual report regarding their security situation, they said that Hezbollah is an existential threat for them. As far as they’re concerned … Again, this adds to the issue of the buffer zone.

The reason why they’re so keen on establishing this is because Hezbollah, alongside the Syrian government and pro-Iranian forces, is a huge threat for the Israelis. They want to do anything in order to prevent them from having any sort of access or come closer to their borders. If that means working with the opposition then that’s fine. On the other side, for the opposition, I think the way that they see it … There’s no reason why they shouldn’t be working with the Israelis.

The Israelis have been conducting airstrikes in Syria that have aided the opposition. Again, from government sources, as far as they’re concerned when you monitor the battles that happen in southern Syria, any way the government starts making advances or launches offensives that push the opposition back there’ll suddenly be an Israeli airstrike. As far as the government is concerned, the Israelis are doing whatever it is that they can to help out the opposition. I think it works both their favors. Both the opposition and the Israelis to have this relationship in which they’re both fighting the same enemy.

AARON MATÉ: Nour, on that point, a few days after your piece came out, the Wall Street Journal put out a report basically piggybacking on a lot of the reporting you did in your piece and reporting essentially the same things. They spoke to a spokesperson for the rebel group, Knights of the Golan, who said, "Israel stood by our side in a heroic way. We wouldn’t have survived without Israel’s assistance."

NOUR SAMAHA: Yeah, I think that pretty much says it all. I think it’s interesting that there’s a group that can come out and say something like that when just literally a few meters away from where he’s standing the Israelis are still occupying his land. Apparently, they don’t have an issue with receiving money and weapons from the Israelis, so I think the entire situation is incredibly fascinating and somewhat bizarre because apparently occupation of land is okay in one area as long as the funding and the arms can keep coming to them.

AARON MATÉ: Nour, it’s said of Israel by some of its critics that it wants a regime change inside Syria, but a piece like yours, to me, indicates that actually, it’s pursuing a policy of just perpetual stalemates stoking fighting from the two sides. It’s been pointed out that if Israel really wanted to push regime change in Syria it could do more. It could, for example, send its forces to Syria’s southern border forcing Assad to divert his forces there and then away from the fight against rebels.

On this point, I want to read you a quote from an Israeli intelligence officer who was interviewed in Politico recently talking about the situation in Syria and what the Israeli strategy is. This officer referenced what former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin said about the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. Asked whether Israel supports Iraq or Iran in that conflict. The officer quotes Begin as saying, "I wish luck to both parties. They can go at it killing each other." The officer goes on to say, "The same thing here. You have ISIS killing Al-Qaeda by the thousands. Al-Qaeda killing ISIS by the thousands, and they are both killing Hezbollah and Assad."

NOUR SAMAHA: I don’t think that the Israelis are interested in a regime change. I think that there’s enough information coming from domestic think tanks inside Israel that indicate the same thing. They don’t want a vacuum in Damascus. It would incredibly problematic for them because, again, they would be dealing with a government or a state that they have no idea about. I think the opposition is fractured enough that it’s very unclear as to who could lead Syria in a post-conflict state. At the same time, they don’t want a strong Assad either, so it definitely serves their interest to have all of their enemies fighting each other on a playing field that they don’t even have to get involved in.

Having ISIS and having Al-Qaeda, and having Hezbollah, and having the Syrian army, and having the Iranian forces all involved on the same battlefield and the Israelis aren’t there, I think they’re very happy sitting on the sidelines in that sense. I think, again, they don’t want to see … Like you said, they haven’t done enough inside Syria in order to really push for a regime change because it really isn’t in their interest. They’re okay with Assad staying in power, but as long as he’s weak. If he’s weak and if he’s answerable to people like the Russians or even the international community then that means there would be much more control over Hezbollah and the Iranians. This is something that the Israelis want. Like I said, they’re not looking for a vacuum there. They’re not looking for a vacuum. They’re looking for a very weak state.

AARON MATÉ: Nour, finally, your piece adds a new layer of detail to the understanding we have of the various foreign players who are involved in Syria. You’ve laid out for us a very detailed picture of what not Israel is doing inside Syria, along with many other countries, including the US, Russia, Iran, Turkey, the Gulf states, and so forth. Your thoughts as we wrap up on what it means for the Syrian conflict if all this foreign interference keeps going unimpeded?

NOUR SAMAHA: I think it spells out a very, very sad and bleak future of Syria. As we said, every single foreign force, if you want, is involved in some way in Syria. What we’re seeing now is we’re seeing an area of Syria in northern Syria that’s practically a province of Turkey now. We’re seeing another part of northern Syria that has US bases and US troops inside it. We have Iranian forces inside Syria. We have Iraqi forces inside Syria. We have Russian forces inside Syria. We have Lebanese forces inside Syria. Having all of this inside Syria already and this is just six years in.

I think we’re looking at a very long and protracted war, and I think it will be very difficult even five years from now for Syria to be able to crawl back to the level of sovereignty that they had before 2011. I think this is something that a lot of people need to be aware of as they continue to push to have more intervention inside Syria. It’s going to turn out very, very, very ugly and a lot uglier than what we’ve seen right now.

AARON MATÉ: Nour Samaha, freelance journalist based in Beirut. Her latest piece for Syria Deeply is Israel’s Quiet Campaign to Gain a Foothold in Southern Syria. Nour, thank you.

NOUR SAMAHA: Thank you very much.

AARON MATÉ: Thank you for joining us on The Real News.

 

Read more at: Alternet http://bit.ly/1nDoAlo

Trump Administration Quietly Rolls Back Civil Rights Efforts Across Federal Government

from June 15, 2017 at 05:33AM http://bit.ly/2sPl4gw

by Jessica Huseman
and Annie Waldman

Elizabeth Hill, press secretary for the U.S. Department of Education, told ProPublica that the new “enforcement instructions seek to clear out the backlog while giving every complaint the individualized and thorough consideration it deserves.” Lifting the requirement of collecting three years of data will allow complaints to be addressed “much more efficiently and quickly,” she said in an emailed statement. Read the full statement here.

For decades, the Department of Justice has used court-enforced agreements to protect civil rights, successfully desegregating school systems, reforming police departments, ensuring access for the disabled and defending the religious.

Now, under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the DOJ appears to be turning away from this storied tool, called consent decrees. Top officials in the DOJ civil rights division have issued verbal instructions through the ranks to seek settlements without consent decrees — which would result in no continuing court oversight.

The move is just one part of a move by the Trump administration to limit federal civil rights enforcement. Other departments have scaled back the power of their internal divisions that monitor such abuses. In a previously unreported development, the Education Department last week reversed an Obama-era reform that broadened the agency’s approach to protecting rights of students. The Labor Department and the Environmental Protection Agency have also announced sweeping cuts to their enforcement.

“At best, this administration believes that civil rights enforcement is superfluous and can be easily cut. At worst, it really is part of a systematic agenda to roll back civil rights,” said Vanita Gupta, the former acting head of the DOJ’s civil rights division under President Barack Obama.

Consent decrees have not been abandoned entirely by the DOJ, a person with knowledge of the instructions said. Instead, there is a presumption against their use — attorneys should default to using settlements without court oversight unless there is an unavoidable reason for a consent decree. The instructions came from the civil rights division’s office of acting Assistant Attorney General Tom Wheeler and Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Gore. There is no written policy guidance.

Devin O’Malley, a spokesperson for the DOJ, declined to comment for this story.

Consent decrees can be a powerful tool, and spell out specific steps that must be taken to remedy the harm. These are agreed to by both parties and signed off on by a judge, whom the parties can appear before again if the terms are not being met. Though critics say the DOJ sometimes does not enforce consent decrees well enough, they are more powerful than settlements that aren’t overseen by a judge and have no built-in enforcement mechanism.

Such settlements have “far fewer teeth to ensure adequate enforcement,” Gupta said.

Consent decrees often require agencies or municipalities to take expensive steps toward reform. Local leaders and agency heads then can point to the binding court authority when requesting budget increases to ensure reforms. Without consent decrees, many localities or government departments would simply never make such comprehensive changes, said William Yeomans, who spent 26 years at the DOJ, mostly in the civil rights division.

“They are key to civil rights enforcement,” he said. “That’s why Sessions and his ilk don’t like them.”

Some, however, believe the Obama administration relied on consent decrees too often and sometimes took advantage of vulnerable cities unable to effectively defend themselves against a well-resourced DOJ.

“I think a recalibration would be welcome,” said Richard Epstein, a professor at New York University School of Law and a fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford, adding that consent decrees should be used in cases where clear, systemic issues of discrimination exist.

Though it’s too early to see how widespread the effect of the changes will be, the Justice Department appears to be adhering to the directive already.

On May 30, the DOJ announced Bernards Township in New Jersey had agreed to pay $3.25 million to settle an accusation it denied zoning approval for a local Islamic group to build a mosque. Staff attorneys at the U.S. attorney’s office in New Jersey initially sought to resolve the case with a consent decree, according to a spokesperson for Bernards Township. But because of the DOJ’s new stance, the terms were changed after the township protested, according to a person familiar with the matter. A spokesperson for the New Jersey U.S. attorney’s office declined comment.

Sessions has long been a public critic of consent decrees. As a senator, he wrote they “constitute an end run around the democratic process.” He lambasted local agencies that seek them out as a way to inflate their budgets, a “particularly offensive” use of consent decrees that took decision-making power from legislatures.

On March 31, Sessions ordered a sweeping review of all consent decrees with troubled police departments nationwide to ensure they were in line with the Trump administration’s law-and-order goals. Days before, the DOJ had asked a judge to postpone a hearing on a consent decree with the Baltimore Police Department that had been arranged during the last days of the Obama administration. The judge denied that request, and the consent decree has moved forward.

The DOJ has already come under fire from critics for altering its approach to voting rights cases. After nearly six years of litigation over Texas’ voter ID law — which Obama DOJ attorneys said was written to intentionally discriminate against minority voters and had such a discriminatory effect — the Trump DOJ abruptly withdrew its intent claims in late February.

Texas Voter ID Law Led to Fears and Failures in 2016 Election

Efforts to implement the nation’s strictest voter ID requirements — a solution in search of a problem, according to one critic — foundered amid court defeats, confusion and at least one giant oversight. Read the story.

Attorneys who worked on the case for years were barely consulted about the change — many weren’t consulted at all, according to two former DOJ officials with knowledge of the matter. Gore wrote the filing changing the DOJ’s position largely by himself and asked the attorneys who’d been involved in the case for years to sign it to show continuity. Not all of the attorneys fell in line. Avner Shapiro — who has been a prosecutor in the civil rights division for more than 20 years — left his name off the filings written by Gore. Shapiro was particularly involved in developing the DOJ’s argument that Texas had intentionally discriminated against minorities in crafting its voter ID legislation.

“That’s the ultimate act of rebellion,” Yeomans, the former civil rights division prosecutor, said. A rare act, removing one’s name from a legal filing is one of the few ways career attorneys can express public disagreement with an administration.

Gore has no history of bringing civil rights cases. A former partner at the law firm Jones Day, he has instead defended states against claims of racial gerrymandering and represented North Carolina when the state was sued over its controversial “bathroom bill,” which requires transgender people to use the facility that matched their birth gender.

All of the internal changes at the DOJ have left attorneys and staff with “a great deal of fear and uncertainty,” said Yeomans. While he says the lawyers there would like to stay at the department, they fear Sessions’ priorities will have devastating impact on their work.

The DOJ’s civil rights office is not alone in fearing rollbacks in enforcement. Across federal departments, the Trump administration has made moves to diminish the power of civil rights divisions.

The Department of Education has laid out plans to loosen requirements on investigations into civil rights complaints, according to an internal memo sent to staff on June 8 and obtained by ProPublica.

Under the Obama administration, the department’s office for civil rights applied an expansive approach to investigations. Individual complaints related to complex issues such as school discipline, sexual violence and harassment, equal access to educational resources, or racism at a single school might have prompted broader probes to determine whether the allegations were part of a pattern of discrimination or harassment.

The new memo, sent by Candice Jackson, the acting assistant secretary for civil rights, to regional directors at the department’s civil rights office, trims this approach. Jackson was appointed deputy assistant secretary for the office in April and will remain as the acting head of the office until the Senate confirms a full-time assistant secretary. Trump has not publicly nominated anyone for the role yet.

The office will apply the broader approach “only” if the original allegations raise systemic concerns or the investigative team argues for it, Jackson wrote in the memo.

DeVos Pick to Head Civil Rights Office Once Said She Faced Discrimination for Being White

Candice Jackson’s intellectual journey raises questions about how actively she will investigate allegations of unfair treatment of minorities and women. Read the story.

As part of the new approach, the Education Department will no longer require civil rights investigators to obtain three years of complaint data from a specific school or district to assess compliance with civil rights law.

Critics contend the Obama administration’s probes were onerous. The office “did such a thorough review of everything that the investigations were demanding and very expensive” for schools, said Boston College American politics professor R. Shep Melnick, adding that the new approach could take some regulatory pressure off schools and districts.

But some civil rights leaders believe the change could undermine the office’s mission. This narrowing of the department’s investigations “is stunning to me and dangerous,” said Catherine Lhamon, who led the Education Department’s civil rights office from August 2013 until January 2017 and currently chairs the United States Commission on Civil Rights. “It’s important to take an expansive view of the potential for harm because if you look only at the most recent year, you won’t necessarily see the pattern,” said Lhamon.

The department’s new directive also gives more autonomy to regional offices, no longer requiring oversight or review of some cases by department headquarters, according to the memo.

The Education Department did not respond to ProPublica’s request for comment.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has also proposed cutting over 40 positions from the civil rights office. With reduced staff, the office will have to “make difficult choices, including cutting back on initiating proactive investigations,” according to the department’s proposed budget.

Elsewhere, Trump administration appointees have launched similar initiatives. In its 2018 fiscal plan, the Labor Department has proposed dissolving the office that handles discrimination complaints. Similarly, new leadership at the Environmental Protection Agency has proposed entirely eliminating the environmental justice program, which addresses concerns that almost exclusively impact minority communities. The Washington Post reports the plan transfers all environmental justice work to the Office of Policy, which provides policy and regulatory guidance across the agency.

Mustafa Ali, a former EPA senior adviser and assistant associate administrator for environmental justice who served more than 20 years, quit the agency in protest days before the plan was announced. In his resignation letter, widely circulated in the media, Ali suggested the new leadership was abandoning “those who need our help most.”

Ryan Gabrielson contributed to this report.

If you have any information about civil rights enforcement at the Department of Justice, contact jessica.huseman@propublica.org. If you have any information about civil rights enforcement at the Department of Education, contact annie.waldman@propublica.org. You can also reach us on Signal. Here are our Signal contacts and a guide for how to leak to ProPublica.

Read more at: ProPublica: Articles and Investigations http://bit.ly/1lISYtS

More Than 100 Federal Agencies Fail to Report Hate Crimes to the FBI’s National Database

from June 22, 2017 at 11:32AM http://bit.ly/2rPPG0r


Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

In violation of a longstanding legal mandate, scores of federal law enforcement agencies are failing to submit statistics to the FBI’s national hate crimes database, ProPublica has learned.

The lack of participation by federal law enforcement represents a significant and largely unknown flaw in the database, which is supposed to be the nation’s most comprehensive source of information on hate crimes. The database is maintained by the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division, which uses it to tabulate the number of alleged hate crimes occurring around the nation each year.

The FBI has identified at least 120 federal agencies that aren’t uploading information to the database, according to Amy Blasher, a unit chief at the CJIS division, an arm of the bureau that is overseeing the modernization of its information systems.

The federal government operates a vast array of law enforcement agencies — ranging from Customs and Border Protection to the Drug Enforcement Administration to the Amtrak Police — employing more than 120,000 law enforcement officers with arrest powers. The FBI would not say which agencies have declined to participate in the program, but the bureau’s annual tally of hate crimes statistics does not include any offenses handled by federal law enforcement. Indeed, the problem is so widespread that the FBI itself isn’t submitting the hate crimes it investigates to its own database.

“We truly don’t understand what’s happening with crime in the U.S. without the federal component,” Blasher said in an interview.

At present, the bulk of the information in the database is supplied by state and local police departments. In 2015, the database tracked more than 5,580 alleged hate crime incidents, including 257 targeting Muslims, an upward surge of 67 percent from the previous year. (The bureau hasn’t released 2016 or 2017 statistics yet.)

But it’s long been clear that hundreds of local police departments don’t send data to the FBI, and so given the added lack of participation by federal law enforcement, the true numbers for 2015 are likely to be significantly higher.

A federal law, the 1988 Uniform Federal Crime Reporting Act, requires all U.S. government law enforcement agencies to send a wide variety of crime data to the FBI. Two years later, after the passage of another law, the bureau began collecting data about “crimes that manifest evidence of prejudice based on race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity.” That was later expanded to include gender and gender identity.

The federal agencies that are not submitting data are violating the law, Blasher told us. She said she’s in contact with about 20 agencies and is hopeful that some will start participating, but added that there is no firm timeline for that to happen.

“Honestly, we don’t know how long it will take,”Blasher said of the effort to get federal agencies on board.

The issue goes extends far beyond hate crimes — federal agencies are failing to report a whole range of crime statistics, Blasher conceded. But hate crimes, and the lack of reliable data concerning them, have been of intense interest amid the country’s highly polarized and volatile political environment.

ProPublica contacted several federal agencies seeking an explanation. A spokesperson for the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command, which handles close to 50,000 offenses annually, said the service is adhering to Defense Department rules regarding crime data and is using a digital crime tracking system linked to the FBI’s database. But the Army declined to say whether its statistics are actually being sent to the FBI, referring that question up the chain of command to the Department of Defense.

The coalition of newsrooms behind “Documenting Hate” has recorded a wide variety of violence in all corners of the country. Read the story.

In 2014, an internal probe conducted by Defense Department investigators found that the “DoD is not reporting criminal incident data to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for inclusion in the annual Uniform Crime Reports.”

ProPublica contacted the Defense Department for clarification, and shared with a department spokesman a copy of the 2014 reports acknowledging the failure to send data to the FBI.

“We have no additional information at this time,” said Christopher Sherwood, the spokesman.

Federal agencies are hardly the only ones to skip out on reporting hate crimes. An Associated Press investigation last year found at least 2,700 city police and county sheriff’s departments that repeatedly failed to report hate crimes to the FBI.

In the case of the FBI itself, Blasher said the issue is largely technological: Agents have long collected huge amounts of information about alleged hate crimes, but don’t have a digital system to easily input that information to the database, which is administered by staff at an FBI complex in Clarksburg, West Virginia.

Since Blasher began pushing to modernize the FBI’s data systems, the bureau has made some progress. It began compiling some limited hate crimes statistics for 2014 and 2015, though that information didn’t go into the national hate crimes database.

In Washington, lawmakers were surprised to learn about the failure by federal agencies to abide by the law.

“It’s fascinating and very disturbing,” said Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., who said he wanted to speak about the matter with the FBI’s government affairs team. He wants to see federal agencies “reporting hate crimes as soon as possible.”

Beyer and other lawmakers have been working in recent years to improve the numbers of local police agencies participating in voluntary hate crime reporting efforts. Bills pending in Congress would give out grants to police forces to upgrade their computer systems; in exchange, the departments would begin uploading hate crime data to the FBI.

Beyer, who is sponsoring the House bill, titled the National Opposition to Hate, Assault, and Threats to Equality Act, said he would consider drafting new legislation to improve hate crimes reporting by federal agencies, or try to build such a provision into the appropriations bill.

“The federal government needs to lead by example. It’s not easy to ask local and state governments to submit their data if these 120 federal agencies aren’t even submitting hate crimes data to the database,” Beyer said.

In the Senate, Democrat Al Franken of Minnesota said the federal agencies need to do better. “I’ve long urged the FBI and the Department of Justice to improve the tracking and reporting of hate crimes by state and local law enforcement agencies,” Franken told ProPublica. “But in order to make sure we understand the full scope of the problem, the federal government must also do its part to ensure that we have accurate and trustworthy data.”

Virginia’s Barbara Comstock, a House Republican who authored a resolution in April urging the “Department of Justice (DOJ) and other federal agencies to work to improve the reporting of hate crimes,” did not respond to requests for comment.

Read more at: ProPublica: Articles and Investigations http://bit.ly/1lISYtS

Employers on Verge of Takeover of National Labor Relations Board

from June 15, 2017 at 05:02AM http://bit.ly/2rPuiZ8

By Nicole Hallett, The Conversation

 

Last October, employees of the Elderwood Nursing Home in Grand Island, New York, voted to unionize after years of dealing with short staffing, stagnant wages and problems with management. Six months later, the company has yet to come to the bargaining table, claiming that there are unresolved legal questions about whether licensed practical nurses can be part of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

 

Yale University has recently come under criticism for making a similar decision. Despite a February vote to unionize by graduate students in eight departments, Yale has so far resisted calls to begin the bargaining process. Instead, it has appealed the decision to certify the election and is refusing to bargain until the appeal is decided.

 

Elderwood and Yale could hardly be more different. Yale is a world-class Ivy League bastion of higher education. Elderwood is a medium-sized elder care company that operates nursing home facilities in New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. Yet both have made the strategic decision to not recognize the right of their employees to unionize. Why?

 

My research on the decline of the labor movement suggests a reason: Employers are counting on a changing of the guard at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

 

Republicans take control

 

The NLRB is the administrative agency that is tasked with enforcing the National Labor Relations Act, the federal statute that gives employees the right to unionize and collectively bargain. The NLRB consists of five members who are appointed to five-year terms by the president upon the advice and consent of the Senate.

 

Right now, there are two vacancies on the board that President Donald Trump will fill. Once the Senate confirms President Trump’s nominees, Republicans will control the board for the first time since 2007.

 

The background of the three candidates reportedly under consideration suggests that the board will in fact be much friendlier to business interests under the Trump administration. One of the potential nominees, Doug Seaton, has made a career of being a “union-buster,” the term used to describe a consultant brought in by employers to beat a unionization campaign. Another, William Emanuel, is a partner at Littler Mendelson, one of the largest and most successful anti-labor law firms in the country. Less is known about the third potential candidate, Marvin Kaplan, but his history as a Republican staffer suggests he may also represent employers’ interests.

 

Many observers assume that this new board will overturn many Obama-era precedents that favored unions. These precedents include questions such as how to define bargaining units, at issue at both Yale and Elderwood.

 

But the new board could go even further and roll back pro-union decisions dating back decades. This could be devastating to already weakened unions. With private sector union membership hovering at a dismal 6.4 percent – down from about 17 percent in 1983 – nothing short of the end of the labor movement could be at stake.

 

How politics intruded on the NLRB

 

The composition of the NLRB is important because most claims regarding the right to organize and collectively bargain are decided by the agency.

 

Unlike other employment statutes, such as Title VII and the Fair Labor Standards Act, individuals and unions cannot file claims in federal court and instead must participate in the administrative process set up by the National Labor Relations Act. While aggrieved parties can appeal board rulings to federal appeals courts, judges grant a high degree of deference to NLRB decisions.

 

In other words, three board members – a bare majority of the board – have an enormous ability to influence and shape American labor policy.

 

Given the amount of power these three individuals can wield, it is no wonder that the NLRB has become highly politicized in the decades since its creation in the 1930s. Ironically, the board was originally established as a way to try to insulate labor policy from political influences.

 

The drafters of the labor act believed that the federal courts were hostile to labor rights and would chip away at the protections in a way that would be bad for unions. Instead, the board has become a political battlefield for the two parties who hold very different views about labor policy.

 

This politicization came to a head during the Obama administration, when it became impossible to confirm anyone to serve on the NLRB. In response, Obama appointed several members using his recess appointment power, which allows the president to avoid Senate confirmation of nominees when Congress is in recess.

 

Employers challenged the move, and the Supreme Court eventually invalidated the recess appointments as executive overreach in NLRB v. Noel Canning. After the decision, Obama and the Senate finally agreed on five members that were confirmed. This new board, with a Democratic majority, then decided many of the precedents that employers hope the new members will overturn.

 

Flaws in the National Labor Relations Act

 

So what will happen if Elderwood and Yale bet wrong and lose their appeals in front of the new Republican-controlled board?

 

In all likelihood, not much. The board process is long and cumbersome. It often takes years from the filing of a charge for failure to bargain to the board’s decision. In the meantime, employers hope that unions will have turnover in their membership, become disorganized and lose support.

 

Moreover, the penalties available under the National Labor Relations Act are weak (pdf). If an employer is found to have violated the act, the board can issue a “cease-and-desist” letter and require the employer to post a notice promising not to engage in further violations. These penalties hardly encourage employers to comply with their obligations, especially when they have so much to gain from obstructing attempts to unionize and collectively bargain.

 

If the labor movement is to survive, the National Labor Relations Act needs to be reformed to fix these problems. Instead, a few years of a Republican-controlled NLRB could be organized labor’s death knell.

 

To Learn More:

Future of Unions in Balance as Trump Prepares to Reshape National Labor Board (by Nicole Hallett, The Conversation)

Unions Not Fit to be Covered by TV News (by David Wallechinsky and Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Hospital Chain Uses Obama Court Loss to Justify Ignoring Labor Board (by Ken Broder, AllGov)

Unions Decline Most Everywhere in U.S. Except California (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

Read more at: News – AllGov http://bit.ly/SBRNmn

Israel plans most settlement homes since 1992: minister

from June 11, 2017 at 09:42AM http://bit.ly/2t0LsX3

Israel has so far this year advanced its highest number of settlement projects since 1992, the defence minister said, despite warnings such plans make a two-state solution impossible.

Minister of Defense Avigdor Lieberman made the comments on Sunday as Israel’s government faced mounting pressure from leaders of the settlement movement, who wield heavy influence in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition.

Netanyahu has found himself seeking to balance the competing demands of the settlers and US President Donald Trump, who has asked him to hold back on such projects for now as he seeks a way to restart negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.

Lieberman told journalists and ministers at the start of a cabinet meeting that, so far this year, plans had been advanced for 8,345 homes in the occupied West Bank, including 3,066 slated for “immediate construction”.


READ MORE: 50 years on: How Israel devoured the rest of Palestine


Settlement projects pass through a list of planning stages before final approval.

“The numbers for the first half of 2017 are the highest since 1992,” Lieberman said.

The figures were similar to those published by settlement watchdog Peace Now last week.

Counting plans and tenders, Peace Now said 7,721 units had been advanced this year, almost triple the number for all of 2016, which amounted to 2,699.

Peace Now could not immediately say whether it agreed that this year’s figures were the highest since 1992, AFP news agency reported.

Last week alone, Israel advanced plans for more than 3,000 settlement homes.

While the majority of those are for pre-existing homes, some will be built in the first new official settlement in some 25 years, Peace Now said.

Palestine and Israel: One state, or two?

Last month, Trump visited Israel and Palestine, meeting both Netanyahu and PA President Mahmoud Abbas as he seeks what he calls the “ultimate deal”.

But he has given no details about how he plans to restart talks, and there is deep scepticism over whether such an effort would have any chance of success.

Settlements are seen as illegal under international law and major stumbling blocks to a solution as they are built on land the Palestinians see as part of their future state in a two-state settlement.

More than 600,000 Israeli settlers now live in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, alongside around 2.9 million Palestinians, which critics say makes a two-state agreement highly unlikely.

Source: News agencies

Read more at: Al Jazeera English http://bit.ly/1FQbY1B