Author Archives: Vicki S. Nikolaidis
Photo by Frankie Leon
Seventy five percent of young voters voted to stay in the EU, but their grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles voted to leave the EU. The photos of young Brits after the results were announced tell the story of how devastated they are by the exit vote. Observing the reactions of the British population to leaving the EU; the retired and elderly Brits seem ecstatic over the outcome but the young people, in many cases are in shock. Even teens aged 16 and 17, who were not old enough to vote, are voicing their anger and despair on Tumbler’s the75percent site. Comments from older teens reflect the despair of their younger peers. Teens see a dark future if they remain disconnected from the EU. (author Vicki Nikolaidis)
and the final decision is Brexit EU final Decision
The Israeli navy has stormed at least one of a convoy of ships carrying humanitarian aid to the Gaza strip, amid reports of casualties on board.
Organisers of the aid flotilla say 30 people were hurt in the confrontation. Israel has made no comment.
The interception reportedly took place in international waters, more than 150km (90 miles) off the coast of Gaza.
The ships are carrying 10,000 tonnes of aid to the Gaza Strip in an effort to break an Israeli blockade.
Turkish TV pictures taken on board the ship show Israeli soldiers fighting to control passengers.
Some reports suggest two people were killed in the clashes.
The footage showed a number of people, apparently injured, lying on the ground. The sound of gunshots could be heard. It is not clear whether the fighting is ongoing.
The six-ship flotilla left international waters off the coast of Cyprus on Sunday and was expected to arrive in Gaza later on Monday.
Israel has said it would stop the boats, calling the campaign a “provocation intended to delegitimise Israel”.
An economic blockade was imposed by Israel after the Islamist movement Hamas took power in Gaza.
Israel says it allows about 15,000 tones of humanitarian aid into Gaza every week.
But the United Nations says this is less than a quarter of what is needed.
Hamas, a militant palestinian group that controls the Gaza strip, has fired thousands of rockets into Israel over the past decade.
K. Venkateswara Rao standing beside the new menhir he discovered in India’s Guntur district
K. Venkateshwara Rao found the menhir on the left bank of Nagaleuru, a tributary of the Krishna at Karampudi, The Hindu reported.
The Menhir, which dates back to the time between 1,000 and 300 BCE, stands alone facing the north-east and bears rock engravings at 8 to 9 feet off the ground.
Menhirs are remnants of the prehistoric megalithic civilization, when people used signs to communicate. Archaeological evidence also shows that they were used as places of worship.
Mr. Rao, who spotted the Menhir after years of research, calls it a “rare and unusual discovery and probably the first-of-its kind in the country.”
It is the first time that a menhir with petroglyphs has been found.
The engravings include three rows of different patterns. The upper row features four concentric circles with four small lines and a small pointed base.
Below the circular patterns, there are shapes of a crawling animal with an elongated head, a humped bull with V-shaped antlers and a peacock.
The lowest row depicts two men carrying a pole on their shoulders and moving towards east.
“The rare discovery is of great historical importance and could lead to further study on pre-historic civilizations in the country,” Mr. Rao said.
Commentary from http://www.ekathimerini.com May 6, 2010
Can a society self-destruct? Yes, it most definitely can and the way Greece is headed right now it is a very real possibility that it will.
Here we have a state and a society that allow a handful of nihilistic hooligans to torch the city and cause the deaths of three citizens.
We have the leadership of the country’s second biggest political party opting for a populist line of rhetoric and failing to answer a simple question on whether or not it will support the government’s economic recovery plan.
We see a society that is mad, and justifiably so, and we see it going down an ill-advised path.
Then we see the government, caught in the grips of panic, contributing to the populist fever and pouring more oil over the fire.
Greece is at the most crucial point of its post-1974 history and whether we destroy ourselves or not, whether we go bankrupt or not, depends not just on our political leadership, but also on every single one of us individually and collectively.
Thoughts from Vicki
I wanted to share the above commentary from the English language portion of the Greek newspaper, ekathimerini.com (Kathimerini), because of the drama with which it is written as well as some of the cultural points it brings up which we can explore together.
15 hooligans who label themselves anarchists in order to give themselves feelings of justification for their acts of vandalism . . . and now murder. . . were filmed by security cameras attacking a bank.
In the USA, citizens have shown up at talks given by President Obama with guns casually slung over their shoulders. In the streets of Athens during times of protest the unions of public worker unions find themselves next to a few young men and women with kerchief-covered faces and backpacks stuffed with Molotov cocktail ingredients.
A CNN International reporter interviewed different segments of the protestors on the street but avoided the self-proclaimed anarchists. I’m sure they seem quite threatening particularly to Americans. Unfortunately, when questioned, the “anarchists” are not able to speak logically about their “movement” or what they are trying to accomplish by their actions. There seems to be an attitude that protest is the means and the end.
The police are in the same position as others in dealing with the austerity measures yet they are they receive the primary attacks from the anarchists.
ATMs (Automatic Teller Machines) at banks are the second favorite target. I have a personal experience in wanting to pay the mother of one of the vandals of bank ATMs. She was quite anxious to have some money from me, and I would have helped her out . . . but the ATMs at the banks had been destroyed. It was the weekend and I was unable to give her the cash she wanted. Whether it registered to her 20-something son that he was hurting his own family by he and his friends’ actions was not clear. Another of their contradictory acts is to protest that they want jobs yet these hooligans don their kerchiefs and backpacks to protest against private universities that could give them and college graduates of their generation very good jobs at home in Greece.
And the group that was caught by the cameras tossing firebombs into the bank have used this same method before targeting banks.
20,000 to 40,000 citizens on the streets during a demonstration is few for Athens where strikes by labor unions of both working class and professional groups are quite common. A handful of the ragtag vandals following behind the legitimate protestors have been given credit by much of the foreign news media for causing a panic on Wall Street; exactly the wrong kind of social reinforcement needed by this immature group.
PASOK is the name of the party which won the recent elections and inherited all many shocking surprises of a country badly in debt. They won against the second large political party in Greece, the New Democracy Party, and the party which Barnaby Phillips, the AJE Athens correspondent, rightly reported has almost thoroughly discredited itself with the populace.
Although the majority of the citizens understand that the austerity measures are the only choice and support Prime Minister Papandreou and the PASOK party; New Democracy is playing along with the foreign media and voting against the austerity plan. Or is it possibly the speculators who gave loans and have been betting for a Greek default who are being supported?
The commentary from ekathimerini was written after three innocent people died in a bankwhenr a fire bomb came crashing through the office window. They died of asphyxiation.
I don’t agree that the government has been in a panic. The Prime Minister and the Ministers of Economy and Finance have been articulate and soft spoken each time they’ve been questioned on the decisions they have been making.
Will the Greek society self-destruct? An unlikely scenario given the history of Greek survival against all odds.
Will the Greek government go bankrupt? The European Union is young and a mechanism has not been established for members of the European Union to go bankrupt (The Brief, CNNI).
The modern democracy of Greece is young and far more inclusive than the ancient Greek democracy. (Perhaps you recall the USA government/Kissinger-backed dictators who ruled Greece in the early 1970’s?)
I do agree with the last sentence of the commentary which is the reality we face in Greece. “Greece is at the most crucial point of its post-1974 history and whether we destroy ourselves or not, . . . depends not just on our political leadership, but also on every single one of us individually and collectively.”
April 20, 2010 — Here is a short film that encapsulates the urgency of climate change in a different and compelling way.
Written, Edited and Produced by: Michelle Pokorny, Alicia Benz, and Andrew Jaz
Music by: Andrew Jaz and Brittany Benz
By Jeremy Scahill April 19, 2010
From the first days of the launch of the so-called “war on terror,” Blackwater has been at the epicenter of some of the most secretive operations conducted by US forces globally. It has worked on government assassination programs and drone bombings, operated covertly in Pakistan for both the CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command, assisted secret raids inside of Syria, trained foreign militaries and continues to bodyguard senior US officials in Afghanistan. The company also has a bloody track record of killing civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many seasoned observers believe that the extent of the dark acts committed by Blackwater have yet to come to light.While Congressional committees, the IRS, the FBI and lawyers representing foreign victims of the company have fought for years to hold Blackwater and its forces accountable for their alleged crimes, the company has proved to be Teflon. Not a single case against the company has resulted in any significant action. Following last December’s dismissal of the high-profile criminal case against the Blackwater operatives allegedly responsible for the 2007 Nisour Square shootings that left seventeen Iraqis dead and more than twenty others wounded, federal prosecutors have now launched another salvo.
Last week, the Justice Department announced that a federal grand jury had returned a fifteen-count indictment against five current and former Blackwater officials, charging them with conspiracy to violate a series of federal gun laws, obstruction of justice and making false statements to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Among those indicted were Blackwater owner Erik Prince’s longtime right-hand man, former company president Gary Jackson, Blackwater’s former legal counsel Andrew Howell and two former company vice presidents. Given Blackwater’s track record and the severity of other allegations against the company–including killing unarmed civilians–if the charges in this case stick, it would be somewhat akin to Al Capone going down for tax evasion. The one major difference being, the number-one man at Blackwater, Erik Prince, is evading prosecution and jail. Prince, who remains the Blackwater empire’s sole owner, was not indicted.
The weapons charges stem from Blackwater’s purchase of 227 “short barrels” for use with the company’s government-issued M4 rifles in Iraq and Afghanistan, a violation of State Department weapons guidelines for contractors. Former Blackwater employees have alleged in sworn affidavits that Prince had used his personal planes to smuggle banned weapons into Iraq, sometimes wrapping them in large shipments of dog food for the company’s K-9 teams in Iraq. Prince, however, is not named in the indictment.
The indictment also charges that the Blackwater officials “arranged straw purchases” of Romanian AK-47s and fully automatic M-4 rifles for use inside the United States. According to the indictment, the local sheriff’s department in Blackwater’s home base of Moyock, North Carolina, provided Blackwater with blank stationery that “was used to prepare letters claiming the sheriff’s office wanted” the weapons. “The weapons were paid for by Blackwater, were immediately delivered to Blackwater upon their arrival, and were locked in Blackwater’s armory to which the sheriff’s office had no direct access,” according to federal prosecutors.
In March 2009, the ATF informed Blackwater that it would be coming to the company’s compound for an inspection of the armory of Blackwater subsidiary XPG. Former Blackwater officials told The Nation that XPG was created in part as a successor to Blackwater SELECT and Blackwater PTC, the divisions of the company that did sensitive covert work for the CIA and JSOC.
When Blackwater was informed of the impending ATF investigation, according to the Justice Department:
Allegedly, [Blackwater lawyer Andrew] Howell did not want any more SBRs [Short Barrel Rifles] to be found and told a subordinate that disclosing the SBRs was “not an option.” He and [Blackwater vice president Ana] Bundy subsequently ordered the short-barreled guns in XPG’s armory to be moved to Blackwater’s armory where the barrels could be switched out. Only the long-barreled guns were returned to XPG. Howell then prepared a letter for the company president’s signature and attached it to an e-mail. The letter was intended to be back-dated and would have given a false impression that the President had ordered the alteration of the guns–which had already been accomplished by direction of Howell and Bundy.
The Justice Department also alleges that Blackwater officials, in an attempt to win a lucrative contract with the Kingdom of Jordan, presented several guns as gifts to Jordanian officials who came to tour Blackwater’s private military base in North Carolina. According to the indictment, “the officials were presented with one M4, three Glocks, and a Remington shotgun. Each was inscribed with the Blackwater logo and presented in a case. Subsequently, the company realized it could not account for the guns in its required records.” Blackwater president Gary Jackson, prosecutors allege, “then organized the false completion” of federal documents that “were designed to give the appearance that employees had bought the guns for their own use.”
Until recently, Blackwater had a partnership with Sig Sauer to manufacture a Blackwater-brand 9 millimeter pistol. For years the company has done a multimillion-dollar business with Jordan, training the company’s special-forces helicopter pilots and advising the kingdom on intelligence matters. Blackwater also has a headquarters in Jordan. Last year the New York Times reported that Gary Jackson was involved in a scheme to bribe Iraqi officials to stay quiet on the company’s alleged massacre of seventeen Iraqi civilians in Baghdad’s Nisour Square in September 2007 and to allow Blackwater to continue operating in the country despite the public outrage in Iraq. That alleged plot, according to the Times, involved the transfer of $1 million into Jordan for ultimate use in Iraq.
Each of the charges against the Blackwater officials potentially carries a penalty of three to twenty years in prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines. Lawyers for the accused have said their clients are not guilty of the charges and will fight them. There are two other pending criminal cases against Blackwater. Prosecutors have apealed the dismissal of the Nisour Square case, and two Blackwater operatives have been indicted on charges they killed innocent Afghan civilians. In a recent interview, Prince estimated his monthly legal bills to be between $2-3 million.
Meanwhile, as Blackwater officials face another round of attempted criminal prosecutions, the company continues to fight off the remaining civil lawsuits stemming from the Nisour Square shooting. Last year Blackwater settled with most of the victims, reportedly for a total of $5 million. The only remaining suit against the company over Nisour Square was brought by a small group of Iraqis, most prominent among them Mohammed Kinani, the father of the youngest known victim of the shooting. His 9-year-old son, Ali, was shot in the head that day and died shortly after from his injuries. Kinani originally sued Blackwater in state court in North Carolina, but last week a federal judge sided with Blackwater and took control over the case. That judge, Terrence Boyle, was a former legislative aide to the late Republican Senator Jesse Helms, who urged President Ronald Reagan to appoint Boyle, which Reagan did. For more than a decade, Democrats blocked Boyle’s nomination to the appelate court, characterizing him as an ultraconservative who opposed civil rights and was often over-ruled on appeal. It is hard to imagine a better judge for Blackwater to draw in this case.
As it has done in other cases, Blackwater has asked the Obama Justice Department to intervene in Kinani’s case and to make the US government–not Blackwater and the individual shooters in the case–the defendant. Legal experts have told The Nation that if the Justice Department did that, the case would be dead in the water. The Justice Department has not responded to Blackwater’s request. Blackwater, however, is not wasting any time seeking out alternatives.
On April 7, lawyers for the six alleged shooters and Blackwater asked Judge Boyle to replace Blackwater and the shooters with the “United States” in the case, citing the Westfall Act, which was passed in 1988 “to protect federal employees from personal liability for common law torts committed within the scope of their employment, while providing persons injured by the common law torts of federal employees with an appropriate remedy against the United States.” If Boyle were to do this, the case would likely be immediately dismissed.
In its filing, Blackwater’s lawyers argued that the actions taken by the alleged Blackwater shooters at Nisour Square “indisputably fall within the scope” of their State Department employment. But Kinani’s lawyers and federal prosecutors have alleged that the men disobeyed orders from their superiors not to proceed to Nisour Square that day, leading to the shooting. One of the Blackwater guards, Jeremy Ridgeway, pled guilty to killing an unarmed Iraqi in the square. In his sworn proffer that accompanied his guilty plea, Ridgeway admitted that he and the other five accused shooters “opened fire with automatic weapons and grenade launchers on unarmed civilians…killing at least fourteen people” and wounding at least twenty others. “None of these victims was an insurgent, and many were shot while inside of civilian vehicles that were attempting to flee” the Blackwater forces, the proffer stated. Ridgeway also admitted that his team had “not been authorized” to leave the Green Zone and that after they departed, they “had been specifically ordered” by US Embassy officials to return. “In contravention of that order,” they proceeded to Nisour Square, according to Ridgeway.
The Justice Department could intervene in the Kinani case at any point and produce evidence showing that Blackwater does not equal the US government and therefore should not be allowed to shift the burden of responsibility for the shooting onto the US government. To date, that has not happened, and it is currently a decision for one man: Judge Terrence Boyle.
bout Jeremy Scahill
Jeremy Scahill, a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at The Nation Institute, is the author of the bestselling Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, published by Nation Books. He is an award-winning investigative journalist and correspondent for the national radio and TV program Democracy Now!
There has been almost universal silence among Congressional Democrats on the Obama administration’s recently revealed decision to authorize the assassination of a US citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki. Al-Awlaki, who now lives in Yemen, has been accused of providing inspiration for Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the alleged “underwear bomber,” and Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the alleged Fort Hood shooter. In recent weeks, there has been a dramatic surge in US government chatter about the alleged threat posed by al-Awlaki, with anonymous US officials accusing him of directly participating in terror “plots” (his family passionately disputes this).Several Democrats refused, through spokespeople, to comment on the assassination plan when contacted by The Nation, including Senator Russ Feingold and Representative Jan Schakowsky, both of whom serve on the Intelligence Committees. Representative Jane Harman, who serves on the Homeland Security Committee, said recently that Awlaki is “probably the person, the terrorist, who would be terrorist No. 1 in terms of threat against us.”
Kucinich told The Nation he has sent several letters to the Obama administration raising questions about the potential unconstitutionality of the policy, as well as possible violations of international law, but has received no response. “With all the smart people that are in that administration, they’ve got to know the risks that they’re taking here with violations of law,” he says.
Targeted killings are not a new Obama administration policy. Beginning three days after his swearing in, President Obama has authorized scores of lethal drone strikes, including against specific individuals, in Pakistan and Afghanistan, surpassing the Bush era numbers. The elite Joint Special Operations Command maintains a list of individuals, including US citizens, which it is authorized to assassinate. In January, Dana Priest reported in the Washington Post that the CIA had US citizens on an assassination list, but the Post later ran a correction stating that only JSOC had “a target list that includes several Americans.” The policy of the CIA targeting al-Awlaki, a US citizen, for assassination, therefore, appeared to be a new development, at least in terms of public awareness of approved government assassinations.
“In the real world, things don’t work out quite so neatly as they seem to in the heads of the CIA,” says Kucinich. “There’s always the possibility of blowback, which could endanger high-ranking US officials. There’s the inevitable licensing of rogue groups that comes about from policies that are not strictly controlled and that get sloppy–so you have zero accountability. And that’s not even to get into an over-arching issue of the morality of assassination policies, which are extra-constitutional, extra-judicial. It’s very dangerous from every possible perspective.”
He added: “The assassination policies vitiate the presumption of innocence and the government then becomes the investigator, policeman, prosecutor, judge, jury, executioner all in one. That raises the greatest questions with respect to our constitution and our democratic way of life.”
Kucinich says the case of al-Awlaki is an attempt to make “a short-cut around the Constitution,” saying, “Short-cuts often belie the deep and underlying questions around which nations rise and fall. We are really putting our nation in jeopardy by pursuing this kind of policy.”
Master Sgt. Mike Smith, National Guard Bureau
ARLINGTON, Va.– 04.19.2010 Some describe April 19 as “the day the world began to look at terrorism differently.”
Hundreds of Oklahoma National Guard members will remember today’s date by how they responded 15 years ago to a homeland disaster, unexpectedly, and on a scale never before seen.
At 9:02 a.m., April 19, 1995, the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was the target of a bombing called “the most significant act of domestic terrorism on American soil.”
A rental truck filled with explosives parked in front of the building exploded, destroying the north side of the building and killing 168, including 19 children. At least 850 more were injured.
Today, Oklahomans, federal officials, domestic responders, family members, Guardmembers and others will gather at the grounds of the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum to remember as they have each year since the tragedy.
“There were just a lot of people affected by the tragedy, affected even today,” said Army Maj. Gen. Myles L. Deering, the adjutant general of Oklahoma, in a recent telephone interview.
“If you go to one of the ceremonies, you still get a knot in your throat,” he said. “It is still heavy on their minds to what happened that day. You take the people who were tragically killed … and look at the chain or the string that each of those people has with other people’s lives, it’s just amazing how many people, either directly or indirectly, knew somebody who suffered a fate during that day.”
On that morning, and almost immediately, the Oklahoma Guard responded to requests for military assistance. From then on, it was involved in every phase of the operation, Guard officials said.
At least 731 Oklahoma Guard members, including 624 Citizen-Soldiers and 107 Citizen-Airmen, assisted civilian and government response agencies in the hours and days following the bombing.
“In a sense, that was the Guard’s first exposure to a terrorist event,” said Deering. “It woke us in terms of our response [which] has to be in coordination and in concert with those civilian authorities who are in charge of the event that we are in support of, and how we can augment, how we can bring resources to the table to assist them in their jobs.”
At the time, Deering was working as the executive officer for the Oklahoma Guard’s 45th Infantry Brigade and as its full-time officer-in-charge.
“I was in a meeting in my office with another Soldier … the plate glass window right behind me nearly came out of its seams,” he said.
He was 12 miles away.
Army Brig. Gen. Robbie L. Asher, Oklahoma’s director of the Joint Staff, said he took the initial call for Guard assistance when a firefighter called their Command Group at the Oklahoma Guard headquarters, pleading for help.
“He was very excited, saying, ‘Sir, we need help, we need help down here,'” said Asher.
Newly elected Gov. Frank Keating quickly activated the Guard to support the incident commander: Oklahoma City Fire Chief, Gary Marrs.
At the scene, some 100 Guardmembers immediately helped the search for survivors. They set up an emergency operations center and reported to the state’s civil emergency management agency.
Army aviators and medical personnel stood ready with lifesaving care and medevac. Others assisted police with site security and cleared debris from the scene.
Asher said he has a better appreciation today for how the Guard supported emergency responders from the multiple agencies across the state and the nation who worked the mission.
In the recovery operations, Guardmembers helped maintain the security perimeter, brought in equipment and airlifted supplies and donations.
Still other Guardmembers helped the state medical examiner transport and identify the dead. Casualty notification officers contacted next-of-kin, and Guard chaplains assisted families.
In the criminal investigation, Airmen flew reconnaissance missions to photograph the disaster site, and Soldiers even transported the arrested bombing suspect on a military helicopter.
East of the city, Soldiers crawled on their hands and knees to help the FBI comb through more than 120 dump-truck loads of debris for evidence and additional human remains.
“That was one of the more challenging jobs that I think any of our Soldiers had to do,” said Asher.
Those not on duty volunteered long days with the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army. They did anything asked of them, officials said at the time.
Asher said it’s important to remind the nation about what happened. The Oklahoma Guard uses what it learned about multi-agency response in its current operations, including last winter’s joint ice storm response, he said.
“The state of Oklahoma came together with the nation’s support and grew from this,” said Asher. “It showed the world that we are resilient, and when you deal with Americans, we are going to come together.”
For Asher and other Oklahoma Guardsmen, their capital city serves as their vigilant reminder.
“When you drive down through Oklahoma City, and you see the memorial, it’s one of those things that always cause reflection,” said Asher.