Why We Won’t Leave Afghanistan or Iraq

May 6, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Yes, We Could… Get Out!

By Tom Engelhardt

2010-05-05T120909Z_1306706484_GM1E6551JSJ01_RTRMADP_3_AFGHANISTAN

An Afghan man smiles after he received food aid in Kabul May 5, 2010. The Afghan Ministry of Defense distributed food aid such as wheat, cooking oil, sugar and beans to 220 poor families.        

REUTERS/Ahmad Masood

Yes, we could. No kidding. We really could withdraw our massive armies, now close to 200,000 troops combined, from Afghanistan and Iraq (and that’s not even counting our similarly large stealth army of private contractors, which helps keep the true size of our double occupations in the shadows). We could undoubtedly withdraw them all reasonably quickly and reasonably painlessly.

Not that you would know it from listening to the debates in Washington or catching the mainstream news. There, withdrawal, when discussed at all, seems like an undertaking beyond the waking imagination. In Iraq alone, all those bases to dismantle and millions of pieces of equipment to send home in a draw-down operation worthy of years of intensive effort, the sort of thing that makes the desperate British evacuation from Dunkirk in World War II look like a Sunday stroll in the park. And that’s only the technical side of the matter.

Then there’s the conviction that anything but a withdrawal that would make molasses in January look like the hare of Aesopian fable — at least two years in Iraq, five to ten in Afghanistan — would endanger the planet itself, or at least its most important country: us.

Without our eternally steadying hand, the Iraqis and Afghans, it’s taken for granted, would be lost. Without the help of U.S. forces, for example, would the Maliki government ever have been able to announce the death of the head of al-Qaeda in Iraq? Not likely, whereas the U.S. has knocked off its leadership twice, first in 2006, and again, evidently, last week.

Of course, before our troops entered Baghdad in 2003 and the American occupation of that country began, there was no al-Qaeda in Iraq. But that’s a distant past not worth bringing up. And forget as well the fact that our invasions and wars have proven thunderously destructive, bringing chaos, misery, and death in their wake, and turning, for instance, the health care system of Iraq, once considered an advanced country in the Arab world, into a disaster zone(that — it goes without saying — only we Americans are now equipped to properly fix). Similarly, while regularly knocking off Afghan civilians at checkpoints on their roads and in their homes, at their celebrations and at work, we ignore the fact that our invasion and occupation opened the way for the transformation of Afghanistan into the first all-drug-crop agricultural nation and so the planet’s premier narco-nation. It’s not just that the country now has an almost total monopoly on growing opium poppies (hence heroin), but according to the latest U.N. report, it’s now cornering the hashish market as well. That’s diversification for you.

It’s a record to stand on and, evidently, to stay on, even to expand on. We’re like the famed guest who came to dinner, broke a leg, wouldn’t leave, and promptly took over the lives of the entire household. Only in our case, we arrived, broke someone else’s leg, and then insisted we had to stay and break many more legs, lest the world become a far more terrible place.

It’s known and accepted in Washington that, if we were to leave Afghanistan precipitously, the Taliban would take over, al-Qaeda would be back big time in no time, and then more of our giant buildings would obviously bite the dust. And yet, the longer we’ve stayed and the more we’ve surged, the more resurgent the Taliban has become, the more territory this minority insurgency has spread into. If we stay long enough, we may, in fact, create the majority insurgency we claim to fear.

It’s common wisdom in the U.S. that, before we pull our military out, Afghanistan, like Iraq, must be secured as a stable enough ally, as well as at least a fragile junior democracy, which consigns real departure to some distant horizon. And that sense of time may help explain the desire of U.S. officials to hinder Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s attempts to negotiate with the Taliban and other rebel factions now. Washington, it seems, favors a “reconciliation process” that will last years and only begin after the U.S. military seizes the high ground on the battlefield.

The reality that dare not speak its name in Washington is this: no matter what might happen in an Afghanistan that lacked us — whether (as in the 1990s) the various factions there leaped for each other’s throats, or the Taliban established significant control, though (as in the 1990s) not over the whole country — the stakes for Americans would be minor in nature. Not that anyone of significance here would say such a thing.

Tell me, what kind of a stake could Americans really have in one of the most impoverished lands on the planet, about as distant from us as could be imagined, geographically, culturally, and religiously? Yet, as if to defy commonsense, we’ve been fighting there — by proxy and directly — on and off for 30 years now with no end in sight.

Most Americans evidently remain convinced that “safe haven” there was the key to al-Qaeda’s success, and that Afghanistan was the only place in which that organization could conceivably have planned 9/11, even though perfectly real planning also took place in Hamburg, Germany, which we neither bombed nor invaded.

In a future in which our surging armies actually succeeded in controlling Afghanistan and denying it to al-Qaeda, what about Somalia, Yemen, or, for that matter, England? It’s now conveniently forgotten that the first, nearly successful attempt to take down one of the World Trade Center towers in 1993 was planned in the wilds of New Jersey. Had the Bush administration been paying the slightest attention on September 10, 2001, or had reasonable precautions been taken, including locking the doors of airplane cockpits, 9/11 and so the invasion of Afghanistan would have been relegated to the far-fetched plot of some Tom Clancy novel.

Vietnam and Afghanistan

Have you noticed, by the way, that there’s always some obstacle in the path of withdrawal? Right now, in Iraq, it’s the aftermath of the March 7th election, hailed as proof that we brought democracy to the Middle East and so, whatever our missteps, did the right thing. As it happens, the election, as many predicted at the time, has led to a potentially explosive gridlock and has yet to come close to resulting in a new governing coalition. With violence on the rise, we’re told, the planned drawdown of American troops to the 50,000 level by August is imperiled. Already, the process, despite repeated assurances, seems to be proceeding slowly.

And yet, the thought that an American withdrawal should be held hostage to events among Iraqis all these years later, seems curious. There’s always some reason to hesitate — and it never has to do with us. Withdrawal would undoubtedly be far less of a brain-twister if Washington simply committed itself wholeheartedly to getting out, and if it stopped convincing itself that the presence of the U.S. military in distant lands was essential to a better world (and, of course, to a controlling position on planet Earth).

The annals of history are well stocked with countries which invaded and occupied other lands and then left, often ingloriously and under intense pressure. But they did it.

It’s worth remembering that, in 1975, when the South Vietnamese Army collapsed and we essentially fled the country, we abandoned staggering amounts of equipment there. Helicopters were pushed over the sides of aircraft carriers to make space; barrels of money were burned at the U.S. Embassy in Saigon; military bases as large as anything we’ve built in Iraq or Afghanistan fell into North Vietnamese hands; and South Vietnamese allies were deserted in the panic of the moment. Nonetheless, when there was no choice, we got out. Not elegantly, not nicely, not thoughtfully, not helpfully, but out.

Keep in mind that, then too, disaster was predicted for the planet, should we withdraw precipitously — including rolling communist takeovers of country after country, the loss of “credibility” for the American superpower, and a murderous bloodbath in Vietnam itself. All were not only predicted by Washington’s Cassandras, but endlessly cited in the war years as reasons not to leave. And yet here was the shock that somehow never registered among all the so-called lessons of Vietnam: nothing of that sort happened afterwards.

Today, Vietnam is a reasonably prosperous land with friendly relations with its former enemy, the United States. After Vietnam, no other “dominos” fell and there was no bloodbath in that country. Of course, it could have been different — and elsewhere, sometimes, it has been. But even when local skies darken, the world doesn’t end.

And here’s the truth of the matter: the world won’t end, not in Iraq, not in Afghanistan, not in the United States, if we end our wars and withdraw. The sky won’t fall, even if the U.S. gets out reasonably quickly, even if subsequently blood is spilled and things don’t go well in either country.

We got our troops there remarkably quickly. We’re quite capable of removing them at a similar pace. We could, that is, leave. There are, undoubtedly, better and worse ways of doing this, ways that would further penalize the societies we’ve invaded, and ways that might be of some use to them, but either way we could go.

A Brief History of American Withdrawal

Of course, there’s a small problem here. All evidence indicates that Washington doesn’t want to withdraw — not really, not from either region. It has no interest in divesting itself of the global control-and-influence business, or of the military-power racket. That’s hardly surprising since we’re talking about a great imperial power and control (or at least imagined control) over the planet’s strategic oil lands.

And then there’s another factor to consider: habit. Over the decades, Washington has gotten used to staying. The U.S. has long been big on arriving, but not much for departure. After all, 65 years later, striking numbers of American forces are still garrisoning the two major defeated nations of World War II, Germany and Japan. We still have about three dozen military bases on the modest-sized Japanese island of Okinawa, and are at this very moment fighting tooth and nail, diplomatically speaking, not to be forced to abandon one of them. The Korean War was suspended in an armistice 57 years ago and, again, striking numbers of American troops still garrison South Korea.

Similarly, to skip a few decades, after the Serbian air campaign of the late 1990s, the U.S. built-up the enormous Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo with its seven-mile perimeter, and we’re still there. After Gulf War I, the U.S. either built or built up military bases and other facilities in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, and Bahrain in the Persian Gulf, as well as the British island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. And it’s never stopped building up its facilities throughout the Gulf region. In this sense, leaving Iraq, to the extent we do, is not quite as significant a matter as sometimes imagined, strategically speaking. It’s not as if the U.S. military were taking off for Dubuque.

A history of American withdrawal would prove a brief book indeed. Other than Vietnam, the U.S. military withdrew from the Philippines under the pressure of “people power” (and a local volcano) in the early 1990s, and from Saudi Arabia, in part under the pressure of Osama bin Laden. In both countries, however, it has retained or regained a foothold in recent years. President Ronald Reagan pulled American troops out of Lebanon after a devastating 1983 suicide truck bombing of a Marines barracks there, and the president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, functionally expelled the U.S. from Manta Air Base in 2008 when he refused to renew its lease. (“We’ll renew the base on one condition: that they let us put a base in Miami — an Ecuadorian base,” he said slyly.) And there were a few places like the island of Grenada, invaded in 1983, that simply mattered too little to Washington to stay.

Unfortunately, whatever the administration, the urge to stay has seemed a constant. It’s evidently written into Washington’s DNA and embedded deep in domestic politics where sure-to-come “cut and run” charges and blame for “losing” Iraq or Afghanistan would cow any administration. Not surprisingly, when you look behind the main news stories in both Iraq and Afghanistan, you can see signs of the urge to stay everywhere.

In Iraq, while President Obama has committed himself to the withdrawal of American troops by the end of 2011, plenty of wiggle room remains. Already, the New York Times reports, General Ray Odierno, commander of U.S. forces in that country, is lobbying Washington to establish “an Office of Military Cooperation within the American Embassy in Baghdad to sustain the relationship after… Dec. 31, 2011.” (“We have to stay committed to this past 2011,” Odierno is quoted as saying. “I believe the administration knows that. I believe that they have to do that in order to see this through to the end. It’s important to recognize that just because U.S. soldiers leave, Iraq is not finished.”)

If you want a true gauge of American withdrawal, keep your eye on the mega-bases the Pentagon has built in Iraq since 2003, especially gigantic Balad Air Base (since the Iraqis will not, by the end of 2011, have a real air force of their own), and perhaps Camp Victory, the vast, ill-named U.S. base and command center abutting Baghdad International Airport on the outskirts of the capital. Keep an eye as well on the 104-acre U.S. embassy built along the Tigris River in downtown Baghdad. At present, it’s the largest “embassy” on the planet and represents something new in “diplomacy,” being essentially a military-base-cum-command-and-control-center for the region. It is clearly going nowhere, withdrawal or not.

In fact, recent reports indicate that in the near future “embassy” personnel, including police trainers, military officials connected to that Office of Coordination, spies, U.S. advisors attached to various Iraqi ministries, and the like, may be more than doubled from the present staggering staff level of 1,400 to 3,000 or above. (The embassy, by the way, has requested $1,875 billion for its operations in fiscal year 2011, and that was assuming a staffing level of only 1,400.) Realistically, as long as such an embassy remains at Ground Zero Iraq, we will not have withdrawn from that country.

Similarly, we have a giant U.S. embassy in Kabul (being expanded) and another mega-embassy being built in the Pakistani capital Islamabad. These are not, rest assured, signs of departure. Nor is the fact that in Afghanistan and Pakistan, everything war-connected seems to be surging, even if in ways often not noticed here. President Obama’s surge decision has been described largely in terms of those 30,000-odd extra troops he’s sending in, not in terms of the shadow army of 30,000 or more extra private contractors taking on various military roles (and dying off the books in striking numbers); nor the extra contingent of CIA types and the escalating drone war they are overseeing in the Pakistani tribal borderlands; nor the quiet doubling of Special Operations units assigned to hunt down the Taliban leadership; nor the extra State department officials for the “civilian surge”; nor, for instance, the special $10 million “pool” of funds that up to 120 U.S. Special Operations forces, already in those borderlands training the paramilitary Pakistani Frontier Corps, may soon have available to spend “winning hearts and minds.”

Perhaps it’s historically accurate to say that great powers generally leave home, head elsewhere armed to the teeth, and then experience the urge to stay. With our trillion-dollar-plus wars and yearly trillion-dollar-plus national-security budget, there’s a lot at stake in staying, and undoubtedly in fighting two, three, many Afghanistans (and Iraqs) in the years to come.

Sooner or later, we will leave both Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s too late in the history of this planet to occupy them forever and a day. Better sooner.

Tom Engelhardt runs the Nation Institute’s Tomdispatch.com (“a regular antidote to the mainstream media”).

12-19

Chomsky Warns of Risk of Fascism in America

April 22, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Matthew Rothschild

Noam Chomsky, the leading leftwing intellectual, warned last week that fascism may be coming to the United States.

“I’m just old enough to have heard a number of Hitler’s speeches on the radio,” he said, “and I have a memory of the texture and the tone of the cheering mobs, and I have the dread sense of the dark clouds of fascism gathering” here at home.

Chomsky was speaking to more than 1,000 people at the Orpheum Theatre in Madison, Wisconsin, where he received the University of Wisconsin’s A.E. Havens Center’s award for lifetime contribution to critical scholarship.

“The level of anger and fear is like nothing I can compare in my lifetime,” he said.

He cited a statistic from a recent poll showing that half the unaffiliated voters say the average tea party member is closer to them than anyone else.

“Ridiculing the tea party shenanigans is a serious error,” Chomsky said.

Their attitudes “are understandable,” he said. “For over 30 years, real incomes have stagnated or declined. This is in large part the consequence of the decision in the 1970s to financialize the economy.”

There is class resentment, he noted. “The bankers, who are primarily responsible for the crisis, are now reveling in record bonuses while official unemployment is around 10 percent and unemployment in the manufacturing sector is at Depression-era levels,” he said.

And Obama is linked to the bankers, Chomsky explained.

“The financial industry preferred Obama to McCain,” he said. “They expected to be rewarded and they were. Then Obama began to criticize greedy bankers and proposed measures to regulate them. And the punishment for this was very swift: They were going to shift their money to the Republicans. So Obama said bankers are “fine guys” and assured the business world: ‘I, like most of the American people, don’t begrudge people success or wealth. That is part of the free-market system.’

People see that and are not happy about it.”

He said “the colossal toll of the institutional crimes of state capitalism” is what is fueling “the indignation and rage of those cast aside.”

“People want some answers,” Chomsky said. “They are hearing answers from only one place: Fox, talk radio, and Sarah Palin.”

Chomsky invoked Germany during the Weimar Republic, and drew a parallel between it and the United States. “The Weimar Republic was the peak of Western civilization and was regarded as a model of democracy,” he said.

And he stressed how quickly things deteriorated there.

“In 1928 the Nazis had less than 2 percent of the vote,” he said. “Two years later, millions supported them. The public got tired of the incessant wrangling, and the service to the powerful, and the failure of those in power to deal with their grievances.”

He said the German people were susceptible to appeals about “the greatness of the nation, and defending it against threats, and carrying out the will of eternal providence.”

When farmers, the petit bourgeoisie, and Christian organizations joined forces with the Nazis, “the center very quickly collapsed,” Chomsky said.

No analogy is perfect, he said, but the echoes of fascism are “reverberating” today, he said.

“These are lessons to keep in mind.”

Matthew Rothschild is the editor of The Progressive magazine.

12-17

US Anger at Election Claims Prompt Karzai Call

April 8, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Agencies

2010-04-07T124306Z_01_BTRE63417OR00_RTROPTP_3_INTERNATIONAL-US-AFGHANISTAN-KARZAI

Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks during a shura, or meeting, in Kandahar city April 4, 2010.

REUTERS/Golnar Motevalli

The United States has rejected President Hamid Karzai’s anti-foreigner outburst as “troubling” and “preposterous”, prompting a hurried effort by the Afghan leader to make amends, Agence France-Presse reported.

Officials said Karzai did not specifically apologise during a telephone conversation with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday, but expressed “surprise” at the furor over his claim that foreigners orchestrated election fraud.

The row came just a few days after President Barack Obama made an unannounced trip to Kabul to press Karzai on tackling corruption and to demand progress on good governance, as Washington’s troop surge strategy unfolds against the Taliban.

The new confrontation will only raise doubts about the fragile relationship between the Obama administration and Karzai, whom Washington is forced to consider a partner despite distaste for his political record.

Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs called Karzai’s comments “troubling” and “cause for real and genuine concern”. Gibbs noted the huge US military and political resources – and sacrifices – committed to Afghanistan.

State Department spokesman Philip Crowley, meanwhile, described Karzai’s intervention as “preposterous”. US Ambassador to Kabul Karl Eikenberry also met with Karzai in person to seek clarification on his comments on Thursday.

The Afghan leader then initiated the call to Clinton and expressed “surprise that his comments had created what he called a stir,” a US official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

“Generally we were happy with the call and we’re moving on,” the official added.

Crowley called the conversation a “constructive” one as Washington and Kabul seek to defuse tense relations.

“President Karzai reaffirmed his commitment to the partnership between our two countries, and expressed his appreciation for the contributions and sacrifices of the international community,” he said, adding that Karzai and Clinton “pledged to continue working together in a spirit of partnership”. But the Obama administration scrapped a planned Karzai visit to Washington last month after he gave himself full control over the electoral commission. In another snub to the United States, he then invited Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to visit Afghanistan.

The Afghan leader drew fierce global condemnation for his speech on Thursday.

“There was fraud in presidential and provincial council elections – no doubt that there was a very widespread fraud, very widespread,” Karzai told Afghan election commission workers in Kabul.

“But Afghans did not do this fraud. The foreigners did this fraud,” he added, accusing other countries of interfering in his country’s domestic affairs.

He also claimed that such moves risked the 126,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan being seen as “invaders” – terminology used by the Taliban – and the nine-year insurgency as “a national resistance”. Afghan analysts suggested Karzai had lost control after being criticised by Obama and angered by the Afghan parliament, and noted the statements could signal a shift in foreign policy.

Afghan soldiers killed

German troops based in north Afghanistan mistakenly killed at least five Afghan soldiers, NATO forces said on Saturday, hours after the Germans lost three of their own soldiers in a gunfight with insurgents, Reuters reported.

A statement from NATO said that on Friday evening a unit of German soldiers was approached by two unmarked civilian vehicles which failed to stop when troops signalled them “using a variety of methods” in the northern province of Kunduz.

“The force eventually fired on the vehicles killing at least five Afghan soldiers … Initial reports indicate that the two civilian cars were part of an Afghan national army patrol en route to Kunduz,” NATO-led forces said in a statement.

A NATO spokesman later said it was unclear if the vehicles were civilian and the alliance was investigating the matter.

Hours before the incident, three German soldiers were killed in a gunfight with insurgents. The unit of German troops that killed the Afghan soldiers were on their way to the scene of that gunfight, when they came across the Afghan soldiers, NATO said.

Earlier, the governor of Kunduz province, Mohammad Omar, said he had been to a hospital in the province and saw the bodies of six Afghan soldiers who had been killed in the incident, which happened near Char Dara district.

Opinion polls show most Germans oppose Berlin’s involvement in the Afghan war.

Opposition spiked after a German-ordered US air strike in a village in Kunduz in September killed scores of people, at least 30 of them civilians according to the Afghan government, the deadliest incident involving German troops since World War II.

Germany is the third-largest NATO contributor to the war with some 4,300 troops in Afghanistan, most in northern Kunduz where Taliban attacks and strength have increased over the past year. Germany’s parliament has agreed to send a further 850 soldiers.

12-15

America After the Quiet Coup

March 11, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Edward L. Palmer, Robert N. Rhodes and Alice J. Palmer

“There has been a quiet coup in the US in which a financial oligarchy has gained hegemony over the government structure.” That seizure of power has resulted in devastation for Black America, where “48% of the children of middle class Black Americans border on poverty.” Among the general public, “70% of last year’s college graduates in the US did not receive job offers.”

“A financial oligarchy has gained hegemony over the government structure.”

America is on a path toward a savage capitalism that is already decimating the middle class and working people and swelling the ranks of the poor. Adam Smith never intended this.

The U.S. government has spent more than one trillion dollars of taxpayer money to resuscitate the financial services economy and restore the status quo while unemployment has grown by millions since January 2009, and all without developing the real economy: production, sustainable development, infrastructure, and social networks.

Unlike Germany, for example, where, faced with a similar economic downturn, Chancellor Angela Merkel, a conservative, chose to increase public spending on production, infrastructure and human capital. Or, as in Sweden, which took measures to reverse unemployment and the contracting gross domestic product by isolating bad debts, stabilizing their currency, and allowing some banks to fail.

Or, for that matter, the win-win strategy the Chinese favor, which pursues their national economic interests without seeming to threaten the national interests of other countries.

Americans should ask themselves the fundamental questions that Bob Herbert is asking over and over in his New York Times columns: How do you put together a consumer economy that works when the consumers are out of work, and when poverty, particularly among Black Americans, is alarmingly high.

“At least 30% of America’s children are poor; tent cities are now housing displaced and desperate families.”

The statistics about Main Street are distressing. At least 30% of America’s children are poor; tent cities are now housing displaced and desperate families. According to a recent Harper’s magazine monthly index, 70% of last year’s college graduates in the US did not receive job offers. Some 16% of the daughters and sons of White Americans are not as financially stable as their parents. Most disturbing is that 48% of the children of middle class Black Americans border on poverty as they earn little more than $23,000 a year. Their parents, whose incomes average $55,000, came of age in the 1960’s.

For decades, from the late 1940’s through the end of the 1980’s, Black men expected to find work in the plants that dominated industrial centers such as Detroit, Chicago, and Pittsburgh. Steady work, no matter how initially back-breaking and low-level, afforded Black families adequate incomes to purchase homes and send their children to college from which a solid, often politically active, Black middle class emerged.

There is a “silent Black depression” in the United States, according to a 2008 report issued by the Institute of Policy Studies, in which 29.4% of Black households have zero or negative net worth as of 2004 compared with 15% of Whites; and Black males aged 16-19 have a 32.8% unemployment rate. People of color, in general, are more likely to be poor in the United States; yet, poverty is rarely discussed as an element of the country’s economic crisis.

“29.4% of Black households have zero or negative net worth.”

To gauge the consequences to America’s eroding consumer and family income economies we must look beyond spurious US unemployment and employment figures that do not adequately tell us how many new jobs are part time and how many workers are discouraged or under-utilized. Most European countries count the number of adults who are employed, which is a more realistic measure of consumer and family-economic well-being.

What does happen to a dream deferred? Job loss can also mean pension loss – a loss of family sustainability – which could cause a social crisis for decades to come, warns the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development in its yearly report. During the vaunted 1990’s, employers, looking for savings to their companies, encouraged working Americans to choose market-driven defined contribution pension packages that hinted at easy-living wealth at retirement instead of the traditional defined benefit pensions that assured steady retirement incomes. In 2008, private pension funds lost more than 25% in returns; so thousands of retirees cannot make ends meet, and thousands of younger workers must start anew to build their nest eggs.

Yet corporate chief executives and their circle earn an almost unbelievable 400 times what the average employee earns; and, as we have seen recently, garner enormous bonuses in spite of failing companies.

If we say in this country that we believe in family values, then we should value the family with adequate and equitable work, education, pensions and health care policies that matter to their well-being.

The US is not just experiencing an economic crisis, this is a crisis of our social being; and there are no quick fixes. Simon Johnson, a former Chief Economist for the International Monetary Fund, pointed out that there has been a quiet coup in the US in which a financial oligarchy has gained hegemony over the government structure.

“In 2008, private pension funds lost more than 25% in returns.”

During the 19th century through c1929, it was common to experience economic panics roughly every 20 years, e.g., in 1819, 1837, and 1873. Since World War II, we have not had feast or famine years. Why? Perhaps because Keynesian principles were in practice that fostered the judicious use of government interventions to fine tune the economy to avoid crises that imperiled people and businesses alike.

At the start of the 1980’s, the size of the financial service sector, i.e., traditional banks, was 4% of gross domestic product; and the number of financial corporations on the stock exchange was 0%. It was against the law for the financial service sector to be listed on the stock exchange. The Glass-Steagall Banking Act of 1933, passed after the Great Depression, which prevented banks from underwriting stocks and bonds for companies, was annulled in practice during the 1980’s, and the practice became law in 1999. The financial sector, especially banks, became one-stop centers for selling insurance, questionable mortgages and other risky undertakings to an uninformed public.

What is the significance of this change? A recent Bank of International Settlement report from Switzerland shows that world GDP (the real economy of the world’s people) is about a tenth the size of the financial services sector alone, and the gap continues to widen.

Many respected economists are alarmed by such economic indicators, the direction the US is taking, and the toll on people’s standard of living. Joseph Stieglitz calls the present-day economy ersatz capitalism; Paul Krugman calls it crony capitalism. John Monks, Secretary General of the European Confederation of Trade Unions, calls the economy casino capitalism. By any name, ponzi schemes are proliferating.

“World GDP (the real economy of the world’s people) is about a tenth the size of the financial services sector alone.”

Of course America’s financial sector should be kept viable; but in the long run, its salvation depends upon the ability of Americans to participate in and benefit from the economy. Real capital uses money to buy raw materials and machinery, hire workers, and produce products that can be sold for more than the cost of their production. Moreover, investment in research and development should be ongoing as new technologies and new ideas lead to innovations and new productivity. Real capital does not hollow out the lives of the average American.

It is in the interest of the United States, its people, and its place in the world to promote a sustainable development model, which is comprised of a labor policy, deliverable industrial and infrastructural advancement strategies, and social policies that ensure human well-being in health, education, and the post-work and sunset years. Since these policies and practices are not self-generating, it is necessary for common-sense minded people to undertake decisive, principled, actions to forge the path to our well-being.

Edward L. Palmer is Senior Research Associate, retired, Institute of Government and Public Affairs, University of Illinois, palmeredward@ymail.com; Robert N. Rhodes is Political Science Professor, retired, University of Ohio; Alice J. Palmer, PhD, is a former Illinois State Senator and current Associate Research Professor, University of Illinois aapalmur@yahoo.com.

12-11

Danish Newspaper Apologizes in Cartoons Row

March 4, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

A Danish newspaper apologised today to eight Muslim organisations for the offence it caused by reprinting controversial cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad, in exchange for their dropping legal action against the newspaper.

Politiken reached a settlement with the groups, which represent 94,923 of Muhammad’s descendants, in which it agreed to print an apology for the affront the cartoons caused. The newspaper has not given up its right to publish the cartoons and has not apologised for having printed them as part of its news coverage.

In a joint statement, the two sides said they wanted to “express their satisfaction with this amicable understanding and settlement, and express the hope that it may in some degree contribute to defusing the present tense situation.”

The decision to issue an apology for the offence caused has been met, however, by widespread condemnation from the Danish media and political parties.

The editor of Jyllands-Posten, which originally printed the cartoons in 2005 and is published by the same media company as Politiken, said that its sister paper had failed in the fight for freedom of speech and called it a “sad day” for the Danish press.

Kurt Westergaard, one of the cartoonists, who earlier this year was the subject of an attempted attack at his home, said the newspaper had betrayed its duty to freedom of speech. “In Denmark we play by a set of rules, which we don’t deviate from, and that’s freedom of speech,” he told the newspaper Berlingske Tidende. “Politiken is afraid of terror. That’s unfortunate and I fully understand that.”

The leader of the rightwing Danish People’s party, Pia Kjærsgaard, called the situation absurd, and said that Politiken had sold out. She urged Danish newspapers to reprint the cartoons as a protest against Politiken’s settlement. “It is deeply, deeply embarrassing that [Politiken’s editor] Tøger Seidenfaden has sold out of Denmark’s and the west’s freedom of speech. I cannot distance myself enough from this total sellout to this doctrine,” Kjærsgaard said.

The leader of the Social Democrats, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, also criticised Politiken’s decision: “It’s crazy. The media carries offensive material every day. That is what freedom of speech is about.”

The prime minister and the newly appointed foreign secretary have not commented on the settlement.

Last year 11 Danish newspapers were contacted by the Saudi lawyer Faisal Yamani, who demanded that the Muhammad cartoons were removed from their websites, that the newspapers print an apology and that they promise not to use the cartoons again.

Seidenfaden initially refused Yamani’s request for an apology, saying it was the paper’s duty to print the cartoons as part of its news coverage after Westergaard became the subject of an alleged murder plot.

Yamani, the lawyer who negotiated the settlement on behalf of the descendants, said: “This is a good settlement. It would be wrong to speak of a victory. Both parties have reached the point where they understand the background to what has happened. Politiken is courageous in apologising, even though its was not their intention to offend anyone.”

In September 2005 the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published a series of cartoons depicting Muhammad (s), in what it described as an attempt to promote freedom of expression. The cartoons initially had little impact, but when they were reprinted by Norwegian newspapers a storm erupted, with violent protests across the Middle East.

In February 2006 the violence escalated as newspapers in France, Germany, Spain and Italy reprinted the caricatures. The offices of Jyllands-Posten had to be evacuated several times after security threats.

Protests spread to other Arab countries and Danish goods including Lego and Bang & Olufsen were boycotted by Saudi Arabia, Libya and Syria. The Danish embassy in Damascus was burned down in 2006, others were attacked and death threats forced Westergaard into hiding.

Westergaard’s caricature of a bearded man with a bomb in his turban became the most talked about of the cartoons, but he has said the man in the drawing didn’t “necessarily” depict Muhammad (s).

According to Islamic tradition, it is blasphemous to make or show an image of the Prophet (s).

12-10

Finkelstein Banned in Berlin:

March 4, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

A Democracy that isn’t a Democracy

What an irony.  The descendant of people killed in the holocaust is prevented from speaking in Germany on the grounds that his speech is antisemitic.

By Anis Hamadeh

19/02/2010 – Dr. Norman Finkelstein wrote several books in the field Israel/Palestine/ Holocaust and is one of the most sagacious analysts of our time. Similar to Professor Ilan Pappe, he formulates sharp criticism in respect to past and presence of the State of Israel, and both use very rational argumentations and are reliable researchers. Especially since the mass murders in Jenin and in Gaza, these two men and many other Jews (also in Germany) speak out, because they do not want to be taken in for violent purposes by a state that arrogates to speak and act in the name of all Jews.

As is known now, both the Heinrich Boell Foundation and the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation have canceled Finkelstein talks that were already scheduled in Berlin. While the foundation close to the Green party did not even bother to explain its behavior, the board of the foundation close to the Left party explained its drawback in a media info with the empty statement that such a talk would be “explosive” (“brisant”).

What is going on there, one wonders. Does Finkelstein call for violence? Are his views outside legal norms, does he disesteem the human rights? Nothing of all this. On the contrary. The reason for banning him is the veto of groups that seek to avert criticism of Israel, connecting this issue with the reproach of anti-Semitism. This is an old chestnut and not specifically interesting. What is interesting, though, is that the German public buys this nonsense and denies a man, who lost his family in German concentration camps, to talk on German soil, tolerating that he is labeled an anti-Semite for his reflections on violence in Israel. The same thing actually happened only some months ago to the Israeli historian Ilan Pappe in Munich, when the city’s Lord Mayor canceled a scheduled talk. Pappe then wrote in an open letter that his father “was silenced in a similar way as a German Jew in the early 1930s”.

The German Self-Conception

So let us revisit the German self-conception and then take a short look at the historical background to understand this apparantly great fear that is going around in Germany. Recently, when the Israeli politician Shimon Peres talked on the occasion of the Holocaust Memorial Day in the German Bundestag, he received standing ovations. The few, who did not stand up for their refusal of Peres’ and Israel’s violent policies, were publically attacked. There is, for example, the quote of a member of the Bundestag: “The Nazi crimes, the Shoa, and the war of annihilation are the original crime of humanity. (…) The Jewish victims of National Socialism are memorized on January 27 in the Bundestag memorial. On this occasion, only they and the reminder of `Never again!’ can be the topic. Everything else in this context is a relativization of the Nazi crimes.” It is a quote typical for Germany and reveals the German angst as well as the great danger that goes with it.

The genocide of the Jews in this quote is taken out of any historical context and declared a unique event. Firstly, this reveals a “We (We!) are the greatest” narcissism. Secondly, it reveals a pro-Jewish racism, as if one racism could make up for another one. Not the victims are important, no, the Jewish victims are. The Nazi killing of Sinti and Roma thus is kind of OK. And how much then will the killing of Palestinains be OK if conducted by Jews. Put in a more general way: while calling the genocide of the Jews the “original crime”, the unique and incomparable act, every other crime is relativized and thus not so important. Finkelstein and Pappe do not fit in here, they disturb the celebration by entering the historical framework, which is all the more embarrassing as they are Jews with family ties to Nazi victims. Banning them shows that in the end even Jewish Nazi victims are not what the whole circus is about, despite all the pathetic oaths and solemn declarations. This is what Germany fears, that people realize that public “Remembering the Holocaust” is a fake and that Finkelstein and Pappe are eloquent and powerful enough to unmask this pharce.

Germany has decided to do penance for the Nazi crimes by means of supporting the State of Israel. When it stands in solidarity with the Zionist state, then Germany would fulfil its historical responsibility. This dogma is not questioned, although it is beyond any logic to support Zionism of all things in order to do penance. Beyond logic not in the first place because there had been fruitful cooperations between Nazis and Zionists. (It was in the interest of both ideologies to bring Jews out of Germany.) What is much worse is that violence is not recognized as the problem. Thus Hitler has won in the end, for the violence that made this criminal a criminal in the first place, this violence has not stopped. On the contrary: the compulsive “Never again!” serves as a justification of violence and killing. This works only because the genocide of the Jews was taken out of its historical context and floats around freely.

The Israeli Self-Conception

Both Finkelstein and Pappe write about the missing historical context and this is what people are afraid of, for both use their arguments brilliantly, even compelling, and they are concerned as Jews whose families have Nazi experiences. Like Goldstone, Chomsky, and some others, the two academics are subject to hate and rejection of the ruling Zionism and its strenuous friends. Finkelstein lives in the USA, where Zionism is even stronger than in Israel, and he does not lead an easy life. Pappe needed to go to exile in England, because life in Israel became unbearable for him. He wrote the book “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine” in which he clearly shows how the Israeli state was built on heavy violence. Considering that both authors face bans in Germany it is no wonder that there is not much heard of the events around 1948 other than flat stereotypes.

According to the Israeli self-conception the Zionist state emerged out of a “War of Independence” . In this view, the Jewish victims of National Socialism have created a state to protect themselves and were immediately attacked by their evil Arab neighbors. This version of the story is sacrosanct and is defended with great hysteria, be it in Israel or in Germany, because it does not bear with a neutral analysis. For when Israel was founded in May 1948, the ethnic cleansing of Palestine had already been going on for half a year. This was called “Plan Dalet/Plan D” and everybody can read about it. Hundreds of indigenous Palestinians were killed and hundreds of thousands were expelled from their villages by Zionist militias. According to the Israeli self-conception many Palestinians went away voluntarily, as if anybody would voluntarily leave their home and property just like that.

International pressure led to the UN partition plan which deprived the native population of a little more than half of Palestine which was to be given to the Zionists. Yet the Zionists were not content with that. They received weapons and took more of the land by force. When they then built a state on this land, they did not do it in agreement with anybody, but unilaterally and surprisingly. The dogma of the “right of existence” was invented so that people would not talk about these events anymore. Here is the seed of the problems we are confronted with until today. It is possible to begin earlier, with the Sykes Picot Treaty or the first settlers from abroad who for the most part did not integrate, but appeared aggessively. One can talk about the British and about Zionist and Arab terrorism, about Jabotinsky and other pioneers. But it is the founding of the state and Plan D which show most clearly why history is escalating until today.

The massacre of Deir Yassin happened in the framework of this plan, it was covered in the world press. Nobody was ever held responsible for this blood-spree and thus a precedence was created which is working until today. Nobody has been taken to account for the mass murder in Gaza, neither, and all the other massacres that Israel habitually commits. The Plan D land theft is another precedence, for up to this day the Israeli territory gets wider while the Palestinian territory shrinks. All this is inherent in the biased concept of “right of existence”, as are the race laws from 1950 which guarantee all Jews in the world a “right of return” to Israel while the expelled native population had to keep out, an unprecedented act in the long history of the country. Their land and property was confiscated by the new masters who clinged to a blood-and-soil ideology. A lot of this reminds one of the Nazis, which by no means is a wonder, when you consider the victim/perpetrator dynamics. It is known that victims, because of their traumas, are prone to become perpetrators and it is so obvious that it takes a whole lot of energy to suppress the respective discourse. It is suppressed, in militarized Israel just like in Germany, it is taboo. For this reason, a government of right-wing extremists in Israel is not a problem. Right-wing extremism is not right-wing extremism, when it comes to Israel.

The Tip of the Iceberg

The cancelation of Finkelstein’s talks are but the tip of a huge iceberg. While these lines are written, Palestinian houses in Barta’a Ash-Sharqiya are being demolished and in Sheikh Jarrah/Jerusalem new land thefts are scheduled. A big historic Arab graveyard is to be confiscated to build a “Museum of Tolerance” on it while in Bil’in the nonviolent resistance against the wall enters its sixth year. The protesters are injured by the army on a regular basis, and also killed. The world press says almost nothing about the heroes of nonviolent resistance, because it does not fit the image. Russian Jews in Be’er Sheva in the Negev have just killed a bedouin boy and heavily injured another, while a group of fundamentalist settlers have injured a Palestinian child in Hebron. About 11.000 Palestinians are kept in Israeli prisons. The “checkpoints” to Nablus have been closed down recently so that nobody can enter. The Gaza fishermen are being shot at by the Israeli navy and Gaza is still under siege.

The head of the Dubai police just confirmed that according to police investigations there is a very high probability that the Mossad is behind the murder of a Hamas politician in the Emirates. Every day you can read on http://www.theheadl ines.org what happens in the country and that since 1948 there has been no change of the routine. In Germany, the Palästina Portal is one of the sources one can turn to.

Most of what happens remains unknown to us, our media skips most of it, in fear of an increasing “anti-Semitism” . It is for the same reason that we are not to listen to Finkelstein and Pappe, for they verify the terrible events and the historical development sketched above. Instead, we are fed with “information” on “terrorism”. It is well-known to some of the leading politicians and opinion-leaders that the Israeli policy can only lead to the self-destruction of the State of Israel. Call it a culture of death. Maybe self-hatred is another reason for this behavior, something human rights advocates like Finkelstein and Pappe are labeled by exactly those who display it themselves. But even according to our mainstream dogmas we have a big problem here, for this development is bad for the Jews, too, the Zionists among them and the anti-Zionists.

Norman Finkelstein (http://www.normanfinkelstein.com) will talk about Gaza in Munich on Feb. 24, 7 p.m. Amerikahaus, Karolinenplatz 3, and on Feb. 25, 7 p.m., Kulturhaus Milbertshofen, Curt-Mezger- Platz 1

12-10

Wardere to Vie for Senate

February 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Kay Fate, Faribault Daily News

washington-dc-us-capitol-s Mahamoud Wardere knows his story is interesting.

“Can you imagine?” he asks. “An anti-war GOP candidate who is an immigrant from Somalia, an African-American, too, and Muslim.”

Wardere describes his candidacy as one that will be “different, with fresh ideas and a world class of understanding.”

He plans to run for U.S. Congress in Minnesota’s Second District, a seat held by Republican John Kline.

The six years he spent working as a community liaison for former U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman were invaluable, Wardere, 42, said.

“One thing I learned is how the system works, and at what level,” he said. “You have to know what Congress can do and what it can’t do. You have to know what your constituents expect from you.”

His goal is to develop long-term ideas.

“There are things that today may be politically helpful, but in the long run may not help,” Wardere said.

His campaign slogan sums it up, he added: Uniting the country and passing peace and prosperity to our children and grandchildren.

“I’m running because I’m very much aware of the challenges the residents of the Second District face every day,” he said, “and I believe I can do a better job.”

Wardere’s four priorities for the Second District are to tackle a poverty level that has risen 7 percent in one year; unemployment; the suffering of small businesses; and more benefits for the men and women in uniform, as well as their caregivers.

He is just as determined to make change at the national level.

He’d like to see GOP Chairman Michael Steele resign.

“He failed miserably to lead our party and explain who the GOP leaders are,” Wardere said. “He failed to reach out to Latinos and even African Americans. He must resign.”

Wardere is hardly alone in his desire to make change within the GOP.

Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who is considered by some to be the father of the Tea Party movement, faces three opponents in the March Republican primary.

Former GOP presidential candidate John McCain, too, will have a challenger in J.D. Hayworth, a conservative talk radio host.

Closer to home, Kline has yet to formally announce he will seek a fifth term.

Still, said Troy Young, his communications director, “Congressman Kline fully intends to run for re-election.”

DFLer Dan Powers will also seek Kline’s seat, said Mary Breitenstein, Powers’ campaign manager.

She had no comment on Wardere’s decision to run, but believes it’s time for Kline to go.

“As we say, we’re focused like a laser beam on winning the DFL endorsement,” Breitenstein said. “We do know that Kline’s been in Congress for a while, and has not been listening to his constituents. Dan wants to listen.”

Also in the DFL Congressional race is Shelley Madore, a former state representative from District 37A.

“I won’t shy away from criticizing the establishment,” Wardere said. “I believe our Congress has a constitutional responsibility to oversee federal agencies and must take part in the checks and balances… We need to elect competent Congressmen and women who can understand world issues. It’s the responsibility of our congressional delegates to understand the world issues and keep America safe.”

Diversity is power, Wardere said.

“When we were fighting against Germany and Hitler, what language did we use?” he asked. “We used the language of the Native Americans. That worked.”

Of his 12 national priorities, nearly half of them include passing resolutions to recognize those who work for peace.

“Anybody who brings peace, you have to praise,” Wardere said. “We must worry about passing insecurity to our children and grandchildren the same way we worry about passing the deficit to them. We must pass them many friends, not many enemies.”

He would also work on legislation that defines the goal of the war on terror, clarifies the U.S.’s position and expedites ending wars.

“Washington has sent many conflicting broad and vague messages to the world, and some of them are self-defeating,” he said. “Our message should be simple and clear: we have been attacked, and we will attack anyone who wants to harm us and we will defend our people, period.”

So, has Wardere discussed his plans with Coleman, his former boss?

“No,” he smiled. “This is my decision. I don’t know what he’d say.”

12-8

Alleged Assassins Caught on Dubai Surveillance Tape

February 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Dubai authorities have released extensive footage from surveillance cameras that allegedly shows the movements of a professional 11-person assassination team in the hours before and after a top Hamas leader was killed last month in a hotel room.

The footage, taken from cameras at the Dubai airport and several luxury hotels, follows the activities of 10 men and one woman as they arrived in Dubai on various European passports and moved among hotels and a shopping center, changing into disguises at one point, during the hours before Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was killed.

Al-Mabhouh, 48, was a founder of Hamas’ military wing. He was believed to be behind the abduction of two Israeli soldiers in 1989 and said to be a liaison for smuggling weapons from Iran to Gaza. He had survived several assassination attempts.

He was found dead in room 230 at the Al-Bustan Rotana hotel on January 20. The door on al-Mabhouh’s room was latched and chained from the inside, and there was no blood evidence. An initial report indicated that he died from sudden high blood pressure in the brain. Subsequent reports have suggested he was electrocuted or strangled.

An investigation into hotel records and surveillance tapes uncovered the suspicious activities of a group of Westerners, most of them wearing baseball caps. They staked out al-Mabhouh’s room on the hotel’s second floor, met clandestinely in various locations, disguised themselves and left the hotel briskly after the deed was done. Investigators believe the assassins may have reprogrammed the electronic lock on al-Mabhouh’s door to gain entry.

Hamas has accused the Mossad, Israel’s secretive intelligence service, of masterminding the assassination.

In the 27-minute video, released by Gulf News TV, some of the suspected assassins arrive on separate flights to Dubai early the morning the murder took place. The footage shows some of them meeting up briefly in a shopping mall and checking into and out of hotels during the setup stage. One of the suspects, a bald male, enters a hotel and exits wearing a brown wig and glasses. Later, a woman identified as an Irish national named Gail Folliard, is shown checking into her hotel wearing glasses and a ponytail, then entering the same location where the male suspect changed his appearance. She exits that location wearing a brunette wig.

When al-Mabhouh arrives at his hotel around 3 p.m. on the 19th, the footage captures two of the suspects, dressed in tennis gear, getting into the same elevator with him to follow him to his hotel room. The two suspects later checked into the room across the hall from him, according to Dubai police.

Around 8 p.m., the cameras catch some of the team members in the elevator lobby of al-Mabhouh’s floor while he is out of the hotel for a bit. While they’re standing there keeping watch, another team is apparently trying to gain entry to the victim’s room. During this time, a tourist steps off the elevator, putting the operation in jeopardy, until one of the team members distracts the tourist. A note on the video indicates that, according to the hotel’s computer logs, someone tried to reprogram al-Mabhouh’s electronic door lock during this time.

Al-Mabhouh returned to the hotel around 8:25 p.m and passed the female suspect, Folliard, in the hallway on the way to his room. The killing itself took only 10 minutes around 8:30 p.m., Dubai Police Chief Lt. Gen. Dhahi Khalfan Tamim told the Israeli newspaper Ha’Aretz. Four assassins allegedly entered the victim’s hotel room while he was out, using an electronic device to unlock his door, and waited for him to return. Hotel staff discovered his body around 1:30 p.m. on the 20th after failing to reach him on the phone. By then, he’d been dead about 17 hours, and the alleged assassins were long gone.

Oddly, although there is surveillance tape showing the closed doors of some of the rooms near al-Mahbouh’s hotel room when he first checked in, there is no tape showing the assassins entering or leaving the room or walking down that hallway at the time of the assassination. A map of the hotel shown in the video, indicates that the only surveillance camera in that hallway was located one door down from the victim’s room and pointed away from his door toward what appears to be a stairwell.

Following the assassination, the suspects left the hotel quickly and were tracked scattering to different parts of the globe, including Hong Kong, France, Switzerland, Germany and South Africa.

Authorities say the suspects paid for everything in cash and used special communication devices to avoid surveillance. They never made direct calls to one another, as far as authorities could determine. They did, however, make a number of calls to Austria, which authorities believe may have been the location of their command-and-control center.

Within 24 hours after the murder, Dubai investigators reportedly identified the aliases the alleged assassins used on their forged passports. The nationalities on the documents indicated that six of them are British, three are Irish, one is French and one is German. Although the videos show a second woman identified as part of the surveillance team, only one woman — Folliard — is listed among the suspects.

British, Irish and French authorities have indicated that the passports used by the alleged assassins showed obvious signs of forgery. The Irish passport numbers used by suspects Gail Folliard, Evan Dennings and Kevin Daveron, for example, contain no letters and have the wrong number of digits.

At least five Israelis share the same names used by the alleged assassins. One of the names matches a man living near Jerusalem named Melvyn Adam Mildiner. Mildiner, a British national, says his identity was stolen and that he had nothing to do with the assassination. The picture of him that was released by Dubai authorities does not completely match him, Reuters reports.

“I woke up this morning to a world of fun,” he told Reuters after Israeli newspapers published the names and photos of the suspects identified by Dubai authorities. “I am obviously angry, upset and scared — any number of things. And I’m looking into what I can do to try to sort things out and clear my name. I don’t know how this happened or who chose my name or why, but hopefully we’ll find out soon.”

The Mossad is noted for its stealth assassinations. The intelligence service was responsible for tracking down and killing Palestinian militants who murdered Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, as depicted in the Steven Spielberg movie Munich.

The Mossad was also responsible in 1986 for capturing Mordechai Vanunu, a worker at Israel’s Dimona nuclear plant who had planned to disclose information about Israel’s secret nuclear weapons program to the Sunday Times newspaper in the United Kingdom. A female Mossad agent posing as a tourist in the UK lured the shy Vanunu out of London to Rome, where he was drugged and kidnapped and returned to Israel for a secret trial. He spent 18 years in prison and was released in 2004.

Hat tip: New York Times Lede blog

Wars Sending US into Ruin

February 11, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Obama the peace president is fighting battles his country cannot afford

By Eric Margolis, QMI Agency

2010-02-10T142132Z_01_BTRE61913W200_RTROPTP_3_NEWS-US-AFGHANISTAN-ASSAULT

U.S. Marines walk during a dust storm in a U.S Marines camp near the town of Marjah in Nad Ali district of Helmand province, February 8, 2010.    

REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

U.S. President Barack Obama calls the $3.8-trillion US budget he just sent to Congress a major step in restoring America’s economic health.

In fact, it’s another potent fix given to a sick patient deeply addicted to the dangerous drug — debt.

More empires have fallen because of reckless finances than invasion. The latest example was the Soviet Union, which spent itself into ruin by buying tanks.

Washington’s deficit (the difference between spending and income from taxes) will reach a vertiginous $1.6 trillion US this year. The huge sum will be borrowed, mostly from China and Japan, to which the U.S. already owes $1.5 trillion. Debt service will cost $250 billion.

To spend $1 trillion, one would have had to start spending $1 million daily soon after Rome was founded and continue for 2,738 years until today.

Obama’s total military budget is nearly $1 trillion. This includes Pentagon spending of $880 billion. Add secret black programs (about $70 billion); military aid to foreign nations like Egypt, Israel and Pakistan; 225,000 military “contractors” (mercenaries and workers); and veterans’ costs. Add $75 billion (nearly four times Canada’s total defence budget) for 16 intelligence agencies with 200,000 employees.

The Afghanistan and Iraq wars ($1 trillion so far), will cost $200-250 billion more this year, including hidden and indirect expenses. Obama’s Afghan “surge” of 30,000 new troops will cost an additional $33 billion — more than Germany’s total defence budget.

No wonder U.S. defence stocks rose after Peace Laureate Obama’s “austerity” budget.

Military and intelligence spending relentlessly increase as unemployment heads over 10% and the economy bleeds red ink. America has become the Sick Man of the Western Hemisphere, an economic cripple like the defunct Ottoman Empire.

The Pentagon now accounts for half of total world military spending. Add America’s rich NATO allies and Japan, and the figure reaches 75%.

China and Russia combined spend only a paltry 10% of what the U.S. spends on defence.

There are 750 U.S. military bases in 50 nations and 255,000 service members stationed abroad, 116,000 in Europe, nearly 100,000 in Japan and South Korea.

Military spending gobbles up 19% of federal spending and at least 44% of tax revenues. During the Bush administration, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars — funded by borrowing — cost each American family more than $25,000.

Like Bush, Obama is paying for America’s wars through supplemental authorizations ­– putting them on the nation’s already maxed-out credit card. Future generations will be stuck with the bill.

This presidential and congressional jiggery-pokery is the height of public dishonesty.

America’s wars ought to be paid for through taxes, not bookkeeping fraud.

If U.S. taxpayers actually had to pay for the Afghan and Iraq wars, these conflicts would end in short order.

America needs a fair, honest war tax.

The U.S. clearly has reached the point of imperial overreach. Military spending and debt-servicing are cannibalizing the U.S. economy, the real basis of its world power. Besides the late U.S.S.R., the U.S. also increasingly resembles the dying British Empire in 1945, crushed by immense debts incurred to wage the Second World War, unable to continue financing or defending the imperium, yet still imbued with imperial pretensions.

It is increasingly clear the president is not in control of America’s runaway military juggernaut. Sixty years ago, the great President Dwight Eisenhower, whose portrait I keep by my desk, warned Americans to beware of the military-industrial complex. Six decades later, partisans of permanent war and world domination have joined Wall Street’s money lenders to put America into thrall.

Increasing numbers of Americans are rightly outraged and fearful of runaway deficits. Most do not understand their political leaders are also spending their nation into ruin through unnecessary foreign wars and a vainglorious attempt to control much of the globe — what neocons call “full spectrum dominance.”

If Obama really were serious about restoring America’s economic health, he would demand military spending be slashed, quickly end the Iraq and Afghan wars and break up the nation’s giant Frankenbanks.

12-7

Open Letter to Islamophobe Dutch MP Geert Wilders

February 11, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

Dear Mr Wilders,

They say you can only take a horse to the water, you cant make it drink. But human beings are not horses. Unlike animals, they can be reasoned with. I offer these few remarks in the faint hope you are amenable to reason.

It is about your recent speech to the Alliance of Patriots in New York. In which you paint an apocalyptic picture of the Islamization of Europe. You describe some European cities with Muslim neighborhoods in lurid terms. It is a world where women walk around in figureless tents. Their husbands, or slave holders, if you prefer, walk three steps ahead. Mr Wilders, I live bang near one of those areas in West London. I often visit Whitechapel and Edgware Road parts of our colorful Londonistan I have never seen a Muslim woman walking behind her husband. Rather, the mothers stroll about in a proud, dignified manner, alongside the men. Nothing in their behavior suggests a subordinate role, let alone slavery. And there are tons of lively, even feisty Muslim girls wearing all sorts of gear. True, they may not, as a rule, behave like permissive, liberated females, baring the flesh, hugging and kissing partners in public, no. I would even guess most of them don’t sleep with boys before marriage. But since when are chastity, modesty and self-restraint so bad? The traditional, Christian mores of the Western civilization which you claim to uphold used to prize such things, no?

25 per cent of the population of Europe will be Muslim just 12 years from now. Lies, damned lies and statistics, someone said. But if you want native Europeans to stay numerically supreme, how about encouraging them to have more children? To urge them not to use contraceptives, the pills? To give up abortion? To bolster family values? Stop bashing Islam. Embrace the Christian religion in its conservative, sound traditions and all will be kosher.

Thousands of mosques across Europe. With larger congregations than churches, you notice. Well, whose fault is that? Do perhaps Muslims stand at church doors, stopping the eager faithful from worshipping the Lord? Methinks you should rather address yourself to Christians. Look at Muslims you should say. Look at how many regularly pray. How keen they are on the observances of their religion. You should do the same. Exactly. The flourishing of mosques across Europe should serve as a stimulus to Christians. A window of opportunity. As an urgent reminder to get back to their vital, life-giving roots the worship of the One True God. Why blame pious Muslims for the faults of lukewarm or nominal Christians, eh?

In Amsterdam gays are beaten up almost exclusively by Muslims. Awful, if true. Funnily enough, I recall the words of Pym Fortuyn, the gay right-wing politician murdered by a fanatic. I have nothing against Moroccans I have slept with so many of them. From Andre Gide to William Burroughs, the Arab world has been one of artistic gays favorite fun destinations. Tangiers nickname was Sodom on Sea. Homophobia cant be all that endemic amongst Arabs, I should imagine.

The history of the Holocaust can no longer be taught because of Muslim sensitivity. How bizarre. First, a godson of mine has been to Auschwitz, on a school trip. Part of a program to learn about wartime horrors. School curricula in Britain do in fact include projects about WWII and persecutions of Jews and other people. London’s Imperial War Museum has a holocaust section, which I viewed just the other day. What’s more, TV channels force-feed viewers with a daily, obsessive dose of films and programs about the war and Germanys crimes. If anybody should complain about this state of affairs, it should be Germans. It fuels Germanophobia, the lurking, masochistic English vice. Do todays Germans deserve such constant pilloring? After all, isn’t Germany amongst the strongest supporters of your beloved state of Israel?

Ok, you don’t like Muslims. Yet they are not going to go away. Your case is analogous to that of the man whose garden was infested by ladybirds. They were everywhere. He didn’’t like them. He tried several methods to get rid of them. Sprays, insecticides, this and that. Nothing worked. The ladybirds kept being around. Indeed, they multiplied. The guy was getting obsessed with them, growing paranoid, bitter, haunted. Eventually, he sent an e-mail to a wise old friend, an experienced gardener: What should I do about the damned ladybirds?

The reply came: I suggest you learn to love them.

Revd Frank Julian Gelli

12-7

Oldest Swiss Bank Tells Clients to Sell U.S. Assets or Leave

January 14, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Sept. 2 (Bloomberg) — Wegelin & Co.,Switzerland’s oldest bank, is telling wealthy clients to sell their U.S. assets, or switch banks, because of concerns new rules will saddle investors with tax obligations in the world’s biggest economy.

U.S. proposals to extend reporting requirements for banks whose clients buy American stocks and bonds coupled with estate tax liabilities that may be inherited by the heirs of people who have such holdings prompted the advice from the St. Gallen, Switzerland-based bank, said Managing Partner Konrad Hummler.

“We came to the conclusion that it’s a threat to our clients,” Hummler, who is also president of the Swiss Private Bankers Association, said in an interview yesterday during a conference in Zurich. “It’s also a threat to us as a bank because as a custodian we are an executor to the estate. We find this aspect discomforting, so we recommend selling all American securities whatsoever.”

Hummler said he plans to raise the subject today at a meeting of the Private Bankers Association, which counts Pictet & Cie., Lombard Odier & Cie. and Mirabaud & Cie. among its members. Swiss banks, which manage $2 trillion, or 27 percent, of the world’s privately held offshore wealth, are struggling to protect bank secrecy after the government agreed to hand over the names of 4,450 UBS AG clients to U.S. tax authorities.

Hummler said he wouldn’t ask other association members to follow Wegelin’s lead. Wegelin, founded in 1741, manages more than 20 billion Swiss francs ($18.7 billion) in client assets.

“Every member is free to decide and act on their own,” he said.

HSBC Studies Alexandre Zeller,head of HSBC Holdings Plc’s private bank in Switzerland, said his company is still studying the new rules for qualified intermediaries and will do everything it can to comply with them.

“Often in these agreements you have to understand how this will be applied, and it would be premature, especially for an international bank, to take such a decision,” he said today, referring to Wegelin’s position. “It’s not on the agenda for the moment.”

The U.S. has proposed increasing reporting and oversight requirements for so-called qualified intermediaries — foreign banks that withhold taxes on behalf of the Internal Revenue Service. In addition, new rules may mean that people who spend limited periods oftime in the U.S. acquire tax obligations, including estate taxes,creating an unacceptable risk for Wegelin’s clients, Hummler said.

If a client decides to keep his U.S. investments, “then finally he has to change banks,” Hummler said.

“We’re talking about probabilities,” Hummler said. “My responsibility toward clients has to include any kind of probability,and if I see a real threat then we have to act.”

Wegelin is finding alternative ways of investing in the U.S. that won’t impose reporting requirements on the bank or tax liabilities on clients, Hummler said.

“The good thing is that in today’s world you can build up U.S.exposure in equities and as well in bonds through derivatives and index funds and so on, so we are switching to a European-made American exposure.”

Germany and France have also sought to weaken Swiss secrecy laws as they crack down on tax evaders.

The French government, which signed a double-taxation treaty with Switzerland on Aug. 27, obtained the names of 3,000 people suspected of tax fraud and holding accounts at three Swiss banks, French Budget Minister Eric Woerth, said Aug. 30 in an interview with the newspaper Journal du Dimanche.

“It’s not credible,” Hummler said. “The U.S. had a hard time getting these 4,450 names, then the French come and say we have 3,000? I cannot believe it, but they’re trying it on.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Warren Giles in Zurich at wgiles@bloomberg.net

12-3

In Yemen, Locals Worry About Obama Policy on Al-Qaeda

January 7, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Michael Horton, The Christian Science Monitor

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Yemeni family. (Photo: Richard Messenger / Flickr)

From smoky halls to the rugged mountains of Yemen, locals are worried that their country – threatened more by poverty and water shortages than terrorism, they say – could turn into another Afghanistan.

Sanaa, Yemen – Amid an intensifying US effort to curb Al Qaeda activity in Yemen, locals in this impoverished country are worried that a focus on military aid alone could backfire – spawning a more robust militant movement and potentially drawing the US into an Afghanistan-like war.

In a smoke-filled hall in the capital of Sanaa, where men gather to chew the mildly intoxicating leaves of the qat tree and smoke water pipes, most of the talk is about Al-Qaeda and American intentions in Yemen.

“By God, they want to turn this country into Afghanistan,” declares Mohammad al-Jaffi, a young man who says he fled the Arhab area, a mountainous region just north of Sanaa, after a recent attack on a suspected Al Qaeda hideout. On Monday, the government said it killed two Al Qaeda members in the Arhab region.

“We are not radicals here,” Mr. Jaffi adds, his cheek bulging with the pulpy green leaves that strict Salafis — the Muslim sect that Al Qaeda members belong to — consider forbidden. Holding up a qat branch, he yells, “Look at this. We all chew this here – in Afghanistan, in Saudi Arabia, the Wahhabis would kill us for chewing qat.”

But US and other foreign diplomats are clearly concerned. France, Germany, and Japan all closed their embassies Monday, following US and British closures the previous day, amid reports that a significant amount of explosives had gone missing from the Yemeni army.

“Exclusive Focus on Al Qaeda a Mistake”

With the reported surge in Al-Qaeda activity in Yemen, the Obama administration has reiterated its “partnership” with the increasingly vulnerable regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who faces a rebellion in the north and secessionists in the south. Gen. David Petraeus, who as head of the US Central Command (CENTCOM) is overseeing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, announced on Jan. 1 that the US would double military aid to Yemen after allocating a reported $70 million in 2009.

It has been widely reported that the US is also providing the Yemeni government with intelligence and military trainers. Britain, meanwhile, has announced that it will fund an antiterror police force. Such a sole focus on suspected terrorism is seen as a mistake by some experts as well as locals.

“I think an exclusive focus on Al Qaeda to the exclusion of every other threat in Yemen is a mistake,” says Gregory Johnsen, a Princeton PhD candidate who was recently in Yemen for his research on Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). “Viewing this threat only through the prism of Al Qaeda induces exactly the kind of result the US is hoping to avoid.”

Locals in two provinces often cited as Al Qaeda strongholds, Al-Jawf and Marib, are more concerned with severe poverty – an issue they say the central government has done little to alleviate.

“This government does not care about us. Everything we have, we have to fight for – to get money for a school or medicine we have to block the road. This is all they listen to,” says Ahmad al-Nasri. “By God the tribe is all we have, it is what protects us.”

Mr. Johnsen says that development aid is “crucial” in Marib and Al-Jawf, but disputes the popular depiction of Yemen as a place with large areas that are totally ungovernable.

“The government doesn’t appear to be able to constantly control these areas,” he acknowledges, citing recent flare-ups between tribal leaders and the government. “But the image of Yemen being a Wild West … is not necessarily accurate.”

Yemeni government offices in Sanaa were closed and the Yemeni embassy in Washington was unable to comment before press time.

Water Shortages

A potentially greater destabilizing influence than militancy in Yemen is water shortages, which are already the root of a large percentage of the inter-tribal fighting that plagues the country.

The UN has ranked Yemen as one of the most water-scarce countries, and one local geology professor has estimated that Sanaa’s wells will go dry by 2015 at current usage rates. The country is in desperate need of investment in new drip irrigation systems and water conservation measures.

“Look at these apricot trees,” says Mohammad Faris, who owns an orchard on the outskirts of Sanaa that once flourished. “Half of them are dead from lack of water.”

“We don’t need more guns in this country,” declares Mr. Faris as he stands among the parched remains of what used to be fertile ground. “This village needs a new water pump and we need new trees that drink less water.”

Increased Sympathy for Al Qaeda?

Many locals emphasize that the country’s primary need is development aid, which has in the past been hampered by international concerns about government corruption. But some say they’re ready to fight if the US comes – a prospect that as yet looks unlikely, though Sen. Joe Lieberman (I) of Connecticut recently suggested that without preemptive action a future war may occur.

“We have a long history of fighting invaders here,” says Ismail Hadi, a village elder in the rugged mountainous province of Hajjah, not far from the sectarian war being fought against Houthi rebels. As he looks out over his terraces of qat trees that cascade down towards a deep canyon, he adds, “We fought the Turks, we fought the Egyptians, God willing we will fight the Americans when they come.”

Back at the Sanaa qat hall, Uithman al- Ansi echoes that sentiment.

“If the Americans want a fight they will get it,” says Mr. Ansi as he grabs the hilt of his jambiya, the traditional dagger carried by many men here. Another man who says he is from Marib, one of the two frequently cited Al Qaeda strongholds, suggests that US attacks or support for attacks on suspected militants could increase the number of Al Qaeda sympathizers in Yemen.

“The Americans don’t know our customs,” says the man. “When they attacked al-Harithi [a suspected Al-Qaeda member who was targeted by a US drone in November 2002] on our lands, his people became our guests. We have long memories.”

Christa Case Bryant contributed reporting from Boston.

12-2

IOF Arrests Anti-Settlement Demonstrator

December 24, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By PT Editor Moahmmed Said

West Bank, (Pal Telegraph)– IOF arrested Abdullah Abu Rahma, 39, the coordinator of the Popular Committee against the Wall and Settlements in Bil’in, at down today after they raided his house in al-Tira town of Ramallah. Eyewitness said that a number of Israeli troops stormed al-tira town early today, surrounded the house of Abu Rahma, raided it and tampered with its contents leaving extensive havoc, before he was led to unknown destination.

Ratib Abu Rahma, a member of the Popular Committee against the Wall and Settlements, said that the arrest was part of the Israeli campaign launched by IOF to discourage people of Bil’in from continuing to struggle against the wall and illegal settlement activities in the village. He pointed out that the number of detainees have reached 34 persons, Abu Rahma included, and that half of them were released after serving their sentences in Israeli jails.

As part of a recent escalation of political arrests in Bil’in, Abdallah Abu Rahmah, a school teacher and coordinator of the Bil’in Popular Committee was arrested by Israeli soldiers.At 2am on Thursday, 10 December 2009, seven Israeli military jeeps pulled over at Abdallah Abu Rahmah’s home in the city of Ramallah. Soldiers raided the house and arrested Abu Rahmah from his bed in the presence of his wife and three children. Abu Rahmah is a high school teacher in the Latin Patriarchate School in Birzeit near Ramallah and coordinator for the Bil’in Popular Committee against the Wall and Settlements.

A previous raid targeting Abu Rahmah on 15 September 2009 was executed with such exceptional violence, that a soldier was subsequently indicted for assault. Abdallah has been a member of the Bil’in Popular Committee since its conception in 2004. As coordinator, Abu Rahmah not only regularly organizes and attends the weekly Friday demonstrations but does the media work for the Bil’in struggle.

Abdallah has represented the village in engagements around the world to further Bil’in’s cause. He has traveled to Montreal to participate in a speaking tour and the village’s legal case against two Canadian companies building settlements on Bil’in’s land in June 2009, and in December of 2008, he participated in a speaking tour in France and traveled to Germany to accept the Carl von Ossietzky Medal for outstanding service in the realization of basic and human rights, awarded by the board of trustees of the International League for Human Rights on behalf of Bil’in.

Abdallah’s endless work for his village is just a part of his incredible persona, many of us know him personally, as he welcomes thousands of international, Palestinian and Israeli activists when they visit Bil’in.

Abu Rahmah’s arrest is part of an escalation in Israeli military’s attempts to break the spirit of the people of Bil’in, their popular leadership, and the popular struggle as a whole – aimed at crushing demonstrations against the Wall. Recently, Adv. Gaby Lasky, who represents many of Bil’in’s detainees, was informed by the military prosecution that the army intends to use legal measures as a means of ending the demonstrations.

Following Abu Rahmah’s arrest, Adv. Lasky, stated that “My client’s arrest is another blatant illustration of the Israeli authorities’ application of legal procedures for the political persecution of Bil’in residents. The Bil’in demonstrators are being systemically targeted while it is the State that is in contempt of a High Court of Justice ruling; a ruling which affirmed that the protesters have justice on their side and instructed 2 years ago that the route of the Wall in the area be changed, which has not been implemented to date.”Since 23 June 2009, 31 residents of Bil’in have been detained by the military in a wave of night raids and arrests which began concurrently with preliminary hearings in a lawsuit against two Canadian companies responsible for the construction of an Israeli settlement on Bil’in’s land.

The Israeli military is targeting protesters and the leadership of Bil’in’s Popular Committee. Apart from Abdallah, three other committee members were arrested, but all of them were released for lack of evidence. In the case of Mohammed Khatib, the court even found some of the presented evidence to be falsified.

In addition to committee members, a leading Bil’in activist, Adeeb Abu Rahmah, who has been detained for over five months, is not suspected of committing any violence, but was indicted with a blanket charge of “incitement”, which was very liberally interpreted in this case to include the organizing of grassroots demonstrations.

Following initial construction of Israel’s wall on Bil’in’s lands in March 2005, residents organized almost daily direct actions and demonstrations against the theft of their lands.

Garnering the attention of the international community with their creativity and perseverance, Bil’in has become a symbol for Palestinian popular resistance. Almost five years later, Bil’in continues to have weekly Friday protests.Located 12 kilometers west of Ramallah and 4 km east of the Green Line, Bil’in is an agricultural village spanning 4,000 dunams (988 acres) with approximately 1,800 residents.

While construction of and opposition to the Wall and began in 2005, the majority of land had been expropriated from Bil’in earlier.Starting in the early 1980’s, and more significantly in 1991, approximately 56% of Bil’in’s agricultural land was declared `State Land’ for the construction of the settlement bloc, Modi’in Illit. Modi’in Illit currently holds the largest settler population of any settlement bloc, with over 42,000 residents and plans to achieve a population of 150,000.

In addition to grassroots organizing, Bil’in has held annual conferences on popular resistance since 2006; providing a forum for activists, academics, and leaders to discuss strategies for the unarmed struggle against the Occupation.

Bil’in embraced legal measures against Israel as part of its multi-lateral resistance to the theft of their livelihoods. The village first turned to the courts in the fall of 2005.

Two years after they initiated legal proceedings, the Israeli High Court of Justice ruled that due to illegal construction in part of Modi’in Illit, unfinished housing could not be completed and that the route of the Wall be moved several hundred meters west, returning 25% of Bil’in’s lands to the village. To date, the high court ruling has not been implemented and construction continues.In July 2008, Bil’in commenced legal proceedings before the Superior Court of Quebec against Green Park International Inc and Green Mount International Inc for their involvement in constructing, marketing and selling residential units in the Mattityahu East section of Modi’in Illit.

In an effort to stop the popular resistance in Bil’in, Israeli authorities intimidate demonstrators with physical violence and arrests.Israeli armed forces have used sound and shock grenades, water cannons, rubber-coated steel bullets, tear-gas grenades, tear-gas canisters, high velocity tear-gas projectiles, 0.22 caliber live ammunition and live ammunition against protesters.

On 17 April 2009, Bassem Abu Rahma was shot with a high-velocity tear gas projectile in the chest by Israeli forces and subsequently died from his wounds at a Ramallah hospital.

Out of the 78 residents who have been arrested in connection to demonstrations against the Wall, 31 were arrested after the beginning of a night raid campaign on 23 June 2009.

Israeli armed forces have been regularly invading homes and forcefully searching for demonstration participants, targeting the leaders of the Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements, as well as teenage boys accused of throwing stones at the Wall.

10 December 2009: Bil’in leader Abdallah Abu Rahmah arrested during military night raidAs part of a recent escalation of political arrests in Bil’in, Abdallah Abu Rahmah, a school teacher and coordinator of the Bil’in Popular Committee was arrested by Israeli soldiers At exactly 2 AM last night, seven Israeli military jeeps pulled over at Abdallah Abu Rahmah’s residence in the city of Ramallah.

Soldiers raided the house and arrested Abu Rahmah from his bed in the presence of his wife and children. Abu Rahmah is a high school teacher in the Latin Patriarchate school in Birzeit near Ramallah and is the coordinator of the Bil’in Popular Committee against the Wall and Settlements.

A previous raid targeting Abu Rahmah was executed with such exceptional violence on 15 September 2009, that a soldier was subsequently indicted for assault.

Abu Rahmah’s arrest is part of an escalation in Israeli military’s attempts to break the spirit of the people of Bil’in, their popular leadership, and the popular struggle as a whole – aimed at crushing demonstrations against the Wall. Recently, Adv. Gaby Lasky, who represents many of Bil’in’s detainees, was informed by the military prosecution that the army intends to use legal measures as a means of ending the demonstrations.

Following Abu Rahmah’s arrest, Adv. Lasky, stated that “My client’s arrest is another blatant illustration of the Israeli authorities’ application of legal procedures for the political persecution of Bil’in residents.

The Bil’in demonstrators are being systematically targeted while it is the State that is in contempt of a High Court of Justice ruling; a ruling which affirmed that the protesters have justice on their side and instructed 2 years ago that the route of the Wall in the area be changed, which has not been implemented to date.”
Since 23 June 2009, 31 residents of Bil’in have been detained by the military. The Army has pursued Popular Committee members in its arrest operation, but all three detained members were released for lack of evidence. In the case of another member, Mohammed Khatib, the court even found some of the presented evidence to be falsified.In addition to committee members, a leading Bil’in activist, Adeeb Abu Rahmah, who has been detained for over five months, is not suspected of committing any violence, but was indicted with a blanket charge of “incitement”, which was very liberally interpreted in this case to include the organizing of grassroots demonstrations.

11-53

Europe: Anti-Semitism Up, Islamophobia Down

December 17, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sarah Stricker, Ynetnews

Study on ‘group-focused enmity’ conducted by researchers from University of Bielefeld in Germany finds hatred of Muslims decreased over past year, while hatred of Jews and homosexuals growing. Poland defined as most racist country.

Right-wing parties are growing stronger in Europe, and Swiss citizens have even voted in favor of a ban on mosque minarets, yet the fear or hatred of Islam in the continent has dropped over the past year, according to a study conducted in Germany and published Sunday. However, hatred of Jews and homosexuals is on the rise.

For the last eight years, the Institute for Interdisciplinary Research on Conflict and Violence at the University of Bielefeld has been running an annual study called “German Conditions” to learn about “group focused enmity” such as xenophobia, sexism, racism, anti-Semitism, and prejudices against unemployed, disabled, homeless or homosexual people in Germany.

Due to the financial crisis and the fears of the future, poverty and unemployment that are being stoked by that, the researchers expected a rise this year.

But compared to last year’s results (as well as those of 2002), the level of resentment against most minorities declined – sexism and racism even considerably, Islamophobia slightly. There were only two exceptions: Homophobia and anti-Semitism.

Hatred of both groups is on the rise as they are considered to be found also among people of a high status.

Beate Küpper, one of the study’s main researchers, believes that the financial crisis may in fact be a possible explanation for that.

Küpper said that although in comparison to other European countries Germany was on average, it was staggering that in the light of German history, 48% still agreed with anti-Semitic statements.

For the first time, the study also compared xenophobia among European countries like Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Portugal, Poland, and Hungary. According to their findings, the level of prejudices against minorities in Europe is alarming.

About 50.4% of the population agreed that “there are too many immigrants” in their country, 54.4% believe that “the Islam is a religion of intolerance.” Interestingly enough, the percentage of people who believe “that there are too many Muslims” in their country is especially high in those countries that actually have a low percentage of Muslims living in them.

Nearly one-third (31.3%) of the Europeans somewhat or strongly agree that “there is a natural hierarchy between black and white people”. A majority of 60.2% stick to traditional gender roles, demanding that “women should take their role as wives and mothers more seriously.” Some 42.6% deny equal value of gay men and lesbian women and judge homosexuality as “immoral”.

Hiding behind criticism of Israel

Anti-Semitism is also still widely spread in Europe. The team of scientists from the universities of Amsterdam, Bielefeld, Budapest, Grenoble, Lisbon, Marburg, Oxford, Padua, Paris, and Warsaw found that 41.2% of Europeans believe that “Jews try to take advantage of having been victims during the Nazi era”. The highest degree of affirmation was in Poland – 72%, and the lowest in the Netherlands – 5.6%.

One-quarter of Europeans (24.5%) believe that “Jews have too much influence”, and nearly one-third (31%) agree that “Jews in general do not care about anything or anyone but their own kind. On the other hand, 61.9% say that Jews “enrich our culture”, especially in the Netherlands, Britain and Germany.

They study also measured the degree of anti-Semitism hidden behind a specific criticism of Israel’s policy towards the Palestinians that uses anti-Semitic terms such as “war of persecution” and a generalization to “all Jews”.

Some 45.7% of the Europeans (apart for France, where this facet of anti-Semitism was not measured) somewhat or strongly agree that “Israel is conducting a war of extermination against the Palestinians.” About 37.4% agree with the following statement: “Considering Israel’s policy, I can understand why people do not like Jews.”

Overall, the level of anti-Semitic attitudes varies quite a lot across Europe with comparably lower levels of anti-Semitic attitudes in Britain and the Netherlands and significantly higher levels in Portugal, and especially Poland and Hungary.

11-52

Surprising Results of CFR Survey

December 10, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

What the U.S. Elite Really Thinks About Israel

By Jeffrey Blankfort, Counterpunch

The Council on Foreign Relations is always near the top of the Left’s list of bogeymen that stand accused of pulling the strings of US foreign policy. It is right up there with the Bilderberg Group and the Trilateral Commission, right? Wrong. If that was the case,  those arguing that US support for Israel is based on it being a “strategic asset”  will have a hard time explaining a Pew Research Center survey on America’s Place in the World, taken of 642 CFR members between October 2 and November 16. The Pew poll  not only reveals that the overwhelming majority, two-thirds of the members of this elite foreign policy institution, believes that the United States has gone overboard in favoring Israel, it doesn’t consider Israel to have much importance to the US in the first place.

What can be concluded from the answers to questions that dealt with the Israel-Palestine conflict is that the general public forms its opinions from what it hears and reads in the mainstream media which are largely biased towards Israel while CFR members have greater access to as well as interest in obtaining more accurate information and are less susceptible to pro-Israel propaganda. That apparently not a single US newspaper saw fit to report on the opinions of CFR members, under those circumstances, is not surprising. The evidence:

(1) That on a list of countries that will be the “more important as Americas allies and partners” in the future, just 4 per cent included Israel which placed it in a tie with South Korea and far behind China, 58 per cent, India, 55 per cent, Brazil, 37 per cent, the EU, 19 per cent, Russia, 17 per cent, Japan, 16 per cent, the UK and Turkey, 10 per cent, Germany, 9 per cent, Mexico, 8 per cent, Canada, Indonesia, Australia and France at 5 per cent. CFR voters were allowed to make up to seven selections.(Q19)

(2) When asked which countries would be less important to the US, Israel, at 9 per cent  was behind 22 countries including Canada and Mexico and in the region Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.(Q20)

(3) What was particularly revealing is that “in the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians,” only 26 per cent of the CFR sided with Israel, compared with 51 per cent of 2000 members of the general public who were polled over the same period. While but 16 per cent of CFR members sided with the Palestinians compared to 12 per cent of the public, 41 per cent of the CFRers sided with “both equally” as opposed to 4 per cent of the public. Supporting neither was 12 per cent of the CFR and 14 per cent of the public. (Q33)

(4) That the CFR has not had a major hand in making US Israel-Palestine policy nor is it in agreement with those who did is strikingly revealed by the response of its members when asked their opinion of US Middle East policies. The problem, according to 67 per cent of CFR members (as compared to 30 per cent of the public) is that the US favored Israeli too much, while only 2 per cent (as opposed to 15 per cent of the public) believed that US policy overly favored the Palestinians.. Twenty-four percent of the CFR believed US policy “struck the right balance” as did 29 per cent of the public. (Q34)

(5) The overwhelming majority of CFR members, 69 per cent, think that Pres.Obama is “striking the right balance” between the Israelis and Palestinians as compared with a slim majority, 51 per cent of the public. Thirteen percent of the CFR believes that Obama is “favoring Israel too much,” as compared with 7 per cent of the public, while 12 per cent thinks he is siding with the Palestinians, a position taken by 16 per cent of the public. (Q35)

Regarding Iran, one detects the same gap between the CFR and the public. Whereas a 64 per cent-34 per cent majority of the polled CFR members see Iran as a major threat to US interests, compared with a 72-20 per cent per cent  majority of the public, only 33 per cent of the CFR  would support an attack on Iran should it get a nuclear weapon as contrasted  with 63 per cent of the public. (Q7)

The percentages are almost reversed when it comes  to Pakistan with 63 per cent of the CFR supporting US military action were “extremists…poised to take over Pakistan,” whereas only 51 per cent of the public would approve such a move. (Q24). This is another indication of the success of Israel’s  porte-paroles in the mainstream media  in  building up the Iran threat while downplaying the potential threats to the stabilty of nuclear-armed Pakistan. The entire Pew survey can be viewed here: http://people-press.org/reports/questionnaires/569.pdf

[Jeffrey Blankfort is a long-time pro-Palestinian activist and a contributor to The Politics of Anti-Semitism. He an be contacted at jblankfort@earthlink.net]

Survey: Free Market Flawed

November 12, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By James Robbins

Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, a new BBC poll has found widespread dissatisfaction with free-market capitalism.

In the global poll for the BBC World Service, only 11% of those questioned across 27 countries said that it was working well.

Most thought regulation and reform of the capitalist system were necessary.

There were also sharp divisions around the world on whether the end of the Soviet Union was a good thing.

Economic regulation

In 1989, as the Berlin Wall fell, it was a victory for ordinary people across Eastern and Central Europe.

It also looked at the time like a crushing victory for free-market capitalism.

Twenty years on, this new global poll suggests confidence in free markets has taken heavy blows from the past 12 months of financial and economic crisis.

More than 29,000 people in 27 countries were questioned. In only two countries, the United States and Pakistan, did more than one in five people feel that capitalism works well as it stands.

Almost a quarter – 23% of those who responded – feel it is fatally flawed. That is the view of 43% in France, 38% in Mexico and 35% in Brazil.

And there is very strong support around the world for governments to distribute wealth more evenly. That is backed by majorities in 22 of the 27 countries.

If there is one issue where a global consensus seems to emerge from the survey it is this: there are majorities almost everywhere wanting government to be more active in regulating business.

It is only in Turkey that a majority want less government regulation.

Opinion about the disintegration of the Soviet Union is sharply divided.

Europeans overwhelmingly say it was a good thing: 79% in Germany, 76% in Britain and 74% in France feel that way.

But outside the developed West it is a different picture. Almost seven in 10 Egyptians say the end of the Soviet Union was a bad thing and views are sharply divided in India, Kenya and Indonesia.

11- 47

Official: Iran to “Blow up Heart” of Israel if Attacked

October 22, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

TEHRAN (Reuters) – Iran would “blow up the heart” of Israel if it was attacked by the Jewish state or the United States, a Revolutionary Guards official was quoted Friday as saying.

“Even if one American or Zionist missile hits our country, before the dust settles, Iranian missiles will blow up the heart of Israel,” Mojtaba Zolnour said, according to IRNA news agency.

Zolnour is a deputy representative of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in the elite Guards force. Iranian officials have previously said Tehran would retaliate in event of an Israeli or U.S. attack.

Earlier this year, a senior commander said Iranian missiles could reach Israeli nuclear sites. Israel is believed to be the only nuclear-armed Middle East state.

Israel has not ruled out military action if diplomacy fails to end a dispute over Iran’s nuclear ambitions, echoing U.S. policy, although Washington is engaged in a drive to resolve the issue through direct talks with Tehran.

The West suspects the Islamic state is covertly seeking to develop nuclear weapons, which Iran denies.

“The Zionist regime and the United States cannot risk attacking Iran,” Zolnour said in the holy Shi’ite city of Qom on Thursday, citing Iranian military and technological advances, IRNA reported. Iran refers to Israel as the “Zionist regime.”

At talks in Geneva on October 1, Iran agreed with six world powers — the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany — to give U.N. experts access to a newly-disclosed uranium enrichment plant south of Tehran.

Iran and Western powers described talks as constructive and a step forward. However, underlying tension was highlighted before the meeting when Iran test-fired missiles with ranges that could put Israel and regional U.S. bases within reach.

The Geneva talks are expected to win Iran a reprieve from tougher U.N. sanctions, although Western powers are likely to be wary of any attempt by Tehran to buy time to develop its nuclear program.

Senior cleric Ahmad Khatami, leading Friday prayers in Tehran, said the meeting represented a “victory” for Iran.

“The Geneva conference was a very successful one and amounted to a victory for the Islamic Republic,” he told worshippers.

“Up until the conference they were constantly talking about sanctions and suspension, but when the conference was held there was no talk of either sanctions or suspension,” he said.

11-44

Bishop Williamson Rejects Holocaust Denial Punishment

October 22, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

IsraelNN.com

British Roman Catholic Bishop Richard Williamson said on Sunday that he rejected the idea that he should be subject to punishment in Germany for denying the Holocaust on Swedish television, adding that he tried to prevent the interview from being broadcast there, according to a report by the German weekly Der Spiegel. Bishop Williamson’s German lawyer confirmed that the bishop had applied to a Nuremberg state court to issue an injunction, but said it was rejected in February.

The interview was conducted near the Bavarian city of Regensburg, shortly before the bishop’s excommunication was lifted by Pope Benedict XVI. Prosecutors in Regensburg applied last week for an order of punishment against Williamson, accusing him of incitement. A judge is expected to rule on whether to issue a fine next week.

11-44

Wood Burning Stoves

October 22, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

tufail

As early as Roman times stoves made of clay, tile, or earthenware were in use in central and N Europe. Early Swiss stoves of clay or brick, without chimneys, were built against the outer house wall, with an opening to the outside through which they were fueled and through which the smoke could escape. Scarcity of fuel made an economical heat-retaining device necessary, and these primitive stoves, built of clay, brick, tile, or plastered masonry, became common in the Scandinavian countries, Holland, Germany, and N France. Some exquisitely colored and glazed tile stoves, dating from the 16th and 17th cent., show traces of Moorish influence. In Russia large brick stoves formed a partition between two rooms. Because of the very long flue, which wound back and forth inside the structure, these could be heated for some hours with a small amount of light fuel.

The Franklin stove, invented in 1743 and used for heating, was the lineal descendant of the fireplace, being at first only a portable down-draft iron fireplace that could be set into, or before, the chimney.

It was soon elaborated into what was known as the Pennsylvania fireplace, with a grate and sliding doors. In common use for a period after the Revolution, it was followed by a variety of heaters burning wood and coal. The base burner, or magazine coal heater, was widely used before the general adoption of central heating.

Heating devices that we would call stoves had long been in existence, going back to Roman times. However, the stove as the chief cooking device, taking the place of the fireplace, dates only to around the mid-19th century with the widespread use of wood-burning or coal-burning cooking stoves stove, device used for heating or for cooking food. The stove was long regarded as a cooking device supplementary to the fireplace, near which it stood; its stovepipe led into the fireplace chimney. It was not until about the middle of the 19th cent., when the coal-burning range with removable lids came into general use, that the fireplace was finally supplanted as the chief cooking agency.

A cast-iron stove made in China before A.D. 200 has been found, but it was not until late in the 15th cent. that cast-iron stoves were first made in Europe. These consisted of plates that were grooved to fit together in the shape of a box. Probably the earliest of this type were earthenware stoves enclosed in iron castings decorated with biblical scenes and armorial and arabesque designs. They often bore inscriptions in Norse, German, Dutch, French, or sometimes Latin, and some were dated. Many were highly artistic specimens of handicraft. A typical early iron stove is the wall-jamb, or five-plate, stove, which was fueled from an adjoining room.

Dutch, Swedish, and German settlers of the American colonies, especially those of Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, brought with them five-plate stoves or molds for casting them. Iron founding began c.1724 in America, and old forges or foundries have left records of five-plate stoves sold in 1728 as Dutch stoves or, less commonly, carved stoves. These continued to be made until Revolutionary times, when they were superseded by the English, or 10-plate, stove, which stood free of the wall and had a draft or fuel door. These 10-plate devices could cook and warm at the same time and replaced, in part, the large masonry baking oven, usually built outside the house.

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Saudi to Launch Elite Science, Tech University

October 1, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Tarek El-Tablawy

Capture9-30-2009-12.20.22 PM Cairo–Saudi Arabia has dug into its oil-fueled coffers to set up a new research university, a multibillion dollar coed venture built on the promise of scientific freedom in a region where a conservative interpretation of Islam has often been blamed for stifling innovation.

The King Abdullah Science and Technology University — complete with state-of-the-art labs, the world’s 14th fastest supercomputer and one of the biggest endowments worldwide — is poised to officially open its doors Wednesday on a sprawling campus nestled along the Red Sea coast about 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of the commercial center of Jeddah.

Saudi officials have envisaged the postgraduate institution as a key part of the kingdom’s plans to transform itself into a global scientific hub — the latest effort in the oil-rich Gulf region to diversify its economic base.

But KAUST, whether its founders intend it or not, has the potential to represent one of the clearest fault lines in a battle between conservatives and modernizers in the kingdom.

Saudi Arabia is the most religiously strict country in the Middle East with total segregation of the sexes and practices Wahhabi Islam — a byword for conservatism around the region. But the new university will not require women to wear veils or cover their faces, and they will be able to mix freely with men.

They will also be allowed to drive, a taboo in a country where women must literally take a back seat to their male drivers.

With KAUST’s inauguration, “we see the beginning of a community that is unique” in Saudi Arabia, the university’s president, Choon Fong Shih told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Tuesday.

“We recruit the very best in the world …. and we give them the freedom to pursue their scientific interests,” said Shih, a mechanical engineer by training who headed the National University of Singapore for nine years.

While it takes decades to develop world class institutions like what KAUST hopes to become, the university’s breakneck inception in many ways reflects Saudi Arabia’s rise to wealth and power in the global political and economic arena.

The inaugural ceremony is to be headed by its namesake, the Saudi monarch, as well as several world leaders, dignitaries and officials who will stand on what three years ago was just a sweeping acreage of sand, but is now a 36 square kilometer (13.9 square mile) campus with its beach on the Red Sea.

In a region where Internet access can often be lackluster, KAUSTS boasts Shaheen, a 222 teraflops supercomputer which officials says is the fastest in the Middle East and 14th fastest in the world. The computer is named after the Arab Peregrine falcon, believed to be the fastest animal on earth.

It also boasts a fully immersive, six-sided virtual reality facility called CORNEA that officials say, for example, can allow researchers to visualize earthquakes on a planetary scale.

Among the other equipment and facilities are 10 advanced nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometers, a coastal and marine resources laboratory and bioengineering facilities with labs needs to study cell molecules for DNA sequencing.

The English curriculum is focused on the sciences, with masters and doctoral degrees offered in nine fields including computer science, bioscience and various engineering specialties. The university is also focused on collaborative work with the private sector, as well as other research institutions.

KAUST has enrolled 817 students representing 61 different countries, of whom 314 begin classes this month while the rest are scheduled to enroll in the beginning of 2010. The aim is to expand to 2,000 students within eight to 10 years.

Of that total, 15 percent are Saudi, say university officials.

With research institutions, cash is king, and KAUST, thanks to Saudi’s oil wealth, has plenty.

It has tossed generous salary packages to prospective hires from around the world, an offer made more tempting by a multibillion dollar endowment that Shih says is “one of the biggest in the world.”

The 71 faculty members include 14 from the U.S., seven from Germany and six from Canada.

Shih did not provide a specific figure, but the funding allows all the students to receive full scholarships covering their tuition plus a stipend.

He says without that aid, students would have to pay about $60,000 to $70,000 per year — roughly comparable to the cost of attending elite U.S. schools like California’s Stanford University or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The university is being launched at a time when the OPEC powerhouse has been upping its push to focus on education and development programs aimed at boosting economic growth.

Saudi officials have said they are committed to spending $400 billion over the next five years on various development and infrastructure projects, and the kingdom set a 2009 budget that ran a deficit for the first time in years specifically to sustain spending on such ventures.

But more than a projected research juggernaut in a region where other oil-rich nations are also embracing similar initiatives — albeit on a much smaller scale — KAUST may indirectly challenge the brand of conservatism that critics say has stifled progress in the Muslim world.

“We do not restrict how they wish to work among themselves,” Shih said, referring to whether men and women can freely intermingle on campus. “It’s a research environment …. driven by scientific agenda.”

In many ways, the campus is similar to other Western-style compounds in Saudi where residents are often allowed more flexibility in embracing liberal Western values shunned outside the confines of their community in the kingdom.

But the university also could also be seen as a return to Islam’s golden age — an era centuries ago when Muslim scholars took up the mantle of the Greeks and were pioneers in the fields of medicine, mathematics, chemistry, astronomy, among others.

This tolerant and inquiring period was snuffed out under pressure from invasions by Crusaders, Mongols and nomadic desert hordes in the Middle Ages and was replaced by an age where faith superseded reason amid unstable times.

In the modern era, bureaucratic bungling, a lack funds, and a general stifling of freedoms has left much of the Arab Middle East in a state of academic and scientific atrophy.

Officials say KAUST’s embrace of scientific freedom marks Saudi Arabia’s determination to not be left behind as technology increasingly drives global development.

“In a way, we are paving the way,” said Shih, referring to the university’s focus on pure science. But if “KAUST is leading the way, it has to meet global standards of excellence, otherwise how else can we be a global player.”

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