How Israel Out-Foxed US Presidents

December 1, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Morgan Strong

From the Archive: At the G20 summit, French President Nicolas Sarkozy commiserated with President Barack Obama about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom Sarkozy called a “liar,” prompting Obama to say: “You’re fed up with him? I have to deal with him every day.” But struggling with Israeli leaders is not new, Morgan Strong reported.

By Morgan Strong (Originally published on May 31, 2010)

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The USS Liberty

At the end of a news conference on April 13, 2010, President Barack Obama made the seemingly obvious point that the continuing Middle East conflict – pitting Israel against its Arab neighbors – will end up “costing us significantly in terms of both blood and treasure.”

Obama’s remark followed a similar comment by Gen. David Petraeus on March 16, 2010, linking the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the challenges that U.S. troops face in the region.

“The conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel,” Petraeus said. “Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples in the [region] and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world.

“Meanwhile, al-Qaeda and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilize support.”

The truth behind what Obama and Petraeus said is self-evident to anyone who has spent time observing the Middle East for the past six decades. Even the staunchly pro-Israeli Bush administration made similar observations.

Three years ago in Jerusalem, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice termed the Israeli/Palestinian peace process of “strategic interest” to the United States and expressed empathy for the beleaguered Palestinian people.

“The prolonged experience of deprivation and humiliation can radicalize even normal people,” Rice said, referring to acts of Palestinian violence.

But the recent comments by Obama and Petraeus aroused alarm among some Israeli supporters who reject any suggestion that Israel’s harsh treatment of Palestinians might be a factor in the anti-Americanism surging through the Islamic world.

After Petraeus’s comment, the pro-Israeli Anti-Defamation League said linking the Palestinian plight and Muslim anger was “dangerous and counterproductive.”

“Gen. Petraeus has simply erred in linking the challenges faced by the U.S. and coalition forces in the region to a solution of the Israeli-Arab conflict, and blaming extremist activities on the absence of peace and the perceived U.S. favoritism for Israel,” ADL national director Abraham Foxman said.

However, the U.S. government’s widespread (though often unstated) recognition of the truth behind Petraeus’s comment has colored how the Obama administration has reacted to the intransigence of Israel’s Likud government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Petraeus later tried to wiggle out of his comment, noting that it was part of his prepared testimony to a congressional committee and that he did not actually speak the words.)

The U.S. government realizes how much it has done on Israel’s behalf, even to the extent of making Americans the targets of Islamic terrorism such as the 9/11 attacks (as the 9/11 Commission discovered but played down) and sacrificing the lives of thousands of U.S. troops fighting in Middle East conflicts.

That was the backdrop for President Obama’s outrage over the decision of the Netanyahu government to continue building Jewish housing in Arab East Jerusalem despite the fact that the move complicated U.S. peace initiatives and was announced as Vice President Joe Biden arrived to reaffirm American support for Israel.

However, another little-acknowledged truth about the U.S.-Israeli relationship is that Israeli leaders have frequently manipulated and misled American presidents out of a confidence that U.S. politicians deeply fear the political fallout from any public battle with Israel.

Given that history, few analysts who have followed the arc of U.S.-Israeli relations since Israel’s founding in 1948 believe that the Israeli government is likely to retreat very much in its current confrontation with President Obama.

Manipulating Eisenhower

In the 1950s, President Dwight Eisenhower was a strong supporter of the fledgling Jewish state and had supplied Israel with advanced U.S. weaponry. Yet, despite Eisenhower’s generosity and good intentions, Israel sided with the British and French in 1956 in a conspiracy against him.

Israeli leaders joined a secret arrangement that involved Israel invading Egypt’s Sinai, which then allowed France and Great Britain to introduce their own forces and reclaim control of the Suez Canal.
In reaction to the invasion, the Soviet Union threatened to intervene on the side of Egypt by sending ground troops. With Cold War tensions already stretched thin by the crises in Hungary and elsewhere, Eisenhower faced the possibility of a showdown between nuclear-armed adversaries.

Eisenhower demanded that the Israeli-spearheaded invasion of the Sinai be stopped, and he brought financial and political pressures to bear on Great Britain and France.

A ceasefire soon was declared, and the British and French departed, but the Israelis dragged their heels. Eisenhower finally presented Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion with an ultimatum, a threat to cut off all U.S. aid. Finally, in March 1957, the Israelis withdrew. [For details, see Eisenhower and Israelby Isaac Alteras]

David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister

Secret Nukes and JFK

Even as it backed down in the Sinai, Israel was involved in another monumental deception, a plan for building its own nuclear arsenal.

In 1956, Israel had concluded an agreement with France to build a nuclear reactor in the Negev desert. Israel also signed a secret agreement with France to build an adjacent plutonium reprocessing plant.

Israel began constructing its nuclear plant in 1958. However, French President Charles de Gaulle was worried about nuclear weapons destabilizing the Middle East and insisted that Israel not develop a nuclear bomb from the plutonium processing plant. Prime Minister Ben-Gurion assured de Gaulle that the processing plant was for peaceful purposes only.

After John F. Kennedy became President, he also wrote to Ben-Gurion explicitly calling on Israel not to join the nuclear-weapons club, drawing another pledge from Ben-Gurion that Israel had no such intention.

Nevertheless, Kennedy continued to press, forcing the Israelis to let U.S. scientists inspect the nuclear reactor at Dimona. But the Israelis first built a fake control room while bricking up and otherwise disguising parts of the building that housed the plutonium processing plant.

In return for allowing inspectors into Dimona, Ben-Gurion also demanded that the United States sell Hawk surface-to-air missiles to the Israeli military. Kennedy agreed to the sale as a show of good faith. Subsequently, however, the CIA got wind of the Dimona deception and leaked to the press that Israel was secretly building a nuclear bomb.

After Kennedy’s assassination, President Lyndon Johnson also grew concerned over Israel’s acquiring nuclear weapons. He asked then-Prime Minister Levi Eshkol to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Eshkol assured Johnson that Israel was studying the matter and would sign the treaty in due course. However, Israel has never signed the treaty and never has admitted that it developed nuclear weapons. [For details, See Israel and The Bomb by Avner Cohen.]

Trapping Johnson

As Israel grew more sophisticated – and more confident – in its dealings with U.S. presidents, it also sought to secure U.S. military assistance by exaggerating its vulnerability to Arab attacks.

One such case occurred after the Egyptians closed off the Gulf of Aqaba to Israel in May 1967, denying the country its only access to the Red Sea. Israel threatened military action against Egypt if it did not re-open the Gulf.

Israel then asked President Johnson for military assistance in the event war broke out against the Egyptians. Johnson directed Richard Helms, the newly appointed head of the CIA to evaluate Israel’s military capability in the event of war against the surrounding Arab states.

On May 26, 1967, Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban met with Johnson, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, and CIA Director Helms. Eban presented a Mossad estimate of the capability of the Arab armies, claiming that Israel was seriously outgunned by the Arab armies which had been supplied with advanced Soviet weaponry.

Israel believed that, owing to its special relationship with the United States, the Mossad intelligence assessment would be taken at face value.

However, Helms was asked to present the CIA estimate of the Arabs’ military capabilities versus the Israeli army. The CIA’s analysts concluded that Israel could “defend successfully against simultaneous Arab attacks on all fronts, or hold on any three fronts while mounting a successful major offensive on the fourth.” [See “C.I.A. Analysis of the 1967 Arab Israeli War,” Center for the Study of Intelligence.]

“We do not believe that the Israeli appreciation was a serious estimate of the sort they would submit to their own high officials,” the CIA report said. “It is probably a gambit intended to influence the U.S. to provide military supplies, make more public commitments to Israel, to approve Israeli military initiatives, and put more pressure on Egyptian President Nasser.” [See A Look Over My Shoulder by Richard Helms.]

The CIA report stated further that the Soviet Union would probably not interfere militarily on behalf of the Arab states and that Israel would defeat the combined Arab armies in a matter of days.
As a consequence, Johnson refused to airlift special military supplies to Israel, or to promise public support for Israel if Israel went to war.

The Six-Day Success

Despite Johnson’s resistance, Israel launched an attack on its Arab neighbors on June 5, 1967, claiming that the conflict was provoked when Egyptian forces opened fire. (The CIA later concluded that it was Israel that had first fired upon Egyptian forces.)

On June 8, at the height of the conflict, which would become known as the Six-Day War, Israeli fighter/bombers attacked the USS Liberty, a lightly armed communications vessel sent on a mission to relay information on the course of the war to U.S. naval intelligence.

The attack killed 34 Americans sailors, and wounded 171 others. Israeli leaders have always claimed that they had mistaken the U.S. vessel for an enemy ship, but a number of U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Dean Rusk, believed the attack was deliberate, possibly to prevent the United States from learning about Israel’s war plans. [See As I Saw It by Dean Rusk.]

However, in deference to Israel, the U.S. government did not aggressively pursue the matter of the Liberty attack and even issued misleading accounts in medal citations to crew members, leaving out the identity of the attackers.

Meanwhile, on land and in the air, Israel’s powerful military advanced, shredding the Arab defenses. Soon, the conflict escalated into another potential showdown between nuclear-armed superpowers, the Soviet Union and the United States.

On June 10, President Johnson received a “Hot Line” message from Soviet Premier Alexi Kosygin. The Kremlin warned of grave consequences if Israel continued its military campaign against Syria by entering and/or occupying that country.

Johnson dispatched the Sixth Fleet to the Mediterranean, in a move to convince the Soviets of American resolve. But a ceasefire was declared later the same day, with Israel ending up in control of Syria’s Golan Heights, Egypt’s Sinai, and Palestinian lands including Gaza and East Jerusalem.

But a wider war was averted. Johnson’s suspicions about Israel’s expansionist intent had kept the United States from making an even bigger commitment that might have led to the Soviets countering with an escalation of their own.

Nixon and Yom Kippur

Israeli occupation of those additional Arab lands set the stage for a resumption of hostilities six years later, on Oct. 6, 1973, with the Yom Kippur War, which began with a surprise attack by Egypt against Israeli forces in the Sinai.

The offensive caught Israel off guard and Arab forces were close to overrunning Israel’s outer defenses and entering the country. According to later accounts based primarily on Israeli leaks, Prime Minister Golda Meir and her “kitchen cabinet” ordered the arming of 13 nuclear weapons, which were aimed at Egyptian and Syrian targets.

Israeli Ambassador to the United States Simha Dintz warned President Richard Nixon that very serious repercussions would occur if the United States did not immediately begin an airlift of military equipment and personnel to Israel.

Fearing that the Soviet Union might intervene and that nuclear war was possible, the U.S. military raised its alert level to DEFCON-3. U.S. Airborne units in Italy were put on full alert, and military aid was rushed to Israel.

Faced with a well-supplied Israeli counteroffensive and possible nuclear annihilation, the Arab forces fell back. The war ended on Oct. 26, 1973, but the United States had again been pushed to the brink of a possible superpower confrontation due to the unresolved Israeli-Arab conflict.

Nuclear ‘Ambiguity’

On Sept. 22, 1979, after some clouds unexpectedly broke over the South Indian Ocean, a U.S. intelligence satellite detected two bright flashes of light that were quickly interpreted as evidence of a nuclear test.

The explosion was apparently one of several nuclear tests that Israel had undertaken in collaboration with the white-supremacist government of South Africa. But President Jimmy Carter – at the start of his reelection bid – didn’t want a showdown with Israel, especially on a point as sensitive as its secret nuclear work with the pariah government in Pretoria.

So, after news of the nuclear test leaked a month later, the Carter administration followed Israel’s longstanding policy of “ambiguity” about the existence of its nuclear arsenal, a charade dating back to Richard Nixon’s presidency with the United States pretending not to know for sure that Israel possessed nuclear bombs.

The Carter administration quickly claimed that there was “no confirmation” of a nuclear test, and a panel was set up to conclude that the flashes were “probably not from a nuclear explosion.”

However, as investigative reporter Seymour Hersh and various nuclear experts later concluded, the flashes were most certainly an explosion of a low-yield nuclear weapon. [For details, see Hersh’s Samson Option.]

Getting Carter

Despite Carter’s helpful cover-up of the Israeli-South African nuclear test, he was still viewed with disdain by Israel’s hard-line Likud leadership. Indeed, he arguably was the target of Israel’s most audacious intervention in U.S. politics.

Prime Minister Menachem Begin was furious at Carter over the 1978 Camp David accords in which the U.S. President pushed the Israelis into returning the Sinai to the Egyptians in exchange for a peace agreement.

The next year, Carter failed to protect the Shah of Iran, an important Israeli regional ally who was forced from power by Islamic militants. Then, when Carter acceded to demands from the Shah’s supporters to admit him to New York for cancer treatment, Iranian radicals seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and held 52 Americans hostage.

In 1980, as Carter focused on his reelection campaign, Begin saw both dangers and opportunities. High-ranking Israeli diplomat/spy David Kimche described Begin’s thinking in the 1991 book, The Last Option, recounting how Begin feared that Carter might force Israel to withdraw from the West Bank and accept a Palestinian state if he won a second term.

“Begin was being set up for diplomatic slaughter by the master butchers in Washington,” Kimche wrote. “They had, moreover, the apparent blessing of the two presidents, Carter and [Egyptian President Anwar] Sadat, for this bizarre and clumsy attempt at collusion designed to force Israel to abandon her refusal to withdraw from territories occupied in 1967, including Jerusalem, and to agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state.”

Begin’s alarm was driven by the prospect of Carter being freed from the pressure of having to face another election, according to Kimche.

“Unbeknownst to the Israeli negotiators, the Egyptians held an ace up their sleeves, and they were waiting to play it,” Kimche wrote. “The card was President Carter’s tacit agreement that after the American presidential elections in November 1980, when Carter expected to be re-elected for a second term, he would be free to compel Israel to accept a settlement of the Palestinian problem on his and Egyptian terms, without having to fear the backlash of the American Jewish lobby.”

So, by spring 1980, Begin had privately sided with Carter’s Republican rival, Ronald Reagan, a reality that Carter soon realized.

Questioned by congressional investigators in 1992 regarding allegations about Israel conspiring with Republicans in 1980 to help unseat him, Carter said he knew by April 1980 that “Israel cast their lot with Reagan,” according to notes found among the unpublished documents in the files of a House task force that looked into the so-called October Surprise case.

Carter traced the Israeli opposition to his reelection to a “lingering concern [among] Jewish leaders that I was too friendly with Arabs.”

Doing What Was Necessary

Begin was an Israeli leader committed to do whatever he felt necessary to advance Israeli security interests and the dream of a Greater Israel with Jews controlling the ancient Biblical lands. Before Israel’s independence in 1948, he had led a Zionist terrorist group, and he founded the right-wing Likud Party in 1973 with the goal of “changing the facts on the ground” by placing Jewish settlements in Palestinian areas.

Begin’s anger over the Sinai deal and his fear of Carter’s reelection set the stage for secret collaboration between Begin and the Republicans, according to another former Israeli intelligence official, Ari Ben-Menashe.

“Begin loathed Carter for the peace agreement forced upon him at Camp David,” Ben-Menashe wrote in his 1992 memoir, Profits of War. “As Begin saw it, the agreement took away Sinai from Israel, did not create a comprehensive peace, and left the Palestinian issue hanging on Israel’s back.”

Ben-Menashe, an Iranian-born Jew who had immigrated to Israel as a teen-ager, became part of a secret Israeli program to reestablish its Iranian intelligence network that had been decimated by the Islamic revolution. Ben-Menashe wrote that Begin authorized shipments to Iran of small arms and some military spare parts, via South Africa, as early as September 1979 and continued them despite Iran’s seizure of the U.S. hostages in November 1979.

Extensive evidence also exists that Begin’s preference for Reagan led the Israelis to join in a covert operation with Republicans to contact Iranian leaders behind Carter’s back, interfering with the President’s efforts to free the 52 American hostages before the November 1980 elections.

That evidence includes statements from senior Iranian officials, international arms dealers, intelligence operatives, and Middle East political figures (including a cryptic confirmation from Begin’s successor Yitzhak Shamir). But the truth about the October Surprise case remains in dispute to this day. [For details, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege.]

It is clear that after Reagan defeated Carter — and the U.S. hostages were released immediately upon Reagan being sworn in on Jan. 20, 1981 — Israeli-brokered weapons shipments flowed to Iran with the secret blessing of the new Republican administration.

Dealing with Reagan

The Israel Lobby had grown exponentially since its start in the Eisenhower years. Israel’s influential supporters were now positioned to use every political device imaginable to lobby Congress and to get the White House to acquiesce to whatever Israel felt it needed.

President Reagan also credentialed into the Executive Branch a new group of pro-Israeli American officials – the likes of Elliott Abrams, Richard Perle, Michael Ledeen and Jeane Kirkpatrick – who became known as the neocons.

Yet, despite Reagan’s pro-Israel policies, the new U.S. President wasn’t immune from more Israeli deceptions and additional pressures.

Indeed, whether because of the alleged collusion with Reagan during the 1980 campaign or because Israel sensed its greater clout within his administration, Begin demonstrated a new level of audacity.

In 1981, Israel recruited Jonathan Pollard, an American Navy intelligence analyst, as a spy to acquire American intelligence satellite photos. Eventually, Pollard purloined massive amounts of intelligence information, some of which was reportedly turned over to Soviet intelligence by Israel to win favors from Moscow.

Prime Minister Begin sensed, too, that the time was ripe to gain the upper hand on other Arab enemies. He turned his attention to Lebanon, where the Palestine Liberation Organization was based.

Lebanon War

When U.S. intelligence warned Reagan that Israel was massing troops along the border with Lebanon, Reagan sent a cable to Begin urging him not to invade. But Begin ignored Reagan’s plea and invaded Lebanon the following day, on June 6, 1982. [See Time, Aug. 16, 1982.]

As the offensive progressed, Reagan sought a cessation of hostilities between Israel and the PLO, but Israel was intent on killing as many PLO fighters as possible. Periodic U.S.-brokered ceasefires failed as Israel used the slightest provocation to resume fighting, supposedly in self-defense.

“When PLO sniper fire is followed by fourteen hours of Israeli bombardment that is stretching the definition of defensive action too far,” complained Reagan, who kept the picture of a horribly burned Lebanese child on his desk in the Oval Office as a reminder of the tragedy of Lebanon.

The American public nightly witnessed the Israeli bombardment of Beirut on television news broadcasts. The pictures of dead, mutilated children caught in the Israeli artillery barrages, were particularly wrenching. Repulsed by the carnage, the U.S. public decidedly favored forcing Israel to stop.

When Reagan warned Israel of possible sanctions if its forces continued to indiscriminately attack Beirut, Israel launched a major offensive against West Beirut the next day.

In the United States, Israeli supporters demanded a meeting with Reagan to press Israel’s case. Though Reagan declined the meeting, one was set up for 40 leaders of various Jewish organizations with Vice President George H.W. Bush, Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and Secretary of State George Shultz.

Reagan wrote once again to Begin, reminding him that Israel was allowed to use American weapons only for defensive purposes. He appealed to Begin’s humanitarianism to stop the bombardment.
The next day, in a meeting with Israeli supporters from the United States, Begin fumed that he would not be instructed by an American president or any other U.S. official.

“Nobody is going to bring Israel to her knees. You must have forgotten that Jews do not kneel but to God,” Begin said. “Nobody is going to preach to us humanitarianism.”

Begin’s government also used the tragedy in Lebanon as an opportunity to provide special favors for its American backers.

In From Beirut to Jerusalem, New York Times correspondent Thomas L. Freidman wrote that the Israeli Army conducted tours of the battlefront for influential U.S. donors. On one occasion, women from Hadassah were taken to the hills surrounding Beirut and were invited to look down on the city as Israeli artillery put on a display for them.

The artillery began an enormous barrage, with shells landing throughout the densely populated city. The shells struck and destroyed apartments, shops, homes and shacks

Labels: Hope Palestine, Israeli Hawks, Security Israel, Speaker Mike Ghouse, www.IsraelPalestinedialouge.com

13-49

This Struggle Has Re-awakened Our Imagination

November 23, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

By Arundhati Roy

Text of a speech given by Arundhati Roy at the People’s University in Washington Square, NYC on 20 November, 2011.

india-arundhati-at-mike3Tuesday morning, the police cleared Zuccotti Park, but today the people are back.

The police should know that this protest is not a battle for territory. We’re not fighting for the right to occupy a park here or there. We are fighting for justice. Justice, not just for the people of the US, but for everybody.

What you have achieved since September 17th, when the Occupy movement began in the United States, is to introduce a new imagination, a new political language into the heart of empire. You have reintroduced the right to dream into a system that tried to turn everybody into zombies, mesmerized into equating mindless consumerism with happiness and fulfillment.

As a writer, let me tell you, this is an immense achievement. And I cannot thank you enough.

We were talking about justice. Today, as we speak, the army of the United States is waging a war of occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan. US drones are killing civilians in Pakistan and beyond. Tens of thousands of US troops and death squads are moving into Africa. If spending trillions of dollars of your money to administer occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan is not enough, a war against Iran is being talked up.

Ever since the Great Depression, the manufacture of weapons and the export of war have been key ways in which the United States has stimulated its economy. Just recently, under President Obama, the US made a $60 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia – moderate Muslims, right? It hopes to sell thousands of bunker busters to the UAE. It has sold $5 billion-worth of military aircraft to my country, India, which has more poor people than all the poorest countries of Africa put together. All these wars, from the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to Vietnam, Korea, Latin America, have claimed millions of lives — all of them fought to secure the “American way of life”.

Today, we know that the “American way of life” — the model that the rest of the world is meant to aspire towards — has resulted in 400 people owning the wealth of half of the population of the United States. It has meant thousands of people being turned out of their homes and their jobs while the US government bailed out banks and corporations — American International Group (AIG) alone was given $182 billion.

The Indian government worships US economic policy. As a result of 20 years of the free market economy, today, 100 of India’s richest people own assets worth one-quarter of the country’s GDP while more than 80% of the people live on less than 50 cents a day. Two hundred and fifty thousand farmers, driven into a spiral of debt death, have committed suicide. We call this progress, and now think of ourselves as a superpower. Like you, we are well-qualified. We have nuclear bombs and obscene inequality.

The good news is that people have had enough and are not going to take it any more. The Occupy movement has joined thousands of other resistance movements all over the world in which the poorest of people are standing up and stopping the richest corporations in their tracks.

Few of us dreamed that we would see you, the people of the United States on our side, trying to do this in the heart of Empire. I don’t know how to communicate the enormity of what this means.

They, the one percent, say that we don’t have demands” perhaps they don’t know, that our anger alone would be enough to destroy them. But here are some things — a few “pre-revolutionary” thoughts I had — for us to think about together:

We want to put a lid on this system that manufactures inequality. We want to put a cap on the unfettered accumulation of wealth and property by individuals as well as corporations. As “cap-ists” and “lid-ites”, we demand:

One, an end to cross-ownership in businesses. For example, weapons manufacturers cannot own TV stations; mining corporations cannot run newspapers; business houses cannot fund universities; drug companies cannot control public health funds.

Two, natural resources and essential infrastructure — water supply, electricity, health, and education — cannot be privatized.

Three, everybody must have the right to shelter, education and healthcare.

Four, the children of the rich cannot inherit their parents’ wealth.

This struggle has re-awakened our imagination. Somewhere along the way, capitalism reduced the idea of justice to mean just “human rights”, and the idea of dreaming of equality became blasphemous. We are not fighting to just tinker with reforming a system that needs to be replaced.

As a cap-ist and a lid-ite, I salute your struggle.

13-48

Senate Gives “Audit the Fed” a Unanimous Victory

May 13, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By John Nichols

“The Fed can no longer operate in virtual secrecy,” declared Vermont independent Bernie Sanders Tuesday after the Senate voted 96-0 to add his “Audit the Fed” amendment to the financial regulatory reform bill.

The Senate amendment is not as muscular as the bipartisan legislation backed by the House, which was sponsored by Florida Congressman Alan Grayson, an aggressive progressive, and Texas Congressman Ron Paul, an equally aggressive conservative with libertarian leanings. The Grayson-Paul bill authorizes audits by the Government Accountability Office of every item on the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet, including all credit facilities and all securities purchase programs; there would be exemption only for unreleased transcripts, minutes of closed-door meetings and the most recent decisions of the central bank. The Senate measure is narrower in its focus, but it would require the GAO to scrutinize some several trillion dollars in emergency lending that the Fed provided to big banks after the September 2008 economic meltdown.

The actual amount of public money that has been set aside for private banks is not known. That’s one reason why this audit is so important. But there can be no doubt that the figure is astronomical. The Center for Media and Democracy’s Wall Street Bailout Tally shows that since 2008, the U.S. government has flooded Wall Street banks and financial institutions with $4.7 trillion dollars in taxpayer money, mostly in the form of loans from the Fed reserve. The Fed has never told us which firms got these loans and what type of collateral American taxpayers got in return. This will now be revealed. We will also get an accounting of the Fed’s “stealth” bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac.

Sanders tried to pass a broader amendment, but when he faced roadblocks — and the prospect that audit language might be excluded entirely from the final bill — he agreed to propose an amendment outlining the one-time audit of post-meltdown Fed activity.  That did not sit well with all senators. Even as Republicans such as New Hampshire’s Judd Gregg tried to prevent any demand for transparency, Louisiana Republican David Vitter proposed tougher language along the lines what Grayson and Paul pushed through the House. While most Democrats and a number of Republicans opposed the tougher language, Sanders joined the most serious reformers in the Democratic caucus — Wisconsin’s Russ Feingold, Washington’s Maria Cantwell, North Dakota’s Byron Dorgan, Arkansas’s Blanche Lincoln, Virginia’s Jim Webb and Oregon’s Ron Wyden — in voting “yes.”

The Vitter amendment failed on a 62-37 vote and Feingold was especially disappointed.  “Unfortunately,” the Wisconsin progressive declared, “the defeat of the Vitter amendment means American taxpayers will still not have a complete picture of how one of the most powerful government agencies makes policy and spends their tax dollars.”

Still, Feingold acknowledged that, “Senator Sanders’ amendment will mean more transparency for the Federal Reserve, so the public will have a better idea of how it is spending taxpayer dollars.”

That transparency is consequential, noted Sanders. “Let’s be clear,” he explained, “when trillions of dollars of taxpayer money are being lent out to the largest financial institutions in this country, the American people have a right to know who received that money and what they did with it.  We also need to know what possible conflicts of interest exist involving the heads of large financial institutions who sat in the room helping to make those decisions.”

The “Audit the Fed” language that is included in the final legislation remains to be seen, as the differences between the House and Senate proposals will have to be reconciled by a conference committee. That will provide an opening for Grayson, Paul, Sanders and their allies to push for the broadest possible transparency. But, make no mistake, there will be pushback.

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke has repeatedly refused to respond to demands from Sanders and others for information about the banks that have been bailed out by the taxpayers — and that continue to pad their accounts with public dollars. President Obama, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and their aides are critics of the “Audit the Fed” push, as well.

So why, with so much official opposition, did the “Audit the Fed” movement win a 96-0 vote in the Senate? Campaigners on the left and right made the issue a high priority. A good deal of credit must go to Sanders and Paul — long-time critics of the Fed who opposed the 2008 Wall Street bailouts and then steered anger at those bailouts toward the “Audit the Fed” movement — which was boosted on the left by websites such as Jane Hamsher’s Firedoglake and on the right by the Paul-linked Campaign for Liberty, as well as by outspoken economists such a Dean Baker and watchdog operations such as CMD’s BanksterUSA project.

Ultimately, however, much of the credit must go to Grayson, who embraced Paul’s proposal — which had languished in the House — and led the campaign to get Democrats to sign on to the bill. As Hamsher says, “Tremendous credit goes to Alan Grayson. It was Grayson who decided to take up Ron Paul’s bill and bring Democratic support for it.

Sanders, who took some hits for compromising, also deserves credit at this point for making sure, even when he was forced to trim back on his amendment, that critical elements of the initial proposal by Paul — especially the defined role for the GAO — were retained. That will make it harder for the Obama White House and their allies in the congressional leadership to gut the audit language in the conference committee.

There will, as well, be additional fights:

“While passage of Senator Sanders’ amendment will provide some long overdue accountability and transparency for the Federal Reserve, the overall bill still needs a lot of work,” said Feingold. In particular, Feingold and other real reformers have focused on the need for the bill to restore the firewall between Main Street banks and Wall Street securities firms and insurance companies, which contributed to financial institutions growing “too big to fail.”

While the bipartisan support for auditing the Fed represents a step in the right direction, Feingold is right when he says it is only one step on a long road toward addressing the way in which bad decisions by Congress “led to deregulation and the increased concentration of economic power and economic decision-making.”

John Nichols is Washington DC correspondent for The Nation magazine.

12-20

PAKPAC Condemns NY Attempted Bomb Plot

May 6, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Press Release

“Washington DC: May 4th, 2010: The Pakistani American Public Affairs Committee (PAKPAC) condemns the Times Square attempted attempted bomb plot over the weekend. We appreciate the efforts of the New York Police Department as well as the FBI and vigilant NY residents in responding to this incident and saving hundreds of lives. PAKPAC is shocked and saddened to learn that the prime suspect is of Pakistani heritage. Though details of the case are still being uncovered and investigations are on going, we denounce this attempted attack on our soil and seek that this individual or any accomplice, to be tried and punished under American Judicial system. Whether this is an act of a lone individual or a group, it harms everyone and benefits no one. As a community, we should have zero tolerance for such acts as they damage and disrupt the way of life of Americans. 

“PAKPAC agrees with President Obama’s call for all citizens to be vigilant, it maybe be recalled that it was reporting by a vigilant NY resident that stopped this tragic incident from happening. PAKPAC and Pakistani Americans are committed to protect and defend the United States of America. We ask the Pakistani Americans and American Muslims to demonstrate an iron resolve against terrorism and to remain vigilant and continue to report anything that is illegal or suspicious to law enforcement agencies.

“Janet Napolitano, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, stated on the “Today” show that it was premature to label any person or group as suspect. “Right now, every lead has to be pursued,” she said. “I caution against premature decisions one way or the other.”  PAKPAC requests  that the U.S. law enforcement agencies and American community to safeguard the civil rights of the thousands of law abiding Pakistani Americans and ensure that there is no backlash against the community, locally in Connecticut or across the nation. Pakistani American community seeks to work together with the Obama Administration and law enforcement  agencies, and to provide them with resources to protect the safety of our nation and its citizens.

“The US ambassador to Islamabad Anne Patterson held talks with Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi on this issue. Mr. Qureshi assured Pakistan’s full cooperation to US in this regard. The nation of Pakistan along with its armed forces has given unprecedented sacrifices in US-led war on terrorism. It is estimated that over five thousand Pakistani military and civilians have lost their lives, while Pakistan economy has suffered a loss of $35 billion since September 11 attack. PAKPAC welcomes the full cooperation offered by Pakistan Government.

“PAKPAC is monitoring this developing situation and will keep you updated periodically.”

FOR FURTHER CONTACT:

Executive Director: Irfan Malik   ED@pakpac.net    202 558 6404
Connecticut contact: Saud Anwar   saud.anwar@pakpac.net   202 558 6404

Islam Siddiqui Appointed

April 1, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

President Obama on Saturday announced the recess appointment of 15 political appointees whose nominations had been stalled by Republicans.

DrIslamSiddiqui “The United States Senate has the responsibility to approve or disapprove of my nominees. But if, in the interest of scoring political points, Republicans in the Senate refuse to exercise that responsibility, I must act in the interest of the American people and exercise my authority to fill these positions on an interim basis,” Obama said in a statement.

“Most of the men and women whose appointments I am announcing today were approved by Senate committees months ago, yet still await a vote of the Senate. At a time of economic emergency, two top appointees to the Department of Treasury have been held up for nearly six months. I simply cannot allow partisan politics to stand in the way of the basic functioning of government.”

The 15 newly appointed nominees are:

* Jeffrey Goldstein: Nominee for Under Secretary for Domestic Finance, Department of the Treasury
* Michael F. Mundaca: Nominee for Assistant Secretary for Tax Policy, Department of the Treasury
* Eric L. Hirschhorn: Nominee for Under Secretary of Commerce for Export Administration and head of the Bureau of Industry and Security, Department of Commerce
* Michael Punke: Nominee for Deputy Trade Representative – Geneva, Office of the United States Trade Representative
* Francisco “Frank” J. Sánchez: Nominee for Under Secretary for International Trade, Department of Commerce
* Islam A. Siddiqui: Nominee for Chief Agricultural Negotiator, Office of the U.S. Trade Representative
* Alan D. Bersin: Nominee for Commissioner, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security
* Jill Long Thompson: Nominee for Member, Farm Credit Administration Board
* Rafael Borras: Nominee for Under Secretary for Management , Department of Homeland Security
* Craig Becker: Nominee for Board Member, National Labor Relations Board
* Mark Pearce: Nominee for Board Member, National Labor Relations Board
* Jacqueline A. Berrien: Nominee for Chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
* Chai R. Feldblum: Nominee for Commissioner, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
* Victoria A. Lipnic: Nominee for Commissioner, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
* P. David Lopez: Nominee for General Counsel, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

In a post to the White House blog that accompanied Obama’s announcement, spokeswoman Jen Psaki wrote that the president “was no longer willing to let another month go by with key economic positions unfilled, especially at a time when our country is recovering from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.”

Article II, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution gives the president the right to unilaterally fill any vacancy that would normally require Senate confirmation when the Senate is in recess.

Unlike appointments that are confirmed by the Senate, recess appointments only last until the end of the next session of Congress, which right now would mean until the end of 2011.

Obama had been widely expected to recess appoint Becker and Pearce to the labor relations board. As Jason Linkins wrote in the Huffington Post on Friday, GOP opposition to Obama’s nominees had left the board with only two of its five members, which has led to a lot of one-to-one ties.

Some of the other appointments are to critical positions, such as the two Treasury candidates whose nominations had been stalled.

And some were being obstructed for particularly outrageous reasons. As Ryan Grim recently reported for the Huffington Post, the two trade nominees — Bunke and Siddiqui — were being blocked by Kentucky Republican Sen. Jim Bunning because he is opposed to a tobacco-related law passed by the Canadian Parliament.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), was particularly eloquent on that matter on the Senate floor two weeks ago: “The Senator from Kentucky has said he doesn’t have any objection to these nominees. He’s only blocking the nominations as leverage against the President and [U.S. Trade Representative Ron] Kirk. That is pure obstructionism.”

Obama nevertheless shied away from what would have been some more controversial recess appointments. He did not unilaterally install any of his blocked nominees to the Justice Department, including Dawn Johnsen, his nominee to run the Office of Legal Counsel, and Chris Schroeder, his nominee to be assistant attorney general for legal policy — both of whom are beloved by progressives but reviled by Republicans. He also chose not to recess appoint one of his senior Treasury nominees, Lael Brainard, nominated for undersecretary of international affairs, who has run into some tax issues.

That Obama would use his recess appointment powers isn’t a surprise. According to the Congressional Research Service, President George W. Bush made 171 recess appointments; President Clinton made 139.

Until Saturday, Obama hadn’t made any — despite Republican obstruction so intense that even Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in early February essentially begged Obama to do an end run.

“Frankly, I think the President should recess all of them — all of them,” Reid said of Obama’s stalled nominees. “There are scores of them being held up for reasons that have nothing to do with anything dealing with these people or how they will function once in office.”

There are still about 200 judicial and civilian nominees being held up, some of them for some pretty amazing reasons. And the Senate is in recess until April 12.

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Community News (V12-I13)

March 25, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Sayed Naved appointed to MD Board of Education

BALTIMORE, MD–Sayed Naved has been appointed to the Maryland Board of Education by Gov. Martin O’Malley.

Mr. Naved is a current member and former chair of the Islamic Council of Maryland. He earlier served as the principal of the ICM Sunday School.

His four year term on the board begins this April.

Application filed for mosque in Norwalk

NORWALK, CT–The Al Madany Islamic Center of Norwalk has submitted plans to the city’s Department of Planning and Zoning to construct a facility consisting of a prayer hall, classrooms, library and gymnasium. The submitted plans show a 420 seat prayer hall and eighty seven parking spaces.

“Currently Norwalk’s Muslim community has no established house of worship in which to pray or conduct other religious activities. Individuals must meet to worship in private homes without the benefit of an established place of worship where all may gather as a religious congregation,” wrote John F. Fallon, the attorney representing The Al Madany Islamic Center, in a narrative of the proposal “The center has purchased property at 127 Fillow Street in order to address this need and seeks approval to construct a mosque on the property as shown in the plans submitted herewith.”

Madison County mosque plans approved

MADISON COUNTY, MS–County supervisors have approved plans to build a mosque in Madison after a lengthy process, WLBT TV reported.

Earlier attempts to get approval by the Mississippi Muslim Association to build a mosque were stalled by concerns over who would provide utilities for the 9,000 square foot proposed facility.

Supervisor Tim Johnson said the board will ask the Madison County Wastewater Authority to allow the mosque to tap into its sewer line, eliminating the need for a separate septic system.

He said the Mississippi Muslim Association has done all that’s required.

“They have completed all the things that we have asked of them as far as our rules and regulations in regard to the county of Madison and our zoning to we, upon receiving those certificates, we granted them approval to move forward on their building,” said Johnson.

New Jersey Hospital to Receive Diversity Award

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ–Saint Peter’s Healthcare System in New Jersey will receive the 2010 Corporate Citizen Award from the American Conference on Diversity at the conference’s Central Jersey Chapter Humanitarian Awards this week.

Tab Chukunta, community outreach director for the healthcare system, said the hospital reaches out to people of a variety of religious, cultural and ethnic backgrounds through religious accommodations such as offering halal meals to Muslim patients and through annual celebrations such as an event marking the Hindu festival of Diwali, or an annual Iftar dinner during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Accommodating diversity not only helps the patients but also has immense benefits for the institutions. As the word gets out more and more clients turn to institutions that cater to their needs.

Sec. Clinton Invites CPR to Event

(WASHINGTON, D.C. 3/23/2010) — Reflecting its presence in Washington D.C., the Council on Pakistan Relations has been invited by Secretary Clinton to attend a March 24 reception commemorating the first Ministerial-level U.S.-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue.  Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi will co-chair the talks.  

Topics for discussion will include economic development, water and energy, education, communications and public diplomacy, agriculture, and security.  High-level officials from both governments will come to the table to discuss issues of common concern and shared responsibility.

According to Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke, “President Obama and Secretary Clinton have repeatedly stressed the breadth and depth of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, a partnership that goes far beyond security. The Strategic Dialogue represents the shared commitment of both nations to a strengthening the bilateral relationship and building an even broader partnership based on mutual respect and mutual trust.  The United States is supporting Pakistan as it seeks to strengthen democratic institutions, as it seeks to foster more economic development, expand opportunities, deal with its energy and water problems, and defeat the extremist groups who threaten both Pakistan’s security and stability in the larger region, and American national security as well.”

The Council on Pakistan Relations is a pro-America, pro-Pakistan not-for-profit advocacy organization interested in strengthening ties and enhancing mutual understanding between the two nations.

CONTACT: Mahera Rahman, mahera@pakistanrelations.org

SALAM Islamic Center Honored

Sacramento–Mohamed Abdul-Azeez

2009 Director’s Community Leadership Awards

The Sacramento Division has selected Mohamed Abdul-Azeez to receive the Director’s Community Leadership Award.

Mr. Azeez is the religious leader of the SALAM Islamic Center in Sacramento, California, which is a mosque, a community center, an elementary school, a preschool, a weekend school, an educational institution, and a place of spiritual uplifting and personal development. Imam Azeez, through SALAM, strives to present the true essence of the message of Islam and to promote moderation, community service, and interreligious dialogue to build a better society.

Educated in medicine, political science, sociology, Islamic history, and Islamic theology, Imam Azeez holds a Doctor of Medicine degree from Ain Shams University, a Bachelor of Arts from Ohio State University, and a Master of Arts from the University of Chicago. He has been involved in Islamic activism and education for the past 10 years and has worked with numerous institutions from the Midwest to the West Coast. He has taught at some of them.

Imam Azeez is a passionate advocate of interfaith work and dedicates much of his time educating the community about the religion of Islam. In his capacity as the Imam of SALAM, he is a member of the Sacramento Interfaith Services Bureau and participates in most inter-religious dialogue in the area.

SALAM, in its involvement with other faith-based organizations, has been a steady contributor to building and maintaining bridges within the Sacramento community. SALAM believes further understanding and cooperation can be achieved for the betterment of the greater Sacramento area.

SALAM has instituted many outreach activities, including the Children of Abraham program, interfaith prayer services, interfaith tree planting and, with the help of the members of the San Juan School District, the increase of religious sensitivity and awareness in scholastic curricula. Imam Azeez has also been a regular guest speaker at the Sacramento FBI on the topic of Muslim culture and on July 26, 2009, gave a Muslim Cultural Awareness briefing to members of the FBI Sacramento Citizens’ Academy Alumni Association.

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Final Destination Iran?

March 18, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

By Rob Edwards, The Herald (Scotland)

Hundreds of powerful US bunker-buster bombs are being shipped from California to the British island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean in preparation for a possible attack on Iran.

The Sunday Herald can reveal that the US government signed a contract in January to transport 10 ammunition containers to the island. According to a cargo manifest from the US navy, this included 387 Blu bombs used for blasting hardened or underground structures.

Experts say that they are being put in place for an assault on Irans controversial nuclear facilities. There has long been speculation that the US military is preparing for such an attack, should diplomacy fail to persuade Iran not to make nuclear weapons.

Although Diego Garcia is part of the British Indian Ocean Territory, it is used by the US as a military base under an agreement made in 1971. The agreement led to 2,000 native islanders being forcibly evicted to the Seychelles and Mauritius.

The Sunday Herald reported in 2007 that stealth bomber hangers on the island were being equipped to take bunker-buster bombs.

Although the story was not confirmed at the time, the new evidence suggests that it was accurate.

Contract details for the shipment to Diego Garcia were posted on an international tenders website by the US navy.

A shipping company based in Florida, Superior Maritime Services, will be paid $699,500 to carry many thousands of military items from Concord, California, to Diego Garcia.

Crucially, the cargo includes 195 smart, guided, Blu-110 bombs and 192 massive 2000lb Blu-117 bombs.

They are gearing up totally for the destruction of Iran, said Dan Plesch, director of the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at the University of London, co-author of a recent study on US preparations for an attack on Iran. US bombers are ready today to destroy 10,000 targets in Iran in a few hours, he added.

The preparations were being made by the US military, but it would be up to President Obama to make the final decision. He may decide that it would be better for the US to act instead of Israel, Plesch argued.

The US is not publicising the scale of these preparations to deter Iran, tending to make confrontation more likely, he added. The US … is using its forces as part of an overall strategy of shaping Irans actions.

According to Ian Davis, director of the new independent thinktank, Nato Watch, the shipment to Diego Garcia is a major concern. We would urge the US to clarify its intentions for these weapons, and the Foreign Office to clarify its attitude to the use of Diego Garcia for an attack on Iran, he said.

For Alan Mackinnon, chair of Scottish CND, the revelation was extremely worrying. He stated: It is clear that the US government continues to beat the drums of war over Iran, most recently in the statements of Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.

It is depressingly similar to the rhetoric we heard prior to the war in Iraq in 2003.

The British Ministry of Defence has said in the past that the US government would need permission to use Diego Garcia for offensive action. It has already been used for strikes against Iraq during the 1991 and 2003 Gulf wars.

About 50 British military staff are stationed on the island, with more than 3,200 US personnel. Part of the Chagos Archipelago, it lies about 1,000 miles from the southern coasts of India and Sri Lanka, well placed for missions to Iran.

The US Department of Defence did not respond to a request for a comment.

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Sec of State Hillary Clinton Praises the Late Imam Tantawi

March 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

From US Dept. of State Website

“I was saddened today to learn of the passing of Grand Imam Mohamed Sayyid Tantawi, the head of al-Azhar University in Cairo.

“Imam Tantawi was a highly respected cleric and the leader of one of the most important institutions of Islamic learning in the world. As President Obama said in Cairo last summer, Al-Azhar has stood as a beacon of Islamic learning for over a thousand years, and it continues to play a dynamic role today. Imam Tantawi was an important voice for dialogue among religions and communities. Under his leadership, the university co-hosted the President’s speech laying out a vision for a “New Beginning” between the United States and Muslim communities around the world. And Americans will always remember Imam Tantawi for his condemnations of violence after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, when he said: “It’s not courage in any way to kill an innocent person.”

“We offer our condolences to the Imam’s family and friends today, as well as his many students in Egypt and in Muslim communities throughout the world.”

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Warren Buffett’s Investment Advice for You

March 4, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Buffett Says Consumer Behavior May Be Forever Changed by Recession

By Katie Escherich and Bianna Golodryga

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett believes that the U.S. will emerge from the current economic recession “stronger than ever,” but he said the behavior of the American consumer may be forever changed.

“We were on a binge before,” the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway told “Good Morning America” in an exclusive interview. “I mean, we are not saving extraordinary sums now but the savings behavior has changed. … I don’t necessarily think that we will go back to behaving the way that we were two years ago.”

The man known as the “Oracle from Omaha” because of his history of successful investments, shared his top three pieces of advice for average Americans who want to grow their savings and keep their money safe.

Number one: “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.”

Number two: “Always look at how much the other guy is making if he is trying to sell you something.”

Number three: Don’t go into debt.

“Stay away from leverage,” he said. “Nobody ever goes broke that doesn’t owe money.”

The “binge,” he said, was fueled largely by over-borrowing by both individuals and companies.

“The U.S. public as a whole has gotten into problems from leverage, financial institutions have gotten into problems through leverage,” he said. “A long, long time ago a friend said to me about leverage, ‘If you’re smart you don’t need it, and if you’re dumb, you got no business using it.’”

At a time when many college graduates face uncertain futures and are struggling to find jobs, Buffett said he still believes that “investing in yourself is the best thing you can do. Anything that improves your own talents. And I always advise students to do that, high school students, college students and obviously investing in your children is, in some ways, investing in yourself.”

No matter what happens in the economy, “if you have true talent yourself, and you have maximized your talent, you have a terrific asset.”

Warren Buffett on Budget Deficit

Buffett showed some support for the idea of a second economic stimulus package, but cautioned that it should be handled differently to restore the American public’s confidence.

The number of earmarks included in the bill were “part of what has affected the American psyche,” he said. “When we go on and we talk about earmarks and that sort of thing, and then we get the kind of behavior we’ve got, I mean, that is not reassuring to the American public.”

He called the first stimulus “like taking half a tablet of Viagra and having also a bunch of candy mixed in, you know, as if everybody was putting in enough for their own constituents.”

He also cautioned that the American public will have to be patient and give the economy time to recover, particularly when it comes to the surplus of houses on the market that resulted from overbuilding.

“The American public will get disappointed, but it is going to take time to work through the overhang of houses, for example,” he said. “You can’t cure that in a day or a week or a month, so a stimulus doesn’t cure that.”

Buffett also expressed confidence in Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, and dismissed rumors that the Fed chief may not return once his current term is up at the end of the year.

“Well, I think he should keep his job,” he said. “And as to what people say, well they are going to say something, they have always talked about Fed chairmen when their terms are coming up. But taking Bernanke out of the lineup would be like if you had the Ryder Cup, taking Tiger Woods out of it. It just doesn’t make any sense.”

Buffett acknowledged that the actions taken by the government will lead to an even bigger budget deficit. “It will happen and I worry about it, but I would worry more if we weren’t doing anything right now.”

He compared the current situation to “a friend that is sinking in quicksand.”

“You throw them a rope and they tie it around themselves and a car pulls them out, they may dislocate a couple of shoulders but it’s still the right thing to do. And we are doing things which will have negative consequences down the road, but they are still the right thing to do to get us out of this particular economic quicksand that we are in.”

Warren Buffett on Health Care Reform

Asked if he agreed with President Obama that passing health care reform would help limit the ballooning budget deficit, Buffett replied, “I really don’t think that I’m an expert on health care,” but said the system needs to be drastically changed.

“I think it’s a moral imperative that everybody have access to health care,” he said. “It’s a terrible problem.”

Despite the pressing economic concerns, he said he would be in favor of the government devoting resources to devising a plan for health care reform “if there’s a well-thought-out program that actually promises to bring down the cost of health care.”

“We are spending 2 trillion plus on health care a year,” he said. “If we could come up with something that even maintains the present cost and promises not to have a greater-than-inflation rate of gain in the future, and brings health care to the people that aren’t getting it now, then I think that will be a huge improvement. I don’t think that is an easy task.”

In anyone’s lifetime, “you will see many recessions, some bubbles,” he said, but he’s optimistic about the future.

“If we sat down here [at the] start of the 20th century, and I said there is going to be the panic of 1907, there is going to be a world war. It will be followed by a Great Depression with 35 percent unemployment, and then we will have another war that it looks like we are going to lose, and then we are going to have a nuclear bomb like no one has ever seen … by the time I got through, you’d be crying. But the Dow went from 66 to 11,497 during that same century, and the average person’s standard of living went up 7 to 1. We have a system that unleashes human potential like nobody has ever seen, and it has done it in the past, it will do it in the future. So I’m a huge bull on America — it does let people like you and me do far more than we could have done 200 years ago.”

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Talal Asad

March 4, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

Camp Meeker (Calif.)–February 28th–This discussion was observed some time ago in Berkeley, but your essayist is only finding the time to write it up this Sunday afternoon.   

Asad’s father was an Austrian Jewish convert to Islam and his mother was a Muslim-born woman.  The philosophically-oriented Talal was born in the Saudi Kingdom, but raised in India and Pakistan.  The younger Asad was trained as an anthropologist, and now is a professor in New York City.  Your critic is mainly familiar with his compilations as an historian.

He began the exchange with “…I can give you a…location [of] where I am [stand] today.  I was much more confident [of] rational criticism” in the past than now.  “Working through certain materialists, [can be]…positive.”  In this way, he has transformed the Islamic tradition to respond to Western Secularism with an (Islamic) Modernism of its own uniqueness, “…a straight forward approach …” to problem solving (“reality testing”) is required according to our philosopher. 

“… [cultural] continuity is still relevant…for creativity.”  The question is “What can be continued and why,” but he still has much to work out for a comprehensive “critique…I don’t know what we can do…Thinking is good [positive], but what kind of thinking?”

Speaking especially of the Middle East, “Life is…entangled…The scope of the horror has tremendously increased” with the Afghani and Pakistani theaters, “We are in a new type of War…”  Unlike President Obama, he disagrees with the Just War theories (both Christian and Islamic).    There is a threat of a nuclear holocaust at present.  We are following a suicidal logic!

In the Occident, Classic Eighteenth Century “Liberalism has…evolved historically [into Neo-liberalism during our generation]…”  Sarcastically, he exclaimed “Let the market rule” although “…the State can intervene…”        “The…West… [‘s cultural] language’’ contains violence…”  He, personally, does not hold to a Culture of Death as he describes it. 

“…any texts we write can be interpreted in many ways…”  Curiously, therefore, he maintains he is not responsible for his writings.

Although he is fully conversant in European and American humanism, “…I am committed to… [the]…values of Islam…” constantly employing his religion within his philosophical doctrines.  Towards the end of the dialogue, he noted certain similarities between Eastern Christianity and Islam.  In this manner, he has emphasized the commonality between the roots of the West and the Islamic; and, thereby, a space for meeting.

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Marjah Offensive Aimed to Shape US Opinion on War

February 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Gareth Porter, Inter Press Service

Washington – Senior military officials decided to launch the current U.S.-British military campaign to seize Marjah in large part to influence domestic U.S. opinion on the war in Afghanistan, the Washington Post reported Monday.

The Post report, by Greg Jaffe and Craig Whitlock, both of whom cover military affairs, said the town of Marjah would not have been chosen as a target for a U.S. military operation had the criterion been military significance instead of impact on domestic public opinion.

The primary goal of the offensive, they write, is to “convince Americans that a new era has arrived in the eight-year long war….” U.S. military officials in Afghanistan “hope a large and loud victory in Marjah will convince the American public that they deserve more time to demonstrate that extra troops and new tactics can yield better results on the battlefield,” according to Jaffe and Whitlock.

A second aim is said to be to demonstrate to Afghans that U.S. forces can protect them from the Taliban.

Despite the far-reaching political implications of the story, the Post buried it on page A9, suggesting that it was not viewed by editors as a major revelation.

Jaffe and Whitlock cite no official sources for the report, but the evidence supporting the main conclusion of the article clearly came from information supplied by military or civilian Pentagon sources. That suggests that officials provided the information on condition that it could not be attributed to any official source.

Some advisers to Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the commander of the International Security Assistance Force, told him last June that Kandahar City is far more important strategically than Marjah, according to Jaffe and Whitlock.

Marjah is a town of less than 50,000 people, even including the surrounding villages, according to researcher Jeffrey Dressler of the Institute for the Study of War in Washington, D.C.

That makes it about one-tenth the population of Kandahar City. Marjah is only one of a number of logistical centres used by the Taliban in Helmand province, as Dressler observed in a study of Helmand province published by the Institute last September.

Kandahar, on the other hand, is regarded as symbolically important as the place where the Taliban first arose and the location of its leadership organs even during the period of Taliban rule.

Nevertheless, McChrystal decided to commit 15,000 U.S. troops and Afghan troops to get control of Marjah as the first major operation under the new strategy of the Barack Obama administration.

That decision has puzzled many supporters of the war, such as author Steve Coll, who wrote a definitive history of U.S. policy toward Afghanistan and is now executive director of the New America Foundation. Coll wrote in the New Yorker last week that he did not understand “why surging U.S. forces continue to invest their efforts and their numbers so heavily in Helmand.”

Coll pointed to the much greater importance of Kandahar in the larger strategic picture.

The real reason for the decision to attack Marjah, according to Jaffe and Whitlock, was not the intrinsic importance of the objective, but the belief that an operation to seize control of it could “deliver a quick military and political win for McChrystal.”

Choosing Kandahar as the objective of the first major operation under the new strategy would have meant waiting to resolve political rivalries in the province, according to the Post article.

In public comments in recent days, CENTCOM chief Gen. David Petraeus has put forward themes that may be used to frame the Marjah operation and further offensives to come in Kandahar later this year.

Last Thursday, an unnamed “senior military official” told reporters, “This is the start point of a new strategy,” adding, “This is our first salvo.”

On Sunday, Petraeus appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press” and said the flow of 30,000 new troops that President Obama recently ordered to the region is starting to produce “output”. Marjah is “just the initial operation of what will be a 12-to-18-month campaign,” he said, calling it the “initial salvo”.

Petraeus suggested that Taliban resistance to the offensive in Marjah was intense, as if to underline the importance of Marjah to Taliban strategy. “When we go on the offensive,” said Petraeus, “when we take away sanctuaries and safe havens from the Taliban and other extremist elements…they’re going to fight back.”
In fact, most of the Taliban fighters who had been in Marjah before the beginning of the operation apparently moved out of the town before the fighting started.

Petraeus seemed to be laying the basis for presenting Marjah as a pivotal battle as well as a successful model for the kind of operations to follow.

The Post article implies that Petraeus and McChrystal are concerned that the Obama administration is pushing for a rapid drawdown of U.S. forces after mid-2011. The military believes, according to Jaffe and Whitlock, that a public perception of U.S. military success “would almost certainly mean a slower drawdown.”

As top commander in Iraq in 2007-2008, Petraeus established a new model for reestablishing public support for a war after it had declined precipitously. Through constant briefings to journalists and Congressional delegations, he and his staff convinced political elites and public opinion that his counterinsurgency plan had been responsible for the reduction in insurgent activities that occurred during this command.

Evidence from unofficial sources indicates, however, that the dynamics of Sunni-Shi’a sectarian conflict and Shi’a politics were far more important than U.S. military operations in producing that result.

McChrystal himself seemed to be hinting at the importance of the Marjah offensive’s potential impact on the domestic politics of the war in remarks he made in Istanbul just before it began.

“This is all a war of perceptions,” McChrystal said. “This is not a physical war in terms of how many people you kill or how much ground you capture, how many bridges you blow up. This is all in the minds of the participants.”

McChrystal went on to include U.S. citizens as well as Afghans among those who needed to be convinced. “Part of what we’ve had to do is convince ourselves and our Afghan partners that we can do this,” he said.

The decision to launch a military campaign primarily to shape public opinion is not unprecedented in U.S. military history.

When President Richard M. Nixon and his National Security Adviser Henry A. Kissinger launched a major bombing campaign against the North Vietnamese capital in late December 1972, they were consciously seeking to influence public opinion to view their policy as much tougher in the final phase of peace negotiations with Hanoi.

The combination of the heavy damage to Hanoi and the administration’s heavy spin about its military pressure on the North Vietnamese contributed to broad acceptance of the later conclusion that Kissinger had gotten a better agreement in Paris in February 1973.

In fact, Kissinger had compromised on all the demands he had made before the bombing began. But the public perception was more important to the Nixon White House.

Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, “Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam”, was published in 2006.

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US Special Representative Favors “Friendship” With Indian Muslims

February 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

NEW DELHI: Farah Pandith, United States’ first Special Representative to Muslim Communities, was here on a four-day visit to apparently “win over” the Indian Muslims and improve President Barack Obama administration’s image among them. Farah has come and gone (Feb 16-19), leaving many questions unanswered about the role such visits can really play in improving United States’ image among the Indian Muslims. Asserting that her visit was “not a popularity contest,” Farah said that it was an “effort to engage with people and strike partnerships to find a common ground of interest for the common good of all.”

Farah, an American of Indian origin, was born in Kashmir. It was her first visit to India as an US Special Representative, a new position created by Obama administration to improve Washington’s image in the Muslim world and also to actively “listen and respond” to their concerns in Europe, Africa and Asia. Sworn to this position last year on September 15, Farah has visited 12 other countries, including Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Iraq and Kuwait. Her visits are a part of Obama administrations to reach out to Muslims dominated by “propaganda, stereotypes and inaccurate generalizations” about Washington.  This is the message Farah conveyed during her addresses in New Delhi at Jamia Millia Islamia University and India Islamic Cultural Center (IICC).

Farah played her part in displaying her consciousness about her religious identity as a Muslim and also in fulfilling the responsibility assigned to her in reaching out to Muslims across the world. She kept her head bowed as a cleric recited from the holy Quran at the function held at IICC. Farah began her brief address with the traditional Muslim greeting: “Asalaam Alaikum.” It was President Obama’s “vision to build partnerships with Muslim communities across the globe on the basis of mutual interest and mutual respect,” she said. “I repeat that it is based on mutual interest and respect and I extend my hand of friendship and partnership with you,” she asserted.

Highlighting the significance of her position, Farah said: “Never before America had an envoy for Muslim communities. This is the first time an envoy for the Muslims was appointed. My job is to work with our embassies worldwide to engage with the Muslim communities and focus strongly on the new generation.” “Secretary (Hillary) Clinton has asked me to engage with Muslim communities around the world at the grassroots level, and to build and extend partnerships through the US embassies in both Muslim-majority and Muslim-minority countries. I have to look at out-of-the-box ways to engage, based on mutual respect. That is my job, my mandate,” she said.

“With one-fourth of the world’s population that is Muslim, of course our country (United States) wants to do as much as we can to build partnerships across the board,” Farah stated. “We can and we want to extend the partnership in a very strong way that will allow us to develop long-term relationship with Muslims all over the world,” she said.

Drawing attention to Islam being practiced in United States and the diversity there, Farah pointed to having learned reading holy Quran at a mosque there. She also tried convincing the audience that she was “this was not an effort to increase popularity of America by a few percentage points.” Nevertheless, while interacting with Indian Muslim leaders, she pointed to Obama administration being serious about working closely with Islamic world. This, she said, was marked by appointment of Indian born Rashid Hussain as envoy for the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC).  Obama’s advisory council for faith also includes Eboo Patel, an Indian-American Muslim from Chicago.

The US government can act as a “convener, facilitator and intellectual partner” and help forge partnerships on basis of common ideas and common goals, the benefits of which will be useful not only for Muslims, but everyone, Farah said. Elaborating on her mission to reach out to the young generation, she pointed out that 45 percent of the world population is under the age of 30. “I will focus more on the young generation in Muslim world and I want to understand the diversity of Islam in different countries and communities as well,” she said.

Though Farah expressed that she was “interested in talking to the Facebook generation, the youth,” she evaded questions posed at Jamia University on United States’ foreign policy on issues that have bothered Muslims across the world. To a question regarding Israel-Palestine, she said: “That is not my job. I am not George Mitchell (US Mideast envoy).” On Washington’s policy regarding West Asia and Pakistan, Farah replied: “I am not Richard Holbrooke (US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan). It’s not my job to work on Kashmir or Pakistan.”

Irrespective of whether Farah succeeds in improving image of Obama administration among the Muslims, her own identity has certainly played some part in compelling the world to revise the stereotyped image they have of Muslim women. The Obama administration is apparently hopeful that Farah’s image as a “modern Muslim” will help win over the young generation. Suggesting this, Farah said: “This generation is having to navigate through that and understand what it means to be modern and Muslim and also is really searching for a way to be connected.”

12-9

President Obama Announces Special Envoy to the Organization for Islamic Conference

February 15, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

White House Press Release of February 13, 2010

WASHINGTON – Today, President Obama appointed Rashad Hussain to serve as his Special Envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). Comprised of over 50 member states, the OIC is the second largest inter-governmental organization in the world. As Special Envoy to the OIC, Rashad Hussain will deepen and expand the partnerships that the United States has pursued with Muslims around the world since President Obama’s speech in Cairo last June.

President Obama said, “I’m proud to announce today that I am appointing my Special Envoy to the OIC—Rashad Hussain. As an accomplished lawyer and a close and trusted member of my White House staff, Rashad has played a key role in developing the partnerships I called for in Cairo. And as a hafiz of the Qur’an, he is a respected member of the American Muslim community, and I thank him for carrying forward this important work.”

Rashad Hussain biography

Rashad Hussain is presently Deputy Associate Counsel to President Obama. His work at the White House focuses on national security, new media, and science and technology issues. Mr. Hussain has also worked with the National Security Staff in pursuing the New Beginning that President Obama outlined in his June 2009 address in Cairo, Egypt. Mr. Hussain previously served as a Trial Attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice. Earlier in his career, Mr. Hussain was a legislative assistant on the House Judiciary Committee, where he focused on national security-related issues. Mr. Hussain received his J.D. from Yale Law School, where he served as an editor of the Yale Law Journal. Upon graduation, he served as a Law Clerk to Damon J. Keith on the U.S. Court of Appeals. Mr. Hussain also earned his Master’s degrees in Public Administration (Kennedy School of Government) and Arabic and Islamic Studies from Harvard University. He attended college at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

12-7

OPEN-Houston Brought A Most Useful Seminar For The Community

February 11, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

The Organization of Pakistani Entrepreneurs and Professionals (OPEN) is a not-for-profit organization and started in 1998 from Boston Massachusetts, with sole purpose to promotion entrepreneurship and professional growth of Pakistanis, in collaboration with those living around Pakistanis. OPEN has several chapters across USA. One of the main aims of OPEN is to enhance the prosperity of Pakistani businesspersons, which in turn should reflect in the augmentation of wealth and resourcefulness of the Pakistani community living in USA and for the societies at large Pakistanis live. In order to achieve its goals and objectives, OPEN organizes several educational seminars and networking events, as well as fosters sound relationship with political & business decision makers in USA and Pakistan. OPEN also has special focus on the youth, encourage them to be innovating entrepreneurs and proficient professionals and bring for them various internship programs themselves or through other organizations’, business and governmental entities.

At the picturesque Embassy Suites Hotel along Katy Freeway at South Kirkwood, OPEN-Houston organized a timely seminar on “The Credit Crisis and Great Recession: A Historical Perspective”, presented by Faisal David Khan, Senior Financial Advisor and Partner with Ameriprise Advisory Services. He talked about the governmental intervention, the worsened housing market, securitization, investment banking, and the current volatile financial climate. After his short power-point presentation, he answered several questions of the attendees for more than half-an-hour.

“I am against governmental control of free enterprise system of USA: However we do need proper regulations and check-&-balances, so that everyone plays by rules and greed does not become the main ingredient of the system,” said Faisal David Khan.

He said although President Obama Governments’ steps to strongly intervene into the markets have avoided the depression, but have we really come out of the troubled waters, no one can say for certainty. Reason is when there was incentive to buy homes, people bought the homes. Moment it was going away, we had the worst home sales month. Similarly clunker car program increased auto sales, but once gone, it also went down.

Faisal David Khan most eloquently explained that the concept of “Leverage” is one of the main reasons for the markets downfall. Leverage is when: (a) an institution’s financial assets are larger than its capital; (b) an institution is exposed to the change in value of a position more than the amount that it paid for the position; or (c) an institution owns a position with embedded leverage. A position with embedded leverage is a position with an exposure larger than the underlying market factor.

Result of this concept of “Leverage” is that we have seen watershed event of the Bear Stearns Companies, Inc Company of 1923, collapsing completely in 2008, due to the subprime mortgage crisis.

Businesses and individual consumers have learned the lesson and are willing to be regulated. President Obama Government needs to bring more innovative and stricter regulations and try to avoid complete takeover of the government, as that will hurt the free venture system.

“We should be worried about USA Economy, more so that the world economy is dependent on USA. Although we may see countries like China making amazing strides in the financial field, but in fact their economy is dependent largely on the well-being of US,” added Faisal David Khan.

For more information on OPEN-Houston and/or getting involved in a business endeavor, one can visit http://www.open-houston.org/

12-7

Abdul Kallon Sworn in as Federal Judge

February 4, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Abdul Kallon

BIRMINGHAM, AL–Abdul Kallon has been formally sworn in as Alabama’s newest federal judge. He will be based in Birmingham and preside in Alabama’s northern district, which includes Jefferson County and 30 others.

A panel of Alabama legal experts assembled by Congressman Artur Davis recommended Kallon to President Obama. He is filling the seat left vacant by U.W. Clemon’s retirement. A native of Sierra Leone, Kallon and his family moved to the United States in 1980 and he graduated from Dartmouth College and the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

12-6

Houstonian Corner (V12-I6)

February 4, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

Picture AS Picture AT

HHRD in Houston Recently Did A Successful In-Kind Donations Campaign For A Container to Pakistan…

METRO Light Rail In CBD Houston

HHRD Sending in Mid-February In-Kind Donations Container to Haiti

With the dedicated help and support of International Courier Services (ICS), Helping Hand For Relief & Development (HHRD) is sending a Container from Houston for the dire needs of Haiti. Since there are many useful things from USA, which are not readily available around Haiti, this will indeed be a kind-hearted gesture on part of all Americans to our fellow human-beings in Haiti, who are in dire situation.

Please take all your stuff in boxes (do not seal the boxes) and DROP off on: Saturday and Sunday; February 13th & 14th, 2010 between 10 am-4 pm at the following location: ICS Shipping Co. – 6160 Westview Dr. – Houston, Texas 77055 – DIRECTIONS to ICS Shipping: From Inside the 610 loop / Go on I-10 West, Exit Silber Street / Make a right turn on Silber / Make a right on Westview, go about ¼  mile / 6160 Westview is on the left / For directions, one can also call Khurram Iqbal 281-793-8455 (Cell).

For any other questions please call: Maaz Adil 281-468-2238 / ILyas Hasan Choudry 832-275-0786.

Each donor will be issued a receipt at the site for their In-Kind donations (which is necessary as per HHRD In-Kind Giving Policy).

HHRD is collecting the following (brand new items are being encouraged – if used items, please make sure they are clean and in usable conditions – medical centers, clinics & doctors can be requested for bulk medical supplies donation):

1) Tax-Deductible Monetary Donations (will be used to ship the container and for the HHRD Base Camps in Haiti and Dominican Republic);

2) Medicines (For list call 832-275-0786 or visit http://www.muslimsforhaiti.org/);

3) Medical Supplies (For list call 832-275-0786 or visit http://www.muslimsforhaiti.org/);

4) Protective Eye Goggles & Glasses;

5) Bottled Water;

6) Hygiene Products for Whole Family especially Ladies;

7) Non-Perishable Food Items, including Ready to Eat Food Items, but no staple items like rice, wheat, flour, etc;

8) Sleeping Bags, Tents, etc;

9) Home washing things like bath soaps, detergents, plastic tubs, buckets, etc;

10) Flashlights, Batteries, Small Generators, etc;

11) Warm Weather Clothes like T-Shirts, Pants, Jeans, Children Clothing, etc;

12) Linen like Bed-Sheets, Pillows, Pillow-Sheets, Towels, Blankets, Comforters, etc;

13) Shoes, Socks, etc;

14) Household items like Kitchenware (unbreakable), Pots & Pans, etc (at an appropriate time, these will be given to Haitians, who have lost everything in the rubble);

15) Bikes, Toys for Children, etc;

16) Few computers, printers & accessories (needed for the Base Camps in Haiti and Dominican Republic)…

NOTES

1) Please bring brand new items if easily possible – No Junk or Unusable Items, as we need to maximize the valuable shipping space;

2) Use separate boxes for different items, especially clothing for women, men, boys and girls, and properly note down the contents & their amounts with a marker;

3) Tie Shoes, Socks, Sandals Pairs to ensure that they stay together. Any other things that have pairs, again tie them;

4) Tightly fold and secure the clothes;

5) Fitted / Flat sheets, comforters, quilts, towels etc. should be tightly rolled and secured.

6) All household items in separate boxes from clothes, etc. HHRD CANNOT Accept any Appliances;

7) In addition please make a donation of any amount ($50-and-above) that will help cover the shipping, port clearance, inland transportation, other distribution costs; plus HHRD Base Camps in Haiti and Dominican Republic – Check should be made payable to: Helping Hand For Relief & Development (tax-deductible receipt will be issued) – To mail the checks & or money-order, use this address: 11945 Bissonnet, Houston, Texas 77099.

VOLUNTEERS

We need at least 30 volunteers each on February 13th and 14th, 2010. Please call us and let us know which day you can help. Food and community service hours’ letter will be given to all the volunteers.

For any other questions please call: Maaz Adil 281-468-2238 / ILyas Hasan Choudry 832-275-0786.

METRO Rail Survives Any Cuts

Officials at the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County (METRO) are happy with what they have seen in President Obama’s upcoming budget, although not yet a final agreement. Continued funding for light rail in Houston is on the way, with an estimated $150 million dollars in federal money, to go for the north and southeast rail lines, connecting public transit in a more effective and efficient manner with the two major airports Bush Intercontinental and Hobby.

It has been said that in north Houston, in neighborhoods along Fulton Street, the rail project is seen by many as a service that’s badly needed. The north rail line will run from downtown to Northline Mall, which will then be connected to good transfer service to Bush Intercontinental Airport.

But the construction has been frustrating for businesses along the construction route. Metro is rolling out a small business assistance program to help those affected by rail construction. Metro says the new rail line will be ready for riders within five years. For more information, one can visit http://www.ridemetro.org/

12-6

America’s Credibility Takes Another Blow

January 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By David Rothkopf

court_front_med It’s ironic. At precisely the moment that Secretary of State Clinton was rightly striking out at the Chinese for their infringement of the rights of their own citizens to open Internet access, democracy was dying in America.

In fact now, following an era that might well be defined by America’s twin credibility crises of the past decade, another looms.

The first two blows — blows that have left America’s standing in the world weaker today than it has been at any time in the past half century, even with the many steps President Obama has taken to reverse the missteps of the Bush era — undercut two of what might be seen as the three pillars of American standing on the planet.

The initial credibility crisis was triggered by the Bush administration’s reckless disregard for the values upon which the republic was founded. >From Guantanamo to Abu Ghraib, from the illegal invasion of Iraq to the rendition and torture of prisoners, America’s role as a leader by virtue of our moral standing was called into question. The champions of the rule of law were now seen, rightfully, as one of its enemies, arguing as we were that there were two standards: that to which we held the rest of the world and that we chose for ourselves.

Next, America’s role as an economic model for the world, champion of free markets and opportunity for all came under fire. In the run up to the economic crisis of 2008-2009, growing inequality in the United States was leading many critics to question our “leave it to the markets” approach. But then came the crisis and once again, the United States demonstrated that the doctrine we had preached worldwide were not going to be applied at home and moreover, that our system was deeply and fundamentally flawed. Doubt about “American capitalism” were only amplified in the aftermath of the crisis, in which middle class victims of the crisis were hardly helped and many were hurt but in which Wall Street fat cats called the tune, reaped the rewards of government intervention and then flouted their power by shrugging off the government when it was no longer necessary to their business plans.

What was left for Americans to cling to? Our moral standing and our fundamental message to the world had been built on the ideas of respect for the rule of law and free markets. And now the world was left to wonder, if not America, then to whom do we turn? Should we embrace other models?

Admittedly, the Chinese model, which might have had a shot at greater influence given the damage done to the U.S. brand, wasn’t doing itself any favors with its attempt to deny its people both basic rights of all international citizens of the 21st Century … which would also have the effect of making Chinese workers less competitive in the global economy. Hillary Clinton’s speech attacking this was forceful and utterly appropriate. The Chinese whining in response to it was a sign of weakness and with some luck, the Obama administration will ignore it, shrug off the Chinese threats of consequences in other areas of the bilateral relationship, and continue to press home this essential point.

But the argument on behalf of the American way was made immeasurably harder recently by the Supreme Court’s devastating blow to several of the most fundamental precepts of American society — equal rights, for example, or truly free speech (which is to say the right speak and be heard, without having to pay for it).

By a 5-4 vote the justices of the court, with the Republican right in the majority, struck down limits on corporate campaign spending. Further building on the dangerous fiction in American law that corporations ought to have rights akin to those of individuals, the decision effectively unleashes the floodgates of corporate and union money into the political arena.

This is certainly a more powerful threat to democracy than terrorism. It may well be a more powerful threat to democracy than was the fatally-flawed Soviet Union. Because to the extent to which politicians depend on donations to remain in power, they are inevitably influenced by those who have the most money. Not surprisingly, corporate entities, representing many people and often vast economic enterprises, have vastly more financial resources than individuals. Arguing, as American right wingers do, that campaign donations are form of free speech and thus cannot be constrained, ignores the reality that by equating money with free speech we effectively say that those with more money have more free speech, are entitled to greater influence within our society.

The implications are stark. Should this decision go unreversed by subsequent action of the Congress, a future court or a future constitutional amendment, it tips the balance of power in the United States even farther away from average people and in the direction of elites. Since campaign donations do not flow from companies primarily for ideological reasons but rather to advance narrow self-interests, the business of U.S. political class will necessarily be driven by the politics of the business class.

In a nutshell, yesterday’s Supreme Court decision made it very likely that America will not be an effective leader in combating global warming or preserving global resources, it will not be able to effectively resolve the internal threats to its own society like a failing health care system, and it will pursue international policies that are driven less by the broad national interest and more by the agenda of companies that in fact, have increasingly little national identity.

In this respect, this compromise of the third and most important pillar of U.S. international leadership-democracy, may be the most damaging of all. We can repair, as the Obama administration has attempted to do, the abuses of the Bush years. But if the court’s action does in effect institutionalize Calvin Coolidge’s old idea that “the business of America is business” it will be impossible to either effectively redress the flaws in the American economic model or for us to continue to argue that the nation that was the most important pioneer of representative democracy will continue to be able to play that role.

12-5

Israel is Immune From Criticism

January 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Brian Cloughley

Bombing-in-Gaza-001
The Goldstone report, which HRW supported, accused Israel of a disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorise a civilian population. Photograph: Hatem Omar/AP

The state of Israel has descended – plummeted – to one of the lowest levels of conscious barbarity that is currently evident in this horrible world.

Any nation that has behaved towards a subject people, as Israel has to Palestinians, is worthy only of utter contempt. On Sunday January 4 I heard a rabbi on the BBC’s morning religious program saying that he supported Israel’s air strikes on Gaza. A man of God actually endorsed the killing of hundreds of people. To say that I was – and am – aghast at the sentiment expressed is to put it very mildly. This religious leader, a person supposed to spread and preach tolerance, patience, charity and peace, was supporting war crimes of immense gravity. His approval of the killing of Arabs was blood-chilling.

And this rabbi was British. Here we have a British citizen supporting hatred and bigotry on a BBC religious program. But of course he isn’t really British. He is an Israeli religious propagandist of British citizenship whose main allegiance is to Israel. There are thousands like him in the UK and the US. They unconditionally promote Tel Aviv’s plans and policy and wield amazing influence over politicians and businesses. Killing Palestinians is Israeli policy, and these people spare no effort to justify it.

Here’s a resident of Gaza talking to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz about the horrors experienced by Palestinians (and congratulations to Haaretz for having the courage to print it): “I keep the children away from the windows because the F-16s are in the air; I forbid them to play below because it’s dangerous. They’re bombing us from the sea and from the east, they’re bombing us from the air. When the telephone works, people tell us about relatives or friends who were killed. My wife cries all the time. At night she hugs the children and cries. It’s cold and the windows are open; there’s fire and smoke in open areas; at home there’s no water, no electricity, no heating gas. And you [the Israelis] say there’s no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Tell me, are you normal?”

No, they’re not, is the short answer, and the ruthlessness is epitomized by the evil Israeli foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, who is using the Gaza war to establish her credentials as a reliably hard-nosed barbarian. She declares “there is no humanitarian crisis in the [Gaza] Strip and therefore there is no need for a humanitarian truce.”

It was reported on January 5 that Israeli troops are using white phosphorus (WP) artillery shells in Gaza, supposedly to create smoke screens to conceal their advance.

American troops used WP – fondly known as Willy Pete – in their destruction of the Iraqi city of Fallujah, and the US tried to lie its way out of the war crime, but junior officers unintentionally blew the lies apart by writing in the magazine Field Artillery that “WP proved to be an effective and versatile munition. We used it for screening missions . . . and, later in the fight, as a potent psychological weapon against insurgents in trench lines and spider holes . . . We fired ‘shake and bake’ missions at the insurgents using WP to flush them out and high explosive shells (HE) to take them out.” In fact WP is an effective killer, and anyone who inhales particles will suffer a particularly hideous and painful death. As recorded by The Independent newspaper in Britain “In the aftermath of the battle [at Fallujah], the State Department’s Counter Misinformation Office issued a statement saying that WP was only “used very sparingly in Fallujah, for illumination purposes. They were fired into the air to illuminate enemy positions at night [which isn’t the propose of a smoke-shell], not at enemy fighters.” When The Independent confronted the State Department with the first-hand accounts of soldiers who participated, an official accepted the mistake and undertook to correct its website.” Big deal. Lie, lie and lie again, until you’re found out and it’s impossible to deny the facts. And the Israelis seem to be taking the example, as usual, and are stoutly denying what has been seen by independent witnesses.

Article two, Protocol III of the 1980 UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons states: “It is prohibited in all circumstances to make the civilian population as such, individual civilians or civilian objects, the object of attack by incendiary weapons.” But Israel is only following the US example. “Shake and bake” is such an attractive military option that it would be a shame to spoil their fun, especially when it has rabbinical approval.

Here is part of what is laid out in Protocol 1, Additional to the Geneva Conventions, 1977 . . . General Protection Against Effects of Hostilities: “Among others, the following types of attacks are to be considered as indiscriminate: An attack which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof, which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.”

Israel, supported energetically by Washington (and using US-supplied aircraft, bombs and rockets), has caused “incidental loss of life” and general civilian casualties on an enormous scale. The Israeli military and the Israeli people knew full well that their genocidal attack on Gaza would kill civilians. The use of white phosphorous in built-up areas is worthy of the Nazis at their most brutal. Stalin and Mao would nod approvingly. It wasn’t considered important that there would be countless civilian deaths. Nobody cares, and least of all American politicians.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton refuses to comment on the atrocities. The vice-president has been silent. President Obama? As Reuters reported : “Obama . . . has not commented on the Middle East crisis since Israel launched attacks on Gaza nine days ago. His advisers insist that only President George W Bush can speak for America until then.” But it was noted that “The president-elect has commented on the global economic crisis and his plans to try to pull the US economy out of recession.”

Of course he has. And were it not for the power of Israel in America he would no doubt comment adversely on the slaughter in Gaza, because he is a decent man.
But Mr. Obama dare not criticize Israel, even for its use of chemical shells. Nor can any American who wishes to enter or remain engaged in politics. The kiss of political death in the United States of America is to censure Israel. It can’t be done.

And that is why apartheid is permitted in Israel; it’s why the mass-punishment blockade was enforced months before the attack went in; and it’s why the near-genocide in Gaza is allowed to continue.

Does anyone remember the hearing on the so-called Israeli-Palestine peace process in the US House of Representatives in February 2007? Of course not. It was a farce. And why was it such a revolting and hideous charade? – Because it was a three card trick.

The main witness, of the three cards who were called, was one Martin Indyk, a former official of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee which is the richest and most powerful lobby group in the country (two of whose members are currently under a mysteriously delayed investigation for spying for Israel). From there, inevitably, he went to be US ambassador in Tel Aviv. (And, incidentally, whose book on the Middle East was the subject of a glowing review in last week’s Economist.) Another witness was David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (founded by Indyk; it’s all very chummy in pro-Israel sewers), which is funded extensively by American interests that support Zionism. (Among other connections, it is closely associated with the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.) And was the third witness a counter-balance to two energetic supporters of Zion? Could he or she present a rather less biased view of the Middle East? Perhaps a person who would make the point that Israel has contemptuously ignored UN Security Council resolutions concerning illegal occupation of Palestinian lands?

Not a bit. The third member was a comic quasi-intellectual character called Daniel Pipes who once declared that Muslim immigrants to the US were “brown-skinned peoples cooking strange foods and not exactly maintaining Germanic standards of hygiene.” (Germanic? – How quaint.) Pipes founded the Middle East Forum (MEF) which encourages university students in America to report lecturers and professors who they consider to be anti-Israel or pro-Palestinian. (In Hitler’s Germany there were awards given to young people who identified and reported those they thought to be pro-Jewish; I know a very elderly German lady who did this when she was 15. She is now terribly ashamed at the memory, because she actually informed on her own father. How times change. Or don’t, of course.)

In 2006 Pipes was given the ‘Guardian of Zion’ award, an annual prize to a prominent supporter of Israel, by the Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies at Bar-Ilan University in Israel.

With a galaxy of partisan propagandists like Indyk, Makovsky and Pipes being the only people selected to give evidence on Israel-Palestine to the nation’s legislators in Washington, there was no chance whatever that the Congressional Sub-Committee would be presented with a balanced view of the Israel-Palestine problem. The deck was stacked, and the legislators listened. They had no choice, because of the power of the Israel lobby. They’ve been shaken and baked.

There is little doubt that the bias towards Israel will continue in the legislature and administration of the United States of America, no matter what Obama might really think, and no matter how many Palestinian children the Zionists have slaughtered. The Israelis are behaving like genocidal people, but those who stay silent about their atrocities are not far behind in the gutter stakes.

Brian Cloughley’s book about the Pakistan army, War, Coups and Terror, has just been published by Pen & Sword Books (UK)

12-5

Obama Appoints Former Microsoft Security Chief New Cybersecurity Czar

December 22, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Kim Zetter, Wired Magazine Email Author

howard-schmidt-with-president-obama

It took seven months but President Obama has finally found someone to take the cybersecurity czar job no one wanted.

Howard Schmidt,  a former Microsoft security executive and a one-time cybersecurity adviser to President George W. Bush, has been appointed to the position of cybersecurity coordinator, according to a White House announcement Tuesday.

Schmidt served as vice chair, and then chair, of the President’s Critical Infrastructure Protection Board and as Special Adviser for Cyberspace Security for the White House from December 2001 until May 2003, when he reportedly left the position out of frustration that the government wasn’t making cybersecurity a priority. After leaving the White House, he became chief information security officer at eBay.

In his new position, he will be responsible for coordinating the federal government’s cybersecurity initiatives to secure government networks and critical U.S. infrastructures. This will include working with the Office of Management and Budget to ensure that agencies have money allocated for cybersecurity priorities, and coordinating the government’s response to a major cyber incident or attack.

According to the Associated Press, Obama was directly involved in the selection of Schmidt, who was chosen after an extensive search.

But the announcement of Schmidt came with little fanfare on Tuesday and followed months of reports from other candidates that they either turned down the job or otherwise discouraged the White House from courting them.

Obama announced last May that he was creating a new office to be led by a cybersecurity czar. For nearly a year, however, he could find no one to take the job, because of what many viewed as its undesirable placement in the federal hierarchy.

The czar, Obama stated, would report to the National Security Council and the National Economic Council, putting the position one rung lower in the executive branch hierarchy than many security experts had wanted. Observers had hoped the czar would report directly to the president, which would have helped insulate the office from agency turf battles and ensure quick access to top decision makers.

The White House was quick to dispel concerns on Tuesday that Schmidt’s office would be exiled from the West Wing. An unidentified White House official told the Associated Press that Schmidt would have regular and direct access to the President for cybersecurity issues.

Schmidt, Microsoft’s chief security officer until 2001, is the second former Microsoft executive to take a top federal cybersecurity position. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano appointed Philip Reitinger in March to the position of deputy undersecretary of the department’s National Protections Program Directorate.

Reitinger was Microsoft’s chief trustworthy-infrastructure strategist, a job that required him in part to help develop and implement strategies for enhancing the security of critical infrastructures. In his new position, he oversees the protection of the government’s computer networks and works with the private sector to help secure critical infrastructures.

There have been concerns about how the White House intends to address cybersecurity issues, particularly in the private sector, and protect civil liberties at the same time.

Obama asserted in his speech in May that the new White House cybersecurity office would include an official whose job is to ensure that the government’s cyberpolicies don’t violate the privacy and civil liberties of Americans.

“Our pursuit of cybersecurity will not include — I repeat, will not include — monitoring private-sector networks or internet traffic,” he said. “We will preserve and protect the personal privacy and civil liberties that we cherish as Americans.”

Photo by Lawrence Jackson, courtesy of White House

Eboo Patel Earns Award

December 10, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

eboo patel Eboo Patel, the Chicago based founder and executive director of Interfaith Youth Core, has won the 2010 Louisville Grawemeyer award in religion for his autobiography. He was selected from among 67 nominations worldwide.

Patel’s encourages young people of different religions to perform community service, explore common values and build bridges among diverse faiths. The organization is now active on about 75 college campuses.

“Religious extremists all over the world are harnessing adolescent angst for their own ends,” said Susan Garrett, a religion professor who directs the award. “Patel urges us to take advantage of the short window of time in a young person’s life to teach the universal values of cooperation, compassion and mercy.”

The Indian born Patel immigrated to Chicago as a child. As a teenager, he struggled with what he saw as a lack of religious pluralism in America. His experiences prompted him to launch a movement to build interfaith cooperation by inspiring college students to champion the cause.

He formed Interfaith Youth Core in 1998.

A Rhodes Scholar, he is now a member of President Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and the Religious Advisory Committee of the Council on Foreign Relations. In October, U.S. News & World Report named him one of America’s Best Leaders in 2009.

The Grawemeyer Awards are five annual $200,000 prizes given in the fields of music, political science, psychology, education, and religion. They were founded by H. Charles Grawemeyer to help make the world a better place. The University of Louisville and Louisville Presbyterian Seminary jointly award the religion prize.

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