Journalist Shane Bauer Detained in Iran

August 6, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Aaron Glantz, NAM

shane bauer

New America Media correspondent Shane Bauer is among three Americans detained over the weekend along the Iranian-Iraq border, along with his girlfriend Sarah Shourd and Josh Fattal.

Bauer, 27, who grew up in Onamia, Minn, had filed more than two dozen stories for NAM from Syria and was in Northern Iraq to cover the Kurdish elections, said NAM Executive Editor Sandy Close.

“We were awaiting his coverage when we learned that he and his girlfriend, and another friend, had been arrested by Iranian authorities,” she said.

A freelance journalist and fluent Arabic speaker, Bauer has contributed to numerous other publications including the Nation, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Los Angeles Times.

“Shane’s dispatches have been enlightening,” Close said. “His fluency in Arabic and his writing and photography skills enabled him to provide a valuable lens into what ordinary people are thinking and saying in the Arab world. We consider Shane to be a gifted young correspondent who typifies the long tradition of journalism by the student-traveler learning the craft by doing.”

At Iran’s Mission to the United Nation’s in New York, spokesperson Mohammed Sahraei refused to elaborate on official state media reports which had referred to Bauer and his fellow travelers as “infiltrators.”

Iranian state television reported on Sunday that the head of the Iranian Parliament’s foreign policy committee Alaedddin Boroujerdi said, “This case is currently on its natural course.”

Their detention has quickly become international news.

On Monday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton appealed to Iran for information, saying U.S. the interests in Iran are asking officials from the Iranian Foreign Ministry for details but have not yet gotten official confirmation of the trio’s arrest. She asked that Iran determine the facts of the case and to “return them as quickly as possible.”

“As of a few hours ago, we did not yet have official confirmation that the Iranian government or an instrument of the Iranian government were holding the three missing Americans,” Clinton told reporters at the State Department. “We asked our Swiss partners … to please pursue our inquiries to determine the status of the three missing Americans.”

“Obviously, we are concerned,” Clinton said. “We want this matter brought to a resolution as soon as possible and we call on the Iranian government to help us determine the whereabouts of the three missing Americans and return them as quickly as possible.”

In New York, the Committee to Protect Journalists said it appeared that the Americans were “targeted for being reporters” and that they were walking along the border because they were backpacking along the mountains that mark the border between Iran and Iraq, “for purely recreational purposes.”

“It’s possible that they walking back and forth the border numerous times without ever knowing it,” said CPJ’s Mohmmed Abdel Dayem. “We hope that it is a routine thing. We assume the best.”

11-33

California Dodges Bullet with Budget Deal–for Now

July 23, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Peter Henderson and Jim Christie

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – California’s state budget deal is a bet its economy, the world’s eighth-largest, will rebound — but that’s not likely to happen soon.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and top lawmakers agreed Monday to close a $26 billion budget gap, largely with $15 billion in spending cuts, with many pushed into future years.

“They are waiting for the economy to bail them out,” said Chris Ryon, a fund manager at Thornburg Investment who sees “a lot of risk” for investors in California debt.

The budget deal would let the state start traditional borrowing again, although state officials were waiting for the legislature to pass the deal before saying when they will tap the debt market.

Meanwhile, the state is still paying its way with IOUs and must contend with the financial effects of double-digit unemployment and foreclosures dominating its housing market.

“Unemployment, unfortunately, probably hasn’t peaked yet,” said Nuveen Investments fund manager Paul Brennan, who views the budget as a bet that better times are around the corner.

California’s revenues rely heavily on personal income taxes and tend to swing strongly. Google Inc’s initial public offering helped fuel a bumper year for taxes, so if the state economy recovers, revenue could grow quickly.

But economist Steve Levy says California’s economy likely will remain weak for some time and the state government’s main problem will persist — that its citizens and government can not agree on the level of public services to provide.

“We are a state in gridlock, in disagreement,” said Levy, director of the Center for the Continuing Study of the California Economy.

Lawsuits Ready

Around the state, uncertainty greeted the budget agreement. Its details were sparse while rank-and-file lawmakers reviewed the deal for potential votes in the state Assembly and Senate by Thursday.

But opposition formed quickly to some of the plan’s proposals, such as taking roughly $4 billion from cities and counties for state needs. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, for instance, voted Tuesday to sue the state to stop proposed cuts to the county’s share of the state highway tax and community redevelopment funds.

The California State Association of Counties said it would mull a lawsuit as well and San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed told Reuters that his city, the 10th-largest in the nation, also is “committed to participating in a lawsuit” to keep the state from grabbing its money.

“They are probably in violation of the (state) Constitution in taking our redevelopment funds, in violation of the law in taking our highway users tax,” Reed said.

In addition to concerns about losing money to the state, county officials fear losing state aid for health and human service programs they must provide.

“Make no mistake, under this budget scenario counties cannot uniformly ensure the delivery of critical health, public safety and other vital local services,” said Paul McIntosh, executive director of the California State Association of Counties.

To Buy or Not

Once a budget is signed, state finance officials will decide on the kind of short-term debt the state will need to sell to raise money for cash-flow purposes.

Until then, plans for selling either revenue anticipation notes or revenue anticipation warrants are on hold, said State Treasurer Bill Lockyer.

Nevertheless, the budget deal came just in time, Lockyer told Reuters, and he sees lawmakers endorsing it. “Most of them understand we’re getting real close to the edge of the cliff here and we’d better wrap it up quickly.”

Standard & Poor’s analyst Gabriel Petek said the deal averted a certain downgrade next month by his rating agency, which has the state’s general obligation debt at A and CreditWatch with negative implications. “That was the trajectory it was on,” Petek said.

Investment analysts were split over the budget agreement and whether to buy California’s existing or new debt.

Dick Larkin, director of credit rating analysis at Herbert J. Sims Co Inc, said he suspects the agreement will end up deferring hard decisions about the state’s finances and a budget deficit will reemerge. “This is a pretty crappy budget to try to make the case to borrow billions of dollars over the next three months,” Larkin said.

Tom Tarabicos, a financial adviser at Wells Fargo Financial Advisors, said the deal failed to sway him from his dim view of California’s finances and their effect on the state’s bonds.

“This appears to me to be just a short-term reprieve,” Tarabicos said. “We’re going to maintain our distance.”

By contrast, Ken Naehu, head of fixed income at Bel Air Investment Advisors in Los Angeles, said the agreement should end speculation over whether California would not make payments on its debt service to bondholders.

Naehu said debt service payments were never in doubt as they are the state’s No. 2 payment priority as required by law and because the state’s revenues, albeit weak compared with a year earlier, were strong enough to support them.

“Why in the world would you cut your arm off and not make debt service payment when it’s such a small part of the budget?” Naehu said.

11-31

Arab Americans are a Political and Economic Powerhouse

July 23, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Access

A recent report published by the Immigration Policy Center has determined that immigrants, including Arab Americans, not only wield sizable political power in Michigan, but are also an integral part of the state’s economy and tax base. As workers, taxpayers, consumers, and entrepreneurs, immigrants and their children are an economic powerhouse and as voters, they are a potent political force.    

As Michigan’s economy begins to recover, immigrants and their children will continue to play a key role in the shaping and growing the economic and political landscape of the Great Lakes State.

“Immigrants have always been vital to Michigan’s economy and society,” said Nadia Tonova, Advocacy and Policy Supervisor at ACCESS. “The IPC’s report confirms that Michigan still benefits tremendously from the contributions of immigrants and their families.  We are all enriched, culturally and materially, by immigrants.”

Highlights of the report include:

  • Immigrants make up more than 6% of Michigan’s total population (roughly equal to the total population of Boston, MA) and nearly half of them are naturalized citizens who are eligible to vote.
  • Arab Americans accounted for $7.7 billion in total earnings in the four counties of the Detroit metropolitan area, generating an estimated $544 million in state tax revenue and supporting an estimated 141,541 jobs.

To read the full report, please click here.

11-31

French Secularism and Islam

July 20, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

Oakland–On these pages of a fortnight ago was a report that the French President Nicolas Sazkozy pronounced a speech to both houses of his “parliament” condemning the use of the Burqa.  He denied it  was not a religious symbol, but “a sign of debasement” for women.  This is a curious statement made by a head of State of a major European power, for women’s rights are constantly used as an excuse by Imperial powers while it has been only been within the last hundred years that Western jurisprudence has caught up with Islamic protection of the family and the legal rights of the female!  Sarkozy continued in his terribly Islamophobic speech that “The Burqa is not welcomed on French territory.”  Further, he used the Feminist clichés that are too often engaged to oppress Islam in a Western context, “…we cannot accept that women be prisoners behind a screen…from all social life…all identity.”

A small percentage of French civil society has been calling for the ban on the Burqa as happened with the hijab six years back leading to a law banning Islamic woman from wearing it.  As your author said in his article on that subject at the time, a potential controversy in America on this (as the Burqa) are non-issues because of these articulations of the Islamic customs are protect by the rights to Freedom of Speech (Expression) and Freedom of Religion in the U.S. first ten Amends to the American Constitution, but ,in France, because of the power of the Church in the ancien regime, the Church (Roman Catholic) buttressed the rule of the hated oppressing aristocracy and the King.  Therefore, their post-Revolutionary Constitution (theoretically) banned all religion, and was held up by the early Nineteenth Century Code Napoleon!  That means in France, with the largest Islamic population in Europe, external Muslim symbols have become constitutionally questionable even though Muslim lobby groups within that country have urged Paris to refrain from deliberations that would damage the Islamic community there vis-à-vis the mainstream French population.  Although the Burqa is a symbol/custom of the minority Salafi faction of Islam, most of them are Wahhabi, a conservative sect of Sunnism, who, produce, incidentally, most of the Jihads, and, thus, are anathema to most of the ummah.  Still, seventy-six Franco-Parliamentarians within the French Assembly advocate banning the public display outright.  They have called for a sanctified Commission leading for a “legal” basis under France ultra-secular basis for such a prejudicial ban under the support of the President himself!  After the law against the much milder Islamic symbol, the hijab, it is doubtful that legal action can be prevented under their Constitutional rulings!

Last fall, in the neighboring city here, Berkeley, Myanthi Fernando came to talk to us about her teaching experiences in a French public school that had majority Islamic children although they had become naturalized French citizens.  She taught mainly North African-heritage students in a high school.   Since she has gone through the academic training to become an anthropologist, with this new sensitivity, she noted a pronounced conflict between the students and the teachers.  “There is a conflict between religions and the authority of the Mosque and the Republic.”

Historically, the first generation who became Muslim citizens was recruited from the Colonies to rebuild France after World War II as Germany opened their doors to the Turks to do the same.  For their children and grandchildren, a generalized system of difference developed and that dissimilarity was based on religion. Many ordinary Frenchmen believe there is a fundamental conflict between Islam and themselves as an Islamic revival has emerged on Gallic soil at the same time.

As alluded to above, the State banned the hijab in 2004.   In essence La France believed that the hijab would re-enforce Islamic patriarchy. In actually, the hijab (as the Burqa) is worn by choice (if it is not, the State should step in, but it is part of the aforementioned Islamic regeneration in the West).  Islamic women “believe they decide – not the law or the State!”  The hijab (or the Burqa) must be an individual decision, and must not come from outside (either the family or the nation).  “It is the believer who decides, but… [It]… has … [its]…textual authority,” also.  Fernando claimed that secularism and religious submission are not at odds in France,” too.  Also, political choice and religiosity do not conflict.  France’s Muslims assert religious choice and accept civic obligation.  International law enunciates religious freedom according to conscience.  Performing religious duty is a matter of choice.

In 2003 there were demonstrations against proposed bans on Islamic lifestyles.  “One person’s freedom ends where another begins…”  It is (almost) impossible for Muslim women to live in the language of the secular State.  On the contrary, the secular State argued it didn’t violate [religious] freedom because [religious] adherents could still believe.”  Paris maintained that there was a difference between internal belief and external expression while the European Commission as a whole do not recognize the hijab as right (and it most definitely will not acknowledge the Burqa as acceptable).  On the other hand, most individual Islamic women believe it may be their right and duty as the hijab while the French public considers it no more than obfuscation of civic duty.

There is no argument that Christianity has seeped into European law which is at odds with Islamic customs.  Besides, French feminism, which is a very strong force within the Republique, looks at Islamic female dress as perverse with anti-sexuality.  La Republique de France’s concept of sexuality is challenged on all sides. The hijab is only one such challenge.

Public schools only recently began to enroll new citizens, and the hijab is a particularly troublesome object amongst the traditional educational system there.

With this history of the Islamic hijjib in France, it is doubtful that the Burqa will receive any more cultural sensitivity.

11-29

Leading the Fight Against Human Trafficking

July 16, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan MMNS Middle East Correspondent

sexslaves2603_468x477 This past month the US State Department released it’s 9th annual Trafficking in Persons Report, which lambasted 4 Middle Eastern countries for their blatant human rights abuses. Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Syria have found themselves strange bedfellows on America’s ‘blacklist’, which means that unless these governments change their domestic policies to meet the minimum criteria for human rights they face a slew of sanctions.

According to the report, the global economic turndown has fueled the flames of an already exasperating situation. As a result, many traffickers in the Gulf region have moved underground to avoid detection and continue the slave trade. It’s no secret that the construction boom that has heralded many countries of the Middle East into a new modern age has been built with the blood, sweat and backbreaking work of poor migrant workers primarily from Southeast Asia. The sex industry is also flourishing in the Middle East, especially in Iran where ‘temporary’ marriages are legal and women are exploited by being denied the rights that a married woman possesses. Underground prostitution rings are present in all four of the blacklisted countries. Visa trading is also a major problem as migrant workers are lured to the Gulf with the promise of high salaries and a better life. However, once they arrive they soon learn that they are only paid a fraction of the salary that they were promised and are forced to live in deplorable conditions not fit for an animal let alone a human being.

This week the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia set itself apart from the other countries on the blacklist. The Saudi government has toughened its stance against human traffickers within its borders. New laws recently put into effect will punish traffickers with up to 15 years in prison and fine of more than one-quarter of a million dollars.

Saudi Arabia has long been fodder for critics accusing the kingdom of ignoring human rights abuses that are often well publicized in the media, but routinely ignored by the ruling government. The kingdom has also clearly defined, in writing, what constitutes human trafficking in the country. Sexual servitude and slavery, forced organ donations or forced medical experimenting and involuntary begging are all instances of trafficking under the new law, which metes out harsher punishments based on the victim of the crime. If the victim is disabled, a woman, child or elderly then the penalty is substantially increased. However, many critics still lament the fact that the definition does not better define the trafficking of children into the kingdom who are forced to work as sex slaves, beggars or street vendors. The new law also makes zero reference to women and children who are exploited or abused within their own family unit.

Following the cabinet meeting that signed the new law into action, the Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz was quoted as saying about the new law, “It embodies the principles of Islamic Sharia law which prohibit attacks on the rights of another human being to protect the rights of citizens and residents under Islamic law.”

The remaining three countries have done little to improve their human rights records since inclusion at the top of the list of human rights abuses. Kuwait, for example, does have a set of laws to defeat human trafficking within the tiny Gulf state. Unfortunately, the laws are difficult to enforce when so many citizens have influence to bend the laws in their favor. The phenomenon of ‘wasta’, or friends in high places, is too often the grease that moves the cogs of society no matter who gets hurt in the process.

11-30

Racial Profiling Still Pervasive: ACLU Report

July 13, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Chris Levister, Black Voice News.com

U.S. authorities detain and harass thousands of people each year solely on the basis of religion, race or nationality despite efforts by senior law enforcement officials and the government to stop it, the American Civil Liberties Union said.

An ACLU report said racial profiling was often applied to immigrants from South Asia and to North Africans suspected of being Islamic militants following the September 11, 2001, attacks carried out by Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda militants.

The report, submitted on Tuesday to the U.N. Committee to End Racial Discrimination, said profiling could involve harassment, detention, arrest or investigation. Many Latin American immigrants were also targeted for immigration violations while others, including Black Americans, were profiled as suspected drug offenders, said the report, which did not provide precise figures.

President Barack Obama’s government upholds the policy of the previous Bush administration that such profiling should end, but related laws contain a significant gray area, said Chandra Bhatnagar, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s human rights program.

According to 2003 federal guidelines, it is illegal to detain or investigate someone solely on the basis of race, religion or ethnicity, but there are exceptions in the context of national security and border control.

“While there is a political consensus regarding the problem and a need for a solution it has not translated into concrete action,” Bhatnagar said. He referred to the End Racial Profiling Bill first introduced in 1997, but which had not passed into law.

One factor that had increased the profiling of Latin Americans was a federal program to shift responsibility and resources for immigration enforcement to local and state authorities, according to the report.

Anecdotal evidence suggested that an increasing number of people had been targeted under profiling for possible immigration offenses over the past eight years, it said.

“Police officers who are often not adequately trained and in some cases not trained at all, in federal immigration enforcement, will improperly rely on race or ethnicity as a proxy for undocumented status,” the report said.

The involvement of local police in this was having a “devastating impact” on some communities, Bhatnagar said.

In April the ACLU of Southern California filed suit against Moreno Valley police and city officials and the state Board of Barbering and Cosmetology claiming racial profiling.

The suit filed on behalf of three Moreno Valley barbers in U.S. District Court in Riverside alleged that “five of the six barbershops selected as targets for raid-style inspections on April 2, 2008, were owned by, operated by, and primarily frequented by African Americans.”

The officers, city employees and members of the state Board of Barbering and Cosmetology allegedly targeted six shops in warrantless raids because of race, said lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union. The suit also alleges innocent clients waiting for haircuts and other services were detained, harassed and forced to produce identification.

ACLU alleged the officers and other agents targeted the businesses “based, in part or in whole, on the race of the barbers and their clientele.”

Police, city and state officials have denied the claims. The case has attracted national attention for what ACLU lawyers and many in communities of color call blatant evidence that racial profiling is still pervasive.

11-29

Ali-Zaidi Re-appointed to Clarion University

July 2, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

zaidi Syed R. Ali-Zaidi has been reappointed to the Council of Trustees of Clarion University. The announcement was made by Pennsylvania Governor Edward G. Rendell last week.

He has been appointed to council in 1980, 1985, 1991, 1992, and 2003 as well.

Dr. Ali-Zaidi was a founding member of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education Board of Governors, serving from 1984 to 1988 and from 1997 to 2002.  In 1998, Dr. Ali-Zaidi chaired the board’s Task Force on Science and Advanced Technology Education, Workforce Development, and Implementation Research.  In 2001, he established the Syed R. Ali-Zaidi Award for Academic Excellence, which annually recognizes an outstanding State System graduate. Dr. Ali-Zaidi is the recipient of the System’s 2002 Eberly Award for Volunteerism.  He is retired from a 25-year career in research and development with the glass industry.  He has a B.S. in Glass Technology from Sheffield University in England, and a M.Sc. and Ph.D. in Ceramic Engineering, both from The Ohio State University.

11-28

The Children of Marx and Coca-Cola

June 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

Berkeley–I take my title this week from the French cinematographer, Jean-Luc Godard’s Masculine / Feminine produced during the 1960s of which my forenamed title was one of the names of the Frenchman’s fifteen cinematic episodes / chapters; therefore, the name for this article, for your author feels there is much in common between this past week in Tehran and those heady days in Paris during 1968.

Almost four years ago this week, the young Iranian-American journalist, Azadeh Moaveni, came to Berkeley to promote her, then, recent memoirs Lipstick Jihad about growing up conflicted between her two cultures — American and Iranian.  Her experience has much to say to second generation immigrants of many sorts and to their parents as well.  This book for all its flaws does help them better understand their own bicultural children, and for us to better understand both their divergent generational peer groups. 

After college Azadeh moved to Tehran, her natal land.   What she discovered was not the fantasy of the past as held by her parents and the expatriate community, but the oppressive and even decadent lifestyle of her contemporaries in that nation of her infancy.  (Iran is a modern and in many instances a personally progressive State on a fast track to Post-Modernism, and not the stern theocracy that is too often portrayed in the West.)

For some reason my mid-May 2005 interview with Moaveni came at a time when Tehran was at the beginning of an exhilarating period of political reform as it is there now.  The youth demonstrated in the streets as during this past week against an Islamist regime they considered overly harsh. The young rebels she meet during the middle of this decade can even be considered hedonistic — totally unlike her imaginative homeland created during her American formative years. 

In the Islamic Republic of Iran, 60% of their population is under the age of thirty!  If anything, this shows they have a promising future.  Intimate versus public life is very finely etched in that realm that is ethnically dominated by the Persians.  To understand Iran, one has to comprehend the shifting role of her younger women which has been developing within the middle and upper urbanized classes, and it is these classes that have violently been dominate on the streets during this past week.  For “a woman it is an exciting time!” 

The great rifts between the classes is most disturbing, though, with the lack of international observers recently, it is difficult to perceive whether there was massive vote rigging or not although small scale “dirty” tricks and denial to the polling stations has been proven.  Whether there was enough fraud to throw the elections has not been demonstrated.  The grave tensions between the urban elites and the rural Subaltern (a word employed to describe a wide range of the lower classes) exists within contemporary Persia.

Although Islam is still central to the state and society, the youth are still referred to as a lost generation.  Western videos and other cultural artifacts have been officially banned, but they are openly smuggled, and popularly consumed.  What is demographically notable about this upcoming generation is that there are notably more women than men within it.  Noteworthy about the old Kingdom of the Shahs was the openness of Platonic relationships between the sexes, but this social custom has been discouraged by the current gender segregation encouraged by the Revolution.  The authoress remarked because of this, “…How can the younger generation be so obsessed with sex, but know so little about it?”  It is thought in the Republic that “Being a couple is petty and bourgeois.”  Then she repeated a profundity: “Life in the shadow of the struggle is merely in the shadows.”  Many women from conservative families have only become partially “liberated,” (but in essence there has been little change even for them.) Again, feminine identification is only attainable by the upwardly mobile!

Azadeh confesses that Iran was disappointing for her.  “Any gathering could degenerate into a protest against the government” as is the case today. 

An anxiety of violence has been acclimatized by the State.  The youthful — even during the period of Bush — still perceived America as a symbol of freedom. 

They strove after a Western lifestyle and Modernism and Post-Modernism, too, but their governmental regime is formally anti-American which creates a conundrum between officialdom and the emerging anti-Modernistic society.  The young people are almost purely positive towards America only because it is the antithesis of their own regime which they despise.  (This could become a potentially dangerous if the Medes became more hegemonic within their region!)

The subtitle to Moaveni’s book is A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America and American in Iran.  She was raised in Santa Cruz (California) and studied at the University of California campus in Santa Cruz on the Northern shores of Monterey Bay.  Winning a Fulbright, she lived in Cairo for three years studying Arabic as well.  Time Magazine then employed her to cover the Middle East for three years.  Lately, she has covered the Iraqi insurgency for the Los Angeles Times.  Although Azadeh Moaveni now covers Baghdad, she makes her home in Beirut.

I think much can be perceived from Moaveni’s comments on the situation in Iran.  The split between those who chose to stay in Iran and those in the Diaspora is most pronounced: Much like the Havana Cubans and the Miami Cubans.  So, when the local American domestic reporters talk to Iranian immigrants who have settled in the States, they, of course, are not the ones who have chosen to stay in their native land for many reasons; and, thus, are less likely to have a positive view of the 1979 Revolution.  Most of the protestors on the streets of Iran are college students.  Until legitimate international election observers can be put on the ground, it is almost impossible to say whether these polls were free and fair.  Having been an election observer in a much smaller country myself (El Salvador), I can attest to the logistical nightmare of monitoring deeply contested polls.

11-27

Sarkozy Says Burqas Are Unwelcome in France

June 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Susanna Ferreira and David Gauthier-Villars in Paris

President Nicolas Sarkozy took sides in a growing debate on the burqa, a head-to-toe garment that is worn by some Muslim women and that conceals their faces, saying it isn’t a religious symbol but “a sign of enslavement and debasement” of women.

“The burqa is not welcome on French territory,” Mr. Sarkozy said. “In our country, we cannot accept that women be prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity.”

Mr. Sarkozy, who was addressing a joint session of the French Parliament at Versailles — the first French president to address the legislature in more than a century — also pledged further government investment to help the country out of its recession.

Almost halfway through his five-year term, Mr. Sarkozy is struggling to deliver on his electoral pledge to downsize the French state. Instead, his government is spending to try to boost the economy, which is expected to shrink 3% this year.

He told lawmakers he would sharply reduce the state’s “bad budget deficit,” but he also unveiled a government bond issue to finance industrial, education and cultural projects.

Mr. Sarkozy’s speech, delivered at the château of Versailles, signaled his growing domination of French government. He used a change he introduced last year in France’s constitution that allows the president to address lawmakers directly.

Opposition lawmakers called the address a “narcissistic exercise” and said it only served Mr. Sarkozy’s taste for pomp. They said the speech highlighted how Mr. Sarkozy has relegated Prime Minister François Fillon to a subordinate role.

Mr. Sarkozy said he endorsed holding a parliamentary inquiry to study the small, but apparently growing, phenomenon of women wearing the burqa on French streets. The move could be the first step toward an outright ban on the coverings.

This month, a group of 76 lawmakers called for France to ban the garment, which is often associated with the Salafi strain of Islam and is worn by only a small percentage of Muslim women. The lawmakers appealed for a parliamentary commission to study the issue.

Some Muslim lobby groups, however, have urged the French government to refrain from holding a public debate on the issue, saying it would stigmatize France’s Muslim community, Europe’s largest.

France has strict rules separating state and religion, including a 2004 law banning veils, crosses, and other religious symbols and dress from public schools and government buildings.

The French debate was spearheaded by André Gerin, a French lawmaker and mayor of Vénissieux, near Lyon. The veils are “a test for our civilization,” Mr. Gerin said in a telephone interview, adding that his goal is to “liberate these women.”

Mr. Sarkozy said that he won’t raise taxes and that it is time to make spending cuts. He proposed slashing the number of local-government representatives, and said he will decide by mid-2010 whether to raise the minimum retirement age, which stands at 60 years for most workers.

So far, Mr. Sarkozy has maintained his popularity despite the economic slump. Still, he has been forced to shelve some of his plans to slim down France’s state in order to promote a livelier, more prosperous economy.

The budget deficit is likely to shoot up to €140 billion ($194 billion) this year — 7.5% of gross domestic product compared with 3.4% in 2008. Tax revenues are falling because of the recession, and Mr. Sarkozy has spent public funds to prop up banks and struggling auto companies.

11-27

The Lid is Off

June 18, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Dr. Aslam Abdullah, TMO Editor-in-chief

For almost three four five decades the elected representatives of the world’s most powerful country lived in fear of a lobby that was capable of destroying their lives and careers. Through whatever means, they were told not to say a single word against the state of Israel, otherwise they would not be re elected and their reputation would be destroyed. Many a congressmen lost their careers.

The lobby thrived on the basis of its money and influence at various sectors of American life. The lobby is still there, but the people have started to speak out against the apartheid and inhumanity of the state of Israel in protecting its interests. People no longer fear the accusation of anti-semitism because speaking for the Palestinians rights as guaranteed in the UN human rights charter is not an act of hatred against anyone. Calling Israel  an apartheid state is not an act of speaking against Judaism and describing the Zionist state a shame to all that is decent is not a hate speech.

More and more people are saying openly that the Zionist state is the worst in its human rights record towards Palestinian. They are saying it loudly and clearly that never in history a people like Palestinians have been treated so inhumanly by an aggressor like the state of Israelis. Former US  President Jimmy Carter summed up the feelings of all those decent human beings who are felt intimidated by the Israeli lobby when he said after visiting Ghaza., “Never before in history has a large community like this been savaged by bombs and missiles and then denied the means to repair itself.”

The lid is off now and more and more people would speak up. Israeli lobby can no longer blackmail US Congressmen and public. It is an accomplice in crimes against humanity and the American public must make it known to it. Obviously, it would be a white before the real damage caused y this lobby to America and its interests in the world would become known. In order to support criminals in Tel Aviv, this lobby has forced Americans to put their resources at the behest of those who can easily be put behind bars for all they have done to deny other human beings the right to live.

Describing the scenes of destruction in Ghaza, the former president said, “I feel partially responsible for this as must all Americans and Israelis.”

We are waiting for decent voices from amongst the supporters of Israel to stand for human dignity of others and not just theirs. We have not heard any significant voice from amongst Christian Zionists or American Jewish establishment in support of the Palestinians right to live in their homeland. On the other hand we hear many of them supporting the criminals, and terrorists who have destroyed homes and generations.

We acknowledge that Hamas and those Palestinian elements who use terror as a tactic to achieve their goals are wrong and we denounce their acts. But we have no doubt in our mind that the criminals who occupy positions of significance in Israel are bigger terrorists. They use all the might they have at their disposal to kill innocents. We denounce them as well. But we don’t see any Jewish establishment or Christian Zionists in the US who have spoken in defence of human rights of Palestinians.

As American citizens, we are waiting for decent voices to emerge from the lobby and supporters of the state of Israel that in the mind of many analysts is nothing but an apartheid state.

11-26

Kamala Surayya (1934- 2009)

June 4, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

NEW DELHI: With a hypersensitive and emotional spirit, reflected in her words – written as well as spoken – Kamala Surayya always moved on, stepping into controversial zones through her creative work and also her life-style. Ironically, her being a trendsetter is also marked by the homage paid to her and the funeral services held in her memory. She is one of the few Indian celebrities, who have been accorded state-level funeral services even though at the time of their death, they did not hold any high political or any authoritative post necessitating the same. Kamala, the well-known litterateur and poet, breathed her last in Pune (May 31), in a city hospital, where she had been admitted on April 18. Her body was brought to her native region, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala on Monday. The body was interred with state honors at the graveyard of Palayal Masjid, where it was laid to rest (June 2). The funeral prayers were led by chief cleric of Palayal Masjid. 

Expressing grief at Kamala’s demise, in his message, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that her poems “focusing on womanhood and feminism gained her recognition as one of the most noted modern Indian writers.”

Kamala had decided to leave Kerala and stay in Pune around two years ago. She had said then: “Enough is enough. Kerala has become an inhospitable place. I can’t live here anymore. I am getting raunchy mails and obscene calls. Everything is being criticised. Even fellow writers are not on my side. Maybe because I don’t have power through politics. Maybe, because I don’t have the influence.” On whether, the discomfort she faced had anything to do her with her converting to Islam, Kamala replied: “No. It has nothing to do with that. The truth is Kerala can’t stand ‘brainy women.’ They expect women to be behind closed doors. Their roles are predefined. They don’t want women to explore.” She converted to Islam in 1999, at the age of 65, a little after passing away of her husband. Earlier known as Kamala Das, after conversion, she started using the name Kamala Surayya.

So Kamala left Kerala, with practically no intention of ever returning back. As she then said: “I don’t have anything left there. No sentiments. I am leaving everything behind- furniture and all my books. I am not taking anything. I have had enough of Kerala culture. I want to be at peace with myself.” Kamala also felt sad that the state she belonged to had not given her due recognition. It is, however, claimed that practical sense prompted Kamala to move out of Kerela and live with her youngest son in Pune. She had accepted the hard reality that because of failing health she couldn’t live alone anymore in her flat in Kochi. She longed to finally return to Kerala. During the last couple of months, Kerala Minister for Culture M.A. Baby visited the ailing Kamala twice. He is understood to have offered to make arrangements for a state funeral, befitting her stature, in her home state Kerala, where she really wanted to be laid to rest.

Kamala was born on March 31, 1934 in Punnayurkulam in Kerala, in a conservative Hindu family. Her father V.M. Nair, a leading executive, later became managing editor of the widely-circulated Malayalam daily Mathrubhumi. While her mother Balamaniyamma was a noted poet, her great uncle Nalapat Narayana Menon was a literary stalwart of the time. Influenced by her mother and great-uncle, Kamala took to writing from an early age.  She was married at a young age (13) to Madhava Das, 15 years older than her. The couple had three sons.

Kamala began writing professionally after becoming a mother, with her kitchen table serving as her writing area after the housework was taken care of. “There was only the kitchen table where I would cut vegetables, and after all the plates and things were cleared, I would sit there and start typing. That was my work area,” she said in an interview in 1996.

Among her most notable works is her autobiography, My Story (1976) which has been published in more than 15 languages. Other popular English works of Kamala include Asian Poetry Prize winner- The Sirens (1964) and Kent’s Award winner – Summer in Calcutta (1965). Her last published work in English is a collection of poems- Yaa Allah (2001). Kamala’s Malayayam works, for which used the penname Madhavikuttii, include short stories- Pakshiyude Manam (1964), Vayalar Award winner, novel Neermathalam Pootha Kalam (1994), poetry- Only the Soul Knows How to Sing (1996) and short stories – Nashtapetta Neelambari (1998).

She has earned laurels as well as criticism for her writings, viewed by “liberal” by some and “amoral” by others for their projection of women. In Kamala’s opinion, Indian women were suppressed and exploited. She wanted them to liberate themselves from age-old prejudices, which led to their sufferings.

Kamala ventured into the political arena for a little while and also directed her creativity to painting for some time. She floated Lok Seva Party to promote social and humanitarian work. She, however, failed to win Lok Sabha in 1984. But the lady moved on, creating waves through her pen. Her achievements and life extended beyond the pen, as she said: “I wanted to fill my life with as many experiences as I can manage to garner because I do not believe that one can get born again.” And so she did. Kamala Surayya is no more, but with her writings, she has joined the immortals.

11-24

Obama Administration Renews Sanctions on Syria

May 14, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sue Pleming

2009-05-07T125052Z_01_SYR06_RTRMDNP_3_SYRIA-US

Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem (R) meets Jeffrey Feltman, U.S. acting assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, in Damascus May 7, 2009. The portrait on the wall shows Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad.

REUTERS/Khaled al-Hariri

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama said on Friday he had renewed sanctions against Syria because it posed a continuing threat to U.S. interests, despite sending two envoys to Damascus this week to try to improve ties.

In a letter notifying Congress of his decision, Obama accused Damascus of supporting terrorism, pursuing weapons of mass destruction and missile programs, and undermining U.S. and international efforts in trying to stabilize Iraq.

“For these reasons I have determined that it is necessary to continue in effect the national emergency declared with respect to this threat and to maintain in force the sanctions,” Obama said in the letter to Congress.

The sanctions, imposed by former President George W. Bush and which are up for renewal annually, prohibit arms exports to Syria, block Syrian airlines from operating in the United States and deny Syrians suspected of being associated with terrorist groups access to the U.S. financial system.

While the United States has made clear it wants better ties with Syria, which appears on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, the renewal of the sanctions shows it is not yet ready for a dramatic improvement.

“We need to see concrete steps from the Syrian government to move in another direction,” State Department spokesman Robert Wood told reporters.

Obama signed the executive order extending the sanctions on Thursday, shortly after two U.S. envoys met Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem in Damascus.
The visit by senior State Department official Jeffrey Feltman and White House National Security Council official Daniel Shapiro was their second since Obama took office in January and started talking to Damascus.

Tough Words

The two officials discussed Syria’s role in Iraq, where Washington has accused Damascus of allowing fighters to cross into its neighbor, and Lebanon, where the United States says Syria plays a destabilizing role.

“Part of Feltman’s trip to the region was trying to get the Syrians to take some steps that will move us toward a better relationship,” Wood said. “But there is a lot that Syria needs to do.”

The United States wants a commitment from Syria that it will not interfere with a June election in neighboring Lebanon, which U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited last month to show U.S. support.

The administration hopes direct talks with Syria, which will continue despite the sanctions, will weaken its ties to Iran.

Syria and Iran are the main backers of Hizbollah, a Shi’ite Muslim political and guerrilla group that fought a war against Israel in 2006 and has representatives in the Lebanese government and parliament.

Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad indicated this week he did not plan to change course. After meeting Iran’s president in Damascus, he said their strategic relationship contributed to Middle East stability.

The administration is reviewing whether to send back an ambassador to Damascus but a senior U.S. official said this week a decision had not yet been taken.

The U.S. ambassador was pulled out of Syria after the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. Syria denies any involvement in the killing but the United States pointed fingers at Damascus.

11-21

US Envoy Writes of Israeli Threats

April 9, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Courtesy Barbara Crossette

john_gunther_dean In the wake of the accusation by Chas Freeman that his nomination to lead the National Intelligence Council was derailed by an “Israeli lobby,” a forthcoming memoir by another distinguished ambassador adds stunning new charges to the debate. The ambassador, John Gunther Dean, writes that over the years he not only came under pressure from pro-Israeli groups and officials in Washington but also was the target of an Israeli-inspired assassination attempt in 1980 in Lebanon, where he had opened links to the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Dean’s suspicions that Israeli agents may have also been involved in the mysterious plane crash in 1988 that killed Pakistan’s president, General Mohammed Zia ul Haq, led finally to a decision in Washington to declare him mentally unfit, which forced his resignation from the foreign service after a thirty-year career. After he left public service, he was rehabilitated by the State Department, given a distinguished service medal and eventually encouraged to write his memoirs. Now 82, Dean sees the subsequent positive attention he has received as proof that the insanity charge (he calls it Stalinist) was phony, a supposition later confirmed by a former head of the department’s medical service.

Dean, whose memoir is titled Danger Zones: A Diplomat’s Fight for America’s Interests, was American ambassador in Lebanon in August 1980 when a three-car convoy carrying him and his family was attacked near Beirut.

“I was the target of an assassination attempt by terrorists using automatic rifles and antitank weapons that had been made in the United States and shipped to Israel,” he wrote. “Weapons financed and given by the United States to Israel were used in an attempt to kill an American diplomat!” After the event, conspiracy theories abounded in the Middle East about who could have planned the attack, and why. Lebanon was a dangerously factionalized country.

The State Department investigated, Dean said, but he was never told what the conclusion was. He wrote that he “worked the telephone for three weeks” and met only official silence in Washington. By then Dean had learned from weapons experts in the United States and Lebanon that the guns and ammunition used in the attack had been given by Israelis to a Christian militia allied with them.

“I know as surely as I know anything that Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, was somehow involved in the attack,” Dean wrote, describing how he had been under sharp criticism from Israeli politicians and media for his contacts with Palestinians. “Undoubtedly using a proxy, our ally Israel had tried to kill me.”

Dean’s memoir, to be published in May for the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training Memoir Series by New Academia Publishing under its Vellum imprint, has been read and approved for publication by the State Department with only very minor changes, none affecting Dean’s major points. Its underlying theme is that American diplomacy should be pursued in American interests, not those of another country, however friendly. A Jew whose family fled the Holocaust, Dean resented what he saw as an assumption, including by some in Congress, that he would promote Israel’s interests in his ambassadorial work.

Dean, a fluent French speaker who began his long diplomatic career opening American missions in newly independent West African nations in the early 1960s, served later in Vietnam (where he described himself as a “loyal dissenter”) and was ambassador in Cambodia (where he carried out the American flag as the Khmer Rouge advanced), Denmark, Lebanon, Thailand (where Chas Freeman was his deputy) and India. He takes credit for averting bloodshed in Laos in the 1970s by negotiating a coalition government shared by communist and noncommunist parties.

He was sometimes a disputatious diplomat not afraid to contradict superiors, and he often took–and still holds–contrarian views. He always believed, for example, that the United States should have attempted to negotiate with the Khmer Rouge rather than let the country be overrun by their brutal horror.

As ambassador in India in the 1980s he supported then-Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s policy of seeking some kind of neutral coalition in Afghanistan that would keep the American- and Pakistani-armed mujahedeen from establishing a fundamentalist Islamic state. For several years after the Soviet withdrawal, India continued to back Najibullah, a thuggish communist security chief whom the retreating Soviet troops left behind. After the mujahedeen moved toward Kabul, Najibullah refused a United Nations offer of safe passage to India. He was slaughtered and left hanging on a lamppost.

It was in the midst of this Soviet endgame in Afghanistan that Dean fell afoul of the State Department for the last time. After the death of General Zia in August 1988, in a plane crash that also killed the American ambassador in Pakistan, Arnold Raphel, Dean was told in New Delhi by high-ranking officials that Mossad was a possible instigator of the accident, in which the plane’s pilot and co-pilot were apparently disabled or otherwise lost control. There was also some suspicion that elements of India’s Research and Analysis Wing, its equivalent of the CIA, may have played a part. India and Israel were alarmed by Pakistan’s work on a nuclear weapon–the “Islamic bomb.”

Dean was so concerned about these reports, and the attempt by the State Department to block a full FBI investigation of the crash in Pakistan, that he decided to return to Washington for direct consultations. Instead of the meetings he was promised, he was told his service in India was over. He was sent into virtual house arrest in Switzerland at a home belonging to the family of his French wife, Martine Duphenieux. Six weeks later, he was allowed to return to New Delhi to pack his belongings and return to Washington, where he resigned.

Suddenly his health record was cleared and his security clearance restored. He was presented with the Distinguished Service Award and received a warm letter of praise from Secretary of State George Shultz. “Years later,” he wrote in his memoir, “I learned who had ordered the bogus diagnosis of mental incapacity against me. It was the same man who had so effusively praised me once I was gone–George Shultz.”

Asked in a telephone conversation last week from his home in Paris why Shultz had done this to him, Dean would say only, “He was forced to.”

Barbara Crossette, United Nations correspondent for The Nation, is a former New York Times correspondent and bureau chief in Asia and at the UN.

She is the author of So Close to Heaven: The Vanishing Buddhist Kingdoms of the Himalayas, published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1995 and in paperback by Random House/Vintage Destinations in 1996, and a collection of travel essays about colonial resort towns that are still attracting visitors more than a century after their creation, The Great Hill Stations of Asia, published by Westview Press in 1998 and in paperback by Basic Books in 1999. In 2000, she wrote a survey of India and Indian-American relations, India: Old Civilization in a New World, for the Foreign Policy Association in New York. She is also the author of India Facing the 21st Century, published by Indiana University Press in 1993.

Controversial Bestseller Shakes the Foundation of the Israeli State

February 5, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Joshua Holland, AlterNet

What if the Palestinian Arabs who have lived for decades under the heel of the modern Israeli state are in fact descended from the very same “children of Israel” described in the Old Testament?

And what if most modern Israelis aren’t descended from the ancient Israelites at all, but are actually a mix of Europeans, North Africans and others who didn’t “return” to the scrap of land we now call Israel and establish a new state following the attempt to exterminate them during World War II, but came in and forcefully displaced people whose ancestors had lived there for millennia?

What if the entire tale of the Jewish Diaspora — the story recounted at Passover tables by Jews around the world every year detailing the ancient Jews’ exile from Judea, the years spent wandering through the desert, their escape from the Pharaoh’s clutches — is all wrong?

That’s the explosive thesis of When and How Was the Jewish People Invented?, a book by Tel Aviv University scholar Shlomo Zand (or Sand) that sent shockwaves across Israeli society when it was published last year. After 19 weeks on the Israeli best-seller list, the book is being translated into a dozen languages and will be published in the United States this year by Verso.

Its thesis has ramifications that go far beyond some antediluvian academic debate. Few modern conflicts are as attached to ancient history as that decades-long cycle of bloodletting between Israelis and Palestinians. Each group lays claim to the same scrap of land — holy in all three of the world’s major Abrahamic religions — based on long-standing ties to that chunk of earth and national identities formed over long periods of time. There’s probably no other place on Earth where the present is as intimately tied to the ancient.

Central to the ideology of Zionism is the tale — familiar to all Jewish families — of exile, oppression, redemption and return. Booted from their kingdom, the “Jewish people” — sons and daughters of ancient Judea — wandered the earth, rootless, where they faced cruel suppression from all corners — from being forced to toil in slavery under the Egyptians, to the Spanish massacres of the 14th century and Russian pogroms of the 19th, through to the horrors of the Third Reich.

This view of history animates all Zionists, but none more so than the influential but reactionary minority — in the United States as well as Israel — who believe that God bestowed a “Greater Israel” — one that encompasses the modern state as well as the Occupied Territories — on the Jewish people, and who resist any effort to create a Palestinian state on biblical grounds.

Inventing a People?

Zand’s central argument is that the Romans didn’t expel whole nations from their territories. Zand estimates that perhaps 10,000 ancient Judeans were vanquished during the Roman wars, and the remaining inhabitants of ancient Judea remained, converting to Islam and assimilating with their conquerors when Arabs subjugated the area. They became the progenitors of today’s Palestinian Arabs, many of whom now live as refugees who were exiled from their homeland during the 20th century.

As Israeli journalist Tom Segev summarized, in a review of the book in Ha’aretz:

There never was a Jewish people, only a Jewish religion, and the exile also never happened — hence there was no return. Zand rejects most of the stories of national-identity formation in the Bible, including the exodus from Egypt and, most satisfactorily, the horrors of the conquest under Joshua.

But this begs the question: if the ancient people of Judea weren’t expelled en masse, then how did it come to pass that Jewish people are scattered across the world? According to Zand, who offers detailed histories of several groups within what is conventionally known as the Jewish Diaspora, some were Jews who emigrated of their own volition, and many more were later converts to Judaism. Contrary to popular belief, Zand argues that Judaism was an evangelical religion that actively sought out new adherents during its formative period.

This narrative has huge significance in terms of Israel’s national identity. If Judaism is a religion, rather than “a people” descended from a dispersed nation, then it brings into question the central justification for the state of Israel remaining a “Jewish state.”

And that brings us to Zand’s second assertion. He argues that the story of the Jewish nation — the transformation of the Jewish people from a group with a shared cultural identity and religious faith into a vanquished “people” — was a relatively recent invention, hatched in the 19th century by Zionist scholars and advanced by the Israeli academic establishment. It was, argues Zand, an intellectual conspiracy of sorts. Segev says, “It’s all fiction and myth that served as an excuse for the establishment of the State of Israel.”

Zand Gets Slammed; Do His Arguments Stand Up?

The ramifications of Zand’s argument are far-reaching; “the chances that the Palestinians are descendants of the ancient Judaic people are much greater than the chances that you or I are its descendants,” he told Ha’aretz. Zand argues that Israel should be a state in which all of the inhabitants of what was once “British Palestine” share the full rights and responsibilities of citizenship, rather than maintaining it as a “Jewish and democratic” state, as it’s now identified.

Predictably, Zand was pilloried according to the time-tested formula. Ami Isseroff, writing on ZioNation, the Zionism-Israel blog, invoked the customary Holocaust imagery, accusing Zand of offering a “final solution to the Jewish problem,” one in which “No auto da fe is required, no charging Cossacks are needed, no gas chambers, no smelly crematoria.” Another feverish ideologue called Zand’s work “another manifestation of mental disorder in the extreme academic Left in Israel.”

That kind of overheated rhetoric is a standard straw man in the endless roil of discourse over Israel and the Palestinians, and is easily dismissed. But more serious criticism also greeted Zand’s work. In a widely read critical review of Zand’s work, Israel Bartal, dean of humanities at the Hebrew University, slammed the author’s second assertion — that Zionist academics had suppressed the true history of Judaism’s spread through emigration and conversion in favor of a history that would give legitimacy to the quest for a Jewish state.

Bartal raised important questions about Zand’s methodology and pointed out what appears to be some sloppy details in the book. But, interestingly, in defending Israel’s academic community, Bartal supported Zand’s more consequential thesis, writing, “Although the myth of an exile from the Jewish homeland (Palestine) does exist in popular Israeli culture, it is negligible in serious Jewish historical discussions.” Bartal added: “no historian of the Jewish national movement has ever really believed that the origins of the Jews are ethnically and biologically ‘pure.’ “ He noted that “[i]mportant groups in the [Zionist] movement expressed reservations regarding this myth or denied it completely.”

“As far as I can discern,” Bartal wrote, “the book contains not even one idea that has not been presented” in previous historical studies. Segev added that “Zand did not invent [his] thesis; 30 years before the Declaration of Independence, it was espoused by David Ben-Gurion, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi and others.”

One can reasonably argue that this ancient myth of a Jewish nation exiled until its 20th century return is of little consequence; whether the Jewish people share a common genetic ancestry or are a far-flung collection of people who share the same faith, a common national identity has in fact developed over the centuries. But Zand’s central contention stands, and has some significant implications for the current conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

Changing the Conversation?

The primary reason it’s so difficult to discuss the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is the remarkably effective job supporters of Israel’s control of the Occupied Territories — including Gaza, still under de facto occupation — have done equating support for Palestinian self-determination with a desire to see the destruction of Israel. It effectively conflates any advocacy of Palestinian rights with the specter of Jewish extermination.

That’s certainly been the case with arguments for a single-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Until recent years, advocating a “single-state” solution — a binational state where all residents of what are today Israel and the Occupied Territories share the full rights and responsibilities of citizenship — was a relatively mainstream position to take. In fact, it was one of several competing plans considered by the United Nations when it created the state of Israel in the 1940s.

But the idea of a single, binational state has more recently been marginalized — dismissed as an attempt to destroy Israel literally and physically, rather than as an ethnic and religious-based political entity with a population of second-class Arab citizens and the legacy of responsibility for world’s longest-standing refugee population.

A logical conclusion of Zand’s work exposing Israel’s founding mythology may be the restoration of the idea of a one-state solution to a legitimate place in the debate over this contentious region. After all, while it muddies the waters in one sense — raising ancient, biblical questions about just who the “children of Israel” really are — in another sense, it hints at the commonalities that exist between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs. Both groups lay claim to the same crust of earth, both have faced historic repression and displacement and both hold dear the idea that they should have a “right of return.”

And if both groups in fact share common biblical ties, then it begs the question of why the entirety of what was Palestine under the British mandate should remain a refuge for people of one religion instead of being a country in which Jews and Arabs are guaranteed equal protection — equal protection under the laws of a state whose legitimacy would never again be open to question.

Joshua Holland is an AlterNet staff writer.

US to Drop Mullah Omar From Blacklist

November 6, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

Courtesy PressTV

mullah_omar The US agreed to drop the name of the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar from the terror list ahead of talks with the insurgents, an official says.

“US intends to remove Mullah Omar from the black list in a bid to provide a suitable seedbed for holding contacts with the Taliban,” said Sunday, the US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs Patrick S. Moon.

Moon added that during his upcoming visit to Kabul, he will fully support the idea of negotiated settlement with the Taliban militants to end the violence in the region. He also reiterated that the talks with the Taliban insurgents were possible within the Afghan Constitution.

Also, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that the US was considering taking part in talks with Taliban in a sharp change in tactics in Afghanistan.

The developments come at a time when US, British and NATO forces are experiencing some of the most violent attacks since the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan.
Mullah Mohammad Omar, known as simply ‘Mullah Omar’, is the reclusive leader of Taliban of Afghanistan and was the country’s de facto head of state from 1996 to 2001. He went into hiding, following the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

Mullah Omar was wanted by the US for harboring Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda network.        

JR/RA

10-46

Israeli Bestseller Breaks National Taboo : Idea of a Jewish People Invented, Says Historian

October 16, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

Courtesy Jonathan Cook, antiwar.com

No one is more surprised than Shlomo Sand that his latest academic work has pent 19 weeks on Israel`s bestseller list – and that success has come to the history professor despite his book challenging Israel’s biggest taboo. Dr. Sand argues that the idea of a Jewish nation – whose need for a safe haven was originally used to justify the founding of the state of Israel – is  myth invented little more than a century ago.

An expert on European history at Tel Aviv University, Dr. Sand drew on extensive historical and archaeological research to support not only this claim but several more – all equally controversial. In addition, he argues that the Jews were never exiled from the Holy Land, that most of today`s Jews have no historical connection to the land called Israel and that the only political solution to the country’s conflict with the Palestinians is to abolish the Jewish state. The success of When and How Was the Jewish People Invented? looks likely to be repeated around the world. A French edition, launched last month, is selling so fast that it has already had three print runs.

Translations are under way into a dozen languages, including Arabic and English. But he predicted a rough ride from the pro-Israel lobby when the book is launched by his English publisher, Verso, in the United States next year.

In contrast, he said Israelis had been, if not exactly supportive, at least curious about his argument. Tom Segev, one of the country`s leading journalists, has called the book `fascinating and challenging.` Surprisingly, Dr. Sand said, most of his academic colleagues in Israel have shied away from tackling his arguments.

One exception is Israel Bartal, a professor of Jewish history at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Writing in Haaretz, the Israeli daily newspaper, Dr. Bartal made little effort to rebut Dr. Sand`s claims. He dedicated much of his article instead to defending his profession, suggesting that Israeli historians were not as ignorant about the invented nature of Jewish history as Dr. Sand contends.

The idea for the book came to him many years ago, Dr. Sand said, but he waited until recently to start working on it. `I cannot claim to be particularly courageous in publishing the book now,` he said. `I waited until I was a full professor. There is a price to be paid in Israeli academia for expressing views of this sort.`

Dr. Sand`s main argument is that until little more than a century ago, Jews thought of themselves as Jews only because they shared a common religion. At the turn of the 20th century, he said, Zionist Jews challenged this idea and started creating a national history by inventing the idea that Jews existed as people separate from their religion.

Equally, the modern Zionist idea of Jews being obligated to return from exile to the Promised Land was entirely alien to Judaism, he added.

`Zionism changed the idea of Jerusalem. Before, the holy places were seen as places to long for, not to be lived in. For 2,000 years Jews stayed away from Jerusalem not because they could not return but because their religion forbade them from returning until the messiah came.

The biggest surprise during his research came when he started looking at the archaeological evidence from the biblical era.

`I was not raised as a Zionist, but like all other Israelis I took it for granted that the Jews were a people living in Judea and that they were exiled by the Romans in 70AD.

`But once I started looking at the evidence, I discovered that the kingdoms of David and Solomon were legends.

`Similarly with the exile. In fact, you can`t explain Jewishness without exile. But when I started to look for history books describing the events of this exile, I couldn`t find any. Not one.

`That was because the Romans did not exile people. In fact, Jews in Palestine were overwhelming peasants and all the evidence suggests they stayed on their lands.`

Instead, he believes an alternative theory is more plausible: the exile was a myth promoted by early Christians to recruit Jews to the new faith. `Christians wanted later generations of Jews to believe that their ancestors had been exiled as a punishment from God.`

So if there was no exile, how is it that so many Jews ended up scattered around the globe before the modern state of Israel began encouraging them to `return`? Dr. Sand said that, in the centuries immediately preceding and following the Christian era, Judaism was a proselytizing religion, desperate for converts.

This is mentioned in the Roman literature of the time.` Jews traveled to other regions seeking converts, particularly in Yemen and among the Berber tribes of North Africa. Centuries later, the people of the Khazar kingdom in what is today south Russia, would convert en masse to Judaism, becoming the genesis of the Ashkenazi Jews of central and eastern Europe.

Dr. Sand pointed to the strange state of denial in which most Israelis live, noting that papers offered extensive coverage recently to the discovery of the capital of the Khazar kingdom next to the Caspian Sea.

Ynet, the website of Israel`s most popular newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, headlined the story: `Russian archaeologists find long-lost Jewish capital.`

And yet none of the papers, he added, had considered the significance of this find to standard accounts of Jewish history.

One further question is prompted by Dr. Sand`s account, as he himself notes: if most Jews never left the Holy Land, what became of them?

`It is not taught in Israeli schools but most of the early Zionist leaders, including David Ben Gurion [Israel`s first prime minister], believed that the Palestinians were the descendants of the area’s original Jews. They believed the Jews had later converted to Islam.`

Dr. Sand attributed his colleagues` reticence to engage with him to an implicit acknowledgement by many that the whole edifice of `Jewish history` taught at Israeli universities is built like a house of cards.

The problem with the teaching of history in Israel, Dr. Sand said, dates to a decision in the 1930s to separate history into two disciplines: general history and Jewish history. Jewish history was assumed to need its own field of study because Jewish experience was considered unique.

`There’s no Jewish department of politics or sociology at the universities. Only history is taught in this way, and it has allowed specialists in Jewish history to live in a very insular and conservative world where they are not touched by modern developments in historical research.

`I`ve been criticized in Israel for writing about Jewish history when European history is my specialty. But a book like this needed a historian who is familiar with the standard concepts of historical inquiry used by academia in the rest of the world.`

This article originally appeared in The National, published in Abu Dhabi.

http://www.antiwar.com/orig/cook.php?articleid=13569

10-43

Hindu Mobs Ransack Villages as Christians Hide in Forests

September 4, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

Courtesy Gethin Chamberlain, The Observer

2008-09-03T125407Z_01_DEL04_RTRMDNP_3_INDIA-RELIGION

An activist from Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPI (M) attends a protest against the killing of Christians in Orissa, in New Delhi September 3, 2008. Hindu mobs have burnt at least four more churches in eastern India, officials said on Monday, as religious violence appeared to spread. Thousands of people, mostly Christians, have taken shelter in makeshift camps in Orissa state, where Hindu mobs went on the rampage last week after a Hindu leader was killed.  

REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

Thousands of terrified Indian Christians are hiding in the forests of the volatile Indian state of Orissa after a wave of religious ‘cleansing’ forced them from their burnt-out homes with no immediate prospect of return.

A mob of Hindu fundamentalists rampaged through villages last week, killing those too slow to get out of their way, burning churches and an orphanage, and targeting the homes of Christians. Up to 20 people were reported dead, with at least two deliberately set alight, after the murder of a Hindu leader last Saturday provoked the violence.

In some districts, entire villages lay deserted, abandoned by Christian populations who would rather shelter in the forests than return to face the risk of death. Some villagers attempted to return to their homes yesterday despite threats of further violence.

But Christian leaders who had spoken to those who have fled said that even among the trees they were not safe. Some of their tormenters have pursued them, trying to finish the job.

One of those hiding in the forest, Abalkora Diggal, described how a group arrived at Balkidadi village on Monday morning chanting anti-Christian slogans. ‘In the evening, a much bigger group of over 1,000 people fired in the air and warned us to leave if we wanted to stay alive,’ he told a local journalist.

They fled into the forest, emerging only when they saw an aid convoy arrive under heavy police protection. Afterwards, they returned to the forest, without food or fresh water. ‘I had a home and a tractor. I reared goats and hens. Now I have nothing,’ said Mr Diggal.

Babu Joseph, spokesman for the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of India, told The Observer that many people were too frightened to return to their homes.
After speaking by mobile phone to some of those in hiding, he said: ‘They are living without food or drink and even there they are being hunted down by these people. I have spoken to nuns and priests who are hiding in the forests.

‘They said that it was a horrifying experience. Groups arrived at their villages carrying guns, swords and homemade weapons and even small bombs, which they used to blast the places. The groups targeted every Christian house in their villages. The people had a list of the Christian houses and institutions and none were spared.’ The Church said nearly 3,000 houses had been destroyed, most of them owned by Christians. More than 60 churches were burned down and at least half a dozen convents.

‘It is the result of a sustained hate campaign against Christians in Orissa,’ Rev Joseph said.

Manmohan Singh, the Indian Prime Minister, described the violence as a ‘national shame’, while Raphael Cheenath, the Archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, called for an end to the ‘ethnic cleansing of Christians’.

The violence erupted after the murder of Hindu leader Swami Lakshmananda Saraswati at an ashram last Saturday night, along with four other activists from the hardline Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) party.

It was claims by the VHP that Christians were to blame for the deaths that acted as a trigger for the killing spree, although Maoist guerillas have since claimed responsibility for the murders. Reports said that about 30 Maoists opened fire on the ashram. A spokesman for the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army said it had targeted Saraswati, who had campaigned against conversions and the killing of cows, for ‘fascist activities’.

The revenge killings have been indiscriminate: a 19-year-old Hindu Rajni Majhi was burned to death by a mob who attacked the Christian-run Missionary Orphan Centre in the Bargarh district.

Some of the 150,000 Christians in the Kandhamal area have been sheltered by Hindu neighbours, but about 5,000 are believed to have sought refuge in the forests, with up to 10,000 under guard in camps set up by the government.

Underlying the violence is a long-simmering dispute between Hindus and Christians in the state over the conversion of low-caste Hindus to Catholicism. The success of the Christian churches has fuelled resentment among hardline Hindus. The Vatican has condemned the violence. Most of India’s billion-plus citizens are Hindu, while just 2.5 per cent of them are Christians.

Shoot-on-sight orders were issued to security forces in eight districts and a curfew remained in place yesterday in nine districts.

About 3,000 Christians demonstrated outside the Orissa state building in New Delhi yesterday, holding placards calling for peace and condemning the state government. On Friday about 25,000 Catholic schools were closed in a symbolic protest against the killings.

10-37

Did U.S., Israel Provocateur S. Ossetia Conflict?

August 14, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

Does the Sun Come Up in the Morning?

Courtesy Kurt Nimmo, Infowars

August 9, 2008–Dead civilians in South Ossetia. But you will not hear much about it on CNN or Faux News. Because they are too busy reporting ad nauseam about the extramarital shenanigans of CFR darling John Edwards.

In order to find out what’s really going on in Georgia, you have to read the international press on the internet. Bush, McCain, and Obama may cast blame on Russia, but reading the international press you get a different perspective.

2008-08-09T155205Z_01_OSS16_RTRMDNP_3_GEORGIA-OSSETIA

Chechen special forces soldiers from Vostok (East) army unit sit atop of an APC (armoured personnel carrier) as they move toward the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali, at the South Ossetian settlement Dzhava, August 9, 2008.

REUTERS/Denis Sinyakov

Gori    

Soldiers from the Ukraine, the United States, Georgia and Azerbaijan partake in “Peace Shield 2005” on the Crimean peninsula in southern Ukraine.

Russia accuses U.S. of orchestrating conflict

“Russian officials believe that it was the USA that orchestrated the current conflict. The chairman of the State Duma Committee for Security, Vladimir Vasilyev, believes that the current conflict is South Ossetia is very reminiscent to the wars in Iraq and Kosovo,” reports Pravda, the Russian newspaper.

Recall the CIA admitting it “helped to train the Kosovo Liberation Army before Nato’s bombing of Yugoslavia,” according to The Sunday Times. The KLA is a perfect outfit for the CIA. “Known for its extensive links to Albanian and European crime syndicates, the KLA was supported from the outset in the mid-1990s by the CIA and Germany’s intelligence agency, the Bundes Nachrichten Dienst (BND). In the course of the 1999 war, the KLA was supported directly by NATO,” writes Michel Chossudovsky. “The KLA had extensive links to Al Qaeda, which was also involved in military training. Mujahideen mercenaries from a number of countries integrated the ranks of the KLA, which was involved in terrorist activities as well as political assassinations.” Of course, “links to Al Qaeda” translate into links to the CIA.

“The things that were happening in Kosovo, the things that were happening in Iraq – we are now following the same path. The further the situation unfolds, the more the world will understand that Georgia would never be able to do all this without America. South Ossetian defense officials used to make statements about imminent aggression from Georgia, but the latter denied everything, whereas the US Department of State released no comments on the matter. In essence, they have prepared the force, which destroys everything in South Ossetia, attacks civilians and hospitals. They are responsible for this. The world community will learn about it,” Vasilyev told Pravda.

Indeed, the world will learn about it, but not by way of America’s corporate media, more interested in the entirely meaningless baby-making of Clay Aiken and Jaymes Foster. Bread and circuses shall suffice in America.

U.S. loads up Georgia with weapons to fight “al-Qaeda”

The Federation of American Scientists website reveals that Georgia is the most recent recipient of U.S. weapons and aid, receiving 10 UH-1H Huey helicopters (four for spare parts only) and $64 million in military aid and training to fight Arab soldiers with alleged ties to Al Qaeda that have been participating in the Chechen war and are now taking refuge in the Pankisi Gorge region in northern Georgia. Like many of the recent aid recipients, claims that Georgia has become an al Qaeda sanctuary are dubious at best.

“The rapid increase in US strategic influence in the Caucasus has alarmed Russian policy planners. Moscow is keen to take steps to shore up its eroding position in the region. However, Russian officials have limited options with which to counter US moves while at the same time maintaining cordial relations with Washington,” Eurasia.net reported on April 8, 2002. “The most prominent US moves in the Caucasus are the decision to dispatch military advisers to Georgia and a March 29 State Department announcement on the lifting of an arms embargo imposed on Armenia and Azerbaijan. Both actions have the potential to tilt the military establishments of all three Caucasus nations away from Russia and towards NATO.”

Imagine Canada decided to enter a military and diplomatic alliance with Russia and Canada began arming itself to the teeth with Russian weapons and training with Russian military advisers. Can you guess what the reaction of Bush and the neocons would be?

It doesn’t take much imagination.

Rose revolution

The Rose Revolution was not a simple uprising but was aided by the CIA and Ambassador Richard Miles

CIA engineered Georgia’s Rose Revolution

Of course, this al-Qaeda presence is not so dubious when one considers the well documented fact the supposed Islamic terror group is a CIA contrivance. As well, this absurd concern for al-Qaeda’s presence under Georgian beds helped make possible Georgia’s so-called Rose Revolution. “The Rose Revolution was not a simple uprising but was aided by the CIA and Ambassador Richard Miles (think Serbia). From early 2002 onwards the CIA had been operating in Georgia, supposedly to combat Al Qaeda,” explains researcher James Schneider.

It appears the CIA has worked behind the scenes for quite a while in Georgia. Back in 1993, for instance, CIA agent Fred Woodruff was assassinated by unknown assailants outside of Tbilisi. “Spokesmen for the State Department and the C.I.A. declined to confirm that Mr. Woodruff was working for the intelligence agency. But high-ranking Administration officials said he was, adding that he was not spying on Georgian officials but was training Mr. [Eduard] Shevardnadze’s security forces,” the New York Times reported at the time. So tight was the CIA with the former president of Georgia, they engineered the “bloodless” Rose Revolution and pitched him out on his ear.

In the wake of Georgia’s much vaunted — by the U.S. corporate media — “revolution,” the installed government of autocrat Mikheil Saakashvilli wasted little time imposing “democracy” neocon-style, resulting in violent suppression of opposition political rallies. “Georgia was rocked by opposition rallies for six days last November as protesters occupied central Tbilisi demanding Saakashvili’s resignation over allegations of corruption and increasing authoritarianism,” reported RIA Novosti. “The Georgian leader responded by sending in riot police to crack down on protesters on November 7. Over 500 people were injured according to Human Rights Watch as police used rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons to break up the demonstrations.” In addition, Saakashvilli’s goons used “non-lethal” weapons of the sort developed by the Pentagon (see video).

U.S. military holds “exercises” in Georgia immediately prior to conflict

Last month, Aljazeera reported that “a total of around 1,650 soldiers form the US, Georgia and several other East European countries, have begun exercises on the formerly Russian-controlled Vaziani base, the Georgian defense ministry said.”

NowPublic reported on July 17:

US officials insist the long-planned wargames have nothing to do with the recent dispute between Russia and Georgia over the breakaway Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. But they give Washington a chance to support pro-west Tbilisi at a critical time.

If you believe this, I have a bridge for sale.

In fact, these “long-planned wargames” were so important the State Department packed up and shipped off Condi Rice to Georgia. Her arrival was nicely timed to coincide with “a deadly firefight between Georgian troops and separatists in a Russian-backed breakaway region…. Ahead of Rice’s arrival, a senior State Department official who did not want to be identified told reporters that unchecked conflict in the region could lead to catastrophe. The official also said Moscow should realize its Soviet empire is gone.”

Catastrophe, indeed, although Russia’s response to Georgia’s invasion of South Ossetia demonstrated Russia’s resolve to reclaim its supposedly evaporated empire.

Israel gets in on the act

Let’s not forget America’s junior partner in chaos and mass murder, Israel. “In addition to the spy drones, Israel has also been supplying Georgia with infantry weapons and electronics for artillery systems, and has helped upgrade Soviet-designed Su-25 ground attack jets assembled in Georgia, according to Koba Liklikadze, an independent military expert based in Tbilisi. Former Israeli generals also serve as advisers to the Georgian military,” reports the International Herald Tribune.

No wonder the horrific photos emerging from South Ossetia have that Lebanon invasion look about them. Israel has over fifty years of experience in invading small countries and has consistently specialized in murdering and tormenting civilians.

Blind eyes all around

As Lavrov explains it, the “Georgian administration has found the use to its arms, which they have been purchasing during the recent several years… We have repeatedly warned that the international community should not turn a blind eye on massive purchases of offensive arms, in which the Georgian administration has been involved during the recent two years.”

Unfortunately, the international community will likely “turn a blind eye” to the U.S. and Israel arming, training, and obviously orchestrating the current conflict, same as they by and large turned a blind eye to Israel’s criminal invasion of Lebanon back in 2005 and the U.S. invasion and ongoing occupation of Iraq. In regard to the latter, the “international community” — indeed, the whole of the American people — are so disorganized and demoralized they cannot address the simple fact the neocons lied a nation into war. Nixon was bounced for far less.

It looks like Russia will be obliged to deal with Georgia’s treachery on its own. Regrettably, Russia’s response will entail even more murder of innocents and wholesale destruction, as this is how government historically deals with threats – real, imagined, or provocateured.

10-34

The Dubious ‘Popular Vote’

May 4, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

Larry J Sabato, professor of politics at the University of Virginia, takes a close look at Hillary Clinton’s arguments that she deserves the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.

Courtesy Prof. Larry Sabato, UVA

Give Hillary Clinton credit. She has shown toughness, stamina, and persistence in one of the longest presidential campaigns in American history.

If super-delegates back Hillary Clinton, will they alienate loyal black voters?

She has fought hard and come back time and again in the 2008 primary season, defying the pundits who insisted on writing her political obituary prematurely. She has held the charismatic phenomenon named Barack Obama almost to a draw in the fight for votes and delegates in the Democratic party’s nominating battle.

As some of Obama’s weaknesses become more apparent, her arguments are drawing new attention, and at least a few Democratic leaders are considering them.

No-one is likely to agree on exactly what the popular vote is, or how it should be counted – the notion ought to be shelved

All that being true, it’s still very unlikely she will overcome Obama’s lead. With just seven states (plus Puerto Rico and Guam) remaining on the primary schedule, Obama is ahead by close to 160 elected (or pledged) delegates and, overall, by about 130 delegates, once the super-delegates are included.

This may not sound like many in a convention that will host more than 4,000 delegates, but party rules make it difficult to gain a sizeable number of delegates quickly. (Incredibly, you can win a big state and net a mere handful of delegates. The Democrats have developed a system so fair it is unfair.)

Changing the math

Here’s the basic dilemma for Hillary Clinton: How can she convince senior Democrats to turn their backs on the most loyal party constituency, African-Americans, who regularly give 90% of their votes to party candidates?

For the first time, one of their own has a real chance to become the presidential nominee and the occupant of the White House. The anger in the black community would be palpable and long-lasting if Obama is sent packing.

Democratic women appear unlikely to respond in the same fashion if the first serious woman candidate is turned aside.

Worry among super-delegates about Obama’s viability in the fall is not enough. The only conceivable scenarios that might change the present nominating math are:

a.. a campaign-ending scandal or gaffe by Obama
b.. a highly improbable series of victories by Hillary Clinton in primaries she is expected to lose (such as North Carolina and Oregon)
c.. a raft of polls showing Clinton defeating McCain handily while Obama is losing to McCain decisively (most current polls show relatively little difference in the Obama-McCain and Clinton-McCain national match-ups, though the prospective contests in individual states vary considerably)

How can it be that Clinton is so unlikely to prevail, especially close on the heels of her solid, impressive 9.2% victory in Pennsylvania on 22 April?

Why wouldn’t that victory generate significant momentum for Clinton, just at the moment when the remaining super-delegates prepare to make their decisive choice? Didn’t her 214,000-vote plurality in the Keystone State vault her into the popular-vote lead nationally, as she claimed?

The size and breadth of Clinton’s triumph in Pennsylvania certainly demonstrated the emerging limitations of Obama’s appeal, not least the disaffection of many whites, blue-collar workers, and low-income Democrats.

But it almost certainly will be Obama, not Clinton, who is on the November ballot under the Democratic label.

Michigan and Florida

Take Clinton’s claim about the popular vote. On the morning after Pennsylvania, she insisted that she had taken a narrow popular-vote lead, about 15.12 million to nearly 15 million for Obama. But this is classic “new math”, where the numerical answer obtained is often less important than the agile mental gymnastics used to get there.

Clinton’s total relies on two very dubious assumptions. First, one must incorporate the primary results from Florida and Michigan, two January contests excluded by the Democratic National Committee for violating the scheduling rules set by the party. This is no minor sum of votes – 2,344,318, to be exact.

Barack Obama has regularly done better than Hillary Clinton in caucuses

But no even-handed person would contend that Michigan, whose primary occurred on 15 January, should be part of the equation. Barack Obama’s name was not even on the ballot.

The vote total cited by Clinton conveniently excludes three caucus states won by Obama, in Iowa, Maine, and Washington. (Nevada, won by Clinton, is also left out of the tally.) No-one knows the exact number of votes cast for each candidate in these four states since the state parties, by tradition, refuse to release the data.

Eliminating Michigan, the Obama-Clinton match-up shows an Obama edge of a couple hundred thousand votes. Striking Florida brings it to about a half-million-vote Obama plurality. And the unknown caucus results would add at least 100,000 to his lead.

Comparing like with unlike

This discussion of caucus states raises another interesting subject. How can one compare primary and caucus states at all? By their very nature, primaries attract a large electorate in most states. A caucus is a very different political animal, requiring hours of commitment from each participating individual.

The concept of the national popular vote is borrowed from the general election, when it makes more sense

The caucus also is inflexible, beginning at a set, mandatory time. There are no absentee ballots and no excuses for troops abroad, medical personnel who must attend to the sick, or elderly individuals who cannot brave a lengthy, stressful outing. Caucus participation is usually just a fraction of the turnout that would have occurred had the state held a primary.

Therefore, the national vote total is heavily skewed to the states holding primaries, and this total mixes primary apples and caucus oranges in an unenlightening way.

The concept of the national popular vote is borrowed from the general election, when it makes more sense. However, in the nominating season the idea is dubious, and it is not a particularly useful measure for the undecided super-delegates. Nevertheless, it has been bandied about so much by the campaigns and news media that it has now become an inescapable yardstick of electoral validity for Clinton and Obama.

Key states

Other questions about the vote mathematics are also compelling. Should the voting results in November’s likely competitive states-the ones we often call purple – a mixture of Republican red and Democratic blue – be given special weight in the popular-vote formula? After all, the purpose of the nominating contest is to pick a candidate who can win the general election.

Both Clinton and Obama have won states critically important to a Democratic majority in November

Hillary Clinton has pushed this interpretation, but only up to a point. She wants her wins in competitive, significant states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania to be determinants for the super-delegates, yet she ignores Barack Obama’s victories in medium-sized toss-up states such as Colorado and Virginia.

With apologies to George Orwell, all states are equal, but some are more equal than others.

Overall, though, this game is pointless since both Clinton and Obama have won states critically important to a Democratic electoral college majority in November.

Different voters

The flaw in the state-based argument is also fundamental. Party primary electorates do not resemble the November electorates in the vast majority of states, so primary results tell us surprisingly little in most states about how a party presidential nominee will fare in the general election.
Think of it this way – perhaps 35 million Americans will have voted in all the Democratic primaries and caucuses by June, but the November voter turnout could reach 135 million people-and those extra 100 million voters are different, both in ideological and partisan terms, than the 35 million early-birds.

US territories

An ancillary issue is whether the U.S. territories, none of which has electoral college votes in November, should even be included in the party nominating system.

In an extremely close race, their delegates could decide the outcome of a presidential nomination, and potentially the Presidency itself. Should Puerto Rico, voting on 1 June, have more delegates than half the American states, as the Democrats have assigned?

Neither Clinton nor Obama will raise this concern, of course, but unbiased observers ought to do so. In most conventions, the territorial votes are a harmless matter, but every now and then, the unintended consequences of their inclusion could become enormous.

The long and short of the debate over the popular vote is this – no-one is likely to agree on exactly what it is, or how it should be counted.

There are considerable flaws inherent in the concept. The popular-vote notion ought to be shelved – but naturally, in this endlessly contentious campaign season, it will not be.

Professor Larry J. Sabato is director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics and author of A More Perfect Constitution.

10-19

Plea for Help

May 18, 2006 by · Leave a Comment 

I bear witness that there is no god but Allah, and Muhammad ibn Abdullah (s) is his last and final Prophet (s). I greet you in the universal language of peace, Assalaamu Aleikum wa Rahmatullah. I thank you for my subscription to The Muslim Observer newspaper.

Dear editor—I am writing to you in regards to many of the ideologies of prisoners in the state of Illinois.

It seems that the government officials have not made it a goal to habilitate or rehabilitate the prisoners to maintain themselves upon their release and throughout the duration of their stay. I am considered a spiritual leader and upcoming imam in Al-Islam. Unfortunately, the talk of the prisons are violence against America and majority of this comes from non-Muslims.

You can hear the roars of inmate celebration when they hear about terrorist strikes against Americans and how they would like to participate in the terrorist action against America upon their release. The inmates are treated as if they were in Abu Ghraib, and this is dangerous to America, because they have made an enemy within their own states. Many gang members as I used to be as well are ready for war.

Many who stood on their block corners selling drugs and willing to die for their mobs are now trying to join al-Islam and join a different war, but some are learning the wrong interpretation of Islam, which is also dangerous to Muslims. It’s imperative for the new converts to fully understand the true prerequisites of al-Islam, and if not, America is looking for a bigger burden.

This is due to a lack of education, a lack of communication, and a lack of organization. The state will provide Christians and Jewish faiths with special diet, but refuse to accommodate Muslims, and officials hate Muslims, and hatred is returned which creates a friction of malice. The inmates at the correctional center are in a realm of desire to become rebels against their oppressors.

This especially comes from a breach of the fourth pillar of Islam which is zakat. There is no Islamic organization that will tend to the needs of Muslims in the prisons. There are Muslims such as I with business ideas that could help to create an Islamic funding for Muslim prisoners all over the country. The Muslims in Arabia make too much money for any Muslim on the face of the planet to be poor. We need to develop organizations that could pay Muslim attorneys to assist incarcerated Muslims.

Many masjids that I have written and organizations, never write back. Currently I am in court fighting to get a halal diet for all Muslims in the State of Illinois and I am acting as a lawyer, but I cannot even procure an affidavit from a Muslim imam or halal food company and it’s a shame. We are in a dangerous situation—you have inmates of all religions speaking of blowing up buildings and other structures and this comes from oppression and depression.

Well we have a depiction of the problem, but we need a forecast of a solution, therefore we call on The Muslim Observer to publish this message, and perhaps a Muslim legal organization will assist me and us in court and others perhaps could subsidize us with the court case of Islam before it’s too late; thank you for reading.

As-Salaam aleikum wa Rahmatullah

Eric Ware, Mustapha Abdullah al-Alim Muhammad, R32516

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