Archive for the ‘global views’ Category

Latin America Changes: Hunger Strikes in Bolivia, Summits in the Carribean

April 22, 2009

Bolivian President Evo Morales just completed a five-day hunger strike to push through legislation that allows him to run again in general elections this December. And at this weekend’s Summit of the Americas, US President Barack Obama will meet with Latin American presidents who may end up giving some economic advice to their troubled neighbor in the north.

BY BENJAMIN DANGL
Truthout
INTERNATIONAL
Posted by Bulatlat

After Bolivia beat the Argentine soccer team led by legendary Diego Maradona by 6 to 1, Maradona told reporters, “Every Bolivia goal was a stab in my heart.” Bolivia was expected to lose the April 1 match as Argentina is ranked as the sixth best soccer team in the world, and Maradona enjoys godlike status among soccer fans. This story of David and Goliath in the Andes is just one of various events shaking up the hemisphere.

Bolivian President Evo Morales just completed a five-day hunger strike to push through legislation that allows him to run again in general elections this December. And at this weekend’s Summit of the Americas, US President Barack Obama meets with Latin American presidents who may end up giving some economic advice to their troubled neighbor in the north.

Evo Morales on a Hunger Strike

When opposition party members in Bolivia left a Congress session on April 9, refusing to pass a bill that would allow for general elections in December of this year, Evo Morales began a hunger strike while thousands of government supporters rallied in the streets in support of the bill. Morales began the fast to pressure opponents into passing the legislation, which in addition to enabling elections, would give indigenous communities broader representation in parliament and give Bolivian citizens living abroad the right to vote in the December elections. The opposition blocked the bill in part because they said it would give Morales more power and did not significantly prevent the possibility of electoral fraud. On April 12, opposition members returned to Congress when Morales agreed to changes regarding a new voter registry.

During his hunger strike, Morales slept on a mattress on the floor in the presidential palace and chewed coca leaves to fight off hunger. Morales said this was the 18th hunger strike he had participated in; before becoming president, Morales was a long-time coca farmer, union organizer and congressman. He said the longest hunger strike he had been on lasted 18 days while he was in jail, according to Bloomberg. But Morales wasn’t alone: 3,000 other MAS supporters, activists, workers and union members also participated in the hunger strike, including Bolivians in Spain and Argentina.

Early in the morning on April 14, once it was official that the Senate had passed the bill, Morales ended his strike. “Happily, we have accomplished something important,” he told reporters. “The people should not forget that you need to fight for change. We alone can’t guarantee this revolutionary process, but with people power it’s possible.”

This controversy erupted just weeks after Bolivia’s new constitution was approved in a January 25 national referendum. Among other significant changes, the constitution grants unprecedented rights to the country’s indigenous majority and establishes a broader role for the state in management of the economy and natural resources.

Summit of the Americas: Cuba, Obama and Chávez

On April 17-19 the Summit of the Americas will take place in Trinidad and Tobago. Most of the hemisphere’s presidents will be in attendance. It will also mark the first meeting between Presidents Barack Obama and Hugo Chávez.

Before the larger Summit begins, a Summit for the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas (ALBA) will take place in Venezuela from April 14-15. Those planning to attend this gathering include President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, Evo Morales, Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo and others. Chávez announced that this ALBA meeting will take place with the objective of formulating common positions to bring to Trinidad and Tobago, including plans regarding the formation of a regional currency, called the Sucre. These leaders are also likely to lead the push for an end to the blockade against Cuba.

Chávez said that if the US wants to come to the Summit “with the same excluding discourse of the empire – on the blockade – then the result will be that nothing has changed. Everything will stay the same … Cuba is a point of honor for the peoples of Latin America. We cannot accept that the United States should continue trampling over the nations of our America.”

In a recent column, Fidel Castro noted that Obama planned to lift travel and remittance restrictions to Cuba, but that that wouldn’t be enough – the blockade still needs to be lifted. “[N]ot a word was said about the harshest of measures: the blockade,” Castro wrote. “This is the way a truly genocidal measure is piously called, one whose damage cannot be calculated only on the basis of its economic effects, for it constantly takes human lives and brings painful suffering to our people. Numerous diagnostic equipment and crucial medicines – made in Europe, Japan or any other country – are not available to our patients if they carry US components or software.”

The blockade against Cuba will likely be a hot topic of debate at this weekend’s Summit, and will be partly fueled by tension between Obama and Chávez. Explaining the failure of the Bush administration in the region, Obama once said, it is “No wonder, then, that demagogues like Hugo Chávez have stepped into this vacuum. His predictable yet perilous mix of anti-American rhetoric, authoritarian government, and checkbook diplomacy offers the same false promise as the tried and failed ideologies of the past.”

Yet a closer look at the region will show that the rise of leaders like Chávez is a result of more than just neglect on the part of the empire – it has to do with the disastrous impact of neoliberalism in the region, and a desire among Latin Americans to seek out alternatives. Considering the current economic crisis in the US, Obama could learn a thing or two from the policies of leaders like Chávez, who is incredibly popular in Venezuela, works in solidarity with many of the region’s leaders, and has developed successful economic policies in his country. At the upcoming Summit, Obama should put into action something he said when meeting with the G-20: “We exercise our leadership best when we are listening.”

Latin America Changes

Those expecting an end to the same old Cold War tactics toward Latin America from Washington may be surprised when Obama continues to treat the region as a backyard. Yet whether or not the perspective from Washington changes, Latin America is certainly a different place than it was 30 years ago.

I asked Greg Grandin, a professor of history at New York University and the author, most recently, of “Empire’s Workshop,” if another US-backed coup such as the one that happened against socialist Chilean President Salvador Allende in 1973 would be possible in today’s Latin America. He said, “I don’t think it would be possible. There isn’t a constituency for a coup. In the 1970’s, US policy was getting a lot more traction because people were afraid of the rise of the left, and they were interested in an economic alliance with the US. Now, the [Latin American] middle class could still go with the US, common crime could be a wedge issue that could drive Latin America away from the left. But US policy is so destructive that it has really eviscerated the middle class. Now, there is no domestic constituency that the US could latch onto. The US did have a broader base of support in the 1970’s, but neoliberalism undermined it.”

Grandin explained that in the 1960’s and 1970’s, security agencies in Latin America built up their relationship with Washington to “subordinate their interests to the US’s cold war crusade.” There was a willingness among the Latin American middle class to do this, Grandin explained, and the US was also interested in building the infrastructure and networks to ensure that the region’s new dictators’ fanaticism could be led by anti-communism. “Now in South America, there has been a wide rejection to subordinate their military to the US,” Grandin explained. “In a 2005 defense meeting in Quito, Ecuador, [former US Secretary of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld attempted to elevate the war on terror in the region [as a military priority], and it was roundly rejected…. As of now, I don’t think there has been a willingness for Latin America to serve as an outpost of this unified war [on terror].”

Grandin wrote in a 2006 article that the Pentagon has tried to “ratchet up a sense of ideological urgency” in the war on terror in Latin America. but these pleas have fallen on deaf ears. “The cause of terrorism,” said Brazil’s Vice President José Alencar, “is not just fundamentalism, but misery and hunger.”

However, the Latin America Obama will visit this weekend is already significantly different than the one Rumsfeld tried to convince in 2005. Obama’s counterparts in the south are generally more independent and leftist than they were even four years ago. But all that can change, and at least some of it depends on how Obama works with – or ignores – the region.

Outside of Obama’s influence, one question remains: will changes made by leftist leaders in Latin America be irrevocable, even if the right regains power in the region in the next five years? Not according to political analyst Laura Carlsen of the Americas Program in Mexico City, “In order for that to happen it would take more than just a change in the government, and I find it unlikely for anything like that to happen in the short term. It took years for the left in power to build up these social movements and the development of alternatives. It was the result of that process that brought these governments into power, and to reverse it you would have to silence or repress these movements.”

I asked Grandin the same question. “It depends,” he said, “the changes seemed pretty irrevocable in the 1970’s and with Reaganism and militarism … The failure of neoliberalism is certain, but it’s hard to say what the response will be in the long term.”

This weekend’s summit, where Obama and Chávez shake hands for the first time, might offer some glimpses into the region’s future.(Bulatlat.com)

Ninotchka Roska: Post-Moment

February 3, 2009

After Barack Hussein Obama said “so help me God,” I went outside to check if the earth had been rent asunder, trees had fallen, buildings had sat on themselves and the sky had cracked open.

Nothing. Traffic was normal; children were still running around and dogs had their noses to various small shrubs. All I could think of was: well, Saddam, are you roaring with laughter? Huge karma joke, this one…

Then I watched as George W. Bush was led to a helicopter and flown away – which was a relief, considering how much of the past week had been spent spinning his “legacy.” I’m inclined to believe that people who do this are trying to cover up the inescapable sense that they had made a mistake or something had gone wrong with what they’d done.

People who hold power convince themselves it will last forever. They should read Shelley’s Ozymandias: Round the decay/Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare/The lone and level sands stretch far away…(PinoyPressBlog)

Castro says he won’t outlive Obama’s term in office

January 23, 2009

HAVANA (AFP) – Ailing former Cuban leader Fidel Castro said Thursday he will not outlive US President Barack Obama’s first term in office, and asked the government of his brother, President Raul Castro, not to fuss over his death.

“I’m well, but I insist that nobody (in government) should feel obligated by my Reflexiones (newspaper articles), my ailing health or my death,” the 82-year-old said in a posting on an official government website, responding to rumors about his impending demise.

Fidel Castro has not been seen in public since undergoing gastrointestinal surgery in July 2006 and handing power over to his brother Raul. He has been writing regularly in newspapers and has received visiting statesmen with whom he has been photographed.

Castro this week wrote two articles, including Thursday’s commentary, breaking five weeks of silence that spawned speculation over his health.

Castro said he decided to write less this year “so as not to interfere or hamper my colleagues in the (communist) party and the government in the constant decisions they have to make.

He said he now spends most of his time going over the papers and speeches he generated during nearly 50 years as head of the Cuban revolution.

“I have had the rare privilege of observing events over a long period of time. I get information and meditate carefully over these events.

“I don’t expect to enjoy this privilege in four years, when Obama’s first term in office concludes,” he said.

After fueling pessimism over his health by not receiving visiting presidents from Ecuador and Panama this month, Castro on Wednesday met with Argentine President Cristina Kirchner. No photographs were issued of the encounter.

She later told reporters Fidel looked “quite well” and had received her “on his feet like a gentleman.”

President Raul Castro, on seeing Kirchner off at the close of her visit, denied the rumors about his brother’s health, telling reporters Fidel “is exercising, thinking and writing a lot … advising me and helping me.”

In Thursday’s article, titled “The 11th president of the United States” in reference to the US presidents he has seen in the 50 years since the Cuban revolution began, Fidel Castro said he spoke about Obama with Kirchner.

He told her he did not doubt the US leader’s “honesty” and “noble intentions,” but that he had many doubts about his rule, Castro said.

“Nobody can doubt the sincerity of his words when he says he will make his country into a model of freedom, respect for human rights in the world and for the independence of other nations,” he added.

But, he warned, “despite all the tests he has been put through, Obama has not faced the most important of all.

“What will he do when the immense power he has grasped soon proves to be totally useless in overcoming the intractable, opposing contradictions of the (capitalist) system?”

Obama, 47, was sworn in Tuesday as the 44th and first African-American president of the United States. His four-year term in office ends in January 2013.(YahooNews)

Israeli Occupation of Palestine

January 21, 2009

Israel’s incursions into Palestine and its attacks against the Palestinian people did not begin with the founding of Hamas in 1987, during the first intifada (uprising), or its victory over Fatah during the January 2006 elections. Sadly, what is seemingly lost in news reports is the root of the Israel-Palestinian conflict: the struggle for land and self-determination of the Palestinian people.

BY BENJIE OLIVEROS
ANAYSIS
Bulatlat

The Israeli army has already killed almost 800 Palestinians, including 220 children, and has wounded around 3,1000 since it began bombarding the Gaza strip on December 27 and moving into Palestinian territory January 3. It occupied the Gaza strip purportedly to protect southern Israel from Hamas’ rocket attacks. On January 9, UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Navi Pillay called for an investigation of possible war crimes in Gaza and Israel, saying that “harm to civilians in Israel by Hamas rockets is unacceptable” and that Israel must follow international humanitarian law regardless of Hamas’ actions.

Statements from Israel and even the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights make it appear that Israel is merely retaliating against Hamas’ rocket attacks. However, Israel’s incursions into Palestine and its attacks against the Palestinian people did not begin with the founding of Hamas in 1987, during the first intifada (uprising), or its victory over Fatah during the January 2006 elections. Sadly, what is seemingly lost in news reports is the root of the Israel-Palestinian conflict: the struggle for land and self-determination of the Palestinian people.

The struggle of the Palestinian people for self-determination began after World War I, when it became clear to the Palestinians that the British had deceived them. During World War 1, the British, through its High Commissioner for Egypt Henry McMahon, convinced Husayn ibn ‘Ali, the patriarch of the Hashemite family and Ottoman governor of Mecca and Medina to revolt against the Ottoman Empire, which was aligning with Germany. The British promised that if the Arabs aligned with it in the war, it would support the establishment of an independent Arab state under Hashemite rule in the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire, including Palestine.

At the same time, British Foreign Minister Lord Arthur Balfour issued a declaration in 1917 declaring Britain’s support for the establishment of a “ Jewish national home in Palestine”, which was being pushed for by the Zionist movement since its founding in Europe in 1897 by Theodor Herzl. Britain also entered into an agreement with France to divide control over the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire.

After the war, the British took control over areas, which now comprise Israel, the West Bank, Gaza strip, and Jordan, and France annexed Syria, and from it carved a separate state of Lebanon. The British also allowed the purchase of large tracts of land from absentee Arab landowners by the Jewish National Fund and the steady stream of Jewish immigration from Europe. When Arabs were evicted from lands purchased by the Jews, clashes erupted between Arabs and Jews from 1920-21. Clashes erupted anew between Muslims and Jews over the Wailing Wall from 1928-29.

The dramatic increase in European Jewish immigration in 1933 was the last straw. The Arabs revolted from 1936-39. The revolt was crushed by Britain with the help of Zionist militias and the complicity of neighboring Arab countries.

On March 22, 1946, the British relinquished its mandate over Jordan after securing their military bases and installations there. On April, it authorized the entry of 100,000 Jews into Palestine.

At the end of 1946, there were 1.3 million Arabs and 608,000 Jews in Palestine, with the latter owning 20 percent of the arable land. This was already a dramatic increase in the Jewish population in Palestine considering that during the late 19th century, Palestine, with a total land area of 10,000 sq m, used to be inhabited by 403,795 Muslims, 43,659 Christians, and only 15,011 Jews.

On Nov. 29, 1947, the UN General Assembly voted to partition Palestine into two states: one Jewish and the other Arab. The Jews were given 56 percent of the territory while 43 percent was allocated for the Arabs. Fighting between Jews and Arabs erupted within days of the announcement of the partition plan. On May 15, 1948, the British evacuated Palestine and the Zionists proclaimed the state of Israel.

Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Iraq declared war on Israel shortly thereafter. Israel’s armed forces unleashed a brutal was causing the displacement of 700,000 Palestinian refugees. The war ended with an armistice agreement whereby Israel encompassed over 77 percent of the territory. Jordan occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank; Egypt took control of the Gaza strip. The Palestinian Arab state was never established.

Tensions between Israel and the Arab states did not abate, but with every eruption of the conflict, Israel – which was being aided militarily by the US – was able to expand its territory. After another war in 1967, Israel captured the West Bank from Jordan, the Gaza strip and Sinai peninsula from Egypt and the Golan Heights from Syria.

Israel established a military administration in the Gaza strip and West Bank. Since 1967, over 300,000 Palestinians have been imprisoned without trial; over half a million have been tried by Israel’s military courts; and torture of Palestinian prisoners was a common practice. At the same time, Israel built hundreds of settlements in the occupied territories.

Palestinian resistance

The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) was organized in 1964. The largest group is the Al Fatah. Other members included the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and the Palestine People’s Party. It established its base in Jordan before moving to Lebanon then Tunisia. In 1985, Israel bombed the PLO headquarters in Tunisia.

In December 1987, the first intifada erupted and lasted until 1991. It was a mass uprising that included demonstrations, general strikes, boycott of Israeli products and refusal to pay taxes. The intifada was brutally crushed by the Israel army, killing 1,000 Palestinians, including 200 below the age of 16.

While the intifada was led by the four PLO parties active in the occupied territories, it gave birth to Islamist groups such as Hamas. Earlier, Israel encouraged the development of Islamist groups to divide the Palestinians. When it appeared that these groups pose a greater threat to it than the PLO, Israel began talks with the latter.

On September 28, 1995 an interim agreement was signed between the Israel government and Palestine. It provided for the withdrawal of Israel from the Gaza strip and Jericho, as well as parts of the West Bank during a period of five years, and for the establishment of the Palestinian Authority (PA) with “self-governing powers”. Yasser Arafat, head of Al Fatah, was elected president of the PA in 1996.

However, the talks were protracted. After painful negotiations, which extended till the turn of the century, the Palestinian Authority was able to fain direct or partial control of 40 percent of the West Bank and 65 percent of the Gaza strip.

All through the period of negotiations, Israel expanded its settlements and built bypass roads within the occupied territories. Thus, even as the PA gained some measure of control over certain areas of the West Bank and Gaza strip, they were surrounded by Jewish settlements with entry and exit to these areas being controlled by the Israel army.

On September 28, 2000 Ariel Sharon visited the Muslim holy shrine, Haram al-Sharif in the company of 1,000 guards, thereby provoking a second intifada. When the militant wing of Al Fatah fired on Israeli soldiers, Israel attacked PA installations with helicopter gunships, tanks and artillery fire, and missiles. It also bombarded civilian neighborhoods in the West Bank and Gaza strip.

In June 2002, Israel began construction of the West Bank barrier, which was 700-km long and five meters high. Palestinian land was confiscated to build the wall. Worse, Palestinian farmers and traders were cut off from their farms and water sources.

On September 20, 2002 Israel besieged Arafat’s headquarters in Ram Allah and confined him there for over two years up to his death in November 2004. Israel also embarked on a policy of extrajudicial assassinations and imprisonment of Palestinian leaders. One of the more prominent Palestinian leaders who was imprisoned and sentenced to five life terms is Marwan Barghouti of the Al Fatah.

On February 26, 2003, Israel made a series of re-incursions that led to the re-occupation of parts of the Gaza strip and the West Bank.

In April 2003, Mahmud Abbas was elected as Palestinian Prime Minister. On June 4, 2003 Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister Abbas met at Aqaba, Jordan to discuss the implementation of the “road map formula for peace”, which was backed by the US, Russia, the European Union, and the UN.

However, nothing came out of the negotiations. Abbas was politically humiliated.

On January 25, 2006, Palestinians voted in parliamentary elections and Hamas won 74 out of the 132 parliamentary seats. Fatah won 45 seats, and 13 seats went to other minor parties. Since then, Israel vowed to “liquidate Hamas rule in Gaza”.

Thus, the December 2007 Israeli offensive was more than a retaliation. It is part of Israel’s genocidal acts against the Palestinian people, much like what the British settlers did to the native American Indians. (Bulatlat.com)

The Obama Inaugural Speech (Full Text)

January 20, 2009

My fellow citizens: I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.

Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents.

So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.

That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land — a nagging fear that America’s decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America — they will be met.

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted — for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.

For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.

For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.

Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions — that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.

For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act — not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions — who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them — that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works — whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public’s dollars will be held to account — to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day — because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control — and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our Gross Domestic Product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart — not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort — even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and nonbelievers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West — know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world’s resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us today, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment — a moment that will define a generation — it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.

For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter’s courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent’s willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends — hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism — these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

This is the source of our confidence — the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.

This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed — why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America’s birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people: “Let it be told to the future world … that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive … that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it].”

America. In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations. (BarangayRP)

The Obama Oath Taking Ceremony (Speech)

January 20, 2009

The slave is now the President!  And he will become one of the finest leaders of the world.

These, I think, is the hidden message Barack Obama delivered under his inaugural speech.

Obama’s speech has side-swiped the Bush policy entirely.  Hitting specifically its (Bush’) inhumane war campaign, via his (Obama’s) declaration that “America is a friend of every nation”.

He wanted to play it soft, and yet bared America’s teeth by pronouncing its continued hostility against the “terrorists”.  Maybe he doesnt realize that some of the world’s freedom loving and free-thinking individuals regard his predecessor and its bloody foreign policy as the number one terrorist in the world today.  Or maybe he’s hitting Bush again.  It would be nicer. Tehee.

Part of his speech made me think of our President Gloria Arroyo.  As Obama declared that the “people will judge you on what you build and not on what you destroy (I think its another hit against Bush)” and that the corrupt government are on the wrong side of history, I wonder how did Arroyo recieved this blow.

Will she expect another call from Obama?

Hehehehe.  Of course.  That’s a stupid question.  The smart question is: when? Hehehehe.

(Click here for the complete text of Obama’s Inaugural Speech)

The Obama Oath Taking Ceremony (Prayer)

January 20, 2009

As the opening prayer was being delivered, I cannot help myself but laugh.

The prayer, as I observed, is all anti-Bush comment.  It is a big ‘thanks to the Lord, Bush is going, going, gone.  And may Obama be his complete opposite.’

And as the “freely elected leaders” part of the prayer is being aired globally, I wished for a second that the director of the coverage had a brief close-up shot to Bush’s face for us to see how did he took it.

But after realizing what kind o coconut GWB has, I let that wishful thinking fly.

Not without a laugh!

Harharhar!

When in Doubt, Bomb Afghanistan

January 20, 2009

America’s Other Glorious War

The Pentagon pushes hard for a large increase in troops for Afghanistan. Barack Obama has been calling for the same since well before the November election. Why? What is there about this backward, reactionary, woman-hating, failed state that warrants hundreds of deaths of American and NATO soldiers? That justifies tens of thousands of Afghan deaths since the first US bombing attacks in October 2001?

BY WILLIAM BLUM
Counterpunch
INTERNATIONAL
Posted by Bulatlat

The Pentagon pushes hard for a large increase in troops for Afghanistan. Barack Obama has been calling for the same since well before the November election. Listen to the drumbeats telling us that the security of the United States and the Free World necessitates increased action in this place called Afghanistan. As urgent as Iraq 2003, it is. Why? What is there about this backward, reactionary, woman-hating, failed state that warrants hundreds of deaths of American and NATO soldiers? That justifies tens of thousands of Afghan deaths since the first US bombing attacks in October 2001?

In early December, reports the Washington Post, “standing at Kandahar Air Field in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said the United States is making a ’sustained commitment’ to that country, one that will last ’some protracted period of time’.” The story goes on to discuss $300 million in construction projects at this one base to house additional American forces, erecting guard stations and towers and perimeter fencing around the barracks area, putting in vehicle inspection areas, administration offices, cold-storage warehouse, a new power plant, electrical and water distribution systems, communications lines, housing for 1,500 personnel who sustain the systems, maintenance shops, warehouses … America’s wealth bleeds out endlessly.

Back in April Maj. Gen. David Rodriguez, commander of the US Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, when asked how long it would take to create “lasting stability” in Afghanistan, replied: “In some
way, shape or form … I think it’s a generation.”

“Stability”, it should be noted, is a code word used regularly by the United States since at least the 1950s to mean that the regime in power is willing and able to behave the way Washington would like it to behave. It is remarkable, and scary, to read the US military writing about how it goes around the world bringing “stability” to (often ungrateful) people. This past October the Army published a manual called “Stability Operations”. It discusses numerous American interventions all over the world since the 1890s, one example after another of bringing “stability” to benighted peoples. One can picture the young American service members reading it, or having it fed to them in lectures, full of pride to be a member of such an altruistic fighting force.

For those members of the US military in Afghanistan the most enlightening lesson they could receive is that their government’s plans for that land of sadness have little or nothing to do with the welfare of the Afghan people. In the late 1970s through much of the 1980s, the country had a government that was relatively progressive, with full rights for women; even a Pentagon report of the time testified to the actuality of women’s rights in the country. And what happened to that government? The United States was instrumental in overthrowing it. It was replaced by the Taliban.

Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, US oil companies have been vying with Russia, Iran and other energy interests for the massive, untapped oil and natural gas reserves in the former Soviet republics of Central Asia. The building and protection of oil and gas pipelines in Afghanistan, to continue farther to Pakistan, India, and elsewhere, has been a key objective of US policy since before the 2001 American invasion and occupation of the country, although the subsequent turmoil there has presented serious obstacles to such plans. A planned Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline has strong support from Washington because, amongst other reasons, the US is eager to block a competing pipeline that would bring gas to Pakistan and India from Iran. But security for such projects remains daunting, and that’s where the US and NATO forces come in to play.

In the late 1990s, the American oil company, Unocal, met with Taliban officials in Texas to discuss the pipelines.[6] Zalmay Khalilzad, later chosen to be the US ambassador to Afghanistan, worked for Unocal[7]; Hamid Karzai, later chosen by Washington to be the Afghan president, also reportedly worked for Unocal, although the company denies this. Unocal’s talks with the Taliban, conducted with the full knowledge of the Clinton administration, and undeterred by the extreme repression of Taliban society, continued as late as 2000 or 2001.

As for NATO, it has no reason to be fighting in Afghanistan. Indeed, NATO has no legitimate reason for existence at all. Their biggest fear is that “failure” in Afghanistan would make this thought more present in the world’s mind. If NATO hadn’t begun to intervene outside of Europe it would have highlighted its uselessness and lack of mission. “Out of area or out of business” it was said.

In June, the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives published a report saying Taliban and insurgent activity against the US-NATO presence in Kandahar province puts the feasibility of the pipeline project in doubt. The report says southern regions in Afghanistan, including Kandahar, would have to be cleared of insurgent activity and land mines in two years to meet construction and investment schedules.

“Nobody is going to start putting pipe in the ground unless they are satisfied that there is some reasonable insurance that the workers for the pipeline are going to be safe,” said Howard Brown, the Canadian representative for the Asian Development Bank, the major funding agency for the pipeline.
If Americans were asked what they think their country is doing in Afghanistan, their answers would likely be one variation or another of “fighting terrorism”, with some kind of connection to 9-11. But what does that mean? Of the tens of thousands of Afghans killed by American/NATO bombs over the course of seven years, how many can it be said had any kind of linkage to any kind of anti-American terrorist act, other than in Afghanistan itself during this period? Not one, as far as we know. The so-called “terrorist training camps” in Afghanistan were set up largely by the Taliban to provide fighters for their civil conflict with the Northern Alliance (minimally less religious fanatics and misogynists than the Taliban, but represented in the present Afghan government).

As everyone knows, none of the alleged 9-11 hijackers was an Afghan; 15 of the 19 were from Saudi Arabia; and most of the planning for the attacks appears to have been carried out in Germany and the United States. So, of course, bomb Afghanistan. And keep bombing Afghanistan. And bomb Pakistan. Especially wedding parties (at least six so far).

William Blum is the author of Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II, Rogue State: a guide to the World’s Only Super Power. andhttp://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1887128727/counterpunchmaga.(Bulatlat)

Just Say “No” to the Credit Rating Agencies

January 20, 2009

What is most insidious about the credit agency warnings is the “fallacy of composition” follies it provokes. If collectively countries and investors follow their advice and governments – especially in the largest countries – fail to engage in large enough fiscal expansions – then the prospects for widespread payment problems of sovereign debt surely will occur.

BY GERALD EPSTEIN
Truthout/Perspective
INTERNATIONAL
Posted by
(Bulatlat.com)

The credit rating agencies have got us, coming and going. First they help cause the biggest economic calamity since the 1930’s. And now they tell us we can’t take the fiscal measures needed to get us out of this mess. Meanwhile, they are laughing all the way to the bank (that is, if they can find one that is still solvent). Why are we still listening to them?

The role played by the big credit rating agencies – such as Standard & Poor’s and Fitch – in the unfolding financial crisis is now well-known. By giving complex, opaque and ultimately toxic mortgage-backed securities high ratings and therefore, their own ringing stamp of approval, the credit agencies enabled banks to market these destructive securities around the world. We are now all paying the price.

Now, to prevent this very same crisis from turning into a full-blown catastrophe 1930’s-style, governments around the world – from Obama to Brown to Merkel and beyond – are finally beginning to do the right thing: they are planning major fiscal spending operations to place a floor on the terrifying downward economic spiral and to begin to turn the world economy toward recovery. Even the austerity-loving IMF is strongly supporting these initiatives.

Yet now, Standard & Poor’s and Fitch are sending “credit warnings” to other governments, threatening to downgrade their sovereign debt ratings if they “allow” their fiscal deficits to increase too much. Wednesday, Standard & Poor’s downgraded Greece’s sovereign credit rating. Explaining the downgrade, Marko Mrsnik, S&P analyst, said: “The global financial and economic crisis has, in our opinion, exacerbated an underlying loss of competitiveness in the Greek economy.” (Financial Times, January 14, 2009). And in recent days, three other eurozone countries – Portugal, Ireland and Spain – have been warned by Standard & Poor’s to “fix” their public finances or face downgrades. Under the current system, such downgrades would increase the cost of raising funds and be taken as a signal to investors to shy away from these investments.

Most significantly, these public warnings fire a shot across the bow of larger countries – such as Germany, the UK and France – that they had better not go too far down the road of fiscal expansion, or they might face a similar fate.

Yet, increasing spending and fiscal deficits in the short run is exactly what these governments should be doing. And now, after helping to cause the crisis, the credit rating agencies are blocking the way to the solution. The actions by Standard & Poor’s are therefore profoundly misguided and potentially destructive.

For starters, the implicit model used by these agencies is fundamentally flawed – especially in this crisis context. As even the IMF, financial market economists, and usual deficit hawks such as Larry Summers now recognize, as the world’s economies spiral downwards, fiscal deficits will automatically grow as tax revenues fall and spending on social safety nets increases. This will occur with no increases in discretionary counter-cyclical fiscal policy at all. Such depression-level deterioration surely will put pressure on countries’ abilities to service their debts and even risk widespread defaults or debt rescheduling. The only way, then, to improve countries’ ability and willingness to service debt in the medium term is to engage in massive fiscal expansions in the short term. But the credit rating agency models do not reflect this truth.

This is true on a country by country case. What is most insidious about the credit agency warnings is the “fallacy of composition” follies it provokes. If collectively countries and investors follow their advice and governments – especially in the largest countries – fail to engage in large enough fiscal expansions – then the prospects for widespread payment problems of sovereign debt surely will occur. A widespread heeding of Standard & Poor’s information will almost certainly lead to massive losses for investors.

So what is to be done?

In the short run, prominent policymakers in national as well as international forums should collectively discredit the credit rating agencies. The IMF, the BIS, the European Union and business leaders around the world should denounce this wrong and destructive advice. Second, the rules governing pension funds and other investment funds should be immediately changed – at least for the duration of the crisis – to allow them to discount the weight they give to the agencies’ ratings of sovereign debt. In the medium term, substitutes must be found for these agencies’ ratings, which by now should have lost all credibility. The creation of a global nonprofit agency, funded with an endowment to protect its political independence, yet one that is transparent and broadly open to scrutiny – should be strongly considered.

Finally, and of fundamental importance, efforts to take more internationally coordinated action to achieve massive fiscal stimulus – supported by central banks – must be taken immediately. This credit ratings fiasco – which picks off the weakest countries one by one and sends warnings to the stronger ones – an anti-Keynesian divide-and-conquer strategy – could not occur if governments coordinated and unified their actions to turn this crisis around.

Gerald Epstein is Professor of Economics and co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and Visiting Scholar, Université, Paris NORD (Paris XIII). gepstein@econs.umass.e(Bulatlat)

Unions Need Unity, But More

January 20, 2009

A new direction in labor requires linking unions with other social and economic justice movements. Defending immigrants from raids and helping them win legal status is just as important to the growth of unions as passing the Employee Free Choice Act. U.S. workers need a new trade policy, which stops using poverty to boost corporate profits abroad, impoverishing and displacing millions of people in the process.

BY DAVID BACON
New America Media 1/12/09
http://news.newamericamedia.org/news/view_article.html?article_id=0c2996367123ca87ed33e99d42dc3f7a
INTERNATIONAL
Posted by
(Bulatlat.com)

OAKLAND, CA (1/10/09) — Twelve unions met in Washington DC last week, and announced they’re considering rejoining the two labor federations, the American Federation of Labor/Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) and Change to Win (CTW), that split apart five years ago. And one large independent union, the National Education Association, is thinking of joining them. The initiative came from the incoming Obama administration, which told union leaders it didn’t relish the idea of dealing with competing union agendas.

Many progressive labor activists greeted the idea with a sigh of relief. “Dividing the labor movement was never a good idea to begin with,” says Bill Fletcher, former education director for the AFL-CIO, and past president of TransAfrica Forum. Fletcher and many others believe that while U.S. unions have big problems, they can’t be cured by division, competing federations, or simple changes in structure. Instead, they call for a reexamination of labor’s political direction.

Unions are at their lowest point in membership since the 1920s, representing less than 12% of the workforce. Obama’s election, which they pulled out all the stops to achieve, promises some degree of change from Federal policies that have accelerated that decline. The president-elect has appointed potentially the most pro-union labor secretary since the 1930s – Congresswoman Hilda Solis. A potential Congressional majority could pass the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make union organizing much easier and protect workers from retaliatory firings while they unionize. Obama has promised to sign the bill if Congress passes it.

In industry after industry, the impact of revived unions and growing membership could be enormous. For the first time in U.S. history, for example, unions have gained the strength to organize the rest of the hospital and nursing home industries. That would radically improve the jobs and raise the income of hundreds of thousands of nurses, dietary workers and bed changers, in the same way the CIO and the San Francisco General Strike turned longshoremen from day laborers on the waterfront into some of the country’s highest-paid blue-collar workers. An organized healthcare industry, in alliance with consumers, could finally convince Congress to establish a single-payer system guaranteeing healthcare to every person in this country.

Yet while the 12 leaders were sitting down in Washington to discuss unity, the healthcare division of country’s largest union, the Service Employees, may be torn apart in a fight between the union’s national leaders and its largest local, United Healthcare West. Such a fratricidal conflict could not only jeopardize hopes for organizing healthcare workers, but even labor’s larger political goals of the Employee Free Choice Act and single-payer healthcare.

Decisions made by unions often affect workers far beyond their own members. The labor upsurge of the 1930s and 40s led to national contracts in the auto, steel, longshore and electrical industries, establishing pension and medical benefits, raising wages, and forcing the creation of the unemployment insurance and Social Security systems. All workers benefited. And when many master agreements were destroyed in the early 1980s, workers’ middle-class lifestyles began to erode everywhere.

Joining the AFL-CIO and CTW back together is a sensible step in marshalling the resources needed to take advantage of the openings presented by a new Obama administration, and begin rebuilding what was lost. But that larger sense of responsibility should inspire unions to face a basic question. They cannot rebuild their own strength, much less improve life for all workers, by themselves.

A new direction in labor requires linking unions with other social and economic justice movements. Defending immigrants from raids and helping them win legal status is just as important to the growth of unions as passing the Employee Free Choice Act. U.S. workers need a new trade policy, which stops using poverty to boost corporate profits abroad, impoverishing and displacing millions of people in the process. But that policy can’t be won by unions negotiating with the administration by themselves, outside of a much broader coalition.

Health care reform requires an alliance between health care providers and working class consumers. The communities in which all workers live need real jobs programs and a full employment economy, especially Black and Latino communities. People far beyond unions will help win the Employee Free Choice Act and rebuild the labor movement if they are willing to fight for everyone.

Unions need not just more unity and better organizing techniques, but a vision that will inspire workers. They need to speak directly to their desperation over insecure jobs, home foreclosures and falling income, and then lead them into action, even (or especially) if it makes a Democratic administration and Congress uncomfortable. As much as Obama has done labor a favor by forcing it to discuss reunification, political calculations in Washington can’t be the guide to what is possible. Workers need a movement that fights for what they really need, not what beltway lobbyists say legislators will accept.

In the period of its greatest growth, labor proposed an alternative social vision that inspired people to risk their jobs and homes, and even lives – that society could be organized to ensure social and economic justice for all people. Workers were united by the idea that they could gain enough political power to end poverty, unemployment, racism, and discrimination. “Workers are looking for answers,” Fletcher says. “Without them we’ll get further despair. What we need instead is to organize for an alternative.”(Bulatlat)

Firing the Boss

January 20, 2009

On December 5, 2008, over 200 recently fired workers at the Republic Window and Doors factory in Chicago occupied their plant, demanding they be paid their vacation and severance checks. The occupation ended victoriously six days later when the Bank of America and other lenders to Republic agreed to pay the workers the approximately $2 million owed to them.

But the workers didn’t stop there.

BY BENJAMIN DANGL
Truthout
INTERNATIONAL
Posted by
(Bulatlat.com)

On December 5, 2008, over 200 recently fired workers at the Republic Window and Doors factory in Chicago occupied their plant, demanding they be paid their vacation and severance checks. The occupation ended victoriously six days later when the Bank of America and other lenders to Republic agreed to pay the workers the approximately $2 million owed to them.

But the workers didn’t stop there. They are now seeking ways to restart the factory and potentially operate it as a worker-run cooperative. The workers are also filing charges against their former employer for failing to give the workers sufficient notice of plans to shut the factory down; the workers were only given three days’ notice, and the management refused to negotiate with the workers’ union about the closure.

In this interview, Mark Meinster, the International Representative for the United Electrical Workers (UE) – the union the Republic workers belong to – talks about his role as the coordinator for the plant occupation, connections between the struggle of the Republic workers and workers’ struggles and tactics in South America, the fight to reopen the plant and what the Republic workers’ strategies say about social change in an economic downturn.

Benjamin Dangl: First, please briefly describe your role in the union, in the occupation of the Republic Windows and Doors factory, and the ongoing struggle of the Republic workers.

Mark Meinster: I’m an International Representative for the United Electrical Workers (UE). My primary responsibility is to oversee the union’s organizing work and staff in Chicago, Illinois, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I was the lead organizer on the effort to organize the Republic workers into UE in 2004 and led negotiations for a first contract in 2005. Since then, I and UE Field Organizer Leah Fried have worked with the local on leadership and steward training, grievance handling and contract negotiations. I coordinated the plant occupation at Republic Windows and Doors and participated in negotiations with the employer and the financial institutions involved and continue to work on efforts to reopen the plant.

BD: Could you please talk about some of the connections you see between the Republic workers’ struggle and actions and the strategies and experiences of similar workers’ groups in Argentina and Venezuela and the landless farmers in Brazil? How did you learn about these struggles and come to apply them in Chicago as a union organizer?

MM: Obviously there is a long history of workers taking actions of this type, both within the US and in other countries. Because there have been very few plant occupations in the US since the 1930s, we needed to look to workers’ struggles in other countries for recent guidance. For example, the Canadian Auto Workers, who have engaged in similar actions over the past 20 years to protest plant closings and win severance benefits, provided us with invaluable technical advice.

But in many respects, workers’ struggles in Latin America were the biggest inspiration for the Republic occupation. I had read about the land occupations carried out by the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra in an interview with Joao Pedro Stedile in 2002. I was struck by the MST’s focus on popular education and leadership development, and especially the way they placed the occupation tactic within the context of the right to unused land enshrined in the Brazilian constitution. The occupation, although technically an illegal tactic, was used to enforce a legal right. This gives workers confidence and places the struggle on a moral plane, allowing for more significant community and political support. We drew on this concept in planning the Republic occupation.

Current UE Local 1110 President Armando Robles attended the World Social Forum in Caracas, Venezuela, in 2006. There, he heard from workers from Inveval, a “recovered” factory in Venezuela. They had inspired a movement of workers occupying and running factories, with the help of the government, that had been abandoned by bosses who had fled the country. Armando returned from that experience politicized and inspired. I visited Venezuela in 2007 and spent time visiting worker-run co-ops. I was struck by the workers’ investment in the revolutionary process and their ability to run production without management.

We drew on the Argentine factory occupations to the extent that they show that during an economic crisis, workers movements are afforded a wider array of tactical options. Militant action can win public support during a downturn in ways that would have been impossible before. In fact, the film “The Take” was screened in the factory during the occupation in a makeshift movie theater set up in the locker room.

BD: Is there a plan to transform the Republic factory into a worker-run cooperative? If so, how did the decision to do this come about? At this point, how is the process going of setting this up?

MM: At this point we are working to find a buyer for the factory, focusing on firms specializing in energy-efficient windows. Though, we are also exploring the idea of a cooperative enterprise; the fact that no real movement of worker-run enterprises exists in the US makes this option much more difficult at this point. The workers have set up an entity called the “Windows of Opportunity Fund,” to help provide technical assistance and study this and other possibilities for restarting production.

BD: Could you comment on the role the Republic workers’ struggle in inspiring workers across the US to take up similar tactics to confront unemployment and problems related to the current US economic downturn?

MM: I think the Republic struggle shows we can win support for bold tactics, especially when we think carefully about how we project the struggle to the public. Time will tell whether the Republic struggle will be viewed as a bell-weather event or a flash in the pan. On the one hand, the occupation led to a huge outpouring of support – from solidarity rallies all across the country to donations of money, food and essential supplies. That this support was on a scale unthinkable only a year ago is proof that this action spoke to the desire of working-class people to seek ways to resist the current economic onslaught. On the other hand, for this event to be a spark, others will have to pick up the baton. That means organized labor will have to take some measure of risk, embracing militant tactics when necessary and abandoning its reliance on political maneuvering as the primary means for the advancement of a working class agenda.

Benjamin Dangl is the author of “The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia” (AK Press). He is the editor of TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events, and UpsideDownWorld.org, a web site on activism and politics in Latin America.
http://www.truthout.org/articles/by-author/external/Benjamin+Dangl(Bulatlat)

Obama says spending to avert long recession

January 10, 2009

FAIRFAX, Virginia: President-elect Barack Obama Thursday (Friday in Manila) proposed tax cuts and a green energy push to avert economic disaster, but drew a skeptical reaction in Congress to aspects of his huge stimulus package.

“I don’t believe it’s too late to change course, but it will be if we don’t take dramatic action as soon as possible,” Obama said in his first set-piece speech since his election triumph.

“If nothing is done, this recession could linger for years,” he said, in an appeal to both Congress and the public 12 days be fore his inauguration to back a stimulus bill expected to total at least $775 billion.

But top Democratic senators emerged from a two-hour meeting with top Obama aides on Capitol Hill openly questioning whether a $300-million tax cut included in the plan would ignite growth and create jobs.

And Republican lawmakers balked at the costs of the plan and worried about how much it would add to an already huge budget deficit, tipped to hit $1.2 trillion this year.

But without action, Obama warned, “the unemployment rate could reach double digits,” and that an entire generation’s potential might be thwarted and the United States could lose its global competitive edge.

“In short, a bad situation could become dramatically worse,” he told a packed audience at George Mason University in Washington’s Virginia suburbs, an institution that is ironically a bastion of free-market economic theory.

Major spending

Obama has already vowed a nationwide program of repairs to “crumbling” roads, bridges and schools, a rollout of broadband Internet across rural America and federal aid to cash-strapped US states.

In the speech, he pledged a $1,000 tax cut for 95 percent of working families as the “first stage” of a program of tax relief that would extend into the government’s next budget.

Production of alternative energy would be doubled in the next three years, Obama said, and more than 75 percent of federal buildings and two million homes would be modernized to slash billions from power bills.

The president-elect promised a new “smart” electricity grid to cut blackouts and deliver new forms of energy to homes and businesses.

And he said all patients’ medical records would be computerized within five years, saving lives and billions of dollars.

Answering critics

“I understand that some might be skeptical of this plan,” Obama said.

But what he calls the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan “won’t just throw money at our problems—we’ll invest in what works.”

Despite expanded Democratic control of both the Senate and House of Representatives, Obama wants convincing majorities of lawmakers to sign on, and that means mollifying Republican critics.

Republican leaders welcomed Obama’s proposal for tax cuts, which he said would total 40 percent of a final package that some economists say could reach up to $1.2 trillion.

Reactions

But House Republican leader John Boehner said, “It is very important as we go ahead that we find the right balance.

“Yes our economy needs help, but at the end of the day how much debt are we going to pile on future generations?” he told reporters. “We cannot buy prosperity with more and more government spending.”

Some Democrats also criticized a planned $3,000 tax break for companies that hire new workers and a family tax cut as being insufficient.

The corporate tax break was “unlikely to be effective,” said Kent Conrad, chairman of the Senate budget committee.

“Business people are not going to hire people to produce products that are not selling,” he told reporters.

Other lawmakers also doubted that tax cuts for families of $1,000 would ignite the necessary spurt in consumer spending.

Deficit concerns

Lawmakers from both parties expressed profound alarm when the Congressional Budget Office Wednesday forecast the US deficit would reach a jaw-dropping $1.2 trillion in this fiscal year.

“President Obama is walking into a fiscal disaster of stunning proportion, coupled with an economic downturn of unknown duration and depth,” Conrad said.

In his speech, Obama acknowledged the costs of his stimulus plan would drive the deficit still higher.

“But equally certain are the consequences of doing too little or nothing at all, for that will lead to an even greater deficit of jobs, incomes, and confidence in our economy,” he said.
–AFP

GLOBAL NEWS: Female bomber at Shiite shrine in Baghdad kills 38

January 5, 2009

BAGHDAD (AP) – A woman hiding among Iranian pilgrims with a bomb strapped under her black robe killed more than three dozen people yesterday outside a Baghdad mosque during ceremonies commemorating the death of one of Shiite Islam’s most revered saints.

The suicide attack, the most recent in a series that has killed more than 60 people in less that a week, was the latest to mar the transfer of many security responsibilities from the US military to Iraqi forces.

Iraqi security forces have deployed thousands of troops in Baghdad and in the Shiite holy city of Karbala, just south of the capital, to safeguard against attacks during the ceremonies. Attacks by al-Qaeda in Iraq, Sunni insurgents and even a Shiite cult have killed hundreds of people in recent years.

The attack in Baghdad’s northern Shiite neighborhood of Kazimiyah comes two days after a suicide bomber slipped into a luncheon at a tribal leader’s home south of Baghdad and killed at least 23 people. More than a dozen other people have died in other attacks since New Year’s Day.

The Iraqi military held parades to mark the anniversary of its founding 88 years ago and to celebrate a security agreement with the United States that went into effect on Jan. 1. The agreement replaced a UN mandate that allowed the US and other foreign troops to operate in Iraq.

Under the new agreement, US troops in Iraq will no longer conduct unilateral operations and will act only in concert with Iraqi forces. The must also leave major Iraqi cities by June and withdraw all troops by the end of 2011.

In another sign of the transition in authority, the US military yesterday handed over control in Diyala Province of about 9,000 Sons of Iraq, a predominantly Sunni group of former insurgents and tribesmen whose revolt against al-Qaeda in Iraq gave a significant boost to security in the turbulent province and helped turned the tide in the war against the terror group.

The United States paid the group’s estimated 90,000 members countrywide about $300 a month. Eventually, the members are to be either integrated into the Iraqi military and police, or provided civilian jobs and vocational training.

Under the phased handover, which began last year in Baghdad, Iraqi authorities will continue that pay and education strategy.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabanbi told Iraqi army troops during a parade marking Army Day that “the Iraqi army has gained the trust of government and Iraqi people as the army of all Iraqis.”

At a military parade that included recently purchased US military equipment and armored vehicles, he told the troops that “the signing of the withdrawal of foreign troop’s agreement and the end of the UN mandate on Iraq” on Dec. 31 that gave US and other forces the legal standing to occupy Iraq.

Just as the parade took place around noon, hundreds of worshippers had gathered in Kazimiyah just a few miles to the north, home to the shrine of Imam Mousa al-Kazim, one of the holiest men in Shiite Islam.

The woman was among a group of Iranian pilgrims and she blew herself up just outside the gates of the mosque, a large building graced by four minarets. The office of Iraqi army spokesman Brig. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi confirmed a woman wearing an explosives vest was responsible.

Iraqi army and police put the deaths at 38, although the Prime Minister’s National Operations Center said it was 36. Conflicting reports on the number of dead and wounded are common in Iraq in the chaotic aftermath of attacks.

At least one report from the Health Ministry said the dead included 17 Iranian pilgrims, seven of which were women. There were also seven Iraqi women killed by the blast, which sent shrapnel hurtling across the crowded square.

“I saw many dead pilgrims on the ground after the explosion all covered in blood, some of them Iranians,” one unidentified witness told Associated Press Television News.

Thousands of pilgrims from predominantly Shiite Iran visit during Ashura, celebrated on Jan. 7 this year. The evening before the explosion, thousands of men marched through the streets of Kazimiyah rhythmically beating their chests with bare hands and slashing their shoulders with iron chains, part of ceremonies leading up to the anniversary of 7th-century death of Prophet Muhammad’s grandson Hussein.

He was killed in a battle on the plains of Karbala near the Euphrates River. The battle, which was part of the dispute over the religion’s leadership that began after Muhammad’s death, was a key event in Islam’s split into the majority Sunni and minority Shiite branches.

The Iraqi police and army have deployed thousands of forces to safeguard worshippers, mostly those heading to Karbala south of Baghdad. The city is home to the golden-domed mosques of Imam Hussein and his half-brother Imam Abbas. Hundreds of thousands are expected to pour into the city Tuesday and Wednesday night for the pinnacle of the pilgrimage.

Maj. Gen. Othman Ali Farhood al-Ghanimy, the Iraqi army commander in Karbala, said last week that thousands of foreign pilgrims had arrived.

Although the suicide attack bore all the hallmarks of the Sunni terror group al-Qaeda in Iraq, which has killed hundreds of people in bombings against Ashura pilgrims in recent years, other Islamic extremist groups have used the day to stage bloody attacks.

Among the bloodiest attacks during Ashura were a series of mortar attacks and bombings in Baghdad and Karbala that year 2004 which killed nearly 200 pilgrims and wounded more than 500 others.

Last week, police in the southern city of Basra arrested a leading figure in a messianic Shiite cult, known as the “Soldiers of Heaven,” that has battled with Iraqi and US forces during the holiday.

At least 72 people died — mostly cult members — in ferocious battles with police in 2008. The group has sought to invoke chaos as a means of inspiring the return of the “Hidden Imam” — also known as the Mahdi — a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad who disappeared as a child in the ninth century. Shiites believe he will return one day to bring justice to the world.

In 2007, more than 200 members of the “Soldiers of Heaven” cult were killed and 600 people arrested after battles near the Shiite holy city of Najaf as they sought to declare an Islamic state during Ashura. At least 11 Iraqi troops were killed along with two Americans, whose helicopter was shot down during the battle.(PhilStar)

GLOBAL NEWS: Thousands in Lebanon, Turkey protest Israel attack

January 5, 2009

BEIRUT (AP) – Thousands protesting Israel’s ground offensive on Gaza converged yesterday in Beirut and the Turkish capital, as the leaders of the only two Mideast Arab nations to sign peace treaties with Israel demanded an end to the attack.

In Yemen, security officials said anti-Israel protesters attacked several Jewish homes in the northern province of Omran, smashing windows and pelting them with rocks. The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because because they were not authorized to talk to the media, said at least one Jewish resident was injured among the tiny minority community.

Lebanese police used water hoses to try to push about 250 demonstrators away from the US Embassy in Lebanon’s capital. When that failed, they fired tear gas, said Lebanese security officials. A second Beirut protest — a sit-in outside the UN building — drew thousands of supporters of Hamas and Lebanon’s Islamic Group.

In Turkey, more than 5,000 people held an anti-Israel rally in Istanbul, waving Palestinian flags and burning effigies of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and President George W. Bush. Also in Istanbul, club-wielding police broke up a small demonstration by protesters who hurled eggs at the Israeli Consulate, the private Dogan news agency reported. There were no reports of arrests or injuries.

Israel’s weeklong aerial bombardment of Gaza and the start of the ground offensive Saturday against Hamas have drawn condemnation across the Muslim and Arab world and news coverage of the invasion has dominated Arab satellite television stations.

Thousands in cities from Tehran to Damascus have also taken to the streets to protest the attacks, which have killed about 500 Palestinians and wounded more than 1,600, according to Gaza officials.

In some cases, the protests of the past week were as directed against Arab governments as much as Israel, with many criticizing their perceived inaction or lack of sufficient support of the Palestinians.

Yesterday, the leaders of Egypt and Jordan — the only two Mideast Arab countries to sign a peace agreement with Israel and maintain diplomatic ties — condemned the ground offensive and called for an end to Israel’s onslaught in Gaza.

Several hundred Jordanians shouting “death to Israel” protested against the Gaza offensive yesterday in two separate demonstrations in central Amman, the Jordanian capital. The protests were peaceful and police made no arrests.

In parliament meanwhile, the Jordanian government came under criticism from Islamic opposition lawmakers demanding that it suspend relations with Israel.

“All options are available to assess the relationship with every side, especially Israel,” Prime Minister Nader al-Dahabi told parliament during a heated debate.

“We will reconsider relations according to our higher national interests,” he said. “We will not remain silent about the situation and the serious deterioration in Gaza and neither about the threat which risks the security of the whole area and its stability.”

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who runs his own Palestinian administration from the West Bank, also denounced Israel’s ground offensive as “brutal aggression” in his harshest words yet in describing Israel’s assault on his Hamas rivals.

Israel says the aim of the operation is to stop the Palestinian militant Hamas group from firing rockets at southern Israeli towns. Hamas is opposed to any peace settlement with Israel and calls for the destruction of the Jewish state.

“This battle will end a (peace) settlement forever,” Hamas’ representative in Lebanon, Osama Hamdan, told the protesters at the sit-in. “This battle will show who are the men.”

Five civilians and one policeman were lightly injured in the clash outside the US Embassy earlier in the day, according to the Lebanese officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Meanwhile, the leader of Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, discussed the situation in Gaza with visiting chief Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, the group’s Al-Manar TV said.

Al-Manar did not give further details but said Nasrallah and Jalili, who arrived here Saturday from neighboring Syria, discussed “ways of ending this aggression.”

Hezbollah, which is a strong ally of Hamas, possesses a formidable arsenal of rockets and missiles that bloodied Israel during a monthlong war in 2006. Hezbollah has not threatened to join Hamas in its current battle with Israel, but Nasrallah said last week that his men are on alert in case Israel attacks Lebanon.(PhilStar)

GLOBAL NEWS: Gaza civilians left exposed in Israeli invasion

January 5, 2009

GAZA CITY (AP) – With booms from artillery and airstrikes keeping them awake, the 10 members of Lubna Karam’s family spent the night huddled in the hallway of their Gaza City home.

Earlier strikes shattered the living room windows, letting cold air pour in. The Karams haven’t had electricity for a week and have run out of cooking gas. The family, including three small children younger than four, eats cold, canned beans.

“It’s war food,” said Karam, 28. “What else can we do?”

As Israel’s offensive against Hamas moves from pinpointed airstrikes to ground fighting and artillery shelling, Gaza’s civilians are increasingly exposed. Some two dozen civilians were killed within hours after the start of Israel’s ground invasion Saturday night.

Israel says eight days of aerial bombardment, followed by the ground invasion, seek to undermine Hamas’ ability to fire rockets at the Jewish state. So far, more than 500 Palestinians and four Israelis have been killed. Palestinian and UN officials say at least 100 Palestinian civilians are among the dead.

The ground offensives will put Israeli solders, Gaza militants and civilians in much closer quarters.

The guiding principle of Israel’s ground invasion is to move in with full force and try to minimize Israeli casualties, Israeli military correspondent Alex Fishman wrote in the daily Yediot Ahronoth. “We’ll pay the international price later for the collateral damage and the anticipated civilian casualties,” Fishman said.

While Israeli said its airstrikes have targeted only Hamas installations and leaders, some of the bombs were so powerful that they destroyed or damaged adjacent houses.

Karam said she always felt under threat. She said her family didn’t sleep. “We keep hearing the sounds of airplanes and we don’t know if we’ll live until tomorrow, or not,” she said.

Anas Mansour, 21, a resident of the Rafah refugee camp on the Gaza-Egypt border, said he and his family may try to leave the area later yesterday. Mansour said he was sleeping in his clothes, with his identification cards in his pocket in case he had to flee quickly.

He said he could see his neighbor loading a donkey cart with mattresses and blankets to leave, but hadn’t yet decided if he’d do the same. “Where can we go? It’s all the same,” Mansour said.

Deprivation is nothing new in Gaza, but the Israeli-led blockade of the territory has grown increasingly tighter over the past two months, making cooking gas and many foods scare.

Adding to that, last week’s bombings damaged the strip’s sanitary and electrical infrastructure, leaving many residents without power and water, and most shops are now shuttered.

“When there was a siege, we kept taking about a catastrophe,” said Hatem Shurrab, 24, of Gaza City. “But then the airstrikes started, and now we don’t even know what word to use. There’s no word in the dictionary that can describe the situation we are in.”(PhilStar)

Israeli troops invade Gaza

January 5, 2009

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Smoke caused by explosions rises over Gaza City yesterday. AP

GAZA CITY – Israeli ground troops and tanks cut swaths through the Gaza Strip early yesterday, bisecting the coastal territory and surrounding its biggest city as the new phase of a devastating offensive against Hamas gained momentum.

At least 23 Palestinians were killed in the new fighting as trucks and cars packed with families fled Gaza City and other towns ahead of the biggest Israeli military operation since its 2006 war with Lebanon.

Thousands of soldiers in three brigade-size formations pushed into Gaza after nightfall Saturday, beginning a long-awaited ground offensive after a week of intense aerial bombardment.

Black smoke billowed over Gaza City at first light and bursts of machine-gun fire rang out.

Witnesses said that Israeli infantry units and tanks had taken control of the Salaheddine Road, the main highway along the length of the enclave, dividing Gaza.

TV footage showed Israeli troops with night-vision goggles and camouflage face paint marching in single file. Artillery barrages preceded their advance, and they moved through fields and orchards following bomb-sniffing dogs ensuring their routes had not been booby-trapped.

The military said troops killed or wounded dozens of militant fighters.

Palestinian medics and doctors said 23 Palestinians have been killed – three Hamas fighters and the rest civilians. Many of the casualties were in the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya, the scene of some of the heaviest fighting.

A Palestinian child was killed and 11 other children were wounded in the strike, when a tank shell hit a house in eastern Gaza City, Gaza medics said.

Israel launched the nighttime offensive on Saturday after eight days of air strikes in which at least 485 Palestinians died and more than 2,400 were wounded, Gaza medics said.

More than 80 children are among the dead.

Explosions and shooting could be heard in many areas as troops backed by Apache helicopters forged into the territory, they said.

Militants fired mortars and detonated roadside bombs. The heaviest fighting was reported in and around Jabaliya.

Army ambulances were seen bringing Israeli wounded to a hospital in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba. The military reported 30 Israeli troops were wounded, two seriously, in the opening hours of the offensive.

But an army spokeswoman said 28 Israeli soldiers have been wounded, two of them seriously, in the ground invasion.

Hamas said nine soldiers had been killed in the operation. The army refused to comment on the claim.

According to the spokeswoman, “28 soldiers have been wounded, with two of them — an officer and a soldier — seriously wounded.”

A statement from Hamas’s armed wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, said that in monitoring Israeli military radio traffic, it learned that five soldiers had been killed.

In his first public comments since the ground operation was launched, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said yesterday that the invasion was unavoidable and that his government exhausted all other options before approving the operation.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak predicted a long and difficult campaign in Gaza, a densely populated territory of 1.4 million where militants operate and easily hide among the crowded urban landscape.

Hamas threatened to turn Gaza into a “graveyard” for Israeli forces.

“You entered like rats,” Hamas spokesman Ismail Radwan told Israeli soldiers in a statement on Hamas’ Al Aqsa television. “Gaza will be a graveyard for you, God willing.”

The ground operation is the second phase in an offensive that began as a weeklong aerial onslaught aimed at halting Hamas rocket fire that has reached deeper and deeper into Israel, threatening major cities and one-eighth of Israel’s population. Palestinian officials say dozens of civilians were killed in the air offensive.

Rocket fire has persisted, however, and several rockets fell in Israel on Sunday morning, causing no casualties. In much of southern Israel school has been canceled and life has been largely paralyzed.

While the air offensive presented little risk for Israel’s army, sending in ground troops is a much more dangerous proposition.

Hamas is believed to have some 20,000 gunmen intimately familiar with the dense urban landscape. For months, Israeli leaders had resisted a ground invasion, fearing heavy casualties.

No choice but war

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he decided that the government had no more choice.

“I want to be able to go to the Israeli public and all the mothers and say, ‘We did everything in a responsible manner,’” Olmert said in a statement released by his office.

“In the end, we reached the moment where I had to decide to send out soldiers.”

Olmert stressed the campaign’s objective is to restore quiet to Israel’s south, not to topple Hamas or reoccupy Gaza.

Israel considers Hamas, which has controlled Gaza since June 2007 and is sworn to Israel’s destruction, a terrorist group.

Israel has launched at least two other large ground offensives in Gaza since withdrawing its troops from the area in 2005. But the size of this latest operation dwarfs those, with at least three times the firepower.

Israel also has called up tens of thousands of reserve soldiers, which defense officials said could enable a far broader ground offensive as the operation’s third phase.

The troops could also be used in the event Palestinian militants in the West Bank or Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon decide to launch attacks. Hezbollah opened a war against Israel in 2006 when it was in the midst of a large operation in Gaza.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the military’s preparations are classified.

Cutting through

An armored force south of Gaza City penetrated as deep as the abandoned settlement of Netzarim, which Israel left along with other Israeli communities when it pulled out of Gaza in 2005, both military officials and Palestinian witnesses said.

Israeli tanks and troops had pushed into two areas of northern Gaza, one near the Erez crossing and another east of the town of Jabaliya, near an Islamic cemetery.

That move effectively cut off Gaza City, the territory’s largest population center with about 400,000 people, from the rest of Gaza to the south.

The offensive focused on northern Gaza, where most of the rockets are fired into Israel, but at least one incursion was reported in the southern part of the strip. Hamas uses smuggling tunnels along the southern border with Egypt to bring in weapons.

Warplanes struck about four dozen targets overnight, including tunnels, weapons storage facilities, areas used to launch mortars and squads of Hamas fighters, the military said.

Israeli tanks opened fire on Hamas positions after entering the impoverished territory and Hamas forces replied with mortar fire, witnesses said.

They said there were explosions and tank fire just north of Jabaliya, where Palestinian militants were responding with rocket fire.

Gunboats backed up the ground forces, attacking Hamas intelligence headquarters in Gaza City, rocket-launching areas and positions of Hamas marine forces.

Hamas has been responding with mortar shells and rocket-propelled grenades. Field commanders communicated over walkie talkie, updating gunmen on the location of Israeli forces. Commanders told gunmen in the streets not to gather in big groups and not to use cell phones. Hamas’ TV and radio stations, broadcasting from secret locations after their offices were destroyed, remained on the air, broadcasting live coverage.

Ground forces had not entered major Gaza towns and cities by early yesterday morning, instead fighting in rural communities and open areas militants often use to launch rockets and mortar rounds. Militants also fire from heavily populated neighborhoods.

Residents of the small northern Gaza community of al-Attatra said soldiers moved from house to house by blowing holes through walls. Most of the houses were unoccupied, their residents already having fled.

Israel launched the air campaign against Gaza on Dec. 27. Gaza health officials say more than 480 Palestinians were killed in the first eight days of the operation.

The breakdown of combatants and civilians remains unclear, but the UN says at least 100 civilians were killed in the initial, aerial phase of the war.

Hundreds of rockets have hit Israel so far, and four Israelis have been killed.

The decision to send ground troops into Gaza was taken after Hamas kept up its rocket fire despite the aerial assault, government officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because discussions leading up to wartime decisions are confidential.

Outrage

The ballooning death toll in Gaza — along with concerns of a looming humanitarian crisis — has aroused mounting world outrage, as evidenced by protests that drew tens of thousands of demonstrators in European capitals on Saturday.

“There is a humanitarian crisis. It’s impossible to say how many innocent women, innocent children and innocent babies are being caught up in this conflict, who are being maimed and killed,” said Chris Gunness, a UN spokesman. “This offensive must stop.”

The offensive has sparked spiraling anger in the Muslim world and protests across the globe.

Denunciations also came from the French government, which unsuccessfully proposed a two-day truce earlier this week, and from Egypt, which brokered the six-month truce whose breakdown preceded the Israeli offensive.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum said “what is happening in the UN Security Council is a farce that shows the level that America and Zionist occupier dominates its decisions.”

But the US has put the blame squarely on Hamas. White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said US officials have been in regular contact with the Israelis as well as officials from countries in the region and Europe.

“We continue to make clear to them our concerns for civilians, as well as the humanitarian situation,” he said.

At an emergency consultation of the UN Security Council on Saturday night, the US blocked approval of a statement demanded by Arab countries that would have called for an immediate ceasefire. US deputy ambassador Alejandro Wolff said the US believed that such a statement “would not be adhered to and would have no underpinning for success, (and) would not do credit to the council.”

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is due on Israel today for talks on a ceasefire with Olmert in Jerusalem.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Koucher called the ground invasion a “dangerous military escalation” that would undermine attempts to broker a truce.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown spoke with Olmert, “pressing hard for an immediate ceasefire.”

Hamas began to emerge as Gaza’s main power broker when it won Palestinian parliamentary elections three years ago. It has ruled the impoverished territory since seizing control from forces loyal to moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in June 2007. –AP(PhilStar)

Israel continues pounding Gaza on Day 7 of blitz

January 3, 2009

By SAKHER ABU EL OUN

GAZA CITY (AFP) — Israel continued to bomb Gaza early on Friday after killing a top Hamas commander in the biggest blow yet to the Islamist’s leadership, as the death toll in the seven-day blitz reached at least 420.

With tanks and troops massed for a threatened ground offensive and no ceasefire in sight, the army was allowing foreigners living in Gaza to leave on Friday.

Israeli planes and naval guns staged more than 50 attacks on Thursday and Hamas sent more rockets deep into Israel.

An army spokeswoman said bombing overnight was aimed at 15 targets, including rocket launchers and weapons storage facilities.

Witnesses in Gaza told AFP several people had been wounded, but no deaths were reported.

On Thursday, Israeli jets fired missiles on the home of Nizar Rayan in the Jabaliya refugee camp, killing him, his four wives, 10 of his children and two neighbors, witnesses and medical sources said.

Considered to be among the most hawkish of Hamas leaders, Rayan was the most senior figure to be killed by Israel since Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi in 2004.

Hamas leader Ismail Radwan said Israel would regret its attacks.

While they ‘’are intended to break our will, they won’t,’’ he said on television. ‘’This cowardly enemy must realize that he will regret these crimes against our people.’’

In addition to the 420 dead, ‘’Operation Cast Lead’’ has also left 2,180 people wounded, according to Palestinian emergency services.

Rocket fire from Gaza has killed four people and wounded dozens in Israel.

Thursday’s Israeli strikes also hit the parliament and justice ministry, rocket launching sites, tunnels for smuggling weapons or supplies into the territory and weapons storage facilities, a military spokeswoman said.

And the army said it bombed the mosque in Jabaliya where Rayan was a preacher, calling it a ‘’terror-hub’’ and a storage site for rockets and other weapons.

Hundreds of houses have been destroyed and the United Nations says about 25 percent of the dead are civilians. Food, fuel and medical supplies are all running short, aid agencies say.

Israel began the offensive on Saturday in response to rocket fire by Hamas and its allies but has failed to halt those attacks, none of which caused any casualties on Thursday.

One projectile slammed into an apartment block in Ashdod more than 30 kilometers from Gaza, the army said.

And two rockets hit near the desert city of Beersheva, 40 kilometers from the border — the deepest yet they have reached into Israel.

Speaking in Beersheva, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel is ‘’not interested in conducting a long war’’ but insisted ‘’we will deal with Hamas and terror with an iron fist.’’

Hamas has fired more than 360 rockets since Saturday, Israel says.

On the diplomatic front, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni held talks in Paris on Thursday with President Nicolas Sarkozy and other French leaders.

The previous day, Israel had rejected a French proposal for a 48-hour ceasefire to help humanitarian efforts. Livni repeated that rejection, saying Israel would decide in due course when to halt its offensive.

‘’The question of whether it’s enough or not will be the result of our assessment on a daily basis,’’ she said.

Peace moves were also stalled at the UN Security Council even though UN Secretary General Ban Kimoon said the conflict had become ‘’a dramatic crisis.’’

The civilian population in Gaza and stability throughout the Middle East ‘’are trapped between the irresponsibility displayed in the indiscriminate rocket attacks by Hamas militants and the disproportionality of the continuing Israeli military operation,’’ Ban said.

Libya presented the Security Council with a draft resolution drawn up by the Arab League calling for an immediate ceasefire, but the United States and Britain said it appeared biased because it did not mention the Hamas attacks.

Meanwhile, an Israeli defense ministry spokeswoman said ‘’about 400 people, dual nationals’’ living in Gaza would be leaving on Friday after their countries asked that they be allowed to do so.

The largest number were from Russia, with others coming from the United States, Norway, Turkey, Moldova, Ukraine and Belarus, Peter Lerner said, adding that they would leave through the Erez crossing.

Meanwhile, Israeli police were on alert in east Jerusalem. Hamas called for a ‘’day of wrath’’ on Friday there and in the West Bank, with ‘’massive marches’’ after weekly Muslim prayers, starting off from the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem and from ‘’all the mosques in the West Bank.’’

The army also locked down the West Bank from midnight (2200 GMT Thursday) for 48 hours, with movement in and out of the territory prohibited except for emergencies and special cases.

RP Muslims call for peace, accuse Israel of genocide

By EDD K. USMAN

As the Israeli onlaught in Gaza continued to slaughter Palestinians, Muslims and Christians in the Philippines yesterday accused the Israeli government of genocide and said the world must come to its senses to stop the conflict.

Leaders of the Assalam Bangsamoro People’s Association (ABPA), the Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino (BMP) and the Partido Lakas ng Masa (PLM) said Israel is committing genocide against a defenseless Palestinian people as the United States, the United Nations and the West just look on.

The three organizations spearheaded a protest rally in front of the Blue Mosque in Maharlika Village, Taguig City just after yesterday’s Juma’ah (Friday) congregational prayers.

Children held pictures of slain Palestinianns and placards that read: “Zionist Israel: How many Palestinian women and children are you going to kill today?” “Israel Butcher of Children,” and “Israel Terrorist,” among others.

ABPA’s Jolly Lais quoted the UN as saying that many of the casualties of the Israeli bombing were children while Rei Melencio of the PLM said Israel’s “final solution” of genocide against the Palestinian people must stop.

BMP Secretary General Teody Navea on the other hand urged support for Gaza inhabitants as he denounced the killing of innocent Palestinian men, women and children.

Lais also noted that last February, Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai vowed to inflict a “bigger Palestinian holocaust” if the rocket attacks against southern Israel do not stop.

In another development, Peace Process Undersecretary Nabil Tan called for a truce and dialogue in Palestine and sought UN intervention as the number of Palestinians killed by the Israeli military has reached more than 400, including more than 60 women and children.

Tan, ABPA national president Datu Pendatun Disimban, former House deputy speaker Gerry Salapuddin, and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) spokesman Eid Kabalu issued separate statements through text messages slamming the ongoing Israeli military campaign in Gaza.

“The attack against innocent civilians can never serve the ends of justice. The killings should stop, and peaceful dialogue should begin. The UN should intervene,” said Tan, of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP).

Before Vilnai’s statement, Israel has reserved the term holocaust to Jews whom Adolf Hitler’s Nazis exterminated by the millions during World War II.

Disimban and Kabalu, aware of Vilnai’s holocaust threat, said “Allah forbid the extermination of the Palestinians”, while Kabalu expressed the MILF’s oneness with the Palestinians.

“We express our solidarity with the oppressed Palestinian people with prayer for them to overcome this slaughter, confident that in the end they will be victorious, insha Allah,” said the MILF’s chief of civil-military affairs.

Disimban said ABPA “strongly condemns the Israeli barbaric attacks on Gaza that killed at least 370 Palestinians. We also urge the Muslim world, particularly the Arab world to unite and punish the Israeli government.”

ABPA called on the UN to sanction Israel for not obeying its appeal for ceasefire and for killing innocent civilians.

“Israel is the real terrorist, killing innocent civilians, children, and women. The best solution to the problem in Palestine is to end the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands,” said Disimban, in reference to the Israeli ambassador to the Philippines’ appeal for support for Israel and calling Hamas terrorists.

Salapuddin noted what he describes as Israel’s “disproportionate use of strong and excessive force against the Palestinian people, causing several hundred dead and close to 2,000 wounded, many of whom were children and women.”

The former Basilan congressman said beside being wrong, “this can be considered a crime against humanity, a genocide. That is not to mention the illegal occupation of Palestinian lands by the Israelis and the unfettered building of Jewish settlements to settle non-Arab Jews from Europe on Palestinian lands.”

Salapuddin said Israel’s blockade of the entry of food, medicines, fuel and other basic needs of the Palestinians is not only cruel and heartless, but an undeserved act of a supposed civilized state claiming to hail from prophets and messengers of God.

“I think it will court more anger and rage against Israel in the Muslim world, generally. It can also become a rallying cause for al-Qaeda against Israel and the U.S.,” said Salapuddin.”

On the other hand, the policy of hatred of the Hamas leadership against Israel tends to undermine the leadership of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to negotiate for a comprehensive peace settlement with Israel. More than any time, the unity of all the Palestinian factions, including Hamas and Fatah behind President Abbas, who is recognized in the Muslim world and the West, is much needed,” he said.

Obama Should Worry About Iraqi Shoes, Too

December 28, 2008

When Iraq’s violence escalates, President Obama better not be caught on his heels when he’s blamed for losing Bush’s “win.”

By Ben Lando
AlterNet
INTERNATIONAL
Posted by Bulalat

After four hours stuck in Baghdad traffic, I was close enough to get out of the car and walk to my hotel. I’m sure it was raw sewage I stepped in, but I didn’t ask; ignorance is bliss, I figured, or every time I take my shoes off I’ll think of what’s on the bottom.

The drive from an interview in Monsour district back to my hotel just outside the Green Zone should have taken 45 minutes, tops.

But it coincided exactly with President Bush’s farewell invasion of Baghdad, and the send-off by 29-year-old Baghdadiyah TV journalist Muntathar al-Zaidi.

“This is a goodbye kiss, you dog,” al-Zaidi yelled and tossed his shoes at Bush, McClatchy Newspapers reports. “Killer of Iraqis, killer of children.”

As soon as my drivers and I were routed from the main highway to side streets by U.S. troops, we knew something was up. Traffic was intense every direction we took; the boys selling candy car-to-car must have made out well.

Frustration grew as the sun went down. Every route was blocked by U.S. troops. Bush made an unnecessary visit to Baghdad and put an American’s life in danger, I thought, and Baghdadis’ lives are frozen until he leaves the country for good.

Iraqis, getting impatient, start each day dressing one shoe at a time. A draft report from the U.S. Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, leaked to the New York Times and ProPublica this week, ahead of its January scheduled release, pans nearly the entirety of U.S. reconstruction efforts here.

Stuart Bowen, the IG, recounts his first tour of the Coalition Provisional Authority: “What I saw was troubling: large amounts of cash moving quickly out the door. Later that same day, walking the halls of the palace, I overheard someone say: ‘We can’t do that anymore. There is a new inspector general here.’ These red flags were the first signs that the oversight mission the Congress had assigned my office would be extraordinarily challenging.”

SIGIR’s responsibility was to watchdog nearly $50 billion in U.S. taxpayer dollars dedicated here by Congress.

“Over the past five years, this sea of taxpayer dollars flowed to a wide spectrum of initiatives, ranging from training Iraq’s army and police to building big electrical, oil and water projects; from supporting democracy-building efforts like elections to strengthening provincial councils’ budget execution; and from funding rule-of-law reforms to ensuring that Iraq sustains what the U.S. program provided,” the SIGIR report said.

“Some of the initiatives succeeded, but, as this report explains, many did not. … beyond the security issue stands another compelling and unavoidable answer: the U.S government was not adequately prepared to carry out the reconstruction mission it took on in mid-2003.”

So, parallel to, or because of, the continued insecurity, there is a lack of services such as electricity, clean water and fuel — not to mention a deficit of human-rights protection for women and minorities, according to a new U.N. report on human rights in Iraq — it’s not difficult to understand why a journalist threw shoes at the face of this situation.

Some here debated whether he’d be better off using his power as a journalist to explain why Bush is “a dog” — likely, since he has not been released from custody following a painful arrest. Others said it was plain inappropriate to embarrass the prime minister and disrespect a guest in a way so offensive in Arab culture, let alone committing a crime of assault; a rally in the Baghdad neighborhood Sadr City the day after called for the immediate release of al-Zaidi, an overnight hero of the Iraqi street and the Arab world.

No one I’ve spoken to, or overheard, has criticized the motivation of the reporter, who was shell-shocked covering the bombing of Sadr City this year (and was kidnapped last year).

“Ninety percent of Iraqis supported the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, greeted American troops as liberators with flowers and candy,” said a local journalist, whose office I was sharing while I was reporting this week. “Now, 90 percent feel the same way as al-Zaidi.”

“Thanks to you, the Iraq we’re standing in today is dramatically freer, dramatically safer and dramatically better than the Iraq we found eight years ago,” the Los Angeles Times quoted Bush during his visit.

But besting Saddam Hussein shouldn’t have been this hard.

“The work hasn’t been easy, but it’s been necessary,” Bush said after meeting Iraq’s Presidency Council. He called the buildup of U.S. troops in 2007 “one of the greatest successes in the history of the United States military” and the Status of Forces Agreement, which he and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki symbolically signed, “a reminder of our friendship and as a way forward to help the Iraqi people realize the blessings of a free society.”

If this were the case, if there was hope on the streets and feasible plans for the future, Iraqis wouldn’t throw shoes at the president of the United States.

But Bush, in his final month in office, is painting Iraq as a success, progress after tough times, nearing victory after tough battles. The reality is: it’s not. Iraq does not yet wear American-made designer shoes; it wears a pair of thin, worn and hole-pocked hand-me-down shoes after years of going barefoot. Violence is down, but only low compared to the days in 2006 and 2007, when bodies were found daily. The demographic map of Baghdad now is evidence of ethnic cleansing, Shiite and Sunni, if they’ve returned to the country, relegated to “their neighborhoods.” This after Saddam Hussein’s time — unquestionably brutal and genocidal in his own right — of intermarrying and protection from religious fundamentalism.

There are neighborhoods unsafe for an Iraqi to go through, let alone an American. A suicide bombing outside a Baghdad checkpoint Monday killed three people, according to McClatchy’s daily roundup of violence, which is seldom blank. Four days earlier, a restaurant in the northern city of Kirkuk exploded, killing 55 and wounding more than 100.

The Overseas Security Advisory Council, a federal advisory committee coordinating security intelligence between the U.S. government and American business overseas, said in the first week of December, al-Qaida in Iraq “demonstrated its continued capability to launch deadly attacks, perpetrating a series of successful attacks against both Iraqi security forces and Iraqi government targets.” At least 54 Iraqis died and hundreds were injured in attacks throughout the country as AQI “demonstrated its ability to adapt to Iraq’s changing security situations.”

Political disputes over provincial and national elections, a referendum on disputed territories and creating an autonomous region in oil-rich Basra province will be rough going for average Iraqis, fodder for militias and armed political groups, most of who were not run off in “The Surge,” but took a break.
And if President-elect Barak Obama doesn’t dispel this myth of Bush winning Iraq, let alone allow his Iraq policy advisers to believe it, he’s in for a swift kick when the Sunni insurgents-turned-security face-off against the Shiite government, when Kurdish-Arab disputes continue to stall government operations, and when Iraqis en masse throw shoes in frustration of the outstanding need to basic services that human rights demand, after six years of losing loved ones.

Much blame can be laid on the Iraqi government: many have played politics while the citizens want. But the political infrastructure and the power struggles in Parliament are a creation of the U.S. experiment in Iraq. And when Congress asks why the United States should spend more money on reconstruction, a look at the SIGIR report unveils the cynicism of the question: the U.S. government wasted, not spent, most of the money the taxpayers sent here.

The Democratic Party on a national level — most recent election withstanding — has woken up each day, tied its shoelaces together and wondered why it tripped in getting its message out. Dems either approved or didn’t articulate the strategic faults of the Bush operation in Iraq, and the result is Iraqis and the world will suffer as consequence. Its electoral losses at the start of the Bush presidency and slight gains since are more a result of voter reaction to the Bush policies than acceptance of Democratic promise.

When Iraq’s violence escalates, President Obama better not be caught on his heels when he’s blamed for losing Bush’s win here. Neither he nor the Democratic Party will be able to duck their opponents’ flying shoes as easily as Bush. AlterNet/Posted byBulatlat.com

The Shoe Heard Round the World

December 28, 2008

As with any event that pushes history forward, when you click the play button over and over to watch Muntanzer al-Zaidi mumble something in Arabic that we now know meant “This is a farewell kiss from the Iraqi people, you dog!,” the question inevitably arises – Why hasn’t this happened before?

BY AARON LAKE SMITH
Truthout/Perspective
INTERNATIONAL
Posted by Bulatlat

As with any event that pushes history forward, when you click the play button over and over to watch Muntanzer al-Zaidi mumble something in Arabic that we now know meant “This is a farewell kiss from the Iraqi people, you dog!,” the question inevitably arises – Why hasn’t this happened before? Watch al-Zaidi rise from the back of the room. See the glimmer of recognition in Bush’s eyes and the animal instinct take over as he avoids the shoes coming at his head. The incident is like a deep whiff of smelling salts, causing the degradations of the past five years to flood back. Remember when the antiwar movement puttered to a halt after Bush declared Mission accomplished? How easily we were fooled into complacency.

It is at this juncture where our antihero appears. Bush had opened the press conference by saying, “The American people have sacrificed a great deal to reach this moment. The battle in Iraq has required a great amount of time and resources” to a crowd of Arab journalists – is it any wonder that shoes were thrown? There is only so much unreality people will put up with before frustration bubbles to the surface, breaking through the veneer of civility. Watching the footage over and over again, the video quenches some thirst I didn’t know I had. There is a spectacular power in al-Zaidi’s visceral response: the spectacular bleary front-page photos of the smooshed face of the president. Bush’s deft and effortless dodge out of the way, like a character in “The Matrix.” Who isn’t haunted by that bemused smile plastered on his face as al-Zaidi is dragged out of the room and beaten? When the front row of reporters apologize, Bush shrugs it off, seeming put off by their servility: “So what if a guy threw a shoe … it doesn’t bother me. And if you want some – if you want the facts, it’s a size 10 shoe that he threw … Do not worry about it.”

But rather than move on and pretend it never happened, amazingly, Bush returns to the shoe throwing. He turns it into a parable, crams it into his deluded concept of democracy, “That’s what happens in free societies, where people try to draw attention to themselves. And so I guess he was affected, because he caused you to say something about it.”

But while Bush lauds civil dissent with one hand, he crushes it with the other. In an opinion piece by the editorial board, The New York Times said: “Mr. Zaidi had been severely beaten by security officers on Sunday after being tackled at the press conference and dragged out. While he has not been formally charged, Iraqi officials said he faced up to seven years in prison if convicted of committing an act of aggression against a visiting head of state. No doubt he must face the charges – and punished if found guilty.”

“No doubt he must face the charges – and punished if found guilty.” Shame on The Times’ editors for giving such a de rigueur shrug for centrism instead of taking a stand. Al-Zaidi is looking at seven years in an Iraqi oubliette in the face. When will The Times have the courage to make the same call for Bush? True democracy requires us to be active participants. The lesson that can be gleaned from al-Zaidi’s rage is that the jelly-like stasis of the present can always be shattered; with a single act, all avenues of possibility widen. Outside of the week’s news stream talking points, many things are still possible. But al-Zaidi is not, as he has been lauded, a “folk hero.”

He’s just a guy who threw his shoes. It could have been any of us. And like all rebels who walk away from the cotillion of civility, he will be rewarded and punished by history. The biggest barrier to democracy is the fear of social transgression, the idea that democracy can be passively observed. We must be constant, active participants in our fates, rather than waiting for others that we can cheer on from the sidelines, to act on our behalf. Truthout/Posted byBulatlat.com

As usual, the NYT ignores Iraqi opinion; anecdotes trump polls on withdrawal

December 22, 2008

Written by Dahr Jamail
Monday, 15 December 2008
var sburl2047 = window.location.href; var sbtitle2047 = document.title;var sbtitle2047=encodeURIComponent(“As usual, the NYT ignores Iraqi opinion; anecdotes trump polls on withdrawal”); var sburl2047=decodeURI(“http://zumel.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=559”); sburl2047=sburl2047.replace(/amp;/g, “”);sburl2047=encodeURIComponent(sburl2047);The New York Times failed spectacularly in its coverage of Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction, helping lead the country into war and only much later (5/26/04) publishing a half-hearted mea culpa. As the near-apology acknowledged, the paper’s failure resulted in large part from its lack of skepticism regarding its sources, most notably exiled Iraqi politician Ahmed Chalabi.

Despite the mea culpa, though, the Times continues to mislead on Iraq, particularly on the issue of whether or not Iraqis want the US military to exit their country. Once again, that journalistic failure seems to be rooted in the same fundamental problem of overconfidence in the paper’s sources and ignoring the obvious contradictory evidence.

An article by Times reporter Stephen Farrell headlined, “Should US Forces Withdraw From Iraq? The Iraqis Have a Few Opinions” (9/9/08) serves as a recent example. The piece, which also kicked off a special series on “the debate among ordinary Iraqis over the presence of American troops” that ran in the Times’ online blog section, purported to bring readers insight into Iraqi opinion on withdrawal. “As Iraqi and American diplomats negotiate a deal for American troops to stay in Iraq, or not, Iraqis are also debating the issue,” Farrell wrote — as though there is a great deal of debate among Iraqis about whether they prefer that their country continue to be occupied.

The Times reporter split Iraqis into “three categories” of opinion, with only one actually supporting the withdrawal of occupation forces. Besides a group that “simply [wants] the Americans to leave, period,” Farrell described one pro-occupation group of Iraqis that “worries that the brief period of improving security which Iraq has witnessed this year will be vulnerable if the Americans abruptly withdrew.” Those in this group, according to Farrell, “say the United States has a moral obligation to remain, and that continued presence of the occupiers is preferable to a return to rule by gangs and militias.”

Farrell described the other pro-occupation group as sharing “a common worry, that without a referee, Iraq’s dominant powers — Kurds in the far north and Shias in the center and south — will brutally dominate other groups.”

Farrell gave no indication of the relative sizes of each group, but the Iraqi quotes featured below the piece seemed to suggest that the pro-withdrawal group was quite small: Only two of the ten people who expressed a personal opinion about the troops spoke in favor of immediate withdrawal.

Survey says

Notably, Farrell opted not to include polling data in his article. Perhaps that’s because had he done so, it would have undermined the thesis of his piece.

A poll from March 2008 conducted by Opinion Research Business (ORB) for the British Channel 4 (2/24–3/5/08) found 70 percent of Iraqis wanting occupation forces to leave. Within this group, 65 percent wanted them to leave “immediately or as soon as possible” — meaning fully 46 percent of Iraqis would fall under Farrell’s “leave immediately” group. Another 19 percent wanted them out within a year or less, while 12 percent wanted to wait until “whenever the security situation allows it.” (Interestingly, in Baghdad—where Times journalists are based—the number of those who wanted troops out immediately was only 42 percent, while 20 percent wanted to wait until the security situation improves; still, a majority wanted troops out within a year.)

Another March 2008 poll conducted by D3/KA for ABC News and other media outlets (2/12–20/08) similarly found that 73 percent of Iraqis either “somewhat” or “strongly” opposed the ongoing foreign troop presence in their country, with 38 percent in favor of immediate withdrawal. Only 7 percent of Iraqis — primarily Kurds — “strongly” supported the presence of occupation forces.

The D3/KA survey, which did not offer a timetable for withdrawal as a choice, found 35 percent of Iraqis wanting troops to stay until security is restored and another 24 percent wanting them to stay until the government is either “stronger” or can “operate independently.” But with respect to the “improving security” that Farrell pointed to as a reason many Iraqis want troops to stay — a result, according to media conventional wisdom, of the successful troop “surge” (Extra!, 9–10/08) — 61 percent of Iraqis said the US troop presence was making security worse, compared to only 27 percent who said better. The same survey found that 70 percent of Iraqis believe the US and other “coalition” forces had done “quite a bad job” or “a very bad job” in carrying out their responsibilities in Iraq.

To illustrate the US’s “dilemma,” Farrell made references to two previous occupations of Iraq: the failed British occupation during the 1920s and the Empire of the Caliphate under the Ummayad provincial governor al-Hajjaj in 694 AD. The examples presented Iraqis as irrepressibly “fractious” and “troublesome” going back to ancient times; as Farrell concluded loftily, “Names and governments change, but there is nothing new under the Mesopotamian sun.”

According to such logic, chaos, violence and majority Iraqi opposition to the occupation would seem to have less to do with the occupation itself — which has left an estimated one million dead and nearly 5 million displaced (9/18/07; UNHCR, 8/08) — and more to do with an inherent incapacity to accept the “civilization” or “democracy” that a brutal occupation brings.

Unchanging trends

Bylines and dates change, but there is nothing new under the Manhattan sun. A look back at New York Times coverage of Iraqi opinion over the years shows a long trend of ignoring polling data despite their ready availability and their remarkable consistency.

A Gallup poll from April 2004 (USA Today, 4/28/04) revealed that “a solid majority [of Iraqis] support an immediate military pullout.” Fifty-seven percent said the coalition should “leave immediately.” The same poll found that 75 percent of the residents of Baghdad favored an immediate withdrawal. At the same time, a poll from the Iraq Center for Research and Strategic Studies (4/28/04), which was partly funded by the State Department and had coordinated its work with the Coalition Provisional Authority, found that more than half of all Iraqis wanted an immediate withdrawal of all US forces, an increase of 17 percent over the previous October.

In writing about Iraqi opinion, though, the Times’ Ian Fisher (5/23/04) ignored this data, asserting, “There are still far more people . . . who are skeptical of, and maybe even hate, the Americans but see them as the only way to save themselves.” As evidence, Fisher cited not scientific surveys—as those would have contradicted his claim — but rather a tally conducted by Sadim Samir, a 23-year-old political science student at the University of Baghdad, who “canvassed five neighborhoods” of Baghdad for a “class paper.”

Two years later, Times journalist Michael Gordon, who co-wrote some of the Times’ most misleading WMD reports with Judith Miller and still periodically files stories from Iraq, criticized Democrats calling for a withdrawal from Iraq because, Gordon argued (CNN, 11/15/06),

there are a significant number of players in Baghdad today who don’t mind if the Americans withdraw. These are the militia leaders. They would be happy if the United States withdrew, because, then, they can go and carry out their ethnic cleansing campaign against the Sunnis.

But a poll by the Program on International Policy Attitudes (9/1–3/06) found that then, as today, 7 in 10 Iraqis favored troop withdrawal within a year — not just a small band of “militia leaders” bent on ethnic cleansing.

More recently, 18 Iraqis were interviewed for the Times article “In Iraq, Mixed Feelings About Obama and His Troop Proposal,” by Sabrina Tavernise and Richard Oppel (7/17/08). Again, the Times preferred to rely on the opinions of less than two dozen Iraqis rather than refer to available polling data that would have undercut the theme of the story: that Iraqis faced “a deep internal quandary” about Obama’s support for withdrawal.

The first Iraqi quoted was a general who, when asked about Barack Obama’s plans to draw down troops in Iraq, shook his head and said: “Very difficult. . . . Any army would love to work without any help, but let me be honest: For now, we don’t have that ability.” When the piece mentioned one Iraqi who favored immediate withdrawal, his quote (“I want them [US soldiers] to go to hell”) was framed in rhetoric couching the situation as “complex.” The piece concluded by quoting an Iraqi government official who, having traveled to Germany and seen the US bases there, said: “I have no problem to have a camp here. . . . I find it in Germany and that’s a strong country. Why not in Iraq?”

Writing history by anecdote

One of the New York Times’ chief perpetrators of skewing Iraqi opinion is John Burns. The paper sent Burns to Baghdad during the lead-up to the invasion of 2003, and he served as bureau chief there until the summer of 2007; his perspective on the occupation no doubt heavily influenced the Times’ reporting from Iraq.

Burns, the son of a NATO general, has publicly voiced his remarkably uncritical view of US foreign policy, telling Rolling Stone magazine (7/04):

The United States has been overwhelmingly a force of good in the world. This is very unfashionable talk, but I think this ought to be remembered here. I grew up in a world where the survival of democracy depended on the military and economic power of the United States. If that power became less credible here, I think the world would be a lot less safe. The stakes are extraordinarily high. I think this is a tipping point in the fate of the American empire.

Many journalists with the Times used to regularly report from the streets of Iraq in the early days of the war, before the security deteriorated to the point where most decided against venturing out; Burns, however, was not generally one of them. Those of us reporting from Iraq rarely saw Burns, the winner of two Pulitzer Prizes, leave the heavily guarded New York Times compound unless he was going on an embed or taking an armored convoy over to the Green Zone to report on the military press conferences that we referred to as the “five o’clock follies.”

When journalists report this way in Baghdad, they put themselves in a position of total reliance upon the Iraqis they hire to send out into the streets with questions; they then have to sift through the answers those Iraqi reporters bring back to find anecdotes to fit their stories. In this way, history is written by anecdote, and this is exactly what the Times does by quoting individual Iraqis or referring to “Iraqi opinion” without citing available polls.

Despite his limited perspective on Iraqi opinion, Burns has repeatedly presented that perspective to the public without caveats, both in the Times and in other outlets — most frequently the Charlie Rose show on PBS — and it’s a perspective that runs counter to the survey data.

“In my experience, the great majority of Iraqis are . . . very loathe to see those American troops leave now,” Burns told Rose on June 14, 2006, shortly before the State Department’s own polls showed nearly half of Iraqis wanting immediate withdrawal and seven in ten wanting troops out within a year (Washington Post, 9/27/06). Burns told Rose a year later (PBS, 7/17/07):

I think, quite simply that the United States armed forces here — and I find this to be very widely agreed amongst Iraqis that I know, of all ethnic and sectarian backgrounds — the United States armed forces are a very important inhibitor against violence. I know it’s argued by some people that they provoke the violence. I simply don’t believe that to be in the main true.

Meanwhile, Iraqis were telling pollsters the opposite: 69 percent believed US troop presence was making the security situation worse (D3, 2/25–3/5/07), and they believed security would get better rather than worse in the immediate weeks following a coalition troop withdrawal by two to one (ORB, 2/10–22/07).

As Baghdad bureau chief, Burns’ influence reached beyond Times reporting. When the National Journal (12/9/05), for example, wanted to give readers the “assessment” of the Iraqi people, they cited Burns: “I think you would get overwhelming assent from Iraqis that should American troops be precipitously withdrawn from the war, civil war and escalation of the sectarian conflict already under way would become virtually inevitable.”

Mismeasures and misjudgments

Burns’ piece on the fifth anniversary of the war (3/16/08) gave some insight into the paper’s attitude toward both polls and the situation in Iraq. The lead photo of the piece showed US bombs exploding over Baghdad during the initial invasion, with the title “The Air Show.” The caption read: “The war began with a mesmerizing display of American might. But the United States made a basic misjudgment about the Iraqis’ readiness to share power.”

Burns downplayed the number of Iraqi civilians killed by the war — “tens of thousands” — in another instance of the Times’ refusal to accept surveys when they have to do with Iraq. Burns’ number, the number preferred by the Times, comes from Iraq Body Count, which only counts violent civilian deaths actually recorded in cross-checked media outlets, and supplemented when possible by morgue, hospital, NGO and government data. Estimates based on scientific polling methods, which are widely accepted by the Times and other outlets when reporting on, say, Darfur, placed Iraqi deaths due to violence at over 600,000 in 2006 (Lancet, 10/11/06) and at over a million by mid-2007 (ORB, 9/07). Those numbers do not distinguish between civilians and combatants, but even if one only counted women, children and the elderly as “civilians,” more than 100,000 had died violently in Iraq as of two years before Burns’ article was written (Lancet, 10/11/06).

Burns also blamed journalists for failing “to uncover other facets of Iraq’s culture and history that would have a determining impact on the American project to build a Western-style democracy, or at least the basics of a civil society” — facets such as “how deep was the poison of fear and distrust” and the “harsh reality that Iraqis . . . had little zest for democracy.” Again, Burns chose to fault “traumatized Iraqis” for the chaos and bloodshed in Iraq, rather than the illegal, brutal invasion and occupation of their country.

And despite his moment of self-critique, Burns continued to do precisely what he faulted journalists for doing in the past — failing to uncover Iraqis’ perspectives. He laid out very explicitly his view of polls:

Opinion polls, including those commissioned by the American command, have long suggested that a majority of Iraqis would like American troops withdrawn, but another lesson to be drawn from Saddam Hussein’s years is that any attempt to measure opinion in Iraq is fatally skewed by intimidation. More often than not, people tell pollsters and reporters what they think is safe, not necessarily what they believe. My own experience, invariably, was that Iraqis I met who felt secure enough to speak with candor had an overwhelming desire to see American troops remain long enough to restore stability.

In other words, because they don’t reflect his “own experience,” Burns simply dismissed the validity of all polls (and most reporting!) on Iraqi opinion, and declared his own conversations with a minuscule slice of the Iraqi public a more reliable measure of the opinions of the entire country.

A problematic practice

“It’s a tradition for journalists to see themselves as the researcher to go out and get the story, so that’s their default position,” said Dr. Steven Kull, director of World Public Opinion (WPO), when asked why he thought some media outlets tend to ignore polling data.

Some journalists are not well-trained to interpret polls, so they might be uncomfortable with them. And they might see them as a source of competition to the traditional approach of interviewing people and getting their anecdotes. But a few anecdotes here and there don’t really give you the picture.

Kull also directs the Program on International Policy Attitudes that plays a central role in the BBC World Service poll of global opinion and the polls of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs; he gives briefings on world opinion on various issues to Congress, the State Department, NATO, the United Nations and the European Commission.

“The problem is that when these [anecdotes] are at odds with polling data, these are incorrect stories,” Kull added. “The universe of people who may be willing to talk to a reporter may not be indicative of the attitudes of the general population.”

Certainly the Iraqis John Burns “know[s] best” are not representative of the population as a whole; those Iraqis, he told Charlie Rose in 2006 (PBS, 10/20/06), were “almost all on their way to the passport office” to get out of the country — an option he acknowledged was “only available to the middle class, primarily to those who are being paid in dollars.”

Kull explained that when reporters interview some Sunnis in Baghdad who express fears of a US withdrawal,

then a reporter can reason, ‘They are a minority, and the Shia are ascendant, and this makes sense that the Sunni feel as they do.’ But the polling data suggest the Sunnis are eager for a US withdrawal. I think it’s problematic when there is an anecdote reported and there is polling data available to the contrary.

Kull admits that polling in places like Iraq has its challenges, and is imperfect, but hastened to add that when it comes to capturing overall national opinion on topics, there is no substitute for scientific polling: “It is far superior than the method of a reporter going out on the street and talking to people. There’s no question.”

[Source: dahrjamailiraq.com.]

On the November Elections and the Next Steps in Building the Anti-Imperialist Movement in the U.S.

December 4, 2008

In January, Barack Obama will become the 44th Commander-in-Chief of the U.S government, which controls and protects an empire of corporations, banks, military bases and occupying armies all around the world. Obama has reached this position by loyally serving this bipartisan system in the U.S. Senate and by being vetted, tested and auditioned over the past two years in running for the presidency. In the course of this, Obama convinced the majority of the U.S. capitalist class (his campaign contributions from Wall Street were twice as big as McCain’s) that he was the best candidate to take the reins of empire at a time when the U.S. is bogged down in two wars in the Middle East, and is in the midst of the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression, with the worst effects on the lives of working people here and around the world yet to come.

BY DAVID PUGH
Collision Course Media
INTERNATIONAL
Posted by Bulatlat

On Nov. 4, 2008, millions of new voters stepped into political life with the hope that the traditional (as many put it) rich-white-male-Christian cultural monopoly on political power would no longer determine the conditions of life in the United States. These millions who stepped forward to be counted — young, poor, women, people of color, the wronged and abused, the falsely accused, sick and disabled, atheists, Muslims, Buddhists, and progressive Christians, displaced, evicted, and laid-off, and other “outcasts” and have-nots — were repelled by that de facto oligarchy, which had, they felt, excluded them. The Bush regime had arrogantly and unsuccessfully led that traditional elite for 8 years of widening wars and monstrous economic crises, which drew widespread domestic and global anger and condemnation. With high hopes, the millions of new voters were joined by millions of others who were trying to find a way out of the mess that this system has been making of their lives and of the world. Black people, Latinos, other people of color, workers, and youth stepped out of the shadows of solitude and “making do” and into political life, albeit within the confines of a presidential election.

By and large, these millions are responding to the promise of access, of open doors. They bring with them the worries and concerns and angers of their lives—of the wars being waged on false pretenses, of the worsening conditions of life. These are the issues they bring with them, though solutions to these issues were not on the electoral table.

On the night of November 4, hundreds of thousands in cities around the U.S. celebrated their success in electing the first Black president and the fact that millions of whites moved past the racist fears and codewords that have habitually set the boundaries of political life.

But to move forward, celebrations must turn to sober, straight talk.

The interests around which Barack Obama and the Democratic Party leadership have coalesced, despite the campaign banner of “change”, are the interests of the rich and the privileged, even as more wars are looming and the economics of the capitalist system here and worldwide are dragging the lives of millions into deeper crisis.

In January, Barack Obama will become the 44th Commander-in-Chief of the U.S government, which controls and protects an empire of corporations, banks, military bases and occupying armies all around the world. Obama has reached this position by loyally serving this bipartisan system in the U.S. Senate and by being vetted, tested and auditioned over the past two years in running for the presidency. In the course of this, Obama convinced the majority of the U.S. capitalist class (his campaign contributions from Wall Street were twice as big as McCain’s) that he was the best candidate to take the reins of empire at a time when the U.S. is bogged down in two wars in the Middle East, and is in the midst of the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression, with the worst effects on the lives of working people here and around the world yet to come. For them, Obama is a reliable and safe bet to protect their interests. The fact that Obama will be the first Black president is an undeniable asset for the rulers of the U.S. It symbolizes a shift in the overtly racist practices of the country, but not one substantive enough to overcome the built-in tilt and nature of the system.

In fact, while millions have stepped forward under the banner of “Change”, these millions have the challenge to shape the political terrain for the period ahead. Because if left to Obama and the Democratic Party, the base of support for imperialism will not be challenged, but broadened.

What can we expect from an Obama administration? Will Obama be a new face on the same old stuff, or will there be substantial differences?

The capitalist system requires more than a new face. From it’s new CEO and Congress, the system will require more regulation, more government intervention, more international coordination and multilateral, not unilateral, aggression and occupations. It needs more “partnerships” with compliant regimes in semi-colonies and dependent countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Therefore, we should:

• Expect a U.S. military surge into the killing fields of Afghanistan to protect a government of US-backed warlords from rival fundamentalists, and another surge across the border into Pakistan. This is one promise that Obama is not likely to break.

• Not expect the return of US troops from Iraq, though there will be “redeployments” and further privatizations of the military. Barack Obama has backtracked from his anti-war promises early in the campaign. He will keep tens of thousands of military advisers, trainers, contractors and bases in Iraq, with large numbers of combat troops stationed in neighboring countries. Obama will send US troops from Iraq to Afghanistan.

• Not expect the withdrawal of U.S. troops, advisers and military
bases from the Philippines, Colombia and other global hotspots where
the U.S. imperialists have important economic and strategic interests.

• Expect an Obama presidency–as he pledged to AIPAC– to continue all-out U.S. support for the state of Israel and its brutal military occupation of the land and people of Palestine.

• Not expect the dismantling of the newly formed U.S. military command for Africa (AFRICOM), which is headed by a Black general. Expect expansion of this invasive hegemonic re-colonization program.

Expect that even with a Black president at the helm, there will be no high level assault of the myriad forms of white supremacy that are woven into the capitalist system. Police brutality and the criminalization of Black youth, unemployment rates of 20% and higher in Black communities, re-segregation of schools, ICE raids and deportations aimed at Mexican and other immigrant communities–all of this will continue and even worsen no matter who is president. During his campaign, Barack Obama even denied that the system of white supremacy exists. In an attempt to prevent severe disruptions and the unraveling of the imperialist political-economic-social order, President Obama will promote a seemingly “post-racial” “multi-cultural-ism” that dismisses the profound oppression and exploitation of millions of Black and Latino people as a thing of the past—or as a product of their own making and failings. And he will couple this with a xenophobic appeal that “we’re all in this together”, and blame the crisis that “we Americans” suffer, on the people of the world.

• Expect continued class polarization. Obama’s support for the $700 billion bailout of banks and financial institutions is a clear indication of where his class loyalties lie. More multi-billion dollar bailouts for banks and big corporations lie ahead. With foreclosures, evictions, credit card defaults, unemployment and poverty on the rise, Obama and the Democrats are talking about palliative measures that will not even begin to address the depths of the crisis.

• Expect austerity programs and cuts in social spending in the years ahead. It will be Obama’s job to sell them to Black, Latino, Asian and white working people in the name of national unity and shared sacrifice.

• Not expect strong support for same sex marriage or women’s rights. Barack Obama is opposed to same sex marriage. Obama supports Roe v. Wade but is trying to find “common ground” with anti-choice activists. We cannot expect Obama’s nominees to the Supreme Court to be jurists who take a firm stand for a woman’s right to an abortion unless there is a determined mobilization by pro-choice and progressive forces to make him and the Democrats do so.

On the positive side, this presidential campaign has swept a new generation into political life and has remade the political stage in many ways. Particularly among this new generation, the Obama campaign and election has generated great hopes and expectations, but inevitably the orientation of the new administration toward politics acceptable to the privileged will heighten the burden on the broad masses of Blacks, Latinos/Chicanos and whites, workers and youth.

As this happens, those who have indulged in uncritical exuberance at the election, will come to realize that the “Obama checks” they have written are being returned for “insufficient funds.”

In the meantime, anti-imperialists must resolve to not give the new administration a pass or a honeymoon. The times require us all to focus and develop the People’s Agenda for educating, organizing and mobilizing in the period ahead, including these issues:

The struggle against War and Empire—from Iraq to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Philippines and Colombia, to ending the thousand US military bases around the world, ending the occupation of Palestine, and upholding the sovereignty of all indigenous and colonized peoples. Support people’s struggles against displacement & for the right to return—in the Gulf Coast, the inner cities, and around the world!

The struggle for Justice—from demanding privacy rights, to demanding full rights for immigrants and organizing to stop ICE raids, to ending the criminalization of youth and the massive imprisonment of millions, to defending the reproductive rights of women, the human rights of LGBTQ communities (people with all sexual orientations), and ending forever the policies of torture, indefinite detentions and rendition. Stop police abuse and racial profiling! Free All Political Prisoners!

The struggle for decent lives—demand complete and universal health care, education, housing, and decent jobs for all. Fight all layoffs, deportations, evictions, foreclosures and utility shutoffs. Demand rollbacks in the price of food, rent, and fuel. Fight for unhindered rights of access to technology, to people’s history, people’s culture, and complete and unrestricted rights to organize, to associate, to protest, to travel–and for the right to organize for self-defense against the rising “backlash” and ongoing tide of racist attacks.

Tremendous challenges and opportunities await struggling people throughout the United States. We must join together to overcome the challenges ahead and seize the opportunities to create the just world we need. Posted byBulatlat.com

The Election, Economy, War, and Peace

December 4, 2008

Turning to the future, what can we realistically expect of an Obama administration? We have two sources of information: actions and rhetoric.

The most important actions to date are selection of staff. The first selection was for vice-President: Joe Biden, one of the strongest supporters of the Iraq invasion among Senate Democrats, a long-time Washington insider, who consistently votes with his fellow Democrats but not always, as when he supported a measure to make it harder for individuals to erase debt by declaring bankruptcy. The first post-election appointment was for the crucial position of chief of staff: Rahm Emanuel, one of the strongest supporters of the Iraq invasion among House Democrats and like Biden, a long-term Washington insider. Emanuel is also one of the biggest recipients of Wall Street campaign contributions, the Center for Responsive Politics reports.

BY NOAM CHOMSKY
Z Space
INTERNATIONAL
Posted by Bulatlat

The Election

The word that immediately rolled off of every tongue after the presidential election was “historic.” And rightly so. A Black family in the White House is truly a momentous event.

There were some surprises. One was that the election was not over after the Democratic convention. By usual indicators, the opposition party should have had a landslide victory during a severe economic crisis, after eight years of disastrous policies on all fronts including the worst record on job growth of any post-war president and a rare decline in median wealth, an incumbent so unpopular that his own party had to disavow him, and a dramatic collapse in US standing in world opinion. The Democrats did win, barely. If the financial crisis had been slightly delayed, they might not have.

A good question is why the margin of victory for the opposition party was so small, given the circumstances. One possibility is that neither party reflected public opinion at a time when 80% think the country is going in the wrong direction and that the government is run by “a few big interests looking out for themselves,” not for the people, and a stunning 94% object that government does not attend to public opinion. As many studies show, both parties are well to the right of the population on many major issues, domestic and international.

It could be argued that no party speaking for the public would be viable in a society that is business-run to an unusual extent. Evidence for that is substantial. At a very general level, evidence is provided by the predictive success of political economist Thomas Ferguson’s “investment theory” of politics, which holds that policies tend to reflect the wishes of the powerful blocs that invest every four years to control the state. More specific illustrations are numerous. To mention just one, for 60 years the US has failed to ratify the core principle of international labor law, which guarantees freedom of association. Legal analysts call it “the untouchable treaty in American politics,” and observe that there has never even been any debate about the matter. And many have noted Washington ’s dismissal of conventions of the International Labor Organization as contrasted with the intense dedication to enforcement of monopoly pricing rights for corporations (”intellectual property rights”). There is much to explore here, but this is not the place.

The two candidates in the Democratic primary were a woman and an African-American. That too was historic. It would have been unimaginable forty years ago. The fact that the country has become civilized enough to accept this outcome is a considerable tribute to the activism of the 1960s and its aftermath.

In some ways the election followed familiar patterns. The McCain campaign was honest enough to announce clearly that the election wouldn’t be about issues. Sarah Palin’s hairdresser received twice the salary of McCain’s foreign policy adviser, the Financial Times reported, probably an accurate reflection of significance for the campaign. Obama’s message of “hope” and “change” offered a blank slate on which supporters could write their wishes. One could search websites for position papers, but correlation of these to policies is hardly spectacular, and in any event, what enters into voters’ choices is what the campaign places front and center, as party managers know well.

The Obama campaign greatly impressed the public relations industry, which named Obama “Advertising Age’s marketer of the year for 2008,” easily beating out Apple. The industry’s prime task is to ensure that uninformed consumers make irrational choices, thus undermining market theories. And it recognizes the benefits of undermining democracy the same way.

The Center for Responsive Politics reports that once again elections were bought: “The best-funded candidates won nine out of 10 contests, and all but a few members of Congress will be returning to Washington .” Before the conventions, the viable candidates with most funding from financial institutions were Obama and McCain, with 36% each. Preliminary results indicate that by the end, Obama’s campaign contributions, by industry, were concentrated among Law Firms (including lobbyists) and financial institutions. The investment theory of politics suggests some conclusions about the guiding policies of the new administration.

The power of financial institutions reflects the increasing shift of the economy from production to finance since the liberalization of finance in the 1970s, a root cause of the current economic malaise: the financial crisis, recession in the real economy, and the miserable performance of the economy for the large majority, whose real wages stagnated for 30 years, while benefits declined. The steward of this impressive record, Alan Greenspan, attributed his success to “growing worker insecurity,” which led to “atypical restraint on compensation increases” – and corresponding increases into the pockets of those who matter. His failure even to perceive the dramatic housing bubble, following the collapse of the earlier tech bubble that he oversaw, was the immediate cause of the current financial crisis, as he ruefully conceded.

Reactions to the election from across the spectrum commonly adopted the “soaring rhetoric” that was the hallmark of the Obama campaign. Veteran correspondent John Hughes wrote that ” America has just shown the world an extraordinary example of democracy at work,” while to British historian-journalis t Tristram Hunt, the election showed that America is a land “where miracles happen,” such as “the glorious epic of Barack Obama” (leftist French journalist Jean Daniel). “In no other country in the world is such an election possible,” said Catherine Durandin of the Institute for International and Strategic Relations in Paris . Many others were no less rapturous.

The rhetoric has some justification if we keep to the West, but elsewhere matters are different. Consider the world’s largest democracy, India . The chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, which is larger than all but a few countries of the world and is notorious for horrifying treatment of women, is not only a woman, but a Dalit (”untouchable” ), at the lowest rung of India’s disgraceful caste system.

Turning to the Western hemisphere, consider its two poorest countries: Haiti and Bolivia . In Haiti ’s first democratic election in 1990, grass-roots movements organized in the slums and hills, and though without resources, elected their own candidate, the populist priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The results astonished observers who expected an easy victory for the candidate of the elite and the US , a former World Bank official.

True, the victory for democracy was soon overturned by a military coup, followed by years of terror and suffering to the present, with crucial participation of the two traditional torturers of Haiti, France and the US (contrary to self-serving illusions). But the victory itself was a far more “extraordinary example of democracy at work” than the miracle of 2008.

The same is true of the 2005 election in Bolivia . The indigenous majority, the most oppressed population in the hemisphere (those who survived), elected a candidate from their own ranks, a poor peasant, Evo Morales. The electoral victory was not based on soaring rhetoric about hope and change, or body language and fluttering of eyelashes, but on crucial issues, very well known to the voters: control over resources, cultural rights, and so on. Furthermore, the election went far beyond pushing a lever or even efforts to get out the vote. It was a stage in long and intense popular struggles in the face of severe repression, which had won major victories, such as defeating the efforts to deprive poor people of water through privatization.

These popular movements did not simply take instructions from party leaders. Rather, they formulated the policies that their candidates were chosen to implement. That is quite different from the Western model of democracy, as we see clearly in the reactions to Obama’s victory.

In the liberal Boston Globe, the headline of the lead story observed that Obama’s “grass-roots strategy leaves few debts to interest groups”: labor unions, women, minorities, or other “traditional Democratic constituencies. ” That is only partially right, because massive funding by concentrated sectors of capital is ignored. But leaving that detail aside, the report is correct in saying that Obama’s hands are not tied, because his only debt is to “a grass-roots army of millions” – who took instructions, but contributed essentially nothing to formulating his program.

At the other end of the doctrinal spectrum, a headline in the Wall Street Journal reads “Grass-Roots Army Is Still at the Ready” – namely, ready to follow instructions to “push his agenda,” whatever it may be.

Obama’s organizers regard the network they constructed “as a mass movement with unprecedented potential to influence voters,” the Los Angeles Times reported. The movement, organized around the “Obama brand” can pressure Congress to “hew to the Obama agenda.” But they are not to develop ideas and programs and call on their representatives to implement them. These would be among the “old ways of doing politics” from which the new “idealists” are “breaking free.”

It is instructive to compare this picture to the workings of a functioning democracy such as Bolivia . The popular movements of the third world do not conform to the favored Western doctrine that the “function” of the “ignorant and meddlesome outsiders” – the population — is to be “spectators of action” but not “participants” (Walter Lippmann, articulating a standard progressive view).

Perhaps there might even be some substance to fashionable slogans about “clash of civilizations.”

In earlier periods of American history, the public refused to keep to its assigned “function.” Popular activism has repeatedly been the force that led to substantial gains for freedom and justice. The authentic hope of the Obama campaign is that the “grass roots army” organized to take instructions from the leader might “break free” and return to “old ways of doing politics,” by direct participation in action.

Latin America

In Bolivia, as in Haiti, efforts to promote democracy, social justice, and cultural rights, and to bring about desperately needed structural and institutional changes are, naturally, bitterly opposed by the traditional rulers, the Europeanized mostly white elite in the Eastern provinces, the site of most of the natural resources currently desired by the West. Also naturally, their quasi-secessionist movement is supported by Washington , which once again scarcely conceals its distaste for democracy when it does not conform to strategic and economic interests. The generalization is a staple of serious scholarship, but does not make its way to commentary about the revered “freedom agenda.”

To punish Bolivians for showing “the world an extraordinary example of democracy at work,” the Bush administration cancelled trade preferences, threatening tens of thousands of jobs, on the pretext that Bolivia was not cooperating with US counter-narcotic efforts. In the real world, the UN estimates that Bolivia ’s coca crop increased 5 percent in 2007, as compared with a 26 percent increase in Colombia , the terror state that is Washington ’s closest regional ally and the recipient of enormous military aid. AP reports that “Cocaine seizures by Bolivian police working with DEA agents had also increased dramatically during the Morales administration. ”

“Drug wars” have regularly been used as a pretext for repression, violence, and state crimes, at home as well.

After Morales’s victory in a recall referendum in August 2008, with a sharp increase in support over his 2005 success, rightist opposition turned violent, leading to assassination of many peasants supporting the government. After the massacre, a summit meeting of UNASUR, the newly-formed Union of South American Republics, was convened in Santiago Chile . The summit issued a strong statement of support for the elected Morales government, read by Chilean President Michelle Bachelet. The statement declared “their full and firm support for the constitutional government of President Evo Morales, whose mandate was ratified by a big majority” — referring to his overwhelming victory in the referendum a month earlier. Morales thanked UNASUR for its support, observing that “For the first time in South America’s history, the countries of our region are deciding how to resolve our problems, without the presence of the United States .”

A matter of no slight significance, not reported in the US .

The Administration

Turning to the future, what can we realistically expect of an Obama administration? We have two sources of information: actions and rhetoric.

The most important actions to date are selection of staff. The first selection was for vice-President: Joe Biden, one of the strongest supporters of the Iraq invasion among Senate Democrats, a long-time Washington insider, who consistently votes with his fellow Democrats but not always, as when he supported a measure to make it harder for individuals to erase debt by declaring bankruptcy.

The first post-election appointment was for the crucial position of chief of staff: Rahm Emanuel, one of the strongest supporters of the Iraq invasion among House Democrats and like Biden, a long-term Washington insider. Emanuel is also one of the biggest recipients of Wall Street campaign contributions, the Center for Responsive Politics reports. He “was the top House recipient in the 2008 election cycle of contributions from hedge funds, private equity firms and the larger securities/investme nt industry.” Since being elected to Congress in 2002, he “has received more money from individuals and PACs in the securities and investment business than any other industry”; these are also among Obama’s top donors. His task is to oversee Obama’s approach to the worst financial crisis since the 1930s, for which his and Obama’s funders share ample responsibility.

In an interview with an editor of the Wall Street Journal, Emanuel was asked what the Obama administration would do about “the Democratic congressional leadership, which is brimming with left-wing barons who have their own agenda,” such as slashing defense spending (in accord with the will of the majority of the population) and “angling for steep energy taxes to combat global warming,” not to speak of the outright lunatics in Congress who toy with slavery reparations and even sympathize with Europeans who want to indict Bush administration war criminals for war crimes. “Barack Obama can stand up to them,” Emanuel assured the editor. The administration will be “pragmatic,” fending off left extremists.

Obama’s transition team is headed by John Podesta, Clinton ’s chief of staff. The leading figures in his economic team are Robert Rubin and Lawrence Summers, both enthusiasts for the deregulation that was a major factor in the current financial crisis. As Treasury Secretary, Rubin worked hard to abolish the Glass-Steagall act, which had separated commercial banks from financial institutions that incur high risks. Economist Tim Canova comments that Rubin had “a personal interest in the demise of Glass-Steagall. ” Soon after leaving his position as Treasury Secretary, he became “chair of Citigroup, a financial-services conglomerate that was facing the possibility of having to sell off its insurance underwriting subsidiary.. . the Clinton administration never brought charges against him for his obvious violations of the Ethics in Government Act.”

Rubin was replaced as Treasury Secretary by Summers, who presided over legislation barring federal regulation of derivatives, the “weapons of mass destruction” (Warren Buffett) that helped plunge financial markets to disaster. He ranks as “one of the main villains in the current economic crisis,” according to Dean Baker, one of the few economists to have warned accurately of the impending crisis. Placing financial policy in the hands of Rubin and Summers is “a bit like turning to Osama Bin Laden for aid in the war on terrorism,” Baker adds.

The business press reviewed the records of Obama’s Transition Economic Advisory Board, which met on November 7 to determine how to deal with the financial crisis. In Bloomberg News, Jonathan Weil concluded that “Many of them should be getting subpoenas as material witnesses right about now, not places in Obama’s inner circle.” About half “have held fiduciary positions at companies that, to one degree or another, either fried their financial statements, helped send the world into an economic tailspin, or both.” Is it really plausible that “they won’t mistake the nation’s needs for their own corporate interests?” He also pointed out that chief of staff Emanuel “was a director at Freddie Mac in 2000 and 2001 while it was committing accounting fraud.”

Those are the actions, at the time of writing. The rhetoric is “change” and “hope.”

Health Care

The primary concern for the administration will be to arrest the financial crisis and the simultaneous recession in the real economy. But there is also a monster in the closet: the notoriously inefficient privatized health care system, which threatens to overwhelm the federal budget if current tendencies persist. A majority of the public has long favored a national health care system, which should be far less expensive and more effective, comparative evidence indicates (along with many studies). As recently as 2004, any government intervention in the health care system was described in the press as “politically impossible” and “lacking political support” – meaning: opposed by the insurance industry, pharmaceutical corporations, and others who count. In 2008, however, first Edwards, then Obama and Clinton, advanced proposals that approach what the public has long preferred. These ideas now have “political support.” What has changed? Not public opinion, which remains much as before. But by 2008, major sectors of power, primarily manufacturing industry, had come to recognize that they are being severely damaged by the privatized health care system. Hence the public will is coming to have “political support.” There is a long way to go, but the shift tells us something about dysfunctional democracy.

International Relations

Internationally, there is not much of substance on the largely blank slate. What there is gives little reason to expect much a change from Bush’s second term, which stepped back from the radical ultranationalism and aggressive posture of the first term, also discarding some of the extreme hawks and opponents of democracy (in action, that is, not soothing words), like Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz.

Israel-Palestine

The immediate issues have to do mostly with the Middle East. On Israel-Palestine, rumors are circulating that Obama might depart from the US rejectionism that has blocked a political settlement for over 30 years, with rare exceptions, notably for a few days in January 2001 before promising negotiations were called off prematurely by Israel. The record, however, provides no basis for taking the rumors seriously. I have reviewed Obama’s formal positions elsewhere (Perilous Power), and will put the matter aside here.

After the election, Israeli president Shimon Peres informed the press that on his July trip to Israel, Obama had told him that he was “very impressed” with the Arab League peace proposal, calling for full normalization of relations with Israel along with Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories – basically, the long-standing international consensus that the US-Israel have unilaterally blocked (and that Peres has never accepted – in fact, in his last days as Prime Minister in 1996 he held that a Palestinian state can never come into existence). That might suggest a significant change of heart, except that the right-wing Israeli leader Binyamin Netanyahu said that on the same trip, Obama had told him that he was “very impressed” with Netanyahu’s plan, which calls for indefinite Israeli control of the occupied territories.

The paradox is plausibly resolved by Israeli political analyst Aluf Ben, who points out that Obama’s “main goal was not to screw up or ire anyone. Presumably he was polite, and told his hosts their proposals were `very interesting’ – they leave satisfied and he hasn’t promised a thing.” Understandable, but it leaves us with nothing except his fervent professions of love for Israel and dismissal of Palestinian concerns.

Iraq

On Iraq , Obama has frequently been praised for his “principled opposition” to the war. In reality, as he has made clear, his opposition has been entirely unprincipled throughout. The war, he said, is a “strategic blunder.” When Kremlin critics of the invasion of Afghanistan called it a strategic blunder, we did not say that they were taking a principled stand.

By the time of writing, the government of Iraq seems close to accepting a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with Washington on the US military presence in Iraq – with reservations, according to Prime Minister Maliki, who said that this is the best Iraq could get and it was at least “a strong beginning.” The talks dragged on, the Washington Post reports, because Iraq insisted on “some major concessions, including the establishment of the 2011 withdrawal date instead of vaguer language favored by the Bush administration [and] also rejected long-term U.S. military bases on its soil.” Iraqi leaders “consider the firm deadline for withdrawal to be a negotiating victory,” Reuters reports: Washington “long opposed setting any timetable for its troops to withdraw, but relented in recent months,” unable to overcome Iraqi resistance.

Throughout the negotiations, the press regularly dismissed the obstinate stance of the Maliki government as regrettable pandering to public opinion. US-run polls continue to report that a large majority of Iraqis oppose any US military presence, and believe that US forces make the situation worse, including the “surge.” That judgment is supported, among others, by Middle East specialist and security analyst Steven Simon, who writes in Foreign Affairs that the Petraeus counterinsurgency strategy is “stoking the three forces that have traditionally threatened the stability of Middle Eastern states: tribalism, warlordism, and sectarianism. States that have failed to control these forces have ultimately become ungovernable, and this is the fate for which the surge is preparing Iraq . A strategy intended to reduce casualties in the short term will ineluctably weaken the prospects for Iraq ’s cohesion over the long run.” It may lead to “a strong, centralized state ruled by a military junta that would resemble the Baathist regime Washington overthrew in 2003,” or “something very much like the imperial protectorates in the Middle East of the first half of the twentieth century” in which the “club of patrons” in the capital would ‘dole out goods to tribes through favored conduits.” In the Petraeus system, “the U.S. military is performing the role of the patrons — creating an unhealthy dependency and driving a dangerous wedge between the tribes and the state,” undermining prospects for a “stable, unitary Iraq .”

The latest Iraqi success culminates a long process of resistance to demands of the US invaders. Washington fought tooth and nail to prevent elections, but was finally forced to back down in the face of popular demands for democracy, symbolized by the Ayatollah Sistani. The Bush administration then managed to install their own choice as Prime Minister, and sought to control the government in various ways, meanwhile also building huge military bases around the country and an “embassy” that is a virtual city within Baghdad – all funded by congressional Democrats. If the invaders do live up to the SOFA that they have been compelled to accept, it would constitute a significant triumph of nonviolent resistance. Insurgents can be killed, but mass nonviolent resistance is much harder to quell.

Within the political class and the media it is reflexively assumed that Washington has the right to demand terms for the SOFA. No such right was accorded to Russian invaders of Afghanistan , or indeed to anyone except the US and its clients. For others, we rightly adopt the principle that invaders have no rights, only responsibilities, including the responsibility to attend to the will of the victims, and to pay massive reparations for their crimes. In this case, the crimes include strong support for Saddam Hussein through his worst atrocities on Reagan’s watch, then on to Saddam’s massacre of Shiites under the eyes of the US military after the first Gulf War; the Clinton sanctions that were termed “genocidal” by the distinguished international diplomats who administered them and resigned in protest, and that also helped Saddam escape the fate of other gangsters whom the US and Britain supported to the very end of their bloody rule; and the war and its hideous aftermath. No such thoughts can be voiced in polite society.

The Iraqi government spokesman said that the tentative SOFA “matches the vision of U.S. President-elect Barack Obama.” Obama’s vision was in fact left somewhat vague, but presumably he would go along in some fashion with the demands of the Iraqi government. If so, that would require modification of US plans to ensure control over Iraq ’s enormous oil resources while reinforcing its dominance over the world’s major energy producing region.

Afghanistan, Pakistan …

Obama’s announced “vision” was to shift forces from Iraq to Afghanistan . That stand evoked a lesson from the editors of the Washington Post: “While the United States has an interest in preventing the resurgence of the Afghan Taliban, the country’s strategic importance pales beside that of Iraq , which lies at the geopolitical center of the Middle East and contains some of the world’s largest oil reserves.” Increasingly, as Washington has been compelled to accede to Iraqi demands, tales about “democracy promotion” and other self-congratulatory fables have been shelved in favor of recognition of what had been obvious throughout to all but the most doctrinaire ideologists: that the US would not have invaded if Iraq’s exports were asparagus and tomatoes and the world’s major energy resources were in the South Pacific.

The NATO command is also coming to recognize reality publicly. In June 2007, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer informed a meeting of NATO members that “NATO troops have to guard pipelines that transport oil and gas that is directed for the West,” and more generally to protect sea routes used by tankers and other “crucial infrastructure” of the energy system. That is the true meaning of the fabled “responsibility to protect.” Presumably the task includes the projected $7.6-billion TAPI pipeline that would deliver natural gas from Turkmenistan to Pakistan and India , running through Afghan’s Kandahar province, where Canadian troops are deployed. The goal is “to block a competing pipeline that would bring gas to Pakistan and India from Iran ” and to “diminish Russia ’s dominance of Central Asian energy exports,” the Toronto Globe and Mail reported, plausibly outlining some of the contours of the new “Great Game.”

Obama strongly endorsed the then-secret Bush administration policy of attacking suspected al-Qaeda leaders in countries that Washington has not (yet) invaded, disclosed by the New York Times shortly after the election. The doctrine was illustrated again on October 26, when US forces based in Iraq raided Syria , killing 8 civilians, allegedly to capture an al-Qaeda leader. Washington did not notify Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki or President Talabani, both of whom have relatively amicable relations with Syria , which has accepted 1.5 million Iraqi refugees and is bitterly opposed to al-Qaeda. Syria protested, claiming, credibly, that if notified they would have eagerly apprehended this enemy. According to Asia Times, Iraqi leaders were furious, and hardened their stance in the SOFA negotiations, insisting on provisions to bar the use of Iraqi territory to attack neighbors.

The Syria raid elicited a harsh reaction in the Arab world. In pro-government newspapers, the Bush administration was denounced for lengthening its “loathsome legacy” ( Lebanon ), while Syria was urged to “march forward in your reconciliatory path” and America to “keep going backwards with your language of hatred, arrogance and the murder of innocents” ( Kuwait ). For the region generally, it was another illustration of what the government-controlled Saudi press condemned as “not diplomacy in search of peace, but madness in search of war.”

Obama was silent. So were other Democrats. Political scientist Stephen Zunes contacted the offices of every Democrat on the House and Senate Foreign Relations Committees, but was unable to find any critical word on the US raid on Syria from occupied Iraq .

Presumably, Obama also accepts the more expansive Bush doctrine that the US not only has the right to invade countries as it chooses (unless it is a “blunder,” too costly to us), but also to attack others that Washington claims are supporting resistance to its aggression. In particular, Obama has, it seems, not criticized the raids by Predator drones that have killed many civilians in Pakistan .

These raids of course have consequences: people have the odd characteristic of objecting to slaughter of family members and friends. Right now there is a vicious mini-war being waged in the tribal area of Bajaur in Pakistan , adjacent to Afghanistan . BBC describes widespread destruction from intense combat, reporting further that “Many in Bajaur trace the roots of the uprising to a suspected US missile strike on an Islamic seminary, or madrassa, in November 2006, which killed around 80 people.” The attack on the school, killing 80-85 people, was reported in the mainstream Pakistani press by the highly respected dissident physicist Pervez Hoodbhoy, but ignored in the US as insignificant. Events often look different at the other end of the club.

Hoodbhoy observed that the usual outcome of such attacks “has been flattened houses, dead and maimed children, and a growing local population that seeks revenge against Pakistan and the US .” Bajaur today may be an illustration of the familiar pattern.

On November 3, General Petraeus, the newly appointed head of the US Central Command that covers the Middle East region, had his first meeting with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, and other high officials. Their primary concern was US missile attacks on Pakistani territory, which had increased sharply in previous weeks. “Continuing drone attacks on our territory, which result in loss of precious lives and property, are counterproductive and difficult to explain by a democratically elected government,” Zardari informed Petraeus. His government, he said, is “under pressure to react more aggressively” to the strikes. These could lead to “a backlash against the US ,” which is already deeply unpopular in Pakistan .

Petraeus said that he had heard the message, and “we would have to take [Pakistani opinions] on board” when attacking the country. A practical necessity, no doubt, when over 80% of the supplies for the US-NATO war in Afghanistan pass through Pakistan .

Pakistan developed nuclear weapons, outside the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), thanks in no small measure to Ronald Reagan, who pretended not to see what his ally was doing. This was one element of Reagan’s “unstinting support” for the “ruthless and vindictive” dictator Zia ul-Haq, whose rule had “the most long-lasting and damaging effect on Pakistani society, one still prevalent today,” the highly respected analyst Ahmed Rashid observes. With Reagan’s firm backing, Zia moved to impose “an ideological Islamic state upon the population.” These are the immediate roots of many of “today’s problems – the militancy of the religious parties, the mushrooming of madrassas and extremist groups, the spread of drug and Kalashnikov culture, and the increase in sectarian violence.”

The Reaganites also “built up the [Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, ISI] into a formidable intelligence agency that ran the political process inside Pakistan while promoting Islamic insurgencies in Kashmir and Central Asia ,” Rashid continues. “This global jihad launched by Zia and Reagan was to sow the seeds of al Qaeda and turn Pakistan into the world center of jihadism for the next two decades.” Meanwhile Reagan’s immediate successors left Afghanistan in the hands of the most vicious jihadis, later abandoning it to warlord rule under Rumsfeld’s direction. The fearsome ISI continues to play both sides of the street, supporting the resurgent Taliban and simultaneously acceding to some US demands.

The US and Pakistan are reported to have reached “tacit agreement in September [2008] on a don’t-ask-don’ t-tell policy that allows unmanned Predator aircraft to attack suspected terrorist targets” in Pakistan , according to unidentified senior officials in both countries. “The officials described the deal as one in which the U.S. government refuses to publicly acknowledge the attacks while Pakistan ’s government continues to complain noisily about the politically sensitive strikes.”

Once again problems are caused by the “ignorant and meddlesome outsiders” who dislike being bombed by an increasingly hated enemy from the other side of the world.

The day before this report on the “tacit agreement” appeared, a suicide bombing in the conflicted tribal areas killed eight Pakistani soldiers, retaliation for an attack by a US Predator drone that killed 20 people, including two Taliban leaders. The Pakistani parliament called for dialogue with the Taliban. Echoing the resolution, Pakistani foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said “There is an increasing realization that the use of force alone cannot yield the desired results.”

Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s first message to president-elect Obama was much like that delivered to General Petraeus by Pakistani leaders: “end US airstrikes that risk civilian casualties.” His message was sent shortly after coalition troops bombed a wedding party in Kandahar province, reportedly killing 40 people. There is no indication that his opinion was “taken on board.”

The British command has warned that there is no military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan and that there will have to be negotiations with the Taliban, risking a rift with the US , the Financial Times reports. Correspondent Jason Burke, who has long experience in the region, reports that “the Taliban have been engaged in secret talks about ending the conflict in Afghanistan in a wide-ranging ‘peace process’ sponsored by Saudi Arabia and supported by Britain .”

Some Afghan peace activists have reservations about this approach, preferring a solution without foreign interference. A growing network of activists is calling for negotiations and reconciliation with the Taliban in a National Peace Jirga, a grand assembly of Afghans, formed in May 2008. At a meeting in support of the Jirga, 3,000 Afghan political and intellectuals, mainly Pashtuns, the largest ethnic group, criticized “the international military campaign against Islamic militants in Afghanistan and called for dialogue to end the fighting,” AFP reported.

The interim chairman of the National Peace Jirga, Bakhtar Aminzai, “told the opening gathering that the current conflict could not be resolved by military means and that only talks could bring a solution. He called on the government to step up its negotiations with the Taliban and Hizb-i-Islami groups.” The latter is the party of the extremist radical Islamist warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a Reagan favorite responsible for many terrible atrocities, now reported to provide core parliamentary support for the Karzai government and to be pressing it towards a form of re-Talibanization.

Aminzai said further that “We need to pressure the Afghan government and the international community to find a solution without using guns.” A spokeswoman added that “We are against Western policy in Afghanistan . They should bury their guns in a grave and focus on diplomacy and economic development. ” A leader of Awakened Youth of Afghanistan, a prominent antiwar group, says that we must end “Afghanicide — the killing of Afghanistan .” In a joint declaration with German peace organizations, the National Peace Jirga claimed to represent “a wide majority of Afghan people who are tired of war,” calling for an end to escalation and initiation of a peace process.

The deputy director of the umbrella organization of NGOs in the country says that of roughly 1,400 registered NGOs, nearly 1,100 are purely Afghan operations: women’s groups, youth groups and others, many of them advocates of the Peace Jirga.

Though polling in war-torn Afghanistan is a difficult process, there are some suggestive results. A Canadian-run poll found that Afghans favor the presence of Canadian and other foreign troops, the result that made the headlines in Canada . Other findings suggest some qualifications. Only 20% “think the Taliban will prevail once foreign troops leave.” Three-fourths support negotiations between the Karzai government and the Taliban, and more than half favor a coalition government. The great majority therefore strongly disagree with the US-NATO focus on further militarization of the conflict, and appear to believe that peace is possible with a turn towards peaceful means. Though the question was not asked, it is reasonable to surmise that the foreign presence is favored for aid and reconstruction.

A study of Taliban foot soldiers carried out by the Toronto Globe & Mail, though not a scientific survey as they point out, nevertheless yields considerable insight. All were Afghan Pashtuns, from the Kandahar area. They described themselves as Mujahadeen, following the ancient tradition of driving out foreign invaders. Almost a third reported that at least one family member had died in aerial bombings in recent years. Many said that they were fighting to defend Afghan villagers from air strikes by foreign troops. Few claimed to be fighting a global Jihad, or had allegiance to Taliban leader Mullah Omar. Most saw themselves as fighting for principles – an Islamic government — not a leader. Again, the results suggest possibilities for a negotiated peaceful settlement, without foreign interference.

A valuable perspective on such prospects is provided by Sir Rodric Braithwaite, a specialist on Afghanistan who was UK ambassador to Moscow during the crucial 1988-92 period when the Russians withdrew (and the USSR collapsed), then becoming chair of the British Joint Intelligence Committee. On a recent visit, Braithwaite spoke to Afghan journalists, former Mujahideen, professionals, people working for the US-based “coalition” – in general, to “natural supporters for its claims to bring peace and reconstruction. ” In the Financial Times, he reports that they were “contemptuous of President Hamid Karzai,” regarding him as another one of the puppets installed by foreign force. Their favorite was “Mohammad Najibullah, the last communist president, who attempted to reconcile the nation within an Islamic state, and was butchered by the Taliban in 1996: DVDs of his speeches are being sold on the streets. Things were, they said, better under the Soviets. Kabul was secure, women were employed, the Soviets built factories, roads, schools and hospitals, Russian children played safely in the streets. The Russian soldiers fought bravely on the ground like real warriors, instead of killing women and children from the air. Even the Taliban were not so bad: they were good Muslims, kept order, and respected women in their own way. These myths may not reflect historical reality, but they do measure a deep disillusionment with the `coalition’ and its policies.”

Specialists on the region urge that US strategy should shift from more troops and attacks in Pakistan to a “diplomatic grand bargain — forging compromise with insurgents while addressing an array of regional rivalries and insecurities” (Barnett Rubin and Ahmed Rashid in Foreign Affairs, Nov.-Dec. 2008). They warn that the current military focus “and the attendant terrorism” might lead to the collapse of nuclear-armed Pakistan , with grim consequences. They urge the incoming US administration “to put an end to the increasingly destructive dynamics of the Great Game in the region” through negotiations that recognize the interests of the concerned parties within Afghanistan as well as Pakistan and Iran, but also India, China and Russia, who “have reservations about a NATO base within their spheres of influence” and concerns about the threats “posed by the United States and NATO” as well as by al-Qaeda and the Taliban. The immediate goal should be “Lowering the level of violence in the region and moving the global community toward genuine agreement on the long-term goals,” thus allowing Afghans to confront their internal problems peacefully. The incoming US president must put an end to ” Washington ’s keenness for `victory’ as the solution to all problems, and the United States ‘ reluctance to involve competitors, opponents, or enemies in diplomacy.”

It appears that there are feasible alternatives to escalation of the cycle of violence, but there is little hint of it in the electoral campaign or political commentary. Afghanistan and Pakistan do not appear among foreign policy issues on the Obama campaign’s website.

Iran

Iran, in contrast, figures prominently — though not of course as compared with effusive support for Israel ; Palestinians remain unmentioned, apart from a vague reference to a two-state settlement of some unspecified kind. For Iran , Obama supports tough direct diplomacy “without preconditions” in order “to pressure Iran directly to change their troubling behavior,” namely pursuing a nuclear program and supporting terrorism (presumably referring to support for Hamas and Hezbollah). If Iran abandons its troubling behavior, the US might move towards normal diplomatic and economic relations. “If Iran continues its troubling behavior, we will step up our economic pressure and political isolation.” And as Obama informed the Israeli Lobby (AIPAC), “I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon” – up to nuclear war, if he meant what he said.

Furthermore Obama will strengthen the NPT “so that countries like North Korea and Iran that break the rules will automatically face strong international sanctions.” There is no mention of the conclusion of US intelligence with “high confidence” that Iran has not had a weapons program for 5 years, unlike US allies Israel, Pakistan, India, which maintain extensive nuclear weapons programs in violation of the NPT with direct US support, all unmentioned here as well.

The final mention of Iran is in the context of Obama’s strong support for Israel ’s “Right to Self Defense” and its “right to protect its citizens.” This commitment is demonstrated by Obama’s co-sponsorship of “a Senate resolution against Iran and Syria ’s involvement in the war, and insisting that Israel should not be pressured into a ceasefire that did not deal with the threat of Hezbollah missiles.” The reference is to Israel ’s US-backed invasion of Lebanon in 2006, with pretexts that are hardly credible in light of Israel ’s regular practices. This invasion, Israel ’s fifth, killed over 1000 Lebanese and once again destroyed much of southern Lebanon as well as parts of Beirut .

This is the sole mention of Lebanon among foreign policy issues on Obama’s website. Evidently, Lebanon has no right of self defense. In fact who could possibly have a right of self defense against the US or its clients?

Nor does Iran have such rights. Among specialists, even rational hawks, it is well understood that if Iran is pursuing a weapons program, it is for deterrence. In the conservative National Interest, former CIA weapons inspector David Kay speculates that Iran might be moving towards “nuclear weapons capability,” with the “strategic goal” of countering a US threat that “is real in Teheran’s eyes,” for good reasons that he reviews. He notes further that “Perhaps the biggest agitator of all in this is the United States , with its abbreviated historical memory and diplomatic ADD.” Wayne White, formerly deputy director for the Near East and South Asia in State Department intelligence, dismisses the possibility that Supreme Leader Khamenei and the clerical elite, who hold power in Iran, would throw away the “vast amounts of money” and “huge economic empires” they have created for themselves “in some quixotic attack against Israel with a nuclear weapon,” if they had one. The probability of that is virtually undetectable, he points out.

White agrees that Iran might seek weapons capability (which is not the same as weapons) for deterrence. He goes on to suggest Iran might also recall that Saddam Hussein had no nuclear weapons program when Israel bombed its Osiraq reactor in 1981, and that the attack led him to initiate a program using nuclear materials it had on hand as a result of the bombing. At the time, White was Iraq analyst for State Department intelligence, with access to a rich body of evidence. His testimony adds internal US intelligence confirmation to the very credible evidence available at once, later strengthened by reports of Iraqi defectors, that the Israeli bombing did not terminate, but rather initiated, Saddam’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. US or Israeli bombing of Iranian facilities, White and other specialists observe, might have the same effect. Violence consistently elicits more violence in response.

These matters are well understood by informed hardliners. The leading neoconservative expert on Iran , Reuel Marc Gerecht, formerly in the CIA Middle East division, wrote in 2000 that:

Tehran certainly wants nuclear weapons; and its reasoning is not illogical. Iran was gassed into surrender in the first Persian Gulf War; Pakistan, Iran’s ever more radicalized Sunni neighbor to the southeast, has nuclear weapons; Saddam Hussein, with his Scuds and his weapons-of-mass- destruction ambitions, is next door; Saudi Arabia, Iran’s most ardent and reviled religious rival, has long-range missiles; Russia, historically one of Iran’s most feared neighbors, is once again trying to reassert its dominion in the neighboring Caucasus; and Israel could, of course blow the Islamic Republic to bits. Having been vanquished by a technologically superior Iraq at a cost of at least a half-million men, Iran knows very well the consequences of having insufficient deterrence. And the Iranians possess the essential factor to make deterrence work: sanity. Tehran or Isfahan in ashes would destroy the Persian soul, about which even the most hard-line cleric cares deeply. As long as the Iranians believe that either the U.S. or Israel or somebody else in the region might retaliate with nuclear weapons, they won’t do something stupid.

Gerecht also understands very well the real “security problem” posed by Iranian nuclear weapons, should it acquire them:

A nuclear-armed Islamic Republic would of course check, if not checkmate, the United States ‘ maneuvering room in the Persian Gulf . We would no doubt think several times about responding to Iranian terrorism or military action if Tehran had the bomb and a missile to deliver it. During the lead-up to the second Gulf War, ruling clerical circles in Tehran and Qom were abuzz with the debate about nuclear weapons. The mullahs…agreed: if Saddam Hussein had had nuclear weapons, the Americans would not have challenged him. For the “left” and the “right,” this weaponry is the ultimate guarantee of Iran ’s defense, its revolution, and its independence as a regional great power.

With appropriate translations for the doctrinal term “Iranian terrorism,” Gerecht’s concerns capture realistically the threat posed by an Iran with a deterrent capacity (Iranian military action is quite a remote contingency).

While as usual ignored as irrelevant to policy formation, American public opinion is close to that of serious analysts and also to world opinion. Large majorities oppose threats against Iran , thus rejecting the Bush-Obama position that the US must be an outlaw state, violating the UN Charter, which bars the threat of force. The public also joins the majority of the world’s states in endorsing Iran ’s right, as a signer of the NPT, to enrich uranium for nuclear energy (the position endorsed also by Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Kissinger and others when Iran was ruled by the tyrant imposed by US-UK subversion). Most important, the public favors establishment of a nuclear-weapons- free zone in the Middle East , which would mitigate and perhaps eliminate this highly threatening issue.

Popular Influence

These observations suggest an interesting thought experiment. What would be the content of the “Obama brand” if the public were to become “participants” rather than mere “spectators in action”? It is an experiment well worth undertaking, and there is good reason to suppose that the results might point the way to a saner and more decent world. Posted byBulatlat.com

(Unsolicited) Advice on Asia Policy for President-Elect Obama

November 12, 2008

By Ralph A. Cossa

Foreign policy bloggers and pundits are already gushing forth with advice for President-elect Obama. Allow me to add some of my own, at least as far as Asia policy is concerned.

The first bit of more general advice is to remember that the United States only has one president at a time and, like it or not, that president is George W. Bush until Jan 20, 2009. I start with this reminder since many experts are already talking about things that President-elect Obama should be doing now to hit the ground running. But the most important thing he can do between now and January 20 is to do nothing that undermines the incumbent president’s ability to conduct foreign policy.

One case in point is the suggestion by several no doubt well-intentioned security specialists that Obama immediately send a high-level emissary to North Korea to lay out his views on moving forward with Korean Peninsula denuclearization. Some have nominated former Defense Secretary William Perry for that task; others suggest a bipartisan team including Perry and either Henry Kissinger or Colin Powell, both former secretaries of state. IF sending an emissary was a good idea, any combination of the above three individuals would constitute a dream team. But, sending such an emissary now would be an extremely bad idea, as it would undercut the very important and sensitive efforts currently underway to get Pyongyang to agree in writing to the nuclear verification protocol that it has reportedly agreed upon in principle. It would instead give Pyongyang an excuse to do nothing for the next several months or longer, since it will no doubt take several months beyond inauguration day before Obama’s Asia team is fully in place and ready for negotiations.

Given this reality, sending a bipartisan delegation to Pyongyang shortly after his inauguration (as others have suggested) is probably a very good idea. But for now, what the president-elect really needs to do is voice his strong support for the current negotiating process while calling on North Korea both to spell out and sign the verification protocol and to outline and agree upon the next phase in the denuclearization process with the current negotiating team. Rightly or wrongly, Pyongyang feels “betrayed” by the perceived failure of South Korean President Lee Myung Bak to live up to the (in my view overly generous and unrealistic) promises of his predecessor once he took office this past February. As a result, it will likely need some signal of Obama’s commitment to the current negotiating process before it proceeds with talks.

The Koreans Obama most needs to talk to before his inauguration reside in the South, not the North. U.S.-South Korea policy vis-a-vis the North has been out of synch for much of the past decade. We went from the U.S. being too hard and ROK being too soft on the North to Washington now seeming more flexible than Seoul. The two allies need to get back on the same page in order to effectively deal with Pyongyang. Some common ground between the extremes of rejection and renegotiation also need to be found to rescue the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement. Its passage would benefit both economies in troubled times; its failure will put significant strains on the overall ROK-U.S. relationship – Koreans are already agonizing this morning over the prospects of the U.S. reneging on the deal.

President-elect Obama also needs to send some early signals of reassurance to Japan. For reasons not entirely clear or logical, there is a widespread perception in Japan that Republicans like Japan more than Democrats do and growing concern that an Obama administration will continue the U.S. “tilt” toward China that many in Japan perceive (in my view wrongly) as already underway. Making sure a few well-known Japan-hands are in senior positions at the State Department and National Security Council will help in this regard, as will naming a prominent, well-respected former official as ambassador to Tokyo – names like former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, former Assistant Secretary of Defense Joseph Nye or even former (Republican) Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage come immediately to mind. Former Vice President (and Nobel Laureate) Al Gore would be a particularly inspired (but probably unrealistic) choice.

Ironically, China also worries about having a Democrat in the Oval Office, although more so due to trade and human rights policies than because of any impact on U.S.-Japan relations – a more powerful House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has to be Beijing’s greatest nightmare. Here President-elect Obama can send a very important signal just by repeating the “responsible stakeholder” phrase that has come to symbolize U.S.-China relations during President Bush’s second term. While Beijing was initially suspicious of the term, the concern centered around who got to define what constitutes “responsible” – it has now become widely accepted and symbolic of a mutually responsible and cooperative relationship. Using this time-tested phrase – rather than inventing a new one which will then be overanalyzed for months – would provide a welcome sign of continuity in U.S.-China relations that would be well-received not only in Beijing, but in Tokyo and elsewhere throughout Asia.

As President-elect Obama and his foreign policy advisors turn their attention to the truly daunting challenges that will face them domestically and in the Middle East and other regions of the world, a few well chosen words supporting the current six-party negotiating process and associated verification regime and providing reassurance to Tokyo and Beijing can go a long way toward setting the stage for an effective foreign policy in Northeast Asia in the years to come.

Ralph Cossa is president of the Pacific Forum CSIS (pacforum@hawaii.rr.com).


Applications are now being accepted for the 2008-2009 Pacific Forum Vasey Fellow position. Details, including an application form, can be found at the Pacific Forum web site [http://www.csis.org/experts/fellows/vasey/].

Why Soldiers Rape: Culture of Misogyny, Illegal Occupation Fuel Sexual Violence in Military

November 1, 2008

The view of women as sexual prey has always been present in military culture. Indeed, civilian women have been seen as sexual booty for conquering soldiers since the beginning of human history. So, it should come as no surprise that the sexual persecution of female soldiers has been going on in the armed forces for decades.

BY HELEN BENEDICT
In These Times http://www.inthesetimes.com/article/3848/
INTERNATIONAL
Posted by Bulatlat

An alarming number of women soldiers are being sexually abused by their comrades-in-arms, both at war and at home. This fact has received a fair amount of attention lately from researchers and the press – and deservedly so.

But the attention always focuses on the women: where they were when assaulted, their relations with the assailant, the effects on their mental health and careers, whether they are being adequately helped, and so on. That discussion, as valuable as it is, misses a fundamental point. To understand military sexual assault, let alone know how to stop it, we must focus on the perpetrators. We need to ask: Why do soldiers rape?

Rape in civilian life is already unacceptably common. One in six women is raped or sexually assaulted in her lifetime, according to the National Institute of Justice, a number so high it should be considered an epidemic.

In the military, however, the situation is even worse. Rape is almost twice as frequent as it is among civilians, especially in wartime. Soldiers are taught to regard one another as family, so military rape resembles incest. And most of the soldiers who rape are older and of higher rank than their victims, so are taking advantage of their authority to attack the very people they are supposed to protect.

Department of Defense reports show that nearly 90 percent of rape victims in the Army are junior-ranking women, whose average age is 21, while most of the assailants are non-commissioned officers or junior men, whose average age is 28.

This sexual violence persists in spite of strict laws against rape in the military and a concerted Pentagon effort in 2005 to reform procedures for reporting the crime. Unfortunately, neither the press nor the many teams of psychologists and sociologists who study veterans ever seem to ask why.

The answer appears to lie in a confluence of military culture, the psychology of the assailants and the nature of war.

Two seminal studies have examined military culture and its attitudes toward women: one by Duke University Law Professor Madeline Morris in 1996, which was presented in the paper ‘By Force of Arms: Rape, War, and Military Culture’ and published in Duke Law Journal; and the other by University of California professor and folklorist Carol Burke in 2004 and explained in her book, Camp All-American, Hanoi Jane and the High-And- Tight: Gender, Folklore and Changing Military Culture (Beacon Press). Both authors found that military culture is more misogynistic than even many critics of the military would suspect. Sometimes this misogyny stems from competition and sometimes from resentment, but it lies at the root of why soldiers rape.

One recent Iraq War veteran reflected this misogyny when he described his Marine Corp training for a collection of soldiers’ works called Warrior Writers, published by Iraq Veterans Against the War in 2008:

The [Drill Instructor’s] nightly homiletic speeches, full of an unabashed hatred of women, were part of the second phase of boot camp: the process of rebuilding recruits into Marines.

Morris and Burke both show that military language reveals this ‘unabashed hatred of women’ all the time. Even with a force that is now 14 percent female, and with rules that prohibit drill instructors from using racial epithets and curses, those same instructors still routinely denigrate recruits by calling them ‘pussy,’ ‘girl,’ ‘bitch,’ ‘lady’ and ‘dyke.’ The everyday speech of soldiers is still riddled with sexist insults.

Soldiers still openly peruse pornography that humiliates women. (Pornography is officially banned in the military, but is easily available to soldiers through the mail and from civilian sources, and there is a significant correlation between pornography circulation and rape rates, according to Duke’s Morris.) And military men still sing the misogynist rhymes that have been around for decades. For example, Burke’s book cites this Naval Academy chant:

Who can take a chainsaw
Cut the bitch in two
Fuck the bottom half
And give the upper half to you?

The message in all these insults is that women have no business trying to be soldiers. In 2007, Sgt. Sarah Scully of the Army’s 8th Military Police Brigade wrote to me in an e-mail from Kuwait, where she was serving:

‘In the Army, any sign that you are a woman means you are automatically ridiculed and treated as inferior.’

Army Spc. Mickiela Montoya, who was in Iraq for 11 months from 2005-2006, put it another way:

‘There are only three things the guys let you be if you’re a girl in the military: a bitch, a hoor a dyke. One guy told me he thinks the military sends women over to give the guys eye candy to keep them sane. He told me in Vietnam they had prostitutes, but they don’t have those in
Iraq, so they have women soldiers instead.’

The view of women as sexual prey has always been present in military culture. Indeed, civilian women have been seen as sexual booty for conquering soldiers since the beginning of human history. So, it should come as no surprise that the sexual persecution of female soldiers has been going on in the armed forces for decades.

* A 2004 study of veterans from Vietnam and all wars since, conducted by psychotherapist Maureen Murdoch and published in the journal Military Medicine, found that 71 percent of the women said they were sexually assaulted or raped while serving.

* In 2003, a survey of female veterans from Vietnam through the first Gulf War by psychologist Anne Sadler and her colleagues, published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, found that 30 percent said they were raped in the military.

* And a 1995 study of female veterans of the Gulf and earlier wars, also conducted by Murdoch and published in Archives of Family Medicine, reported that 90 percent had been sexually harassed, which means anything from being pressured for sex to being relentlessly teased and stared at.

* A 2007 survey by the Department of Veterans Affairs found that homelessness among female veterans is rapidly increasing as women soldiers come back from Iraq and Afghanistan. Forty percent of these homeless female veterans say they were sexually abused while in the service.

Defense Department numbers are much lower. In Fiscal Year 2007, the Pentagon reported 2,085 sexual assaults among military women, which given that there are about 200,000 active-duty women in the armed forces, is a mere fraction of what the veterans studies indicate.

The discrepancy can be explained by the fact that the Pentagon counts only those rapes that soldiers have officially reported.

Having the courage to report a rape is hard enough for civilians, where unsympathetic police, victim-blaming myths, and the fear of reprisal prevent some 60 percent of rapes from being brought to light, according to a 2005 Department of Justice study.

But within the military, reporting is much riskier. Platoons are enclosed, hierarchical societies, riddled with gossip, so any woman who reports a sexual assault has little chance of remaining anonymous. She will probably have to face her assailant day after day and put up with resentment and blame from other soldiers who see her as a snitch. She risks being persecuted by her assailant if he is her superior, and punished by commanders who consider her a troublemaker. And because military culture demands that all soldiers keep their pain and distress to themselves, reporting an assault will make her look weak and cowardly.

For all these reasons, some 80 percent of military rapes are never reported, as the Pentagon itself acknowledges.

This widespread misogyny in the military actively encourages a rape culture. It sends the message to men that, no matter how they feel about women, they won’t fit in as soldiers unless they prove themselves a ‘brother’ by demeaning and persecuting women at every opportunity. So even though most soldiers are not rapists, and most men do not hate women, in the military even the nicest guys succumb to the pressure to act as if they do.

Of the 40 or so female veterans I have interviewed over the past two years, all but two said they were constantly sexually harassed by their comrades while they were serving in Iraq or Afghanistan, and many told me that the men were worse in groups than they were individually.

Air Force Sgt. Marti Ribeiro, for example, told me that she was relentlessly harassed for all eight years of her service, both in training and during her deployments in 2003 and 2006.

I ended up waging my own war against an enemy dressed in the same uniform as mine. I had a senior non- commissioned officer harass me on a regular basis. He would constantly quiz me about my sex life, show up at the barracks at odd hours of the night and ask personal questions that no supervisor has a right to ask. I had a colonel sexually harass me in ways I’m too embarrassed to explain. Once my sergeant sat with me at lunch in the chow hall, and he said, ‘I feel like I’m in a fish bowl, the way all the men’s eyes are boring into your back.’ I told him, ‘That’s what my life is like.’

Misogyny has always been at the root of sexual violence in the military, but two other factors contribute to it, as well: the type of man who chooses to enter the all-volunteer force and the nature of the Iraq War.

The economic reasons behind enlistment are well understood. The military is the primary path out of poverty and dead-end jobs for many of the poor in America. What is less discussed is that many soldiers enlist as teenagers to escape troubled or violent homes.

Two studies of Army and Marine recruits, one conducted in 1996 by psychologists L.N. Rosen and L. Martin, and the other in 2005 by Jessica Wolfe and her colleagues of the Boston Veterans Affairs Health Center, both of which were published in the journal Military Medicine, found that half the male enlistees had been physically abused in childhood, one-sixth had been sexually abused, and 11 percent had experienced both. This is significant because, as psychologists have long known, childhood abuse often turns men into abusers.

In the ’70s, when the women’s movement brought general awareness of rape to a peak, three men – criminologist Menachim Amir and psychologists Nicholas Groth and Gene Abel – conducted separate but groundbreaking studies of imprisoned rapists. They found that rapists are not motivated by out-of-control lust, as is widely thought, but by a mix of anger, sexual sadism and the need to dominate – urges that are usually formed in childhood. Therefore, the best way to understand a rapist is to think of him as a torturer who uses sex as a weapon to degrade and destroy his victims. This is just as true of a soldier rapist as it is of a civilian who rapes.

Nobody has yet proven that abusive men like this seek out the military – attracted by its violent culture – but several scholars suspect that this is so, including the aforementioned Morris and Rutgers University law professor Elizabeth L. Hillman, author of a forthcoming
paper on sexual violence in the military. Hillman writes, ‘There is the possibility that the
demographics of the all-volunteer force draw more rape- prone men into uniform as compared to civil society.’

Worse, according to the Defense Department’s own reports, the military has been exacerbating the problem by granting an increasing number of ‘moral waivers’ to its recruits since 9/11, which means enlisting men with records of domestic and sexual violence.

Furthermore, the military has an abysmal record when it comes to catching, prosecuting and punishing its rapists. The Pentagon’s 2007 Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military found that 47 percent of the reported sexual assaults in 2007 were dismissed as unworthy of investigation, and only about eight percent of the cases went to court-martial, reflecting the difficulty female soldiers have in making themselves heard or believed when they report sexual assault within the military. The majority of assailants were given what the Pentagon calls ‘nonjudicial punishments, administrative actions and discharges.’ By contrast, in civilian life, 40 percent of those accused of sex crimes are prosecuted.

Which brings us to the question: Do the reasons soldiers rape have anything to do with the nature of the wars we are waging today, particularly in Iraq?

Robert Jay Lifton, a professor of psychiatry who studies war crimes, theorizes that soldiers are particularly prone to commit atrocities in a war of brutal occupation, where the enemy is civilian resistance, the command sanctions torture, and the war is justified by distorted reasoning and obvious lies.

Thus, many American troops in Iraq have deliberately shot children, raped civilian women and teenagers, tortured prisoners of war, and abused their own comrades because they see no moral justification for the war, and are reduced to nothing but self-loathing, anger, fear and hatred.

Although these explanations for why soldiers rape are dispiriting, they do at least suggest that the military could institute the following reforms:

* Promote and honor more women soldiers. The more respect women are shown by the command, the less abuse they will get from their comrades.

* Teach officers and enlistees that rape is torture and a war crime.

* Expel men from the military who attack their female comrades.

* Ban the consumption of pornography.

* Prohibit the use of sexist language by drill instructors.

* Educate officers to insist that women be treated with respect.

* Train military counselors to help male and female soldiers not only with war trauma, but also with childhood abuse and sexual assault.

* Cease admitting soldiers with backgrounds of domestic or sexual violence.

And last – but far from least – end the war in Iraq.

[Editor’s note: This article is adapted from The Lonely Soldier: The Private War of Women Serving in Iraq, to be published by Beacon Press in April 2009.]

Helen Benedict, a professor of journalism at Columbia University, is author of several books concerning social justice and women. Her writings on women soldiers won the James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism in 2008.

Halloween 2008 – The Horror of Foreclosures

November 1, 2008

As Halloween neared in 2006, the looming mortgage crisis was already apparent and now two years later the horror of it all hasn’t gone away. It keeps getting worse. We’ve spent the last few months talking about the possibility that two million people might lose their homes by early next year. Now it turns out the total for this year and the next could turn out to be more than six million.

BY CARL BLOICE
BlackCommentator.com
INTERNATIONAL
Posted by Bulatlat

As Halloween neared in 2006, the looming mortgage crisis was already apparent and now two years later the horror of it all hasn’t gone away. It keeps getting worse. We’ve spent the last few months talking about the possibility that two million people might lose their homes by early next year. Now it turns out the total for this year and the next could turn out to be more than six million. August saw a record number of homeowners in distress, over 300,000 homes were at some stage of mortgage default and 91,000 families or individuals lost their homes, Further, about 12 million homeowners – one out of every six – are reported to have zero or negative equity in their homes.

An estimated 7,000 people are losing their homes every day.

The number are scary enough but it’s not hard to imagine the fear and anxiety that grips the individuals and families that have lost, or are about to lose, their living space and with it – for most – their financial resources built up over their working lives. Millions of people who have never missed a mortgage payment are threatened with the loss of the value of their homes. As economist Dean Baker recently noted, ‘A whole cohort of workers is now facing retirement with no wealth.’

‘The landscape looks like the Roman Empire after being attacked by Attila the Hun,’ Alan Mallach, a senior fellow at the National Housing Institute and former visiting scholar at the Federal Reserve of Philadelphia, told The Washington Independent earlier this month. ‘It’s really bad out there.’

It was Alan Greenspan, the former head of the Federal Reserve and someone who played a major role in getting us into this mess, who said increasing, home ownership was a way of giving people a stake in the economy and to secure their loyalty to it. Home possession has been touted as a key element in the Bush Administration’s supposed ‘ownership society.’ Today, many of those caught in the vise of the ‘credit crunch’ are feeling left out of the economy, abandoned as the powers-that- be scamper around trying to save the banking system.

And, it’s not just homeowners that are affected.

When the sheriff in Chicago recently announced he was suspending evictions of people being ordered out of their dwelling it was mostly renters he was concerned about, people living in apartment buildings that had been foreclosed upon. ‘You can decide who is right
or wrong here, but the fact is things are getting desperate out there for a lot of people,’
commented CNN anchor Campbell Brown, referring to the sheriff’s decision’ but ‘families are being literally kicked to the curb. And our national leaders, our politicians in Washington and our presidential candidates don’t seem at all close to figuring this out.’

Without question, everybody – homeowners, renters and the dispossessed –has a stake in the efforts to stave off a further deterioration in the country’s economy. Still, we must look on with dismay as official Washington turns a blind eye to this burgeoning foreclosure catastrophe. ‘Between the Fannie and Freddie rescue and the Paulson Plan,’ one official told me, ‘we probably own two-thirds of the mortgages in America,’ wrote Robert Kuttner, co-editor of the American Prospect magazine October 8. ‘But `we’ in this case is the Treasury Department, peopled by former officials of Goldman Sachs, who demonstrate far less concern for the distressed homeowners than for the bondholders.’

As the powers-that-be steadfastly fail to summon up the political will (courage) to effectively confront the foreclosure crisis, efforts are being stepped up to divert attention from its actual cause and direct blame away from those responsible. The most pernicious of these efforts is the assertion that working class people of color are responsible for the situation.

‘A funny thing has happened on the way to the forum,’ wrote Sasha Abramsky in the Guardian (UK) last week. ‘As the institutions of super-capitalism continue to implode, a number of conservative commentators have started to lay the blame for the mess on poor people. Now, that might seem strange given that poor people control approximately no major financial institutions. And it might seem unfair in light of the unprecedented redistribution of wealth away from the working and middle classes and toward the wealthy these past several years.’

‘It might even seem bizarre given the fact that millions of desperate men and women signed onto utterly manipulative, usurious, `creative’ mortgages during the sub-prime gold-rush years, and, as a result, ended up losing what little capital they had accumulated over lifetimes of hard work as well as losing the roofs over their heads. To stretch a point, one could even view such a suggestion as offensive, since so many banks got into trouble by bundling mortgage securities that only preserved their value and generated profits so long as enough poor people signed on for the ride and agreed to be screwed.’

But it’s even more pernicious than that. Every since I begin writing about mortgages and foreclosures two years ago, I have received warnings from readers that some people were trying to blame African Americans and other people of color for the mortgage mess. Over
time, the spread of that racist canard has picked up steam. In the final days of the Presidential campaign it has become standard fare in propaganda of the political rightwing and the Republican Party. Through some strange demented logic, some on the right have tried to blame the economic meltdown on immigrant workers.

Let’s be clear: working class African Americans, Latinos and Asians are not the source of this crisis; they are its victims. The perpetrators of the massive con game played with the nation’s economy at stake are the banks and mortgage companies and the agencies of
government that encouraged them in their nefarious activity. President Bush was only partly right; the country didn’t ‘build too many houses,’ it built more houses than people could afford and the only way to get people to purchase them was to entice or trick them
into credit arrangements that could not be sustained.

And make no mistake about it, black people were targeted for ’subprime’ mortgages. Even when they could afford better loan terms they were often directed toward the riskier variety because these were more profitable for the creditors and their agents. ‘Let’s get real here,’ wrote Abramsky. ‘People borrowed because they were presented with offers they couldn’t
refuse. They were told that home ownership was the path to prosperity, and, like everyone else, they wanted their chance to realize their dreams. When they held back from buying property, they found the decks stacked against them. The same people who urged deregulation of the mortgage industry also lobbied for an end to rent controls and curtailments of government-funded public housing.’

Did some people sign up for loans they had no intention of repaying? Yes. Did some people take out risky mortgages for on property they didn’t inhabit for speculative reasons (something that was also touted as a smart move)? Yes. Did some people say yes to the
wink and nod of the mortgage brokers who agreed to don’t- ask-don’t-tell transactions, which were laughingly called ‘liars’ loans’ by the people in the real estate offices? Yes, but they are a tiny portion of the people who, today, see their total personal wealth being foreclosed on. Blaming the millions of individual and families facing foreclosures for their own plight is obscene.

It has begun to dawn on some people that ironic as it may seem, coming to the aid of those facing foreclosures and evictions is a mandatory step in staving off any further collapse of the nation’s economy.

As economist Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, recently noted, ‘Falling house prices are driving the collapse of the financial system.’ But the recently passed bailout legislation ‘does little to avert the defaults and foreclosures that are pushing house values ever downward. Leaving these Americans out of the bailout bill is unwise and unfair, but neither Congress nor the Bush administration has ever shown anywhere near the sense of urgency to rescue homeowners at the bottom of the collapse as they have for the financiers at the top of it.’

‘If a quick consensus is required, why not include provisions to stop the source of bleeding, to aid the millions of Americans that are losing their homes?’ wrote economist Joseph Stiglitz October 1 in a TheNation.com article: ‘Here’s a Better Bailout Plan.’ ‘Why not spend as much on them as on Wall Street? Do they still believe in trickle-down economics, when for the past eight years money has been trickling up to the wizards of Wall Street? Why not enact bankruptcy reform, to help Americans write down the value of the mortgage on their overvalued home? No one benefits from these costly foreclosures.’

‘It’s unacceptable that lawmakers have yet to come out squarely in favor of bold homeowner relief in the bailout bill,’ The New York Times said editorially last month as the Department of the Treasury bailout bill was making it torturous way through Congress.
‘Secretary Henry Paulson, the biggest advocate of bailing out Wall Street, is also a big roadblock to helping hard-pressed borrowers. He wants to keep relying on the mortgage industry to voluntarily rework troubled loans, even though that approach has failed to
stem the foreclosure tide – and does a disservice to the taxpayers whose money he would put at risk in the bailout.’

‘Many of the assets that Mr. Paulson wants to buy with the $700 billion have gone sour because they are tied to mortgages that have defaulted or are at risk of default. Unless homeowners get some help – and it’s a pittance compared to what Mr. Paulson wants to give to bankers – the downward spiral of defaults, foreclosures and tumbling home prices will continue, which could push down the value of those assets even further.’

‘We could make a strong moral argument that the government has a greater responsibility to help homeowners than it does to bail out Wall Street. But we don’t have to. Basic economics argues for a robust plan to stanch foreclosures and thereby protect the taxpayers’ $700 billion investment.’

‘Millions of Americans are losing their homes.

(Already, some 3.6 million have done so since the subprime-mortgage crisis began.), notes economist, Joseph Stiglitz, in a very illuminating article in the November edition of Vanity Fair magazine. He goes on to write, ‘Financial markets produced loans and other products that were so complex and insidious that even their creators did not fully understand them; these products were so irresponsible that analysts called them `toxic.’ Yet financial markets failed to create products that would enable ordinary households to face the risks they confront and stay in their homes.’

And, ‘Throwing the poor out of their homes because they can’t pay their mortgages is not only tragic – it is pointless. All that happens is that the property deteriorates and the evicted people move somewhere else. The most coldhearted banker ought to understand
the basic economics: banks lose money when they foreclose – the vacant homes typically sell for far less than they would if they were lived in and cared for. If banks won’t renegotiate, we should have an expedited special bankruptcy procedure, akin to what
we do for corporations in Chapter 11, allowing people to keep their homes and re-structure their finances.’

Meanwhile, the worldwide economic meltdown continues.

As MIT Professor Noam Chomsky has observed, ‘The immediate origins of the current meltdown lie in the collapse of the housing bubble supervised by Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, which sustained the struggling economy through the Bush years by debt-based consumer spending along with borrowing from abroad. But the roots are deeper. In part they lie in the triumph of financial liberalization in the past 30 years –
that is, freeing the markets as much as possible from government regulation.’

Halloween 2007 was the day the world stock markets peaked and it’s been more-or-less downhill every since.

At the start of September, John Authors, investment editor for the Financial Times, wrote, ‘Before Halloween closes the door on October, investors can be forgiven for thinking the horror show engulfing equities has yet to climax.’ (BlackCommentator.com/posted by (Bulatlat.com)

BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member Carl Bloice is a writer in San Francisco, a member of the National Coordinating Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism and formerly worked for a healthcare union. http://www.blackcommentator.com/295/295_lm_halloween_2008.html

Swimming Lessons for Washington and Wall Street?The Predators’ Bailout

October 12, 2008

If I recall correctly, the very same US Congress that is considering bailing out the big financial corporations that got the economy into its current mess because of their greed and the government’s willingness to forgo any regulation of their doings (and the doings of their sister companies in the energy sector) made it almost impossible for individual working people in the US to declare bankruptcy. Yet, they are enabling these giants of the Wall Street economy to get out of their financial catastrophes by making us foot the bill. Furthermore, they have the nerve to tell us it is for the good of the country. Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I can honestly recall the last time the White House, Congress or Wall Street did anything for the good of the country that I know.

BY RON JACOBS
Counterpunch INTERNATIONAL
Posted by Bulatlat

Let me get this straight. The Congress is meeting with the Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson this week. Mr. Paulson, who works for the White House, says he has a plan to save the US economy. That plan involves bailing out the same companies that got the economy into the mess it is in today. The money for the bailout plan is going to come from the people who are already paying for two pointless, brutal and expensive occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan.–the US taxpayers. More precisely, the US taxpayers who make between $25, 000 and $150,000 a year–the people the government likes to call the middle class. These people are already making less in real wages than they were ten years ago and many of them are facing foreclosures and other financial problems of their own.

If I recall correctly, the very same US Congress that is considering bailing out the big financial corporations that got the economy into its current mess because of their greed and the government’s willingness to forgo any regulation of their doings (and the doings of their sister companies in the energy sector) made it almost impossible for individual working people in the US to declare bankruptcy. Yet, they are enabling these giants of the Wall Street economy to get out of their financial catastrophes by making us foot the bill. Furthermore, they have the nerve to tell us it is for the good of the country. Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I can honestly recall the last time the White House, Congress or Wall Street did anything for the good of the country that I know.

Sure, they started a war against Afghanistan under the pretense that they were going to chase down and capture the guys who organized those planes flying into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. That’s gone real well. I mean, look at Afghanistan now. The Pentagon is sending more troops and the White House and Congress are giving the okay. Dozens of civilians are dying in US air strikes as the occupiers fight a growing guerrilla army. They also started a war in Iraq that has done nothing but brought greater misery to that country and its people. It has also caused over 30,000 US casualties, with over 4000 of those casualties being dead men and women whose families are still not sure what they died for. Oh yeh, the price of fuel at the pump has increased by almost four dollars in some places across this land and the number of jobs has decreased steadily. That is, of course, unless you look at the military. Those job openings continue to grow.

But somebody must have benefited from this, right? And we all know who they are. The energy industry has raked in historically huge profits, all the while claiming that they deserve them while insisting that they get further tax breaks. Tax breaks which Congress willingly grants. The war industry has also made a bundle. Some companies, like General Dynamics, have doubled their net earnings just in the past four years. Others, like Haliburton, have used their insider connections to capture dozens, if not hundreds, of no-bid contracts that involve several documented cases of outright fraud and corruption. Yet, they continue to obtain the contracts and avoid prosecution. Then, there are those so-called security contractors, whose employees murder Iraqi citizens, media workers, and even Iraqi employees of the US-installed regime in Baghdad and face no penalties. Meanwhile, the contractor corporations themselves reap huge profits while also selling their services to agencies stateside that are involved with immigration and disaster management. So, uniformed thugs who answer to no one are now performing police duties here in the US. It’s like the Pinkertons of old in the employ of the Rockefellers, Carnegies and the government they ran back then.

Anyhow, back to that financial bailout and the arrogance assumed by those who are proposing it and those who will vote for it. Every time I hear about a CEO of some corporation that fails getting a multimillion dollar compensation package I can’t help but wonder: why is it that these guys get paid for doing their job so poorly that the company they manage fails? I know that in every job I have ever had that if I don’t do my job correctly than I get fired, plain and simple. If I’m lucky I might get a small unemployment check for a few months, but usually when a worker gets fired there is no compensation whatsoever. So, it pisses me off that these guys, from Lee Iacocca to the folks who ran Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac into the sewer not only get what the rich people call a parachute, but that they genuinely think they deserve one. I say push them out of the plane and let them try to fly. That’s what happens when people who work for a living lose their jobs.

The government isn’t any better, either. What could arguably be called the worst presidential administration in history will be leaving Washington next January. Yet, when those men and women hop on their chartered planes and head out of town, will they have to wonder where their next meal is coming from? Of course not. Almost every single one of them will fetch a nice retirement check for the rest of their lives. In addition, many of them will continue to receive the best health care in the world and hand us the bill. Others will go directly back into the business they were in before they joined the government. Naturally, those businesses will most certainly be better off than when these men and women left them to work in what I loosely term public service. After all, I’m not convinced that there is much servicing the public going on in DC any more. It’s more like servicing the wealthy and their bank accounts. As for Congress, these folks can spend two years in DC kissing corporate ass and hanging out in K Street offices and then go back to their other life with a lifetime pension and that same health care referred to previously. Bet the average reader can’t depend on a package like that.??It’s time Wall Street and Washington DC start practicing for itself what it preaches to the rest of us. No more bailouts and no more fat no-bid contracts. No more wars fought by other people’s kids for the war industry’s profits and the politicians’ egos. No more pay raises and no more free health care. No more taxpayer-funded travel and no more free gas. No more compensation packages unless they do a good job. Either that, or share the wealth and make health care universal, wars illegal, and fuel affordable.

It’s time we tell these folks: Bail your own selves out. Or, if you can’t, then start swimming. That’s what you expect us regular folks to do. (Counterpunch/posted by Bulatlat)

Ron Jacobs is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His first novel, Short Order Frame Up, is published by Mainstay Press. He can be reached at: rjacobs3625@charter.net

US ‘War on Terror,’ Intervention in Philippines to Intensify amid Global Economic Crisis – Analysts

October 12, 2008

Analysts of global economic developments deemed that the US-led ‘war on terror’ will intensify and escalate as a result of the US financial and economic crisis.

BY RONALYN V. OLEA
Bulatlat

Analysts of global economic developments deemed that the US-led ‘war on terror’ will intensify and escalate as a result of the US financial and economic crisis.

Rey Casambre, chairperson of the International League of People’s Struggles (ILPS)-Philippine chapter, said that the US financial and economic crisis has clearly turned into a global financial and economic crisis.

Jose Enrique Africa, research head of think-tank IBON Foundation, said, “The US financial crisis sharply reflects the financial crisis of the world capitalist system as a whole.”

Africa said, “The global recession is here, and the economic downturn will be severe. It has emerged in the US but is already spreading to Europe.”

He said it is intrinsic to capitalism for the rate of profit from production to fall. Capitalist drive for profits through speculation, however, is also grossly unsustainable, said Africa.

Interestingly,in his paper for the Forum on Global Financial Crisis of the ILPS Third International Assembly in Hong Kong this June, Jose Maria Sison has already said, “The economic and financial crisis of the US and world capitalist system has worsened to a new and unprecedented level since the Great Depression.”

History

Casambre said, “Historically, wars have resulted from the intensification of global financial and economic crises.”

He said that the World War II was a direct result of the crisis that culminated in the Great Depression of the 30s. “This is because the rivalry of imperialist powers for spheres of influence: sources of raw materials and cheap labor, dumping ground of products and surplus capital, etc. also intensifies with the intensification of crisis. The economic rivalry leads to and is eventually resolved by political, and ultimately military, means,” he said.

Edilberto Villegas, political economist and professor at the University of the Philippines Manila, said that instigating war is the tested way for monopoly capitalism to recover. He said that the recession in the 1990s and the high-tech bubble burst in 2000 resulted to US wars.

Villegas said, “To be able to recover, the US will intensify its military aggressiveness.” He maintained that the speculation on oil and food will become secondary as the demand for oil has declined. “They will again resort to a military solution.”

He said it is the inherent nature of war to destroy and this will rev up military production.

‘War on terror’

Casambre said that the US “war on terror” came in the wake of the economic downturn in the US characterized by manufacturing slowdown, burgeoning national debt and budget deficit, ballooning household debt, among others.

Casambre said further that although the 9/11 bombings were used as a pretext for launching the “war on terror”, it eventually became clear that the war strategy and campaign plans that were executed had been prepared long before 9/11, as early as 1992 when Dick Cheney was the US Defense Secretary under the older George Bush.

“The war on terror, like other wars of aggression and military intervention, somewhat mitigated the US economic crisis then by spurring war production. However, it was the corporations in the military industrial complex that benefited most, enjoying tax cuts on top of fat military contracts, and the economic relief was unsustainable because it did not generate jobs and income for the reserve army of unemployed.”

He said that the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq had little to do with the Al- Qaeda, Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction. “The real reasons were control of oil resources and the Middle East and Central Asia regions, which are strategic because of their geographic location south of Russia and west of China.”

Afghanistan, other targets

Casambre added, “This is underscored by recent statements by Democratic Presidential candidate [Barack] Obama that the US should pay more attention to Afghanistan because the real enemy is not the Al-Qaeda but Russia and China.

Villegas said both US presidential candidates have not opposed the US war on terror. He said that Obama merely said that the war in Iraq did not work out. “He [Obama] is not against the war on terror, he just wants to transfer to Afghanistan.”

Villegas said Iran is also a possible target. He said both Obama and Republican candidate John McCain are open to a military approach toward Iran if the latter will not stop developing its nuclear program. The only difference, said Villegas, is that McCain is not open to negotiate while Obama said he will employ diplomacy.

Villegas said the US is implementing a one-sided policy on nuclear development. “It should apply to themselves. The US is the number one manufacturer of nuclear weapons,” he said. He also said the US-backed Israel government is more advanced than Iran when it comes to nuclear weapons.

Villegas said the US only wants to justify possible attacks on Iran and North Korea.

Villegas also said the US is also interested in Central Asia. “They need the oil pipes there, such as in Georgia. They are now setting up military bases.”

Casambre of ILPS maintained, “Ethnic conflicts and ‘liberation’ struggles are also used to instigate proxy wars, such as in Africa, the Balkans and in the former Soviet republics. All these can be expected to escalate and intensify with the intensification of the global economic crisis.

Villegas said that China is seen by the US as an emerging military power. “The US will continue to guard East Asia, with the aim of encircling China. The US does not want to be displaced from the region.”

The US will maintain their forces in Asia, especially in Japan and in the Philippines.

Philippines

Villegas said the Philippines is a strategic point for the US’ implementation of its policy on China.

Casambre said the US crisis will intensify US military intervention in the Philippines. “The Philippines has strategic value to the US in its global geopolitical designs. It is a valuable military outpost guarding the South China Sea where more than half of world trade, including oil, passes. It is at the middle of what US strategists call the “arc of instability” which extends from Northeast Asia, down to Southeast Asia and westward to Central Asia, the Middle East and West Africa. It is also at the middle of the two potential major “theaters of war”: Northeast Asia and the Middle East. It is surrounded by states with large Muslim populations.”

Casambre said that the US will remain interested in the Philippines as it is also rich in still untapped natural resources, including oil and natural gas.

Contradictions, challenges

Sison said, “As the crisis of the world capitalist system worsens, the contradictions among the imperialist powers will sharpen and generate conditions favorable for the rise of revolutionary movements.”

He said that imperialist powers collude with each other against the oppressed peoples and nations in general but they compete with each other for sources of cheap raw materials, markets, fields of investment and spheres of influence. “As a result of the full restoration of capitalism in former revisionist-ruled countries, imperialist countries competing with each other and seeking to redivide the world have increased in number. The world has become more cramped than ever for the competitions and rivalries of the imperialist powers,” he said.

Sison said further, “The US is increasingly resented by other imperialist powers for presuming to have sole hegemony over the whole world and for trying to grab the lion’s share of spoils in every continent. At the same time, it is already overextended and weakening in certain parts of the world. Contradictions are developing between the US and Russia and China jointly or separately. So are those between the US and the European Union. These contradictions involve economic, financial, political, security and other issues.”

Villegas said that anti-imperialist groups must see the weakening position of the US in the economic sphere. “The workers, especially in the US and Europe should organize themselves against monopoly capitalism.”

He said the US cannot control the crisis. “Despite the bailout, the US economy is going down.” He added, While the US may prop up military production, the question is how long can they keep up such wars.

Casambre said that anti-imperialist forces must seriously and scientifically study the global crisis – the developments and implications – in order to explain to the general public what is really happening, expose the contradictions, the unjust, undemocratic and criminal nature of imperialism, in concrete and scientific terms. He said that the Filipino people and peoples of the world must launch protests and other mass actions against imperialist war and plunder and build the broadest anti-imperialist front of all democratic, patriotic, progressive forces everywhere. (Bulatlat.com)

World stocks drop on widespread panic (Scramble for cash sparked)

October 10, 2008

By Kevin Plumberg
Reuters
First Posted 10:50:00 10/10/2008

HONG KONG — Asia stocks dropped sharply on Friday, with Japan’s Nikkei plunging 11.0 percent, while the yen and gold rose on growing fears that no government effort so far has rejuvenated credit markets or kept the global economy from a path to recession.

The Nikkei share average plummeted in early trade, and the Osaka stock exchange had to halt trading after a circuit breaker was tripped.

Overnight Wall Street stocks crumbled in the final minutes of trade, with the S&P 500 falling 7.6 percent.

Selling in equity markets was brutally swift, taking the MSCI index of Asia-Pacific stocks excluding Japan down 3.5 percent to the lowest since June 2005.

Government bond futures soared as the rapid decline in Asia stocks forced investors to buy the nearest safe haven despite fears of a supply glut that have recently weighed on US Treasuries.

“Equity and fixed income markets seem to be stuck in a negative feedback loop as the lack of interbank lending and funding and waning investor confidence keep pushing one another,” UBS currency strategists said in a note to clients.

The 10-year Japanese government bond future was up 0.4 point to 138.89 and the 10-year US Treasury note futures were up more than a full point

The US dollar fell to the lowest since March against the yen, at 98.55 yen

Spot gold prices were up 2.0 percent to $923.30 an ounce to the highest since July.

US crude oil futures fell about 3.0 percent to a fresh 12-month low in electronic trade on Friday on concerns the growing global financial crisis would send demand for fuel slumping.

By 0033 GMT, US crude for November delivery was at $83.99 a barrel, down $2.59 from Thursday’s settlement, having earlier fallen to as low as $83.81.

(PDI)

IMF readies bailouts for countries

October 10, 2008

By Lesley Wroughton
Reuters
First Posted 08:40:00 10/10/2008

WASHINGTON — The International Monetary Fund said on Thursday it was ready to lend to countries hit by the global credit crunch, and had activated an emergency financing mechanism first used in the 1990s Asian crisis.

The Fund already sent a mission to Iceland, where the government has seized control of its largest bank, and has warned that the worst financial crisis since the 1930s Great Depression could inflict lasting economic harm on the world.

“Yesterday I activated emergency procedures of the IMF to respond quickly,” IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn told a news conference. “We are ready to answer any demand by countries facing problems,” he said, adding that no country is immune from the crisis.

The IMF chief said the IMF was willing to provide financial assistance not only to emerging and developing nations, but also to Western countries.

“Nobody knows if some … advanced economies will not also be in need of some help by the IMF,” he said, adding that countries needing to borrow will face more streamlined conditionality than normal and funding will be made available quickly. “Very quickly means two weeks at most,” he added.

After several years of no major crises in emerging economies, the move puts the IMF’s board of member countries and staff on alert that the Fund will have to respond quickly if a country needs financial help.

It also puts the global financial firefighter more at the forefront of the current financial crisis following months of being on the sidelines.

Panic over toxic, illiquid US mortgage loans has sapped confidence in financial institutions, forced governments to pledge hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayer money and pushed Western and other central banks to deliver their first coordinated interest rate cut.

Speaking ahead of IMF and World Bank meetings of world finance leaders in Washington this weekend, Strauss-Kahn said the main task for policy-makers was to restore confidence and calm global markets.

Group of Seven finance ministers and central bank chiefs also meet in Washington on Friday to consider their options.

The IMF’s emergency facility was created in 1995 as a way of speeding up the approval of loans to countries in peril.

It was first used in 1997 to help the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia and South Korea end crushing runs on their currencies during the Asian financial crisis.

The IMF, which played a central role in the bailouts of countries in Asia and Latin America in the 1990s, relied on lending to fund its operations. But with fewer crises over the years, it had faced a growing income deficit, prompting an agreement in April to sell some of its gold stocks and invest profits in government and corporate bonds.

The IMF has about $200 billion immediately available to lend to countries in need but can tap other sources. This is small compared to the trillions of dollars central banks and governments have poured into the financial system over the past few weeks.

UNDER PRESSURE

Emerging markets are under pressure again after strains in the United States and Europe spread. Investors are fleeing their securities for safer assets, foreign banks are cutting lending and the countries’ exporters are braced for weaker demand from Western consumers.

Strauss-Kahn renewed calls for more coordinated steps to calm panicky markets beyond the unprecedented simultaneous action of central banks on Wednesday to cut interest rates.

He said the global economy was on the cusp of recession but with quick and forceful action, the spreading crisis could be contained.

“All kinds of cooperation has to be recommended. All lonely acts have to be avoided, if not condemned,” he said.

His calls for more coordination were backed by World Bank President Robert Zoellick who said he hoped a meeting of Group of Seven industrial nations on Friday will indicate they “are getting ahead of the curve.”

He said while countries will take different actions, tailored for their own circumstances, they should coordinate beyond just the G7 members to target the same basic problems.

“The actions need to be coherent and reinforcing,” he said, referring to Wednesday’s simultaneous rate cut by central banks.

(PDI)

Editorial Cartoon: American Gigolo

October 7, 2008

Ready to woo them votes with a bunch of Alaskan flowers.

UN adopts new Somalia piracy resolution : Urges states to deploy military ships, planes

October 7, 2008

Agence France-Presse
First Posted 22:41:00 10/07/2008

UNITED NATIONS — The UN Security Council on Tuesday unanimously adopted a resolution urging states to deploy naval vessels and military aircraft to actively join the fight against rampant piracy off the coast of lawless Somalia.

Resolution 1838 “calls upon all states interested in the security of maritime activities to take part actively in the fight against piracy on the high seas off the coast of Somalia, in particular by deploying naval vessels and military aircraft.”

The French-drafted text urges states with naval vessels and military aircraft operating on the high seas and airspace off the Somali coast “to use the necessary means, in conformity with international law…for the repression of acts of piracy.”

It again “condemns and deplores all acts acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea against vessels off the coast of Somalia.”

It said that “the provisions in this resolution apply only with respect to the situation in Somalia and shall not affect the rights or obligations or responsibilities of member states under international law.”

Last June, the 15-member Council had already adopted a resolution empowering states to send warships into Somalia’s territorial waters with the government’s consent to combat piracy and armed robbery at sea.

The June resolution had given a six-month mandate to states cooperating with Somalia’s transitional government (TFG) in fighting piracy to “enter the territorial waters of Somalia for the purposes of repressing acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea.”

The waters off Somalia — which has not had an effective central government for more than 17 years and is plagued by insecurity — are considered to be among the most dangerous in the world.

Dozens of ships, mainly merchant vessels, have been seized by pirates off Somalia’s 3,700 kilometers (2,300 miles) of largely unpatroled coastline.

The pirates operate high-powered speedboats and are heavily armed, sometimes holding ships for weeks until they are released for large ransoms paid by governments or owners.

Tuesday, pirates holding a Ukrainian ship carrying tanks and military hardware with 21-member crew off the coast of Somalia said that a deal could be reached soon for the vessel’s release.

“A deal might be sealed by Wednesday and then we will issue a statement regarding the end of the matter,” said Sugule Ali, a spokesman for the estimated 50 pirates holding the MV Faina since September 25.

The pirate would not comment on the amount of ransom being negotiated. (PDI)

Palin escapes gaffes, but Biden wins debate

October 4, 2008

ST. LOUIS, Missouri: Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin defied her critics with an aggressive, folksy showing in her debate clash with Democrat Joe Biden, escaping without a disastrous gaffe.

But Palin, who branded Barack Obama “dangerous” in a string of attacks on the Democratic nominee, appeared to do little to transform a race that polls suggest may be slipping away from her running mate John McCain.

The Alaska governor disappointed those who predicted she would fail miserably in the keenly awaited primetime debate, following a tirade of mocking assessments about her credentials ahead of the election on November 4.

“I may not answer the question the way you want to hear, but I’ll talk straight to the American people and let them know my track record also,” said Palin, who was wildly popular but has seen her opinion ratings fade in recent days.

Often winking at the camera, Palin fired off staccato sound bites and prepped answers that often ignored the questions, in a populist tone that framed her and McCain, and not Obama and Biden, as agents of change.

“I like being able to answer these tough questions without the filter, even, of the mainstream media kind of telling viewers what they’ve just heard,” Palin, a 44-year-old mother of five said.

Palin has faced a storm of criticism for only doing a handful of media interviews and refusing to conduct a full-scale press conference.

Biden wins

Biden, a political veteran with 35 years of experience, provided detailed policy answers, trying to show a range of expertise across the economy, foreign policy and national security.

At one stage, he choked up when he talked about his wife and infant daughter killed in a 1972 car crash, in a moment that may have helped Biden forge an emotional connection with undecided voters.

Biden was careful not to attack Palin or her credentials directly, anxious about being branded as sexist or a bully, and sought to label McCain as a clone of unpopular President George W. Bush.

“I haven’t heard how his policy will be different on Iran than George W. Bush’s.

“I haven’t heard how his policy will be different on Israel than George Bush’s.

“I haven’t heard how his policy on Afghanistan will be different than George Bush’s, I haven’t heard how his policy in Pakistan will be different than George Bush’s.”

But Palin rebuked Biden for dwelling on the past.

“There is a time, too, when Americans say enough is enough with your ticket on constantly looking backwards and pointing fingers and doing the blame game,” she said.

Snap opinion polls suggested Biden won. CNN’s sampling said he took the clash by 51 percent to 36 percent and a CBS survey of uncommitted voters put Biden at 46 percent against 21 percent who said Palin won.

Palin the reformer

Framing herself as a typical middleclass person that goes to kids’ soccer games, showcasing her “hockey mom” persona, Palin painted herself as a reformer as a small-town mayor and governor and an expert on energy.

“Nice to meet you, can I call you Joe?” Palin said, in a comment picked up by microphones as she first met her adversary.

“Darn right it was the predatory lenders,” she said when asked whether mortgate sharks caused the subprime crisis.

The rivals clashed on the financial meltdown.

Palin warned Democrats would embrace wealth distribution and high tax policies that she said would limit growth. Biden argued that eight years of Republican policies were to blame for the economy’s nightmare.

“It was two Mondays ago that John McCain said at nine in the morning that fundamentals of the economy were strong,” Biden said.

“Later that day John McCain said we had an economic crisis—that doesn’t make John McCain a bad guy but it does point out he’s out of touch,” he added.

Palin chose not to parry a Biden claim that McCain argued against greater regulation on Wall Street, and contributed to the debt crisis.

She argued Obama voted in the Senate to raise taxes 94 times, a claim that has been questioned by newspaper reports and independent fact-check operations.

She painted Senator McCain as a “maverick” immune from the kind of Washington logjam politics she framed his colleague Biden as representing.

While Palin was strongest on domestic policy, the gap in experience and knowledge was exposed when the debate turned to national security, and the Bush administration’s foreign policy legacy.

She called the commander of the NATO-led security assistance force in Afghanistan “McClellan” instead of his name General David McKiernan, and her answers were often vague.

Mixed views

For her admirers, Palin gave a barnstorming performance, erasing doubts about her credentials and threadbare foreign policy experience.

“She’s holding her own with an experienced, polished politician,” said the owner of the Conservative Café, a coffee shop in Crown Point, Indiana that caters to right-wing customers.

In Dublin, Ohio, meanwhile, a group of around 100 McCain-Palin supporters crammed into Hoggy’s Barbecue and Grill were delighted.

Peggy Guzzo of Liberty Township, Ohio, was ecstatic at around the halfway mark. “I think she’s doing phenomenal,” Guzzo said.

“She’s taken control of the stage. She’s very authentic, very sincere. She’s speaking from true convictions. That’s what I love about her.”

But in Democratic-dominated Los Angeles, a group of debate-watchers crowded around a television screen in the heart of Hollywood frequently cringed and shook their heads as Palin went about her work.

“Frankly, I’m terrified,” said production assistant Robin Dicker, 35. “When you boil it down her message is essentially fear-based. And I worry that that is what people in middle America will respond to.

“I’m concerned that a lot of women voters will see the public image, the good looks, the hair, the children, the wholesome family, and then the message of fear, and they won’t look too far past that.”
— AFP (ManilaTimes)

US Senate votes on new bailout

October 2, 2008

Thursday, October 2, 2008

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WASHINGTON – In a surprise move to resurrect US President George W. Bush’s $700-billion Wall Street rescue plan, Senate leaders scheduled a vote on the measure for Wednesday but added a tax cut plan already rejected by the House of Representatives.

Sen. Harry Reid, leader of the Democratic majority, who sets the Senate agenda, and Republican leader Mitch McConnell disclosed the plan Tuesday. The Senate plan also would raise federal deposit insurance limits to $250,000 from $100,000 per account, as suggested by both presidential nominees a few hours earlier.

The move to add tax legislation – including a set of popular business tax breaks – risked a backlash from House Democrats insisting they be “paid for” with savings elsewhere.

By also adding legislation to prevent more than 20 million middle-class taxpayers from feeling the bite of the alternative minimum tax, the step could build momentum from House Republicans for the Wall Street bailout. The presidential candidates, Sens. John McCain, the Republican, and Democrat Barack Obama, intend to fly to Washington for the votes, as does Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, the Democratic vice presidential candidate.

The alternative minimum tax was created in the 1970s to bring in money from very rich people who avoided heavy taxes through legal loopholes; inflation and escalation in salaries over the decades have put millions of middle-class wage-earners in the range of the increased tax unless it is changed.

The surprise move to have a Senate vote on Wednesday capped a day in which supporters of the imperiled multibillion-dollar economic rescue fought to bring it back to life, courting reluctant lawmakers with a variety of other sweeteners, including the plan to reassure Americans their bank deposits are safe.

Wall Street, at least, regained hope. The Dow Jones industrials average rose 485 points, one day after a record 778-point plunge after the US House rejected the plan worked out by congressional leaders and the Bush administration.

Before Reid and McConnell’s move, lawmakers, Bush and the two rivals to succeed him all rummaged through ideas new and old, desperately seeking to change a dozen House members’ votes and pass the $700-billion plan.

The tax plan passed the Senate last week, on a 93-2 vote. It included the alternative tax relief, $8 billion in tax relief for those hit by natural disasters in the Midwest, Texas and Louisiana, and some $78 billion in renewable energy incentives and extensions of expiring tax breaks. In a compromise worked out with Republicans, the bill does not pay for the AMT and disaster provisions but does have revenue offsets for part of the energy and extension measures.

That was not enough for the House, which insisted that compensation from other expenses be supplied to offset the energy and extension parts of the package.

The Senate move seems aimed at “jamming” the House into accepting the deficit-financed tax cuts. Conservative Democrats will not like the idea, but some Congress-watchers suspect most Democrats might be willing to go along.

Still, the House is where the problems are, and leaders there were scrounging for ideas that might appeal to a few of the 133 Republicans and 95 Democrats who rejected the proposal on Monday.

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd, a Democrat, told reporters, “I’m told a number of people who voted ‘no’ yesterday are having serious second thoughts about it.” He added, however, “There’s no game plan that’s been decided.”

The idea drawing the biggest support was to raise the federal deposit insurance limit, now $100,000 per account, to $250,000. Several officials, including presidential nominees John McCain and Barack Obama, endorsed the change.

So did the agency that runs the program.

Within hours of the candidates’ separate statements, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. chairman Sheila Bair asked Congress for temporary authority to raise the limit by an unspecified amount. That could help ease a crisis of confidence in the banking system, Bair said.

She said the overwhelming majority of banks remain sound but an increase in the cap would help ease a crisis of confidence in the banking system as well as encourage banks to begin more lending.

Other ideas include extending unemployment insurance benefits, typically a Democratic goal, but one that appeals to some Rust Belt Republicans. Another Democratic-backed idea would double the property tax deduction taken by people who do not itemize their taxes. And another calls for more spending on transportation infrastructure projects, which would create more jobs.

Monday’s House vote was a stinging setback to leaders of both parties and to Bush. The administration’s proposal, still the heart of the legislation under consideration, would allow the government to buy bad mortgages and other deficient assets held by troubled financial institutions. If successful, advocates of the plan believe, that would help lift a major weight off the already sputtering national economy.

The proposal ignited furious responses from thousands of Americans, who flooded congressional telephones. The House voted 228-205 against the plan. Some lawmakers reported a shift in constituent calls pouring into their offices Tuesday after the record stock market decline. Many callers, they said, want Congress to do something without “bailing out Wall Street.”

Bush renewed his efforts, speaking with McCain and Obama and making another statement from the White House. “Congress must act,” he declared.

Though stock prices rose, more attention was on credit markets. A special rate that banks charge each other shot higher, further evidence of a tightening of credit availability.

Bush was talking about everyday Americans on Tuesday, not banks or other financial institutions. And no supporters were using the word “bailout.”

The president noted that the maximum $700 billion in the proposed bill was dwarfed by the $1 trillion in lost wealth that resulted from Monday’s stock market plunge.

“The dramatic drop in the stock market that we saw yesterday will have a direct impact on retirement accounts, pension funds and personal savings of millions of our citizens,” Bush said. “And if our nation continues on this course, the economic damage will be painful and lasting.” – AP (PStar)

Bailout rejected

October 1, 2008

Shock vote sends global markets sliding

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON — US lawmakers rejected a $700 billion bailout plan for the financial industry in a shock vote that sent global markets sliding as the world credit crisis claimed more banks.

By a vote of 228-to-205 the House of Representatives rejected a compromise plan that would have allowed the Treasury Department to buy up toxic debt from struggling banks.

The plan’s defeat sent US stocks down sharply, with the Dow Jones industrial average briefly falling more than 700 points, its biggest intraday drop ever.

Shares had already been under pressure following sharp declines in Asian and European shares on fears the crisis was spreading. Global money markets remained frozen, even as central banks poured in cash in an attempt to boost liquidity.

Capping three hours of debate on Capitol Hill, House majority leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland had warned lawmakers that the cost of inaction would be an economic calamity beyond Wall Street.

“A meltdown would begin, it is true, on a few square miles of Manhattan, but before it was over, all of us know, no city or town in America would be untouched,” Hoyer said.

When the contentious bailout plan was announced by the Bush administration last week, some House Republicans balked at spending so much taxpayer money just before US elections.

Republican House members voted against the bailout by a more than 2-to-1 margin. A majority of Democrats voted in favor.

US President George W. Bush was scheduled to make a statement on the rescue package at 12:45 GMT Tuesday (8:45 p.m. in Manila) after meeting on Monday with economic advisers including Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to consider the administration’s next move.

“I was disappointed in the vote that the United States Congress (had) on the economic rescue plan,” Bush told reporters in Washington. “Our strategy is to continue to address this economic situation head-on and we’ll be working to develop a strategy that will enable us to continue to move forward.”

The Senate returns on Wednesday and the House on Thursday after a break for the Jewish New Year holiday of Rosh Hashanah. No laws can be passed in their absence but their staffs could work on a revised plan.

The showdown on the bailout proposal came too late for Wachovia Corp, which agreed to sell most of its assets to Citigroup Inc. in a deal brokered by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

The Dow Jones industrial average was down more than 4 percent and the broader S&P 500 index was down nearly 6 percent. Oil fell $8 a barrel.

Earlier, European shares dropped to a three-and-a-half year closing low with bank shares weighing heavily.

“Investors are fearful, frenetic, especially when it comes to banking shares. They want to get out now and see the after effects from afar,” said Frank Geilfuss, head analyst at Bankhaus Loebbecke.

Around the world, investors were dumping assets they regarded as risky. World stocks were down sharply, while gold and US Treasuries surged in the rush to safety.

The world’s central banks, led by the US Federal Reserve, announced a $330 billion expansion of currency swap arrangements, which allows them to increase the amount of money they can provide in their home markets, effectively throwing more money at the crisis.

Earlier, the governments of Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg moved to partly nationalize Belgian-Dutch group Fortis NV with an injection of more than $16 billion, and German lender Hypo Real Estate Holding AG secured a credit line from the German government and banks of up to 35 billion euros.

British mortgage lender Bradford & Bingley Plc was brought under the government’s wing, shares of French bank Dexia tumbled on a report that it might need emergency capital, and bank rescue deals also emerged in Iceland, Russia and Denmark.

“The contagion is spreading to mainland Europe and everyone’s asking, ‘Who’s next?’” said Mark Sartori, head of European sales trading at Fox-Pitt, Kelton in London.

As investors raced for safe havens, Asian stocks trimmed deep early losses after Wall Street’s biggest fall since the crash of 1987.

“It’s hard to imagine what’s going to happen. It’s kind of scary,” said Masayoshi Okamoto, head of dealing at Jujiya Securities in Tokyo. “In particular, European banks were putting up a front that nothing was wrong, but now they’re falling one after another.”

Shares in Asia recovered from early lows but were still down about 3 percent.

Oil fell on fears of further economic slowdown, and the Japanese yen hit a 4-month high.

Investors worried that a collapse in financial markets would tip the United States economy into a painful recession that drags the rest of the world down with it.

“We do not rule out a US recession being deep and long and having a severe global impact,” said Gerard Lyons, chief economist at Standard Chartered in London. – Reuters (Malaya)

===========

My Take:

Just watched the “Illuminati” documentary.

And it makes me think about the possibility that the Illuminati’s are going bankrupt and they wanted to use the American taxpayer’s money to cushion their fall and retain their grasp on the money.

The thought makes me shiver.

Just thinking aloud.

The Global Financial Crisis and its Implications for Workers of the World

September 27, 2008

As the US falls into recession, the rest of the global economy is being sucked downwards with it. The collapse of credit instruments originating in the U.S. is also weakening the financial balance sheets of banks and other overseas holders of these investments, affecting not just the banking sector but also stock markets abroad. Banks from the underdeveloped countries in the South have less exposure to sub-prime loans and the housing market bust in the US. But the adverse consequences of the current global financial crisis on the welfare and livelihoods of exploited classes in the oppressed countries will be more severe and protracted. But workers are fighting back.

BY PAUL L. QUINTOS
Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research

INTERNATIONAL
Posted by Bulatlat

The worst crisis since the Great Depression

“The world economy has entered new and precarious territory”, opens the latest World Economic Outlook published by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) last April 2008. It describes the current financial crisis that erupted in August 2007 as “the largest financial shock since the Great Depression, inflicting heavy damage on markets and institutions at the core of the financial system.”

Other commentators have described the current crisis as a “systemic financial meltdown”, a “financial tsunami”, a “tipping point” in the world economy or even “the Very Great Depression” in the making.

When even the most optimistic defenders of the ruling system speak of a “systemic crisis”, then something of historical significance must be happening in our midst. Our task is to grasp the significance of the current crisis in the world capitalist system for the laboring classes, and draw lessons for our struggle against imperialism.

Bubblenomics

Mainstream economists explain the current crisis as the bursting of the housing bubble that had inflated to unprecedented levels since 2001. The Economist described this bubble in 2005 thus: “the total value of residential property in developed economies rose by more than $30 trillion over the past five years, to over $70 trillion, an increase equivalent to 100 percent of those countries’ combined GDPs. Not only does this dwarf any previous house-price boom, it is larger than the global stock market bubble in the late 1990s (an increase over five years of 80 percent of GDP) or America’s stock market bubble in the late 1920s (55 percent of GDP). In other words, it looks like the biggest bubble in history.”

This boom in house prices had been deliberately encouraged by the low-interest rate policy of the US Federal Reserve as a way of containing the impact of the dotcom bust in 2001. In the same way that asset inflation in tech stocks underpinned the growth of the US economy in the second half of the 1990s, the booming housing market propped up the US economy in the first half of this decade. Rising house prices and low interest rates encouraged millions of Americans — whose wages had been stagnant or declining since the 1970s — to borrow money using their houses as collateral and use this for consumer spending, thus boosting effective demand in an otherwise stagnant US economy. “Consumer spending and residential construction accounted for 90 percent of the total growth in US GDP from 2001 to 2005. And over two-fifths of all private-sector jobs created over the same period had been in housing-related sectors, such as construction, real estate and mortgage broking.”

Mortgage lending had become so profitable that banks and brokers began lending to “subprime borrowers” — those with lower incomes or poorer credit histories — with nary a credit investigation, down payment or even collateral. This high-risk or subprime mortgage lending spread hand in hand with the broader securitization strategy of finance capitalists. This refers to the now rampant and unregulated practice of investment banks and financial institutions of issuing loans, slicing and dicing these loans, then repackaging them as “mortgage-backed securities”, “asset-backed securities”, “collateralized debt obligations” (CDO), “collateralized loan obligations” and other synthetic financial instruments which are then sold to other capitalists in search of investment opportunities for their surplus capital. This allows the originators of these loans to transfer the risks associated with these loans while securing greater returns on their portfolio investments. This encouraged risky lending throughout the system, particularly in the booming housing market where subprime loans had expanded to 20 percent of all mortgages by 2006, up from 9 percent a decade earlier. It also magnified the likelihood of system-wide contagion in the event of widespread credit defaults.

Indeed as house prices started to plateau in 2005 and as interest rates started to rise, default rates and home foreclosures in the US started to climb in the latter part of 2006. This led to the collapse of scores of mortgage brokers and a number of mid-sized lending institutions with a large share of sub-prime mortgages in their loan portfolio. Unfazed, US Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke announced in June 2007 that the crisis in the subprime sector “seem unlikely to seriously spill over to the broader economy or the financial system.”

Bubbles burst

By August 2007, subprime mortgage backed securities began imploding in the portfolios of banks and hedge funds from around the world. Since then, one major bank after another has announced credit losses in the tens of billions. As of the middle of September 2008, three of Wall Street’s top five investment banks and icons of finance capitalism – Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch – have disappeared as independent entities. Other major banks, including Morgan Stanley and Washington Mutual, are facing the same fate.

The current financial turmoil is forcing central banks to step in and bailout those financial institutions that are simply “too big to fail”. The Bank of England, for instance, extended a L25 billion emergency loan to the ailing Northern Rock last year. Last March 14, 2008 the US Federal Reserve guaranteed the loans of JP Morgan to rescue Bear Stearns, the fifth largest investment bank in the US with $2.5 trillion worth of trading contracts with firms from around the world. Even more momentous was the US government’s decision last September 7, 2008 to take over the two biggest mortgage lending agencies in the country — Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac – effectively placing US housing finance under direct government control and increasing the gross liabilities of the US government by $5.4 trillion, a sum equal to 40 per cent of GDP. Nine days later, the US Federal Reserve agreed to provide American International Group (AIG) – among the world’s largest private insurers with operations in 130 countries — with an $85 billion loan to help it stave off bankruptcy. This rattled stock markets across the globe, plunging share prices and prodding private banks to hold on to their reserves. This has forced the world’s leading central banks to band together and inject $300 billion into the global financial system to ease the credit crunch and prevent further panic – for now.

But this means that taxes from working people are once again being used to rescue capitalists, demonstrating the boundless parasitism of financial elites. Nouriel Roubini, a New York University economist, describes this as “socialism for the rich, the well-connected and Wall Street (i.e. where profits are privatized and losses are socialized).” Meanwhile, the biggest finance capitalists like JP Morgan are gobbling up these distressed capitals at firesale prices — further concentrating capital in the hands of a tiny finance oligarchy.

The current global financial crisis — with the US economy at its epicenter — is merely the latest and so far most severe in a series of financial crises that have erupted since the 1970s. Economists from the World Bank note no fewer than 117 systemic banking crises (defined as ones in which much or all of bank capital was exhausted) in 93 countries (that is, half the world) since the late 1970s. “In 27 of the crises for which they have been able to obtain the data, the fiscal cost of the bail out was 10 per cent of GDP, or more, sometimes vastly more.”

In the heartland of the global capitalist system, Paul Volcker notes that, “today’s financial crisis is the culmination, as I count them, of at least five serious breakdowns of systemic significance in the past 25 years – on the average one every five years. Warning enough that something rather basic is amiss.”

Indeed, these series of boom-busts in the financial sector are not merely events that are resolved after each episode. Rather they are generated by persistent and worsening contradictions in the real economy.

“Globalization” and “Financialization”

The unprecedented devastation of productive forces wrought by the last inter-imperialist war cleared the stage for around two decades of relatively stable and sustained growth in the advanced capitalist countries. But by the late 1960s, Europe and Japan were fully reconstructed as industrial powers rivaling the United States and worldwide economic growth began to slow just as monopoly capitalist competition intensified. Even as big business continues to invest in new technologies in its drive to extract ever greater profit, growth rates, national productivity rates, capital stock formation and net profit rates have been on the decline since the 1970s. Average net profit rates in the G7 countries fell from 17.6 percent in the 1950-70 period to 13.3 percent in 1970-93.

Only the US economy appeared vigorous in the second half of the 1990s but only on the basis of a speculative build-up in the equities markets using foreign borrowing which fueled over-investment in information technology and buoyed consumer spending. This dotcom bubble went bust in 2001, replaced by the housing bubble which has brought upon us the present crisis.

Underlying this systemic tendency towards crisis is the fundamental contradiction in capitalism itself: between social production which enables great strides in productivity on the one hand, and the private ownership of the means of production which ensures that only a few profit from production by exploiting the many. This contradiction inevitably leads to crises of overproduction – a situation in which there is a glut in commodities relative to the capacity of people to buy them.

The shift to neoliberal economic policies in the 1980s is monopoly capital’s attempt to revive falling profits due to the worsening crisis of overproduction – by forcing open markets, sourcing cheaper labor and raw materials, and securing profitable investment outlets. Through the IMF, the WB and the WTO – all of which are imperialist controlled “multilateral” institutions – liberalization of investments and trade, the privatization of public assets, deregulation of markets and cutbacks in social services and welfare spending, are imposed on client states under the hypocritical slogan of “free-market globalization”.

Combined with the re-integration of the former Soviet Union and China into the global capitalist system, imperialist globalization has truly succeeded in rewarding international monopoly capital. On the other hand, these reforms which aim to maximize profits and minimize wages, benefits and social spending for workers and the people have only resulted in the immiseration of the vast majority in the world. The net result is that by 2000, the richest 1 percent in the world own 40 percent of global assets, the richest 2 percent own 51 percent, while the poorest half of world population own barely 1 percent of global wealth.

Hence the flipside to the crisis of overproduction is the over-accumulation of capital in the hands of the monopoly capitalist elite. With overproduction rendering further investment in new productive capacity (such as factories and employment) increasingly unprofitable, a rapidly rising share of surplus capital is seeking profits not in the real economy but in financial speculation — a process sometimes referred to as the “financialization” of the global economy. This involves the frenetic increase in the trading of currencies, equities, bonds, debt securities, financial derivatives and other complex synthetic financial instruments, taking advantage of even the slightest differentials and momentary changes in bond prices, interest rates, and currency exchange rates in different markets around the world.

In 1980, the value of the world’s financial stock was roughly equal to world GDP, itself bloated. By 1993, it was double the size, and by the end of 2005, it had risen to 316 percent — more than three times world GDP. Government and private debt securities account for more than half of the overall growth in the global financial assets from 2000-2004 – which indicates the role of leverage or debt in driving this process. In 2004, daily derivatives trading amounted to $5.7 trillion while the daily turnover in the foreign exchange market was $1.9 trillion. Together they add up to $7.6 trillion in daily turnover of just two types of portfolio capital flows, exceeding the annual value of global merchandise exports by $300 billion.

This illustrates the increasing alienation of finance from production and explains much of the heightened volatility and instability in today’s global economy. While the value of financial assets is ultimately grounded in the value created by the working class in the process of production in the real economy and cannot diverge too far from it, asset bubbles can form for a period of time driven by “irrational exuberance” (in the words of Alan Greenspan). The positive expectations of financial speculators feed on each other, bidding up asset prices in a seemingly endless virtuous cycle. But like all ponzi schemes, reality eventually takes over and all it takes is one negative development, e.g. rising home foreclosures, to reverse expectations and send the entire the house of cards crashing down.

The fallout

The fallout from the current financial crisis is expected to be without precedent, at least in monetary terms. The IMF estimates that expected losses and write-downs on US assets could total $945 billion — bigger than the entire GDP of Australia — making it the most expensive financial crisis in history. Even so, some analysts believe this is an understatement.

Unfortunately, these massive credit losses and asset write-downs don’t just affect financiers. Indeed, it is ordinary working people that bear the brunt of its devastating consequences. An estimated 2.2 million or 1 in every 50 households in the US face foreclosure. Those who continue to own homes would be 20-30 percent poorer in terms of household wealth as home values drop as a result of the collapse in the housing bubble. According to one estimate, a collapse of 30 percent in US home prices from their over-inflated peak would wipe out $6 trillion of household wealth and leave 10 million households with negative equity in their homes — they owe more on their homes than they are worth — increasing the likelihood of a new round of foreclosures and credit losses.

Savings, health insurance, and retirement funds of millions of ordinary Americans who were enticed to invest in pension funds and assorted financial instruments will also be wiped out as banks and investment houses write-down billions in assets.

Moreover, this financial debacle ultimately impacts on the real economy as even the biggest banks and financial institutions faced with huge uncertainties are now averse to issuing new loans for housing, investment or for the purchase of cars and other durable goods. This means less investment and consumer spending which in turn means slower growth and even recession. The IMF warns that the US economy may shrink by 0.7 per cent over the 1-year period ending the fourth quarter of 2008, despite aggressive rate cuts by the Federal Reserve and a fiscal stimulus package. Recovery would be slight in 2009 with growth expected to be only 1.6 per cent. These estimates have been revised downwards several times and may still prove to be overstated as the crisis unfolds.

Almost 10 percent of the US workforce is now unemployed or underemployed, and job losses continue to mount. The private sector has shed 411,000 jobs over the past six months. Last month alone (May), 26,000 workers lost their jobs in manufacturing, 34,000 in construction, 27,000 in retail trade, and 39,000 in professional services, most of whom were temps. Over 150,000 temps have been terminated over the past year. The nominal rise in employees’ earnings is falling well behind inflation now running at 4 percent. This implies continued losses in the real value of wages or the purchasing power of most workers which has been stagnant or declining since the 1970s.

As the US falls into recession, the rest of the global economy is being sucked downwards with it. The collapse of credit instruments originating in the U.S. is also weakening the financial balance sheets of banks and other overseas holders of these investments, affecting not just the banking sector but also stock markets abroad. Hence the US is exporting a credit crunch overseas and pushing the entire global economy towards recession.

The IMF estimates that the eurozone’s growth will fall to just 0.9 per cent between the fourth quarter of 2007 and the fourth quarter of 2008. Japan’s growth would slow down to 1.4 percent this year and 1.5 percent next year, while Canada’s growth would fall back to 1.3 percent this year and pick up slightly to 1.9 percent next year. On the whole, “the IMF staff now sees a 25 percent chance of growth slowing to 3 percent or less in 2008 and 2009, equivalent to a global recession”.

The International Labour Organisation warns that the global economic slowdown in 2008 will add at least 5 million workers to the ranks of the unemployed worldwide, raising the global unemployment rate to 6.1 per cent. This is based on a more optimistic scenario of 4.8 percent growth in global GDP, which has been revised downwards by the IMF. A deeper recession would add millions more to the 189.9 million unemployed as of 2007.

Impact on working people in oppressed countries

Banks from the underdeveloped countries in the South have less exposure to sub-prime loans and the housing market bust in the US. But the adverse consequences of the current global financial crisis on the welfare and livelihoods of exploited classes in the oppressed countries will be more severe and protracted.

First, the global credit crunch means reduced capital flows for third world countries who are chronically dependent on foreign capital inflows to pay for older debts, sustain imports from the advanced capitalist countries and paper over chronic deficits they incur as imperialist states plunder their economies.

Second, most un-industrialized countries who are dependent on exporting agricultural products, raw materials, minerals, low-value added manufactures and services (e.g. business process outsourcing) to the advanced capitalist countries will be faced with shrinking exports due to the combination of depressed consumption in the North. Un-industrialized countries that are more deeply bound to neo-colonial trade relations with imperialist centers, particularly the US, would be the most severely affected. This includes the so-called newly industrialized economies which export significant volumes to the US by way of China. That is, by exporting parts and equipment of labor-intensive manufactures that are assembled in China before being shipped and sold in the US and EU markets.

Third, aside from being dependent on low-value commodity exports, un-industrialized countries are also dependent on the export of labor, particularly to the wealthy industrialized countries. International labor migration serves as an outlet for the surplus labor that cannot be absorbed by stunted domestic industries in these countries, as well as an important source of foreign exchange remittances that help pay for imports and debt-service. But recessions and rising unemployment in the advanced capitalist countries are invariably associated with the tightening of borders to keep out foreign workers. This means higher unemployment in labor-exporting countries, reduced earnings for foreign remittance-dependent households, and lower consumption spending in the domestic economy.

Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, as financial instruments and stock markets become less attractive to financial investors, speculative capital shifts more into commodities trading such as oil, minerals and agricultural commodities. This is contributing to the precipitous rise in food and energy prices beyond what conditions in the real economy warrant, thereby rapidly eroding the real incomes of the vast majority especially in the third world. Food accounts for 30-40 percent of the consumer-price index in most developing countries, compared with only 15 percent in the G7 economies. The Economist estimated that two-thirds of the world’s population suffer double-digit rates of inflation this season (mid-2008).

This is pushing millions of people deeper in poverty. In the Philippines, for instance, the Asian Development Bank estimates that “for every 10 percent increase in food prices, about 2.3 million more fall into poverty.” They will be joining nearly three billion people — half the world’s population — who are living on less than two dollars a day, including 1.3 billion workers.

In sum, what began as a sub-prime crisis in the US housing market in 2006 exploded into a global financial crisis in 2007 and is now giving rise to the specter of global stagflation — that dreaded combination of no growth and high inflation which has not blighted the imperialist countries since the 1970s.

Monopoly Capital’s offensive

It was precisely the problem of stagflation in the latter half of the 1970s that monopoly capital used as an excuse for ramping up its assault on the working class. Neoliberal economists, then ascendant, blamed workers’ wage demands and government spending on social welfare for causing the phenomenon of stagflation.

In 1979, then US Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker tripled interest rates in order to stem inflation. This also caused a severe recession in the US which drove up unemployment and dampened wage demands. The Reagan administration also dismantled social welfare spending but greatly expanded military spending to finance US imperialist wars of aggression overseas as well as pump-prime the flagging domestic economy. In 1981, Reagan sacked 11,345 air traffic controllers who had gone on strike demanding better working conditions, better pay and a 32-hour workweek — and blacklisted them from federal service for three years. The government also decertified their union. “This was the biggest, most dramatic act of union-busting in 20th-century America. PATCO’s destruction ushered in a decade of lost strikes and lockouts, triggered by management demands for pay and benefit givebacks that continue to this day in a wide range of industries.”

Today, we already hear the prelude to another such offensive against the working class. Jean-Claude Trichet, president of the European Central Bank, recently expressed fears that “higher headline rates could push up inflation expectations, leading to bigger pay demands, and so trigger a wage-price spiral, as in the 1970s.” Hence he called on “all economic agents, whether corporate or social partners, to be as responsible as possible” — a diplomatic warning against workers who dare attempt to cope with inflation by demanding higher wages.

But polite language cannot hide the increasing brutality of capitalists, state forces, paramilitaries and mercenaries-for-hire against workers around the world in order to pass on the burden of the crisis and protect their profits and privileges. The latest Annual Survey of Trade Union Rights Violations published by the ITUC shows an alarming rise in the number of people killed as a result of their trade union activities, from 115 in 2005 to 144 in 2006. And these are just reported figures from 138 countries covered by the survey. In Colombia alone, 78 trade unionists were assassinated in 2006, eight more than in 2005, while many others faced threats, abduction or “disappearance”. In the Philippines, at least 87 unionists and labor organizers have been killed since 2001. Three Nepali unionists were shot dead during mass demonstrations that eventually brought the king’s absolute rule to an end. In Guinea, 137 people were killed and 1,700 wounded in the fierce repression of the strikes and protests of January and February 2007.

In short, monopoly capital is using the present crisis to appropriate more of the people’s (real) wealth, erode and press down on wages and social spending, lay off workers, promote precarious employment, tear up workers rights, clamp down on workers concerted actions and intensify the exploitation of the working class.

Our Struggle against Imperialism

But workers are fighting back. In Vietnam, an unprecedented wave of workers actions has erupted in the country’s export processing zones where at least seven strikes have broken out so far this year — at Panasonic, VICO, Nissei, Asahi Intecc, Yamaha Motor, Sumitomo and Chiyodj Intergre — because wages aren’t meeting even the basic needs of workers. Autoworkers and steelworkers in Romania won substantial wage increases after launching a series of strikes last April to May. In France, hundreds of thousands of workers took to the streets last month in a demonstration against government plans to increase pension contributions. There is also a wave of occupations and strikes at construction sites, cleaning establishments and restaurants by immigrant workers protesting the government’s planned restrictions on immigrants. In the UK, hundreds of thousands of public sector workers are threatening to stage a series of one-day strikes this summer to protest the Gordon government’s 2 percent ceiling on pay hikes. In Norway, state workers at the township level are preparing to strike over pay. Drivers’ strikes are spreading across the globe — in the UK, Portugal, Spain, Egypt, India, Korea and Thailand — in response to skyrocketing petroleum prices.

In the Philippines, protesters are pouring into the streets demanded the scrapping of the value added tax (VAT) on oil, the repeal of the Oil Deregulation Law, and the approval of a legislated P125 across-the-board wage increase. Workers are downing tools, drivers are leaving their vehicles, while students are walking out of their classrooms to join these demonstrations. Egypt is now witnessing the biggest wave of strikes in the country since the 1940s, with women workers at the forefront. Workers are angered by neo-liberal privatization policies carried out by the Nazif government which has resulted in thousands of workers losing their jobs and led to an increase in the inflation rate that is currently estimated at around 12 percent while salaries have not increased since the 1970s. In South Korea, workers are at the forefront of a broad coalition opposing U.S. beef imports comprised of citizens, students and unionists who have mobilized in massive demonstrations and vigils calling for President Lee Myung-bak to step down. In South Africa, COSATU is preparing to strike against the government’s planned anti-inflation measures that would likely lead to deeper indebtedness of working families and more job losses.

The current crisis is but the latest manifestation of fundamental contradictions in the world capitalist system that are intensifying in the era of imperialist globalization. Increasing economic polarization, over-accumulation of capital and overproduction that give rise to economic crises and ultimately ruin society’s productive forces — these are inherent in a system based on the private monopoly control of a few over the social means of production – and no amount of fiscal stimulus or financial regulation can fix these problems. The Bush Administration’s grand plan to solve the current financial crisis is to shift the toxic debt load of private banks onto the federal government, i.e. the American people. While this will surely please the financial elites – witness the stock markets rally upon hearing the news – the rescue plan will sharply increase the government’s budget deficit and the already gargantuan US debt thus worsening fundamental imbalances in the real economy and setting the stage for even bigger convulsions later on. The utter helplessness and inutility of world leaders and policy-makers in resolving the current crisis reveals the total bankruptcy of neoliberalism and the unmitigated destructiveness of imperialist globalization – prodding people to search for real solutions elsewhere.

Hence, for the labor movement the current situation is both a challenge and an opportunity. We must counter monopoly capital’s desperate attempt to shift the burden of the crisis onto the people by consolidating our ranks, reaching out and organizing more workers in the factories, offices and in the communities, building unity with other oppressed and exploited sections in our society and internationally, and waging more strikes and other forms of resistance. We must deepen our understanding of imperialism’s offensives — economic, political, military and ideological — against the working masses throughout the world. We must wage not just economic struggles but raise them to political struggle against the ruling system as a whole, win national freedom and democracy, and build socialism as the alternative to this irredeemably rotten system. (Posted by Bulatlat)

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Bernstein, J. (2008, June 6). Mounting recessionary signs as unemployment rate spikes. Retrieved June 12, 2008, from Economic Policy Institute: http://www.epi.org/content.cfm/webfeatures_econindicators_jobspict_20080606

Brenner, R. (2002). The Boom and the Bubble: The US in the World Economy. New York: Verso.

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Chandrasekhar, C. (July 12-14, 2007). Continuity or Change: Finance Capital in Developing Countries a Decade After. Conference on “A Decade After: Recovery and Adjustment since the East Asian Crisis” . Bangkok Thailand: Organised by International Development Economics Associates (IDEAs), Global Sustainability and Environment Institute (GSEI), Action Aid and Focus on the Global South.

Davies, J., Sandström, S., Shorrocks, A., & Wolff, E. (2006). World Distribution of Household Wealth . WIDER UN University.

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Evans-Pritchard, A. (2008, May 18). OECD warning as stagflation goes global. Retrieved June 13, 2008, from Telegraph.co.uk: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/money/main.jhtml?xml=/money/2008/05/14/bcnoecd.xml

Hielema, B. (2008). International Experts Foresee Collapse of U.S. Economy. Ontario CA: The Intelligencer.

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Roubini, N. (2008, February 5). The Rising Risk of a Systemic Financial Meltdown: The Twelve Steps to Financial Disaster. Retrieved June 8, 2008, from Nouriel Roubini’s Global EconoMonitor: http://www.rgemonitor.com/blog/roubini/242290/

Sorkin, A. R. (2008, April 2). Leveraged Planet. Retrieved June 10, 2008, from The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/02/business/02global.html?_r=2&oref=slogin&oref=slogin

The Economist. (2005, June 16). The global housing boom: In come the waves. The Economist .

The Economist. (2008a, May 22). Inflation in emerging economies: An old enemy rears its head. The Economist .

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Weisbrot, M. (2008, May 23). U.S. Economy: The Worst is Yet to Come. Retrieved June 13, 2008, from Center for Economic and Policy Research: http://www.cepr.net/index.php/op-eds-columns/op-eds-columns/u.s.-economy-the-worst-is-yet-to-come/

Wolf, M. (2008a, March 7). Paper prepared for the Colloque International de la Banque de France. “Globalisation, Inflation and Monetary Policy”. Hôtel Westin, Paris.

Wolf, M. (2008b, May 6). Seven habits finance regulators must acquire. Financial Times

Wolf, M. (2008c, Sept. 8). No alternative to nationalisation. Financial Times

Capitalism Has Proven Karl Marx Right Again

September 27, 2008

Time for a Marxist interlude. Inherent contradictions of capitalism, anyone? Intrinsic instability? Or perhaps we could risk the simple rhetorical questions Herr Marx somehow forgot to ask. To wit: have you ever seen a poker game in which no-one can ever lose? And would you, in your right mind, ever trust such a game?

BY IAN BELL
INTERNATIONAL
Posted by Bulatlat

Time for a Marxist interlude. Inherent contradictions of capitalism, anyone? Intrinsic instability? Or perhaps we could risk the simple rhetorical questions Herr Marx somehow forgot to ask. To wit: have you ever seen a poker game in which no-one can ever lose? And would you, in your right mind, ever trust such a game?

Capitalism works, so we are assured. This counts as, and possesses the worth of, an article of faith. What is actually meant – and I suggest you find a history book if you doubt me – is that capitalism “works” by failing periodically, and failing catastrophically. Strangely, no-one is ever to blame, far less arrested, for these acts of freakish nature.

Nevertheless, amid the unconscious, accidental poetry of dismal economics you will find the phrase “moral hazard”. It means that you have to be stupid or mendacious to reward stupidity and mendacity. The “system” functions best when there are punishments as well as rewards. If, that is, the system functions.

So it was with Lehman Brothers, fourth largest (until the weekend) of American investment banks. Those masters of the universe had let it be known that they were “too big” to fail. Apostles of the free market, advocates of “light touch” (zero) regulation, they despised state interference until the state – meaning the general population – seemed the lender of last resort. Disabused of that notion, they went bust. Some would call that capitalist efficiency.

Henry “Hank” Paulson, US Treasury Secretary, would be one of those. As a former Goldman Sachs demi-god he saw no contradiction between past life and present when refusing to hand free money to Lehman.
Bear Sterns was one thing; Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (just $5.4 trillion of American mortgage liabilities) another. But an example was to be made of the erstwhile “fourth largest” to keep hazard at bay and maintain a moral core. Pour encourager les autres, you understand.

The fun part, for a journalist, involves paper. Lehman, like its sibling institutions, had a lot of that. “On paper” the bank had $639bn in assets and $613bn in debts. Sustainable, you might have thought. But what did those assets truly amount to, and what did those debts actually mean? Some $40bn to $60bn of the latter are now defined as “toxic” (bad); Lehman has posted a $2.8bn quarterly loss (very bad); and no-one has a clear idea of what the supposed assets might really be worth (incomprehensibly bad).

This part of the paper trail begins and ends – Karl Marx would have been entirely at home – with the selling of insupportable debt to the very poor. It turned, as the first flickering of a bright idea, on the suckering of the disadvantaged, the exploitation of the simple desire for a home, and the fantastic belief that debt can be shuffled eternally. Lehman and Merrill Lynch ($50bn to Bank of America, itself “embattled”) and the rest treated sub-prime reality as a paper concept, pixels on a screen.

These notions were then repackaged, “securitised”, with good debt and bad bundled together like a job lot of tat in a car-boot sale. These “instruments”, sold and resold and sold again, then became the excuse
for still more borrowing, still more debt. Low interest rates – step forward Alan Greenspan and Gordon Brown – kept the party going for a decade. But the poor are a funny lot. They persist in failing to have
money. Hardly worth the pieces of paper on which their names are written, the saps.

In a rational world – not this one – everything just described would count as bonkers. It would be funny, in a Carry On Banking sort of way. People would laugh at the very idea of wealth conjured from thin air and reality as a distraction for hapless civilians. But it has all come to pass. In some quarters they are wondering if the Lehman episode has brought a sorry year to a conclusion. I suggest that they review the autumn of 1929. And then look east.

Wall Street, 80 years ago, did not crash in a day. Week after week, people would tell one another that the crisis was over. Things were looking up. Happy days were here, or there, again. Instead, things went from bad to worse to hellish while the central banks allowed feral markets to hunt down capitalism’s sickly runts. The people claiming to be in charge of Halifax Bank of Scotland this week will know what I mean. A “correction” becomes a purge in the blink of an eye.

Part of capitalism’s problem – there’s more where this came from – is its preference for paper before people. Those who talk seriously of the “real” economy give a flavour of the attitude. They even suggest that one can “decouple” financial markets from the planet occupied by food, heat, jobs, families, petrol prices, children and money you can spend in a shop. They base their behaviour on the assumption that lived reality is a concept best reserved for computer models. Then the clever sums fail to add up.

Britain fell for this fantasy in a very big way. A succession of Thatcher’s Chancellors assured us that times would be better in a post-industrial service economy. Making things, things you could touch and use, was suddenly the oldest of old hats. Financial “services” were the modern alternative in a society that could no
longer get away with paying coolie wages to its proletariat. Besides, you can’t flog credit cards to peasants.

The result is that Britain is uniquely vulnerable to the firestorm. Lehman’s London outpost has just “shed” 5000 jobs. A quarter of a million more inhabit the sprawl they still call the City. Scotland, skull for skull, perhaps has greater exposure, its insurers agog over the travails of American International Group, “the world’s largest” (if broke) in their field. The paper industries that fed GDP that fed the housing market that fed the credit boom that fed Circularity, not to mention sheer deceit, will be themes for months to come.

Those currents of history of which Herr Marx was so fond become apposite, at this point. Wars and impressive munitions have distracted us from the end of the American century. Gore Vidal said it best when he observed that the empire fell, bar the shouting, when the US became the world’s largest debtor nation. That remains the case. We depend on a reserve currency itself dependent on an economy
that is, by any measure, bust. All those creative manoeuvres with collateralised debt obligations mask a fundamental truth: America is broke.

India is not, however. Brazil is not. China, with $1 trillion in foreign, mostly greenback, currency reserves does not have a sub-prime problem. It has a dollar problem. If there is to be – if there is – a catastrophic failure within the US system, Beijing stands to lose a bundle. If hey act to support Washington, however,
the Chinese – and the Indians, the Koreans, the Arabs and the rest – will want assets you can trust and test in return.

It’s what known as a fire sale. In the reasoning of Karl Marx, never actually mistaken about the tendencies of economic actors, it stands as a definitive crisis. The world just changed, ready or not. (Posted by Bulatlat)

Big Banks Go Bust: Time to Reform Wall Street

September 27, 2008

We must go further in fixing the financial sector – most importantly by downsizing it. The financial sector accounted for more than 30 percent of corporate profits in 2004. Back in the 1950’s and 1960’s, the country’s period of most rapid growth, the financial sector accounted for less than 10 percent of corporate profit.

BY DEAN BAKER
The Campaign for America’s Future/Truthout
INTERNATIONAL
Posted by Bulatlat

With the demise of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, IndyMac, Bear Stearns and now Lehman Brothers, we’ve been treated to the failure of more major financial firms than during any year since the Great Depression. The sight of rich bankers getting the boot might be lots of fun if it were just a spectator sport. Unfortunately, we are in the game with these clowns.

As a result of their incompetence, irresponsibility and greed, the housing bubble was allowed to grow to dangerous proportions. Its collapse threw the economy into recession, putting millions of people out of work and lowering the wages of those who still have their jobs. The plunge in house prices has destroyed much of the life savings for tens of millions of people nearing retirement.

Meanwhile, the bankers who messed up and destroyed the companies who hired them are still multimillionaires. Most of them are still in their old jobs getting multimillion-dollar pay packages. This is a sector that badly cries out for reform, and there is no better time than now to put it into place.

The first target for reform should be the outrageous salaries drawn by the top executives at financial firms. The crew that lost tens of billions at Citigroup, Merrill Lynch and the rest have received tens of millions, possibly even hundreds of millions, in compensation for their “work” over the last few years.

There is a general problem in corporate America of stockholders being unable to effectively organize to rein in top management. This problem is most serious in the financial industry.

Thankfully, the credit crisis gives us the tools we need to rein in executive pay. Currently, the major surviving investment banks (e.g. Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs) are operating on life support. They are drawing money at below-market interest rates from the Federal Reserve Board’s discount window. This privilege (for which they pay nothing) can easily be worth billions of dollars a year.

These banks are also operating with an explicit guarantee from Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke to their creditors that he will honor their loans in the event that an investment bank, like Bear Stearns, goes belly up. This guarantee is enormously valuable. Investors who make loans to Merrill Lynch or Morgan Stanley don’t have to worry about the health of these companies because Bernanke has said that, if necessary, he will use public money to pay them back.

While we don’t want a chain reaction of banking collapses on Wall Street, the public should get something in exchange for Bernanke’s generosity. Specifically, he can demand a cap on executive compensation (all compensation) of $2 million a year, in exchange for getting bailed out. For any bank that is not on board, Bernanke could make an explicit promise to their creditors – if the bank goes under, you will get zero from the Fed.

This can be an effective way to restore sanity to the salaries paid on Wall Street. And, this can be a good example for setting executive pay more generally. Any time a company comes to the public for a handout, like tax breaks for oil companies or low-interest loans for auto companies, the $2 million cap on all compensation goes into effect.

This is important directly because much of the country’s wealth has been steered into these folks’ pockets, but also because the outrageous compensation packages on Wall Street distorted pay structures throughout the economy. Presidents of universities often get over $1 million a year, and even top executives at private charities can often earn near $1 million a year. These salaries seem low when compared to their counterparts in the corporate world, but they are outrageous when compared to the paychecks of typical workers.

Of course, we must go further in fixing the financial sector – most importantly by downsizing it. The financial sector accounted for more than 30 percent of corporate profits in 2004. Back in the 1950’s and 1960’s, the country’s period of most rapid growth, the financial sector accounted for less than 10 percent of corporate profit.

The financial sector performs an incredibly important function in allocating savings to those who want to invest in businesses, buy homes or borrow money for other purposes. But shuffling money is not an end in itself. The explosion of the financial sector over the last three decades has led to a proliferation of complex financial instruments, many of which are not even understood by the companies who sell them, as we have painfully discovered.

The best way to bring the sector into line is with a modest financial-transactions tax. Such taxes have long existed in other countries. For example, the United Kingdom charges a tax of 0.25 percent on the purchase or sale of share of stock. This is not a big deal to someone who holds their shares for ten years, but it could be a considerable cost for the folks who buy stocks in the morning that they sell in the afternoon.

Comparable taxes on the transfer of all financial instruments (e.g. options, futures, credit default swaps, etc.) could go a long way in reducing speculation and the volume of trading in financial markets. Such a tax could also raise an enormous amount of money – easily more than $100 billion a year. This would go a long way toward funding national health care insurance or a major green infrastructure project.

And, this tax would be hugely progressive. Middle-income shareholders might take a small hit; but it would be comparable to raising the capital gains tax rate back to 20 percent, where it was before it was cut to 15 percent in 2003. The real hit would be on the big speculators and the Wall Street boys, the folks who gave us the housing crisis. Given what the Wall Street crew has done for us, this is change that we can believe in. (Posted by Bulatlat)

Dean Baker is the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). He is the author of “The Conservative Nanny State: How the Wealthy Use the Government to Stay Rich and Get Richer” (www.conservativenannystate.org). He also has a blog, “Beat the Press,” where he discusses the media’s coverage of economic issues. You can find it at the American Prospect’s web site.

On the current global financial crisis

September 27, 2008

Written by Prof. Jose Ma. Sison

I wish to comment on the gravity of the current financial crisis of the world capitalist system and on the impact of this in the various major contradictions in the world, with special attention to the people’s resistance in Asia, Africa and Latin America and in the imperialist countries.

Gravity of the global financial crisis

The economic and financial crisis of the US and world capitalist system has worsened to a new and unprecedented level since the Great Depression. This signifies the utter failure of the attempt of the US and other imperialist powers to overcome the problem of stagflation under Keynesianism with the policy shift to neoliberalism. Instead, the latter policy has aggravated and deepened the crisis of overproduction in the real economy and has given free rein to the abuses of finance capitalism.

The states of imperialist and other countries have adopted the policy to press down wage levels and cut back social spending. They have allowed the monopoly bourgeoisie to accelerate the concentration and centralization of productive and finance capital in its hands through the denationalization of underdeveloped economies, privatization of public assets, liberalization of investments and trade and deregulation at the expense of the working people, women, children and the environment-all in the name of “free market” globalization.

The consistent result has been the actual contraction of the world market, as the purchasing power of the working people has declined and has limited the demand for the products of expanded production. Ever intent on maximizing profits by raising the organic composition of capital (constant capital over variable capital), the monopoly bourgeoisie has reduced industrial employment and regular employment in imperialist countries by shifting production to a few other countries, like China, India and the Southeast Asian countries, in order to avail of cheap labor.

The illusion of economic growth has been conjured for the entire world capitalist system through the wanton expansion of money supply and credit. The imperialist states and nearly all other states have gone into unrestrained local and foreign borrowing to cover trade and budgetary deficits. The state and private banks have expanded credit and the private corporations have gone into heavy indebtedness by getting bank loans and issuing corporate bonds. To maintain the US as the biggest consumer market, US households have been given a seemingly endless flow of credit, culminating in the housing bubble and ending in the ongoing mortgage meltdown.

The truth about the US economy is now out. The sordid facts about the con game of the lead economy of the world capitalist system are being exposed. The debts of the US federal government, the private corporations and households are unsustainable and cannot be paid back. And yet the US policy makers continue to expand the money supply and lower the interest rates. The industrial decline and the runaway federal debt of the US have undermined the long-touted role of the US as the engine of global economic growth and the global market of last resort as well as the value of the US dollar as the reserve currency of the world.

The US economy has become dependent on credit provided by certain oil producing countries and by countries supplying consumer goods. It has fallen into a prolonged state of camouflaged recession since 1999 when the high tech bubble was about to burst. Some US economists now describe the US economy as being in a state of inflationary recession and is halfway into an hyper-inflationary Weimar Republic-type of depression that has a high potential of leaping into Great Depression II. The other industrial capitalist economies are being pulled into the vortex of the global financial crisis that the US chiefly has stirred up.

The few other countries from which the US imports cheap consumer goods face decreasing orders, a credit crunch and the declining value of the US dollar. The chronically depressed underdeveloped countries in the third world find themselves in a far worse situation than before. The overwhelming majority of them have become net fuel and food importers. Their peoples are grievously victimized by the manipulated shortages and price gouging by the global and regional cartels directed by the monopoly capitalists in the US and other imperialist powers. The entire world capitalist system can be summed up as being in a state of depression, especially if we fully take into account the actual social and economic conditions of the oppressed peoples and nations.

Consequences of the global financial crisis

The gravity of the economic and financial crisis of the world capitalist system is such that we can expect the worsening and sharpening of contradictions between the imperialist countries and the oppressed peoples and nations, between the imperialist countries and certain countries that invoke national independence, among the imperialist powers themselves and between the monopoly bourgeoisie and the working class in the imperialist countries.

The crisis of the world capitalist system inflicts social devastation at its worst and suffering at its most painful on the oppressed peoples and nations in Asia, Africa and Latin America. It is therefore understandable why we see here the most widespread spontaneous and organized actions of mass protest and the revolutionary armed struggles that seek to end imperialist domination and overthrow the puppet regimes. The main contradiction in the world is that between the imperialist powers and the oppressed peoples and nations.

The extent of existing revolutionary armed struggles is already formidable, as we observe those in Iraq, Afghanistan, Colombia, Peru, Brazil, Nigeria, Philippines, Turkey, India and other South Asian countries. The potential is high for the revolutionary armed struggles to arise in more countries in several continents. The crisis of the world capitalist system generates the favorable objective conditions for the further spread of people’s wars for national liberation and democracy.

Since the end of World War II, many new national states have arisen from the colonies and semi-colonies either as a result of the revolutionary movements for national liberation or as a result of neocolonial compromise. Most of them are now in the clutches of neocolonialism and neoliberalism. But there are some states which invoke bourgeois nationalism or socialism and assert national independence against the imperialists and their agents. Those states born from successful national liberation movements, such as China, North Korea and Cuba, have been the most effective in asserting national independence and preventing US aggression.

We have also seen the Yugoslavia of Milosevic and Iraq of Saddam resisting the worst of imperialist impositions and being subjected to wars of aggression launched by the US. Currently, there are other countries whose governments stand up to imperialist domination and move to nationalize imperialist enterprises. Venezuela of Hugo Chavez is a prime example. As the crisis of the world capitalist system worsens, we are going to see more dramatic events in the contradictions between the imperialist countries and the countries that assert national independence.

The imperialist powers collude with each other against the oppressed peoples and nations in general. But they compete with each other for sources of cheap raw materials, markets, fields of investment and spheres of influence. As a result of the full restoration of capitalism in former revisionist-ruled countries, imperialist countries competing with each other and seeking to redivide the world have increased in number. The world has become more cramped than ever for the competitions and rivalries of the imperialist powers.

The US is increasingly resented by other imperialist powers for presuming to have sole hegemony over the whole world and for trying to grab the lion’s share of spoils in every continent. At the same time, it is already overextended and weakening in certain parts of the world. Contradictions are developing between the US and Russia and China jointly or separately. So are those between the US and the European Union. These contradictions involve economic, financial, political, security and other issues. As the crisis of the world capitalist system worsens, the contradictions among the imperialist powers will sharpen and generate conditions favorable for the rise of revolutionary movements.

Within imperialist countries, contradictions are surfacing between the monopoly bourgeoisie and the working class. Under the auspices of neoliberalism, the wage and living conditions of the working class have deteriorated drastically. Job security for most workers has evaporated. Worker youth, women and immigrants are discriminated against, exploited and oppressed. Social benefits won over a long period of time have been gravely eroded. Trade union and other democratic rights have been undermined and curtailed.

As the crisis of the world capitalist system worsens, the monopoly bourgeoisie will try to further exploit and oppress the workers. It will pit one section of the working class against another. For the purpose, it will use chauvinism, racism, religious bigotry and fascism. But it is precisely the escalating exploitative and oppressive acts of the monopoly bourgeoisie that will drive the workers to fight back and wage revolutionary struggle. The class struggle in the imperialist countries has never been eliminated. It has only been suppressed for quite a long while. It is now resurgent.

[Prof. Jose Maria Sison is chairperson of the International Coordinating Committee of the International League of Peoples’Struggle (ILPS). The foregoing article (original title: “Implications and consequences of the global financial crisis to the people’s anti-imperialist movement”) was written as a contribution to the Forum on Global Financial Crisis, Third International Assembly, held in Hong Kong on 19 June 2008. Visit the author’s site to read more analyses on various issues.]

Media guilty as ‘fog of war’ clears

September 27, 2008

Written by Catherine Makino

As the “fog of war” clears over the Caucasus and the United Nations prepares to set up peace missions in Abhkazia and South Ossetia, what stands out is the apparently partisan role played by Western media in last month’s five-day armed conflict.

“I am surprised at how powerful the propaganda machine of the so-called West is. This is awesome! Amazing!” Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was quoted by the Interfax agency as saying on Thursday, while addressing Russia experts gathered at Sochi town for a meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club.

Earlier Russia’s ambassador in Tokyo, Mikhail Bely, told IPS he was ‘’flabbergasted’’ by what he saw on the CNN and BBC TV channels on Aug. 9. ‘’The screen reports were transmitting pictures of cluster bombs being used and indiscriminate shelling. The anchors described it as Russia’s shelling of Georgia. It was a pile of lies, distortions and propaganda of the event that happened in Georgia. The foreign press believed what the Georgian officials told them and it looked like the world tended to believe it.”

While it is now clear that it was Georgian President Saakashvilli’s regime that started the conflict, the press ‘’made it out like a conflict between an authoritarian country versus a democratic one,’’ the ambassador said.

Gregory Clark, head of research and honorary president of Tama University, agrees that Georgia started the conflict. “Certainly it was Georgia that started things, and it could have escalated into genocide if Russia had not answered the original attack with a purging of Ossetians from the area by a victorious Georgia.’’

“Overall Bely’s assessment was correct. U.S. and British media have been very anti-Russia biased in reporting. The Europeans have been more balanced, realising the significance of the Aug. 7-8 attack,’’ Clark said.

The conflict between Russia and Georgia is grounded in territorial disputes over the regions of Abkhazia and Ossetia. Russia invaded South Ossetia on Aug.8 and claimed it was designed to protect the region from the Georgian army. Georgia claimed it was responding to an unlawful attack by Russia.

After five days of fighting which saw Russian tanks rolling into Georgia proper, the two countries signed a ceasefire agreement on Aug.17.

Robert Dujarric of Temple University in Japan explained to IPS that U.S. and British open support of Georgia contrasted with the evenhandedness of the European Union. “The continental Europeans feel more vulnerable to Russian pressure over gas supplies, which I think is an overrated threat since Russia needs the money and the Europeans also have ways to put economic pressure on Russia, as well as on its oligarchs.’’

Dujarric noted that U.S. support for Georgia in the present crisis is based in part on the belief that Russia is to blame for instigating this war.

There has been killing by both sides for years and this is endemic in much of the Caucasus, but evidence of genocide is lacking, and surely one cannot give any credibility to statements from the Kremlin, said Dujarric.

In an e-mail interview with IPS, Gordon M. Hahn, a senior researcher at the Graduate School of International Policy Studies, Monterey Institute for International Studies and at the Centre for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies, described Western news reporting as ‘’truly horrendous’’.

Hahn, the author of two well-received books, ‘Russia’s Islamic Threat,’ and ‘Russia’s Revolution From Above’, said he was appalled by the Sky News reporting in the first few hours that Russian troops were killing thousands. ‘’The total Georgian civilian death toll remains at less than a hundred and less than the Ossetian toll. Wars are famous for the fog of war that creates confusion for both participants and observers. There was no way Sky News or other news organisations could have had such information or could have been under the impression that the information could be reliable.’’

What was worse, according to Hahn, was that ‘’in order to simplify and sex up the picture, Western news organisations developed the simple but dramatic news line of the big nasty Russian bear needlessly attacking a poor, helpless Georgia. They ignored the fact that it was Georgia that attacked first and had killed Russian peacekeeping soldiers.

As for the cluster bombs, the only report of Russians using cluster bombs is now in doubt’’. Hahn referred to the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) backing off from some of its statements and reporting later that it was Georgian forces that used cluster bombs.

On the other hand, said Hahn, it is unlikely that Saakashvili would start a policy of genocide and ethnic cleansing. ‘’However, once a war begins and interethnic hatred is sparked anything can happen.’’

Russian claims of Georgian genoicide and ethnic cleansing had several causes, according to Hahn. ‘’To begin with the first reports of large numbers of casualties seem to have come from the South Ossetians. Secondly, if the Georgians could lie about Russian atrocities and grossly exaggerate in a propaganda war, then why could not the Russians do the same?’’

“In these interethnic wars the difference in the scale of atrocities and ethnic cleansing committed by one side versus another is usually determined by who is winning and who is losing on the ground. Those who are losing on the ground simply have less opportunity to engage in this activity,” said Hahn.

“Finally, the Russians have been consciously imitating what it calls the hypocritical aspects of Western behavior based on the principle that ‘if they can do it, why can’t we?'” IPS

Bailing out the predators

September 27, 2008

By Ron Jacobs

Let me get this straight. The Congress is meeting with the Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson this week. Mr. Paulson, who serves at the pleasure of the White House, says he has a plan to save the US economy. That plan involves bailing out the same companies that got the economy into the mess it is in today. The money for the bailout plan is going to come from the people who are already paying for two pointless, brutal and expensive occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan – the US taxpayers. More precisely, the US taxpayers who make between $25, 000 and $150,000 a year – the people the government likes to call the middle class. These people are already making less in real wages than they were ten years ago and many of them are facing foreclosures and other financial problems of their own.

If I recall correctly, the very same US Congress that is considering bailing out the big financial corporations that got the economy into its current mess because of their greed and the government’s willingness to forgo any regulation of their doings (and the doings of their sister companies in the energy sector) made it almost impossible for individual working people in the US to declare bankruptcy. Yet, they are enabling these giants of the Wall Street economy to get out of their financial catastrophes by making us foot the bill. Furthermore, they have the nerve to tell us it is for the good of the country. Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I can honestly recall the last time the White House, Congress or Wall Street did anything for the good of the country that I know.

Sure, they started a war against Afghanistan under the pretense that they were going to chase down and capture the guys who organized those planes flying into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. That’s gone real well. I mean, look at Afghanistan now. The Pentagon is sending more troops and the White House and Congress are giving the okay. Dozens of civilians are dying in US air strikes as the occupiers fight a growing guerrilla army. They also started a war in Iraq that has done nothing but brought greater misery to that country and its people. It has also caused over 30,000 US casualties, with over 4,000 of those casualties being dead men and women whose families are still not sure what they died for. Oh yeah, the price of fuel at the pump has increased by almost four dollars in some places across this land and the number of jobs has decreased steadily. That is, of course, unless you look at the military. Those job openings continue to grow.

But somebody must have benefited from this, right? And we all know who they are. The energy industry has raked in historically huge profits, all the while claiming that they deserve them while insisting that they get further tax breaks. Tax breaks which Congress willingly grants. The war industry has also made a bundle. Some companies, like General Dynamics, have doubled their net earnings just in the past four years. Others, like Haliburton, have used their insider connections to capture dozens, if not hundreds, of no-bid contracts that involve several documented cases of outright fraud and corruption. Yet, they continue to obtain the contracts and avoid prosecution. Then, there are those so-called security contractors, whose employees murder Iraqi citizens, media workers, and even Iraqi employees of the US-installed regime in Baghdad and face no penalties. Meanwhile, the contractor corporations themselves reap huge profits while also selling their services to agencies stateside that are involved with immigration and disaster management. So, uniformed thugs who answer to no one are now performing police duties here in the US. It’s like the Pinkertons of old in the employ of the Rockefellers, Carnegies and the government they ran back then.

Anyhow, back to that financial bailout and the arrogance assumed by those who are proposing it and those who will vote for it. Every time I hear about a CEO of some corporation that fails getting a multimillion dollar compensation package I can’t help but wonder: why is it that these guys get paid for doing their job so poorly that the company they manage fails? I know that in every job I have ever had that if I don’t do my job correctly than I get fired, plain and simple. If I’m lucky I might get a small unemployment check for a few months, but usually when a worker gets fired there is no compensation whatsoever. So, it pisses me off that these guys, from Lee Iacocca to the folks who ran Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac into the sewer not only get what the rich people call a parachute, but that they genuinely think they deserve one. I say push them out of th plane and let them try to fly. That’s what happens when people who work for a living lose their jobs.

The government isn’t any better, either. What could arguably be called the worst presidential administration in history will be leaving Washington next January. Yet, when those men and women hop on their chartered planes and head out of town, will they have to wonder where their next meal is coming from? Of course not. Almost every single one of them will fetch a nice retirement check for the rest of their lives. In addition, many of them will continue to receive the best health care in the world and hand us the bill. Others will go directly back into the business they were in before they joined the government. Naturally, those businesses will most certainly be better off than when these men and women left them to work in what I loosely term public service. After all, I’m not convinced that there is much servicing the public going on in DC any more. It’s more like servicing the wealthy and their bank accounts. As for Congress, these folks can spend two years in DC kissing corporate ass and hanging out in K Street offices and then go back to their other life with a lifetime pension and that same health care referred to previously. Bet the average reader can’t depend on a package like that.

It’s time Wall Street and Washington DC start practicing for itself what it preaches to the rest of us. No more bailouts and no more fat no-bid contracts. No more wars fought by other people’s kids for the war industry’s profits and the politicians’ egos. No more pay raises and no more free health care. No more taxpayer-funded travel and no more free gas. No more compensation packages unless they do a good job. Either that, or share the wealth and make health care universal, wars illegal, and fuel affordable.

It’s time we tell these folks: Bail your own selves out. Or, if you can’t, then start swimming. That’s what you expect us regular folks to do.

[Source: Dissident Vocie. Ron Jacobs is the author of The Way The Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground. His most recent novel Short Order Frame Up is published by Mainstay Press.]

Finland faces its demons a day after school shooting

September 25, 2008

KAUHAJOKI, Finland: Finland said it would toughen its gun laws after Tuesday’s school massacre, as police who questioned but released the killer a day before the shooting landed in the hot seat.

The 22-year-old culinary arts student Matti Juhani Saari burst into his classroom at a vocational school in the southwestern town of Kauhajoki Tuesday morning, shooting dead eight female and one male classmate and a male teacher, before setting the building on fire and fatally shooting himself.

Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen, who ordered flags across Finland to fly at half-staff and declared Wednesday a national day of mourning, traveled to the small town, some 360 kilometers from Helsinki, to meet local officials and family members of the massacre victims.

Upon arrival Wednesday morning, Vanhanen reiterated that the Nordic country’s until now lenient gun laws would be significantly tightened following the second massacre at a Finnish school in less than a year.

“We will take a decision regarding a new law in a few months. We have had a very long tradition” of gun ownership, he said.

Finland has one of the world’s highest gun ownership rates, ranking third behind the United States and Yemen according to a study last year.

Vanhanen said the country was in the process of implementing a new European Union directive it had previously contested preventing 15-year-olds from possessing guns.

“Finland will raise [the age for gun ownership] from 15 to 18,” he said, before adding, “But in this case it would not have [made a difference] because this guy was 22.”
–AFP(ManilaTimes)

US-Iraq Agreement Leaked

September 17, 2008

leaked version of last month’s draft of the proposed US-Iraq status of forces agreement (SOFA) suggests that the Iraqi parliament may not be consulted before it is signed, despite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s promises to do so. The pact would govern the future US presence in Iraq. The draft indicates no intent to set a deadline for withdrawal of “noncombat” troops from Iraq. It also grants immunity from Iraqi law to US military personnel, no matter where they are located.

BY MAYA SCHENWAR
T r u t h o u t
Posted by Bulatlat
Vol. VIII, No. 31, September 7-13, 2008

A leaked version of last month’s draft of the proposed US-Iraq status of forces agreement (SOFA) suggests that the Iraqi parliament may not be consulted before it is signed, despite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s promises to do so. The pact would govern the future US presence in Iraq. The draft indicates no intent to set a deadline for withdrawal of “noncombat” troops from Iraq. It also grants immunity from Iraqi law to US military personnel, no matter where they are located.

The draft was translated and provided to Truthout by Raed Jarrar, Iraq consultant for the American Friends Service Committee. It comes after months of assurances from Maliki that the agreement would be sent to parliament. However, the draft SOFA states, “This agreement goes into effect on the day that diplomatic memos confirming all constitutional procedures have been met in both countries are exchanged,” and sets a December 31 deadline for this memo exchange.

Designating a memo exchange between executive branches as the go-ahead to put the plan into action opens up a gaping loophole, making it simple to bypass parliamentary ratification, according to Jarrar. Since the “constitutional procedures” that are to be followed aren’t specified – and Iraq’s laws are not yet set in stone – the Maliki administration’s lawyers could easily interpret a bilateral executive agreement as constitutional. Unlike parliament, the Iraqi executive branch operates out of the US green zone and is backed by the United States.

“I won’t be surprised if someone in the Iraqi executive branch decides that it is enough to read the agreement before the parliament, or ‘consult’ with them, or pass it as a law with simple majority or whatever other tricks they might pull,” Jarrar told Truthout, adding that the December 31 deadline makes the language even more suspect. “How can they make sure all ‘constitutional procedures’ [are completed] before December 31? What will happen if they are not done?”

The prospect of an impending deadline certainly clashes with hopes of parliamentary approval, according to Dr. Mahmoud Al-Mashhadani, head of the Iraqi parliament. In a rare interview with the news agency Al-Arabiya, Al-Mashhadani stressed that parliament could not even consider a SOFA right now, since a law governing procedures on international agreements has not been passed.

“The Iraqi constitution determines that the House of Representatives must first enact a law to ratify the Law of Treaties and Agreements, and must vote or pass this law through parliament by two-thirds majority,” Al-Mashhadani said. “So, before discussing the treaty, we must enact this law by two-thirds.”

Al-Mashhadani stated that the Law of Treaties and Agreements would “take a long time to pass,” and would “not be enacted before the end of the year.”

Therefore, the SOFA draft deadline would not allow the possibility of parliamentary approval before passage.
Iraq’s executive branch has a history of circumventing the legislature, according to Foreign Policy in Focus Fellow Erik Leaver: The administration did not consult parliament in 2007 when it agreed on the extension of the UN mandate allowing a continuing US presence in Iraq. However, says Leaver, because parliament has been so publicly vocal in its insistence on being involved in the SOFA process, ignoring the legislature may have heavier consequences this time around.

“I would expect a legal challenge in Iraq – and perhaps the US – if the accord moves forward in an exchange of memos,” Leaver told Truthout. “Beyond legal challenges, enormous political pressure would be put upon him, perhaps causing a rise in instability and a certain delay in the scheduled [2008] fall elections in Iraq.”

Jarrar suggested that bypassing parliament may even “lead to some groups quitting the political process.”
Ahmed Ali, an Iraqi correspondent based in Diyala, told Truthout that the possible circumvention of parliamentary approval reveals the nature of the agreement itself: It runs contrary to the wishes of most Iraqi people and their representatives, who would rather all troops leave the country quickly.

“[The SOFA] is superficial,” Ali said. “They are telling Iraqis, ‘You have to accept it; you can say no word.’”

Meanwhile, the American people and their representatives are getting a similarly short end of the stick, according to Steve Fox, director of the American Freedom Campaign, a nonpartisan organization that works to combat executive power abuses. Fox notes that, although SOFAs are usually bilateral executive agreements, the US-Iraq pact goes far beyond the bounds of a traditional SOFA, since it grants US military personnel the authority to continue fighting. (Typical SOFA provisions include US military members’ banking and postal procedures, legal policies relating to military personnel and the transport of Americans’ property into and out of the country.)

“For the past seven years, the president has treated Congress like an inferior branch of government,” Fox told Truthout. “This pending agreement with Iraq is just another example. It is clear that the agreement goes beyond the reach of a traditional SOFA and it should be approved by Congress before it goes into effect. But the president has no intention of seeking Congressional approval. In our opinion, Congress should issue a ’signing statement’ of its own, declaring the agreement unconstitutional and signaling that it will fund the activities outlined in the agreement at its own discretion.”

Timetable for (Partial) Withdrawal

Over the past couple of months, Maliki has firmly advocated a quick, total withdrawal of US troops. Many in Iraq believe that his strong language is intended to sell the SOFA to parliament. However, if parliament is not consulted on the deal, it will likely contain very weak withdrawal guidelines, as outlined in the leaked draft.

The draft states that a deadline will be set to pull out “combat troops,” though the exact date had not been filled in at the time of its release. No timeline is provided for the departure of noncombat troops. Those soldiers would be permitted to linger indefinitely on “installations and areas agreed upon” – the agreement’s lingo for “military bases.”

The “noncombat” designation is notably vague, according to Leaver.

“It doesn’t define what role noncombatant troops would have, nor does it define the potential numbers left behind,” Leaver said, adding that the agreement doesn’t specify what role remaining military contractors would play in a “post-withdrawal” Iraq.

Although its definitions might be murky, the way the agreement’s “withdrawal” plan will be received in Iraq is fairly clear, according to Ali.
“In a word, this arrangement is a new face for the occupation,” Ali said.

Troop Immunity

The SOFA draft grants US troops full immunity from Iraqi law, stating, “The U.S. has exclusive legal jurisdiction over U.S. armed forces members and civilian members inside and outside installations and areas agreed upon.”

Following that clause is a “suggestion” from the Iraqi negotiators, which proposes that US personnel be given immunity “except for intentional crimes and major mistakes.”

“Intentional crimes and major mistakes” are not defined, and according to Jarrar, the “Iraqi suggestions” sprinkled throughout the draft do not hold much water.

“All the Iraqi suggestions show that the Iraqi team doesn’t have much leeway,” Jarrar said.

The generous immunity clause is not standard for SOFAs, according to Joseph Gerson, author of “The Sun Never Sets: Confronting the Network of Foreign Military Bases.” In fact, in countries with more leverage, like Japan and western European nations, US soldiers who commit crimes may well be subject to native law. By seeking blanket immunity for troops in “post-withdrawal” Iraq, the Bush administration is following a treacherous historical pattern.

“Such indemnification is often sought by the Pentagon when new bases are established, and it is as close to a raw practice of imperialism as one can imagine,” Gerson told Truthout.

Leaver notes that the wide-open immunity clause coincides with a high prevalence of US-inflicted civilian casualties in Iraq, leaving victims of those crimes with no recourse.

According to Ali, that’s an untenable loophole.

“The US troops should be tried by Iraqi law,” Ali said. “Every day, they kill people by mistake. Let’s imagine that whole case in the United States, what the result would be – can you?” Truthout/Posted by Bulatlat

Bush Said to Give Orders Allowing Raids in Pakistan

September 17, 2008

President Bush secretly approved orders in July that for the first time allow American Special Operations forces to carry out ground assaults inside Pakistan without the prior approval of the Pakistani government, according to senior American officials.

BY ERIC SCHMITT and MARK MAZZETTI
New York Times
Posted by Bulatlat
Vol. VIII, No. 32, September 14-20, 2008

WASHINGTON — President Bush secretly approved orders in July that for the first time allow American Special Operations forces to carry out ground assaults inside Pakistan without the prior approval of the Pakistani government, according to senior American officials.

The classified orders signal a watershed for the Bush administration after nearly seven years of trying to work with Pakistan to combat the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and after months of high-level stalemate about how to challenge the militants’ increasingly secure base in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

American officials say that they will notify Pakistan when they conduct limited ground attacks like the Special Operations raid last Wednesday in a Pakistani village near the Afghanistan border, but that they will not ask for its permission.

“The situation in the tribal areas is not tolerable,” said a senior American official who, like others interviewed for this article, spoke on condition of anonymity because of the delicate nature of the missions. “We have to be more assertive. Orders have been issued.”

The new orders reflect concern about safe havens for Al Qaeda and the Taliban inside Pakistan, as well as an American view that Pakistan lacks the will and ability to combat militants. They also illustrate lingering distrust of the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies and a belief that some American operations had been compromised once Pakistanis were advised of the details.

The Central Intelligence Agency has for several years fired missiles at militants inside Pakistan from remotely piloted Predator aircraft. But the new orders for the military’s Special Operations forces relax firm restrictions on conducting raids on the soil of an important ally without its permission.

Pakistan’s top army officer said Wednesday that his forces would not tolerate American incursions like the one that took place last week and that the army would defend the country’s sovereignty “at all costs.”

It is unclear precisely what legal authorities the United States has invoked to conduct even limited ground raids in a friendly country. A second senior American official said that the Pakistani government had privately assented to the general concept of limited ground assaults by Special Operations forces against significant militant targets, but that it did not approve each mission.

The official did not say which members of the government gave their approval.

Any new ground operations in Pakistan raise the prospect of American forces being killed or captured in the restive tribal areas — and a propaganda coup for Al Qaeda. Last week’s raid also presents a major test for Pakistan’s new president, Asif Ali Zardari, who supports more aggressive action by his army against the militants but cannot risk being viewed as an American lap dog, as was his predecessor, Pervez Musharraf.

The new orders were issued after months of debate inside the Bush administration about whether to authorize a ground campaign inside Pakistan. The debate, first reported by The New York Times in late June, at times pitted some officials at the State Department against parts of the Pentagon that advocated aggressive action against Qaeda and Taliban targets inside the tribal areas.

Details about last week’s commando operation have emerged that indicate the mission was more intrusive than had previously been known.

According to two American officials briefed on the raid, it involved more than two dozen members of the Navy Seals who spent several hours on the ground and killed about two dozen suspected Qaeda fighters in what now appeared to have been a planned attack against militants who had been conducting attacks against an American forward operating base across the border in Afghanistan.

Supported by an AC-130 gunship, the Special Operations forces were whisked away by helicopters after completing the mission.

Although the senior American official who provided the most detailed description of the new presidential order would discuss it only on condition of anonymity, his account was corroborated by three other senior American officials from several government agencies, all of whom made clear that they supported the more aggressive approach.

Pakistan’s government has asserted that last week’s raid achieved little except killing civilians and stoking anti-Americanism in the tribal areas.

“Unilateral action by the American forces does not help the war against terror because it only enrages public opinion,” said Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington, during a speech on Friday. “In this particular incident, nothing was gained by the action of the troops.”

As an alternative to American ground operations, some Pakistani officials have made clear that they prefer the C.I.A.’s Predator aircraft, operating from the skies, as a method of killing Qaeda operatives. The C.I.A. for the most part has coordinated with Pakistan’s government before and after it has launched missiles from the drone. On Monday, a Predator strike in North Waziristan killed several Arab Qaeda operatives.

A new American command structure was put in place this year to better coordinate missions by the C.I.A. and members of the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command, made up of the Army’s Delta Force and the Navy Seals.

The move was intended to address frustration on the ground about different agencies operating under different marching orders. Under the arrangement, a senior C.I.A. official based at Bagram air base in Afghanistan was put in charge of coordinating C.I.A. and military activities in the border region.

Spokesmen for the White House, the Defense Department and the C.I.A. declined to comment on Wednesday about the new orders. Some senior Congressional officials have received briefings on the new authorities. A spokeswoman for Senator Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat who leads the Armed Services Committee, declined to comment.

American commanders in Afghanistan have complained bitterly that militants use sanctuaries in Pakistan to attack American troops in Afghanistan.

“I’m not convinced we’re winning it in Afghanistan,” Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday. “I am convinced we can.”

Toward that goal, Admiral Mullen said he had ordered a comprehensive military strategy to address the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The commando raid last week and an increasing number of recent missile strikes are part of a more aggressive overall American campaign in the border region aimed at intensifying attacks on Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the waning months of the Bush administration, with less than two months to go before November elections.

State Department officials, as well as some within the National Security Council, have expressed concern about any Special Operations missions that could be carried out without the approval of the American ambassador in Islamabad.

The months-long delay in approving ground missions created intense frustration inside the military’s Special Operations community, which believed that the Bush administration was holding back as the Qaeda safe haven inside Pakistan became more secure for militants.

The stepped-up campaign inside Pakistan comes at a time when American-Pakistani relations have been fraying, and when anger is increasing within American intelligence agencies about ties between Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, known as the ISI, and militants in the tribal areas.

Analysts at the C.I.A. and other American spy and security agencies believe not only that the bombing of India’s embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, in July by militants was aided by ISI operatives, but also that the highest levels of Pakistan’s security apparatus — including the army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani — had knowledge of the plot.

“It’s very difficult to imagine he was not aware,” a senior American official said of General Kayani.

American intelligence agencies have said that senior Pakistani national security officials favor the use of militant groups to preserve Pakistan’s influence in the region, as a hedge against India and Afghanistan.

In fact, some American intelligence analysts believe that ISI operatives did not mind when their role in the July bombing in Kabul became known. “They didn’t cover their tracks very well,” a senior Defense Department official said, “and I think the embassy bombing was the ISI drawing a line in the sand.” New York Times/posted by Bulatlat

US Reported to Kill 12 in Pakistan

September 17, 2008

As the American campaign against suspected Al Qaeda and Taliban militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas seemed to intensify on Friday, two missiles fired from remotely piloted American aircraft killed 12 people on Friday in an attack on a village compound in North Waziristan, according to a local journalist and television reports.

BY PIR ZUBAIR SHAH AND ALAN COWELL
The New York Times/Truthout
Posted by Bulatlat
Vol. VIII, No. 32, September 14-20, 2008

Islamabad, Pakistan – As the American campaign against suspected Al Qaeda and Taliban militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas seemed to intensify on Friday, two missiles fired from remotely piloted American aircraft killed 12 people on Friday in an attack on a village compound in North Waziristan, according to a local journalist and television reports.

At the same time, fighting between Pakistan security forces and militants elsewhere in the wild lands bordering Afghanistan killed 32 militants and two soldiers, The Associated Press reported, citing a Pakistan Army spokesman, Maj. Murad Khan.

The missile strike was said to have taken place near Miran Shah, the main settlement in North Waziristan, before first light Friday and was aimed at the home of a local tribesman, Yousaf Khan Wazir, who was among the dead, a local journalist said, speaking in return for anonymity.

A Pakistani intelligence official said most of the dead in the attack were “Punjabi Taliban.” The term refers to militants from the Punjab Province of Pakistan. The target was said to be a militant training camp, the official said, asking not to be named because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

The missiles were fired at a village called Tole Khel, two miles east of Miran Shah, and the dead included women and children, according to residents speaking to Pakistani reporters. There was no immediate word on the reported attack from American or Pakistani military authorities.

Pakistan’s government has little control in the tribal areas which the United States regards as safe havens for Al Qaeda and Taliban militants. In July, President Bush approved secret orders permitting American Special Operations forces to carry out ground assaults inside Pakistan without the prior approval of the Pakistani government, according to senior American officials.
Earlier this month, American forces raided a Pakistani village near the Afghan border in an attack that angered Pakistani officials who asserted that it had achieved little except killing civilians and stoking anti-Americanism in the tribal areas.

According to two American officials briefed on the raid, more than two dozen members of the Navy Seals spent several hours on the ground, supported by an AC-130 gunship, and killed about two dozen suspected Al Qaeda fighters before they were whisked away by helicopter.
Some Pakistani officials have made clear they prefer the C.I.A.’s Predator drone aircraft as the means of killing Qaeda operatives without the deployment of American troops on the ground.

In the missile strike 0n Friday, Pakistani gunships hovered over the area after the attack and a Pakistani military convoy in the area was hit by a roadside bomb that wounded three government soldiers, Pakistan state television reported.

The attack was the second of its kind this week. On Monday, a missile strike from a Predator killed several Arab Qaeda operatives. The increasing missile strikes are seen as part of a more aggressive overall American campaign in the border region less than two months before America’s presidential elections. The New York Times/posted by Bulatlat

Pir Zubair Shah reported from Islamabad and Alan Cowell from Paris.

Onder Dolutas on 4th day of Hunger Strike in Prison in Germany!

September 17, 2008

BY ONDER DOLUTAS
A letter from Rohrbach prison
Posted by Bulatlat
Vol. VIII, No. 32, September 14-20, 2008

Since May 2008, I have been detained in Rohrbach prison due to an extradition request by the government of Turkey. In order to protest the decision of Koblenz Higher Regional Court-dated August 25, 2008 – that does not take into account my political refugee status granted by British government under the 1951 Geneva Convention. I hereby declare that I will go on indefinite hunger strike on Monday September 08, 2008.

As in the case of countless examples before mine, I was subjected to the persecution by the Turkish state because of my political views that forced me to leave Turkey in 2001. I came to Britain and upon arrival in the UK applied for political asylum. Upon successful application, I was granted refugee status by the British authorities. Meanwhile, I took the opportunity to pursue my academic studies and career that was disrupted by my persecution at the hands of the regime in power in Turkey. I am currently a PhD candidate in the area of financial computing at the Brunel University in London. I have been granted British citizenship.

On May 23, 2008, travelling on my British passport from London to Germany to visit my relative I was arrested and then put into jail. Since then, I have been waiting for the legal process to be completed but, the shocking decision of the Higher Regional Court Koblenz pushes me to use my only tool, the right of hunger strike, in order to protest against that outrageous decision. The decision is unacceptable and does not conform to the Geneva Convention of 1951.

The Higher Regional Court does not take my political refugee status into consideration which has been granted by Great Britain and denies me the rights provided by the 1951 Geneva Convention while taking decisions. As far as Koblenz Higher Regional Court is concerned being a victim of fascist persecution, being subjected to torture, ill-treatment and unfair trial at specially designed court are not sufficient reasons to stop extradition process in my case. Koblenz Higher Regional Court, considers my absence and not being represented by a lawyer at the trials in Turkey as a fault on my part.

A very similar case to mine was concluded on 15.08.2008 at Cologne Higher Regional Court. The decision of the Cologne Higher Regional Court taken on 15.08.2008 states that such cases could not be seen as the victims fault according to 1951 Geneva Convention.  In that case the request for extradition by the government of Turkey was denied. I expect and demand the same decision.

In the light of the above points, I once again declare that I will start a hunger strike on September 8, 2008, to protest the latest decision of Koblenz Higher Regional Court that does not recognize my political refugee status granted by British authorities and that does not conform to the Geneva Convention of 1951. Posted by Bulatlat

From 1995 to 2000 Onder Dolutas had been a student of marine engineering at Istanbul University, where he participated in the democratic activities of the university’s students’ union. He was arrested on trumped up charges and brought to court in Turkey. He fled to Britain in 2001 and applied for refugee status, which was granted in January,2003.

Not the Same as Being Equal

September 2, 2008

Violence against women is “epidemic.” Eighty-seven percent of women complain of domestic violence. Half of those cases involve sexual violence. Sixty percent of marriages are still forced. Fifty-seven percent of brides are still under the legal age of 16. What would you call this massive use of force, complete with torture, if not “war” – an ongoing war against women.

BY ANN JONES
Truthout/TomDispatch.com
Posted by Bulatlat
Vol. VIII, No. 30, August 31-September 6, 2008

urging in Afghanistan: Too Much, Too Late?

Despite George W. Bush’s claim that he’s “truly not that concerned” about Osama bin Laden, the administration is erecting 10 “Wanted” billboards in Afghanistan, offering rewards of $25 million for bin Laden, $10 million for Taliban leader Mullah Omar, and $1 million for Adam Gadahn, an American member of Al Qaeda, now listed as a “top terrorist.” That’s 10 nice, big, literal signs that the administration is waking up, only seven years after 9/11 and the American “victory” that followed, to its “forgotten war.”

When I wrote this piece for TomDispatch in February 2007, I’d been working intermittently since 2002 with women in Afghanistan – women the Bush administration claimed to have “liberated” by that victory. In all those years, despite some dramatic changes on paper, the real lives of most Afghan women didn’t change a bit, and many actually worsened thanks to the residual widespread infection of men’s minds by germs of Taliban “thought.” Today, Afghanistan is the only country in the world where women outdo men when it comes to suicide.

To transfer those changes from paper to the people, “victory” in Afghanistan should have been followed by the deployment of troops in sufficient numbers to ensure security. Securing the countryside might have enabled the Karzai government installed in the Afghan capital, Kabul, to extend its authority while international humanitarian organizations helped Afghans rebuild their country. As everyone knows, of course, that’s hardly what happened.

Now, a promised new American surge in Afghanistan threatens to be too much, too late. Bent on victory again, Americans are easily manipulated by false information to call in air strikes and wipe out whole villages – men, women, and children – even with no enemy in sight. (In 2007 alone, the U.S. dropped about a million pounds of bombs on the Afghan countryside.) Just the other day, masses of men took to the streets to protest the death of 95 civilians, including 19 women and 60 children. Masses of men once grateful to the U.S. for overthrowing the Taliban, and hopeful of American help in rebuilding the country, are now turning against the Bush administration’s ever more lethal occupation.

You don’t see women among the protesters because they are at home behind closed doors, confined, just as they were before the American “liberation.”

The war against the Taliban took a brief intermission after that American “victory,” but the war against women went on without interruption. Earlier this year Womankind Worldwide, a British nongovernmental organization, issued a report entitled “Taking Stock: Afghan Women and Girls Seven Years On.” The news? Violence against women is “epidemic.” Eighty-seven percent of women complain of domestic violence. Half of those cases involve sexual violence. Sixty percent of marriages are still forced. Fifty-seven percent of brides are still under the legal age of 16. What would you call this massive use of force, complete with torture, if not “war” – an ongoing war against women.

The current state of Afghanistan’s female parliamentarians reveals a lot about the real conditions of women in that country. Many of them have proven to be merely the servants of the warlords who paid for their election campaigns. On the other hand, a few, the independent outspoken ones working for change, come under relentless attack.

Malalai Joya, who famously (and rightly) denounced some of her colleagues as war criminals, was expelled and threatened with death. Shukria Barakzai, injured in a suicide bombing last November that killed six other parliamentarians, has now earned a suicide bomber of her own. She complained recently that while Parliament has sent her letters for the past three months informing her that she is the potential target of a suicide bomber, it hasn’t offered to protect her. When her complaint reached the internet, an Afghan man (apparently safe in Canada) responded that she should stay home and raise sons who could “do something” for Afghanistan. He called her a “cowhead.” That may be one step up from “cow,” but it’s still a long way from human being. Ann Jones, August 2008

———————

Born in Afghanistan but raised in the United States, like many in the worldwide Afghan Diaspora, Manizha Naderi is devoted to helping her homeland. For years she worked with Women for Afghan Women, a New York based organization serving Afghan women wherever they may be. Last fall, she returned to Kabul, the capital, to try to create a Family Guidance Center. Its goal was to rescue women – and their families – from homemade violence. It’s tough work. After three decades of almost constant warfare, most citizens are programmed to answer the slightest challenge with violence. In Afghanistan it’s the default response.

Manizha Naderi has been sizing up the problem in the capital and last week she sent me a copy of her report. A key passage went like this:

“During the past year, a rash of reports on the situation of women in Afghanistan has been issued by Afghan governmental agencies and by foreign and local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that claim a particular interest in women’s rights or in Afghanistan or both. More reports are in the offing. What has sparked them is the dire situation of women in the country, the systematic violations of their human rights, and the failure of concerned parties to achieve significant improvements by providing women with legal protections rooted in a capable, honest, and stable judiciary system, education and employment opportunities, safety from violence, much of it savage, and protection from hidebound customs originating in the conviction that women are the property of men.”

I’d hoped for better news. Instead, her report brought back so many things I’d seen for myself during the last five years spent, off and on, in her country.

———————

Last year in Herat, as I was walking with an Afghan colleague to a meeting on women’s rights, I spotted an ice cream vendor in the hot, dusty street. I rushed ahead and returned with two cones of lemony ice. I held one out to my friend. “Forgive me,” she said. “I can’t.” She was wearing a burqa.

t was a stupid mistake. I’d been in Afghanistan a long time, in the company every day of women encased from head to toe in pleated polyester body bags. Occasionally I put one on myself, just to get the feel of being stifled in the sweaty sack, blind behind the mesh eye mask. I’d watched women trip on their burqas and fall. I’d watched women collide with cars they couldn’t see. I knew a woman badly burned when her burqa caught fire. I knew another who suffered a near-fatal skull fracture when her burqa snagged in a taxi door and slammed her to the pavement as the vehicle sped away. But I’d never before noted this fact: it is not possible for a woman wearing a burqa to eat an ice cream cone.

e gave the cones away to passing children and laughed about it, but to me it was the saddest thing.

———————

Ever since the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001, George W. Bush has boasted of “liberating” Afghan women from the Taliban and the burqa. His wife Laura, after a publicity junket to Afghanistan in 2005, appeared on Jay Leno’s show to say that she hadn’t seen a single woman wearing a burqa.

ut these are the sorts of wildly optimistic self-delusions that have made Bush notorious. His wife, whose visit to Afghanistan lasted almost six hours, spent much of that time at the American air base and none of it in the Afghan streets where most women, to this day, go about in big blue bags.

It’s true that after the fall of the Taliban lots of women in the capital went back to work in schools, hospitals, and government ministries, while others found better paying jobs with international humanitarian agencies. In 2005, thanks to a quota system imposed by the international community, women took 27% of the seats in the lower house of the new parliament, a greater percentage than women enjoy in most Western legislatures, including our own. Yet these hopeful developments are misleading.

The fact is that the “liberation” of Afghan women is mostly theoretical. The Afghan Constitution adopted in 2004 declares that “The Citizens of Afghanistan – whether man or woman – have equal Rights and Duties before the Law.” But what law? The judicial system – ultra-conservative, inadequate, incompetent, and notoriously corrupt – usually bases decisions on idiosyncratic interpretations of Islamic Sharia, tribal customary codes, or simple bribery. And legal “scholars” instruct women that having “equal Rights and Duties” is not the same as being equal to men.

Post-Taliban Afghanistan, under President Hamid Karzai, also ratified key international agreements on human rights: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Treaty of Civil and Political Rights, and CEDAW: the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Like the Constitution, these essential documents provide a foundation for realizing the human rights of women.

But building on that paper foundation – amid poverty, illiteracy, misogyny, and ongoing warfare – is something else again.

That’s why, for the great majority of Afghan women, life has scarcely changed at all. That’s why even an educated and informed leader like my colleague, on her way to a UN agency to work on women’s rights, is still unable to eat an ice cream cone.

———————

For most Afghan women the burqa is the least of their problems.

Afghanistan is just about the poorest country in the world. Only Burkina Faso and Niger sometimes get worse ratings. After nearly three decades of warfare and another of drought, millions of Afghans are without safe water or sanitation or electricity, even in the capital city. Millions are without adequate food and nutrition. Millions have access only to the most rudimentary health care, or none at all.

Diseases such as TB and polio, long eradicated in most of the world, flourish here. They hit women and children hard. One in four children dies before the age of five, mostly from preventable illnesses such as cholera and diarrhea. Half of all women of childbearing age who die do so in childbirth, giving Afghanistan one of the highest maternal death rates in the world. Average life expectancy hovers around 42 years.

Notice that we’re still talking women’s rights here: the fundamental economic and social rights that belong to all human beings.
There are other grim statistics. About 85% of Afghan women are illiterate. About 95% are routinely subjected to violence in the home. And the home is where most Afghan women in rural areas, and many in cities, are still customarily confined. Public space and public life belong almost exclusively to men. President Karzai heads the country while his wife, a qualified gynecologist with needed skills, stays at home.
These facts are well known. During more than five years of Western occupation, they haven’t changed.

Afghan women and girls are, by custom and practice, the property of men. They may be traded and sold like any commodity. Although Afghan law sets the minimum marriageable age for girls at sixteen, girls as young as eight or nine are commonly sold into marriage. Women doctors in Kabul maternity hospitals describe terrible life-threatening “wedding night” injuries that husbands inflict on child brides. In the countryside, far from medical help, such girls die.

Under the tribal code of the Pashtuns, the dominant ethnic group, men customarily hand over women and girls – surplus sisters or widows, daughters or nieces – to other men to make amends for some offense or to pay off some indebtedness, often to a drug lord. To Pashtuns the trade-off is a means of maintaining “justice” and social harmony, but international human rights observers define what happens to the women and girls used in such “conflict resolution” as “slavery.”

Given the rigid confinement of women, a surprising number try to escape. But any woman on her own outside the home is assumed to be guilty of the crime of “zina” – engaging in sexual activity. That’s why “running away” is itself a crime. One crime presupposes the other.
When she is caught, as most runaways are, she may be taken to jail for an indefinite term or returned to her husband or father or brothers who may then murder her to restore the family honor.

The same thing happens to a rape victim, force being no excuse for sexual contact – unless she is married to the man who raped her. In that case, she can be raped as often as he likes.

In Kabul, where women and girls move about more freely, many are snatched by traffickers and sold into sexual slavery. The traffickers are seldom pursued or punished because once a girl is abducted she is as good as dead anyway, even to loving parents bound by the code of honor. The weeping mother of a kidnapped teenage girl once told me, “I pray she does not come back because my husband will have to kill her.”

Many a girl kills herself. To escape beatings or sexual abuse or forced marriage. To escape prison or honor killing, if she’s been seduced or raped or falsely accused. To escape life, if she’s been forbidden to marry the man she would choose for herself.

Suicide also brings dishonor, so families cover it up. Only when city girls try to kill themselves by setting themselves on fire do their cases become known, for if they do not die at once, they may be taken to hospital. In 2003, scores of cases of self-immolation were reported in the city of Herat; the following year, as many were recorded in Kabul. Although such incidents are notoriously underreported, during the past year 150 cases were noted in western Afghanistan, 197 in Herat, and at least 34 in the south.

The customary codes and traditional practices that made life unbearable for these burned girls predate the Taliban, and they remain in force today, side by side with the new constitution and international documents that speak of women’s rights.

Tune in to a Kabul television station and you’ll see evidence that Afghan women are poised at a particularly schizophrenic moment in their history. Watching televised parliamentary sessions, you’ll see women who not only sit side by side with men – a dangerous, generally forbidden proximity – but actually rise to argue with them. Yet who can forget poor murdered Shaima, the lively, youthful presenter of a popular TV chat show for young people? Her father and brother killed her, or so men and women say approvingly, because they found her job shameful. Mullahs and public officials issue edicts from time to time condemning women on television, or television itself.

———————

Many people believe the key to improving life for women, and all Afghans, is education, particularly because so many among Afghanistan’s educated elite left the country during its decades of wars. So the international community invests in education projects – building schools, printing textbooks, teaching teachers, organizing literacy classes for women – and the Bush administration in particular boasts that five million children now go to school.

ut that’s fewer than half the kids of school age, and less than a third of the girls. The highest enrollments are in cities ¬ñ 85% of children in Kabul – while, in the Pashtun south, enrollments drop below 20% overall and near zero for girls. More than half the students enrolled in school live in Kabul and its environs, yet even there an estimated 60,000 children are not in school, but in the streets, working as vendors, trash-pickers, beggars, or thieves.

None of this is new. For a century, Afghan rulers – from kings to communists – have tried to unveil women and advance education. In the 1970s and 1980s, many women in the capital went about freely, without veils. They worked in offices, schools, hospitals. They went to university and became doctors, nurses, teachers, judges, engineers. They drove their own cars. They wore Western fashions and traveled abroad. But when Kabul’s communists called for universal education throughout the country, provincial conservatives opposed to educating women rebelled.

Afghan women of the Kabul elite haven’t yet caught up to where they were thirty-five years ago. But once again ultra-conservatives are up in arms. This time it’s the Taliban, back in force throughout the southern half of the country. Among their tactics: blowing up or burning schools (150 in 2005, 198 in 2006) and murdering teachers, especially women who teach girls. UNICEF estimates that in four southern provinces more than half the schools – 380 out of 748 – no longer provide any education at all. Last September the Taliban shot down the middle-aged woman who headed the provincial office for women’s affairs in Kandahar. A few brave colleagues went back to the office in body armor, knowing it would not save them. Now, in the southern provinces – more than half the country – women and girls stay home.

I blame George W. Bush, the “liberator” who looked the other way. In 2001, the United States military claimed responsibility for these provinces, the heart of Taliban country; but diverted to adventures in the oilfields of Iraq, it failed for five years to provide the security international humanitarians needed to do the promised work of reconstruction. Afghans grew discouraged. Last summer, when the U.S. handed the job to NATO, British and Canadian “peacekeepers” walked right into war with the resurgent Taliban. By year’s end, more than 4,000 Afghans were dead – Taliban, “suspected” insurgents, and civilians. Speaking recently of dead women and children – trapped between U.S. bombers and NATO troops on the one hand and Taliban forces backed (unofficially) by Pakistan on the other – President Karzai began to weep.

It’s winter in Afghanistan now. No time to make war. But come spring, the Taliban promise a new offensive to throw out Karzai and foreign invaders. The British commander of NATO forces has already warned: “We could actually fail here.”
He also advised a British reporter that Westerners shouldn’t even mention women’s rights when more important things are at stake. As if security is not a woman’s right. And peace.

Come spring, Afghan women could lose it all.

——-

Writer/photographer Ann Jones is now working as a volunteer with the Gender-Based Violence unit of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) on “A Global Crescendo: Women’s Voices from Conflict Zones,” the special women’s advocacy project she described in “Me, I’m a Camera,” a post from war-torn Africa for TomDispatch. Jones was a humanitarian aid worker in Afghanistan periodically from 2002 to 2006, and is the author of “Kabul in Winter: Life Without Peace in Afghanistan.” The New York Times described her book as “a work of impassioned reportage … eloquent and persuasive.” That’s journalese for: What she saw in Afghanistan really made her mad. To view Jones’s photos of Afghan women, visit her website.

Bush’s Deal with Iraq: A Time Bomb Set to Explode

September 2, 2008

Iraq, like Vietnam, is a conflict where political realities on the ground will trump America’s overwhelming military force.

BY STEVE WEISSMAN
T r u t h o u t | Perspective
Posted by Bulatlat
Vol. VIII, No, 30, August 31-September 6, 2008

Back in January, the Bush administration proposed a Status of Forces Agreement to govern relations between American troops and the Iraqis after the UN mandate expires in December 2008. Both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton accused the White House of trying to tie the hands of a future American president and many Democrats in Congress voiced the same concern. Even at the time, any agreement had to be less than a binding treaty, which would have required confirmation by an impossible two-thirds vote of the US Senate.

Now, at the end of August, the Bush administration is still trying to cobble together a much-reduced memo of understanding with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who is doing much of his negotiating through public statements. Even if he finally agrees to Washington’s terms, the deal would still be far from done. The Iraqi Parliament would still have to approve it, and the followers of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr have already taken to the streets to express their opposition to what they’ve heard so far. In their view, the current understanding would turn Iraq into a US colony.

In any case, the next US president will feel free to work out with the Iraqis what to do about American troops and contract employees. Obama continues to believe American “combat troops” could withdraw “responsibly” by the end of 2010, while McCain has suggested they could leave “victoriously” by January 2013.

Iraqi and American officials have already revealed some of the latest terms, which remain full of slippery definitions. Depending on unspecified security milestones, all American troops would withdraw from Iraqi cities by June 30, 2009, while the new date for the removal of “combat forces” has now shifted from the previously leaked December 2010 to December 2011. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice calls all this an “aspirational timetable,” not to be confused with setting a date for withdrawal, which President Bush and his political avatar John McCain have repeatedly condemned as a first step toward surrender.

Al-Maliki, on the other hand, wants Iraqis to believe any deal will call for the removal of ALL foreign troops, which hardly seems likely. The Bush administration is not at all ready to pull out completely, and al-Maliki himself still relies on American troops and other support to keep his government in power. So, the big questions remain unanswered: How many US military advisers, trainers and other “non-combat” troops would stay in Iraq after the “withdrawal?” And how many bases, permanent or otherwise, would remain in American hands?

In early June, Patrick Cockburn reported in Britain’s Independent that the Bush administration was demanding 50 military bases, along with control of Iraqi airspace and legal immunity for American personnel. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani condemned the demands as a violation of Iraqi sovereignty, and negotiations continued. Still, I suspect that the coming agreement – if it ever comes – could leave in Iraq as many as 30,000 to 50,000 American troops and contract employees. Bases would remain under US control, perhaps with “legal ownership” nominally held by Iraq. And the Americans would continue to have access to more than enough air power to kill untold numbers of Iraqis.

In the small print, US troops would likely remain under American jurisdiction, perhaps with the fig leaf of a joint US-Iraqi committee to oversee any judicial proceedings. And, in the name of fighting terrorists, the remaining US forces – all “non-combat” by definition – would have some cosmetic restrictions on their right to arrest Iraqi citizens or launch military campaigns without consultation.
Cut through the spin, and this would be nothing more than a downsized occupation disguised as withdrawal, which few Iraqis or others in the Middle East would long accept. At best, Mr. Bush’s big deal would be a time bomb set to explode.

Democratic and Republican American policy-makers have greatly underestimated Arab outrage, both religious and nationalistic, against anything that smacks of the return of Western colonialism. Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Hezbollah, and other Islamic radicals have consistently won support on “the Arab street” by opposing the presence of American and allied militaries in Islamic countries. Hopefully, we will never shape our foreign or domestic policies by what radical jihadists demand. But, unless we’re suicidal, we had better learn to respond to what millions of their potential supporters want.

Iraq, like Vietnam, is a conflict where political realities on the ground will trump America’s overwhelming military force. Consider “the surge,” which Bush and McCain both see as a success. In military terms, they’re right – if we define the term to include ethnic cleansing and the US military alliance with Sunni tribal leaders, a ploy that began well before any escalation of troops. In political terms, the surge failed. Iraqi leaders used the increased presence of American troops to avoid making compromises with their rivals, and now al-Maliki’s Shia-led government is attacking our Sunni allies. No wonder Gen. David Petraeus, who led the surge, sees any gains as fragile.

A deal to leave thousands of armed Americans in Iraq will similarly fail, no matter how many military victories those “non-combat” forces win. And any attempt to disguise their presence with wordplay will only add to Iraqi anger, accelerating America’s political defeat – and that of our Iraqi collaborators.Truthout/Posted by Bulatlat

A veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the New Left monthly Ramparts, Steve Weissman lived for many years in London, working as a magazine writer and television producer. He now lives and works in France.

Bush wins Obama’s backing over Georgia

August 22, 2008

Agence France-Presse
First Posted 10:05:00 08/22/2008

CHESAPEAKE — Democratic White House hopeful Barack Obama staged a rare show of unity with President George W. Bush Thursday by endorsing his approach to the crisis between Georgia and Russia.

Obama, whose Republican rival John McCain has been hammering the Georgia issue to flag his own national-security credentials, said tough talking alone would not suffice in diplomacy.

“The situation with Russia and Georgia is very serious. This is the first time that Russia has moved into somebody’s territory since the collapse of the Soviet Union,” Obama told an evening rally here in southern Virginia.

“It indicates a new stage in the relationship between Russia and the West. We’ve got to be firm with the Russians, in alliance with our European allies, that this kind of behavior is intolerable,” the Illinois senator said.

While opposing the US president on just about every point of domestic and international policy, Obama said: “I’m supportive of what George Bush has been doing.

“There will be a time later for politics. I’m a big believer that when you’re in a crisis, America speaks with one voice,” he said, drawing warm applause from a capacity crowd of 2,600 people in a school gymnasium.

Bush told Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili on Thursday that he wanted a quick end to Russia’s “siege” of the former Soviet republic, the White House said.

Earlier, the White House had demanded that Moscow withdraw its forces “now” from Georgia and warned there can be no Russia-NATO military cooperation until the volatile crisis is over.

Obama has said Russia’s aspirations to join the World Trade Organization should be put on ice, while the uncompromising McCain has gone further by calling for Moscow’s eviction from the powerful G8 club of nations.

At the rally, the Democrat said his message to Russia was that unless its forces vacate Georgia, “we will be suspending a whole range of international talks.”

Discussing US foreign policy as a whole, the Iraq war critic said: “There are times when we are going to have to use military force.”

But with effective use of diplomacy and alliances, “if we are leading by example, we will have more influence and more leverage than just by acting tough,” he said.

“We have to act tough and smart,” Obama added, a day after top advisors accused McCain of being “reckless” and “trigger-happy.”

Russian tanks poured into Georgia on August 8, initially to repel an attempt by Georgia’s small, US-trained army to seize control of pro-Moscow South Ossetia, which unilaterally declared its independence from Tbilisi after the Soviet Union fell.(PDI)

=============

My Take:

Very clear.

Whoever takes the chance to sit as new US President, will serve its dreaded and devious foreign policy.

Suckers.

From Stupid to Moronic to Evil

August 21, 2008

BY PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS

Information Clearing House

ALTERNATIVE READER
Posted by Bulatlat
Vol. VIII, No. 28, August 17-23, 2008

“Although it is not true that all conservatives are stupid people, it is true that most stupid people are conservative.” — John Stuart Mill

11/08/08 “ICH” — – Many years ago, during the 1970s if memory serves, neoconservative Irving Kristol, echoing John Stuart Mill, called his conservative party, the Republican Party, “the stupid party.” http://www.amazon.co.uk/Neoconservatism-Autobiography-Idea-Irving-Kristol/dp/toc/1566632285

Kristol was referring to the Republicans’ inability to compete on the policy front. Jack Kemp and Ronald Reagan led the Republicans out of the wilderness, but now Republicans have reverted to the stupid party, or more precisely the moronic party.

Take a minute to examine the presidential campaign propaganda that Republicans send around the Internet, and you will see what I mean. For example, recently while Obama was traveling abroad, showing himself to the remnant of our allies, Republican political operatives blitzed the Internet with the suggestion that Obama might not be an American citizen. Doubt was cast on either of his parents being American citizens. The message went on to suggest that Obama refused to produce his birth certificate. All the while, Obama was traveling abroad on a US passport, a document that cannot be obtained without a US birth certificate.

Considering that the Republican candidate, John McCain, was born in the Panama Canal Zone, only the GOP would be dumb enough to make an issue over whether the Democrats’ candidate was born in one of the 50 states. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/28/us/politics/28mccain.html?_r=1&adxnnl=1&oref=slogin&adxnnlx=1218385762-Ap1AsEajnjAnO5XdQ4hGRg

The innuendo and negativism with which the Republicans are conducting their presidential campaign are unprecedented. There is no sign of issues in McCain’s Karl Rovian campaign. . http://weblogs.sun-sentinel.com/news/politics/blog/2008/07/mccain_campaign_shakeup.html Issues have been superseded by hate, lies, and war.

Republicans stand for war without end, a police state to make us “safe,” and “energy independence,” which means drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Preserve and offshore of Florida’s Gulf Coast beaches.

What Republicans really mean by “energy independence” is prevailing over environmentalists. Republicans lump environmentalists in the same category with abortionists, gays, feminists, food stamp recipients, trade unionists and terrorists. To a Republican, saving America means prevailing over these people.

The notion that Americans can achieve energy independence by drilling offshore wells and in the arctic is absurd. A number of experts have pointed out that the best data do not support any such possibility.

For example, Robert Kaufman at Boston University, citing U.S. government data, reports that the U.S. might have 40 billion barrels of oil in undeveloped reserves which are not off limits. Another 19 billion might be in off limit offshore sites and in the Arctic National Wildlife preserve. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=92677194

All of this oil cannot be brought up at once, and apparently none before 2017. Bringing it all into production would, experts think, increase US oil production by 1-4 percent. In other words, nothing. Currently the US uses 21 million barrels a day, and the entire world uses 86 million barrels a day. At best, the Arctic Wildlife Refuge could by 2017 produce 1 million barrels a day, about one-twentieth of current US use and one-eighty-sixth of current world use.

This is not energy independence, and it would have no material effect on price. Indeed, the offshoring by US corporations of US jobs has a much greater effect on the dollar price of oil by inflating the U.S. trade deficit and driving down the exchange value of the U.S. dollar. But, of course, here we are talking about facts, and facts are of no interest to Republicans.

Republicans are interested in prevailing over the “bad guys.” The fact that the bad guys are Bush, Cheney, Rice, Wolfowitz, Perle, Billy Kristol, and other such is beyond the Republicans’ imagination. Bad guys are “towel heads” with beards and robes and are “over there” where they must be killed before the come “over here.” The extent of the Republican intellect boils down to “over here” vs. “over there.”

The other great bugaboo of Republicans is “the liberal media.” Fox “News” has Republicans convinced that “the liberal media” is endangering America by siding with terrorists.

Clearly, Republicans never look at “the liberal media.” It was Judith Miller at the “liberal” New York Times who served up as fact all the neocon disinformation about Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction and al Qaeda connections. Without the New York Times leading the way, the neocons could never have pulled off their illegal invasions.

On July 18, 2008, the New York Times allowed the Israeli Benny Morris to spew lies about Iran that he used to justify an attack on that country possibly even involving nuclear weapons. This is the same New York Times that the idiot conservatives believe is part of “the liberal media.”

It was ABC News that served up the neocon disinformation that the anthrax had been traced to Saddam Hussein. http://www.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/2008/08/01/anthrax/print.html

And, today, August 9, 2008, as I write, it is the “liberal” Washington Post that has written an editorial urging the US to go to war with Russia.

With its editorial, “Stopping Russia: the US and its allies must unite against Moscow’s war on Georgia,” the Washington Post has established a world record for the maximum number of lies in the minimum number of words.

Except for the Washington Post, the entire world knows that Georgia (the birthplace of Joseph Stalin, not Georgia USA) initiated the aggression that killed Russian peacekeepers and hundreds of civilians in South Ossetia, peacekeepers who were there with the blessing of Georgia and international agreements.

The true facts are available all over the world press. But the “liberal” Washington Post serves up the lie that Russia has attacked Georgia and conceivably plans to conquer all of Georgia. “This is a grave challenge to the United States and Europe,” thunders the Bush Regime’s mouthpiece, aka, “the liberal media.”

Thirsting for blood, the “liberal media” declares: “The United States and its NATO allies must together impose a price on Russia.”

Here we see the combination of idiocy and delusion in one sentence. The United States has proved that it is incapable of occupying Iraq, much less Afghanistan. Russia has a large trade surplus. America’s NATO allies are dependent on Russian natural gas. Yet the “liberal” Washington Post wants a bankrupt U.S. and “its NATO allies” who are dependent on Russian energy “to impose a price on Russia” for defending its peacekeepers!

Seldom has the world seen such total insanity as the neoconservative Washington Post, a propaganda sheet as far from “liberal media” is it is possible to be.

Georgia was part of Old Russia and the Soviet Union for two centuries. After Soviet communism collapsed, the U.S. taxpayer funded neoconservative National Endowment for Democracy broke every agreement that President Reagan had made with Gorbachev and began using U.S. taxpayers’ money to rig and purchase elections in former constituent parts of the Russian/Soviet empire.

The Endowment for Democracy purchased Georgia as a U.S. colony. The affront to Russia was extreme, but at the time Russia was weak. Oligarchs with outside money had grabbed control over Russian resources, and Russia was in dire straits and could not resist American imperialism.

Putin corrected the situation for Russia.

Now using American weapons Georgia for reasons yet to be revealed has violated its own agreement with Russia and attacked South Ossetia, killing in the process Russian peacekeepers. Vladimir Vasilyev, chairman of the Russian State Duma Committee for Security told the press: “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.” http://english.pravda.ru/hotspots/conflicts/106046-russia_georgia-0

Yes, without America there would be no war in Ossetia and no war between Russia and its former constituent part.

Without America there would be no war in Afghanistan. No war in Iraq.

Without America there would not be 1.2 million dead Iraqis and 4 million displaced Iraqis. We have no idea of the toll on Afghan civilians, although women and children appear to be the prime targets of the US/NATO forces that are “bringing peace and freedom to Afghanistan.”

Recently, US Secretary of State Condi Rice said that the US government could not prevent an Israeli attack on Iran. Israel is an independent country, said the American Secretary of State. What an extraordinary lie.

Israel cannot exist without American weapons and money. Israel cannot attack Iran without overflying Iraq, which the US air force can easily prevent. It is clear as day that the Bush Regime has given the green light to Israel to attack Iran so that the Bush Regime can rush to “Israel’s defense.”

Meanwhile the “liberal” media is urging the US to get involved in a war between Russia and Georgia. The insanity will lead to the unloosening of nuclear weapons. Posted by Bulatlat

Dr. Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury in the Reagan Administration. He is a former Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal, a 16-year columnist for Business Week, and a columnist for the Scripps Howard News Service and Creator’s Syndicate in Los Angeles. He has held numerous university professorships, including the William E. Simon Chair in Political Economy, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Georgetown University and Senior Research Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He was awarded the Legion of Honor by the President of France and the U.S. Treasury’s Silver Medal for “outstanding contributions to the formulation of U.S. economic policy.”

War in the Caucasus: Toward a Broader Russia-US Military Confrontation?

August 21, 2008

BY MICHEL CHOSSUDOVSKY
Global Research, August 10, 2008
ALTERNATIVE READER
Posted by Bulatlat
Vol. VIII, No. 28, August 17-23, 2008

During the night of August 7, coinciding with the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics, Georgia’s president Saakashvili ordered an all-out military attack on Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia.

The aerial bombardments and ground attacks were largely directed against civilian targets including residential areas, hospitals and the university. The provincial capital Tskhinvali was destroyed. The attacks resulted in some 1500 civilian deaths, according to both Russian and Western sources. “The air and artillery bombardment left the provincial capital without water, food, electricity and gas. Horrified civilians crawled out of the basements into the streets as fighting eased, looking for supplies.” (AP, August 9, 2008). According to reports, some 34,000 people from South Ossetia have fled to Russia. (Deseret Morning News, Salt Lake City, August 10, 2008)

The importance and timing of this military operation must be carefully analyzed. It has far-reaching implications.

Georgia is an outpost of US and NATO forces, on the immediate border of the Russian Federation and within proximity of the Middle East Central Asian war theater. South Ossetia is also at the crossroads of strategic oil and gas pipeline routes.

Georgia does not act militarily without the assent of Washington. The Georgian head of State is a US proxy and Georgia is a de facto US protectorate.

Who is behind this military agenda? What interests are being served? What is the purpose of the military operation.

There is evidence that the attacks were carefully coordinated by the US military and NATO.

Moscow has accused NATO of “encouraging Georgia”. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov underscored the destabilizing impacts of “foreign” military aid to Georgia: .

“It all confirms our numerous warnings addressed to the international community that it is necessary to pay attention to massive arms purchasing by Georgia during several years. Now we see how these arms and Georgian special troops who had been trained by foreign specialists are used,” he said.(Moscow accuses NATO of having “encouraged Georgia” to attack South Ossetia,, Russia Today, August 9, 2008)

Moscow’s envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, sent an official note to the representatives of all NATO member countries:

“Russia has already begun consultations with the ambassadors of the NATO countries and consultations with NATO military representatives will be held tomorrow,” Rogozin said. “We will caution them against continuing to further support of Saakashvili.”

“It is an undisguised aggression accompanied by a mass propaganda war,” he said.

(See Moscow accuses NATO of having “encouraged Georgia” to attack South Ossetia, , Russia Today, August 9, 2008)

According to Rogozin, Georgia had initially planned to:

“start military action against Abkhazia, however, ‘the Abkhaz fortified region turned out to be unassailable for Georgian armed formations, therefore a different tactic was chosen aimed against South Ossetia’, which is more accessible territorially. The envoy has no doubts that Mikheil Saakashvili had agreed his actions with “sponsors”, “those with whom he is negotiating Georgia’s accession to NATO “. (RIA Novosti, August 8, 2008)

Contrary to what was conveyed by Western media reports, the attacks were anticipated by Moscow. The attacks were timed to coincide with the opening of the Olympics, largely with a view to avoiding frontpage media coverage of the Georgian military operation.

On August 7, Russian forces were in an advanced state readiness. The counterattack was swiftly carried out.

Russian paratroopers were sent in from Russia’s Ivanovo, Moscow and Pskov airborne divisions. Tanks, armored vehicles and several thousand ground troops have been deployed. Russian air strikes have largely targeted military facilities inside Georgia including the Gori military base.

The Georgian military attack was repelled with a massive show of strength on the part of the Russian military.

Act of Provocation?

US-NATO military and intelligence planners invariably examine various “scenarios” of a proposed military operation– i.e. in this case, a limited Georgian attack largely directed against civilian targets, with a view to inflicting civilian casualties.

The examination of scenarios is a routine practice. With limited military capabilities, a Georgian victory and occupation of Tskhinvali, was an impossibility from the outset. And this was known and understood to US-NATO military planners.

A humanitarian disaster rather than a military victory was an integral part of the scenario. The objective was to destroy the provincial capital, while also inflicting a significant loss of human life.

If the objective was to restore Georgian political control over the provincial government, the operation would have been undertaken in a very different fashion, with Special Forces occupying key public buildings, communications networks and provincial institutions, rather than waging an all out bombing raid on residential areas, hospitals, not to mention Tskhinvali’s University.

The Russian response was entirely predictable.

Georgia was “encouraged” by NATO and the US. Both Washington and NATO headquarters in Brussels were acutely aware of what would happen in the case of a Russian counterattack.

The question is: was this a deliberate provocation intended to trigger a Russian military response and suck the Russians into a broader military confrontation with Georgia (and allied forces) which could potentially escalate into an all out war?

Georgia has the third largest contingent of coalition forces in Iraq after the US and the UK, with some 2000 troops.  According to reports, Georgian troops in Iraq are now being repatriated in US military planes, to fight Russian forces. (See Debka.com, August 10, 2008))

This US decision to repatriate Georgian servicemen suggests that Washington is intent upon an escalation of the conflict, where Georgian troops are to be used as cannon fodder against a massive deployment of Russian forces.

US-NATO and Israel Involved in the Planning of the Attacks

In mid-July, Georgian and U.S. troops held a joint military exercise entitled “Immediate Response” involving respectively 1,200 US and 800 Georgian troops.

The announcement by the Georgian Ministry of Defense on July 12 stated that they US and Georgian troops were to “train for three weeks at the Vaziani military base” near the Georgian capital, Tbilisi. (AP, July 15, 2008). These exercises, which were completed barely a week before the August 7 attacks, were an obvious dress rehearsal of a military operation, which, in all likelihood, had been planned in close cooperation with the Pentagon.

The war on Southern Ossetia was not meant to be won, leading to the restoration of Georgian sovereignty over South Ossetia. It was intended to destabilize the region while also triggering a US-NATO confrontation with Russia.

On July 12, coinciding with the outset of the Georgia-US war games, the Russian Defense Ministry started its own military maneuvers in the North Caucasus region. The usual disclaimer by both Tblisi and Moscow: the military exercises have “nothing to do” with the situation in South Ossetia. (Ibid)

Let us be under no illusions. This is not a civil war. The attacks are an integral part of the broader Middle East Central Asian war, including US-NATO-Israeli war preparations in relation to Iran.

The Role of Israeli Military Advisers

While NATO and US military advisers did not partake in the military operation per se, they were actively involved in the planning and logistics of the attacks. According to Israeli sources (Debka.com, August 8, 2008), the ground assault on August 7-8, using tanks and artillery was “aided by Israeli military advisers”. Israel also supplied Georgia with Hermes-450 and Skylark unmanned aerial vehicles, which were used in the weeks leading up to the August 7 attacks.

Georgia has also acquired, according to a report in Rezonansi (August 6, in Georgian, BBC translation) “some powerful weapons through the upgrade of Su-25 planes and artillery systems in Israel”. According to Haaretz (August 10, 2008), Israelis are active in military manufacturing and security consulting in Georgia.

Russian forces are now directly fighting a NATO-US trained Georgian army integrated by US and Israeli advisers. And Russian warplanes have attacked the military jet factory on the outskirts of Tbilisi, which produces the upgraded Su-25 fighter jet, with technical support from Israel. (CTV.ca, August 10, 2008)

When viewed in the broader context of the Middle East war, the crisis in Southern Ossetia could lead to escalation, including a direct confrontation between Russian and NATO forces. If this were to occur, we would be facing the most serious crisis in US-Russian relations since the Cuban Missile crisis in October 1962.

Georgia: NATO-US Outpost

Georgia is part of a NATO military alliance (GUUAM) signed in April 1999 at the very outset of the war on Yugoslavia. It also has a bilateral military cooperation agreement with the US. These underlying military agreements have served to protect Anglo-American oil interests in the Caspian sea basin as well as pipeline routes.

Both the US and NATO have a military presence in Georgia and are working closely with the Georgian Armed Forces. Since the signing of the 1999 GUUAM agreement, Georgia has been the recipient of extensive US military aid.

Barely a few months ago, in early May, the Russian Ministry of Defense accused Washington, “claiming that [US as well as NATO and Israeli] military assistance to Georgia is destabilizing the region.” (Russia Claims Georgia in Arms Buildup, Wired News, May 19, 2008). According to the Russian Defense Ministry

“Georgia has received 206 tanks, of which 175 units were supplied by NATO states, 186 armored vehicles (126 – from NATO) , 79 guns (67 – from NATO) , 25 helicopters (12 – from NATO) , 70 mortars, ten surface-to-air missile systems, eight Israeli-made unmanned aircraft, and other weapons. In addition, NATO countries have supplied four combat aircraft to Georgia. The Russian Defense Ministry said there were plans to deliver to Georgia 145 armored vehicles, 262 guns and mortars, 14 combat aircraft including four Mirazh-2000 destroyers, 25 combat helicopters, 15 American Black Hawk aircraft, six surface-to-air missile systems and other arms.” (Interfax News Agency, Moscow, in Russian, Aug 7, 2008)

NATO-US-Israeli assistance under formal military cooperation agreements involves a steady flow of advanced military equipment as well as training and consulting services.

According to US military sources (spokesman for US European Command), the US has more than 100 “military trainers” in Georgia. A Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman “said there were no plans to redeploy the estimated 130 US troops and civilian contractors, who he said were stationed in the area around Tblisi” (AFP, 9 August 2008). In fact, US-NATO military presence in Georgia is on a larger scale to that acknowledged in official statements. The number of NATO personnel in Georgia acting as trainers and military advisers has not been confirmed.

Although not officially a member of NATO, Georgia’s military is full integrated into NATO procedures.  In 2005, Georgian president proudly announced the inauguration of the first military base, which “fully meets NATO standards”. Immediately following the inauguration of the Senakskaya base in west Georgia, Tblisi announced the opening of a second military base at Gori which would  also “comply with NATO regulations in terms of military requirements as well as social conditions.” (Ria Novosti, 26 May 2006).

The Gori base has been used to train Georgian troops dispatched to fight under US command in the Iraq war theater.

It is worth noting that under a March 31, 2006, agreement between Tblisi and Moscow, Russia’s two Soviet-era military bases in Georgia – Akhalkalaki and Batumi have been closed down. (Ibid)  The pullout at Batumi commenced in May of last year, 2007. The last remaining Russian troops left the Batumi military facility in early July 2008, barely a week before the commencement of the US-Georgia war games and barely a month prior to the attacks on South Ossetia.

The Israel Connection

Israel is now part of the Anglo-American military axis, which serves the interests of the Western oil giants in the Middle East and Central Asia.

Israel is a partner in the Baku-Tblisi- Ceyhan pipeline which brings oil and gas to the Eastern Mediterranean. More than 20 percent of Israeli oil is imported from Azerbaijan, of which a large share transits through the BTC pipeline. Controlled by British Petroleum, the BTC pipeline has dramatically changed the geopolitics of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Caucusus:

“[The BTC pipeline] considerably changes the status of the region’s countries and cements a new pro-West alliance. Having taken the pipeline to the Mediterranean, Washington has practically set up a new bloc with Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey and Israel, ” (Komerzant, Moscow, 14 July 2006)

While the official reports state that the BTC pipeline will “channel oil to Western markets”, what is rarely acknowledged is that part of the oil from the Caspian sea would be directly channeled towards Israel, via Georgia. In this regard, a Israeli-Turkish pipeline project has also been envisaged which would link Ceyhan to the Israeli port of Ashkelon and from there through Israel’s main pipeline system, to the Red Sea.

The objective of Israel is not only to acquire Caspian sea oil for its own consumption needs but also to play a key role in re-exporting Caspian sea oil back to the Asian markets through the Red Sea port of Eilat. The strategic implications of this re-routing of Caspian sea oil are far-reaching. (For further details see Michel Chossudovsky, , The War on Lebanon and the Battle for Oil, Global Research, July 2006)

What is envisaged is to link the BTC pipeline to the Trans-Israel Eilat-Ashkelon pipeline, also known as Israel’s Tipline, from Ceyhan to the Israeli port of Ashkelon.

“Turkey and Israel are negotiating the construction of a multi-million-dollar energy and water project that will transport water, electricity, natural gas and oil by pipelines to Israel, with the oil to be sent onward from Israel to the Far East,

The new Turkish-Israeli proposal under discussion would see the transfer of water, electricity, natural gas and oil to Israel via four underwater pipelines.

http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1145961328841&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull

Baku oil can be transported to Ashkelon via this new pipeline and to India and the Far East.[via the Red sea]”

“Ceyhan and the Mediterranean port of Ashkelon are situated only 400 km apart. Oil can be transported to the city in tankers or via specially constructed under-water pipeline. From Ashkelon the oil can be pumped through already existing pipeline to the port of Eilat at the Red Sea; and from there it can be transported to India and other Asian countries in tankers. (REGNUM)

In this regard, Israel is slated to play a major strategic role in “protecting” the Eastern Mediterranean transport and pipeline corridors out of Ceyhan. Concurrently, it also involved in channeling military aid and training to both Georgia and Azerbaijan.

A far-reaching 1999 bilateral military cooperation agreement between Tblisi and Tel Aviv was reached barely a month before the NATO sponsored GUUAM agreement. It was signed in Tbilisi by President Shevardnadze and Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyu. These various military cooperation arrangements are ultimately intended to undermine Russia’s presence and influence in the Caucasus and Central Asia.

In a pro forma declaration, Tel Aviv committed itself, following bilateral discussions with Moscow, on August 5, 2008, to cut back military assistance to Georgia.

Russia’s Response

In response to the attacks, Russian forces intervened with conventional ground troops. Tanks and armored vehicles were sent in. The Russian air force was also involved in aerial counter-attacks on Georgian military positions including the military base of Gori.

The Western media has portrayed the Russian as solely responsible for the deaths of civilians, yet at the same time the Western media has acknowledged (confirmed by the BBC) that most of the civilian casualties at the outset were the result of the Georgian ground and air attacks.

Based on Russian and Western sources, the initial death toll in South Ossetia was at least 1,400 (BBC) mostly civilians.  “Georgian casualty figures ranged from 82 dead, including 37 civilians, to a figure of around 130 dead…. A Russian air strike on Gori, a Georgian town near South Ossetia, left 60 people dead, many of them civilians, Georgia says.” (BBC, August 9, 2008). Russian sources place the number of civilian deaths on South Ossetia at 2000.

A process of escalation and confrontation between Russia and America is unfolding, reminiscent of the Cold War era.

Are we dealing with an act of provocation, with a view to triggering a broader conflict?  Supported by media propaganda, the Western military alliance is intent on using this incident to confront Russia, as evidenced by recent NATO statements. Posted by Bulatlat

Michel Chossudovsky is the author of the international bestseller America’s “War on Terrorism” ”  Global Research, 2005.