Monthly Archives: December 2012

Syria Rebels ‘Beheaded Man and Fed Him to the Dogs’

Fact or Propaganda?
Christian Andrei Arbashe, 38, was kidnapped and beheaded by rebel fighters in northern town of Ras Al-Ayn on the Turkish border
News came as pro-government forces celebrated their victory against rebels near Aleppo Airport 
By Nick Fagge
December 31, 2012 “Daily Mail” – -Syrian rebels beheaded a Christian man and fed his body to dogs, according to a nun who says the West is ignoring atrocities committed by Islamic extremists.
The nun said taxi driver Andrei Arbashe, 38, was kidnapped after his brother was heard complaining that fighters against the ruling regime behaved like bandits.
She said his headless corpse was found by the side of the road, surrounded by hungry dogs. He had recently married and was soon to be a father.
Sister Agnes-Mariam de la Croix said: ‘His only crime was his brother criticised the rebels, accused them of acting like bandits, which is what they are.’
There have been a growing number of accounts of atrocities carried out by rogue elements of the Syrian Free Army, which opposes dictator Bashar al-Assad and is recognised by Britain and the West as the legitimate leadership. 
Sister Agnes-Miriam, mother superior of the Monastery of St James the Mutilated, has condemned Britain and the west for supporting the rebels despite growing evidence of human rights abuses. Murder, kidnapping, rape and robbery are becoming commonplace, she says.
‘The free and democratic world is supporting extremists,’ Sister Agnes-Miriam said from her sanctuary in Lebanon. ‘They want to impose Sharia Law and create an Islamic state in Syria.’ 
The 60-year-old Carmelite nun claims the west has turned a blind eye to growing evidence of a ‘fifth column’ of fanatics within the rag-tag ranks that make up the Free Syrian Army that they back to oust Assad.
One of the most effective fighting forces is the Jabat Al-Nusra, which has an ideology similar to Al Qaeda.
‘The uprising has been hijacked by Islamist mercenaries who are more interested in fighting a holy war than in changing the government,’ she said.
‘It has turned into a sectarian conflict. One in which Christians are paying a high price.’
The rebel attacked the northern town of Ras Al-Ayn, on the Turkish border, last month. The fighters entered the Christian quarter, ordering civilians to leave and leaving their homes.
‘More than 200 families were driven out in the night,’ Sister Agnes-Miriam says. ‘People are afraid. Everywhere the deaths squads stop civilians, abduct them and ask for ransom, sometimes they kill them.’ 
Militants wearing black bandanas of Al Qaeda recently laid siege to the Monastery of St James the Mutilated, located between Damascus and Homs, for two days in an attempt to prevent Christmas celebrations, the nun claims.
An estimated 300,000 Christians have been displaced in the conflict, with 80,000 forced out of the Homs region alone, she claims.
Many have fled abroad raising fears that Syria’s Christian community may vanish – like others across Middle East, the birthplace of Christianity.
Al Assad, a member of the Alawite Muslim sect, claims only his regime can protect Syria’s minorities from domination from the Sunni Muslims majority.
Meanwhile the fighting continues to rage with government forces retaking control of a key district in the city of Homs yesterday.
The latest violence comes after United Nations peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi warned of ‘hell’ for Syria if no political solution could be found.
Russia has stated the conflict is becoming increasingly militarised and sectarian and risks bringing chaos to the whole region.
Some 44,000 people have been killed since the uprising against the Al Assad regime began in March 2011.

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Hagel, the Lobby and the Limits of Power

The former Republican senator is guilty of a cardinal sin which has cut short many promising careers in Washington.

By Muhammad Idrees Ahmad 
 

December 31, 2012 “Al Jazeera” —   You have to do no more than watch this attack ad produced by the neoconservative pressure group the Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI) to understand the significance of Chuck Hagel’s possible nomination as US secretary of defence. The former Republican senator from Nebraska is guilty of a cardinal sin which has cut short many promising careers in Washington. He has proved himself insufficiently loyal to Israel and less than enthusiastic about confronting Iran. Signals from Washington are mixed. Barack Obama’s myriad capitulations have earned him a well-deserved reputation for invertebracy; and some reports suggest he has caved already. But in the Byzantine world of Washington intrigue, one has to proceed with caution. 
Since the beginning of Obama’s presidency, some of his more sensible initiatives, such as the opening to Iran, have been sabotaged by officials within his administration speaking anonymously to the press. What better way to kill a controversial nomination than to convince everybody that it is already dead! 
The ECI, a relatively new actor, has not been alone in targeting Hagel. It has been ably assisted by the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, AIPAC, the Republican Jewish Coalition, the National Jewish Democratic Council, The Israel Project, and the Zionist Organisation of America. Affiliates from both within and outside the government have gone on the offensive. 
The op-ed pages of the Washington Post, the Weekly Standard and the Wall Street Journal have all helped amplify the smears. The chorus has been joined by the familiar cast of Israel apologists in Congress, led by Chuck Schumer, Joseph Lieberman and Eliot Engel. Besides accusing Hagel of “endemic hostility towards Israel”, one of them, Engel, has also detected a “prejudice”. 
So ferocious has been the assault that it has led MJ Rosenberg, a one-time Israel lobbyist who has emerged as a staunch critic,to observe

Never before has virtually the entire organised Jewish community combined to stop a presidential cabinet appointment because it deems the potential nominee insufficiently devoted to Israel.  

Critic of the Iraq war
 

If the lobby has been relentless, Hagel’s support hasn’t been entirely passive either. Not everyone has been as blunt as the influential columnist Andrew Sullivan who has called on the president to “grow a pair“. But Hagel has also received solid backing from realist greybeards, including four former National Security Advisers, two Republicans and two Democrats andseveral retired diplomats

 Inside Story Americas – Are there any
winners of the Iraq war?

His record of independence has earned him support from liberal organisations like MoveOn and Just Foreign Policy; and intelligent progressives like Chris Hayes and Glenn Greenwald have also defended him against the smears. He has received the endorsement of eminent scholars like Stephen Walt and David Bromwich, establishment heavy-weights like Lee Hamilton, and even the relatively dovish pro-Israel groups like J-Street and the Israel Policy Forum.  
It is of course a misrepresentation to say that Hagel bears an animus toward Israel. Like almost every other US politician, he too has paid tribute to the Moloch-on-the-Hill with mealy-mouthed platitudes about the sanctity of the “special relationship”. He may have been sceptical about the Iraq war but when he was called on to vote for it he, like his fellow realist Colin Powell, signed on with the rest of them. 
But that is not what this is about. The intent is Pavlovian: if you aspire to high office in Washington, your commitment to the “special relationship” better be 100 percent. Even mild criticism could jeopardise your ascension. 
Most establishment careerists have taken this lesson to heart and exercise prophylactic self-censorship. Those running for high office usually signal their intent by declaring their unqualified admiration for the State of Israel. A record is then chalked up of either sponsoring or voting on pro-Israel legislation. Adopting an uncompromising stance toward Israel’s enemies also helps. 
One’s reliability is further affirmed by cultivating a “tough on defence” reputation, adopting a generally hawkish foreign policy position and calling for greater defence expenditures. (All of this makes it easier to justify military and diplomatic support for Israel and pass it off as serving American interests.)  
Hagel, however, has left too many doubts about his commitment. In a 2006 interview with Aaron David Miller, Hagel stressed

I’m not an Israeli senator. I’m a United States senator… I support Israel, but my first interest is I take an oath of office to the Constitution of the United States, not to a president, not to a party, not to Israel. If I go run for Senate in Israel, I’ll do that. 

In Washington, where every politician is required to affirm the identity of US-Israeli interests, such words constitute heresy. 
The senator, however, has been equally provocative in deeds. Hagel was an early Republican critic of the Iraq war and a harsh opponent of the Bush administration. In his reckoning, it was the “the most arrogant, incompetent administrations [he had] ever seen or ever read about“; it was led by men whose intransigency was unmatched by a personal record of military service
In 2005, he was the most prominent Republican to vote against John Bolton’s nomination as ambassador to the UN. During the 2006 Israeli assault on Lebanon, Hagel questioned the US government’s unconditional support for Israel and called for greater sensitivity towards Arab concerns. In 2009, he signed a policy statement urging the Obama administration to engage Hamas and foster reconciliation between the two main Palestinian factions. 
Hagel refused to sign the various AIPAC-sponsored anti-Iran bills and, in a move that most irked the lobby, joined two former heads of US Central Command, General Anthony Zinny and Admiral William Fallon, to advise the president against war with Iran
His biggest sin however was his lack of decorum in addressing Washington’s political realities. In the same interview with Miller, Hagel made the banal but provocative observation that the “Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people” in Congress. 
Potential check on militarism
Hagel’s sloppy description was sufficient to earn him accusations of bigotry. But as the rest of the interview makes clear, what the senator was really talking about was the Israel lobby. The distinction between the two may exist more in conception than in reality but is nevertheless important to understand; if only to avoid accusations of “prejudice”. 
The late great historian Tony Judt once observed that what makes the Israel lobby distinctive is that unlike other lobbies it is not content with achieving its desired political outcomes; it also had an interest in denying its own existence and enforcing silence on the subject of its lobbying. It exists “to silence as well as to voice, to suppress as well as to secure”. 
During Obama’s first term when a similar battle raged over the appointment of former Ambassador Chas Freeman as the Director of National Intelligence and when Chuck Hagel’s name was first floated as a potential adviser, Natasha Mozgovaya of the Israeli daily Haaretz reported on an astonishing reality of American politics. “Every appointee to the American government”, she wrote, “must endure a thorough background check by the American Jewish community.” 
This is a curious position for a democracy to find itself in where an interest group lobbying on behalf of a foreign state can exercise veto power over government appointments based on ideological litmus tests. The distortion it engenders has been obvious in the disastrous course of recent US foreign policy. 
For the majority of Americans who are tired of perpetual war, the battle over Hagel’s appointment presents an opportunity to check this decline. They can finally confront the forces of militarism and restore much-needed sanity. It is not a coincident that the line-up of Hagel’s detractors looks remarkably similar to the line-up that promoted the Iraq war and is eager to bomb Iran. Hagel is far from a perfect candidate but he has many qualities that make his candidacy worth defending. As Bromwich notes: 

There is not another American of high reputation in public life who has proved himself so free of the disastrous illusions that led to the Global War on Terror…[Hagel] is an independent thinker and a dissident… a man so alienated from the Republican war madness and other kinds of madness that he walked away from his party in 2008.   

Given the political constraints in Washington, it is possible that Hagel will disappoint; but at least the possibility of change will not have been entirely extinguished. Hagel’s defeat will have a chilling effect on all non-conformists. 
Hagel is conscious of the limits of American power and can serve as a potential check on militarism in a manner career bureaucrats like Leon Panetta never could. The Purple Heart veteran could also cut military spending without courting accusations of weakness. His failure will only embolden the most radical militarists in Washington and ensure a retrenchment of the status quo. 
You may or may not agree with Hagel’s politics, but if you agree that independent thought shouldn’t be penalised and dissent not banished from government, then you can do worse than sign up to the campaigns being organised by Just Foreign Policyand MoveOn
Muhammad Idrees Ahmad is a Glasogw-based sociologist with a specialisation in US foreign policy. He edits Pulsemedia.org and can be reached at idrees@pulsemedia.org. 
Follow him on Twitter: @im_pulse

http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article33486.htm

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Congratulations to Carlos Latuff and Jakob Augstein A "hit list" of the most "anti-Semites" in the world.

By Ludwig Watza

The “Simon Wiesenthal Center” (SWC) in Los Angeles was once famous for tracking down former Nazi criminals. This was long ago. The institution still derives its reputation from its former purpose. Today the SWC annually publishes a “hit list” of the most “anti-Semites” in the world.

Third place in their “Anti-Semitism” list was awarded to the Brazilian cartoonist Carlos Latuff, who using his caricatures depicting the crimes of the Israeli occupation forces against the Palestinian people is always correct in his evaluations of the issue.

Among the ‘winners’ is once again, a German, Jakob Augstein, publisher of the weekly “Friday”. As always, Augstein always responds polititely to this “honor”: “The SWC is an important, internationally recognized institution.For its work in addressing and fighting anti-semitism, the SWC all my respect. It is all the more distressing when this struggle is weakened. This is necessarily the case when critical journalism is defamed as a racist or anti-Semitic.”

Augstein’s violation of the dogmas, which the “Israel Lobby” has used to protect Israel from criticism of its brutal occupation regime, the permanent violations of Palestinian human rights and the violations and disregard for international law. Those, like Augstein, Latuff and many others, who still dare to point at these violations are slandered as “anti-Semites”.

Such absurd “honors” should only be noted with a shrug. An enlightened public can only indignantly turn away from such institutions, who clearly live in a different universe. These “awards” show clearly that these lobbyists raise no factual arguments, otherwise they would not have to slander and defame critically thinking journalists.

In 2011 this type of critical approach brought Hermann Dierkes similar “honours”. A witchhunt was organized against him in Germany to finish him off politically. This succeeded in part, because many media outlets put their service at the disposal of those in support of the SWC. They did so instead of keeping a critical and objective distance while reporting. Instead they subscribed to a type of campaign journalism approach.

Criticism of Israeli government policy is more than necessary because the Netanyahu government violates democratic and other Western values by colonizing another people for the past 45 years, by depriving them of their liberty, discriminated against their citizens and treating them as second-and third-class citizens. They robbed them of their land and their freedom of movement, walled them in, besieged them and from time to time the Israeli military machine attacks as took place in 2008/09 and 2012 in Gaza. If criticizing this is “anti-Semitism”, then there is something wrong in the West.

Originally posted by Between the Lines – Ludwig Watzal
Dr. Norman Finkelstein at the University of Waterloo
See also: American Radical: Video – The trials of Jewish-American political scientist Norman Finkelstein.
 

Clip is from American Radical: The Trials of Norman Finkelstein.

Copyright Baraka Productions / Typecast Releasing

http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article33483.htm

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A Wee Comparison of Civil Liberties in the United States of America

By Kevin Drum
December 31, 2012 “Mother Jones” – -Compare and contrast. Here is how seriously we take civil liberties when the subject can be plausibly labeled terrorism:
[New rules] allow the little-known National Counterterrorism Center to examine the government files of U.S. citizens for possible criminal behavior, even if there is no reason to suspect them. That is a departure from past practice, which barred the agency from storing information about ordinary Americans unless a person was a terror suspect or related to an investigation.
Now, NCTC can copy entire government databases—flight records, casino-employee lists, the names of Americans hosting foreign-exchange students and many others. The agency has new authority to keep data about
innocent U.S. citizens for up to five years, and to analyze it for suspicious patterns of behavior. Previously, both were prohibited.
And here is how seriously we take civil liberties when gun ownership is involved in any way, shape, or form:
Under current laws the bureau is prohibited from creating a federal registry of gun transactions….When law enforcement officers recover a gun and serial number, workers at the bureau’s National Tracing Center here — a windowless warehouse-style building on a narrow road outside town — begin making their way through a series of phone calls, asking first the manufacturer, then the wholesaler and finally the dealer to search their files to identify the buyer of the firearm.
….The Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986, for example, prohibits A.T.F. agents from making more than one unannounced inspection per year of licensed gun dealers. The law also reduced the falsification of records by dealers to a misdemeanor….The most recent Tiahrt amendment, adopted in 2010…requires that records of background checks of gun buyers be destroyed within 24 hours of approval. Advocates of tighter regulation say this makes it harder to identify dealers who falsify records or buyers who make “straw” purchases for others.
So that’s where we are. The federal government can swoop up enormous databases, keep them for years, and data mine them to its heart’s content if it has even the slightest suspicion of terrorist activity. Objections? None to speak of, despite the fact that terrorism claims only a handful of American lives per year. But information related to guns? That couldn’t be more different. Background checks are destroyed within 24 hours, serial numbers of firearms aren’t kept in a central database at all, and gun dealers can barely even be monitored. All this despite the fact that we record more than 10,000 gun-related homicides every year.
Compare and contrast.
Kevin Drum is a political blogger for Mother Jones. For more of his stories, click here.

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Secret Human Testing Revealed in Declassified U.S. Army Documents; Lawsuit Follows

By Nicholas West

December 31, 2012 “Activist Post” – –  It is always a challenge attempting to describe how sick and power mad are some of the elite who have taken up positions within the military-industrial-scientific complex. However, it is becoming easier, as more of their past demented actions are coming to light with such a preponderance of evidence that even the most naive must take notice. These actions only hint at what is likely going on all around us today, as well as the future plans of those who see the planet Earth as nothing more than a giant Petri dish.

The video below covers Dr. Lisa Martino-Taylor’s horrific findings after she submitted hundreds of Freedom of Information Act requests seeking the truth about government experiments on human populations. Martino-Taylor uncovered a mountain of evidence proving that an aerosol spraying campaign was in fact conducted by the U.S. Army during the 1950s and ’60s. She has revealed documents clearly showing that sprayers were set up in multiple cities on buildings, deployed from station wagons, and attached to planes.

Despite statements at the time which downplayed the spraying as non-toxic, the evidence shows that the Army knew that what was sprayed consisted of radioactive compounds breathed in by hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens. Furthermore, they went to great lengths to cover up the information.
 

Martino-Taylor says she’s obtained documents from multiple federal agencies showing the government concocted an elaborate story to keep the testing secret.

Martino-Taylor says some of the key players in the cover-up were also members of the Manhattan Atomic Bomb Project and involved in other radiological testing across the United States at the time. ‘This was against all military guidelines of the day, against all ethical guidelines, against all international codes such as the Nuremberg Code.’  (Source)

Martino-Taylor is pressing for an investigation into whether or not the spraying could have led to illnesses, including cancer.
The abstract of her dissertation reads as follows:
This piece analyzes a covert Manhattan Project spin-off organization referred to here as the Manhattan-Rochester Coalition, and an obscure aerosol study in St. Louis, Missouri, conducted under contract by the U.S. military from 1953–1954, and 1963–1965. The military-sponsored studies targeted a segregated, high-density urban area, where low-income persons of color predominantly resided. Examination of the Manhattan-Rochester Coalition and the St. Louis aerosol studies, reveal their connections to each other, and to a much larger military project that secretly tested humans, both alive and deceased, in an effort to understand the effects of weaponized radiation. Through this case study, the author explores how a large number of participants inside an organization will willingly participate in organizational acts that are harmful to others, and how large numbers of outsiders, who may or may not be victims of organizational activities, are unable to determine illegal or harmful activity by an organization. The author explains how ethical and observational lapses are engineered by the organization through several specific mechanisms, in an effort to disable critical analysis, and prevent both internal and external dissent of harmful organizational actions. Through studying the process of complex organizational deviance, we can develop public policies that protect the public’s right to know, and construct checks and methods to minimize the chance of covert projects that are contrary to societal norms.
You can click here to access the full text.

This story is important to keep in mind, as mad scientists are at work transforming the climate through an aerosol spraying campaign. They, too, insist that what is being sprayed is not harmful even as cases of respiratory illness, cancer, Alzheimer’s and mystery diseases across nature continue to climb (here and here). New diseases such as Morgellons have emerged, which seem to indicate a nano-level component that very well could be targeting human DNA.

Dr. Lisa Martino-Taylor’s research has received mainstream media attention due to the overwhelming amount of undeniable evidence. According to KDSK News, St. Louis, many people subsequently came forward to say they remembered the spraying:
 
 . . . men in protective suits, on roofs, with machines spewing a thick fog. One of them is Benjamin Phillips. He believes his numerous health issues may be connected to the secret tests.
Coverage of the lawsuit can be seen below, which implicates Parsons CorporationSRI International and, yes, Monsanto:

These tests serve as the perfect example to discuss with anyone who hurls the word conspiracy in your direction to shut down discussion of uncomfortable topics.

This type of testing is not an aberration. Click here for some other gruesome government experiments from our supposed benevolent protectors that treated humans like lab rats. 


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Arundhati Roy Speaks Out Against Indian Rape Culture

Video By Channel 4 – UK

The writer Arundhati Roy tells Channel 4 News she believes rape is used as a weapon in India and that women in the country are “paying the price”.

Posted December 31, 2012

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Syria Swings Between Hell and Dialogue

By Ismail Salami

December 31, 2012 “Information Clearing House” –   Admittedly, it is not hard to imagine how someone can predict a vision of hell in a country like Syria which has become a hornet’s nest of terrorism and that which is tumbling into further chaos and bloodshed.

Lakhdar Brahimi, who represents the United Nations and the Arab League, has predicted as 100,000 people could be killed
“in the next year as Syria moves toward Somalization and rule by warlords.”

Apart from his foreboding tone, his remarks are testimony to a broader gamut of interference at the hands of those who have infiltrated into the country from abroad. In point of fact, what is corroding Syria is not an internal unrest but a ‘foreign-made’ crisis.

The Syrian opposition group insists that the start of dialogue would be made possible only with the departure of President Assad and says that it would not be ready to engage in any dialogue with Russia without any clear agenda.

“If Russia has a proposal to stop the bleeding in Syria, it should submit it and we will respond,” Mouaz al-Khatib, head of the main bloc of Syrian opposition groups, has told Al Jazeera. “We can’t meet with the Russians without a clear agenda.”

Russia and Iran are playing pivotal roles in preventing a human catastrophe in the country and seeking to resolve the crisis through diplomacy.

After talks in Moscow on Saturday with Lakhdar Brahimi, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Russia could not press Assad to give up power. Besides, he has once again clarified his country’s stance on Syria and said Russia “isn’t in the business of regime change. He has repeatedly said, both publicly and privately, including during his meeting with Lakhdar Brahimi not long ago, that he has no plans to go anywhere, that he will stay in his post until the end, that he will, as he says, protect the Syrian people, Syrian sovereignty and so forth. There is no possibility of changing this position.”

The implication is very simple. Russia does not want a regime change in Syria as there is supposedly no point in seeking such a solution. This policy is also strongly shared and seconded by Iran which has already set forth a six-point peace plan for Syria. Hossein Sheikholeslam, an advisor to Iran’s Majlis speaker for international affairs has said that Tehran’s six-point peace plan would be the only solution to the unrest in Syria and that no country should intervene in the internal affairs of the Arab country.

“The six-point plan presented by Iran is a very appropriate solution to the crisis in Syria because it has been prepared based on international principles.”

The proposal was originally announced on October 14, when Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi submitted it to Lakhdar Brahimi during a meeting in Tehran.

According to Iran’s six-point peace plan, the Syrian nation has the legitimate right to decide their fate and future through an internationally-recognized democratic process.

In brief, the plan urges:
– an immediate end to any armed actions;
– ushering in a UN-monitored democratic process;
– Damascus and the opposition to cooperate with UN and its special committee to stop armed operations especially in the residential areas to restore peace and stability;
– an immediate, serious and just distribution of humanitarian aids to Syrian people;
– the lifting of economic sanctions on the Syrian people in order to prepare the ground for the return of all Syrian refugees to their homeland;
– the resumption of comprehensive national dialogues by different opposing social and political parties and Damascus to rapidly form a national reconciliation committee in order to unanimously form a transitional government;
– a free and competitive election for the formation of a new parliament and senate and the composition of a constitution;
– the immediate release of all political prisoners from all parties by the government and opposition groups, and establishment of a competent court of justice to investigate cases of those who committed crimes in that country.

The plan also urges that media stop spreading wrong information about Syria.

Though a comprehensive plan which can technically and practically put an end to the ongoing crisis in Syria, it was looked upon with an eye of pessimism and cynicism by the opposition group in Syria.

In a statement, the Syrian National Coalition slammed Iran’s initiative as a “last-ditch bid to save the regime of President Bashar al-Assad”.

“As the free forces of the Syrian people accomplish one decisive political and military victory after another, the regime and its allies keep on launching lackluster and overdue political initiatives,” said the National Coalition.

“The Iranian initiative represents one example of these desperate attempts to throw a lifeline to the inevitably sinking ship of the Assad regime,” it said in a statement.

Despite all this, Syria says it will respond to any initiative meant to solve Syria’s 22-month-old crisis through talks

While impertinently attributing the crisis in Syria to “the brutality and ruthlessness of ruler Bashar al-Assad and the family clique around him, and their supporters in Iran and Russia”, an editorial on Washington Post which, evidently reflects Washington’s policies, lashes out at the West for its “massive failure”, and “particularly American leadership” and implicitly encourages the West’s prompt action against the government of Assad.

After all, the materialization of a meaningful peace in Syria cannot and should not be pursued through irrational anger and abortive resort to any brute means such as hiring and infiltrating mercenaries into Syria, psyching public mind about the possibility that the government of Assad may use chemical weapons against its own people.

Instead of ignoring Iran’s constructive and effective initiative to put an end to the bloodbath in Syria, the opposition group could have seized the chance, looked at Iran as a regional well-wisher and resolved the crisis in the country.

What is vitally important at this juncture in time is that a tragedy of immeasurably inhumane proportions is taking place in Syria and a rapid solution should be carved out before it’s too late.

Indeed, Syria is by slow gradation descending into hell whose flames are devouring the innocent and the guilty alike and even on a more appalling scale as Mr. Brahimi has predicted, tens of thousands of people will die soon and as long as there is resistance to any peace-inspiring proposal in the country, Syria will inch towards an eventual Balkanization.

This article was originally posted at Press TV

http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article33480.htm

Will Syria Go on Offense at The Hague?

By Franklin Lamb

A “legal intifada” appears likely for more than just the Palestinians
La Maison d’Avocats, Damascus, a local website reported.

December 31, 2012 “Information Clearing House” – Even before the historic 139 to 8 vote of the UN General Assembly on November 29 of this year which opened up a plethora of legal remedies for Palestinians, a “legal intifada” — to borrow a phrase from Francis Boyle, Professor of International Law and a longtime advocate of advancing resistance to the illegal occupation of Palestine through the rule of law — has been taking form in this region.

The reasons include nearly seven decades of countless Zionist crimes against Muslims and Christians in occupied Palestine and far beyond. As Professor Boyle has suggested, the opportunities presented to the PLO by the lopsided UN vote “…can mean numerous available legal remedies ranging from the securing of a fair share of the gas deposits off the shores of Gaza, control of Palestinian airspace and telecommunications and, crucially, bringing the Zionist regime to account at the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice.

Syria too, currently under enormous pressure from international interference into the internal affairs of the country and the subject of an intense regime change project led by the US and France, has international legal remedies immediately available to it stemming from the actions of the US, UK, France and others in imposing on Syria’s civilian population one of the most severe and clearly illegal layers of sanctions. Were Syria and others to file an Application for an Advisory Opinion with the ICJ few in the international legal community have much doubt that targeting civilians economically and attempting to destroy the Syrian economy — for no other purpose than to ignite rebellion — would be considered a violation of international law at the International Court of Justice.

Granted there are some potential jurisdictional problems given that Syria has not yet accepted the Article 36 Compulsory Jurisdiction of the World Court, as provided in the Statute of the Court, and the strong campaign at the UN that would certainly be waged by the Obama Administration to challenge ICJ jurisdiction to hear a case on behalf of Syria and its civilian population, but they can be overcome. As a general rule, an Advisory Opinion requires a simple majority affirmative vote by the UN General Assembly or an Application by one of the designated UN Specialized Agencies. This might be a tough job to secure the former but it is doable with the latter. Moreover, should Syria accept the compulsory jurisdiction of the ICJ it could likely quickly resolve the issue of sanctions by claiming a legal dispute with one or more states that also accept CJ and are supporters of sanctions. For example, the UK, France and their NATO and Gulf allies.

Aspects of a possible filing at the International Court of Justice on the legality of US-led sanctions are currently being researched by seasoned international lawyers and academics, at various Western and International law centers. Supporting efforts being worked on include drafting amicus curie briefs on the issue of the legality of the US-led sanctions to be submitted to the Court, plans for securing the widest possible political support for challenging the US-led sanctions from among Non-Aligned Movement countries, international peace groups, NGO’s, pro-peace websites, bloggers, social media and online activists as well as organizing a skilled media center to disseminate information about the case including quickly publishing, in paperback book form, one of the key Annexes to be submitted to the ICJ upon filing the Application. This volume will present Syrian government and International NGO prepared data on the inhumane effects of the US led sanctions in all their aspects, including by not limited to children, the elderly and the infirm, plus the effects of the US-led sanctions on the Syrian economy generally, i.e. consumer goods, medical delivery systems, financial institutions, currency values and related aspects of the lives of the civilian population of Syria.

Were Syria, and others, to take the illegal and immoral US-led sanctions case to the World Court and other available venues, they would shift their diplomatic position from a defensive status to taking the offense. Such a bold initiative would advance accountability under international law and, because the ICJ would likely grant a Petition for Interim Measures of Protection, the US-led sanctions could be suspended during the course of the judicial proceedings. Obviously this lifting/freezing of the sanctions would immediately and directly inure to the benefit of the Syrian civilian population, including the half million Palestinian refugees in Syria as well as thousands from Iraq.

This would work in concert with the “THREE B’s”, to borrow a phrase from Russia’s top middle east envoy, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Boganov, referring to Mr. Brahimi, Mr. Bogdanov, and Undersecretary William Burns, a former ambassador to Moscow, who would be urged to intensify their focus on achieving a diplomatic resolution of the Syrian crisis based on modified June 2011 Geneva formulation of a transition period leading to the 2014 elections.

According to several International lawyers surveyed between October andDecember, 2012, Syria clearly has the facts of the US sanctions case in its favor and there are ample solid legal theories to argue to and convince the World Court. Under the ICJ Statute, the Court must decide cases solely in accordance with international law. Hence the ICJ must apply: (1) any international conventions and treaties; (2) international custom; (3) general principles recognized as law by civilized nations; and (4) judicial decisions and the teachings of highly qualified publicists of the various nations. From this body of international law the International Court of Justice would find ample basis to support Syria’s claims not only for the benefit of its civilian population but also to advance the rule of law in the global community.

The ICJ is made up of 15 jurists from different countries. No two judges at any given time may be from the same country. The court’s composition is static but generally includes jurists from a variety of cultures. Among the Principles, Standards and Rules of international law that Syria may well argue to the World Court, may include but not be limited to, the following:

The US led sanctions violate international humanitarian law due to the negative health effects of the sanctions on the civilian population of Syria. This renders the sanctions illegal under international customary law and the UN Charter for their disproportionate damage caused to Syria’s civilian population;

The US led severe sanctions regime constitutes an illegitimate form of collective punishment of the weakest and poorest members of society, the infants, the children, the chronically ill, and the elderly;

The US, France and the UK, as well as their allies, have violated the UN Charter by their imposition of severe economic sanctions and threats of military force. The United States, Israel, and some of their allies, regularly threaten Damascus with the “option” of a military strike. The ICJ has ruled previously that “A threat or use of force is contrary to Article 2, paragraph 4, of the UN Charter and fails to meet all the requirements of Article 51, is therefore unlawful”. It has further ruled that “A threat of use of force must be compatible with the requirements of the international law applicable in armed conflict, particularly those of the principles and rules of humanitarian law, as well as with specific obligations under treaties and other undertakings which expressly deal with threats to members of the United Nations.”

Moreover, unilateral US sanctions, without the imprimatur of the United Nations are blatantly illegal under International Law because they are in fact multilateral and impose penalties on any country which opposes the sanctions or does not choose to participate in them;

The US led sanctions amount to an Act of War given their effects including hardships on the general public and that Syria therefore has a legal right to Self-Defense.

The US led sanctions, given their design and intent, constitute acts of aggression against Syria in violation of Article 2 (4) of the UN charter.

The indisputable facts of the US led sanctions case warrant the imposition by the ICJ of Restraining Orders designed to prevent any type of blockade or no-fly zones in Syria and the immediate cessation of the imposition of further economic sanctions against Syria, and also their efforts of securing more sanctions against Syria at the United Nations Security Council. The Restraining Orders, under the umbrella of Interim Measures of Protection, would presumably also seek to prohibit the US and its allies from the Persian Gulf region and elsewhere, from advocating aggressive military actions against Syria, including supplying funding, weapons, and jihadists, as well as Western “Special Forces” currently pouring into Syria from its northern border with Turkey and to negotiate with the Syrian government in good faith to end the current crisis.

Syria can legitimately claim, and would presumably argue at the ICJ and other international forums that the bi-lateral or multilateral economic sanctions, led by the US and its Gulf allies, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, are illegal, indeed criminal due to their assault on international humanitarian law and required state practice.

Syria could successfully argue, according to a recent survey of international lawyers conducted in Brussels and The Hague, as well as within Syria’s Maison d’Avocats, that the US led sanctions violate the international law principle of Non-intervention in the internal affairs of UN member states and that the stewards of these sanctions could themselves be subject to international sanctions plus compensatory and punitive damages for the benefit of their victims.

In summary, as Germany’s Green Party, and increasingly, legal scholars and human rights organizations generally are insisting, sanctions against Syria’s civilian population fundamentally violate international law.

Should NATO sets up a no-fly zone and were to launch airstrikes against Damascus, it can and should immediately be sued at The Hague and if the situation deteriorates NATO can and should be held to account for targeting Alawites and Christians on the basis of the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. All participating countries, 142 to date, are obliged to prevent and punish actions of genocide in war and in peacetime. Article 2 of the Convention defines genocide as any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, elements of a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group including killing members of the group, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.

Despite Syria’s strong case on both the facts and the law, and the diversity in structure and composition of the International Court of Justice, the International Tribunal has a few times over the years been criticized for favoring established powers. Under articles 3 and 9 of the ICJ Statute, the judges on the ICJ should represent “the main forms of civilization and principal legal systems of the world.” This definition suggests that the ICJ does not represent the interests of developing countries. Nevertheless, the World Courts record has been by and large exemplary in applying principles, standards and rules of international law both in contested cases and advisory opinions and Syria has an excellent opportunity to protect its citizens, thwart US and Israeli designs on the region, and advance international accountability — all to the inestimable benefit of all people and nations.

Syria, which the US and Israel and their allies are today working to keep off balance and on the defensive diplomatically, should consider immediately filing an application with the International Court of Justice, and use all other available international legal, political and humanitarian tribunals, to directly challenge and boldly confront the US led sanctions campaign against its people. The Syrian Arab Republic, by taking the offensive at the World Court and elsewhere, will help relieve the enormous pressures on its civilians and advance the principles, standards and rules of international law—for the benefit of all mankind.

Franklin Lamb is doing research in Damascus and can be reached c/o fplamb@gmail.com

This article was originally posted at Al-Manar TV Lebanon

http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article33488.htm

Yours, Mine, but Not Ours

Why the politics of national security means that we’re all living in failed Hobbesian states.

By Corey Robin

December 31, 2012 “Information Clearing House” –  Political fear is universal, but its language is particular. Racism is one language of fear; risk assessment is another. There is little doubt, however, that security — whether national or domestic — is the most potent and pervasive language of all.

Security is the one good, political theorists like John Dunn and Bernard Williams agree, that the state must provide.  It has the ability, like no other argument, to mobilize the resources and attention of the state and its citizens.  It has arguably inspired — and, in the case of nuclear deterrence, certainly threatened — more devastation and destruction than any other ideology of the modern era.

It has also provided the single most effective and enduring justification for the suppression of rights.  Why that is so — why security has furnished what appears to be the strongest reason for eliminating or otherwise limiting rights — is the question I’d like to address here.

At first glance, this may seem like a question that answers itself.  When people are afraid for their lives, they will do anything to protect themselves and their families.  And when the safety of the nation or the state is threatened, it too will do whatever it takes to defend itself.  Limiting the rights of its citizens is the least of it.

That is the theory, at any rate, and it is commonly associated with Thomas Hobbes, whose name is often invoked as the guiding intelligence of our times.  But if we look closely at what Hobbes said we find a more interesting and revealing argument about how fear works to abridge rights and limit freedom.

Contrary to popular understanding and scholarly accounts, Hobbes does not argue that the state of nature is a condition where people are naturally driven by their instinct for self-preservation to submit to an all-powerful sovereign. What he does argue is that the state of nature is a condition where people cannot agree upon the basics of morality — about what is just and unjust, good and evil, and so on — and that this disagreement about morality is a leading source of conflict.

The one thing — the only thing — people can agree upon is that each person has the right to preserve his own life and to do whatever he believes is necessary to preserve it.  No one, whatever his beliefs, can condemn another person for fearing for his life and trying to preserve it.  Acts of self-preservation are blameless and thus are acts we have a right to do.

But as soon as we acknowledge this right, we confront a problem:  not only do we have the right to preserve ourselves, but we also have the right to do whatever we think is necessary to preserve ourselves.  In the state of nature, each individual is the judge of his own situation, the judge of whether or not he is in danger and of what he must do to protect himself from danger.  “Every man by right of nature,” Hobbes writes in Elements of Law, “is judge himself of the means, and of the greatness of the danger.”

But when each of us is the judge of whether we are in danger and of we must do to protect ourselves, we inevitably find ourselves, for reasons unnecessary to explore here, in a state of war. What seemed initially to offer the basis for agreement and the resolution of conflict — the right of each person to seek his own preservation — turns out in the state of nature to generate more conflict, more instability, and less self-preservation.

Though this is by no means what Hobbes had in mind, think of the public controversy in this country over “Stand Your Ground” laws in the wake of the Trayvon Martin case. Though these laws presume to draw upon an intuitive appeal to the notion of self-defense, that notion, in practice, can rest upon a highly specific, and by no means universally shared, understanding of a threat: for some, an unarmed black teenager in a hoodie is a self-evident danger; for others, he’s an unarmed black teenager in a hoodie. Whatever side one takes in that controversy, the mere fact that it is a controversy suggests — with Hobbes —  that the right of each people to seek his own preservation does not settle a conflict; it is the source of conflict.

The only solution to this problem, Hobbes concludes, is to create an all-powerful sovereign to whom we cede this basic right — not the right to defend ourselves from certain and immediate danger (a right no one can rationally cede) but the right to be the judge of what might threaten us and of what actions we will take to protect ourselves from what might threaten us. When we submit to sovereign power, Hobbes says in Elements of Law, we are forbidden “to be our own judges” of our security, for the sovereign, Hobbes adds in Leviathan, is he “to whom in all doubtfull cases, wee have submitted our private judgments.”

Returning to the language of fear, we can say that in the state of nature, the fear of death or bodily destruction entitles us to do anything we think might protect us from real or sincerely perceived dangers (as the defenders of George Zimmerman, who killed Trayvon Martin, essentially claim).  Under the sovereign, however, that fear does not so entitle us — unless, again, we, as individuals, are immediately and incontrovertibly threatened.  Once we agree to submit to the sovereign, he becomes the decider of our fears:  he determines whether or not we have reason to be afraid, and he determines what must be done to protect us from the objects of our fear.

Hobbes’s argument has three implications that are relevant to contemporary politics.  The first is that it is not necessarily a widespread fear of foreign or domestic threats — real or imagined — that compels the state to abridge civil liberties.  When the government takes measures for the sake of security, it is not simply translating the people’s fear of danger into a repressive act of state.  Instead, the government makes a choice:  to focus on some threats and not others, and to take certain actions (but not others) to counter those threats. Merely think of the attention — and money, staff, countermeasures, and air time — the US government has lavished upon terrorism as opposed to automobile accidents or climate change, even in the wake of Katrina, Sandy, and a host of other life-threatening weather events.

Even though this power to define the objects of public fear suggests that danger or harm is whatever the state says it is, Hobbes did believe that there were real dangers that threatened a people. The sovereign had every reason to make the proper determination of what truly threatened the people and to act only upon those determinations.  The sovereign’s interest in his own security dovetailed with the people’s interest in theirs. So long as the people were, or at least felt, secure, they would obey the sovereign; so long as they obeyed the sovereign, he would be secure.

Hobbes also assumed that the sovereign would be so removed from powerful constituencies in society — in his time, the church and the aristocracy — that the sovereign would be able to act on behalf of an impartial, disinterested, and neutral calculation of what truly threatened the people as a whole and of what measures would protect them. Because the sovereign’s power depended upon getting these calculations right, he had every incentive not to get them wrong.

The reality of modern state power, however, is that we have inherited some of the worst aspects of Hobbesian politics with none of its saving graces.  Governments today have a great deal of freedom to define what threatens a people and how they will respond to those threats. But far from being removed from the interests of and ideologies of the powerful, they are often constrained, even defined and constituted, by those interests and ideologies.

To cite just one example:  it is a well known fact that African Americans have suffered as much from the American state’s unwillingness to protect them from basic threats to their lives and liberties as they have from the willingness of white Americans to threaten those lives and liberties.  Throughout much of US history, as legal scholar Randall Kennedy has shown, the state has deemed the threat to the physical safety of African Americans to be an unremarkable danger and the protection of African Americans an unworthy focus of its attentions.

In the Hobbesian account, this constitutes a grievous failure; in America, it has been a semi-permanent boundary of state action.  At the most fateful moment of white-on-black violence in US history, in fact, the national government deemed the threat to African Americans a relatively minor item of public safety, unworthy of federal military protection; by contrast, it deemed the threat to employers from striking workers an public emergency, worthy of federal military protection.

Or consider the US government response to the threat of terrorism.  According to the two official commissions appointed to examine what led to the terrorist attacks of 9/11, one of the major reasons US intelligence agencies did not anticipate 9/11 was that turf wars and government infighting prevented them from sharing information.  The “obstacles to information sharing were more bureaucratic than legal,” write David Cole and James Dempsey in Terrorism and the Constitution, and had little to do “with the constitutional principles of due process, accountability, or checks and balances.”

But while the government has run roughshod over constitutional principles since 9/11, it has been slow to remove these bureaucratic obstacles.  Even the Department of Homeland Security, which was supposed to unite competing agencies under one aegis, “is bogged down by bureaucracy” and a “lack of strategic planning,” according to a 2006 wire report.

Thus, it is not just threats to the well being of citizens — or even the citizenry’s fears of those threats — that compel governments to take action against those threats and certainly not the rights-abridging actions government officials so often do take.  It is threats that the government deems worthy of public attention that will be acted upon.  Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu gave us a sense of this when, in the course of condemning the Bush Administration’s slow response to Hurricane Katrina, she said, “I often think we would have been better off if the terrorists had blown up our levees.  Maybe we’d have gotten more attention.” In acting upon threats, government officials will be inspired by a range of considerations — ideological, political, economic, and so on — that have much less to do with the threats themselves than with the specific constituencies and interests for which the government speaks.

The problem is not that we live in a world of Hobbesian states; it is that we live in a world of failed Hobbesian states.

The second implication of the Hobbesian argument is that if security is the foundation of political legitimacy, people will only believe themselves obliged to obey if they think that their security is imperiled or potentially at risk.  Once people stop worrying about their security, they may forget the reasons why they should obey.  “The end of obedience is protection,” Hobbes writes in Leviathan, but if people don’t feel themselves in need of protection, they won’t sense the need for obedience.

That is why, late in life, Hobbes decided to write an account of the English Civil War.  It had been nearly three decades since the conclusion of the war, but Hobbes thought it critical to record and recall its evils, he explained in Behemoth,there being “nothing more instructive towards loyalty and justice than…the memory, while it lasts, of that war.”

Relying upon a simple fear of danger to underwrite obedience, in other words, is not enough. Dangers can slip from view, and when they do, obligation is thrown into question.  Hobbes was quite attuned to this problem, and hoped that it could be solved by the sovereign supplying the people with “prospective glasses” by which they could “see a farre off the miseries that hang over” them but which they did not immediately perceive.

But how does a state make a particular danger or disaster that lies far off appear up close?  How does it turn hypothetical dangers into immediate threats?  By developing an intellectual apparatus that dispenses with the ordinary requirements of evidence and proof, by articulating a set of arguments, and pithy slogans, that enables the state to take extraordinary measures against postulated perils: fight them there so we don’t have to fight them here; the Domino Theory; MAD and other theories of nuclear deterrence.

It was Cardinal Richelieu, of all people, who declared, “In normal affairs, the administration of justice requires authentic proofs; but it is not the same in affairs of state….There urgent conjecture must sometimes take the place of proof; the loss of the particular is not comparable with the salvation of the state.” The more severe the threat, the less proof we require that it is real in order to take action against it; the less severe the threat, the more proof we require of its reality in order to take action against it.  If we underestimate serious threats, the consequences will be great — so great, suggests Richelieu, that we may have no choice but to overestimate them.

In 1950,  Learned Hand invoked a similar rule in his decision in United States v. Dennis:  in or order to decide whether or not to suppress the rights of the leadership of the Communist Party, Hand wrote, government officials must first weigh “the gravity of the ‘evil’” — and then make sure that that gravity is “discounted by its improbability.”  The graver the evil they (or any other threat) pose, the higher degree of improbability we demand in order not to worry about it.  Or, to put it another way, if an evil is truly terrible but not very likely to occur, we may still take preemptive action against it.

As I have argued in the London Review of Books and elsewhere, the run-up to the second Iraq war — and the statements of Bush and Richard Perle in particular — shows that these are not ancient or academic formulations. And the support many liberal Democrats gave to the arguments of the Bush administration demonstrates that this is by no means an exclusively conservative phenomenon.

The language of security, and the discourse of imminence, is a bipartisan idiom, providing the state with the means to exaggerate threats, and to take preemptive action, including the abridgment of vital rights, to avert those threats.

It is not the people’s simple, unmediated fear of danger — or their conservative leaders’ interpretation of that danger — that compels this exaggeration and the turn away from evidence and proof.  It is a highly elaborated political argument, which is based on the principle, in the words of Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France, that it is “better to be despised for too anxious apprehensions than ruined by too confident a security.”

The third and final implication of Hobbes’s argument is that the sovereign can be the judge of our fears and of how we are to respond to those fears only if it possesses a unity of will and judgment.  If the sovereign is to be the decider, it must be able to decide; if it is to decide, it must come to a determinative judgment and a single, unified will.  There can be no division or conflict; the sovereign must think and act as one.

As much as people try to resist this authoritarian dimension of Hobbes’s argument, many politicians and scholars, across the political spectrum, accept some version of it.  It’s often said that a people hoping to protect themselves from fundamental threats must agree that they are in fact threatened and agree as to how they will meet that threat.  According to liberal scholar and former Obama administration official Cass Sunstein, citizens must “have a degree of solidarity and…believe that everyone is involved in a common endeavor” in order to convince “the enemy that it faces a unified adversary.”

Throughout the first five years of the second Iraq War, to cite another example, Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman argued that any disagreement — not only about whether the war should be fought but also about how it should be fought — emboldens the enemy and should be avoided.  In 2005 he declared, “It’s time for Democrats who distrust President Bush to acknowledge that he will be the commander in chief for three more critical years and that in matters of war we undermine presidential credibility at our nation’s peril.”

Invoking the language of treason, Lieberman wondered aloud during a congressional hearing whether a non-binding Senate resolution opposing Bush’s proposed escalation of American troops in Iraq “would give the enemy some comfort.”  On Fox News Sunday, Lieberman declared again that the resolution would “encourage the enemy” and that “war is a test of wills, and you don’t want your enemy to be given any hope.”

When it comes to matters of security, then, we are good Hobbesians, at least rhetorically.  I say “at least rhetorically” because the fact remains that all states, even the most authoritarian, suffer from a fundamental lack of unity regarding their assessments of danger and of how to respond to danger; they also lack sufficient coercive power to enforce those assessments.

Many states, particularly liberal democracies, are divided at the center — with different elements of their war-making powers parceled out to a legislature and an executive, and sometimes even a judiciary — and federalist states are divided between the center and the periphery.  It is not likely that such states will reach a consensus about what threatens them, and even if they do, it’s not likely that the state’s various and often fractious officials will agree on how to respond to threats.

Even regimes that come closest to the storied vision of unified state power — Hitler’s Germany, say, or Stalin’s Russia — seldom exhibit that unity.  Think only of the bitter arguments that divided the SS from other sectors of the Nazi regime about whether Germany’s interests during World War II were better served by using the Jews as slave labor or by exterminating them.

Nor do fundamental threats to the survival or integrity of the state necessarily furnish that unity.  Consider the War of 1812, when British troops threatened the American state with the greatest challenge to its existential survival it had ever faced — and arguably would ever face — from abroad.  As of September 1814, the British had taken control of Washington, DC, burned the Capitol and the White House to the ground, and sent the federal government into exile.  They also had massed a terrifying army on Lake Champlain, blocked ports up and down the North Atlantic seaboard, seized a good chunk of Maine, and seemed ready for an invasion of Boston.  Desertions from the army were spreading, and many states were left to defend themselves.

At that very moment, leading citizens in New England, who had opposed the war, proposed to meet in Hartford, Connecticut, to discuss measures the region might take to extricate itself from the war.  That fall, antiwar candidates were elected to Congress; secession was favored by at least half of the population of Massachusetts; and influential citizens and newspapers throughout New England argued for non-payment of federal taxes, declarations of regional neutrality, and refusals to cooperate with any federal conscription bill should one be passed.  The governor of Massachusetts even sent an emissary to the British to secretly negotiate a separate peace, in which the British would promise to help the New Englanders defend themselves against any federal effort to suppress the rebellion.

Even when there is agreement that the nation is threatened and that it must resist rather than surrender to the threat, there will still be disagreement about how best to defend the nation, and these disagreements can be as divisive and threatening as disagreements about whether the nation is threatened or should resist.  As John C. Calhoun wrote of the divisive effects of war, which he ascribed to struggles over the distribution of material resources that accompanies any national mobilization: “The whole united must necessarily place under the control of government an amount of honors and emoluments, sufficient to excite profoundly the ambition of the aspiring and the cupidity of the avaricious; and to lead to the formation of hostile parties, and violent party conflicts and struggles to obtain the control of the government.”

America’s involvement in the First World War offers an instructive example of just how divisive these disagreements about means rather than ends can be.  Just after the United States entered the war in April 1917, an official from the War Department testified before Congress about what the military would need to fight the war.  When he announced, almost as an afterthought, that “we may have to have an army in France,” the chair of the Senate Finance Committee declared, “Good Lord!  You’re not going to send soldiers over there, are you?”  Many in Congress and the public had believed that America’s participation in the war would require little more than sending arms to Europe.  But what began as an almost charming display of naiveté rapidly became the subject of bitter dispute.

When President Wilson finally proposed a draft, the Speaker of the House declared that “there is precious little difference between a conscript and a convict.”  Though the conscription bill eventually passed, opposition to military service remained widespread.  Roughly three million men evaded the draft, and as many as sixty percent of the men who registered may have requested exemptions from fighting.

In addition to conscription, Americans argued about the mobilization of public resources.  Conflicts within the military were particularly intense.  Despite pressure from Wilson and other officials, the army resisted changes to its outmoded procurement systems, making for inefficiencies, redundancies, and obsolescent weaponry.  So chaotic were the army’s procedures that its top administrator wound up hoarding twelve thousand typewriters in various government basements.  “There is going to be the greatest competition for typewriters around here,” he explained, “and I have them all.”  Businessmen consistently opposed wartime regulations of the economy, arguing that private initiative and the free market were sufficient to fight and win the war.

Financing the war was also contentious.  While progressives persuaded Wilson of the need to tax wealthy interests in order to fund the war, their efforts were thwarted by industrialists and corporations, leading California Senator Hiram Johnson to complain, “Our endeavors to impose heavy war profit taxes have brought into sharp relief the skin-deep dollar patriotism of some of those who have been loudest in declamations on war and in their demands for blood.”

Forced to fall back on war bonds, the Wilson Administration tried to turn the war into a genuine “people’s war.”  But the government’s “Liberty Loan” drives met with lethargy and opposition, leading the Treasury Secretary to declare, “A man who can’t lend his government $1.25 per week at the rate of 4 percent interest is not entitled to be an American citizen.”  Hoping to overcome this popular resistance, Congress inserted a provision into the 1918 Sedition Act that made it illegal to “say or do anything” with intent to impede the sale of war bonds — though the legislature exempted from prosecution investment advisers who urged their clients not to buy war bonds for “bona fide and not disloyal” reasons, i.e., because war bonds were a bad investment.

On the one hand, then, we have an ideological imperative toward unity and solidarity.  On the other hand, the modern state lacks that unity and solidarity.  It seldom agrees upon the threats it faces, and even when it does, it can dissolve over arguments about how to meet those threats.

What do these three implications — states have a great deal of freedom to determine what threatens a people and how to respond to those threats, and in making those determinations, they are influenced by the interests and ideologies of their primary constituencies; states have strong incentives and have been given strong justifications for exaggerating threats; and while states aspire, rhetorically, to a unity of will and judgment, they seldom achieve it in practice — tell us about the relationship between security and freedom? What light do they shed on the question of why security is such a potent argument for the suppression of rights and liberties?

Security is an ideal language for suppressing rights because it combines a universality and neutrality in rhetoric with a particularity and partiality in practice.  Security is a good that everyone needs, and, we assume, that everyone needs in the same way and to the same degree.  It is “the most vital of all interests,” John Stuart Mill wrote, which no one can “possibly do without.” Though Mill was referring here to the security of persons rather than of nations or states, his argument about personal security is often extended to nations and states, which are conceived to be persons writ large.

Unlike other values — say justice or equality — the need for and definition of security is not supposed to be dependent upon our beliefs or other interests and it is not supposed to favor any one set of beliefs or interests.  It is the necessary condition for the pursuit of any belief or interest, regardless of who holds that belief or has that interest.  It is a good, as I’ve said, that is universal and neutral.  That’s the theory.

The reality, as we have seen, is altogether different.  The practice of security involves a state that is rife with diverse and competing ideologies and interests, and these ideologies and interests fundamentally help determine whether threats become a focus of attention, and how they are perceived and mobilized against.  The provision of security requires resources, which are not limitless.  They must be distributed according to some calculus, which, like the distribution calculus of any other resource (say income or education), will reflect controversial and contested assumption about justice and will be the subject of debate. National security is as political as Social Security, and just as we argue about the latter, so do we argue about the former.

Even when it comes to the existential survival of the state, diverse constituencies will respond to that threat in diverse ways, depending upon their proximity to physical danger, their identification with the state, the level of sacrifice that might be expected of them, and so on.  And while we might think that a threat to the existential survival of a people — say, from a genocidal regime — would provide an instance of a neutral, universal definition of security around which a people could unify, such threats seldom inspire that unity of will and judgment.  Instead, genocidal threats can prompt a return to the Hobbesian state of nature, wherein individuals and families act upon their own definitions of danger and take whatever actions they deem necessary to secure their own survival.

Because the rhetoric of security is one of universality and neutrality while the reality is one of conflict and division, state officials and elites have every motivation, and justification, to suppress heterodox and dissenting definitions of security.  And so they have, as Hobbes predicted they could and would.  But because a neutral, universal definition of security is impossible to achieve in practice, repression for the sake of security must be necessarily selective:  only certain groups or certain kinds of dissent will be targeted.  The question then becomes:  which groups, which dissent?

Because government officials are themselves connected with particular constituencies in society — often the most powerful — they will seldom suppress challenges to security that come from the powerful; instead they will target the powerless and the marginal, particularly if the powerless are mobilizing to threaten the powerful.  So the US government during WWI made it illegal to urge people, like the Socialists, not to buy war bonds — but it did allow a Wall Street adviser to counsel his client not to make a bad investment.

Or, when Congress passed the Sedition Act in 1918, which made it illegal to “willfully utter, print, write, or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language” about the United States government or the military or to bring these institutions “into contempt, scorn, contumely, or disrepute,” the Republicans attempted to insert an amendment that would have protected themselves and their constituencies, who were aggressively criticizing Woodrow Wilson and the Democratic leadership of the US government.  “Nothing in this act shall be construed,” the amendment read, “as limiting the liberty or impairing the right of an individual to publish or speak what is true, with good motives and for justifiable ends.”  Suppressing dissident socialists or activists against the draft was fine; suppressing dissenting Republicans was not.

But there is a second reason why security has proven the most potent justification for the suppression of rights.  And that has to do with the liberal tradition, which historically has offered the greatest theoretical resource for opposition to the suppression of rights.  While liberalism as a theory has given us excellent reasons to oppose the use of coercive state power on behalf of religious or moral orthodoxy, it has given us far fewer reasons to oppose the use of that power on behalf of security.  In fact, if we look at three touchstones of liberal discourse — Locke, Mill, and Oliver Wendell Holmes — we find that each of them actually provides excellent justifications for the use of coercive and repressive state power in the name of security.

Each of these writers tried, in his way, to prevent the state from using its coercive power on behalf of some controversial question of ideology or belief: for Locke, it was religion; for Mill, it was morality; for Holmes, it was politics.  And each of them formulated a test or condition for when the use of such power was legitimate:  for Locke, it was to protect “the security and safety of the commonwealth”; for Mill, it was to prevent harm; for Holmes, it was to thwart a “clear and present danger.”

The assumption behind the proscription against using coercive power in the first set of cases — religion, morality, and politics — and the endorsement of it in the second set of cases — the security and safety of the commonwealth, harm, or a clear and present danger — was not only that the first set was a source of controversy and division while the second set was not.  It was that the first was by its very nature a source of controversy while the second was by its very nature a source of unity.  Unlike religion, morality, and politics, in other words, security offered the basis for an uncontroversial exercise of coercive state power.

As we have seen, this assumption has not been borne out by reality.  But that failure has not stopped liberals from arguing, as the saying goes, that politics stops at the water’s edge.  And so when they have tried to chastise conservatives for using security for political ends (even though they do the same thing themselves), they have often found themselves, particularly since the Reagan years, hopelessly outgunned.  Having endorsed — indeed, invented — the idea that security is not, properly speaking, a subject of and for the political arena, liberals cannot possibly hope to beat their opponents at a game which their chief theoreticians claim does not even exist.

This essay is an adapted version of “The Language of Fear: Security and Modern Politics,” in Fear: Across the Disciplines.

1789-2012 © Jacobin Press – Jacobin is a magazine of culture and polemic published quarterly out of New York City.

http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article33484.htm

The Idol Smasher

By Chris Hedges

December 31, 2012 “Truth Dig” — Ishmael Reed has spent the last five decades smashing idols—idols of race, idols of capitalism, celebrity idols and the idols of national virtue and greatness. His essays, novels, poems, plays, songs and cartoons routinely shatter the delusions and myths of a nation stubbornly unwilling to confront its past or understand its present. He rips open a history that saw white Europeans exterminate one race and enslave another to create the nation’s prosperity, a past that includes the violent plundering of nations around the globe—Cuba, the Philippines, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan among them—to show us who we have become. He names the corrosive disease of empire. He excoriates what Alexis de Tocqueville called our “perpetual practice of self-applause.” He battles back against the sophisticated forms of propaganda—especially from Hollywood—that perpetuate patriotic fantasies and pander to the dark streams of paranoia, racism and fear that run like electric currents through white society.

Reed’s righteous fury is a heartening antidote to the squeamishness of liberals and the lunacy of the right wing. He says the editors of The New York Times and most other major media outlets “sound like they get their instructions from Julius Streicher [the Nazi propagandist] when it comes to blacks.” He calls the HBO series “The Wire” “a Neo-Nazi portrait of black people” and dismisses the movie “Precious” as a film that “makes D.W. Griffith look like a progressive.”

“Lazy, no-good black people, who are welfare cheats, sitting around eating chicken, and having sex with their children, right out of the Lee Atwater-Paul Ryan playbook,” he said of the portrayals in “Precious” when I reached him by phone at his home in Oakland, Calif. “The wonderful novelist Diane Johnson was right when she said that ‘largely white’ audiences are thrilled by images of black people as dysfunctional. This has become a billion-dollar market which led critics to assert that Black Bogeyman movies sell better than sex, according to the critic C. Liegh McInnis. You even have a critic at The Root website, a post-racial ‘Talented Tenth’ hangout for ‘exceptional blacks,’ praising Quentin Tarantino’s latest sick exercise into racial porn, called ‘Django Unchained,’ ” which I critique at the Wall Street Journal site Speakeasy. This movie is being praised by the same critics who loved ‘The Color Purple’ and ‘Precious,’ probably because it revives Stanley Elkins’ discredited ‘Sambo Thesis.’ ”

Reed has no time for Black Bloc anarchists, whom he calls “alienated, spoiled middle-class white kids from the suburbs” as well as “vandals and thugs.” He calls the Oscar presentation “a white supremacist pageant.” He detests the Clintons, who he reminds us sold out the poor and the working class. Hillary, he says, makes “Eva Peron seem benign.” He predicts more tragedies like the recent Connecticut massacre, noting that many white Americans stockpile assault rifles because they are terrified of black people and that mass shootings in the United States almost always are carried out by estranged white men.

“ ‘The Turner Diaries,’ the book that inspired Timothy McVeigh to bomb the federal building in Oklahoma, and assaults by gunmen including one against the North Valley Jewish Community Center [in Granada Hills, Calif.,] in 1999, are very explicit,” he said not long after we were on a panel together at the Miami Book Festival. “The [novel] tells whites they need guns because if they give up their assault weapons blacks will kidnap white women and Jewish men will be their pimps. This fantasy, however absurd, at least addresses the deepest, unspoken fears of whites. The white power structure looks around at what is happening. It sees we are going down. It is terrified of an uprising by a coalition of whites, blacks, Asian-Americans and Hispanics that elected Obama—even though Obama with his pretty, multicultural face and elegant style and his spouse, who is more militant than he and who for that reason has been silenced, serve the empire. The only problem is that white crazies like [Michele] Bachmann and the others are so blinded by white supremacy that they won’t go along with the script. She [Rep. Bachmann] said that Obama was costing the taxpayers $250 million per day on his trip to India, a lie, when Obama’s taking over 100 CEOs along with him brought back billions in contracts.”

“The other part of the white public, the underclass and working class, has proven that they will go to any lengths to uphold white supremacy,” he said. “Even when they had no fight in the Civil War, owning no slave assets like the planters, they caused the deaths of 640,000 Americans in order to uphold white supremacy. Then, as now, parts of the white working class, who are anti-union and get drunk on the cheap moonshine of racism, are willing to exercise self-extinction in order to uphold white supremacy.”

“One part of the slavery deal was the patriarchal planter’s ownership of black women’s wombs,” he went on. “Now they [the powerful] are mandating this demand of all women. Yet, white women favored Romney by 14 points. They’re intimidated I think by their husbands, brothers, fathers and employers, which is why they scapegoat the [black] brothers for worldwide misogyny.”

“When Eve Ensler cited the Congo, Haiti and New Orleans as where all of the cruelty to women [was], I figured that she was excusing white men because she has some kind of financial relationship with them,” he said. “One report from SUNY Buffalo has it that 90 percent of middle-class white women who were interviewed report being battered or witnessing their mothers, daughters and sisters being battered. Nicholas Kristof, who is on a world tour for the purpose of blaming black and brown men for cruelty to women, probably missed this report. So the white power structure, at least the Northeastern part, hopes having a black man as president will save the empire, just as the Germans, who were considered the underclass by the Romans, continued the Roman Empire until the 1800s, according to some historians. But they can’t sell this to the majority of white women, who voted for Romney, the kind of dated ‘50s face and style that alienates the rest of the world, instead of a president who is actually charming to those who hate the United States. The president, whom I have both admired and criticized, is good for business. His face is more welcomed in many parts of the world than the usual white Yalie or Harvard person who hasn’t a clue about what’s happening on the global streets—the kind of people who constantly get us into international trouble and even wars because they can’t read the values of other cultures … while Obama can go to places and tell Muslims, ‘Well, you know, I have Muslims in my family.’ ”

“The reason that I supported Obama for re-election is because of the vitriol, bordering on the psychotic, aimed at him and his family,” Reed said. “Also, because he faced not only opposition from the neo-Confederate caucus in Congress, but from a tea party that was created by [Rupert] Murdoch and [Roger] Ailes and from CNN, which made a business alliance with the Tea Party Express, led formerly by Mark Williams, who was fired over his so-called colored people letter. He wrote:

Mr. Lincoln, you were the greatest racist ever. We had a great gig. Three squares, room and board, all our decisions made by the massa in the house.

We Coloreds have taken a vote and decided that we don’t cotton to that whole emancipation thing. Freedom means having to work for real, think for ourselves, and take consequences along with the rewards. That is just far too much to ask of us Colored People and we demand that it stop!

Williams went on to say blacks don’t want taxes cut because “how will we Colored People ever get a wide screen TV in every room if non-coloreds get to keep what they earn?”

Reed said: “That they [CNN leaders] would make an alliance with this scum explains how blacks are depicted on CNN usually during the time when they have black anchors. I feel sorry for these people. It’s because of CNN and Hollywood that when I visited Palestinian schools in Jerusalem in October I was asked why all black people are on drugs. And he [former Tea Party Express Chairman Williams] was replaced by a woman named Amy Kremer, who said to a CNN interviewer that ‘I just don’t believe that he [Obama] loves America the way we do.’ CNN’s bonding with this outfit explains the way it portrays blacks. The network has Soledad O’Brien scolding black men for not showing up at their daughters’ birthday parties, or blacks making excuses for not being successful, or it does a 24-hour show about blacks committing dumb street crimes, or black athletes doing DUIs, while the audience, described by [former CNN anchor] Rick Sanchez as ‘angry white men,’ are shown doing altruistic deeds. They ignore the widespread pathologies afflicting white women. They’re always shown helping people with their homework or adopting kids from Africa.”

“I hold up a mirror to our hypocrisy,” Reed said. “This is a tradition among writers that goes back to Nathaniel Hawthorne, who exposed the hypocrisy of the Puritans. In Haitian mythology there is a figure named Ghede. In West Africa he is called Iku. His role is to show each man his devil. He wears a top hat and smokes a cigar. That’s what I do. I show each man, woman, or institution their devils.”

“Satire is among many of the weapons available to me,” he said. “But when I took on the powerful white middle- and upper-class feminist movement, lampooning such extreme notions that Emmett Till was just as guilty as his murderers and that if, asAnita Hill says, ‘the woman should always be believed,’ what about Eva Braun?, I was left for literary roadkill, boycotted and censored. This was the best thing to happen to me because I decided that, unlike black male writers of the ‘40s and ‘50s—black writers of the 19th century were probably more independent since they self-published and were even more aggressive than the current crop, they even took on the country’s presidents, which could get you killed in those days—I would become a global cultural figure and never again be judged by the whims of a market dependent upon coddling whichever special-interest group is demanding that black writers exclusively render positive portraits of their constituency.”

Reed plays jazz piano. He has performed at Yoshi’s San Francisco and at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in Manhattan as part of a series produced by Rome Neal, who has directed all of Reed’s plays. He has a CD out, “For All We Know,” and the band Conjure has been performing Reed’s poetry and songs since 1983, most recently at the Sardinia Jazz Festival.

“My study of Japanese led to the creation of my novel “Japanese by Spring,” which got a lukewarm reception here but was praised by Japanese critics and even got me a trip to Japan in 1995,” Reed said. “The same book enticed professors at Beijing Normal University to invite me to China, from where my partner, the choreographer and author Carla Blank, whose most recent project was a collaboration with Robert Wilson, just returned. When I read from a song I wrote, at the Blue Note in Tokyo before it was sung, I couldn’t get past the first two lines in Japanese before I was interrupted with applause. The same thing happened in Nigeria. On the basis of my study of Yoruba, I was able to read a poem before an audience of Nigerian writers. People began to sing and give me gifts. That’s the way to reach citizens around the world. Learn their cultures. Communicating this way is superior to the old Eurocentric way of bombing those who are different from us.”

Reed defies easy labels. “I don’t join movements,” he said at one point in the interview. He is deeply critical of black power movements that glorify violence, including the Black Panthers, but, he said, after “watching the Oakland police for a few decades I can understand what they [the Panthers] were up against, originally. They were organized to oppose police brutality, which in those days meant cops who were recruited from the South and who had a proven track record of handling niggers; the same reason that Southern officers were chosen to command black troops in Italy during World War II. When the Panthers turned to electoral politics, they elected a mayor, congresspeople, and filled local positions with blacks. The Panthers, unfortunately, were caught in a lovers’ quarrel between the white left and right. The right [and] the FBI destroyed the Panthers by using informants, including one who supplied them with weapons. The white left used them as proxies in a war against the establishment, their mothers and fathers. Some of them married movie stars or became well-paid gurus or made millions by being race baiters like David Horowitz. The white left was treated differently from the black left, just as the Black Bloc is treated differently from black kids.”

“The Bloc’s latest rampage through Oakland resulted in no arrests,” he said of one of the Black Bloc protests that occurred in that city in 2012. “When I interviewed Mark Rudd of the Weather Underground, he described his experience underground as ‘cozy.’ He was supported by rich progressives and though he participated in an armed robbery, a jail break and other crimes, when he surrendered the prosecutor testified on his behalf! He didn’t serve a day in jail, while some members of the Black Panthers still languish in prison.”

Reed attacks and explicates the institutional racism that keeps the poor trapped in internal colonies such as Oakland, but he has also mounted protracted campaigns to get the police to shut down crack houses and bring a semblance of safety to city streets. He confesses to being “very law and order” when it comes to criminal activity in inner-city neighborhoods. He calls the drug dealers, gang leaders and pimps in Oakland and other inner cities “neighborhood fascists.” But he ultimately blames “white pathology” for creating the violence and disorder. He points out that not only do most of the guns in Oakland and other cities come from the suburbs, but so do the customers for the drugs and prostitutes. The vast majority of the absentee landlords who rent properties to criminal enterprises in Oakland are, he notes, white or Asian-American. Nearly all live outside the city.

He said that the news and entertainment industry, while ignoring the crimes of the big banks and corporations, focuses instead on blacks in the inner city whom he describes as “the underpaid mules in urban vice.” He cites “The Wire” and what he calls “the pro-NYPD series ‘NYC 22.’ ” [Neither of the TV shows are in production now.]

“Indians of subcontinent ancestry run the hotels where the lucrative prostitution business takes place, and immigrant Muslims run the liquor stores, the front of which are outdoor offices for gangs, and the Chinese and Mexicans deliver the drugs to our neighborhood,” he said.

“I’ve lived in Oakland for over 30 years,” he said. “I have seen a steady stream of whites coming to the city for vice. The police and the white power structure look the other way. They are tacitly involved. Also unnoticed by the Yale and Harvard graduates who have made a good living writing columns about black failure is the sorry record of the police in solving ‘urban’ homicides. In Oakland, it’s below 40 percent. Eighty-five percent of the police force in Oakland are white and from the suburbs and probably view black-on-black homicide as a form of sunocide—my term for fraternal extermination—as a form of population control. They permit these urban centers of vice to operate. But don’t expect to read about this in The New York Times or see it on CNN, this huge contribution of the white power structure to black pathology. Black people, when they do appear in the media, are usually dressed in orange jump suits while whites are shown doing altruistic deeds. We often get these racist stereotypes handed to us by colored mind doubles. And these colored mind doubles, like Barack Obama or [Henry Louis] Gates, never mention the white complicity in sustaining the black underclass, especially when they give their ‘tough love’ talks. The Talented Tenth, which includes the president, have made gains by distancing themselves from the less fortunate blacks.”

Reed said that in researching his novel “Reckless Eyeballing” it became shockingly clear that Nazi stereotypes of Jews paralleled U.S. stereotypes of American blacks.

“Jewish men were portrayed in the Nazi press as sexual predators,” he said. “They raped Aryan women. They were sexual deviants. They were violent. They engaged in criminal behavior. They were a force for vice, contamination and corruption. They could not be trusted. They were disloyal. Even Jewish schoolchildren were a problem because they supposedly disrupted classrooms. Now look at how Jewish writers like Philip Roth, Saul Bellow depict black men as flashers. I have a cartoon in which the Nazis depicted Jewish males as exposing themselves. David Mamet’s ‘Edmond,’ about black sexual predators, and which kind of endorses vigilante action against them, is consistent with the portrayals of Jewish men by the Nazi media. David Simon, Steven Spielberg, Richard Price and David Mamet in his play ‘Race’ have profited from refereeing the conflict between black men and women.”

“Spielberg’s treatment of the character Mr. in ‘The Color Purple’ even drew protest from author Alice Walker,” Reed said. “But where is the Jewish ‘Color Purple’? I read a Jewish feminist magazine called Lilith where Jewish feminists complain that the abuse of Jewish women by Jewish men has been greeted with silence. When I visited Jerusalem for the first time, I found that the misogyny among Jewish men was rampant. While there, Israeli women picketed the Knesset over the issue. In the Jewish magazine Tablet, Jewish women criticized Jewish producers for assigning roles to Gentile women that were meant for them. So if Steven Spielberg took off from producing profitable Black Bogeyman pictures to produce a Jewish ‘Color Purple,’ one of those blond Rhine maidens who appear in Woody Allen’s films will probably get the leading role.”

“Critics object to my drawing a parallel between the treatment of black men in the United States and [Jews] in Nazi Germany,” he went on. “The parallel never occurred to me until I attended a lecture sponsored by the San Francisco Holocaust Museum. In a pamphlet they said that the treatment of Jewish men in Nazi Germany was similar to that accorded blacks in the United States. I went out and found examples, [including those I cite from] the outtakes of a film called ‘Boogie Man, The Lee Atwater Story,’ 2008, which can be ordered from Netflix.”

Reed despairs of the decline of the black press, especially black newspapers, which once gave blacks a sense of their own identity. “During the black power movement the Panthers and the Nation of Islam and figures like Muhammad Ali would only talk to black journalists, so these white publications hired them,” he noted. “But once these black journalists eventually went to work for white publications they had no power and no voice. According to Richard Prince’s ‘Journal-isms,’ these reporters, correspondents and commentators are being fired en masse, even at NPR. Those remaining have to apologize when they get out of line.”

He sees the assault on ethnic studies, especially African-American studies, as another way to ensure that blacks do not know their own history or the abuses and atrocities carried out by whites during slavery, Reconstruction and the Jim Crow era, as well as in contemporary society. Without an understanding of how white power works, he says, blacks who are trapped and ultimately disenfranchised, especially in our massive prison complex, cannot connect the dots.

Reed believes something has to be done soon to fight against the rapid reconfiguration of the United States into a corporate, feudal state. But he is not sure the Occupy movement is the answer. He wants something more politically defined. He suggests “a challenge of the Republican Party from the left as it has been challenged by the Murdoch/Ailes billionaire-backed tea party, which uses the same kind of chumps who got their asses blown off and were sacrificed by the planter 1 percent for the cause of white supremacy. Toward the end [of the Civil War], these pathetic soldiers who didn’t own slaves found out what Jefferson Davis and his friends thought of them when they advocated that they fight side by side with black slaves. To the planter elite, these sad white men and black slaves were interchangeable.”

“This is a white movement,” Reed said of Occupy. “They are exclusive. They don’t concentrate on central issues that affect African-Americans. San Francisco poet laureate Alejandro Murguia says that they have the same attitude toward Hispanics. In Oakland they [Occupy members] were mostly middle-class kids from out of town; at least 75 percent were not from here. They didn’t have any control over the Black Bloc anarchists, or these so-called anarchists. These Black Bloc kids, all dressed in black, which was the only thing black about them, went around smashing windows, trashing City Hall and destroying private property. They trashed Obama’s campaign headquarters. We are a poor city. And now because of them we have to find millions of dollars to pay for their damage. Our police, which is an occupation force, take every opportunity to do overtime. They get paid well. And now we have to pay it. Why didn’t these Black Bloc kids go smash the neighborhoods where the 1 percent live? Why didn’t they march on La Jolla, one of the wealthiest zones in the United States? Every other car in La Jolla is a BMW or a Mercedes. Mitt Romney has a home there. Why didn’t they go to Hillsborough or Palm Springs where rich people live? And what about the spectacle of a mostly white group booing Oakland’s mayor, an Asian-American, off the stage? I wonder how that played around the world? They get American television in Beijing.”

Meanwhile, Reed is hard at work shattering yet another idol.

“I’ve spent the last 10 years working on a big book on Muhammad Ali,” he says.

He pauses.

“This is probably the most balanced portrait of the champion yet written,” he said.

Reed’s latest books are “Going Too Far,” “Barack Obama and the Jim Crow Media” and “Juice!” More information can be found at IshmaelReed.org.

8 Striking Parallels Between the U.S. and the Roman Empire

Is our republic coming to an unceremonious end? History may not be on America’s side

By Steven Strauss

December 31, 2012 “Alternet” —  Lawrence Lessig’s Republic Lost documents the corrosive effect of money on our political process. Lessig persuasively makes the case that we are witnessing the loss of our republican form of government, as politicians increasingly represent those who fund their campaigns, rather than our citizens.

Anthony Everitt’s Rise of Rome is fascinating history and a great read. It tells the story of ancient Rome, from its founding (circa 750 BCE) to the fall of the Roman Republic (circa 45 BCE).

When read together, striking parallels emerge — between our failings and the failings that destroyed the Roman Republic. As with Rome just before the Republic’s fall, America has seen:

1 — Staggering Increase in the Cost of Elections, with Dubious Campaign Funding Sources: Our 2012 election reportedly cost $3 billion. All of it was raised from private sources – often creating the appearance, or the reality, that our leaders are beholden to special interest groups. During the late Roman Republic, elections became staggeringly expensive, with equally deplorable results. Caesar reportedly borrowed so heavily for one political campaign, he feared he would be ruined, if not elected.

2 — Politics as the Road to Personal Wealth: During the late Roman Republic period, one of the main roads to wealth was holding public office, and exploiting such positions to accumulate personal wealth. As Lessig notes: Congressman, Senators and their staffs leverage their government service to move to private sector positions – that pay three to ten times their government compensation. Given this financial arrangement, “Their focus is therefore not so much on the people who sent them to Washington. Their focus is instead on those who will make them rich.” (Republic Lost)

3 — Continuous War: A national state of security arises, distracting attention from domestic challenges with foreign wars. Similar to the late Roman Republic, the US – for the past 100 years — has either been fighting a war, recovering from a war, or preparing for a new war: WW I (1917-18), WW II (1941-1945), Cold War (1947-1991), Korean War (1950-1953), Vietnam (1953-1975), Gulf War (1990-1991), Afghanistan (2001-ongoing), and Iraq (2003-2011). And, this list is far from complete.

4 — Foreign Powers Lavish Money/Attention on the Republic’s Leaders: Foreign wars lead to growing influence, by foreign powers and interests, on the Republic’s political leaders — true for Rome and true for us. In the past century, foreign embassies, agents and lobbyists have proliferated in our nation’s capital. As one specific example: A foreign businessman donated $100 million to Bill Clinton‘s various activities. Clinton “opened doors” for him, and sometimes acted in ways contrary to stated American interests and foreign policy.

5 — Profits Made Overseas Shape the Republic’s Internal Policies: As the fortunes of Rome’s aristocracy increasingly derived from foreign lands, Roman policy was shaped to facilitate these fortunes. American billionaires and corporations increasingly influence our elections. In many cases, they are only nominally American – with interests not aligned with those of the American public. For example, Fox News is part of international media group News Corp., with over $30 billion in revenues worldwide. Is Fox News’ jingoism a product of News Corp.’s non-U.S. interests?

6 — Collapse of the Middle Class: In the period just before the Roman Republic’s fall, the Roman middle class was crushed — destroyed by cheap overseas slave labor. In our own day, we’ve witnessed rising income inequality, a stagnating middle class, and the loss of American jobs to overseas workers who are paid less and have fewer rights.

7 — Gerrymandering: Rome’s late Republic used various methods to reduce the power of common citizens. The GOP has so effectively gerrymandered Congressional districts that, even though House Republican candidates received only about 48 percent of the popular vote in the 2012 election — they ended up with the majority (53 percent) of the seats.

8 — Loss of the Spirit of Compromise: The Roman Republic, like ours, relied on a system of checks and balances. Compromise is needed for this type of system to function. In the end, the Roman Republic lost that spirit of compromise, with politics increasingly polarized between Optimates (the rich, entrenched elites) and Populares (the common people). Sound familiar? Compromise is in noticeably short supply in our own time also. For example, “There were more filibusters between 2009 and 2010 than there were in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s combined.”

As Benjamin Franklin observed, we have a Republic — but only if we can keep it.

http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article33489.htm

Homelessness soars among US Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans

By Shannon Jones 
31 December 2012
According to a new government report, the number of US Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who are homeless or at risk for becoming homeless is rising at an alarming rate, more than doubling over the past two years. The US Veterans Administration said that through the end of September 2012, 26,531 veterans were living on the street, at risk of losing their homes, staying in temporary housing or receiving federal vouchers to pay rent. That compares to 10,500 in 2010.
The numbers cited are only those veterans the VA is aware of. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) estimates that 62,619 veterans are homeless on a given night over the course of a year, and more than twice that number are at risk of homelessness.
The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans estimates that some 1.5 million veterans are at risk of homelessness due to poverty, lack of support networks and dismal, overcrowded, living conditions. Veterans are much more likely than the population at large to suffer from homelessness, comprising 23 percent of the homeless population even though only 8 percent of the population at large can claim veteran status.
Afghanistan War veterans are particularly at risk because of their young age and their exposure to combat with its psychological effects. Some seventy percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans had exposure to combat. About 30,700 are expected to leave the military in each of the next four years as the military reduces its ranks. About 13 percent of homeless Afghan and Iraq war veterans are women, and almost 50 percent of all homeless veterans are African American.
The increase in homelessness among younger veterans comes despite a campaign by the Veterans Administration to identify and assist veterans that has resulted in a reported overall decline in the number of homeless veterans over the past several years. About 22,000 veterans were assisted last year, still only a fraction of the total number homeless or at risk. The agency is nowhere near on target to achieve the stated goal of the Obama administration of eliminating homelessness among veterans by 2015, and the VA faces the possibility of funding cuts.
The veteran population makes up a wide range of ex-military personnel, from those who served in WWII to Afghanistan and Iraq. Vietnam and post-Vietnam veterans comprise the largest proportion of the homeless population. However, recent veterans often have severe disabilities that are correlated with homelessness.
There are many factors behind the high level of homelessness among veterans. In addition to the problems of lack of affordable housing, lack of decent paying jobs and inadequate access to health care, many veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance abuse. Further, the training that veterans receive in the military is not always useful when it comes to seeking civilian employment.
While most programs that assist the homeless are targeted to families with children, most veterans are single adults.
A corollary of the high incidence of veteran homelessness has been a rise in rural homelessness. Experts at the 2012 National Rural Housing Conference held earlier this month in Washington, DC reported that homelessness is growing in many rural areas because youth from small towns are 21.5 percent more likely to join the military than youth from urban areas.
The Center for American Progress reports that according to unpublished 2011 US Bureau of Labor Statistics data, 30.2 percent of veterans age 18 to 24 were unemployed, and nearly 1 in 10 with disabilities were unemployed. More than 968,000 veterans from the WWII era to the present lived had lived in poverty in the past year in 2010.
A new Yale University study of recent veterans participating in the Housing and Urban Development-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUDVASH) program found a lack of care for those suffering from PTSD. The study assessed nearly 100 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who went through the program between January 2008 and April 2011.
The study found that the typical homeless veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan was younger and was less likely to have had a criminal record than veterans of other military conflicts.
The Yale report also found that the majority of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans had been exposed to combat and had been diagnosed with PTSD, yet did not receive any Veterans Administration service connected disability payments. Of those who did receive service-related disability payments the male veterans reported receiving a paltry $641.94 a month and females just $553.86.
Sixty-three percent of male homeless veterans and 77 percent of female homeless veterans suffered from PTSD and/or a mood disorder. Of these more than 90 percent of male veterans and 75 percent of female veterans suffered from combat-related PTSD. The number of recent veterans suffering from combat-related PTSD is much higher than previous groups of veterans studied, who suffered only an 8-12 percent rate of PTSD.
Joe Leal, an Iraq war veteran and a founder of the Vet Hunters Project told NBC News, “It used to be where a homeless vet was typically about 60 years old. Now they’re 22 years old. And a lot of them are female veterans who have witnessed combat. They are coming back messed up. They are coming back homeless.”
Leal said that it was not uncommon to find Army reservists, who are still part of the military, but are homeless. “These guys show up for work looking sharp. Then they leave at the end of the day and go sleep in a Chevy.”

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Fear of food scarcity hits US capital, outlying suburbs

By Nick Barrickman 
31 December 2012
In the outlying areas surrounding Washington DC, students qualifying for free or subsidized meals face a difficult period ahead while schools prepare for their springtime curriculums, according to a recent report by the Washington Post. The existence of widespread food scarcity in the outlying suburbs of the nation’s capital, some of which reside within some of the wealthiest counties in the US, gives the lie to claims that the DC area is “recession-proof.”
The report mentions that although school systems in the region generally institute food programs for children during the summer months, no such program exists during wintertime. “Our hearts are in the right place, but there’s no provision,” Marla Caplon, director of food and nutrition services at Montgomery County schools in Maryland, told the Post .
With a median income of over $92,000 per year, Montgomery County is one of the 10 richest counties in the country. It is also home to some of the starkest circumstances of social inequality. At Broad Acres Elementary School, for example, 95 percent of all students qualify for subsidized meals. “Here we are, one of the wealthiest counties in the country, but the reality is there are pockets of deep poverty here,” the school’s principal, Luis San Sebastian, told the Post .
According to federal guidelines, a family making less than 130 percent of the official poverty line can qualify for free meals programs, while those making between 130 and 180 percent qualify for a subsidized lunch. In Arlington County, across the Potomac River from Washington DC, there are roughly 7,000 students qualifying for free lunches.
In Virginia, the country’s wealthiest county, Loudoun, with a median income of roughly $120,000 annually, has seen a growth of about 16 percent in individuals qualifying for free meals. The county has also recently seen a 5 percent growth in homelessness in the past year. Despite this, over Thanksgiving the county was short in delivering free turkey meals to the region’s underfed by about 200 people.
As these indices of destitution mount, assistance from local, state and federal governments has dropped off precipitously in the past year. According to the Capital Area Food Bank, a central hub that donates to over 700 local charities and non-profits in the region, donations of food from government have declined by 38 percent.
Instances of homelessness have skyrocketed throughout the region. In Virginia, Fairfax County alone has seen a 38 percent rise in the number of homeless students since 2008, an increase of over 2,500 individuals. That number is more than 10 times higher than it was just 15 years earlier.
Far from being an exception, the District of Columbia has seen a growth in food scarcity as well, with over 52 percent of its student population qualifying for free or subsidized school lunches. An even starker statistic shows that the district has seen a nearly 75 percent rise in homelessness since 2008.
As reported by the World Socialist Web Site last summer, this has resulted in city shelter systems turning to witch-hunting parents in homeless shelters as a method of reducing the total number of applicants for a bed spaces. (See “Homelessness, social misery on the rise in US capital”)
The district alone has some of the sharpest manifestations of social misery on the planet, with half the children in the impoverished 8th Ward living under the official poverty line. In the city as a whole, nearly one in three children lives in such conditions. This is while the city’s top 5 percent has one of the country’s highest median incomes, over $500,000 per year.
DC education chancellor Kaya Henderson recently announced a plan to close a portion of the cities “underperforming” school at the end of the school year, and action that will only worsen living conditions for children and families in the region. (See “Washington, DC chancellor announces closures of dozens of public schools”)
In relationship to the “underperformance” of schools, it was recently revealed in an audit by the government that a private DC schools vender, Chartwells-Thompson Hospitality, had overbilled the city by nearly $10 million, while underserving schools by nearly 15,000 students. Of course, no such “accountability” will be required from private vendors as the city moves to privatize its education system.
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Obama spearheads social counterrevolution

Behind the “fiscal cliff” debate
31 December 2012
As of this writing, talks are continuing between congressional Republicans and the White House on the eve of the so-called “fiscal cliff.” It is not clear whether or not an agreement will be reached over the next few days, or if the manufactured crisis atmosphere will continue into the New Year. What is clear, however, is the overall direction of US social policy and the fact that the real target of both sides in the Washington debate is the working class.
It is necessary to demystify the whole process, which is characterized by an extraordinary level of posturing and lies, behind which is concealed a conspiracy against the American people.
The “fiscal cliff” is an artificially erected deadline, laid down as part of previous negotiations and aimed at creating the conditions for implementing unpopular measures that previously would have been considered politically impossible.
If Washington “goes over the cliff,” the impact will be felt most directly by working people, including tax increases that will effectively cut take-home pay for workers by 7 percent and the immediate elimination of unemployment insurance for 2 million long-term jobless, followed soon after by the cutoff of benefits for another 1 million people. Federal workers will face unpaid furloughs, and essential social programs, from energy assistance to child nutrition to education grants, will be hit with across-the-board cuts.
This is only the beginning. The fiscal cliff is the first in a series of artificial deadlines established for the New Year. There will be another deadline in late February over raising the federal debt ceiling—the same issue that became the pretext in August 2011 for a bipartisan agreement to cut over $1 trillion in social spending over the next decade. In March, the “continuing resolution” adopted before the election to authorize federal spending for six months will expire.
Each deadline will be utilized as the occasion to go after the most important federal social programs: Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, which provide retirement income and pay for health care for tens of millions of elderly, disabled and poor people. The phony debate over a minuscule tax increase for the rich—which will be quickly replaced with “comprehensive reform” to lower income and corporate taxes next year—is intended to conceal this reactionary agenda.
The overall strategy of the ruling class was evident in an interview with President Obama aired Sunday morning on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program. While most press attention focused on his remarks criticizing congressional Republicans for balking at even the slightest increase in taxes on the wealthy, there was comparably little commentary on Obama’s embrace of cuts in entitlement programs.
Challenged by moderator David Gregory to “talk tough to seniors,” Obama replied, “but I already have, David.” He cited his support for the so-called “chained” consumer price index, a revised formula for calculating increases in the cost of living that will reduce future benefits for Social Security recipients. “Highly unpopular among Democrats,” Obama continued. “Not something supported by AARP (American Association of Retired Persons). But in pursuit of strengthening Social Security for the long term, I’m willing to make those decisions.”
In the Orwellian language of American politics, “strengthening” a social program means permanently slashing the benefits it provides, just as “balance” and “fairness” mean gutting the conditions of tens of millions of working people while imposing a token and temporary tax increase on bankers and CEOs. According to Obama, if millionaires and billionaires pay slightly higher taxes, while the hungry eat less, poor children see the doctor less often, and the elderly lower their thermostats because they can’t pay the fuel bill, that constitutes “everybody doing their share.”
Towards the end of his interview, Obama went out of his way to deny any connection to the past liberal traditions of the Democratic Party. “I’m not driven by some ideological agenda,” he said. His own position in the talks on the fiscal cliff called for “maintaining tax cuts for 98 percent of Americans,” he said, adding, “I don’t think anybody would consider that some liberal left wing agenda…that used to be considered a pretty mainstream Republican agenda.”
Obama’s remarks on “Meet the Press” are only the most explicit of a series of statements and actions by the White House since the November election. The Democratic president is reassuring his main constituency, the American financial aristocracy, that he is single-mindedly devoted to preserving its interests.
In the course of the presidential election, liberal publications like the Nationmagazine and a panoply of pseudo-left groups such as the International Socialist Organization portrayed the reelection of Obama as a blow to the right-wing agenda of the giant corporations and banks. The truth is that Obama and the Democrats represent the financial aristocracy no less than the Republicans. In fact, Obama became the preferred candidate of the ruling elite, as demonstrated by his campaign cash hoard of more than $1 billion.
Obama is spearheading the social counterrevolution that is the common policy of the ruling classes of the entire world—from Europe to Japan to the United States. In every country, the representatives of finance capital, having plundered national treasuries to bail out the banks and speculators, are now demanding that the working people pay the price.
The entire framework of the official budget “debate” is reactionary and false. It is based on the lie that there is no money for social programs such as health care and education, or for decent wages and benefits for the working class. Corporate profits and the fortunes of the financial elite continue to soar, while social inequality reaches unprecedented levels. It is estimated that US corporations are currently sitting on $3 trillion to $5 trillion in cash reserves.
The actions of world governments, led by the US, are dictated by definite class interests. Under conditions of deepening economic crisis, the ruling class is seeking to defend its wealth through a historic retrogression in the living conditions of the vast majority of the people.
To fight the bipartisan policy of austerity, the working class must break with the Democrats and take up a struggle against the Obama administration and the capitalist two-party system. This means building an independent political movement based on a socialist program that defends the social rights of the working class—to jobs, decent wages, health care, education and a secure retirement—rather than corporate profits.
Patrick Martin

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Australian government rejects refugee protest letter

By Mike Head 

31 December 2012

The Australian government has dismissed a collective letter of complaint from refugees detained on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island, and instead stepped-up its transfer of asylum seekers to the remote island. Another 25 single males, who arrived there on December 29, are believed to include unaccompanied teenagers who arrived on refugee boats without other family members.

More than 155 people, including about 30 children, are now detained on the island, with many housed in tents and shipping containers, as part of the Labor government’s reactionary drive to stop refugees seeking asylum in Australia. About 400 asylum seekers are being held in similar conditions on Nauru, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Within months, the two camps will be filled to their planned combined capacity of 2,100.

The Manus Island letter, passed around and signed by detainees, demanded answers about how long they would be incarcerated, and when the processing of their refugee claims would begin. It also protested against their living conditions, saying that the heat and dust were affecting them badly. The letter detailed a range of objections, including the lack of air conditioners and fans, especially for the children. One woman with asthma had twice become unconscious, it stated.

The refugees demanded a response from the Australian Department of Immigration by close of business last Friday. Refugee advocates warned that mass protests could follow, including the resumption of hunger strikes, if the deadline was not met.

Asylum seekers were yesterday reported to have rejected the Immigration Department’s reply to their letter. The department confirmed that no refugee processing arrangements were in place but said they may “commence in early 2013”. One detainee told the Refugee Action Coalition: “It [the department letter] has made us disappointed and sad. We did not get an answer to our questions. One lady collapsed from the stress after she was told about the letter and had to be carried to the medical centre. We will have other protests.”

Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s government has repeatedly refused to place any limit on how long asylum seekers will be kept on the two Pacific islands, even if they are classified as refugees—effectively sentencing them to indefinite imprisonment without trial. The government has declared that the detention will last for as long as the asylum seekers would have to wait in the massive refugee camps in places such as Pakistan, Turkey and Iran, where people can languish for decades.

The appalling conditions in Australia’s detention centres further expose the government’s claim that its refugee policy is motivated by humanitarian concerns to stop people risking their lives by joining dangerous voyages to Australia. It is increasingly obvious that the government’s punitive regime is designed to intimidate refugees and deny them the basic right, enshrined in international law, to seek asylum.

As limited as it is, the 1951 international Refugee Convention not only prohibits governments from refouling (deporting) asylum seekers to face persecution, but also outlaws punishment of, or discrimination against, refugees for seeking asylum without official permission.

Just before Christmas, the government sought to clamp down on the ability of detainees to communicate with the outside world, by restricting their Internet access. The Salvation Army, a Christian organisation appointed to administer the Nauru camp, told asylum seekers it would limit their Internet usage to 30 minutes each, every two days, not allow the swapping of allocated time between them, or even allow one friend to help another with the Internet.

Previously, asylum seekers had been allowed to swap with each other, which helped them communicate with their families at appropriate times. Detainees had also agreed among themselves, that Mahdi Vakili, an Iranian asylum seeker who manages the Facebook page “Asylum Seekers on Nauru”, could have two hours every morning and evening to get their stories out.

Nauru detainees gathered over 300 signatures on a petition calling for their previous Internet use arrangements to be reinstated. The Internet has often been the only means by which they could expose their intolerable conditions and publicise their protests and hunger strikes, because the media have been barred from the detention centres.

Throughout November and December, the government defied repeated hunger strikes, refusing to make any concessions on living conditions or the length of detention. On December 10, the government even returned a hospitalised hunger striker to Nauru. Kurdish Iranian asylum seeker, Omid Sorouseh, who had been fasting for over 50 days, had been evacuated to Australia on November 30, two weeks after he had been taken to the Nauru hospital, excreting blood.

The decision underscored the government’s determination to enforce its policy at all costs, regardless of the possibility of hunger striker deaths. As of mid-December, at least two more Nauru detainees, who had either been on hunger strike or attempted suicide, remained in hospital in Australia.

Another disturbing aspect of the government’s anti-refugee policy came to light last week when it was revealed that 976 unaccompanied teenagers were among the asylum seekers who had been released to live temporarily within Australia, because detention centres had become over-crowded. Gillard’s government has refused to permit any of those released to work, forcing them to live on poverty level welfare benefits of about $430 a fortnight.

Youth welfare groups warned that teenage refugees could spend months either homeless or “couch surfing”. They included orphans whose relatives and parents were lost at sea in refugee boat disasters. Government-sponsored programs had helped some settle into new homes with appropriate guardians or carers. Others have had to use Facebook and social media sites to find their own carers.

A spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said the government could not say how many teenagers were failing to find safe accommodation, but would try to provide answers in the near future. “Such information requires substantial resources to collate,” she claimed.

In its severity and callous indifference, the Labor government’s refugee policy has far outstripped that implemented by the previous Howard Liberal government, which first introduced the notorious “Pacific Solution”.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2012/12/31/refu-d31.html

Canada’s native peoples protest chronic poverty and government attacks

By Carl Bronski 

31 December 2012

The last weeks of 2012 have seen protests by Canada’s impoverished native population snowball.

As Attawapiskat First Nations Chief Theresa Spence enters her fourth week of a hunger strike aimed at drawing attention to the federal government’s failure to honor native treaty rights, aboriginal peoples across the country continue a series of road and rail blockades, demonstrations, and sympathy hunger strikes in what has become known as the “Idle No More” movement. This mobilization, although initially unassociated with Spence’s protest, has dovetailed with the Chief’s actions and served to highlight recent Conservative government actions aimed at opening up vast swathes of native land for capitalist resource-extraction projects.

Bill C-45, the Conservative’s second omnibus 2012 budget bill, makes changes to the Indian Act and Navigable Waters Act that open the way for the de facto privatization of native lands and significantly reduce environmental regulation.

The discovery of huge, new mineral deposits in the Canadian North and the drive to push through pipelines to transport Alberta tar sands oil to the U.S. and Asian markets has spurred the Conservative government of Stephen Harper to seek to level all perceived “roadblocks” to mega-project development.

Bill C-45 removes most of Canada’s rivers and lakes from the list of federally protected waterways, thereby significantly weakening environmental oversight. It also reduces funding to native band councils, which often use such monies to commission costly environmental and health studies. These measures are in line with Harper’s earlier insistence that environmental hearings on the Northern Gateway pipeline to the British Columbia coast be “fast-tracked.”

Amendments to the Indian Act will also make it far easier for corporations to lease lands on native reserves, eliminating such requirements as the need to secure the support of a majority of a reserve’s residents, not just a few band councilors.

The government’s corporate-friendly changes will generate a resource and land grab free-for-all that will enrich a few at the expense of the many.

Spence has made the most moderate of demands—a meeting between treaty chiefs, Harper and (perhaps) Governor-General David Johnston to discuss issues of chronic poverty on native reserves and the federal government’s longstanding failure to fulfill its obligations under Treaty 9, including the provision of proper health care and education. Negotiated at the beginning of the Twentieth Century when Canada was experiencing an earlier resource boom, Treaty 9 covers Attawapiskat and other Northern Ontario “First Nations” (Indian) bands.

Harper and Johnston have curtly refused Spence’s meeting request. Undaunted, the Attawapiskat Chief has vowed to carry through her hunger strike to the death, if necessary. “I am willing to do what I have to do,” she told reporters. “If I have to take my last breath, I will. But it’s not going to stop there. There is a message out there from the youth who say, if the chief doesn’t make it, they will still make more noise… My journey is going to continue.”

However, over the past several days enormous pressure has been brought to bear on Spence to abandon her protest, by the corporate media, the political establishment and many of Spence’s fellow Chiefs.

Spence’s hunger strike and the Idle No More movement that sprang up virtually simultaneously were initiated over the heads of the official native leadership organized in the Assembly of First Nations (AFN). That body, led by Shawn Atleo, has been increasingly criticized for its close relationship to the Harper government and its attempts to “partner” with big business. This past weekend, Percy Bellegarde, leader of the Federation of Saskatchewan Nations, echoed the sentiments of many in the AFN in calling for Spence to end her action.

Canada’s mainstream media has also weighed in against any movement outside of the control of the AFN. An editorial in The Globe and Mail demanded an end to Spence’s hunger strike, stating that it smacked of “coercion” and went on to claim that Harper is a “friend” of Canada’s aboriginal peoples because in 2008 he issued a meaningless “apology” for the Canadian capitalist state’s abuse and neglect of the native peoples.

A look at the recent history of Spence’s reserve sheds much light on Canadian capitalism’s treatment of the aboriginal peoples and the renewed corporate drive to exploit their lands.

The Attawapiskat chief represents 2,800 Cree who live along the James and Hudson’s Bay coasts in Northern Ontario. The isolated reserve suffers from abysmal housing, including severe overcrowding and mold-contaminated buildings that lack running water and electricity; substandard, portable school structures, because a federally promised school was never built; sky-high prices and chronic unemployment; and massive sewage spills. United Nations health and education inspectors have twice compared conditions on the reserve to those in Third World countries. When in 2011, Spence declared a “state of emergency” on the reserve due to the lack of proper housing, the Harper government first denied there were any problems, then erroneously accused the native band of mismanagement and illegally stripped the elected chief and band council of management rights on their own reserve. This bureaucratic maneuver was eventually overturned by the courts.

Just 90 kilometers from the main settlement lies a one-billion-dollar diamond mine operated by transnational mining conglomerate De Beers. Despite being on Attawapiskat land, all royalties are remitted to the Ontario government in Toronto. Fully 80 percent of the labour force is recruited from outside the region. In 2009, the Attawapiskat launched a temporary blockade of the winter road to the mine to protest their impoverishment in the shadow of De Beer’s riches. De Beers, which is being acquired by mining giant Anglo-American, saw its latest reported annual profits increase by 48 percent to $1.24 billion.

There are hundreds of Attawapiskats across the country. Life spans for native people fall far below the national average. Diseases such as tuberculosis are rampant in some communities. Education opportunities are deplorable—fewer than 50 percent of students on reserves graduate from high school. Almost half of all residences require urgent, major repairs.

Boil water advisories are, on average, in effect at any given time on over a hundred of the 631 native reserves. Suicide rates are astronomical. In one reserve that was evacuated because of a contaminated water supply, 21 youth between the ages of 9 and 23 killed themselves in one month alone. Incarceration rates for aboriginals are nine times the national average. A native youth is more likely to go to prison than to get a high school diploma.

Poverty conditions are not restricted to those living on reserves. Natives in urban centres, which comprise about half of the one million overall population, have the country’s highest unemployment rates, second only to the rates for native reserves. Nationwide, 48 percent of natives are unemployed.

The burgeoning Idle No More movement, which is largely comprised of native youth—reserve and urban—has launched a number of actions to protest Harper’s Bill C-45. Highways have been blocked in Northern Ontario and Alberta. Demonstrations have been held in Vancouver, Yellowknife, Whitehorse, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Regina, Winnipeg, Toronto, Hamilton, Ottawa and Halifax.

In Sarnia, Ontario natives have blockaded a key railway line that transports propane shipments to and from the “Chemical Valley” which lies to the city’s south. An injunction requested by CN Rail against the blockade has been issued but police have yet to remove the protestors. Last week, Canadian Propane Association CEO Jim Facette wrote to Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley advising him to “take the necessary steps” to remove the blockade. “Sarnia is a key point of departure for the transport of propane to Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada,” he wrote. Should the situation not be remedied, he continued, significant business revenue would be lost. The local Aamjiwnaang native band has insisted that no permits have been issued to allow transport of dangerous substances across native land.

As the Idle No More movement gains momentum, a series of opposition political leaders have presented themselves in front of the television cameras to ostensibly support Chief Spence’s demand for a high-level native summit with Harper and the Governor-General. New Democratic Party leader, Tom Mulcair, has appealed to Harper to meet with Spence so as to diffuse the wider protests. But Mulcair’s transparent posturing belies his position on the key underlying factors motivating the protests: corporate rapaciousness, environmental degradation, widening poverty and the abrogation of treaty rights. He advocates a “pro-business, common sense solution” to energy development, including the tar sands, has dropped even the call the NDP made at the last election for a slight rollback of corporate tax cuts, and is touting Canada’s social democrats as the champions of fiscal responsibility.

Prior to Christmas, Mulcair made it known that his party would be even more miserly with the budgetary purse strings than the Harper government. “What’s a paradox,” he told the Canadian press, “is that these are essentially conservative themes that I’m evoking in the sense that it would be very conservative to say ‘Don’t look for a handout, be self-reliant, pull yourself up by your bootstraps’, that sort of stuff.”

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2012/12/31/cana-d31.html

UK High Court rejects inquiry into British role in Pakistan drone strikes

By Robert Stevens 

31 December 2012

On December 21, the High Court in London rejected a request for a judicial inquiry into the alleged role of the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) spying operation in aiding drone strikes by the US in Pakistan’s northwest region.

The case was brought by Noor Khan, a Pakistani man whose father was killed, along with 49 other people, by a US drone attack on March 17, 2011. Khan’s father, Malik Daud Khan, was chairing a peaceful jirga (tribal assembly) meeting to discuss chromite mining rights in North Waziristan when he was killed by several missile strikes.

In his legal submission, Khan asked the court to look into whether UK intelligence officials provided assistance in the killing of his father and if they are liable for prosecution under British law.

The revealing 15-page ruling by Lord Justice Moses and supported by Mr Justice Simon came down blatantly in favour of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. In essence, it serves as the legal justification for ensuring that the UK’s role in assisting the US to carry out its murderous drone operations never sees the light of day. As with every ruling designed to conceal the nefarious and illegal activities of the ruling elite, it is cloaked in the guise that to require the UK government to reveal such information would jeopardise “national security”.

Citing evidence given to the court from the Foreign Office, the ruling states “that if the Secretary of State were required to make a substantive response to the claim, the likely consequence would be serious harm to national security and international relations. The United Kingdom Government would be compelled to express a definitive view on legal issues, complicating and damaging relations with our most important bilateral ally and, in consequence, damaging the United Kingdom’s security.”

The ruling refused permission for Khan’s claim, stating that “the real aim and target of these proceedings is not to inform GCHQ employees that if they were prosecuted, no defence of combatant immunity would be available. The real aim is to persuade this court to make a public pronouncement designed to condemn the activities of the United States in North Waziristan, as a step in persuading them to halt such activity.”

The ruling also took note of legal proceedings that Khan has undertaken in Pakistan, in order to reiterate that under no conditions would the UK High Court make a ruling condemning the drone attacks or the GCHQ’s alleged role in these. Referring to Khan’s plea to the Court in Peshawar, Moses writes, “[H]e contends that the Government of Pakistan, and various Ministries, are under a constitutional obligation to take all necessary action to stop ‘illegal drone strikes’ and ‘safeguard its citizens from target killing by an external force’. He pleads that ‘the act of killing of innocent people on March 17 2011 was extra-judicial killing, more generally referred to as murder’. The prayer refers to criminal offences by those inside and outside Pakistan in drone operations.”

Moses continues, “It is plain, from the nature of the claims, that the purpose of the proceedings in England and in Pakistan is to persuade a court to do what it can to stop further strikes by drones operated by the United States. That is, as Lord Rodger [a former UK Supreme Court judge] would have put it, the real aim of both sets of proceedings.”

Moses dismissed the argument in the submission from Khan’s legal team that clarification was required regarding the legal basis for the drone attacks carried out by the US in North Waziristan, in order to establish whether British officials could be secondary parties to murder or guilty of war crimes if they were providing critical information to the US.

In their submission, Khan’s team cited an authoritative Sunday Times article dated July 25, 2010. Written months before the attack that killed Khan’s father and dozens of other innocent civilians, the information it contained, including quotes from a GCHQ official, confirmed that the GCHQ did pass vital locational and other intelligence to the United States on the whereabouts of what were described as “leading militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan” (see “UK High Court hears Pakistan drone killing case”).

The ruling noted the Sunday Times article was one of a “number of reports” that alleged that the drone strikes “are linked to agents of the US Government and to United Kingdom employees of GCHQ”.

Moses, however, was quick to dismiss such reports, stating, “The extent to which it is possible to identify a firm factual foundation is an important question which I shall have to determine, but at this stage I shall merely note that, through no fault of the claimant, his case rests on a respectable but unconfirmed report.”

In an attempt to further obfuscate the central issues raised in the case, the ruling farcically portrays the GCHQ as akin to some rank amateur outfit, instead of one of the most advanced and sophisticated communications spying operation on the planet, with an annual budget estimated in 2003 to be around £800 million.

The ruling states, “Since an employee is unlikely to be in a position to know whether or how intelligence is disseminated no sensible guidance could possibly be given as to the circumstances when intelligence may lawfully be passed on and when it may not. If GCHQ is run on anything like the system we have, over thirty years later, learnt was adopted in the huts of Bletchley Park, the notion that those obtaining the intelligence have anything other than an inkling of how it may be deployed is little more than fanciful.”

The judgment sheds important light on the British ruling elite’s overt disregard for international law that in other cases it hypocritically and routinely cites to justify its predatory imperialist aims.

Even greater atrocities than the drone strikes, which have already killed thousands of people, are being considered by the ruling elite. Last month, a former Labour Party defence minister proposed a discussion on the feasibility of dropping a neutron bomb on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Speaking in the House of Lords on November 22, Lord Gilbert said the bomb’s “full title was the ERRB-enhanced radiation reduced blast weapon. I can think of many uses for it in this day and age.” He added that such a weapon could be utilised “in the mountains on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan”.

Gilbert said, “If you told them that some ERRB warheads were going to be dropped there and that it would be a very unpleasant place to go, they would not go there”, concluding, “These things are not talked about, but they should be, because there are great possibilities for deterrence in using the weapons that we already have in that respect.”

Khan is to appeal the High Court ruling. Rosa Curling of Leigh Day solicitors representing him said, “This claim raises very serious questions and issues about the UK’s involvement in the CIA drone attacks in Pakistan. This case seeks to determine the legality of intelligence sharing in relation to GCHQ assistance in CIA drone strikes. Those providing such information could be committing serious criminal offences, including conspiracy to murder.”

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2012/12/31/dron-d31.html

US, France deploy troops to Central African Republic

By Patrick O’Connor 

31 December 2012

The US and France are deploying additional troops to the Central African Republic (CAR), as anti-government militias close on the capital, Bangui. The intervention is part of a wider ratcheting up of imperialist military operations across Africa, with Washington and its European allies working to maintain their strategic domination of the continent and control of its natural resources.

The US and France were already conducting military operations in CAR before a rebel offensive threatened to topple the government of President François Bozize.

CAR is one of several central African countries in which at least 100 American Special Forces are active, supposedly pursuing fighters of the Lord’s Resistance Army. President Barack Obama advised Congress on Saturday that he had ordered a “standby security force” of 50 troops to CAR, citing a “deteriorating security situation” that required the withdrawal of US embassy staff and other American citizens from Bangui.

France has likewise intervened, on the basis of protecting its 1,200 citizens in the country. After maintaining soldiers in CAR on a near continuous basis since granting formal independence to its former colony in 1960, Paris has in recent days boosted its previously existing 250-troop deployment to nearly 600.

Another 500 foreign troops deployed by the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), mostly from neighbouring Chad, are also in the country. The Chadian government has pledged to send another 2,000 troops to support the CAR government.

President Bozize’s administration this month lost control over much of CAR. Seleka (“alliance” in the Sango national language), a loose coalition of anti-government militias, has seized towns across the country’s north and east and is reportedly within 75 kilometres of the capital. Seleka accuses the government of reneging on 2007-2008 peace agreements mandating payments to rebel guerrillas and their integration into the national army.

Some residents of Bangui, population 600,000, are fleeing in fear of a rebel offensive, while the price of basic foodstuffs has reportedly risen by more than 25 percent. The government has imposed a night-time curfew that is reportedly being enforced by young people armed with machetes at makeshift barricades erected across the city’s main roads.

CAR is one of the most desperately impoverished countries in the world. Life expectancy is just 50 years, only three other countries have a worse infant mortality and maternal mortality rate, and the majority of CAR’s 4.5 million people survive through subsistence agriculture. The stark contrast between the country’s extreme poverty and its significant natural wealth—including diamonds, gold, uranium, timber, and oil—reflects both the devastating legacy of colonial rule and ongoing imperialist oppression.

Washington has seized on the crisis to further extend its military operations in Africa. The CAR deployment comes just days after the US military announced that a dedicated army brigade, with about 3,500 troops, would carry out continuous activities across the continent. The newly created brigade is a component of Obama’s drive to ramp up the Pentagon’s Africa Command (AFRICOM), which was first created in 2007.

A renewed scramble for Africa is underway. US imperialism’s aggressive pursuit of the continent’s oil and other natural resources is part of the Obama administration’s drive to counter China’s growing strategic influence, in the Pacific and internationally. Beijing has been developing close diplomatic and economic ties with several African states in recent years. The continent is now an important source of energy resources for both the US and China. With greater frequency, Washington is retaliating with military force.

The relatively limited American military deployment to CAR could quickly develop into a wider intervention. Pretexts are readily available—a worsening humanitarian crisis in the country and the role Islamic fundamentalist elements reportedly play in the Seleka force. The occupation of northern Mali, in western Africa, by Al Qaeda-linked militias has provided the rationale for the preparation of a foreign military intervention, authorised by the UN Security Council earlier this month. The US and France have been at the forefront of agitation for an intervention into Mali, following the country’s destabilisation through the US-NATO regime-change operation in neighbouring Libya last year.

CAR President Bozize has urged the US and France to intervene against the rebel forces. In a speech last Thursday, Bozize accused unspecified “foreigners” of backing the rebels and suggested that the unrest was triggered by his granting of oil exploration contracts earlier this year to Chinese and South African corporations.

“Before giving oil to the Chinese I met with [oil company] Total in Paris and told them to take the oil. Nothing happened. I gave oil to the Chinese and it became a problem,” he said.

French corporation Areva is currently developing one of CAR’s largest foreign investments, a uranium mine in the country’s south.

Pro-intervention protests, organised by or tacitly endorsed by the government, were staged outside the American and French embassies in Bangui last week. Demonstrators reportedly accused Paris of supporting the rebels.

French President Francois Hollande claimed neutrality, declaring: “If we are present, it is not to protect a regime, it is to protect our nationals and our interests, and in no way to intervene in the internal affairs of a country, in this case Central Africa. Those days are gone.”

Behind this bogus “non-intervention” posture, the French government is undoubtedly working hand in hand with the Obama administration to determine the outcome of the crisis in CAR.

France has been intimately involved in every change of government in its former colony since 1960. Bozize received French military training before becoming CAR’s youngest general when he was just 32, under the notorious self-declared emperor, Jean-Bedel Bokassa. Paris armed and financed Bokassa while he was in power between 1966 and 1979, before he was replaced in a coup that was spearheaded by an invasion of hundreds of French Special Forces.

After spending years in exile in France, Bozize attempted several military coups before finally seizing power in 2003. The French government then provided crucial support, including having French military forces direct operations and launch air strikes against rebel guerrillas in 2006. If Paris now refuses to come to Bozize’s aid, it suggests that French imperialism either wants anti-government forces in power or some other change in government in Bangui.

After meeting with African Union Chairman Thomas Yayi Boni yesterday, Bozize declared that he was willing to form a new “national unity” government with Seleka. Negotiations between the government and the rebels are scheduled for early next month in the West African country of Gabon.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2012/12/31/cent-d31.html

International Media Regurgitating Syrian Rebel Propaganda

Syria is many conflicts rolled into one. It is also at the centre of two regional struggles
World View: A military stalemate between the government and rebels will make a negotiated settlement inevitable – but not for a long time
By Patrick Cockburn
December 30, 2012 “The Independent” –“Shame on you! Shame on The Independent!” boomed the voice of a Syrian intellectual in my phone half an hour after I had returned from Damascus to Beirut. He was so incoherent in his rage that it was difficult to know his precise objections, but my sin seemed to be that I had been in Damascus, talked to members of the Syrian government and concluded that it was not going to collapse any time soon.
Our conversation was not of a high intellectual calibre. After an acerbic exchange, I asked why, if he felt so strongly, did he “not stop being rude to people like me, go to Aleppo and fight beside the rebels instead of spending all your time in the cafés of Beirut”. Shortly afterwards, there was a mutual clicking-off of mobiles.
Driving the short distance between Damascus and Beirut is like shifting from one planet to another. What seems obvious and commonsensical in the Syrian capital becomes controversial and a minority viewpoint over the border in Lebanon. Outside Syria there have been repeated media and diplomatic forecasts of imminent victory for the rebels and defeat for Bashar al-Assad. Ignored in this speculation is the important point that Assad’s forces still hold, wholly or in large part, all the main cities and towns of Syria.
The difference in perceptions inside and outside Damascus is explained partly by the way the international and regional media describes the war. There are few foreign journalists in the Syrian capital because it is difficult to get visas. By way of contrast, the rebels have a highly sophisticated media operation – often also foreign-based – proffering immediate details of every incident, often backed up by compelling, if selective, YouTube footage.
Understandably, the rebel version of events is heavily biased towards their own side and demonises the Syrian government. More surprising is the willingness of the international media, based often in Beirut but also in London and New York, to regurgitate with so little scepticism what is essentially good-quality propaganda. It is as if, prior to the US presidential election in November, foreign journalists had been unable to obtain visas to enter the US and had instead decided to rely on Republican Party militants for their information on the campaign – moreover, Republican activists based in Mexico and Canada.
It is true that there is the rumble of artillery in Damascus, but the city is not besieged. The roads north to Homs and south to Deraa are open, as is the road to Beirut. When the rebels do capture a district, government artillery pounds it, killing some and forcing others to flee. For those living in undamaged areas of the capital, there is an ever-growing fear of what the future holds, combined with increasing difficulties in day-to-day living because of cuts in electricity and a shortage of bread and cooking gas.
The rebels are making some progress on the ground but, overall, Syrians face a political and military stalemate. The rebels’ assaults on Aleppo and Damascus have faltered, but the government forces do not have the strength to push them out of enclaves they have taken over. In the north, in particular, the rebels are making ground in the countryside around Hama, Idlib and Aleppo, but their advance is still slow.
The revolution has turned into a civil war. The uprising of Syrians against a cruel police state that started in March 2011 increasingly looks to Alawites, Christians, Druze and other minorities like a sectarian campaign aimed at their elimination. They watch YouTube pictures of Alawite officers being ritually decapitated and wonder what fate awaits them if Assad is defeated.
On top of this, there is a simple fear of anarchy on the part of middle-class urban Syrians who have seen Aleppo devastated and believe the same will happen to Damascus. When I arrived in the capital at the start of the month I asked a friend about the mood and he said: “Fifteen per cent for the government, 15 per cent against and 70 per cent want this war over before it ruins us all.”
Can the present stalemate be broken? It does not really look like it unless the rebels receive a massive transfusion of money, training and guns, and this would not immediately have a decisive impact. Alternatively, Washington and London have long been hoping for a split in the Syrian leadership, but this has not happened. Even a string of well-publicised defections in recent weeks has not come from the core of the regime.
The furies of civil war grow ever fiercer. The war has long ago reached the stage of what in Northern Ireland we used to call “the politics of the last atrocity”, in which too much blood is being spilled to allow for negotiation and compromise.
The policy of the US and its allies is increasingly bizarre: on the one hand, they recognise the opposition National Coalition as the legitimate government of Syria but, on the other, they label its most effective fighting force, the al-Nusra Front, as “a terrorist organisation” linked to al-Qa’ida. Just as in Iraq after 2003, Syria has become a magnet for jihadi fighters across the Muslim world. Washington is showing ever-decreasing enthusiasm for an outright rebel military victory that would strengthen jihadi militants and dissolve the governing machinery of the Syrian state.
A problem for Syria in this crisis is that so many conflicts are wrapped into one. Secular supporters of the uprising emphasise that it is about “the people against the regime”. They downplay its sectarian nature, saying this is being exaggerated and manipulated by the government. But sectarianism and democracy are intertwined in Syria, just as they were in Iraq. In Iraq, a fair election meant rule by the Shia majority replacing the Sunni. In Syria, it means rule by the 70 per cent of the population who are Sunni replacing the Alawites and their allies. In both countries, democratic change has had, or will have, explosive sectarian consequences, because majority rule means a change in which community holds power.
The Syrian crisis is further complicated and exacerbated by being at the centre of two long-running regional struggles. These are the growing confrontation between Sunni and Shia across the Muslim world and, secondly, the conflict that pits the US, Israel, Saudi Arabia and their allies against Iran and its few friends.
It is difficult to see how the present stalemate is going to be broken. Damascus, Aleppo and Homs feel increasingly like Beirut during the 15-year civil war. Parts of these cities cling to normal life while, a few blocks away, snipers have their hideouts in buildings shattered by artillery fire. Neither side has the strength to checkmate the other. Warlords, small and big, become the real rulers of the country. In Aleppo, the commercial heart of Syria, the rebels’ main preoccupation is looting the city. The militarisation of the uprising is degrading its original democratic purpose. Barring full-scale foreign intervention, a negotiated settlement is becoming inevitable though it may be a long time coming.

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After Islamophobic Hate Crime in New York City, Mayor Wants Public to ‘Keep Death in Perspective’

By Annie Robbins and Alex Kane
December 30, 2012 “Mondoweiss” — A horrific crime if we’ve ever seen one–and a reminder that Islamophobia affects many communities outside Muslim ones.
From the AP:
A woman who told police she shoved a man to his death off a subway platform into the path of a train because she hates Muslims and thought he was one was charged Saturday with murder as a hate crime, prosecutors said.
…..
“I pushed a Muslim off the train tracks because I hate Hindus and Muslims ever since 2001 when they put down the twin towers I’ve been beating them up,” Menendez told police, according to the district attorney’s office.
……
Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Friday urged residents to keep Sen’s death in perspective as he touted new historic lows in the city’s annual homicide and shooting totals.
“It’s a very tragic case, but what we want to focus on today is the overall safety in New York,” Bloomberg told reporters following a police academy graduation.
What kind of perspective is Bloomberg referencing? If someone said “I shoved a Jew in front of a train because I hate Jews,” would Bloomberg be touting drops in the city’s annual homicide and shooting totals? Quite an insensitive comment, at the very least.
After this news broke, Twitter was aflutter with people pointing to Pamela Geller as one culprit pushing anti-Muslim sentiment in the city. Geller’s organization, the American Freedom Defense Initiative, recently put up a new crop of ads that features the World Trade Center burning with a Qu’ran verse printed to the right of the towers. 
Geller’s role in promoting anti-Muslim sentiment of the sort that leads to Islamophobic hate crimes should not be in dispute. But what should also be highlighted is how New York City’s own police force has promoted anti-Muslim bigotry time and time again, from surveillance of Muslims that places the whole community under suspicion to training officers with an Islamophobic flick. 
Friend of Mondoweiss Lizzy Ratner made this point in her excellent piece on Geller in The Nation:
Though Geller and her crew are fringe elements, they are not random or spontaneous, idiopathic lesions on the healthier whole. They are, quite sadly, part of this country, outcroppings of something big and ugly that has been seeping and creeping through the body politic for years. In the decade since September 11, anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bigotry has become an entrenched feature of our political and social landscape. It lurks in the hidden corners of everyday life—in classrooms and offices and housing complexes—as well as in the ugly scenes that occasionally explode into public consciousness. In the special registration of Middle Eastern men after 9/11. In the vicious campaign against Debbie Almontaser, the American Muslim school teacher who tried to open the Arabic-language Khalil Gibran International Academy (KGIA) and was tarred as an extremist. In the attack on the Park51 Islamic center, more commonly (if less accurately) known as the Ground Zero mosque. In the New York Police Department’s selective surveillance of Muslim communities. And that’s just New York City. All of these instances should have called on our horror and outrage, and in all too many of them, society hasn’t lived up.
This crime appears to be the latest manifestation of New York City’s Islamophobia. This time, it cost a life.
Annie Robbins is Editor at Large for Mondoweiss, a mother, a human rights activist and a ceramic artist. She lives in the SF bay area.

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Has Capitalism Proven its Durability?

By Chris Hedges and Richard Wolff: 

As unemployment in the US decreases and large companies expand their profit margins, we ask if the capitalist system has proven its ability to endure and adapt. Or should Americans be considering an alternative economic system?

Video By Al Jazeera

Posted December 30, 2012 
 

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Brahimi Says Has Syria Plan All World Powers May Back

By AFP

December 30. 2012 — CAIRO (AFP) – International peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi warned Sunday the Syrian war was worsening “by the day” as he announced a peace plan he believed could find support from world powers, including key Syria ally Russia.

Brahimi’s comments in Cairo after meeting Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi came as Syrian forces pressed a fierce offensive for control of the central city of Homs and as fighting raged around Damascus and on northern battlegrounds.

The situation in Syria “is very bad and getting worse by the day,” Brahimi told reporters, a day after warning in Moscow that Damascus faced a choice between “hell or the political process.”

He said he had crafted a ceasefire plan “that could be adopted by the international community.”

“I have discussed this plan with Russia and Syria… I think this proposal could be adopted by the international community,” the UN and Arab League envoy said, without giving details.

“There is a proposal for a political solution based on the Geneva declaration foreseeing a ceasefire, forming a government with complete prerogatives and a plan for parliamentary and presidential elections,” he said, referring to a peace initiative that world powers agreed to in Geneva in June.

That plan was rejected by Syria’s opposition, which is adamant that President Bashar al-Assad’s departure is a given before any national dialogue such as that under the Geneva initiative can take place.

The international action group on Syria comprises the five permanent members of the UN Security Council — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — and representatives of the Arab League, the UN and EU and Turkey.

Russia and China have so far vetoed three attempted Security Council resolutions seeking to force Assad’s hand with just a threat of sanctions.

Brahimi held talks in Moscow on Saturday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on his end-of-year bid to accelerate moves to halt the conflict that monitors say has killed 45,000 people.

The talks came amid signs that key Syrian ally Russia was beginning to distance itself from Assad’s government.

Lavrov said both he and Brahimi agreed there was hope for a solution as long as world powers put pressure on both sides.

“The confrontation is escalating. But we agree the chance for a political solution remains,” Lavrov said.

On the ground, regime forces fired rockets and shelled rebel-held districts on Sunday after overrunning a key Homs neighbourhood the previous day, in its first major advance in the central city in months, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

A video released by the Syrian Revolution General Commission, a grassroots network of anti-regime activists, showed the bodies of nine male victims from Deir Baalbeh lying on the ground, their faces bloody and mutilated.

The authenticity of the video could not immediately be verified.

Near Damascus, loyalist troops carried out air raids on towns along the eastern outlying belt and on Daraya in the southwest, while fighting between rebels and the army erupted in the northeastern and southwestern suburbs, the Observatory said.

The watchdog said 13 children were among the victims of bombardments in and around Damascus on Saturday, while 10 children were killed in air strikes across Aleppo province, including on rebel-held Aazaz near the Turkish border.

Analysts say the surge in air strikes by Syrian forces is a desperate attempt by President Bashar al-Assad’s regime to reverse rampant gains by rebel fighters, especially in the north of the country.

Rebels meanwhile made further advances on Sunday in the battle for the Hamidiyeh military post in the northwest province of Idlib which they stormed the previous day, the watchdog said.

Brahimi on Saturday painted a stark picture of Syrian neighbours Jordan and Lebanon being overrun by a million refugees should heavy fighting for the seat of power break out in Syria’s five-million-strong capital.

“If the alternative is hell or the political process, we have all of us got to work ceaselessly for a political process,” Brahimi said in Moscow.

Lavrov warned that Syria threatened to dissolve into a failed state similar to Somalia — a nation overrun by warlords and jihadists.

Brahimi on Sunday echoed that warning. “Either there is a political solution in Syria” or the country risks a descent into a Somalia-like situation, he said.

http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article33473.htm

Obama Still Considering Hagel

By DONOVAN SLACK |

December 30, 2012 “Politico” — President Barack Obama says he hasn’t decided on a nominee for defense secretary, but suggested former Sen. Chuck Hagel is still in the running.

Asked by NBC’s David Gregory if anything disqualified the Nebraska Republican from the post, Obama said “Not that I see.”

“I’ve served with Chuck Hagel. I know him. He is a patriot,” Obama said during an interview broadcast Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “He is somebody who has done extraordinary work both in the United States Senate, somebody who served this country with valor in Vietnam – and is somebody who’s currently serving on my intelligence advisory board and doing an outstanding job.”

The president specifically addressed comments Hagel made in 1998, when he called an ambassador pick “openly aggressively gay,” suggesting he was unfit to serve.

“He apologized for it,” Obama said, referencing a statement Hagel issued earlier this month. “And I think it’s a testimony to what has been a positive change over the last decade in terms of people’s attitudes about gays and lesbians serving our country.”

“That’s something that I’m very proud to have led,” the president added. “And I think that anybody who serves in my administration understands my attitude and position on those issues.”

Chuck Hagel, Knifed In The Back By The Lobby

By Richard Silverstein

December 30, 2012  –  As I wrote a few days ago when many were whispering that Chuck Hagel’s chances of becoming secretary of defense had died, what does it matter whether it’s the Israel lobby or the Jewish lobby?  When you get a knife in the back, it doesn’t matter who’s putting the shiv into you.  In Chuck Hagel’s case, he’s getting stabbed in the back by Aipac and its true believers.  It’s an unsightly, unsavory bunch including Likudists like Jennifer Rubin, Brett Stephens, Bill Kristol, Eli Lake, and Jewish apparatchiks like Abe Foxman.  You won’t see Aipac’s fingerprints on the knife because it doesn’t work that way.  If you’re going to be jumped in a dark alley, Aipac will make sure you can’t see the face of your attacker.  They’re the whispering kind.  They plant rumors, tell lies, all without attribution.

It reminds me in an ironic way of the Dreyfuss Affair.  A decorated war hero is accused of  betraying his country (or in Hagel’s case, his Party).  The victim is accused falsely, but the smears stick and he is punished for the effrontery of his independence and fearlessness.  The difference between Dreyfuss and Hagel is, of course, that Dreyfuss was Jewish and his attackers were anti-Semites.  In Hagel’s case, his attackers are Jews.  But they are using unsavory tactics that are little different than those used against Dreyfuss.

The Israel lobby has performed a typically neat trick in their campaign against Hagel.  They know they can’t attack him for being anti-Israel (though they’ve even whispered of this sin in hushed tones).  So they trot out the “A” word, the trump card that silences every debate regarding Israel: anti-Semite.  His opponents know that Hagel isn’t anti-Semitic.  But rather that he refuses to toe the line on Israel.  Not, chas v’chalilah that he’s anti-Israel.  But insufficiently obeisant.  He was the nail in the U.S. Senate that refused to be hammered down by the Lobby.  When you stick out in this way, when you maintain your independence in the face of tremendous pro-Israel pressure, you’re going to get hammered.  Literally (and figuratively).

So this campaign is payback.  The chance for the Lobby to show its muscle.  It must kill Chuck Hagel’s nomination in order to set an example for current and future legislators who may contemplate maintaining the sort of independent profile Hagel did.  They’re gonna get this sucka and get him good.  They’re going to fix his hide.

Anyone with the guts to say this must, like John Barleycorn, die:

Congress “is an institution that does not inherently bring out a great deal of courage.” The American Israel Public Affairs Committee comes knocking with a pro-Israel letter, Hagel continued, and “then you’ll get eighty or ninety senators on it. I don’t think I’ve ever signed one of the letters”—because, he added, they were “stupid.” Hagel also said, “The Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here,” but “I’m a United States senator. I’m not an Israeli senator.”

But what’s especially appalling is that liberal pro-Israel senators like Carl Levin and Chuck Schumer (both of whom know their bread is buttered by Aipac) have either refused to offer Hagel support or offered only tepid encouragement.  This is how the Lobby works.  It gives pause to even those who should naturally back you.  Theirs are not exactly Profiles in Courage.  More like sticking your finger in the wind to see which way the wind’s blowing.  If it’s that hamsin wind blowing from the hills of Judea, you know to duck and cover.

J Street has supported Hagel, but that’s no surprise for the group I call Jews for Obama.  If Obama said the sun rose in the west, Jeremy Ben Ami would have an op-ed in Haaretz the next day dutifully affirming the fact.

I’m delighted to say that Tom Friedman, whose columns I’ve praised perhaps once or twice in the entire history of this blog,wrote a sterling piece defending Hagel.

It’s especially ironic to watch opportunists like Bill Kristol become gay rights advocates when it suits them.  Because Hagel made an anti-gay statement 15 years ago (1998), the neocon, who has no previous history of being a friend of gays, all of sudden becomes holier than Stonewall.  There is no doubt that Hagel’s comment in which he used the phrase “aggressively gay,” was objectionable.  But that was a different era.  Does anyone seriously want to tell me that we can’t find 20 then-U.S. senators who made similar comments about gays in that era?

Someone has to tell me how a homophobic comment made in 1998 disqualifies someone from being secretary of defense today.  Are they arguing that he’ll backtrack on gays in the military?  No, of course not.  Hagel, a military man himself, knows that he’s in a chain of command in which the president is the commander-in-chief.  Being a cabinet member is not the same as being a senator.  Hagel knows this.

There is much that is dysfunctional about American government.  Just watch the moronic debate over the “fiscal cliff,” or abortion, or gay marriage.  But foremost in toxicity in Congress is the stranglehold the Lobby holds over U.S. policy toward Israel and the frontline states (Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan).  I’m not saying this out of animosity toward Israel and its interests.  Precisely the opposite.  The Lobby doesn’t act in Israel’s interest.  It acts in the interest of the Lobby.  Hell, half the time positions advocated by the Lobby are far to the right of Israel’s official policy.  The Lobby wants power for power’s sake.  Power is its primary means of self-preservation.

That power does not help Israel.  It hurts.  Yes, it supports the short-term interests of an extreme right-wing Israeli government–today.  It supports settlements.  It opposes Palestinian statehood.  It supports regime change against Iran.  But what about Israel’s long-term interests?  What about promoting real solutions?  Does anyone seriously argue that protecting the Occupation, as the Lobby does, offers a real long-term solution?

That’s why the Lobby is toxic.  Not just within a Congressional context, but for Israel as well.

Chuck Hagel is a realist.  He’s not a wild-eyed radical or anyone’s fool.  He’s not going to carry water for Israel or the Lobby or the Palestinians for that matter.  He’s going to represent America’s interests as he sees them.  At times that will mean supporting Israel and at times it will mean criticizing Israel.  That’s just what American Jews and Israelis themselves do.  So why should we deny Chuck Hagel a cabinet job for debating the same points that are heard every time Diaspora Jews or Israelis talk about Israel?

There’s little doubt that Bibi Netanyahu too doesn’t want Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense.  The latter is built more in the mold of James Baker.  If you’ll recall Baker had the chutzpah to use the “F” in calling out Israel.  He was the one who mockingly called out the White House phone number at a press conference and dared Yitzhak Shamir to call when he was ready to be serious about peace.  Bibi needs a James Baker at DoD like it needs a hole in the head.  Instead he prefers a malleable functionary to fulfill that role.  Someone like John Kerry or Leon Panetta or Barack Obama (oops, even an Obama made out of silly putty is too feisty for Bibi and the Lobby).

A terrific, wonderfully literate defense of Hagel by Muhammad Idrees Ahmad.  He dug up this amazing chestnut from Natasha Mozgovaya, who herself is a journalistic creature of the Lobby:

Every appointee to the American government must endure a thorough background check by the American Jewish community.

Richard Silverstein is an author, journalist and blogger, with articles appearing in Haaretz, the Jewish Forward, Los Angeles Times, the Guardian’s Comment Is Free, Al Jazeera English, and Alternet. His work has also been in the Seattle Times, American Conservative Magazine, Beliefnet and Tikkun Magazine, where he is on the advisory board. Check out Silverstein’s blog at Tikun Olam, one of the earliest liberal Jewish blogs, which he has maintained since February, 2003.

This article appeared at Tikun Olam

Who Paid for the Log Cabin Republicans’ Anti-Hagel NYT ad?

The gay GOP group confirms the ad was funded by outside donors, but refuses to identify them or their cause

By Glenn Greenwald

December 30, 2012 “The Guardian‘ — Last Thursday, the gay GOP group Log Cabin Republicans (LCR) placed a full-page ad in the New York Times that attacked Chuck Hagel as anti-Israel and anti-gay and urged President Obama not to appoint him as Defense Secretary. This was quite a strange event for multiple reasons.

First, full-page ads in the NYT are notoriously expensive, particularly for a small, poorly-funded group like LCR; published rates indicate that such an ad can cost well in excess of $100,000, though some discounts are possible with flexible dates (five years ago, the published rate for a black-and-white full-page political ad was $142,000). Second, LCR – which touts itself as “the only Republican organization dedicated to representing the interests of LGBT Americans and their allies”- has virtually no demonstrated prior interest in Israel; the only mention of that country on its entire website is as part of a laundry list of nationswhich allow gay and lesbians to serve in the armed forces, while its only substantive position on Iran policy is a tepid 2010 statement advocating a single 2010 bill for increased sanctions, something which Obama supported and signed (the group didlend its name to a coalition against Iranian nuclear proliferation). Third, since when does LCR – which endorsed McCain/Palin in 2008 and Mitt Romney with his abundant anti-gay advocacy in 2012 – oppose GOP officials on the ground that they have some anti-gay aspects to their record?

All of those facts made me deeply curious about what prompted LCR to place this ad and, especially, who funded it. That curiosity was heightened by another fact: a favorite tactic of neocons – who have led the smear campaign against Hagel – is to cynically exploit liberal causes to generate progressive support for their militaristic agenda. They suddenly develop an interest in the plight of gay people when seeking to demonize Iran, or pretend to be devoted to women’s rights when attempting to sustain endless war in Afghanistan, or become so deeply moved by the oppression of Muslim factions – such as Iraqi Shia – when it comes time to justify their latest desired invasion.

As it so often does, this tactic has worked magically here, as numerous progressives who do actually care about gay issues – from Rachel Maddow to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force – dutifully popped up to attack the neocons’ number one public enemy. Andrew Sullivan is right that this is a classic technique of the neocon smear campaign – recruit progressives to their cause with exploitation of unrelated issues – and he’s also right that Hagel’s record on gay issues is hardly uncommon or unusually disturbing for DC officials (particularly given his apology and disavowal). Indeed, very few of these progressives had difficulty supporting Obama in 2008 despite his opposition to same-sex marriage on this warped ground: “I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman. Now, for me as a Christian, it’s also a sacred union. God is in the mix.” But the LCR ad is designed to rile up progressives against Hagel by making it appear that Good Liberals oppose the former Senator for reasons having nothing to do with his heresies on Israel (just as so many Good Liberals were convinced to support the attack on Iraq, and will do the same with an attack on Iran, on the ground that the war advanced their Liberal Values).

As a result, I posed several questions to LCR about the funding and motive behind this ad. In response, the group’s Executive Director, R. Clark Cooper, confirmed that LCR did not pay for the ad out of its existing funds. Rather, he said, the ad campaign “is being funded by a number of donors”. But he not only refused to identify any of those donors, but also has thus far refused to say whether those “donors” are from the self-proclaimed “pro-Israel” community and/or are first-time donors to LCR: in other words, whether these donors are simply exploiting gay issues and the LCR to advance an entirely unrelated agenda as a means of attacking Hagel.

As for why LCR would suddenly object to the anti-gay record of Hagel despite a history of supporting more virulently anti-gay Republicans, Cooper claimed that “LCR is particularly concerned about Chuck Hagel as a potential Defense Secretary because of the role he would play in continuing to oversee the implementation of open service of the military.” But he did not respond to my follow-up inquiry about why, then, LCR endorsed Mitt Romney – who has long supported Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and other anti-gay measures – as President. Why would this group be so moved by concerns about a possible Defense Secretary’s anti-gay record that they take out a full-page ad against him in the New York Times, but just three months ago endorsed someone who is at least as anti-gay for the position of Commander-in-Chief, which obviously has far more influence on such policies than a Defense Secretary?

What makes this all the more inexplicable is that, a couple of weeks before the LCR ad was placed, the very same R. Clark Cooper spoke out in praise of Hagel to the Gay City News:

“I recall working with Senator Chuck Hagel and his staff during the Bush administration and he was certainly not shy about expressing his criticisms. But despite his criticisms, Hagel voted with us most of the time and there was no question he was committed to advancing America’s interests abroad. As for his nomination to be secretary of defense, it is well worth noting that Senator Hagel is a combat veteran who has hands-on experience in the field. The battlefield is not just theory for him.”

At some point thereafter, LCR decided not only that Hagel must be publicly smeared as anti-gay and anti-Israel, but that the group just had to take an extraordinary and incredibly expensive step – a full-page ad in the New York Times – to do so. And then magically, the substantial funding for that anti-Hagel ad materialized.

While I agree with those who insist that a Hagel nomination would not meaningfully change administration policy, the goal of the anti-Hagel smear campaign is to ensure that there can be no debate and no diversity of views on Israel when it comes to top government officials. That was the same objective that drove the successful effort to torpedo the 2009 appointment by Adm. Dennis Blair of life-long foreign service diplomat (and periodic Israel critic) Chas Freeman to a position within the National Security Council. Gay advocates are the exploited tools in this effort. We should at least have some transparency about that fact.

© 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited

See also –

Hagel to be Nominated Monday as Secretary of Defense! : The White House contacted key Jewish leaders this evening, informing them that former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel will be nominated this week, likely as early as Monday, to be America’s next Secretary of Defense, sources say.

http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article33474.htm

Revealed: How the FBI Coordinated the Crackdown on Occupy

New documents prove what was once dismissed as paranoid fantasy: totally integrated corporate-state repression of dissent

By Naomi Wolf

December 30, 2012 “The Guardian” —  It was more sophisticated than we had imagined: new documents show that the violent crackdown on Occupy last fall – so mystifying at the time – was not just coordinated at the level of the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and local police. The crackdown, which involved, as you may recall, violent arrests, group disruption, canister missiles to the skulls of protesters, people held in handcuffs so tight they were injured, people held in bondage till they were forced to wet or soil themselves –was coordinated with the big banks themselves.

The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, in a groundbreaking scoop that should once more shame major US media outlets (why are nonprofits now some of the only entities in America left breaking major civil liberties news?), filed this request. The document – reproduced here in an easily searchable format – shows a terrifying network of coordinated DHS, FBI, police, regional fusion center, and private-sector activity so completely merged into one another that the monstrous whole is, in fact, one entity: in some cases, bearing a single name, the Domestic Security Alliance Council. And it reveals this merged entity to have one centrally planned, locally executed mission. The documents, in short, show the cops and DHS working for and with banks to target, arrest, and politically disable peaceful American citizens.

The documents, released after long delay in the week between Christmas and New Year, show a nationwide meta-plot unfolding in city after city in an Orwellian world: six American universities are sites where campus police funneled information about students involved with OWS to the FBI, with the administrations’ knowledge (p51); banks sat down with FBI officials to pool information about OWS protesters harvested by private security; plans to crush Occupy events, planned for a month down the road, were made by the FBI – and offered to the representatives of the same organizations that the protests would target; and even threats of the assassination of OWS leaders by sniper fire – by whom? Where? – now remain redacted and undisclosed to those American citizens in danger, contrary to standard FBI practice to inform the person concerned when there is a threat against a political leader (p61).

As Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, executive director of the PCJF, put it, the documents show that from the start, the FBI – though it acknowledges Occupy movement as being, in fact, a peaceful organization – nonetheless designated OWS repeatedly as a “terrorist threat”:

“FBI documents just obtained by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF) … reveal that from its inception, the FBI treated the Occupy movement as a potential criminal and terrorist threat … The PCJF has obtained heavily redacted documents showing that FBI offices and agents around the country were in high gear conductingsurveillance against the movement even as early as August 2011, a month prior to the establishment of the OWS encampment in Zuccotti Park and other Occupy actions around the country.”

Verheyden-Hilliard points out the close partnering of banks, the New York Stock Exchange and at least one local Federal Reserve with the FBI and DHS, and calls it “police-statism”:

“This production [of documents], which we believe is just the tip of the iceberg, is a window into the nationwide scope of the FBI’s surveillance, monitoring, and reporting on peaceful protestors organizing with the Occupy movement … These documents also show these federal agencies functioning as a de facto intelligence arm of Wall Street and Corporate America.”

The documents show stunning range: in Denver, Colorado, that branch of the FBI and a “Bank Fraud Working Group” met in November 2011 – during the Occupy protests – to surveil the group. The Federal Reserve of Richmond, Virginia had its own private security surveilling Occupy Tampa and Tampa Veterans for Peace and passing privately-collected information on activists back to the Richmond FBI, which, in turn, categorized OWS activities under its “domestic terrorism” unit. The Anchorage, Alaska “terrorism task force” was watching Occupy Anchorage. The Jackson, Michigan “joint terrorism task force” was issuing a “counterterrorism preparedness alert” about the ill-organized grandmas and college sophomores in Occupy there. Also in Jackson, Michigan, the FBI and the “Bank Security Group” – multiple private banks – met to discuss the reaction to “National Bad Bank Sit-in Day” (the response was violent, as you may recall). The Virginia FBI sent that state’s Occupy members’ details to the Virginia terrorism fusion center. The Memphis FBI tracked OWS under its “joint terrorism task force” aegis, too. And so on, for over 100 pages.

Jason Leopold, at Truthout.org, who has sought similar documents for more than a year, reported that the FBI falsely asserted in response to his own FOIA requests that no documents related to its infiltration of Occupy Wall Street existed at all. But the release may be strategic: if you are an Occupy activist and see how your information is being sent to terrorism task forces and fusion centers, not to mention the “longterm plans” of some redacted group to shoot you, this document is quite the deterrent.

There is a new twist: the merger of the private sector, DHS and the FBI means that any of us can become WikiLeaks, a point that Julian Assange was trying to make in explaining the argument behind his recent book. The fusion of the tracking of money and the suppression of dissent means that a huge area of vulnerability in civil society – people’s income streams and financial records – is now firmly in the hands of the banks, which are, in turn, now in the business of tracking your dissent.

Remember that only 10% of the money donated to WikiLeaks can be processed – because of financial sector and DHS-sponsored targeting of PayPal data. With this merger, that crushing of one’s personal or business financial freedom can happen to any of us. How messy, criminalizing and prosecuting dissent. How simple, by contrast, just to label an entity a “terrorist organization” and choke off, disrupt or indict its sources of financing.

Why the huge push for counterterrorism “fusion centers”, the DHS militarizing of police departments, and so on? It was never really about “the terrorists”. It was not even about civil unrest. It was always about this moment, when vast crimes might be uncovered by citizens – it was always, that is to say, meant to be about you.

http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article33477.htm

‘Scots better off with Britain, nationalist sentiment weak’

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US Attempting “Regime Change” in Malaysia: Fact or Fiction?

By Nile Bowie
Global Research

MALAYSIA

 As the South-East Asian nation of Malaysia prepares for general elections, distrust of the political opposition and accusations of foreign interference have been major talking points in the political frequencies emanating from Kuala Lumpur. The United Malays National Organization (UMNO) leads the country’s ruling coalition, Barisan Nasional, and has maintained power since Malaysian independence in 1957. One of Malaysia’s most recognizable figures is former Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, who has been credited with ushering in large-scale economic growth and overseeing the nation’s transition from an exporter of palm oil, tin, and other raw materials, into an industrialized economy that manufactures automobiles and electronic goods.

The opposition coalition, Pakatan Rakyat, is headed by Anwar Ibrahim, who once held the post of Deputy Prime Minister in Mahathir’s administration, but was sacked over major disagreements on how to steer Malaysia’s economy during the 1997 Asian financial crisis.

Today, the political climate in Malaysia is highly polarized and a sense of unpredictability looms over the nation. Malaysia’s current leader, Prime Minister Najib Razak, has pursued a reform-minded agenda by repealing authoritarian legislation of the past and dramatically loosening controls on expression and political pluralism introduced under Mahathir’s tenure. Najib has rolled back Malaysia’s Internal Security Act, which allowed for indefinite detention without trial, and has liberalized rules regarding the publication of books and newspapers. During Malaysia’s 2008 general elections, the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition experienced its worst result in decades, with the opposition Pakatan Rakyat coalition winning 82 parliamentary seats. For the first time, the ruling party was deprived of its two-thirds parliamentary majority, which is required to pass amendments to Malaysia’s Federal Constitution. In the run-up to elections scheduled to take place before an April 2013 deadline, figures from all sides of the political spectrum are asking questions about the opposition’s links to foreign-funders in Washington.

Protestors form a human chain in the city center of Kuala Lumpur during April 2012 protests in support of the Bersih coalition.

The question of foreign-funding 

Malaysia’s former PM Dr. Mahathir Mohamad has long captured the ire of officials from Washington and Tel Aviv, and though he’s retired, he has channeled his energies into the Perdana Global Peace Foundation, which recently hosted an international conference in Kuala Lumpur calling for a new investigation into the events of 9/11 and has sought to investigate war crimes committed in Gaza, Iraq and Afghanistan. Mahathir has been an ardent critic of Israel and organizations such as AIPAC, and has recently accused US-based organizations the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the Open Society Institute (OSI) of holding a concealed intention to influence Malaysia’s domestic politics through the funding of local NGOs and groups directly linked to Anwar Ibrahim’s Pakatan Rakyat opposition coalition.

In an article the former prime minister published in the New Straits Times, a leading mainstream newspaper, Mahathir accuses financier George Soros and his organization, the Open Society Institute, of “promoting democracy” in Eastern Europe to pave the way for colonization by global finance capital. Mahathir acknowledges how OSI pumped millions into opposition movements and independent media in Hungary, Ukraine and Georgia under the guise of strengthening civil society, only to have like-minded individuals nominated by Soros’s own foundation come to power in those countries.

The former prime minister has also pointed to how Egypt (prior to Mohamad Morsi taking power) has cracked down on NGOs affiliated with NED, namely groups such as the National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute (IRI) and Freedom House, which are all recipients of funding from the US State Department. In Malaysia, high-profile NGOs and media outlets have admittedly received funding from OSI and satellite organizations of NED. Premesh Chandran, the CEO of the nation’s most prominent alternative media outlet, Malaysiakini, is a grantee of George Soros’s Open Society Foundations and launched the news organization with a $100,000 grant from the Bangkok-based Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), another organization with dubious affiliations to the US State Department.

Malaysiakini has come under pressure from local journalists for the lack of transparency in its financial management and hesitance in revealing the value of its shares. Additionally, Suaram, an NGO promoting human rights, has borne heavy criticism over its funding and organizational structure. The Companies Commission of Malaysia launched investigations into Suara Inisiatif Sdn Bhd, a private company linked to Suaram, and found it to be a conduit for money being used to channel funds from NED. Suaram has been instrumental in legitimizing allegations of a possible cover-up of the murder of a Mongolian fashion model, Altantuya Shaaribuu, who was living in Malaysia in 2006 and associated with government officials that have been linked to a kickback scandal involving the government’s purchase of submarines from France. Senator Ezam Mohd Nor, himself a recipient of Suaram’s Human Rights Award, has accused the organization of employing poor research methods and attempting to disparage the government:

“Malaysians have the right to feel suspicious about them. They have been making personal allegations against the Prime Minister [Najib Razak] on the murder of Altantuya and many other cases without proof… their motive is very questionable especially when they are more inclined towards ridiculing and belittling the ruling government.”

The German Embassy in KL has reportedly admitted that it has provided funds to Suaram’s project in 2010. Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Anifah Aman followed by making strong statements to the German Ambassador and declared that Germany’s actions could be viewed as interference in the domestic affairs of a sovereign state.

Since 2007, Bersih, an association of NGOs calling itself the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections, staged three street protests in which thousands of yellow-clad demonstrators took to the streets in Kuala Lumpur demanding electoral reform. After coming under heavy scrutiny for obfuscating funding sources, Bersih coalition leader Ambiga Sreenevasan admitted that her organization receives funding from the National Democratic Institute and the Open Society Institute. Sreenevasan herself has been the recipient of the US State Department’s Award for International Women of Courage, and was present in Washington DC in 2009 to receive the award directly from the hands of Michelle Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. While Sreenevasan’s organization claimed to be non-partisan and apolitical, members of Malaysia’s political opposition openly endorsed the movement, and some were even present at the demonstrations.

Anatomy of Malaysia’s political opposition 

Malaysia is a multi-cultural and multi-religious state, and both the ruling and opposition parties attempt to represent the nation’s three largest ethnic groups. Approximately 60 per cent of Malaysians are either ethnic Malay or other indigenous groups and are mostly listed as Muslim, while another 25 per cent are ethnic Chinese who are predominantly Buddhist, with 7 per cent mostly Hindu Indian-Malaysians. The United Malays National Organization, the Malaysian Chinese Association, and the Malaysian Indian Congress head Barisan Nasional. The opposition, Pakatan Rakyat, currently controls four state governments and is led by Anwar Ibrahim’s Keadilan Rakyat, the Chinese-led Democratic Action Party (DAP), and staunchly Islamist Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS).

While a large percentage of urbanites with legitimate grievances are quick to acknowledge the government’s shortcomings, many are hesitant to back Anwar Ibrahim due to his connections with neo-conservative thinkers in Washington and general disunity within the opposition. Ibrahim maintains close ties with senior US officials and organizations such as the National Endowment for Democracy. In 2005, Ibrahim chaired the Washington-based Foundation for the Future, established and funded by the US Department of State at the behest of Elizabeth Cheney, the daughter of then-Vice President Dick Cheney, thanks in large part to his cozy relationship with Paul Wolfowitz.

While Ibrahim was on trial for allegedly engaging in sodomy with a male aide (something he was later acquitted of), Wolfowitz and former US Vice-President Al Gore authored a joint opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal in support of Ibrahim, while the Washington Post published an editorial calling for consequences that would affect Malaysia’s relations with Washington if Ibrahim was to be found guilty. Ibrahim enraged many when he stated that he would support policy to protect the security of Israel in an interview with the Wall Street Journal; this is particularly controversial in Malaysia, where support for Palestine is largely unanimous. Malaysian political scientist Dr. Chandra Muzaffar writes:

“It is obvious that by acknowledging the primacy of Israeli security, Anwar was sending a clear message to the deep state and to Tel Aviv and Washington that he is someone that they could trust. In contrast, the Najib government, in spite of its attempts to get closer to Washington, remains critical of Israeli aggression and intransigence. Najib has described the Israeli government as a ‘serial killer’ and a ‘gangster’”.

Members of Barisan Nasional have addressed Ibrahim’s connections to the National Endowment for Democracy in the Malaysian Parliament, including his participation in NED’s ‘Democracy Award’ event held in Washington DC in 2007. Independent journalists have uncovered letters written by Anwar Ibrahim, two of which were sent to NED President Carl Gershman in Washington DC that discussed sending an international election observer team to Malaysia and general issues related to electoral reform. A third letter was sent to George Soros, expressing interest in collaborating with an accountability firm headed by Ibrahim. Pakatan Rakyat’s Communications Director, Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad, verified the authenticity of the documents. This should come as little surprise, as Ibrahim’s economic policies have historically aligned with institutions such as the IMF and World Bank, in contrast to Mahathir, whose protectionist economic policies opposed international financial institutions and allowed Malaysia to navigate and largely resurface from the 1997 Asian financial crisis unscathed.

An issue that concerns secular and non-Muslim Malaysian voters is the role of the Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) as part of the opposition. In sharp contrast to the moderate brand of Islam preached by UMNO, the organization’s primary objective is the founding of an Islamic state. The PAS has spoken of working within the framework of Malaysia’s parliamentary democracy, but holds steadfast to implementing sharia law on a national scale, which would lead to confusing implications for Malaysia’s sizable non-Muslim population. The debate around the implementation of Islamic hudud penal code is something that other Pakatan Rakyat coalition members, such as figures in the Chinese-led Democratic Action Party, have been unable to agree on. The PAS enjoys support from rural Malay Muslims in conservative states such as Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu in northern Malaysia, though they have very limited appeal to urbanites. While certain individuals in PAS have raised questions about NGOs receiving foreign funding, Mahathir has insinuated that PAS’s leadership has been largely complicit:

“They [foreign interests] want to topple the government through the demonstration and Nik Aziz [Spiritual leader of PAS] said it is permissible to bring down the government in this manner. They want to make Malaysia like Egypt, Tunisia, which were brought down through riots and now Syria…. when the government does not fall, they [Pakatan Rakyat] can appeal to the foreign power to help and bring down, even if it means using fire power.”

Despite claims of being non-partisan and unaffiliated with any political party, the country’s main opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim, fully endorsed the Bersih movement.

Feasibility of ‘regime change’ narrative 

It must be acknowledged that the current administration led by Prime Minister Najib Razak has made great strides toward improving relations with Washington. At a meeting with President Barack Obama in 2010, Najib offered Malaysia’s assistance to cooperate with the United States to engage the Muslim world; Najib also expressed willingness to deploy Malaysian aid personnel to Afghanistan, and allegedly agreed on the need to maintain a unified front on Iran’s nuclear program. Najib has employed a Washington-based public relations firm, APCO, to improve Malaysia’s image in the US and has seemingly embraced American economic leadership of the region through his support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. Some would argue that Najib is perhaps the most pro-American leader Malaysia has ever had – a stark contrast to the boldness of Mahathir. Despite Najib having good rapport with formal Western leaders, it is clear with whom the thank-tank policy architects, Zionist lobbies, and foundation fellows have placed their loyalties.

Sentiment among Malaysia’s youth and “pro-democracy” activists, who constitute a small but vocal minority, tend be entirely dismissive of the ‘regime change’ narrative, viewing it as pre-election diversionary rhetoric of the ruling party. While bogeymen of the Zionist variety are often invoked in Malaysian political discourse, it would be negligent to ignore the effects of Washington-sponsored ‘democracy promotion’ in the global context, which have in recent times cloaked mercenary elements and insurgents in the colors of freedom fighting, and successfully masked geopolitical restructuring and the ushering in of neo-liberal capitalism with the hip and fashionable vigor of ‘people power’ coups. As the United States continues to militarily increase its presence in the Pacific region in line with its strategic policy-shift to East Asia, policy makers in Washington would like to see compliant heads of state who will act to further American interests in the ASEAN region.

Let’s not ignore the elephant in the room; the real purpose of America’s resurgence of interest in the ASEAN bloc is to fortify the region as a counterweight against Beijing. The defense ministries of Malaysia and China held a landmark defense and security consultation in September 2012, in addition to frequent bilateral state visits and enhanced economic cooperation. It was the father of the current leader, Malaysia’s second Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak, who made the landmark visit to Beijing to normalize relations in 1974, and under his son Najib, Sino-Malaysian relations and cooperation have never been better. Following the global economic crisis of 2008, Najib looked to Beijing to revive Malaysia’s export oriented economy, emphasizing increased Chinese investment into Malaysia and expanding the base of Sino-Malaysian trade in areas like education and student exchange, finance, infrastructure development, science and technology, yielding lucrative and mutually beneficial results. China has been Malaysia’s largest trade partner, with trade figures reaching US$90 billion in 2011; Malaysia is China’s largest trading partner among ASEAN nations.

In asking the question of regime change in Malaysia, Dr. Chandra Muzaffar reflects on Washington’s moves to bolster its military muscle and dominance over the Asia-Pacific region:

“Establishing a military base in Darwin [Australia], resurrecting the US’ military alliance with the Philippines, coaxing Japan to play a more overt military role in the region, instigating Vietnam to confront China over the Spratly Islands, and encouraging India to counterbalance Chinese power, are all part and parcel of the larger US agenda of encircling and containing China. In pursuing this agenda, the US wants reliable allies – not just friends – in Asia. In this regard, Malaysia is important because of its position as a littoral state with sovereign rights over the Straits of Malacca, which is one of China’s most critical supply routes that transports much of the oil and other materials vital for its economic development. Will the containment of China lead to a situation where the hegemon, determined to perpetuate its dominant power, seek to exercise control over the Straits in order to curb China’s ascendancy? Would a trusted ally in Kuala Lumpur facilitate such control? The current Malaysian leadership does not fit the bill.”

‘Backwards’ and forwards 

Pakatan Rakyat, the main opposition coalition pitted against the ruling party, has yet to offer a fully coherent organizational program, and if the coalition ever came to power, the disunity of its component parties and their inability to agree on fundamental policies would be enough to conjure angrier, disenchanted youth back on to the streets, in larger numbers perhaps. What is ticklishly ironic about reading op-eds penned by the likes of Wolfowitz and Al Gore, and how they laud Malaysia as a progressive and moderate model Islamic state, is that they concurrently demonize its leadership and dismiss them authoritarian thugs. Surely, the ruling coalition has its shortcomings; the politicization of race and religion, noted cases of corrupt officials squandering funds, etc. – but far too few, especially those of the middle-class who benefit most from energy subsides, acknowledge the tremendous economic growth achieved under the current leadership and the success of their populist policies. Najib’s administration would do well to place greater emphasis on addressing the concerns of Malaysia’s minorities who view affirmative action policies given to Malay ethnicities as disproportionate; income status, not ethnicity, should be a deciding factor in who receives assistance. The current administration appears set to widen populist policies that make necessities affordable through subsides and continue to assist low-income earners with cash handouts.

Najib has acknowledged the need for broad reforms of Malaysia’s state-owned enterprises over concerns that crony capitalism may deter foreign investment; this should be rolled out concurrently with programs to foster more local entrepreneurship. To put it bluntly, the opposition lacks confidence from the business community and foreign investors; even the likes of JP Morgan have issued statements of concern over an opposition win. It should be noted that if Islamists ever wielded greater influence in Malaysia under an opposition coalition, one could imagine a sizable exodus of non-Muslim minorities and a subsequent flight of foreign capital, putting the nation’s economy in a fragile and fractured state. And yet, the United States has poured millions into ‘democracy promotion’ efforts to strengthen the influence of NGOs that distort realities and cast doubt over the government’s ability to be a coherent actor.

Malaysia does not have the kind of instability that warrants overt external intervention; backing regime-change efforts may only go so far as supporting dissidents and groups affiliated with Anwar Ibrahim. No matter the result of the upcoming elections, Najib appears to have played ball enough for Washington to remain more or less neutral. According to Bersih coalition leader Ambiga Sreenevasan, Malaysia’s electoral process is so restrictive that a mass movement like Bersih is required to purge the system of its backwardness. These are curious statements, considering that the opposition gained control of four out of 13 states in 2008, including Selangor, a key economic state with the highest GDP and most developed infrastructure. In response, Najib has adhered to Bersih’s demands and has called for electoral reform, forming a parliamentary select committee comprising members from both Pakatan Rakyat and Barisan Nasional. As elections loom, Bersih coalition leader Ambiga Sreenavasan is already dubbing them “the dirtiest elections ever seen” – unsurprising rhetoric from a woman being handed her talking points by the US embassy.

Nile Bowie is an independent political commentator and photographer based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com

http://www.globalresearch.ca/us-attempting-regime-change-in-malaysia-fact-or-fiction/5316984

In wake of Hurricane Sandy, New Yorkers hit with transit fare hike

By Alan Whyte 
29 December 2012
Only two months after New York City and the surrounding region were hit with the worst storm in decades—causing massive destruction of homes and workers’ livelihoods and disrupting mass transit service for millions—the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) voted December 19 to increase bus and train fares, as well as tolls on the bridges and tunnels that it controls.
Transit workers repairing tracks on the D Line in the Bronx [Photo: MTA New York City Transit / Leonard Wiggins]
The fare hikes, which average out to 7.5 percent, are only the latest in a series of unending increases that have driven up the cost of a monthly pass for riding New York City’s buses and subways by 32 percent since 2008. Monthly fares on the MTA’s commuter rail lines have gone up by 21 percent in the same period.
In the brief discussion on the MTA board before it unanimously voted to impose the increases, one of its members, Andrew Albert, described the combination of fare and toll hikes as “the best of the worst of the lot.” He warned that the relentless increases were becoming “an unfathomable proposition for many middle class families” and that “something has to happen before we price this gem of a system out of the reach of most New Yorkers.”
Included in the increases passed by the MTA board are a 25 cent hike to the base subway and bus fare, which will now be $2.50, an increase in the seven-day fare from $29 to $30, and a hike in the 30-day card from $104 to $112. The MTA will also charge another dollar if a customer fails to refill an old card and must purchase a new one.
The fares will also go up on the authority’s two commuter lines, the Long Island Railroad and Metro-North, by an average of 9 percent. Each individual railroad carries about 300,000 weekday passengers. The base tolls on MTA bridges and tunnels will also go up from $6.50 to $7.50, with discounts for users of E-ZPass. For the Verrazano Bridge, which links Staten Island to Brooklyn, the basic cash toll increases to a whopping $15.
This is the seventh fare hike since 2003, and will go into effect March 1 of next year. The agency hopes it will raise $450 million. Additional increases averaging out to 7.5 percent have been projected for 2015 and 2017.
As soon as the vote was over, MTA chief Joe Lhota announced that he would resign his position effective December 31 so that he can run for mayor in 2013 as a Republican candidate. Lhota, who served as deputy mayor and political enforcer under Rudolph Giuliani, the former mayor, was described in a book by Giuliani as “a rarity in New York City—an ideological Republican.”
Having been chairman for less than a year, Lhota has been built up by the media as the man responsible for getting the trains and buses running after Hurricane Sandy, a claim that ignored both the round-the-clock efforts of transit workers and the fact that the transit system was still not functioning in a significant number of areas.
The reality is that the MTA was ill prepared for the hurricane, even though its own panel of experts warned of the likelihood of such an event and made detailed proposals to protect the system. Because of their cost, these measures were not implemented.
The MTA is strapped for resources because of its ballooning debt and inadequate federal and state funding. The agency’s resources are dedicated increasingly to meeting payments on its $32 billion in long-term debt, which is expected to rise to $39 billion by 2015. Out of its current $13.1 billion annual budget, the agency uses $2.3 billion to service the debt, which by 2015 is expected to rise to $2.6 billion, and possibly to more than $3 billion by 2016.
The bond debt has been accumulated as a result of capital improvement programs designed to save the transit system from complete collapse after years of underfunding and serious neglect of infrastructure in the late 1970s and early 1980s. However, due to a lack of federal and state support, the agency has been selling bonds and paying out interest on them.
Almost a third of all fare and toll increases go to paying off this debt. The cost of the hurricane’s damage to transit infrastructure will compel the authority to increase this debt, borrowing almost $5 billion in short-term recovery notes over the next two years.
The MTA is determined to make transit workers as well as passengers pay for this ever-growing red ink. The authority had already cut back train and bus service and eliminated some 3,500 jobs throughout the system.
For transit workers, it is more than 11 months since the last arbitrators’ award expired on January 15 of this year, and the agency continues to demand a wage freeze, the introduction of part-time bus operators, the expansion of one-person train operation, (i.e., an increase in the number of lines that do not have a conductor), a doubling of workers’ contributions to health plans, as well as other takeaways.
Workers’ growing dissatisfaction with the role of the union, Transport Workers Union Local 100, found clear expression on December 15, when a mass membership meeting called by the leadership attracted barely 700 of the local’s 38,000 members. The president of the union, John Samuelsen, recently won reelection with a little more than 7,000 votes, less than one fifth of the membership. More than one third (13,000) of New York City’s transit workers are ineligible to vote or attend meetings because of their refusal to pay back dues stemming from the union’s loss of the dues check-off system for 17 months as punishment for calling a three-day strike in December 2005.
At the meeting, Samuelsen provided no perspective for a fight against the MTA. Ruling out a strike, he proposed to continue stalled negotiations with the transit agency. He defended his support for Barack Obama under conditions in which the Democratic president is negotiating with the Republicans to cut trillions of dollars from social services such as Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, as well as discretionary funding that includes money for mass transit.
The MTA is a public agency composed of board members selected by both the Democratic and Republican parties. Its determination to freeze transit workers’ wages and continuously raise fares is part of the bipartisan agreement by both major parties, locally and nationally, to make the working population pay for the deepening economic crisis.
In New York City, the fare hikes and the wage freeze are being imposed to secure the profits of the same Wall Street banks and wealthy bondholders who were bailed out with trillions in public funds following the 2008 financial meltdown and to ensure that the city’s 59 billionaires and thousands of multi-millionaires are not compelled to pay any new taxes.

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Syria faces humanitarian catastrophe

By Bill Van Auken 
29 December 2012
After two years of escalating civil war, the people of Syria confront a humanitarian catastrophe, with an estimated four million people—roughly 20 percent of the population—lacking adequate food and shelter. Hundreds of thousands have left for refugee camps in neighboring countries, and as many as three million are displaced within Syria itself.
The United Nations reported Tuesday that its relief operations have been compelled to cut food rations provided to 1.5 million Syrians because of dwindling resources and rising demand.
“The humanitarian community in Syria is struggling,” said UN relief official John Ging. “People are losing hope because they just see more violence on the horizon, they just see deterioration.”
“It’s becoming more and more difficult just to do the very basic things to help people to survive,” said Ging, who is director of operations at the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Conditions have grown increasingly desperate as the Syrian winter sets in, and many families are living in tents or unheated dwellings without adequate clothing.
“As the Syrian conflict drags on, shelters are filling up, support systems are breaking down, savings are running out and violence is engulfing an increasing number of communities,” the UN news service IRIN reported. “As a result refuge is increasingly hard to find for hundreds of thousands of people fleeing violence, some of them zigzagging across the country in search of safety—often in vain.”
The crisis of Syria’s health care system, which previously was one of the most effective in the region, is especially acute. According to the World Health Organization, the fighting has partly or completely destroyed half of the country’s 88 public hospitals and 186 of its 1,919 local health care centers.
Particularly devastating has been the attack on Syria’s pharmaceutical industry, which previously met 90 percent of the country’s need for drugs. The industry is now down to barely one third of its previous production, with factories in many cases having been targeted by the Western-backed rebels for attack and looting. “Other factories are struggling to import raw materials due to sanctions imposed on Syria by Western countries,” IRIN reports.
The British daily Guardian Thursday carried a report from a correspondent in Aleppo detailing the extent of the looting, which it said “has become a way of life” for the so-called rebels. “‘Spoils’ have now become the main drive for many units as battalion commanders seek to increase their power.”
The report quoted a pharmacist who explained why he was running out of penicillin. The “rebels” had seized a pharmaceutical company’s warehouse in Aleppo and then re-sold its contents, shipping all of the drugs out of the city.
“I went to the warehouse to tell them they had no right to the medicine and that it should be given to the people and not re-sold,” the pharmacist said. “They detained me and said they would break both my legs if I ever went back.”
Basic medicines have become unavailable, and the price for drugs that are available has risen so steeply as to place them out of the reach of most of the population. The result is that people are dying from chronic conditions that could otherwise be treated.
Elizabeth Hoff, the WHO’s representative in Syria, reported that insulin is no longer available in many areas and that insulin pens that public health centers previously provided to some 40,000 diabetic children have run out, forcing them to resort to more painful and difficult methods.
Meanwhile, as a result of the fighting, access to medical care has been sharply curtailed. “Many doctors have left the country,” a recent WHO report stated, noting that “over 50 percent of the medical doctors have left Homs.”
“In Damascus, Aleppo and Homs at least 70 percent of the health providers live in rural areas and therefore frequently cannot access their work place due to irregular public transportation, blocked and unsafe roads with an increasing number of military check points, snipers and the unpredictable occurrence of street fights,” the report added.
The UN recently announced that it is launching its biggest ever fundraising drive for relief in Syria, with a target of $1.5 billion. The problem, however, is that existing appeals have raised less than half of their targets.
The United States, Britain, France and the monarchical regimes in Saudi Arabia and Qatar are all stepping up their aid to the rebels.
British Prime Minister David Cameron has announced that he will seek approval at an upcoming European Union meeting for a lifting of the arms embargo on Syria to allow the UK to directly arm the anti-Assad militias. While Washington has publicly claimed it is not providing weapons, it has set up a CIA station on the Turkish-Syrian border to coordinate the flow of arms from the reactionary Gulf states, the bulk of which have gone to Islamist forces, including those linked to Al Qaeda.
Washington and its allies routinely invoke supposed humanitarian and democratic concerns to justify their fomenting of a sectarian-based civil war and the devastation of Syrian society for the purpose of installing a regime more aligned with US geo-strategic interests. Yet none of them have shown any inclination to devote resources to aid the millions who have been left homeless, hungry, sick and wounded as a result of this predatory military intervention.

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White House, Congress extend police-state FISA law

29 December 2012
A lopsided US Senate vote Friday morning, conducted with virtually no media attention, renewed a law first adopted in 2008 that retroactively authorized illegal spying by the National Security Agency (NSA) on the e-mail and other Internet-based communications of tens of millions of people, both in the United States and around the world.
The FISA Amendments Act of 2012 passed by a 73-23 margin, with large majorities of Democrats (31-20) and Republicans (42-3) supporting it. Four amendments that would have imposed restrictions on NSA spying or required the agency to account for its operations were defeated in roll call votes Thursday and Friday.
The Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed the bill in September, and the Obama administration and Senate Democratic leaders insisted on passing the identical legislation through the Senate, without any amendments, to ensure the bill would go to the White House for presidential signature before the end of the year.
Unlike the massively publicized deadlock over tax increases and budget cuts slated to take effect New Year’s Day (the “fiscal cliff”), the two parties had no difficulty working together to pass legislation to maintain the police-state powers of the American intelligence apparatus.
The rejection of all amendments was not merely a procedural matter. It demonstrated the bipartisan consensus that there should be no check whatsoever on the operations of the vast apparatus of spying and provocation that has been built up on the pretext of the “war on terror.”
One of the amendments would have required the NSA to obtain a warrant to monitor the Internet communications of an American citizen. Another would have shortened the reauthorization period from five years to three. A third would have made public the procedural opinions of the secret FISA court, established under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which outline the scope of the communications monitored by the NSA.
The fourth amendment would have required the NSA to reveal the extent to which it is monitoring the communications of American citizens. The amendment’s author, Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, compared the NSA to the British colonial rulers whose invasion of private homes led to the adoption of the Fourth Amendment prohibition on warrantless government searches. “It wasn’t okay for constables and customs officials to do it in colonial days, and it’s not okay for the National Security Agency to do it today,” he said.
He was answered by the Democratic chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein of California, who condemned all opposition to the reauthorization bill as aiding and abetting terrorism. She warned of “another 9/11” and said those who would vote for any restrictions on NSA spying “believe that no one is going to attack us.”
The 2008 version of the FISA Amendments Act was rushed through Congress to retroactively legalize the spying conducted by the NSA, using the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks as a pretext. While requiring the NSA to “target” foreigners, this was not a limitation in practice, since the law has been interpreted by both the NSA and the FISA court to authorize eavesdropping on any communication that may in any way be linked to a foreign target.
Thus, for example, an e-mail exchange between two political activists about a protest in support of WikiLeaks could be intercepted and stored, since WikiLeaks is a foreign-based group targeted by the US government, even though the two individuals are both Americans and have no direct connection to the organization.
As this example further demonstrates, the foreign target is not necessarily a terrorist or part of the Al Qaeda network, but can be any individual or group designated by the US government because of their political views or activities in opposition to US foreign policy.
In 2007, a liberal Senate Democrat from Illinois condemned the Bush administration’s policy of massive Internet and telecommunications surveillance and opposed any effort to authorize it through legislation. By June of 2008, however, Barack Obama had won the Democratic presidential nomination and was the presumptive heir to the role of commander-in-chief. He voted for the 2008 version of the FISA Amendments Act when it came before the Senate, and his administration has used these powers to the utmost.
The Washington Post estimated in a 2010 report that the NSA stores 1.7 billion communications—e-mail, telephone calls and other messages—every single day. An NSA whistleblower has charged that the agency’s database has accumulated more than 20 trillion interchanges between Americans.
The truth is that the greatest threat to the lives and liberties of the American people is the government of the United States and its military-intelligence apparatus, the largest machinery of state repression on the planet.
While the NSA uses technology to vacuum up the communications of virtually every American, other agencies of the federal government engage in more traditional surveillance and infiltration. As the New York Times reported this week, FBI counter-terrorism operatives had penetrated Occupy Wall Street groups even before they began to stage protests in the fall of 2011.
The military itself is increasingly involved in domestic operations directed against the American population, through new structures like the Northern Command, the first-ever headquarters for military action on the North American mainland, and the use of surveillance drones, thousands of which are being deployed within the borders of the United States.
The driving force of this repressive activity is not fear of terrorism, but fear of the intractable social contradictions within the United States and the emergence of mass popular opposition to the austerity measures being introduced to devastate social services and the living standards of working people. In the final analysis, the buildup of police-state powers testifies to a truth long upheld by socialists: the growth of social inequality within capitalism, the ever-widening gulf between the financial aristocracy at the top and the rest of the population, undermines any basis for democracy.
The defense of democratic rights requires the political mobilization of the working class to put an end to the profit system, expropriate the financial parasites and giant corporations, and put the wealth of society under public ownership and democratic control, thus extending democracy to the basic foundation of social life, the economic system.
Patrick Martin

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GOP and Feinstein join to fulfill Obama’s demand for renewed warrantless eavesdropping

The California Democrat’s disgusting rhetoric recalls the worst of Dick Cheney while advancing Obama’s agenda
By Glenn Greenwald 
December 28, 2012 ” The Guardian” — To this day, many people identify mid-2008 as the time they realized what type of politician Barack Obama actually is. Six months before, when seeking the Democratic nomination, then-Sen. Obamaunambiguously vowed that he would filibuster “any bill” that retroactively immunized the telecom industry for having participated in the illegal Bush NSA warrantless eavesdropping program.
But in July 2008, once he had secured the nomination, a bill came before the Senate that did exactly that – the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 – and Obama not only failed to filibuster as promised, but far worse, he voted against the filibuster brought by other Senators, and then voted in favor of enacting the bill itself. That blatant, unblinking violation of his own clear promise – actively supporting a bill he had sworn months earlier he would block from a vote – caused a serious rift even in the middle of an election year between Obama and his own supporters.
Critically, the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 did much more than shield lawbreaking telecoms from all forms of legal accountability. Jointly written by Dick Cheney and then-Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Jay Rockefeller, it also legalized vast new, sweeping and almost certainly unconstitutional forms of warrantless government eavesdropping.
In doing so, the new 2008 law gutted the 30-year-old FISA statute that had been enacted to prevent the decades of severe spying abuses discovered by the mid-1970s Church Committee: by simply barring the government from eavesdropping on the communications of Americans without first obtaining a warrant from a court. Worst of all, the 2008 law legalized most of what Democrats had spent years pretending was such a scandal: the NSA warrantless eavesdropping program secretly implemented by George Bush after the 9/11 attack. In other words, the warrantless eavesdropping “scandal” that led to a Pulitzer Prize for the New York Times reporters who revealed it ended not with investigations or prosecutions for those who illegally spied on Americans, but with the Congressional GOP joining with key Democrats (including Obama) to legalize most of what Bush and Cheney had done. Ever since, the Obama DOJ has invoked secrecy and standing doctrines to prevent any courts from ruling on whether the warrantless eavesdropping powers granted by the 2008 law violate the Constitution.
The 2008 FISA law provided that it would expire in four years unless renewed. Yesterday, the Senate debated its renewal. Several Senators – Democrats Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden of Oregon along with Kentucky GOP Senator Rand Paul – each attempted to attach amendments to the law simply to provide some modest amounts of transparency and oversight to ensure that the government’s warrantless eavesdropping powers were constrained and checked from abuse.
Just consider how modest these amendments were. Along with Democratic Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado, Sen. Wyden has spenttwo years warning Americans that the government’s eavesdropping powers are being interpreted (by secret court decisions and the Executive Branch) far more broadly than they would ever suspect, and that, as a result, these eavesdropping powers are being applied far more invasively and extensively than is commonly understood.
As a result, Wyden yesterday had two amendments: one that would simply require the NSA to give a general estimate of how many Americans are having their communications intercepted under this law (information the NSA has steadfastly refused to provide), and another which would state that the NSA is barred from eavesdropping on Americans on US soil without a warrant. Merkley’s amendment would compel the public release of secret judicial rulings from the FISA court which purport to interpret the scope of the eavesdropping law on the ground that “secret law is inconsistent with democratic governance”; the Obama administration has refused to release a single such opinion even though the court, “on at least one occasion”, found that the government was violating the Fourth Amendment in how it was using the law to eavesdrop on Americans.
But the Obama White House opposed all amendments, demanding a “clean” renewal of the law without any oversight or transparency reforms. Earlier this month, the GOP-led House complied by passing a reform-free version of the law’s renewal, and sent the bill Obama wanted to the Senate, where it was debated yesterday afternoon.
The Democratic Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein, took the lead in attacking Wyden, Merkley, Udall and Paul with the most foul Cheneyite accusations, and demanded renewal of the FISA law without any reforms. And then predictably, in virtually identical 37-54 votes, Feinstein and her conservative-Democratic comrades joined with virtually the entire GOP caucus (except for three Senators: Paul, Mike Lee and Dean Heller) to reject each one of the proposed amendments and thus give Obama exactly what he demanded: reform-free renewal of the law (while a few Democratic Senators have displayed genuine, sustained commitment to these issues, most Democrats who voted against FISA renewal yesterday did so symbolically and half-heartedly, knowing and not caring that they would lose as evidenced by the lack of an attempted filibuster).
In other words, Obama successfully relied on Senate Republicans (the ones his supporters depict as the Root of All Evil) along with a dozen of the most militaristic Democrats to ensure that he can continue to eavesdrop on Americans without any warrants, transparency or real oversight. That’s the standard coalition that has spent the last four years extending Bush/Cheney theories, eroding core liberties and entrenching endless militarism: Obama + the GOP caucus + Feinstein-type Democrats. As Michelle Richardson, the ACLU’s legislative counsel, put it to the Huffington Post: “I bet [Bush] is laughing his ass off.”
But what’s most remarkable here is not so much what happened but how it happened. When Obama voted in 2008 to massively increase the government’s warrantless eavesdropping powers, I so vividly recall his supporters insisting that he was only doing this because he wanted to win the election, and then would get into power and fix these abuses by reversing them. Yes, there were actually large numbers of people who believed this. And they were encouraged to believe this by Obama himself, who, in explaining his 2008 vote, said things like this:
“I know that the FISA bill that passed the House is far from perfect. I wouldn’t have drafted the legislation like this, and it does not resolve all of the concerns that we have about President Bush’s abuse of executive power. . . .
I do so [vote for the FISA bill] with the firm intention – once I’m sworn in as president – to have my Attorney General conduct a comprehensive review of all our surveillance programs, and to make further recommendations on any steps needed to preserve civil liberties and to prevent executive branch abuse in the future.”
Needless to say, none of that ever happened. Now, the warrantless eavesdropping bill that Obama insisted was plagued by numerous imperfections is one that he is demanding be renewed without a single change. Last week, Marcy Wheeler documented the huge gap between (a) what Obama vowed he would do when he voted for this law in 2008 versus (b) what he has actually done in power (they’re opposites).
Indeed, when it came time last year to vote on renewal of the Patriot Act – remember how Democrats used to pretend during the Bush years to find the Patriot Act so alarming? – the Obama administration also demanded its renewal without a single reform. When a handful of Senators led by Rand Paul nonetheless proposed modest amendments to eliminate some of the documented abuses of the Patriot Act, Democratic majority leader Harry Reid did his best Dick Cheney impression by accusing these disobedient lawmakers of risking a Terrorist attack by delaying renewal:
“When the clock strikes midnight tomorrow, we will be giving terrorists the opportunity to plot against our country undetected. The senator from Kentucky is threatening to take away the best tools we have for stopping them.
“We all remember the tragic Fort Hood shootings less than two years ago. Radicalized American terrorists bought guns and used them to kill 13 civilians [by “civilians”, Reid means: members of the US military]. It is hard to imagine why the senator would want to hold up the Patriot Act for a misguided amendment that would make American less safe.”
In other words: if you even try to debate the Patriot Act or add any amendments to it, then you are helping the Terrorists: classic Dick Cheney. (Democratic Sen. Udall defended Paul from Reid’s disgusting attack: “This is not a Patriot Act. Patriots stand up for the Constitution. Patriots stand up for freedom and liberty that’s embodied in the Constitution. And I think true patriots, when they’re public servants, public servants stand up and do what’s right, even if it’s unpopular”).
Yesterday, I watched as Dianne Feinstein went well beyond Harry Reid’s disgusting Cheneyite display. Feinstein is one of theSenate’s richest plutocrats, whose husband, Richard Blum, has coincidentally been quite enriched by military and other government contracts during her Senate career. During this time, Feinstein has acted as the most faithful servant in the Senate of the National Security State’s unchecked, authoritarian power.
Yesterday, Feinstein stood up on the Senate floor and began by heaping praise on her GOP comrade, Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, for leading his caucus to join her in renewing the FISA act without any reforms. She then unleashed a vile attack on her Democratic colleagues – Wyden, Merkley, and Udall, along with Paul – in which she repeatedly accused them of trying to make the nation vulnerable to a Terrorist attack.
Feinstein insisted that one could support their amendments only if “you believe that no one is going to attack us”. She warned that their amendments would cause “another 9/11”. She rambled about Najibullah Zazi and his attempt to detonate a bomb on the New York City subway: as though a warrant requirement, let alone disclosure requirements for the eavesdropping program, would have prevented his detection. Having learned so well from Rudy Giuliani (and Harry Reid), she basically just screamed “Terrorist!” and “9/11” over and over until her time ran out, and then proudly sat down as though she had mounted rational arguments against the transparency and oversight amendments advocated by Wyden, Merkley, Udall and Paul.
Even more notably, Feinstein repeatedly argued that requiring even basic disclosure about the eavesdropping program – such as telling Americans how many of them are targeted by it – would, as she put it, “destroy the program”. But if “the program” is being conducted properly and lawfully, why would that kind of transparency kill the program? As the ACLU’s Richardsonnoted: “That Sen. Feinstein says public oversight will lead to the end of the program says a lot about the info that’s being hidden.” In response to her warnings that basic oversight and transparency would destroy the program, Mother Jones’ Adam Serwer similarly asked: “Why, if it’s all on the up and up?”
All of this was accomplished with the core Bush/Cheney tactic used over and over: they purposely waited until days before the law is set to expire to vote on its renewal, then told anyone who wants reforms that there is no time to consider them, and that anyone who attempted debate would cause the law to expire and risk a Terrorist attack. Over and over yesterday, Feinstein stressed that only “four days remained” before the law expires and that any attempts even to debate the law, let alone amend it, would leave the nation vulnerable.
It’s hard to put into words just how extreme was Feinstein’s day-long fear-mongering tirade. “I’ve never seen a Congressional member argue so strongly against Executive Branch oversight as Sen. Feinstein did today re the FISA law,” said Micah Zenkoof the Council on Foreign Relations. Referring to Feinstein’s alternating denials and justifications for warrantless eavesdropping on Americans, the ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer observed: “This FISA debate reminds of the torture debate circa 2004: We don’t torture! And anyway, we have to torture, we don’t have any choice.”
Jaffer added that Feinstein’s strident denials that secret warrantless eavesdropping poses any dangers “almost makes you nostalgic for Ashcroft’s ‘phantoms of lost liberty’ speech” – referring to the infamous 2001 decree from Bush’s Attorney General:
“To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists for they erode our unity and diminish our resolve. They give ammunition to America’s enemies and pause to America’s friends.”
That is exactly the foul message which Dianne Feinstein, doing the bidding of the Obama White House, spewed at her liberal Senate colleagues (and a tiny handful of Republicans) for the crime of wanting to bring some marginal transparency and oversight to the warrantless eavesdropping powers with which Obama vested himself when voting in 2008 for that FISA law. As it turns out, Yale Law Professor Jack Balkin had it exactly right in mid-2008 when explaining – in the face of lots of progressive confusion and even anger – why Obama decided to support a FISA bill that vested the executive with massive unchecked eavesdroppoing power: namely, Obama “plans to be the executive”, so “from Obama’s perspective, what’s not to like?”
Just four or five years ago, objections to warrantless eavesdropping were a prime grievance of Democrats against Bush. The controversies that arose from it were protracted, intense, and often ugly. Progressives loved to depict themselves as stalwartly opposing right-wing radicalism in defense of Our Values and the Constitution.
Fast forward to 2012 and all of that, literally, has changed. Now it’s a Democratic President demanding reform-free renewal of his warrantless eavesdropping powers. He joins with the Republican Party to codify them. A beloved Democratic Senator from a solidly blue state leads the fear-mongering campaign and Terrorist-enabling slurs against anyone who opposes it. And it now all happens with virtually no media attention or controversy because the two parties collaborate so harmoniously to make it happen. And thus does a core guarantee of the founding – the search warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment – blissfully disappear into nothingness.
Here we find yet again a defining attribute of the Obama legacy: the transformation of what was until recently a symbol of right-wing radicalism – warrantless eavesdropping – into meekly accepted bipartisan consensus. But it’s not just the policies that are so transformed but the mentality and rhetoric that accompanies them: anyone who stands in the way of the US Government’s demands for unaccountable, secret power is helping the Terrorists. “The administration has decided the program should be classified”, decreed Feinstein, and that is that.
In 2005, the Bush White House invoked the “very bad guy” defense to assure us that we need not worry about the administration’s secret warrantless eavesdropping program; as a Bush White House spokesman put it:
“This is a limited program. This is not about monitoring phone calls designed to arrange Little League practice or what to bring to a potluck dinner. These are designed to monitor calls from very bad people to very bad peoplewho have a history of blowing up commuter trains, weddings and churches.”
In 1968, Nixon Attorney General John Mitchell similarly told the public in the face of rising concerns over government eavesdropping powers that “any citizen of this United States who is not involved in some illegal activity has nothing to fear whatsoever.” That is the noble tradition which the Obama White House, Dianne Feinstein and their GOP partners are continuing now.

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Dismal holiday sales belie talk of US “recovery”

By Barry Grey 

29 December 2012

US retail sales over the holiday shopping period grew at the slowest pace since the depths of the 2008 recession, according to a report released Tuesday by MasterCard Inc.’s SpendingPulse unit.

SpendingPulse tracks all retail sales in the form of credit card payments, cash and checks, excluding only restaurants and sales of autos, groceries and gasoline. It reported that over the eight-week period from October 28 through December 24, retail sales rose only 0.7 percent from the year before.

Amid a frenzied campaign in the media to spur consumer spending and various ploys by retailers, including beginning “Black Friday” super sales on Thanksgiving Day instead of the early morning hours of the following day, most retail analysts had predicted holiday sales would rise 3 to 4 percent. The general presentation was that a steadily improving economy would encourage consumers to spend more freely this season than in the past. But according to the MasterCard unit, sales grew by less than half the 2 percent rise in 2011.

Another firm that tracks retail sales, Customer Growth Partners, said 2012 looked to be the worst holiday shopping season since 2009. The firm’s president, Craig Johnson, said sales rose roughly 2.8 percent as compared to a 5.8 percent spurt in 2011. Customer Growth Partners bases its estimates on government data, information from retailers, and other sources.

The sales slump occurred despite the benefit of an extra weekend this year between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The estimates confirm earlier reports of low holiday sales. At the beginning of December, the major retail chains Macy’s, Nordstrom, Target and Kohl’s all reported significant sales declines for November.

The International Council of Shopping Centers and Goldman Sachs Weekly Chain Store Sales Index showed declines for the first two weeks of December.

The poor holiday results will have serious economic repercussions. Many retailers count on holiday sales for between 25 and 40 percent of their yearly revenue. Low holiday sales will mean smaller orders for new goods in the coming months, impacting manufacturing.

Analysts sought to attribute the disappointing sales largely to the impact of super storm Sandy, which hit in late October, on the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions of the country, as well as concern over the potential fallout from the so-called “fiscal cliff.” However, the tepid pace of sales was not limited to one region and extended over most of the holiday period.

Sales declined by 3.9 percent in the mid-Atlantic region and 1.4 percent in the Northeast compared with last year. They rose a mere 0.9 percent in the north central part of the country. The West and South saw increases of between 2 percent and 3 percent, still weaker than analysts’ projections.

Online sales were also slow. They grew by only 8.4 percent, according to SpendingPulse, compared to the 15 to 17 percent rate of growth over the prior 18-month period.

Another indication of the weakness of the US economy was provided by the Conference Board, which released its December report on consumer confidence on Thursday. Its index fell 6 percentage points from a month earlier, hitting 65.1, the lowest level since August. That report followed by just days another gauge, the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan consumer sentiment index, which also fell sharply.

The poor holiday sales are, in fact, an expression of the absence of a genuine economic recovery and the existence of an acute and deepening social crisis for which the political system and both corporate-controlled parties have no answers. Christmas sales are down fundamentally because tens of millions of Americans are struggling with record rates of long-term unemployment, falling wages, and rising poverty, hunger and homelessness. At the same time, the policies of the Obama administration and Congress are enabling corporations and banks to record profits and major holders of stocks and bonds to increase their personal fortunes.

The Federal Reserve Board earlier this month expanded its program of, in effect, printing tens of billions of dollars each month by purchasing mortgage-backed securities and Treasury notes. The Fed also said it would keep its benchmark federal funds interest rate at near-zero for at least another two years, pledging not to raise rates until the official unemployment rate fell below 6.5 percent.

This policy of pumping hundreds of billions of dollars into the financial system is not, however, driven by a determination to end high unemployment. The Fed, with the full support of the Obama administration, is deliberately working to benefit the banks and the financial elite by providing virtually free credit, without any restrictions on how the cash windfall is used.

Far from the banks passing on the cheap funds to small businesses and consumers, or making productive investments that lead to significant job creation, they are either hoarding the money or using it to seek super-profits from the same types of speculative bets that led to the financial crash of 2008.

To the extent that there is any economic growth, it is bound up with a modest and fragile recovery in the housing market. That, in turn, is almost entirely the result of the Fed’s campaign to buy up toxic mortgage bonds on the banks’ balance sheets and drive down mortgage loan interest rates. This week, the government reported rises in the sale of both existing and newly built homes.

However, the rate of new housing construction remains much lower than the rates that prevailed before 2007 and far below what would be expected in an economic recovery. A major reason is the role of the big banks.

As the Wall Street Journal reported in a front-page article on Wednesday, the banks are deliberately blocking home mortgage rates from falling to the 2.8 percent rate that corresponds to the prevailing yields on mortgage-backed securities. By keeping the rates they charge on home loans higher than they should be, the banks are increasing the spread between what they pay for borrowing and what they get for lending.

As a result, commercial banks reported a record $9.4 billion in income from mortgage banking in the third quarter of this year—an astronomical increase over previous years.

Thus, with the complicity of the Fed and the Obama administration, the banks are deliberately undermining the growth of housing construction and sales, and the overall growth of the real economy and employment, in order to boost their bottom lines.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2012/12/29/econ-d29.html

IMF demands deeper austerity in Pakistan

By Sampath Perera 

29 December 2012

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) last month warned Pakistan of a looming foreign exchange crisis. The strongly worded statement foresaw a depletion of foreign reserves as in 2008, when the country’s government was forced to seek an emergency bailout.

The IMF executive board report made clear that further funding will require unprecedented budget cuts and pro-market “reforms” that will lead to further attacks on jobs, working conditions and living standards.

The report observed that “while some progress has been made, Pakistan continues to face difficult macro-economic challenges as growth remains insufficient, underlying inflation is high, and the external position is weakening.” It underscored the negative impact of “an uncertain global environment and a difficult domestic situation, as well as adverse effects of natural disasters.”

Gross domestic product, adjusted for price changes, has averaged 3 percent growth annually over the past four years and is projected to expand by 3.25 percent for this financial year. This is insufficient to absorb the growing labour force, for the fifth consecutive year, according to the IMF. The report also forecast double-digit inflation by next June.

Foreign exchange reserves had fallen “below adequate levels” to $10 billion by October, reflecting “weak financial inflows and debt repayments”. Pakistani exports have reduced drastically as a result of the downturn in its chief export markets, the US and Europe.

State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) figures released in December also revealed a bleak picture. The SBP said the government held $US63.82 billion (6,233 billion rupees) in external debt, including $7 billion still owing to the IMF from the 2008 bailout. Foreign direct investment (FDI) was in a sharp decline, from a peak of $5.3 billion in the 2007-08 financial year to just $813 million in 2011-12.

The IMF’s reference to “some progress” was to the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP)-led government’s economic restructuring and budget cuts, implemented as part of its bailout agreement with the IMF. These measures have featured cutbacks in social spending, “flexible” exchange rates and a commitment to privatisation.

These measures have made a shattering blow to the living standards of most people. The many millions affected by the massive floods of 2010 and 2011 have been left without assistance as a result. According to the Sustainable Development Policy Institute, an Islamabad based think-tank, 33 percent of Pakistanis, and 46 percent in rural areas, live in poverty.

The IMF’s prescription is more austerity. “[R]educing the large fiscal deficit is essential,” the report said. It proposed lowering subsidies and price differences, which would drastically raise energy prices. Other measures included privatising “loss making” public sector enterprises, “improving the investment climate, and further trade liberalisation”.

The IMF falsely claimed that these “strong policy measures” would address “vulnerabilities, boosting sustainable growth and reducing poverty”. In reality, Pakistan’s crisis has resulted from the world capitalist breakdown and the country’s chronic backwardness. The implementation of similar policies in Greece, prescribed by the IMF and associated bodies, has already set a devastating example.

The IMF rejected the Pakistani government’s proposed “tax amnesty program,” supposedly designed to bring influential tax evaders into the tax net. With a general election due in May, the amnesty is a concession to sections of the ruling elite that have illegally earned “black money”. The IMF has also insisted on widening the base of the Value Added Tax to increase government revenue, which would result in sharp price rises for essentials.

The IMF refused to release the final instalments, amounting to $1.3 billion, of the last $11.3 billion bailout loan, citing the government’s failure to implement all its recommendations.

The government of President Asif Ali Zardari said it would not ask for a new IMF bailout for the time being. It is desperate to delay any further austerity program that would fuel mass opposition and dash any prospect of re-election in May.

The government appealed to the IMF to defer at least some of the repayment of $1.7 billion due within the next six months. The Dawn reported on December 14 that an IMF team was likely to visit the country soon. Islamabad is hoping that US influence would have a favourable impact on its negotiations with the IMF in the short term.

The Obama administration has agreed to pay $600 million from the Coalition Support Fund to Islamabad for the services it provided in waging war against Taliban-allied militants on Pakistan soil. This is a further sign of Islamabad’s efforts in recent months to mend tense relations with Washington and to further accommodate US imperialism.

Conscious of mounting public opposition to the austerity measures and privatisation, the IMF stressed that “securing broad political support for tax and other reforms is critical”. This was a warning to the ruling PPP, as well as the main opposition parties, the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), to keep the IMF’s dictates out of the election debate.

The PML-N, which has implemented IMF policies in the past, has no opposition to the austerity agenda. The same applies to the PTI, which has repeatedly stressed that the party is committed to improving the “investment climate” as a means of addressing the fiscal crisis. If these parties pose as opponents of the IMF measures, it is only to divert the anger of workers and the poor.

Whichever government takes office after the next election, it will step up the onslaught on the conditions of the masses.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2012/12/29/paki-d29.html

Democrats, Republicans work toward “fiscal cliff” deal

Democrats, Republicans work toward “fiscal cliff” deal

By Joseph Kishore
29 December 2012

The Obama administration and top Republicans and Democrats in Congress continued to discuss options Friday for legislation to avert the so-called “fiscal cliff.” A meeting between the president and the Democratic and Republican leaders in the House and Senate did not lead to a definite agreement, but negotiations continued on a possible deal.

In a statement following the meeting, Obama said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Democrat of Nevada) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Republican of Kentucky) were working on a proposal. Calling the meeting “constructive,” Obama insisted, “We’ve got to get this done.” Reid called the meeting “very positive.”

White House officials, including Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, also held a private conference call with corporate CEOs Friday evening to discuss the current state of negotiations.

Obama said that if the Senate leaders were not able to reach an agreement, he would call for an up-or-down vote on his own proposal, which would extend tax cuts for households earning less than $250,000 and keep in place federal extended unemployment benefits. It is doubtful that this proposal, if it got through the Democratic-controlled Senate, would be passed by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

The “fiscal cliff” is an arbitrary deadline that includes the expiration of Bush-era income tax cuts, federal extended unemployment benefits, and payroll tax cuts that affect the majority of workers. It also includes automatic spending cuts to domestic spending and the military.

The Obama administration and the Republicans have sought to create a crisis atmosphere around the “cliff” to facilitate passage of highly unpopular measures. These efforts will continue in the new year if no comprehensive agreement is reached by December 31.

The most significant immediate consequence of the fiscal cliff is the end of federally funded extended unemployment benefits for more than 2 million long-term jobless workers. This socially devastating prospect is treated by the two big business parties as a bargaining chip. Continuing these benefits was not part of a Republican proposal in the House earlier this month, and it may not be included in any final agreement.

An end to this program would halt cash benefits for a million people over the next several months in addition to the 2 million-plus who would be impacted immediately. “Other consequences of going over the fiscal cliff won’t be felt for some time,” noted Christine Owens, director of the National Employment Law Project, “but losing Emergency Unemployment Compensation will deliver an immediate and severe blow to people who are already down.”

According to the New York Times, citing congressional officials, one compromise plan under discussion would extend all expiring Bush income tax cuts for families with less than $400,000 in income (as compared to the official proposal from Obama to extend tax cuts for incomes up to $250,000).

In addition, the Times writes, “Some spending cuts would pay for a provision putting off a sudden cut in payments to medical providers treating Medicare patients. The deal would also prevent an expansion of the alternative minimum tax to keep it from hitting more of the middle class. It would extend a raft of expired business tax cuts, like the research and development credit, and would renew tax cuts for the working poor and the middle class included in the 2009 stimulus law [the payroll tax cuts]. The estate tax would stay at current levels.”

There is no mention of unemployment benefits, and all spending cuts would remain in place.

Highlighting the class character of the discussions is the fact that the estate tax is emerging as a central issue. The estate tax, currently at 35 percent, affects a tiny fraction of the population—those leaving behind estates with a value of more than $5.12 million dollars.

The tax would rise to 55 percent on estates over $1 million if nothing is done by the end of the year. Obama has proposed returning the tax rate to what it was in 2009–45 percent, with an exemption of up to $3.5 million.

According to a report in the Hill, “Addressing the estate tax rate could be the key to getting Republican and centrist Democratic support for higher income taxes”—that is, for the expiration of tax cuts on the super-rich. There is also talk of keeping dividend tax rates at their current levels—again affecting only a small layer of wealthy investors.

As for spending, if the across-the-board cuts are allowed to go forward into next year, these will likely be replaced early in the year by proposals from both parties targeting Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

Any increase in income taxes on the wealthy will be used as a fig leaf by the Obama administration for further devastating cuts in these programs, aimed ultimately at dismantling the principal health care and retirement programs upon which tens of millions of people depend.

Earlier this month, the Obama administration presented a proposal that included $700 billion in cuts from health care and other social programs over the next decade. This is on top of over $1 trillion in cuts passed last year. Obama has boasted that the cuts already approved reduce non-military discretionary domestic spending as a percentage of GDP to the lowest level since 1962.

Speaking on the “Today Show” Friday morning, Charles Schumer, the third-ranking Senate Democrat, said he was “hopeful for a deal that avoids the worst parts of the fiscal cliff, namely taxes going up on middle-class people.” He said nothing about the expiration of unemployment benefits.

Schumer added, “We know we have to cut some of the mandatory programs and do other cuts, but it has to be accompanied with revenues… the problem has not been Democrats being willing to do cuts—we did a trillion of them last year. We’re willing to do more this year.”

Whatever tax agreement is worked out by the end of the year, moreover, will likely be replaced next year by a “comprehensive tax reform” supported by both parties. This refers to the reduction of corporate and income taxes, combined with the elimination of deductions that benefit many working people.

Behind the smoke and mirrors of the “conflict” between the Democrats and Republicans over the fiscal cliff is a common agreement that the working class must pay for the capitalist crisis through a drastic reduction in social programs and living standards.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2012/12/29/fisc-d29.html

Beware the Anti-Anti-War Left

WHY HUMANITARIAN INTERVENTIONISM IS A DEAD END

by Jean Bricmont

Unable to find a new ideological identity after the demise of its big Soviet brother, the European left has engulfed itself in societal issues at home and humanitarian interventionism abroad. In an inconsistent stance, it calls for the protection of peoples by U.S. imperialism. But how can it wish to protect anyone when it has given up its own freedom?

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Ever since the 1990s, and especially since the Kosovo war in 1999, anyone who opposes armed interventions by Western powers and NATO has to confront what may be called an anti-anti-war left (including its far left segment). In Europe, and notably in France, this anti-anti-war left is made up of the mainstream of social democracy, the Green parties and most of the radical left. The anti-anti-war left does not come out openly in favor of Western military interventions and even criticizes them at times (but usually only for their tactics or alleged motivations – the West is supporting a just cause, but clumsily and for oil or for geo-strategic reasons). But most of its energy is spent issuing “warnings” against the supposed dangerous drift of that part of the left that remains firmly opposed to such interventions. It calls upon us to show solidarity with the “victims” against “dictators who kill their own people”, and not to give in to knee-jerk anti-imperialism, anti-Americanism, or anti-Zionism, and above all not to end up on the same side as the far right. After the Kosovo Albanians in 1999, we have been told that “we” must protect Afghan women, Iraqi Kurds and more recently the people of Libya and of Syria.

It cannot be denied that the anti-anti-war left has been extremely effective. The Iraq war, which was sold to the public as a fight against an imaginary threat, did indeed arouse a fleeting opposition, but there has been very little opposition on the left to interventions presented as “humanitarian”, such as the bombing of Yugoslavia to detach the province of Kosovo, the bombing of Libya to get rid of Gaddafi, or the current intervention in Syria. Any objections to the revival of imperialism or in favor of peaceful means of dealing with such conflicts have simply been brushed aside by invocations of “R2P”, the right or responsibility to protect, or the duty to come to the aid of a people in danger.

The fundamental ambiguity of the anti-anti-war left lies in the question as to who are the “we” who are supposed to intervene and protect. One might ask the Western left, social movements or human rights organizations the same question Stalin addressed to the Vatican, “How many divisions do you have?” As a matter of fact, all the conflicts in which “we” are supposed to intervene are armed conflicts. Intervening means intervening militarily and for that, one needs the appropriate military means. It is perfectly obvious that the Western left does not possess those means. It could call on European armies to intervene, instead of the United States, but they have never done so without massive support from the United States. So in reality the actual message of the anti-anti-war left is: “Please, oh Americans, make war not love!” Better still, inasmuch as since their debacle in Afghanistan and in Iraq, the Americans are leery of sending in ground troops, the message amounts to nothing other than asking the U.S. Air Force to go bomb countries where human rights violations are reported to be taking place.

Of course, anyone is free to claim that human rights should henceforth be entrusted to the good will of the U.S. government, its bombers, its missile launchers and its drones. But it is important to realize that that is the concrete meaning of all those appeals for “solidarity” and “support” to rebel or secessionist movements involved in armed struggles. Those movements have no need of slogans shouted during “demonstrations of solidarity” in Brussels or in Paris, and that is not what they are asking for. They want to get heavy weapons and see their enemies bombed.

The anti-anti-war left, if it were honest, should be frank about this choice, and openly call on the United States to go bomb wherever human rights are violated; but then it should accept the consequences. In fact, the political and military class that is supposed to save the populations “massacred by their dictators” is the same one that waged the Vietnam war, that imposed sanctions and wars on Iraq, that imposes arbitrary sanctions on Cuba, Iran and any other country that meets with their disfavor, that provides massive unquestioning support to Israel, which uses every means including coups d’état to oppose social reformers in Latin America, from Arbenz to Chavez by way of Allende, Goulart and others, and which shamelessly exploits workers and resources the world over. One must be quite starry-eyed to see in that political and military class the instrument of salvation of “victims”, but that is in practice exactly what the anti-anti-war left is advocating, because, given the relationship of forces in the world, there is no other military force able to impose its will.

Of course, the U.S. government is scarcely aware of the existence of the anti-anti-war left. The United States decides whether or not to wage war according to the chances of succeeding and to their own assessment of their strategic, political and economic interests. And once a war is begun, they want to win at all costs. It makes no sense to ask them to carry out only good interventions, against genuine villains, using gentle methods that spare civilians and innocent bystanders.

For example, those who call for “saving Afghan women” are in fact calling on the United States to intervene and, among other things, bomb Afghan civilians and shoot drones at Pakistan. It makes no sense to ask them to protect but not to bomb, because armies function by shooting and bombing. [1]

A favorite theme of the anti-anti-war left is to accuse those who reject military intervention of “supporting the dictator”, meaning the leader of the currently targeted country. The problem is that every war is justified by a massive propaganda effort which is based on demonizing the enemy, especially the enemy leader. Effectively opposing that propaganda requires contextualizing the crimes attributed to the enemy and comparing them to those of the side we are supposed to support. That task is necessary but risky; the slightest mistake will be endlessly used against us, whereas all the lies of the pro-war propaganda are soon forgotten.

Already, during the First World War, Bertrand Russell and British pacifists were accused of “supporting the enemy”. But if they denounced Allied propaganda, it was not out of love for the German Kaiser, but in the cause of peace. The anti-anti-war left loves to denounce the “double standards” of coherent pacifists who criticize the crimes of their own side more sharply than those attributed to the enemy of the moment (Milosevic, Gaddafi, Assad, and so on), but this is only the necessary result of a deliberate and legitimate choice: to counter the war propaganda of our own media and political leaders (in the West), propaganda which is based on constant demonization of the enemy under attack accompanied by idealization of the attacker.

The anti-anti-war left has no influence on American policy, but that doesn’t mean that it has no effect. Its insidious rhetoric has served to neutralize any peace or anti-war movement. It has also made it impossible for any European country to take such an independent position as France took under De Gaulle, or even Chirac, or as Sweden did with Olof Palme. Today such a position would be instantly attacked by the anti-anti-war left, which is echoed by European media, as “support to dictators”, another “Munich”, or “the crime of indifference”.

What the anti-anti-war left has managed to accomplish is to destroy the sovereignty of Europeans in regard to the United States and to eliminate any independent left position concerning war and imperialism. It has also led most of the European left to adopt positions in total contradiction with those of the Latin American left and to consider as adversaries countries such as China and Russia which seek to defend international law, as indeed they should.

When the media announce that a massacre is imminent, we hear at times that action is “urgent” to save the alleged future victims, and time cannot be lost making sure of the facts. This may be true when a building is on fire in one’s own neighborhood, but such urgency regarding other countries ignores the manipulation of information and just plain error and confusion that dominate foreign news coverage. Whatever the political crisis abroad, the instant “we must do something” reflex brushes aside serious reflection on the left as to what might be done instead of military intervention. What sort of independent investigation could be carried out to understand the causes of conflict and potential solutions? What can be the role of diplomacy? The prevailing images of immaculate rebels, dear to the left from its romanticizing of past conflicts, especially the Spanish Civil War, blocks reflection. It blocks realistic assessment of the relationship of forces as well as the causes of armed rebellion in the world today, very different from the 1930s, favorite source of the cherished legends of the Western left.

What is also remarkable is that most of the anti-anti-war left shares a general condemnation of the revolutions of the past, because they led to Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot etc. But now that the revolutionaries are (Western backed) Islamists, we are supposed to believe that everything will turn out fine. What about “drawing the lesson from the past” that violent revolutions are not necessarily the best or the only way to achieve social change?

An alternative policy would take a 180° turn away from the one currently advocated by the anti-anti-war left. Instead of calling for more and more interventions, we should demand of our governments the strict respect for international law, non-interference in the internal affairs of other States and cooperation instead of confrontation. Non-interference means not only military non-intervention. It applies also to diplomatic and economic actions: no unilateral sanctions, no threats during negotiations, and equal treatment of all States. Instead of constantly “denouncing” the leaders of countries such as Russia, China, Iran, Cuba for violating human rights, something the anti-anti-war left loves to do, we should listen to what they have to say, dialogue with them, and help our fellow citizens understand the different ways of thinking in the world, including the criticisms that other countries can make of our way of doing things. Cultivating such mutual understanding could in the long run be the best way to improve “human rights” everywhere.

This would not bring instant solutions to human rights abuses or political conflicts in countries such as Libya or Syria. But what does? The policy of interference increases tensions and militarization in the world. The countries that feel targeted by that policy, and they are numerous, defend themselves however they can. The demonization campaigns prevent peaceful relations between peoples, cultural exchanges between citizens and, indirectly, the flourishing of the very liberal ideas that the advocates of interference claim to be promoting. Once the anti-anti-war left abandoned any alternative program, it in fact gave up the possibility of having the slightest influence over world affairs. It does not in reality “help the victims” as it claims. Except for destroying all resistance here to imperialism and war, it does nothing. The only ones who are really doing anything are in fact the succeeding U.S. administrations. Counting on them to care for the well-being of the world’s peoples is an attitude of total hopelessness. This hopelessness is an aspect of the way most of the Left reacted to the “fall of communism”, by embracing the policies that were the exact opposite of those of the communists, particularly in international affairs, where opposition to imperialism and the defense of national sovereignty have increasingly been demonized as “leftovers from Stalinism”.

Interventionism and European construction are both right-wing policies. One of them is linked to the American drive for world hegemony. The other is the framework supporting neoliberal economic policies and destruction of social protection. Paradoxically, both have been largely justified by “left-wing” ideas : human rights, internationalism, anti-racism and anti-nationalism. In both cases, a left that lost its way after the fall of the Soviet bloc has grasped at salvation by clinging to a “generous, humanitarian” discourse, which totally lacks any realistic analysis of the relationship of forces in the world. With such a left, the right hardly needs any ideology of its own; it can make do with human rights.

Nevertheless, both those policies, interventionism and European construction, are today in a dead end. U.S. imperialism is faced with huge difficulties, both economic and diplomatic. Its intervention policy has managed to unite much of the world against the United States. Scarcely anyone believes any more in “another” Europe, a social Europe, and the real existing European Union (the only one possible) does not arouse much enthusiasm among working people. Of course, those failures currently benefit solely the right and the far right, only because most of the left has stopped defending peace, international law and national sovereignty, as the precondition of democracy.

source: http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/12…

[1] On the occasion of the recent NATO summit in Chicago, Amnesty International launched a campaign of posters calling on NATO to “keep up the progress” on behalf of women in Afghanistan, without explaining, or even raising the question as to how a military organization was supposed to accomplish such an objective.

http://www.voltairenet.org/article176896.html

More than 400,000 Californians could lose unemployment benefits

By Kevin Martinez and Norisa Diaz 
28 December 2012
In the discussion on the so-called “fiscal cliff,” very little attention has been devoted by the political establishment and media to the imminent expiration of extended federal unemployment benefits. If these benefits are allowed to expire, some 2 million people throughout the US, including 400,000 in California, will be immediately cut off from this limited form of cash assistance.
Amidst the worst jobs crisis in the US since the Great Depression, the Democrats and Republicans have cited the official fall in unemployment rates as a justification for cutting the duration of benefits in many states. In fact, the drop in unemployment is due largely to the departure of millions of people from the labor force because they have given up hope of finding a job. The overall employment-population ratio remains close to the lows reached in 2009, and long-term unemployment remains near record highs.
California has already sent out letters to recipients informing them that their benefits are set to run out. The letters provided no formal recourse, except information on how to apply for food stamps and other services. The expiration of federal benefits will mean that many workers will lose their homes and be forced to live with relatives, if they can. For many of the unemployed, the benefits, up to $450 a week, are the only way they can pay for vital necessities like gas, food, and medicine.
According to California’s Employment Development Department (EDD), as of October, 35 percent of California’s 2 million unemployed were out of work for 52 weeks or more. In the same month, California’s jobless rate declined to 10.1 percent, compared to 11.5 percent a year earlier. Real unemployment, including those who have stopped looking for work, is much higher. California has the third highest rate of unemployment in the US, after Nevada and Rhode Island.
The end of payments for the unemployed is a deliberate policy of the ruling class to force workers to compete for poverty-level jobs with no benefits. The claim that there is no money to finance these programs is a lie. The estimated cost to extend benefits, $30 billion, is small change compared to the hundreds of billions the US government has spent on the last decade of neocolonial wars, bank bailouts, and tax cuts for the rich.
Whether or not the benefits are allowed to expire, the ruling class, led by the Obama administration, is committed to make the working class pay for the economic crisis.
The WSWS spoke with unemployed workers at a job center in Temecula, California. Temecula is part of an area called the “inland empire” which includes Riverside and San Bernardino counties. According to the EDD, more than 44,000 Californians in this area could see their benefits expire. The jobless rate in the region is more than 11.3 percent.
Two of the workers interviewed are from Hemet, a city that has a 16 percent official unemployment rate. The number of people living below the poverty level in Hemet is 19.4 percent, compared to 14.4 percent in the state as a whole. Hemet’s median household income is $34,273, as compared to the state median of $61,632.
Mike, a construction worker for over 20 years, commented, “They’re cutting off 400,000 from unemployment. There’s going to be a lot of crime. People will use their survival skills to stay alive.”
He added, “I think it’s wrong. How are people going to live? Everyone’s depending on that money. If they cut it off it’s going to cause a lot of chaos. There’s money for other stuff, but when it comes to people living, they don’t give a s__t. This is America, they should help us out.”
The WSWS pointed out the trillions expended to finance wars and the bank bailout. Mike noted, “That should go towards unemployment, we should be helping each other. Banks don’t need bailing out. If they don’t make it let them fail. [Utility company] Edison was going bankrupt, and now they’ve tripled the rates. Stabbing the lower and middle class in the back. They are taking from those who can’t afford anything.”
When asked about how the cut-off of benefits will affect him, Mike said, “I’m not going to be able to pay my rent if I can’t find a job soon enough. It’s going to be a bad thing. Right now I’m struggling. I’ve got a car that’s falling apart. I’m trying to get another car so I have a dependable car to get to work. Every little bit I have is going to have to go to surviving, rather than finding a dependable car. It’s going to make it hard to try and find work.
“I’ve been calling unemployment for the past two weeks and haven’t been able to get a hold of anyone. After fifteen minutes of punching numbers and menus, you’re told ‘We are receiving too many calls. Go online or call back later.’”
Wendy, a waitress for three years at a restaurant in Hemet that closed down, told the WSWS about the city, “Hemet is a hard place for restaurants to stay open. There isn’t enough business.”
When asked what she felt about benefits being cut off, she replied, “They’re already so hard to get. My benefits were cut off because I missed my phone interview. My phone was lost or stolen, and when I did get a new phone, I couldn’t get through to anyone. I kept calling and it would say ‘We are receiving a high volume of calls, call back later.’”
Paula is a single mother and former administrative worker in Thousand Oaks who has been unemployed for 13 months. She said, “I moved to Thousand Oaks for this job. Because of the economy they started letting people go. I was one of the newer ones, so I was let go. I lost my apartment because I couldn’t keep up with my rent, and then I lost my car because I couldn’t keep up with the payments.
“They told me that if I started school, they would cut off my benefits. That’s the thing that I don’t understand, why we can’t go to school and collect unemployment? How am I supposed to get a better job?
“My son is 4 years old and is going to start school next year. I want him to have everything he needs. I want to be on my feet before then.”
Arnaldo has been working and living in the US for 25 years. His green card just expired, and he cannot renew it because he has no proof of employment. He can be deported at any moment. “It’s impossible to find work,” he said. “I’ve been unemployed since August of 2011 and have been looking all over for a job. I’m in Perris, but I’ll go anywhere there’s work—Riverside, Temecula, wherever.”
“The unemployment benefits aren’t enough for daily life,” he added. “You get 50 percent, 60 percent of what you were making in benefits and you find yourself borrowing money, taking loans or else just not able to pay for your car or your bills.”

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Rape of Delhi woman sparks protests in India

By Deepal Jayasekera 
28 December 2012
The gang rape of a young woman in New Delhi earlier this month has become a major political issue in India, sparking protests, police reprisals and calls for beefing up the powers of the state.
The 23-year-old physiotherapy student, still hospitalized with extensive internal injuries she received during her ordeal in a moving bus on December 16, narrated the experience to the police from her hospital bed last Friday.
She said that she and her companion, a 28-year-old software engineer, entered what they thought was a public passenger bus. When they saw the bus had deviated from its route and its doors were shut, her friend objected. He was assaulted and the girl was brutally raped. They both fell unconscious and after about 30 minutes’ ride, they were thrown off the bus.
The revelation of the crime sparked public protests in downtown Delhi as well as in several universities in Delhi and throughout India. Thousands of people attended a silent march in Kolkata, and hundreds of protesters marched in Bangalore.
Demanding swift action against the attackers, protesters have shouted slogans against the Delhi police, Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit from the ruling Congress Party, Congress President Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi, who is seen as a likely heir to the top party post. In response to the protests, police arrested all six alleged attackers over the last week. They were sent before the courts and into police custody, having reportedly pled guilty.
The protests reflect broadly-felt horror at the terrible account given by the victim. To the extent that the case is separated from an examination of the explosive social context of contemporary India and presented purely as a problem of “law and order,” however, right-wing forces exploit them to push simply for further strengthening of the police and the state’s repressive powers.
Several figures with close ties to right-wing politics and the state, including yoga promoter Baba Ramdev and former Indian Army Chief of Staff Vijay Kumar Singh, attended protests over the rape and clashed with police. Together with the opposition Hindu-supremacist Bharatiya Janatha Party (BJP), they are pushing for the death penalty in the case and calling for tougher policing.
The call for increasing the power of the state has nothing to do with defending the rights of ordinary Indians. Rather it is motivated at beefing up a repressive apparatus that will be directed against social opposition.
The reactionary character of such an appeal was made clear by the repression unleashed against the protests themselves. The state invariably responds to any sign of social discontent through police action.
Last Saturday police attacked demonstrators outside the secretariat building and president’s house with water cannons, tear gas and bamboo sticks. Protesters clashed with police near the India Gate monument on the same day.
The next day, in an attempt to prevent more people from joining the protests, police closed nearby metro stations, curtailed bus service and blocked traffic. Protesters who had camped out overnight were forcibly evacuated and a law prohibiting gatherings of more than four people was imposed. There were day-long clashes between protesters and police, leading to injuries to 35 protesters and 37 police officers. Dozens who had camped overnight were arrested.
Several of those arrested were initially charged with attempted murder, citing injuries to a policeman during the clash. After the policeman succumbed to his injuries on Tuesday, police announced that they would bring murder charges against the eight detainees.
The response of the political establishment in India—including both the Congress government and the opposition—is premised on the attempt to separate the regular violence inflicted against women from the broader social crisis in India, for which the ruling class as a whole is responsible.
In India, 70 percent of the population lives below $2 a day, in conditions of poverty that have intensified over two decades of free-market economic reforms since the collapse of the USSR. The combination of rural backwardness and super-exploitative capitalism has produced a society dominated by a small, super-rich elite that enjoys virtual impunity in social life. There is widespread anger over the corrupt ties between this layer and public authorities.
The contempt of the ruling class for ordinary toilers and working people in India was clearly expressed in recent remarks by Delhi Chief Minister Dikshit, who claimed that 600 Indian rupees ($US11) per month is sufficient to feed a family of five.
These issues are being swept aside, as reactionary forces such as the BJP now push for the death penalty for rape convicts. The BJP’s Sushma Swaraj, the leader of the opposition in the lower house of parliament, called Prime Minister Manmohan Singh demanding a special parliamentary session to consider capital punishment for heinous crimes against women and new “law and order” measures. She said Singh had agreed to consider it.
Having been silent over the issue for days, Congress leaders have come out with “assurances” of justice for the victims of the December 16 incident, trying to contain growing protests. Sunday morning Sonia Gandhi and top Congress officials met with a delegation of protesters at her residence. According to Singh, “We had told them that there is a need to maintain calm and the government is committed to take all steps.”
While attacking protesters in the streets, it is issuing appeals to wind down the protests under a cynical guise of negotiations. In a statement issued Monday, Singh appealed “to all concerned citizens to maintain peace and calm”, adding: “I assure you that we will make all possible efforts to ensure security and safety to all women in this country. I seek the cooperation of all sections of the society to help us in this endeavor and maintain peace.”
On Sunday the Congress government agreed to institute “fast track investigations” of sexual offences, increase police deployments, including plain clothes officers, and also to expand police patrols and CCTV camera networks in the city. Those measures, brought in the name of fighting crimes, will be directed to the further suppression of basic democratic rights of workers and youths.
Legal experts are also proposing special courts for rape cases. Such courts would set dangerous precedents in which defendants’ rights to a fair trial would be trampled in the name of expedited justice. Special courts under draconian “anti-terrorism” laws are notorious for suppressing defendants’ basic legal rights.
The Indian police are notorious for abusing suspects and using torture to extract false confessions in both political cases and petty crimes. Indian courts are also known for corruption and failure to convict privileged and powerful people, such as businessmen and leading politicians.

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Democrats, Republicans prepare major cuts in workers’ wages, benefits

On the eve of the “fiscal cliff”
By Patrick Martin 
28 December 2012
Four days before the New Year triggers a series of tax increases and budget cuts, both the Obama administration and congressional leaders are whipping up a crisis atmosphere to justify attacks on the social benefits and living standards of working people.
Whether or not there is a last-minute deal to postpone some elements of the so-called fiscal cliff, the outcome of the political charade in Washington is not in doubt. The political representatives of the super-rich, Democrats and Republicans alike, are orchestrating events to insure that the main burden of the crisis falls on those least able to defend themselves, including the unemployed, the sick, the elderly and the poor.
All the proposals from the Obama administration and the Republican leadership to address the “fiscal cliff,” as measures that could take effect at the New Year, are premised on an historic attack on social programs that benefit the working class.
Among the measures that could take effect at the New Year are the following:
• The expiration of extended unemployment benefits for more than two million workers who have been jobless for six months or more.
• Rescinding the Bush-era tax cuts on all those paying income tax, cutting nearly $50 a week from a family making the US median income of $52,000 a year.
• The restoration of the payroll tax to the level that prevailed in 2010, effectively a wage cut of two percent for every worker making less than $107,000 a year, or an additional $20 a week from the median family income.
• The elimination of a series of tax credits for college students and low-income families with children.
• Across-the-board spending cuts in a wide range of domestic programs, under the “sequester” provision negotiated by Obama and congressional Republicans in 2011.
• A sharp decline in Medicare reimbursements to physicians, which is likely to reduce the number of doctors willing to take Medicare patients.
The combined effect of these measures on working-class living standards is staggering, particularly for workers who are unemployed or surviving on low wages. There will be a dramatic increase in poverty, hunger and homelessness, and in the number of people foregoing medical care and other necessities because they cannot afford them.
If these measures are not rescinded soon after they take effect, the longer-term impact could be a deepening of the recession, since the tax increases and spending cuts would drain $600 billion from the US economy over the course of a year.
Both the Republicans and the Democrats are seeking to make use of the crisis to impose policies that would otherwise be politically impossible to enact. The metaphor of the “fiscal cliff” serves to disguise what is a deliberate decision by the political representatives of the financial aristocracy to devastate the social position of working people.
Obama telephoned the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate Wednesday night before boarding Air Force One to fly back to Washington overnight from Hawaii. The White House declared that Obama had cut short his Christmas vacation to make himself available for further talks on the fiscal cliff, in the latest in a series of phony gestures aimed at striking a pose of “concern” over the effects on working people.
Democratic and Republican congressional leaders traded verbal rebukes. The Democratic-controlled Senate convened Thursday, with Majority Leader Harry Reid denouncing the Republican House Speaker John Boehner for exercising a “dictatorship” by refusing to allow a vote on a Senate plan to extend the Bush tax cuts for families making under $250,000 a year. He said it was now likely that there would be no agreement to avert going over the “fiscal cliff.”
Boehner held a conference call among House Republicans the same day, but declined to call the lower house back into session until a stopgap measure was proposed by the White House and adopted by the Senate. Late Thursday, Boehner announced that the House would meet on Sunday night, barely 24 hours before the deadline of midnight the night of December 31.
Ultra-right Republicans in the House are opposed to any tax increase on the wealthy, while demanding larger cuts in social programs than offered by the White House. Last week House Republicans blocked a proposal from Boehner himself that would have allowed the Bush tax cuts to expire for families with annual incomes of $1 million or more.
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner added a new element to the December 31 deadline, formally notifying Congress Wednesday that the federal government will hit its debt ceiling of $16.4 trillion that day, forcing the Treasury to engage in a series of one-time expedients to finance the government, a process that can continue for about two months.
These measures could include a temporary halt in the payment of pensions to retired federal workers. According to Geithner’s letter, “given the significant uncertainty that now exists with regard to unresolved tax and spending policies for 2013, it is not possible to predict the effective duration of these measures.”
The Republican-controlled House of Representatives refuses to raise the debt ceiling, allowing further Treasury borrowing, without an agreement from the Obama administration to cut federal spending dollar-for-dollar by the amount of the debt ceiling increase. Obama agreed to similar demands in August 2011, embracing $1.2 trillion in cuts over ten years, mainly from non-entitlement domestic programs.
After the breakdown of talks with Boehner last week, President Obama proposed congressional adoption of an interim deal that would continue the Bush tax cuts for families under $250,000, as well as extended unemployment benefits, and defer the budget cuts under the “sequester” for several months, to give Congress further time to act.
Even if extended unemployment benefits are reauthorized, averting an immediate cutoff for two million workers, there is likely to be a further reduction in the duration of these benefits. A similar bill to continue the program through 2012 slashed the maximum duration of benefits from 93 weeks to 73 weeks, and for most states to 63 weeks or less.

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USA takes the lead in killings of children

28.12.2012

 
USA takes the lead in killings of children. 48980.jpeg
Over the past 10 years, four times more children died in the U.S. from domestic violence than soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan during the war. This is the worst death rate in the developed world. This means that the myth that adopted children would be better off in the U.S. than in Russia is doubtful. In addition, no one knows what awaits these children in the U.S.
In December, the U.S. organization Childhelp that helps children affected by violence released a new report. The authors of the report wrote about a “hidden epidemic of child abuse in the United States.” Annually 3.3 million reports of violence over about 6 million children are received. Every day in the country more than five children die for reasons related to violence. The authors of the study concluded that the U.S. set the worst record in all developed countries.
The most widespread child abuse is neglect of their lives and interests (78.3%) followed by physical violence (17.6%), sexual violence (9.2%) and psychological violence (8.1%).
Over 80% of the children who died of violence were under 4 years old. In approximately 60% of cases death certificate do not specify that the cause of death was abuse. 
14% of men in U.S. prisons have experienced childhood abuse, as well as 36% of female prisoners. Annually in the U.S. economic loss associated with violence against children amounts to over $120 billion.
Last year, BBC journalists conducted an investigation and came to the shocking conclusion that in the last 10 years, over 20,000 children have died in the U.S. in their own homes at the hands of family members.
Journalists call poverty the main reason of such cruelty towards children, which sounds bizarre when we speak of the most developed country in the world. However, the situation is different from state to state. In particular, the authors compared the indicators in Texas and Vermont.
Texas has a much lower tax rate and, consequently, lower level of government support. As a result, children from Texas are twice more likely to drop out of school than children in Vermont and four times more likely to end up in prison. Texas has at least two times more children’s’ deaths caused by domestic violence than Vermont.
Journalists explain this difference by the fact that most troubled families need help but do not receive it. The children, in turn, are not protected by the government against domestic violence.
The authors of the documentary warn that blaming parents and social workers is the easiest way that would not produce the desired effect. There is a need in a special program at the federal and state level aimed at reducing children’s mortality.
In this regard, the main argument of the defenders of the adoption of Russian orphans by Americans that in any case they will be happier in the U.S. than in Russia is very doubtful.
The fate of the children adopted to the U.S. from Russia in the last 20 years is unknown because there is no reliable information. According to the Commissioner for Children’s Rights in the Russian Federation Pavel Astakhov, officially, 60,000 adopted Russian children left for the U.S. He believes that the number is much higher, minimum 100, 000, since in reality there is no statistics. 15 years ago 14,000 Russian children left for the U.S. each year. The fate of many of them is unknown. The Office of the Commissioner was trying to figure it out, but without success. The fate of 400 Russian children taken to the U.S. in recent years is also unknown. The statements that they are all alive, well and happy are, at least, unjustified.
Pskov newspaper “Courier” once wrote about the relatives of Dima Yakovlev, the boy who died in the United States. His grandmother wanted to take care of him, but was denied this right. Earlier she was given custody over Dima’s sister. Dima’s brother (their mother was deprived of parental rights) was also prepared for adoption. His fate is unknown. Upon learning of the tragedy of Dima Yakovlev, another woman told her story to the newspaper. A few years ago, her two children were taken away from her. First, they were sent to an orphanage, but six months later they were given to adoptive parents in Italy. The mother knows nothing about their fate. Pskov social services received only one letter from Italy that, according to the agreement with this country, contained information about the life of the adopted children. This letter remained unopened because local officials do not speak Italian.
Russian officials in orphanages benefit from giving orphans to foreigners because of financial reasons. For Russian adoptive parents this procedure is free, while foreigners pay more, sometimes tens of thousands of dollars. Russian officials have no interest in the further fate of Russian orphans. The stories of adoption of Russian children have too many stakeholders on both sides. 
Svetlana Smetanina

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Social crisis intensifies in New Zealand

By John Braddock 

28 December 2012

Rising unemployment and poverty, compounded by government austerity measures, left unprecedented numbers of New Zealanders seeking assistance this Christmas.

On Christmas Day, a crowd of nearly 3,000 filled two floors of the Auckland Viaduct Events Centre for the Auckland City Mission’s free Christmas dinner. After lengthy queues at the door last year, room had been made for more than 200 extra places. Many people came by free bus from across the metropolitan area.

According to the New Zealand Herald, welfare recipients and people on low incomes flocked to the mission for food parcels and donated gifts for their children in the week before Christmas. At any one time, more than 100 people lined up, with some arriving as early as 5 a.m. The Herald reported that the queues, which snaked out the door and down the street to a nearby vacant lot, had “nothing festive about them.” The mission expected to help a record 2,000 people with food parcels over Christmas.

Mission spokesperson Diane Robertson told the Herald: “I keep saying every year it’s unprecedented … but I’m almost beyond words when I look out there. This is nothing to celebrate.” She said people were struggling with unemployment and entitlement cuts. “They’re losing options. As an agency we really try to get people off benefits and employed… But right now we’re just alleviating poverty,” Robertson said.

One woman, who did not want to be named, said she had left her South Auckland home at 4.30 a.m. to get some gifts for her children. This year had been particularly difficult, she said. Another woman said it was her first time at the mission. Rising prices at the supermarket had been “crushing,” she commented.

There are many indicators of worsening deprivation. The Work and Income Department gave out 144,000 food grants back in 1992-1993—the first full year they were recorded. In that year, a previous National Party government handed down a notorious “mother of all budgets” that slashed welfare and forced thousands into poverty. Since then, the number of food grants has soared to 554,000 a year, including 150,000 in Auckland alone.

The social crisis has intensified during the past six months, with spiralling unemployment. The Quarterly Labour Force Survey in September recorded 175,000 unemployed, up 13,000 in three months and 12.4 percent higher than last year. At 7.3 percent, official unemployment is at a 13-year high. The number of people in work dropped by 8,000 for the quarter. Since then, a wave of layoffs has destroyed thousands of jobs in mining, manufacturing, rail and education. At the same time, new welfare cuts have imposed draconian measures and penalties on the most vulnerable, including sole parents.

On December 21, the 130-year-old Hillside railway workshops in Dunedin were closed down. A parliamentary select committee rejected a public petition to save Hillside, the country’s largest remaining engineering facility. Last month, state-owned KiwiRail announced that Hillside’s foundry had been sold to Bradken Engineering and just 18 workers would keep their jobs. Ninety jobs were eliminated, on top of 158 cut from KiwiRail’s Infrastructure and Engineering division in October.

In a cynical display, the Rail and Maritime Transport Union (RMTU) organised a two-minute stop-work by KiwiRail workers across the country to mark the “passing” of the workshops. Local Labour Party MP Clare Curran gave a hamper to each redundant worker “to brighten their Christmas at this tough and uncertain time.”

Labour, which was in government between 1984 and 1989 and from 1999 to 2008, was responsible for the initial privatisation, restructuring and running down of rail. Moreover, the RMTU has played the central role in facilitating the current government’s cuts. KiwiRail is looking to shave $200 million from its books over the next three years, including $14 million per annum in wages. The cost-cutting plan was first outlined in “consultation” meetings with the union in July, when the RMTU pledged it would negotiate “all options for achieving cost savings.”

On December 13, 2,500 rail workers succumbed to pressure from the RMTU and voted to ratify a new two-year collective agreement that will lead to more job cuts. A Wellington Tranz Rail worker told the WSWS that a small pay rise, just 1.2 percent in the first year, followed by another 2 percent, was at the expense of manning levels and public safety. Previously, one guard was responsible for every two train cars, but supervisors have indicated that in future one guard will supervise a minimum of four cars.

The assault on jobs and living standards is the ruling elite’s response to the unravelling economic situation. According to Statistics NZ, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew a meagre 0.2 percent to $36.28 billion in the three months ending September 30, down from 0.3 percent in the June quarter. The economy grew at an annual rate of just 2.5 percent.

The September 2012 result was positive due only to a 4.4 percent increase in construction activity, mainly caused by rebuilding work in the earthquake-ravaged city of Christchurch. Contractions in mining, agriculture, forestry and fishing, and manufacturing pulled overall GDP down by 0.4 percent. Manufacturing, the country’s biggest industry, shrank 1.1 percent. Agriculture, forestry and fishing shrank 2.1 percent, with falling dairy production and weak forestry exports dragging down the primary sector. Mining activity shrank 7.4 percent. Household consumption was described as “flat” in the quarter.

Working people, who are already paying for the economic slump, face even more financial hardship. The government announced on December 18 that it would increase petrol taxes by three cents per litre each year for the next three years, and road user charges by the same amount, in order to help deliver a budget surplus in 2014-15. Petrol is already $NZ2.12 per litre. Finance Minister Bill English conceded that without the increased taxation, the government’s forecast surplus would have been wiped out altogether due to falling revenues. The May budget forecast a $197 million surplus by 2014-15, but it has now been revised down to $66 million.

In contrast to the austerity measures meted out to the working class, 2012 has been the most lucrative year for the New Zealand stock market since 2004, with the NZX50 index up about 24 percent this year. More than $3.25 billion worth of securities were traded in December alone—a record.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2012/12/28/nzpv-d28.html

Spanish Popular Party government launches assault on public education

By Alejandro López 

28 December 2012

Last Friday, the Spanish Popular Party (PP) government approved a new draft law designed by Education, Sports and Culture Minister José Ignacio Wert. If passed by the congress, where the conservative PP has a majority, it will slash funding for and lead to the dismantling of public education.

It will be replaced by a system reminiscent of fascist times, involving compulsory religious instruction and limits on the use of the Catalan, Basque and Galician languages in regional schools. Wert called the new reform “eminently practical, sensible, gradual and, of course, not in any way, ideological”.

The authorities have already cut billions from the country’s education and health care budgets, with the main assault occurring at the regional level, where governments who have the main responsibility for education have cut around €4 billion (US$5.3 billion) in two years. At the same time, the number of students in schools has increased by 320,000 and in universities by 200,000 over the past two years.

Wert has already introduced measures destroying the quality of public education. Class sizes have been increased by 20 percent, and teachers have been forced to increase the number of hours taught by cutting the time used to prepare classes. Some 2,000 vocational training programs planned for 2013 have been cut. Fees for university education have gone up by 50 percent, to around €1,700 to €2,000 a year, and grants on which lower-income students depend have been cut by 11 percent.

The draft legislation aims at creating a generation of youth with basic qualifications entirely geared to the needs of big business. Students at ESO level (beginning at 14 years old) will choose between paths towards Bachillerato (high/secondary school) and vocational Formación Profesional (FP-Professional Formation). FP students will only study science subjects relative to their choice of trade, and it will be extremely difficult to change path after age 15.

The draft also eliminates the Selectividad exam, a non-compulsory exam taken by students after secondary school in order to go to university. Now each university will be allowed to set its own access tests.

The draft also aims to meet the demands of business and the “requirements of the labour market” for more a productive workforce by narrowing the curriculum. Time spent on music, art, sports, technology, classical culture, and others so-called “less important subjects” will be reduced. Basic subjects including languages, maths and sciences will be required at all stages of education and more time will be spent on them.

The draft law opens the door to more charter schools (private schools subsidised by the state), already attended by 25 percent of Spanish children, and in which the Catholic Church has a strong presence. This move has been dressed up in talk about freedom of choice for families to choose which type of school their children go to.

Public schools will have more autonomy to design and implement teaching methods. Head teachers will be chosen by local and regional education authorities instead of teachers and parents on school boards. External evaluations will be established at all stages and the results published in league tables to encourage school competition and selection of pupils.

The new law will create vast disparities between public schools in wealthy or middle-class areas and those in working class areas. It will create more technical schools for working class children focused on lower-paid jobs, while children of the more affluent will go to university.

The law introduces more “flexibility,” so that teachers can be moved from one subject to another as well as being transferred from primary to secondary or FP education. Teachers will be compelled to teach subjects outside of the fields for which they are qualified.

The new law eliminates €60 million in social spending for programmes aimed at preventing students from dropping out of high school. The PROA programme, which provides after-school classes for students with learning difficulties, will be slashed.

While drafting this legislation, Wert worked closely with the Catholic Church hierarchy. When the daily El País asked how much the Church has influenced the law, he replied: “that belongs to State secrets”.

One of the most reactionary parts of the law is the imposition of “Confessional Religion” as an alternative subject to “Cultural and Social Values” in primary schooling, and “Ethical Values” in secondary.

“Ethical Values” itself replaces “Education for Citizenship and Human Rights”, passed by the previous Socialist Party government and heavily criticized by the PP and the Catholic Church, which labelled it “totalitarian”. The archbishop of Toledo, Antonio Cañizares, called its references to sex education, homosexuality and secular values “an attack on the family” and those teaching it as “collaborating with evil”.

Sex-segregated schools, mostly under the control of the Catholic Church, will continue to receive subsidies despite the Supreme Court recently ruling against them on grounds of discrimination. Most of these schools would not be able to survive without state grants.

In the new legislation, the PP government is encouraging the rewriting of the Spanish Civil War and the Franco dictatorship that followed it. As minister in charge of culture, Wert has already approved a generous €100,000 government grant for the Spanish Biographical Dictionary published by the Royal History Academy (RAH) which includes many historians of the Francoist revisionist school.

In the volumes so far available, the atrocities committed in the Civil War by Franco’s forces are systematically omitted, while those committed in the Republican zone are given full attention. Franco is described as becoming “famous for the cold courage he showed in the field” and as creating “a regime that was authoritarian, but not totalitarian.”

The “ideological” assault by the PP government extends to limiting the use of the regional languages, with Wert publicly stating that he wanted to “Spanishize Catalan schoolchildren”. While Spanish remains a “core subject”, the current co-official languages (Catalan, Basque and Galician) are relegated to a “specialised subject” at schools, alongside a foreign language, which would be taught as a “specific subject.” Co-official languages will become a third-class subject without exams in secondary education.

The PP’s whipping up of Spanish chauvinism has played in the hands of Catalan and Basque nationalist parties. They are using this latest law not to criticise cuts to education—which they themselves have carried out in their respective regions—but to call for the formation of separate states in Catalonia and the Basque country, which they would control.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2012/12/28/spai-d28.html

Currency Wars to intensify in 2013

28 December 2012

The simmering currency war among the world’s major economic powers is set to heat up significantly over the coming year following the decision by the US Federal Reserve earlier this month to step up its so-called “quantitative easing” program.

Under the new initiative the Fed will expand its holdings of financial assets from their present level of $2.9 trillion to some $4 trillion by the end of 2014 through continuing purchases of mortgage-backed securities and treasury bonds.

The effect of these measures will be to place further downward pressure on the US dollar. This inevitably leads to action by other countries to devalue their own currencies in order to try to remain competitive in international markets, threatening to spark an open currency war.

The signs of such a conflict are already apparent with incoming Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe demanding that the Bank of Japan pursue an “unlimited” easing of monetary policy in order to create inflation and lift the economy out of the semi-permanent recession that has dogged it for a considerable portion of the past 20 years.

Besides the hope that it will provide a boost to the domestic economy, a key motivation behind Abe’s demand is the desire to force down the value of the Japanese yen. The relatively high value of the yen, resulting from the fall in the value of the US dollar, has caused Japan’s largest corporations, especially in the electronics industries, to suffer significant trading losses in the past period.

In addition to the US and Japan, the British and European Central Banks are also pursuing their own versions of “quantitative easing” in the face of continuing stagnation.

The official justification offered by the Fed for the intensification of its program is the continuing weakness of the US economy and high unemployment rates. But this is largely a smokescreen for the real agenda, which is to provide continuing supplies of ultra-cheap money to the banks and finance houses to finance their operations in financial markets, enabling them to sustain profits in the face of continuing stagnation in the real economy.

However, the so-called spillover effects from these measures threaten to destabilize the world economy as a whole as other major powers seek to counter their effects.

In an address to the Economic Club of New York a few days before the announcement of the latest Fed measures, retiring Bank of England governor Mervyn King pointed to the growing global economic tensions. Since the London summit of the G 20 in April 2009 and the decision to pursue stimulus measures, things had “gone backward” and there has been no agreement on how to rebalance the world economy.

And the situation could worsen over the next year. “I do think 2013 could be a challenging year in which we will, in fact, see a number of countries trying to push down their exchange rates,” King said. “That does lead to concerns. Will other countries react in kind? What will happen? The policies pursued by countries for domestic purposes are leading to tension collectively.”

When the major powers met in the wake of the outbreak of the financial crisis in September 2008, there were promises all round that the mistakes of the 1930s would not be repeated. At that time, tariff barriers were erected as each of the major countries pursued a “beggar thy neighbour” policy against its rivals, exacerbating the contraction in world markets. The lessons of that period had now been learned, it was insisted. But the monetary policies of the world’s major central banks threaten to turn into a repeat, in another form, of the conflicts of the Great Depression.

Smaller economies, especially those reliant on export markets, are already being hard hit as the value of their currencies continues to rise. Central bank data reveal that over the past two years, Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Peru have spent $135 billion in international financial markets to try to bring down the value of their currencies.

The impact of the policies pursued by the Fed and other major central banks on such countries was the subject of politely phrased but nonetheless pointed remarks contained in a speech by Reserve Bank of Australia governor Glenn Stevens in Thailand earlier this month in which he warned that the “degree of disquiet” was growing.

While it was “open to policymakers to claim that their unconventional policies” were having an expansionary effect, he said, “the slowness of the recovery in the US, Europe and Japan, I suspect, leaves others wondering whether major countries are relying more on exporting their weaknesses than has been the case in most previous recoveries.” In the guarded language generally employed by central bankers, that is about as close as it gets to an outright challenge to the official justifications.

In October 1971, in the immediate aftermath of President Nixon’s decision to remove the gold backing from the US dollar and shatter the 1944 Bretton Woods Agreement that had laid a key foundation for post-war capitalist expansion, US Treasury Secretary John Connally is reputed to have told his European counterparts: “The dollar is our currency, but it’s your problem.”

More than 40 years on, the Fed’s policy of devaluing the dollar, which still remains the world economy’s reserve currency, threatens to have no less far-reaching consequences than the ending of the Bretton Woods system.

Today the global economy is far more integrated than it was at that time. Financial derivatives and other complex financial instruments, which did not even exist then or which were just beginning to make a limited appearance, now form key components of the global financial system.

The official justification for the policies of the Fed and other major central banks is that they are needed to counter the continuing effects of the financial crisis of 2008. In fact, they are deepening the conflicts among the majors and setting up the conditions for even bigger financial disasters.

Nick Beams

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2012/12/28/pers-d28.html

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