Press TV – January 27, 2010
A recent survey by the Independent Polling Institute Forsa indicates that four out of five Germans disagree with Berlin having a stronger military role in Afghanistan.
Forsa indicated even among supporters of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Union, 77 percent said they objected to adding soldiers to the 4,300-strong force currently in the war-ravaged country.
The survey says 32 percent of Germans are calling for an immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan. Despite these reports, Merkel pledged on Tuesday to send another 500 troops to Afghanistan.
“So that rebuilding can take place, and so that the training of security forces can occur, it is necessary that the (Afghan) population is protected from the Taliban,” the chancellor argued. “Without peace there is no reconstruction, but without reconstruction there will be no peace either,” Merkel was quoted by German broadcaster Deutsche Welle as saying.
She noted that German army personnel would also focus on accelerating the training of Afghan security forces. However, a 2009 fatal German-ordered airstrike in the province of Konduz sparked a debate over whether training was the sole purpose of the country’s presence.
Joseph Massad, The Electronic Intifada, 27 January 2010
One of the ways the prejudiced Oslo “process” has survived is through the creation of a Palestinian Authority upon which tens of thousands depend for their livelihood. (WissamNassar/MaanImages)
The 1993 Oslo agreement did not only usher in a new era of Palestinian-Israeli relations but has had a much more lasting effect in transforming the very language through which these relations have been governed internationally and the way the Palestinian leadership viewed them. Not only was the Palestinian vocabulary of liberation, end of colonialism, resistance, fighting racism, ending Israeli violence and theft of the land, independence, the right of return, justice and international law supplanted by new terms like negotiations, agreements, compromise, pragmatism, security assurances, moderation and recognition, all of which had been part of Israel’s vocabulary before Oslo and remain so, but also Oslo instituted itself as the language of peace that ipso facto delegitimizes any attempt to resist it as one that supports war, and dismisses all opponents of its surrender of Palestinian rights as opponents of peace. Making the language of surrender of rights the language of peace has also been part of Israel’s strategy before and after Oslo, and is also the language of US imperial power, in which Arabs and Muslims were instructed by US President Barack Obama in his speech in Cairo last June.
Thus the transformation that Oslo brought about was not only a transformation of language as such, but also of the Palestinian language and perspective through which the nature of Palestinian-Israeli relations were viewed by the Palestinian leadership, and that institutionalized instead the Israeli perspective and Israel’s vocabulary as neutral and objective. What Oslo aimed to do, therefore, was change the very goal of Palestinian politics from national independence from Israeli colonialism and occupation to one where Palestinians become fully dependent for their political and national survival on Israel and its sponsors in the interest of peace and security for their occupiers.
The key transformative formula of the Oslo agreement enshrined in the Declaration of Principles of 13 September 1993 is “Land for Peace.” This detrimental formula to internationally-recognized Palestinian rights remains the guiding and delimiting approach of all subsequent agreements — and disagreements — between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and successive Israeli governments. This formula alone prejudices the entire process by presupposing that Israel has “land” which it would be willing to give to the “Arabs,” and that the “Arabs” — seen as responsible for the state of war with Israel — can grant Israel the peace for which it has longed for decades. Placing the responsibility of the Arab-Israeli wars on the “Arabs” is a standard view that is never questioned in the Western media or by Western governments. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) concession, however, has finally ensured that official Palestinians and other official Arabs, too, will not question it.
Despite its surface appearance as a political compromise, this formula is in fact a reflection of the racial views characterizing (European Jewish) Israelis and Palestinian and other Arabs. Whereas the Israelis are asked and are ostensibly (presented as) willing to negotiate about property, the recognized (Western) bourgeois right par excellence, Palestinians and other Arabs are asked to give up violence — or more precisely “their” violent means — as illegitimate and attributable only to uncivilized barbarians. The fact that Palestinians have already given up their rightful claim to 77 percent of Palestine and were negotiating about their future sovereignty over a mere 23 percent of their homeland did not qualify for a formula of “land for land” on which to base the “peace process.” In fact, the objective formula for any negotiations would be a “land for peace” formula whereby it is Palestinians who are giving up their rights to their historic homeland in exchange for an end to Israeli oppression of — and colonial violence against — their people.
The PLO, Israel and the Western media hailed the Oslo agreement as “mutual recognition.” This, however, contradicts the actual words uttered by both parties, and the projected actions based on these words. Whereas the PLO (which wrote the first letter) recognized “the right of the state of Israel to exist in peace and security,” the Israeli government, “in response” to Yasser Arafat’s letter, “has decided to recognize the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people and commence negotiations with the PLO within the Middle East peace process.” But this is not mutual recognition, as the Israelis did not recognize the Palestinian people’s right to exist in a state of their own in peace and security as the PLO had done vis-a-vis Israel. Had the PLO only recognized the Rabin government as the representative of the Israeli people, without necessarily granting any “right” to the Israeli state to exist in peace and security, then the PLO’s recognition would have been on a par with Israel’s. The actual agreement, therefore, did not amount to mutual recognition; rather, it amounted to the legitimation of the Jewish state by the very people against whom its racist colonial policies have been — and continue to be — practiced, with the Israelis committing to nothing substantively new. Granting the PLO recognition as the representative of the Palestinians (something the majority of the world — except the US — had recognized since the mid-1970s) committed Israel to no concessions to the Palestinian people. It committed Israel only to a scenario whereby since the Israeli government was inclined to speak to “representatives” of the Palestinians, it would talk to the PLO, as it now recognized that party as their representative, whereas before it did not. This is precisely why successive Israeli governments and leaders have vacillated on whether they would grant the Palestinians the right to establish an independent state and always refer back to Oslo and subsequent agreements in which they made no such pledge.
Having exacted a precious recognition of their legitimacy from their victims, the Israelis moved forward through the mechanism of the Oslo peace process to divide the Palestinians into different groupings, the majority of whom would be expelled outside the peace process. By transforming the PLO, which represented all Palestinians in the Diaspora and in Israel and the occupied territories, including East Jerusalem, into the Palestinian Authority (PA) which could only hope to represent Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza, constituting one third of the Palestinian people, the Oslo agreements engineered a major demographic reduction of the Palestinian people, dividing them by a factor of three while bringing about a major demographic expansion of the Jewish population of Israel, multiplying their number by a factor of three.
The insidious part of this process is how the PA, conscious of this transformation, continues to speak of the “Palestinian people,” which had been reduced through the Oslo accords to those West Bank and Gaza Palestinians it now claims to represent. Diaspora Palestinians are simply referred to, in accordance with US and Israeli parlance, as “refugees,” and Israeli Palestinians are referred to by Israeli diktat as “Israeli Arabs.” In doing so, not only has the scope of the Palestinian leadership and its representative status of the whole Palestinian people been substantially reduced, but the Palestinian people themselves were diminished demographically by the PA’s appropriation of the designation “Palestinian people” to refer to a mere third of Palestinians.
In the meantime, the Oslo process which produced phantom agreements like the Geneva accords, among others, has pushed forward the Israeli claim that Palestinians must recognize Israel’s right to exist not only in peace and security but also as a Jewish state, meaning a state that is racist by law and discriminates by law and governance against non-Jewish citizens, and one that encompasses not only its Jewish citizens but Jews everywhere. This is something that has been pushed by the Clinton, Bush, and more recently the Obama administrations. Indeed Obama does not miss an opportunity to reiterate his administration’s commitment to force the Palestinians to recognize Israel’s right to be a “Jewish state.”
While Israel has no legitimacy and is not recognized by any international body as a “representative” of Jews worldwide, but rather as the state of the Israeli people, who are citizens of it, the PLO and the PA are called upon to recognize Israel’s jurisdiction over world Jewry. As such, the internationally recognized status of the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people has been reduced to one third of Palestinians since Oslo, while the representative status of the Israeli government has been expanded threefold as recognized by the PA’s unofficial representatives in Geneva. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is insistent that no progress will take place in the so-called peace process unless the Palestinians officially recognize Israel’s right to be a racist Jewish state. President Obama has also called on all Arabs to ratify this recognition officially. This has been done despite the fact that the majority of Jews living outside Israel are not Israeli citizens and that no bodies representing them ever endowed the Israeli state with representative powers on their behalf.
Dividing and reducing the Palestinian people demographically has gone hand in hand with the territorial reduction of Palestine, or the parts of it that Israel is willing to negotiate over after redeploying its colonial occupation army around. Aside from the removal of the illegally expanded, occupied and colonized East Jerusalem (now expanded to many times its original size at the expense of West Bank lands) from the territories over which Israel would negotiate its redeployment, the West Bank itself has been subdivided into cantons that exclude Jewish colonial settlements and Jewish-only highways connecting them, as well as imposed nature reserves, military bases and closed areas. But this is not all.
Israel also built the apartheid wall inside Palestinian land, effectively removing another 10 percent of the West Bank from the negotiating table and its army redeployment. Another of the more important measures that the Israeli and Palestinian architects of the Oslo agreement took in order to guarantee the structural survival of the Oslo “peace process” was the creation of structures, institutions and classes that would be directly connected to it, and that can survive the collapse of the Oslo agreement itself while preserving the “process” that the agreement generated. This guarantee was enshrined in law and upheld by international funding predicated on the continuation of the “Oslo process,” as long as the latter continued to serve Israeli and US interests as well as the interests of the corrupt Palestinian elite that acquiesced in it.
The five main classes that the architects of Oslo created to ensure that the “process” survives are: a political class, divided between those elected to serve the Oslo process, whether to the Legislative Council or the executive branch (essentially the position of president of the PA), and those who are appointed to serve those who are elected, whether in the ministries, or in the presidential office; a policing class, numbering in the tens of thousands, whose function is to defend the Oslo process against all Palestinians who try to undermine it. It is divided into a number of security and intelligence bodies competing with one another, all vying to prove that they are most adept at neutralizing any threat to the Oslo process. Under Arafat’s authority, members of this class inaugurated their services by shooting and killing 14 Palestinians they deemed enemies of the “process” in Gaza in 1994 — an achievement that earned them the initial respect of the Americans and the Israelis who insisted that the policing class should use more repression to be most effective. Their performance last summer in Jenin of killing Hamas members and unaffiliated bystanders to impress President Obama who asked the Palestinian leadership to keep their security part of the deal is the most recent example of this function.
Also: a bureaucratic class attached to the political class and the policing class and that constitutes an administrative body of tens of thousands who execute the orders of those elected and appointed to serve the “process;” a nongovernmental organization (NGO) class: another bureaucratic and technical class whose finances fully depend on their serving the Oslo process and ensuring its success through planning and services; and, a business class composed of expatriate Palestinian businessmen as well as local businessmen — including especially members of the political, policing and bureaucratic classes — whose income is derived from financial investment in the Oslo process and from profit-making deals that the PA can make possible. While the NGO class mostly does not receive money from the PA, being the beneficiary of foreign governmental and nongovernmental financial largesse that is structurally connected to the Oslo process, the political policing, and bureaucratic classes receive all their legitimate and illegitimate income from the PA directly.
By linking the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to the Oslo process, the architects had given them a crucial stake in its survivability, even and especially if it failed to produce any political results. For the Palestinian elite that took charge of the PA, the main task all along was to ensure that the Oslo process continues and that the elite remain in control of all the institutions that guarantee the survival of the “process.” What the elite did not anticipate was that they could lose control to Hamas, a public opponent of the Oslo process that in accordance with expectations had boycotted the 1994 gerrymandered and Fatah-controlled elections. The 2006 elections, which Fatah was confident it would win, constituted an earthquake that could destroy all these structural guarantees and with them the “process” they were designed to protect. Hence the panic of the Americans who engineered the coup with the aid of Israel and PA security under Muhammad Dahlan to topple the Hamas government, which included kidnapping its members of parliament, government ministers and politicians and holding them hostage in Israeli jails, and finally staging a violent takeover of Gaza that backfired. All attempts since the American failed coup in Gaza have focused on perpetuating the peace process through maintenance of its structures under PA control and away from the democratically-elected Hamas.
Indeed, the destruction of Palestinian democracy was a necessary price to pay, insisted Israel and the Americans, pushed forward by the military efforts of Lieutenant General Keith Dayton. This situation became possible because of the funding strategy of the US, Israel and Arab oil-producing states towards the Palestinian struggle. The story of the Palestinian national movement can only be told through the ways and means that different Arab and non-Arab governments have tried to control it. While the PLO was established and controlled principally by the regime of Gamal Abdel-Nasser, the 1967 defeat weakened that arrangement leading to the revolutionary guerrillas takeover of the organization in 1969. With Fatah and the leftist Palestinian guerrillas at the helm, the revolutionary potential of the PLO constituted such a threat that it precipitated an all-out war in Jordan in 1970, a situation that powerful and repressive Arab regimes did not want to see repeated. It is in this context that Arab oil money (from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Libya, the United Arab Emirates and Iraq) began to pour into the coffers of the PLO, primarily to ensure that it would not encourage revolutionary change in Arab countries and that insofar as it did not compromise Arab regime interests its weapons should only be directed towards Israel. The Lebanese civil war and the PLO role in it in the second half of the 1970s remained a problem but, as far as they were concerned, it was a problem that Arab regimes were able to contain.
With the onset of the 1980s and the military defeat of the PLO in 1982 in Beirut, Arab funding for the PLO was no longer conditioned on its not turning its weapons against them only, but that the organization would also no longer target Israel. The various attempts at agreements between the PLO and King Hussein in the mid-1980s were part of that plan. With continued Israeli and US refusal to deal with the PLO no matter how much its policy and ideology had changed, the situation remained frozen until the first Palestinian uprising in 1987 gave the PLO the bargaining opportunity to lay down its weapons against Israel. The formalization of this transformation took place in Algiers in 1988 and later at the Madrid peace conference in 1991.
As oil funding dried up after the Gulf War of 1990-91, the PLO needed new funders. Enter the United States and its allies whose terms did not only include the Oslo agreement but also that the newly created and Fatah-controlled PA be indeed armed but that its weapons should have a new target: the Palestinian people themselves. The PA obliged and continued to receive its funding until the second intifada when, contra their raison d’etre, some of its security forces did engage the Israelis in gunfire when the Israelis attacked Palestinians. Funding was intermittently stopped, Arafat was placed under house arrest and the Israelis reinvaded. A resumption of steady funding continued after Arafat’s death conditional upon Mahmoud Abbas’s “seriousness” in pointing Palestinian guns at the Palestinians themselves, which he and the PA’s thuggish security apparatuses have done. However, they have not been as effective as the US and Israel had wished, which is why US General Keith Dayton is assuming full control of the military situation on the ground in order to “assist” the Palestinians to deliver their peace part of the bargain to Israel.
Note that throughout the last 16 years, Israeli leaders have consistently said, in line with the formula of land for peace, that they want and seek peace with the Palestinians, but not the establishment of a Palestinian state, nor in order to ensure the Palestinians’ right to self-determination. Indeed, not only has Israel multiplied the number of settlements and more than doubled the Jewish colonial settler population of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, chipping away at more of the land that was said to be under negotiations, it has done so while consistently exacting more Palestinian concessions to ensure Israeli “security” in order for the Palestinians to give Israel the “peace” on which the formula of “land for peace” is based. The Americans and the Europeans have also insisted that the Palestinians must give Israel peace before it can decide which lands to give them back and under whichever arrangement it finds most ensuring of this “peace.” Therefore, what land for peace — despite or because of its definitional prejudice against the Palestinian people — has brought about is a perpetual deferment of the return of land with insistent demands of advance payments on the peace the Palestinians must deliver. While the redeployment around Gaza and laying siege to its population, starving and bombarding them, is marketed as Israel’s compromising by returning land, the reality remains that the Gaza Strip has been transformed from a prison policed by the Israelis into a concentration camp guarded and surrounded by them from the outside with infiltration inside as the need arises, as it did last winter.
Ultimately then, what the Oslo agreement and the process it generated have achieved is a foreclosure of any real or imagined future independence of the Palestinian leadership, or even national independence for one third of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza who are, at any rate, the only Palestinians that the Oslo agreement claims to want to help achieve it. By mortgaging the Palestinian leadership to US and Israeli sponsorship, by creating and maintaining administrative, legal and financial structures that will ensure this dependence, Oslo has been what it was designed to be from the start: the mechanism of ending the Palestinian quest to end Israeli colonialism and occupation, and the legitimation of Israel’s racist nature by the very people over whom it exercises its colonial and racist dominion. Anyone who questions these strictures can be fought with the ideological weapon of pragmatism.
Opposing Oslo makes one a utopian extremist and rejectionist, while participating in its structure makes one a pragmatist moderate person working for peace. The most effective ideological weapon that Oslo has deployed since 1993 is precisely that anyone who opposes its full surrender of Palestinian national rights is a proponent of war and an opponent of peace. In short, the goal of the Oslo process, which has been reached with much success, is not the establishment of Palestinian independence from Israel’s illegal occupation, but rather to end Palestinian independence as a future goal and as a current reality. Seen from this angle, Oslo continues to be a resounding success.
By Kawther Salam • Jan 27th, 2010
In early January 2010, On Earth Peace, an agency of the Church of the Brethren reported that the executive director Bob Gross was detained and deported by Israeli authorities when he arrived at the Tel Aviv airport as part of a Christian peacemaking delegation meant to build connections with Israelis and Palestinians who are working for a non-violent resolution to their conflict.
The deportation of Mr. Gross is not the first and it will not be the last. It also has nothing to do with terrorism or the security of Israel, but it has to do with the daily crimes of genocide committed by the Israeli occupation against the Palestinians in their own homeland, cities, towns and villages in the West Bank. It is all about the crimes which the Israeli occupation does not want the international delegations to see or to report about.
Mr. Gross stated in an interview which he gave to me by Email that he had previously visited Palestine and Israel on April 2002, November 2004, January 2006, and January 2008.
According to on Earth Peace report, the deportation of the executive director of On Earth Peace is part of a pattern of excluding from Israel any visitor who seeks peace and security for both Palestine and Israel. This has the effect of blocking peacemaking efforts by churches and other groups, and sets back the hopes of a constructive Middle East peace.
The full text of an interview with Director Bob Gross is below.
Q: Had you ever visited Palestine and Israel before?
Gross: Four times before, April 2002, November 2004, January 2006, January 2008.
Each time I was with a Christian Peacemaker Teams delegation. In 2004, 2006, and 2008, I was the delegation leader. In those trips, we were in Jerusalem, East Jerusalem, Hebron, Bethlehem, and the South Hebron Hills. We met with Israeli, Palestinian and international peacemakers, and with Palestinian families, as well as one Israeli couple.
Gross: I probably would not have been stopped at passport control, except that I was travelling with my colleague, who was to co-lead the delegation with me. Her name is not Alice Bartlett, but she has asked that her real name not be used so that any publicity about this trip will not affect her later efforts to travel in the Middle East. She is Egyptian-American, and has an Egyptian last name. For this reason alone, she and I were stopped and asked to wait for questioning rather than being allowed to enter Israel.
We were made to wait in a room in the arrival hall of the Tel Aviv airport, and we were each questioned separately for 5-10 minutes. Then we waited for an hour or so, then my colleague was questioned again for about 30 minutes.
Later they took us to find our checked bags, and searched both our checked and carry-on bags very thoroughly, and searched us with very close body searches (with clothes on).
After 9.5 hours, they called my colleague in and told her they were not going to allow her into Israel, and would ban her for 10 years. A few minutes later they called me in, and asked me for names of my Palestinian and Israeli contacts. I would not give them any names. They also said that I would need to sign a paper saying that I would not enter the “Palestinian territories” while in Israel. I did not sign this paper. So they denied entry for me also, with a 10-year ban. They took photographs and electronic fingerprints of each of us, and took us to gather our bags to wait for being moved to the jail. However, it was another two hours — 12 hours in all — before they took us to the jail.
Q: How did they treat you? How was the comportment of the israeli officers in general and towards you?
Gross: They treated us OK. They were not harsh and did not mistreat us, but they exercised complete control and authority, treating us sometimes as if we were a nuisance, sometimes as if we were dangerous, sometimes as if we were dishonest.
Q: How many hours did the Israelis “investigate” you?
Gross: 9.5 before deciding to deport us.
Q: What kind of questions did they ask you?
Gross: Always the first question was, “What is the purpose of your visit to Israel?”
We answered that question truthfully, but briefly, and they seemed to know there was more we were not saying.
I was asked where I had travelled in Israel/Palestine on my earlier visit, and what I did. As I said above, in the last interrogation they asked for my contacts names and information.
I don’t know all of the questions my colleague was asked, because we never had a chance to talk about what we each had been asked without being overheard, so we did not talk about that while we were being held.
Q: Which was the silliest question, and what did you answer?
Gross: Maybe it was when they said I should give them the names of some of my contacts in Israel and Palestine, so they could call them and ask whether I should be trusted.
Q: How did you spend your night at the Israeli airport jail?
Gross: I was in the cell from 5 pm to 5 am. There was one other prisoner there, also being deported. He was Muslim, from Morocco, and had lived and worked in the Netherlands for many years. He was denied entry simply because of who he was, it seemed.
We talked some, and I slept some in the evening, since I had spent two nights on air-planes by that time, and was tired. They brought us some kind of sandwich and tea for supper. As it happened, my cell-mate snored very loudly, and so it was hard to sleep that night. I slept only a little, and then got up and prepared to leave. Just walked back and forth, looked out the windows, sat on the bed, and waited.
Q: Would you explain me your feelings during your stay in jail?
Gross: I was concerned for my colleague, who was in a different cell, and so I could not talk with her. I was relieved to be out of the waiting and to know what their decision was, even though it was for deportation.
Q: How many people do you think were illegally jailed in Israel at the same time with you?
Gross: One additional person was brought in after midnight, so there were three of us in my cell, and there was one person in the cell with my friend. I don’t know how many others.
Q: Did you sign any papers during the investigation, or before your deportation? What did you sign exactly? What was the justification given by the Israelis for your deportation?
Gross: I don’t remember signing anything.
Q: Which was your reaction when they notified you of your deportation? What did you say or ask?
Gross: I was not surprised, and I did not ask anything. I was not willing to agree to their terms, and so I knew they would not allow me in.
Q: What is your message for Israel after this tragic deportation?
Gross: Israel will not be made secure by expelling persons who seek peace and security for both Palestine and Israel.
By Steven Bodzin
Jan. 26 (Bloomberg) — Eni SpA, Italy’s biggest oil company, and Petroleos de Venezuela SA, the South American country’s state-owned oil company, agreed to develop almost $18 billion worth of projects to pump and refine oil in Venezuela.
The companies’ joint venture will start producing crude in the Orinoco Belt in central Venezuela, Oil and Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez said today on state television, at a ceremony attended by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Eni Chief Executive Officer Paolo Scaroni.
The venture expects to pump 240,000 barrels a day after spending $8.3 billion to develop the Junin 5 block, Ramirez said. First oil will be pumped in 2013, Eni said today on its Web site. It will reach full production in 2016, Scaroni said.
“That gigantic oil reserve — it could not be exploited by Venezuela alone,” Chavez said, referring to the roughly 235 billion barrels of reserves in the Orinoco Belt. “Foreign investment is absolutely necessary.”
Rome-based Eni is seeking oil projects abroad to maintain output. Venezuela, to make up for declining production in its aging Lake Maracaibo fields, is inviting foreign companies to become minority partners in the Orinoco.
Eni also plans to build a $9.3 billion, 350,000 barrel-a- day refinery to convert crude oil from the existing Petromonagas project in the Orinoco into higher-value products, Ramirez said.
Eni will pay a $646 million signing fee, the company said on its Web site. It will pay $300 million when the development joint venture is formed and the remainder will be paid later.
Eni will hold 40 percent of the venture. PDVSA, as the state company is known, will own the rest.
Eni was granted access to the Orinoco after dropping an international arbitration case against Venezuela in 2008 over an oil field nationalization.
U.S. oil companies Exxon Mobil Corp. and ConocoPhillips continue to pursue arbitration against Venezuela for seizing operations of Orinoco Belt projects that began in the 1990s.
Venezuela expects to complete joint venture agreements with Chinese and Russian companies “soon” and to complete bidding for three projects in the Carabobo blocks, Ramirez said.
Eni also signed a memorandum of understanding to build a 1- gigawatt power plant to be powered by natural gas from the Delta Caribe Oriental offshore fields, Ramirez said, without giving a potential price tag.
To contact the reporter on this story: Steven Bodzin in Caracas at email@example.com.
John Mica slams Treasury Secretary’s “lame excuses” during fiery hearing
Paul Joseph Watson
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s denial that he played any role in the AIG cover-up is contradicted by emails which confirm that Geithner and the New York Federal Reserve were both intimately involved in keeping details about payments to banks including Goldman Sachs from the public.
Geithner told lawmakers today that he had no involvement in withholding information about the bailout of AIG, much to the chagrin of House Oversight Committee Ranking Member Darrell Issa, who wasn’t buying it for a second.
“He has asserted complete ignorance of the Fed’s efforts to cover up the bailout details,” said Issa, R-Calif. “Many Americans, including members of this Committee, have a hard time believing that Secretary Geithner entered an absolute cone of silence on the day that his nomination was announced.”
Russia Today report on Geithnergate – AIG attempted to hide bailout documents
John Mica of Florida went further, calling for Geithner to quit as a result of the scandal.
“Why shouldn’t we ask for your resignation?” Mica asked Geithner. “We’re not getting the whole story, we’re getting the blame story. You’re either incompetent on the job or you knew what was taking place and you tried to conceal it, and I think that’s grounds for your review.”
Mica characterized Geithner’s denials as “lame excuses” as the Treasury Secretary became visibly angry.
In November and December 2008, The Federal Reserve Bank of New York, headed up by Geithner, instructed the bailed out AIG to hide from the public details regarding payments the insurance giant made to banks, including Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Societe Generale SA.
Using Fed secured taxpayer bailout money, AIG paid several banks 100 percent of the face value of credit-default swaps, as other financial institutions were negotiating deep discounts for the unregulated paper assets that do not have to be backed by cash.
The decision to pay the banks in full may have cost AIG, and therefore taxpayers, at least $13 billion over the odds.
The “backdoor bailout” of the banks, as it has been dubbed was exposed in March 2009 after the SEC challenged AIG’s filing, however, e-mails obtained by Representative Darrell Issa, ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, reignited the situation after they conclusively exposed a collusion between AIG and the Fed to deceive the public.
The e-mails between company and regulator show that The New York Fed crossed out reference to the payments and that AIG also omitted the details when the Securities and Exchange Commission filing was made public on Dec. 24, 2008.
The emails, the content of which are highlighted in this Bloomberg News article, also show that the Fed wanted numerous other details about the AIG bailout withheld or delayed from public oversight.
“It appears that the New York Fed deliberately pressured AIG to restrict and delay the disclosure of important information,” said Issa, adding that taxpayers “deserve full and complete disclosure under our nation’s securities laws, not the withholding of politically inconvenient information.”
Geithner’s denial that he, even as President of the New York Fed, had no involvement with the AIG case is contradicted by fresh revelations this week in a new report issued by Issa that show Geithner was “at a minimum, engaged personally in reviewing what information about the AIG bailout would be revealed to Congress and the public.”
On November 6, 2008 Geithner received an email from Sarah Dahlgren, the FRBNY’s lead staff member in AIG’s operations, seeking Geithner’s approval for a proposed statement regarding AIG’s upcoming equity capital raise. The fact that Geithner’s approval had to be obtained merely for putting out statements concerning AIG clearly indicates that he was deeply involved in the matter.
On November 13, Geithner was sent a report on AIG’s restructuring that would be sent to Congress. Sophia Allison, a staff member of the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors, asked that Geithner point out any information that he believed should not be “publicly disclosed”.
In addition, records of who Geithner met with during his tenure as President of the FRBNY “show that he was regularly engaged with top AIG officials and the FRBNY officials directly responsible for AIG’s disclosures to the SEC. Geithner’s schedule shows that he had at least six formal meetings with top FRBNY staff members about AIG-related issues between November 4, 2008, and November 21, 2008.”
Watch the clip from today’s hearings where Mica demands Geithner’s resignation.
Dean Baker | The Guardian Unlimited | January 25, 2010
The Senate’s decision on approving Ben Bernanke for a second term as chair of the Federal Reserve Board is coming down to the wire and the Wall Street crew is once again pulling out all the stops. To get the 60 votes they need for Senate approval they are reaching into the treasure chest of tall tales they used to push through the TARP. They are once again telling the American people that the world will end if we don’t do exactly what they want.
The main story they are pushing is that if Bernanke is not approved then the markets will panic and send the economy tumbling. Both parts of this story deserve some serious skepticism. First, there undoubtedly will be some uncertainty in the financial markets if Bernanke is not reappointed. Markets like continuity. A new Fed chair means a break in continuity. Therefore, we can expect to see some decline in the stock market, probably about the same as we get when there is a worse-than-expected jobs report.
However, focusing on day-to-day movements in the stock market is no way to make economic policy. For practical purposes, the daily movements in the market have no impact on the economy. Furthermore, there is no way to move the economy away from its current Wall Street bubble-driven growth path to one built on a productive economy without at least some temporary decline in stock prices.
Such a decline is inevitable if for no other reason than the fact that Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan and the rest account for a substantial portion of the value of the stock market. If we can never do anything that even temporarily hurts stock prices then we can forget about ever reining in Wall Street.
Interestingly, the bond market, which is far more important for the economy than the stock market, has been rallying in recent days as Bernanke’s nomination faces increasing difficulty. Bernanke’s troubles may not be the cause of this rally, but they have not prevented the 10-year Treasury rate from falling considerably.
It is also worth pointing out that one supposed source of bad news – a declining dollar – would actually benefit the economy. The country has a huge trade deficit because the dollar is over-valued. If the dollar were to decline as a result of Bernanke not being reappointed, it would give a boost to our exports and cause domestically manufactured products to displace imports.
Bernanke’s troubles don’t seem to be depressing the dollar at the moment, but if the Wall Street fear mongers and their allies push this line, we should realize that they are once again spouting nonsense. A lower-valued dollar is good news for the economy.
To briefly summarize the case against Bernanke, at the top of the list is the fact that his failures at the Fed (both as chairman since 2006 and as a governor since 2002) brought the economy to the brink of a second Great Depression (Bernanke’s assessment, not mine). Anyone else who had failed so completely at his or her job would be fired in a minute.
Only in Washington and on Wall Street could such a disastrous record be rewarded with another term in office.
Second, the focus of his bailout was to return Wall Street to health while leaving the rest of the country reeling. Bernanke rightly tapped the Fed’s virtually unlimited resources to keep the financial system from collapsing; however, he gave out money to the banks at below market interest rates with no strings whatsoever.
They were able to use this money to restore themselves to health, but were not required to do anything about compensation practices, risky trading or helping homeowners facing foreclosure. Nor were their shareholders and bondholders required to incur any losses. In effect, Bernanke gave a huge gift from the taxpayers to the Wall Street boys who were responsible for the crisis in the first place.
Finally, he misled Congress to help get the TARP passed back in October of 2008. He told Congress that commercial paper was shutting down, which meant that even healthy companies would not be able to borrow the money needed to meet their payroll and to pay other bills. This would have quickly led to an economic collapse.
Bernanke did not tell Congress that he was planning to set up a special lending facility to directly buy commercial paper. He announced this facility the weekend after Congress approved TARP. It is not the Fed chairman’s job to deceive Congress. Nor is it his job to bail out Wall Street at the expense of the rest of the country. And, it is his job to prevent the growth of dangerous bubbles. That’s three really big strikes.
Bernanke should be sent out to enjoy his TIME “Person of the Year” status in retirement.
To get through this nonsense we just have the repeat the great mantra: It’s the economy stupid.
Dean Baker is the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). He is the author of False Profits: Recovering from the Bubble Economy. He also has a blog on the American Prospect, “Beat the Press,” where he discusses the media’s coverage of economic issues.
See article on original website
By Jonathan Cook | January 27, 2010
Nazareth // The Israeli government is reported to have quietly approved the fast-track immigration of 7,000 members of a supposedly “lost Jewish” tribe, known as the Bnei Menashe, currently living in a remote area of India.
Under the plan, the “lost Jews” would be brought to Israel over the next two years by right-wing and religious organisations who, critics are concerned, will seek to place them in West Bank settlements in a bid to foil Israel’s partial agreement to a temporary freeze of settlement growth.
A previous attempt to bring the Bnei Menashe to Israel was halted in 2003 by Avraham Poraz, the interior minister at the time, after it became clear that most of the 1,500 who had arrived were being sent to extremist settlements, including in the Gaza Strip and next to Hebron, the large Palestinian city in the West Bank.
Dror Etkes, who monitors settlement growth for Yesh Din, an Israeli human rights group, said there were strong grounds for suspecting that some of the new Bnei Menashe would end up in the settlements, too.
“There is a mutual interest being exploited here,” he said. “The Bnei Menashe get help to make aliyah [immigration] while the settlements get lots of new arrivals to bolster their numbers, including in settlements close to Palestinian areas where most Israelis would not want to venture.”
The government’s decision, leaked this month to Ynet, Israel’s biggest news website, was made possible by a ruling in 2005 by Shlomo Amar, one of Israel’s two chief rabbis, that the Bnei Menashe are one of 10 lost Jewish tribes, supposedly exiled from the Middle East 2,700 years ago.
He ordered a team of rabbis to go to north-east India to begin preparing Bnei Menashe who identified themselves as Jews for conversion to the strictest stream of Judaism, Orthodoxy, so they would qualify to immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return.
The Bnei Menashe belong to an ethnic group called the Shinlung, who number more than one million and live mainly in the states of Manipur and Mizoram, close to the border with Myanmar. They were converted from animism to Christianity by British missionaries a century ago, but a small number claim to have kept an ancient connection to Judaism.
DNA samples taken from the Bnei Menashe have failed so far to establish any common ancestry to Jews.
The immigration of the Bnei Menashe following Mr Amar’s ruling was quickly halted after the foreign minstry expressed concerns that it was causing a diplomatic falling out with India, which has laws against missionary activity.
Ophir Pines-Paz, the interior minister in 2005, who opposed what he called the “clandestine” arrival of the Bnei Menashe, said in an interview last week: “I was against a policy that sends [Jewish] immigrants to the settlements. I hope that could not be the case today with a settlement freeze in place. I want to believe that is the case.”
However, the Bnei Menashe have won two powerful right-wing sponsors: Shavei Israel, led by Michael Freund, a former assistant to Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister; and a religious group known as the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, which draws on wide support from evangelical Christians in the United States.
Mr Freund began lobbying for the immigration of the Bnei Menashe to Israel while he was an adviser to Mr Netanyahu during his previous premiership, in the late 1990s. Mr Freund is believed to have used his connections in the current government to push the group’s case again.
Arik Puder, a spokesman for Shavei Israel, refused to comment, saying the organisation had decided to keep “a low profile” on the decision to bring the Bnei Menashe to Israel. It is believed that Shavei Israel is concerned that the government may come under pressure to reverse its decision if there is too much public scrutiny.
According to Ynet, Israel is planning to avoid diplomatic complications with India by sending groups of Bnei Menashe to Nepal for a fast-track conversion.
The brand of Judaism the Bnei Menashe have been exposed to during their “Jewish education” in special camps in India was indicated by Rabbi Eliyahu Avichail, who has worked closely with the tribe since the early 1980s. He said he believed in the biblical prophecy of a coming apocalypse – one shared by “End of Days” evangelical Christians – in which “all the world is against Israel” in a battle to be decided in Jerusalem.
“I believe we are very close to the time when the Messiah will arrive and we must prepare by making sure that all the Jews are in the Land of Israel. There are more than six million among the lost tribes and they must be brought to Israel as a matter of urgency.”
Shimon Gangte, 33, who was helped by Mr Avichail to come to Israel 13 years ago, is among 500 Bnei Menashe living in Kiryat Arba, an extremist settlement whose armed inhabitants regularly clash with Palestinians in neighbouring Hebron. He said: “It is important that the 10 tribes are brought here because the time of the Messiah is near.”
Mr Gangte added that the Bnei Menashe were attracted to the West Bank because life was cheaper in the settlements than in Israel and the settlers “give us help finding housing, jobs and schools for our children”.
Mr Etkes of Yesh Din said “past experience” fed suspicions that the Bnei Menashe would be encouraged to settle deep in the West Bank, adding that the so-called settlement freeze, insisted on by the United States as a prelude to renewed peace talks, was having little effect on the ground.
“There is no freeze because it is being violated all the time. The settlers had lots of time to prepare for the freeze and spent the four to five months before it in a frenzy of construction activity.”
Shavei Israel lobbies for other groups of Jews to be brought to Israel, including communities in Spain, Portugal, Italy, South America, Russia, Poland and China.
Israeli peace groups were outraged in 2002 when Shavei Israel placed a group of 100 Peruvian immigrants, whose ancestors converted to Judaism 50 years ago, in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc in the West Bank.
By Paul Craig Roberts | January 27, 2010
The election of Republican Scott Brown to the U.S. Senate by Democratic voters in Massachusetts sends President Obama a message. Voters perceive that Obama’s administration has morphed into a Bush-Cheney government. Obama has reneged on every promise he made, from ending wars, to closing Gitmo, to providing health care for Americans, to curtailing the domestic police state, to putting the interests of dispossessed Americans ahead of the interests of the rich banksters who robbed Americans of their homes and pensions.
But what can Obama do other then spout more rhetoric?
The Democrats were destroyed as an independent party by jobs offshoring and so-called free trade agreements such as NAFTA. The effect of “globalism” has been to destroy the industrial and manufacturing unions, thus leaving the Democrats without a power base and source of funding.
Obama and the Democrats cannot be an opposition party, because Democrats are as dependent as Republicans on corporate interest groups for campaign funding.
The Democrats have to support war and the police state if they want funding from the military/security complex. They have to make the health care bill into a subsidy for private insurance if they want funding from the insurance companies. They have to abandon the American people for the rich banksters if they want funding from the financial lobby.
Now that the five Republicans on the Supreme Court have overturned decades of U.S. law and given corporations the ability to buy every American election, Democrats and Republicans can be nothing but pawns for a plutocracy.
Most Americans are hard pressed, but the corporations have only begun to milk them.
Wars are too profitable for the armaments industry to ever end. High unemployment is now a permanent state in the U.S., thus coercing job seekers into military service.
The security industry profits from the police state and regards civil liberties as a hindrance to profits. By announcing that he intends to continue the Bush policy of indefinite detention, a violation of the Constitution and U.S. legal procedures, Obama has granted the Democratic Party’s consent to the Republicans’ destruction of habeas corpus, the main bastion of individual liberty.
Jobs offshoring is too profitable for U.S. corporations for Obama to be able to save American jobs and restart the broken economy.
Americans are being squeezed out of health care not only by the loss of job benefits, but also by corporate takeover of medical practice from physicians. Today medical doctors are wage slaves of corporate health providers that leverage doctors by turning them into supervisors of physician assistants, lower paid people without medical degrees who perform the services that doctors once provided. As neither doctor nor physician assistant has any independence, there is no one to represent the patient’s care against the profits of the corporation.
Even environmental concerns are being used to create “cap and trade” rights to buy and sell the ability to pollute. Wall Street is licking its lips over a new source of leveraged derivative instruments.
The American public cannot even get reliable information about their plight as the “mainstream media” has been concentrated into a few corporate hands that do not permit independent reporting. The media is as dependent on corporate money as are politicians.
How can President Obama restart an economy that has been moved offshore? Millions of manufacturing jobs are gone, as are millions of jobs for college graduates, such as software engineering, Information Technology–indeed, any intellectual skill the product of which can be conveyed via the Internet. Even those intellectual skill jobs that do remain in the U.S. are filled increasingly by foreigners brought in on work visas.
The wipe out of blue collar and middle class job growth has stopped the growth of American incomes except, of course, those of the super rich. For a decade American consumers substituted increased personal indebtedness for income growth. In order to maintain and to increase their consumption, Americans consumed their assets, such as their home equity. Americans reached their maximum debt load just as the real estate bubble burst and just as the banksters highly-leveraged, toxic financial instruments brought down the stock market and the values of Americans’ pensions.
The enormous damage done to the U.S. economy by jobs offshoring, work visas, and financial deregulation cannot be offset by government stimulus plans, which expand the debt burdens that are crushing Americans. The federal government’s massive budget deficits and the Federal Reserve’s easy monetary policy are setting the stage for an inflationary depression to follow a deflationary depression.
The Federal Reserve chairman says not to worry about inflation, because the Fed can take the money back out of the economy. But can the Fed take the money out without contracting the economy?
The Federal Reserve says not to worry about financing the federal budget deficit. Banksters are buying the Treasury bonds with the proceeds from their sales of their toxic derivatives to the Fed.
So what is happening to the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet? And when will the Fed have no recourse but to print new money in order to finance the federal deficit?
How long can the dollar retain its reserve currency role in such circumstances, and how does the U.S. pay for its imports when this role is lost?
Don’t look to Washington for answers to these questions.
Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration. He is the author of How the Economy was Lost, just published by CounterPunch / AK Press. He can be reached at: PaulCraigRoberts@yahoo.com
JAG Officer: Indefinite Detention ‘Defies Common Sense’
By William Fisher
NEW YORK, Jan 25 (IPS) – U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision to detain 47 of the just-under 200 remaining prisoners at Guantánamo without trial indefinitely is drawing scorn from legal experts and human rights advocates, who charge that the government simply does not have enough evidence to convict the detainees it says cannot be tried but are “too dangerous to release.”
David Frakt is a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps Reserve, associate professor and director of the Criminal Law Practice Center at Western State University College of Law in Fullerton, California.
He is a former lead counsel for the Office of Military Commissions Defence, who successfully represented Mohammed Jawad before the military commissions and won his release in habeas corpus litigation in 2009.
Frakt told IPS, “The administration’s suggestion that they can’t try 47 detainees, not because they don’t have evidence of criminal wrongdoing, but because a criminal trial would necessarily involve disclosure of classified information, defies common sense.”
He gave three reasons.
“First, both under the Military Commissions Act of 2009 and under the Classified Information Protection Act (CIPA), in use in federal courts, there are elaborate mechanisms in place to protect classified information,” Frakt said.
“Second, given that the remaining detainees at Guantanamo have been held, on average, for over seven years, the likelihood that there is an ongoing need to protect classified sources and methods in such cases is remote.”
“Finally, it is hard to believe that there would be any greater risk of revealing important classified information than in the 9/11 trial, yet the administration is pressing forward with this and several other cases against high-value detainees who were kept in secret CIA ghost prisons and subjected to still classified methods of interrogation,” he noted.
He said that “The administration has acknowledged the right of all detainees to petition for habeas corpus in federal court. Why does the administration seem to believe classified information could be adequately protected in federal habeas litigation, but not in a criminal trial? It seems far more likely that there is simply inadequate admissible non-coerced evidence of criminality,” Frakt said.
Other legal scholars have weighed in with similar views. For example, Brian J. Foley, visiting associate professor at the Boston University School of Law, told IPS, “Many of the executive’s claims about danger and terrorism have been shown to be incorrect over the years.”
“Last week’s incident where an plane bound from New York to Kentucky was diverted for an emergency landing in Philadelphia because passengers freaked out when they saw a Jewish teenager engaging in an Orthodox prayer ritual, and the recent hours-long shutdown of Kennedy airport because a man from earthquake-ravaged Haiti mistakenly opened an emergency door in a terminal, show that our officials are over-reacting and cowardly,” he said.
“The executive’s claim that these people are ‘too difficult to prosecute’ really means that the executive knows that the only evidence it has is weak or was obtained by coercion and is therefore very likely false,” Foley said.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), always a major player in the Guantanamo detention issue, called the Obama policy “un-American.”
Jonathan Hafetz, a senior ACLU lawyer, told IPS, “By committing to hold suspected criminals indefinitely without charge, the Obama has embraced one of the most lawless and un-American policies of the Bush administration, one that turns the most fundamental principles of the Constitution on their head.”
“The notion that the government can simply hold those it believes “dangerous”, without putting them on trial, will ultimately serve neither our liberty nor our security,” he said.
And Chip Pitts, president of the Bill of Rights Defence Committee, asked, “How is this any better than Guantanamo itself and the spur such approaches give to al Qaeda?”
He told IPS, “No legal system worthy of the name can possibly imprison people indefinitely on the shameful argument that they are, in the absence of evidence and a fair trial, ‘too dangerous to release’.”
He called the move a “significant calcification of the lawless Bush approach of holding (often tortured) detainees indefinitely – effectively, perhaps for life – until the conclusion of some endless ‘war on terror’,” but said it is “actually undermining vital cooperation from European and Muslim allies, support for the rule of law itself and our country’s national standing and historical legacy.”
In a statement, Amnesty International USA, said, “There’s been talk about people who can’t be tried but who are too dangerous to release. This is absurd. People must either be charged with a crime and given a fair trial, or be released. End of story. That’s the way it works. Either there’s evidence against you or there isn’t.”
And Virginia Sloan, president of the widely respected Constitution Project, said, “Even if the Obama administration continues to work to close Guantánamo, by pursuing a policy of indefinite detention without charge, the damaging policies that embody the prison will continue, as will the negative effects to American values, the rule of law, and our nation’s reputation abroad.” She urged opposition to the use of military commissions… Full article
Irish Sun | 26th January, 2010
Caracas (IANS/EFE) President Hugo Chavez has announced that he will write off the undisclosed sum Haiti owes Venezuela for oil as part of a regional bloc’s plans to help the impoverished Caribbean nation after the devastating Jan 12 earthquake.
‘Haiti has no debt with Venezuela, just the opposite: Venezuela has a historical debt with that nation, with that people for whom we feel not pity but rather admiration, and we share their faith, their hope,’ Chavez said after the extraordinary meeting of foreign ministers of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas, or ALBA.
He also announced that ALBA has decided on a comprehensive plan that includes an immediate donation of $20 million to Haiti’s health sector, and a fund that, Chavez said, will be at least $100 million ‘for starters’.
Oil-rich Venezuela is the economic heart of ALBA, which also includes Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Haiti is among several countries that send observers to ALBA meetings.
Chavez said one part of ALBA assistance to Haiti would consist of fuel distribution via ‘mobile service stations’ set to be up and running within a few weeks.
The ALBA plan of aid for Haiti includes support for such sectors as agriculture, production, food imports and distribution, and immigration amnesty for Haitians living illegally in the bloc’s member-states.
Cuba and Venezuela sent assistance and aid workers to Haiti within days of the magnitude-7.0 temblor that left over 100,000 dead and 1.5 million people homeless.