Reversing a decade of declining spending on nuclear weapons
Press TV – January 29, 2010
US Vice President Joe Biden says that Washington will increase investment in its nuclear arsenal and infrastructure in the country’s new budget.
In an opinion piece which appeared in The Wall Street Journal‘s website on Thursday, Biden said that the administration will propose USD 7 billion to maintain US nuclear weapons stockpile, which would be USD 600 million more than Congress approved last year.
“Even in a time of tough budget decisions, these are investments we must make for our security. We are committed to working with Congress to ensure these budget increases are approved,” Biden said.
The comment comes at a time when the US and Russia are negotiating a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which entails decommissioning of both sides’ nuclear weapons.
The administration of US President Barack Obama will publish its budget for fiscal year 2011 on Monday February 1.
The proposal will include a budget increase for nuclear issues while paring back other areas in an effort to control record deficits.
By Niko Kyriakou | January 27, 2010
For makers of the swine flu vaccine, 2009 was a year to remember. By June, CSL Limited’s annual profits had risen 63 percent over 2008. GlaxoSmithKine’s 2009 earnings spiked 30 percent in the third quarter alone, to $2.19 billion. Roche made a stunning 12 times more in the second quarter of 2009 than of 2008. But in 2010, drug companies may get their comeuppance.
On Tuesday, the Council of Europe launched an investigation into whether the World Health Organization “faked” the swine flu pandemic to boost profits for vaccine manufacturers. The inquiry, held in Strasbourg, France, vindicates a worldwide movement of insiders, experts, and elected officials who accuse the United Nations organization of misleading the world into buying millions of unnecessary vaccines.
“I have never heard such a worldwide echo to a health political action,” Dr. Wolfgang Wodarg, an epidemiologist who formerly led the health committee for the Council of Europe, said at Tuesday’s hearing.
Dr. Ulrich Keil, director of the WHO’s Collaborating Centre for Epidemiology, hammered his own organization and WHO’s flu chief, Dr Keiji Fukuda, for “producing angst campaigns”.
“With SARS, with avian flu, always the predictions are wrong…Why don’t we learn from history?” Keil said. “It [swine flu] produced a lot of turmoil in the pubic and was completely exaggerated in contrast with all the really important matters we have to deal with in public health.”
Last year the World Health Organization predicted that H1N1 could infect two billion and claim hundreds of thousands of lives, while President Obama’s science advisers said the outbreak could infect up to 120 million Americans and kill 90,000. But thankfully, H1N1 turned out to be a mild flu. The type-A influenza has taken around 14,000 lives worldwide, according to World Health Organization numbers from January 22. The CDC said in December confirmed US deaths had reached 4,000, although it recently estimated that due to underreporting, the true death toll could be as high as 16,500 – a tragic sum, but less than half of what the CDC attributes to seasonal flu-related illness. In most of the northern hemisphere, hog flu has been on the decline for some about three months. New transmissions are largely contained to North Africa and South Asia, according to the WHO.
Signs swine flu wasn’t much of a killer grew throughout 2009, but WHO and most domestic health agencies around the globe chose instead to man the war bugles at full volume. The result was that governments poured tens of billions of dollars into vaccines. The US alone has spent $2 billion on the drugs and has allocated $7.5 billion in supplemental spending for H1N1 preparedness.
With the disease basically over, however, countries are stuck with millions of unused doses. French and German governments have had to cancel millions of orders of the vaccines due to falling demand and late-breaking news that European health authorities had recommended twice the necessary dosage. The CDC has dealt with the glut in another way. It now says all Americans should go and get the shot – a shift from its earlier recommendation that at-risk groups such as the young, sick, pregnant, and nurses seek injections first. But why should everyone get a shot when that the disease is petering out?
On January 22, WHO issued a statement calling allegations that it irresponsibly stoked H1N1 fears, “scientifically wrong and historically incorrect.” The statement defends figures WHO publicized on transmission rates, mortality, and the virulence of swine flu.
“The world is going through a real pandemic. The description of it as a fake is wrong and irresponsible. We welcome any legitimate review process that can improve our work.”
At the hearing, WHO’s flu director, Dr Keiji Fukuda, denied the accusations against WHO.
“Let me state clearly for the record – the influenza pandemic policies and responses recommended and taken by WHO were not improperly influenced by the pharmaceutical industry.”
Previously, WHO had offered scant response to allegations of corruption, but deigned to defend itself after the Council of Europe meeting was announced. The public meeting to examine accusations against WHO was set up by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), which represents 800 million people in 47 countries. The Council’s January 26 meeting involved WHO officials, European drug-makers, and medical experts. PACE’s findings are expected to be announced January 29 and will likely be followed by an in-depth study and recommendations to European governments.
The hearing is just latest in a series of investigations into WHO’s propriety, which also include a 2009 Danish Parliamentary review of links between WHO expert – Albert Osterhaus – and makers of the swine flu drugs. Russian lawmaker Igor Barinov has also started an inquiry into WHO’s ties to H1N1 drug makers. In France, Health Minister Roselyne Bachelot was forced to a Paris court on January 4th over swine flu campaign irregularities – including ordering millions unnecessary vaccine doses. Demonstrations over statistical improprieties have taken place in Scotland and Canada.
Inquiries into WHO misdoing are likely to plunge deep into the statistical methods for data collection, however, it takes no expertise to see that health agencies’ data about H1N1 was wildly misleading.
In addition to bad guesses about how many would be infected, a study released December 7 by the Harvard School of Public Health found that the WHO also estimated the deadliness of H1N1 to be 40 to 250 times higher than it was.
Proving the drug industry squeezed WHO into selling swine flu is very difficult to establish, but the string of clues which points to this corruption is not hard to follow.
Pandemic or just plain Panic?
Swine flu took center stage in June of 2009, when WHO declared H1N1 the first “pandemic” in 42 years. This move caught the eye of every health authority from Tampa to Timbuktu and revved drug company engines. But to do it, WHO had to redefine the word.
One month after swine flu appeared in April, WHO rewrote the definition of “pandemic”. Under the new meaning, a pandemic does not need to cause high numbers of death or illness. A month after changing the definition, with just 144 people dead from H1N1, the flu was given the WHO’s highest threat classification: a “stage-six pandemic alert”. By comparison, the mildest 20th Century pandemic killed a million people.
Before the change, WHO had classified a pandemic as a disease that has “simultaneous epidemics worldwide with enormous numbers of deaths and illness.” After the alteration, the organization’s website stated that, “Pandemics can be either mild or severe in the illness and death they cause.” In May, WHO spokesperson Natalie Boudou told CNN that the original definition was an error.
The Los Angeles Times writer Michael Fumento called the redefinition “bizarre”. “Such a declaration could render the term “flu pandemic” essentially meaningless — risking lethal public complacency if a bona fide one hits,” Fumento wrote.
Tom Jefferson, Formerly a general practitioner in the British Army who has worked for the well-respected Cochrane Collaboration for 15 years, Jefferson asked in July: “Don’t you think there’s something noteworthy about the fact that the WHO has changed its definition of pandemic?”
“The WHO and public health officials, virologists and the pharmaceutical companies… They’ve built this machine around the impending pandemic,” Jefferson told Der Spiegel, a German magazine with a weekly circulation of 1 million. “There’s a lot of money involved, and influence, and careers, and entire institutions. And all it took was one of these influenza viruses to mutate to start the machine grinding.”
Yet the WHO stands by its decision to label H1N1 a pandemic, citing geographic spread and the virus’ novelty as its primary reasons. Moving ahead, Fukuda said his organization “will definitely consider whether we can define things better.” But some participants in Tuesday’s meeting wondered what the WHO is waiting for, since complaints have poured in from all sides.
The Associated Press reported on May 19, 2009, that China, Britain, Japan and other countries had urged WHO to “be very cautious about declaring the arrival of a swine flu pandemic, fearing that a premature announcement could cause worldwide panic and confusion.”
Critics say what was needed was not a frightful label, but hard scientific data to show how many people were getting swine flu. But on July 10, the WHO quit tracking cases of infection and told governments they should stop testing for individual cases, ostensibly because the speed of H1N1’s spread had already been confirmed.
“Rational scientific independent advice should be supreme, but there was an imperative behind this which was a financial one,” said Paul Flynn, a parliamentary representative in the UK who spoke at the Council of Europe’s hearing.
Corruption in Health Organizations?
Critics of the WHO say they promoted bad data to help drug makers get rich selling vaccines. This attack implies drug makers have a network of influence within the decision-making structure of the organization, a suggestion various officials confirm.
One high-level, long-term WHO employee who preferred to remain anonymous for job security, described the WHO as follows: “WHO is infested by corruption. There is big corruption, like the management of H1N1, and there is small corruption; and between the big and the small corruption there is [corruption] in all imaginable forms. Unfortunately, it’s not only the WHO.”
William Aldis, a retired senior WHO official who worked on the bird flu crisis, said in a Huffington Post article from September 24:
“I am concerned WHO’s communications is corrupted by the fact they push the buttons in the public’s brains that will raise the most funds. That is incompatible with what the organization should be doing: serving the public with technically correct factual information, pure and simple.”
Louise Voller, a journalist at the Danish Daily Information newspaper, has reported that pharmaceutical companies are present at meetings of WHO experts, and, that purportedly independent scientists hired by the WHO are also consultants to the drug companies that make the vaccines.
On Tuesday, WHO’s Fukuda insisted that its swine flu scientists’ were not tainted by their private sector associations. The reason, he said, is that before each meeting, scientists are asked to declare all possible conflicts of interest. “These documents are gone over and examined. If there is some potential conflict of interest we go back and talk with them.”
WHO was initially set up to rely on funding from UN member countries, in recent years, this source has been rapidly overtaken by “voluntary contributions”, which are provided by the private sector, national governments, and NGOs. According to WHO’s 2008-2009 budget, $958 million was supplied by the UN, while three times as much — $3.2 billion — came from voluntary donations.
Dr. Wodarg told the Council on Tuesday that the shift towards public-private partnership which began in earnest in 2001 puts WHO officials under extreme pressure.
“Already then there were very critical voices against the influence. [WHO's] administration is made of people not well paid who can’t fight against the pay of people in and from the industry – they are simply swept aside…[private] influence is rampant and that is why we can’t understand why the WHO we used to love…has become unrecognizable to us.”
Whether or not WHO officials are being bought off, clearly, the capacity and incentive of drug makers to lean on science are enormous.
All US contracts for H1N1 vaccines went to just five companies: CSL Limited, Novartis, Sanofi Pasteur, GlaxoSmithKline, and MedImmune. All five also produced shots for either SARS or avian flu. When swine flu took full flight in the third quarter of 2009, these firms’ earnings skyrocketed. But according to British MP, Paul Flynn, that was part of drug-makers plan.
Prior to winning any contracts, drug makers invested $4 billion in preparations for swine flu, he said. That investment may have gone to developing and patenting new, super-fast methods to create vaccines, such as using a bio-reactor to grow viruses, said Dr. Wolfgang Wodarg, former health expert for the Council of Europe. These patents were key to drug industry profits, since companies can charge much more for patented drugs than un-patented ones, Wodarg said.
“If you have a patent you can monopolize…and this is what industry did…The alternative is not to have vaccines patented…By decentralizing the production you could be as fast and you wouldn’t have this small way you have to pass negotiating with one enterprise that has monopoly, or with four enterprises.”
Food and Drug agencies in Canada, the UK, France, the US and elsewhere guaranteed vaccine manufacturers that they would be shielded from any lawsuits connected to the vaccines. This enabled companies to fast-track the testing process, reducing some trials to as little as 5 days.
Wodarg and others have also voiced concern that the hastily developed vaccines are not entirely safe. Adjuvanted vaccines, which contain a kind of immune booster shown to produce auto-immune responses in some children, were sold in parts of Europe and Canada, but banned in the US.
The private research group, Markets and Markets, estimated that the global, H1N1 vaccine market will be worth over $7 billion a year by 2011.
The incredible profits associated with outbreaks have sparked a wider shift in medicine from care to profit, according to Marcia Angell, M.D., former editor in chief of The New England Journal of Medicine and a senior lecturer at Harvard Medical School.
“Over the past two decades the pharmaceutical industry has moved very far from its original high purpose of discovering and producing useful new drugs. Now primarily a marketing machine to sell drugs of dubious benefit, this industry uses its wealth and power to co-opt every institution that might stand in its way, including the US Congress, the FDA, academic medical centers, and the medical profession itself.”
Angell reports that the drug industry spent around 14 percent of sales profits on research and development in 2000, while spending closer to 35 percent on “marketing and administration”. How that expenditure breaks down is not public knowledge, but 35% comes out to a lot of money. For instance, Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline, and Merck alone made $287 billion in 2007, according to the 2008 Pharma Report by IMS, a market intelligence firm.
The larger question begged by health agencies’ bad data, and the media’s dutiful reporting of it, is this: if fears are overstated every time there’s a flu outbreak, when the public really does need a vaccine, who will believe the boys who cried wolf?
What’s more, should the European investigations conclude that the WHO deliberately incited H1N1 paranoia to levels beyond reason in order to help drug makers, the implication is that both the private and public sectors need better oversight before being given any greater control over health care.
By Andrew Oxford | Pulse Media | January 29, 2010
Rwandan Tutsi leader turned President Paul Kagame is a popular man in the West. And why not? In his ten years in office he has lead his war-ravaged nation through a period of unprecedented economic growth which has turned Rwanda into a playground for foreign investors. At the same time, he emphasizes self-reliance and efficient government while supporting populist spending programs that could make Rwanda the only African nation to meet the UN Millennium Development Goals (not that he is a fan of the UN, which he frequently criticizes for its response to the 1994 civil war). His administration in Kigali has admittedly wracked up a deficit that would ordinarily draw frowns from World Bank bureaucrats but in the case of Rwanda, the organization that usually demands drastic budget cuts is underwriting a litany of government programs. It helps that some of Kagame’s greatest admirers are Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, and Starbucks magnate Howard Schultz (1). American evangelist Rick Warren (2) considers him something of an inspiration and even Bill Gates has invested in what has been called Africa’s success story. Yes, Western liberals, reactionary evangelicals, and capitalist carpetbaggers alike tout Paul Kagame as the herald of a new, self-reliant African prosperity.
Of course, nothing in Rwanda is ever so clear cut. Kagame’s regime has benefited from more than its fair share of political repression. This prompted his challenger in the 2003 election, Faustin Twagiramungu, to denounce the poll citing harassment and restrictions that inhibited any effective campaign efforts (3). An earlier opponent, Pasteur Bizimungu (who Kagame replaced as Prime Minister) attempted to form a party at the beginning of the last decade which was promptly banned. What’s more, the formation of new groups is often hampered by Kigali authorities. Reporters Without Borders has also expressed concern at the restrictions on the press which have included the shuttering of critical newspapers and new fees for launching media outlets (4). Even The Economist took exception with his heavy-handed domestic policies and accused the new hero of Clinton and Blair as being more repressive than Robert Mugabe (5).
Most alarming is the integral roll that Kigali has played in the Second Congolese War (6) which has claimed upward of three million lives. The Rwandan government has been lending significant support to rebels within the Congo, especially in the mineral-rich north. There, the objective is widely considered to be securing the valuable resources of the region which have been trafficked through Rwanda during the conflict. While some press attention has been given to the horrendous plight of women in the area and the massive and mounting casualty figures, little connection seems to be drawn between Kagame and his complicit fans in Europe and North America.
Kagame, however, maintains innocence. While never outright denying his support for murderous combatants in the Congo or his imposition of restrictive policies on journalists, he counters that his critics are merely stoking ethnic divisions. That, of course, is a serious charge in Rwanda. It is also a strange one coming from a man who boasts that he has put the past behind him. Not far enough, as it would turn out, to trust the democratic process with criticisms or challenges. Nor far enough to shut down the parasitic black-market trafficking of minerals and resources — reminiscent of the lecherous European occupations of other centuries — that have enriched some foreign and local entrepreneurs while leaving little more than funeral bills for the Congolese (7).
There are bigger issues at play in Rwanda and the DRC than this one man but what is remarkable about Paul Kagame is the support he has received from both conservatives and liberals in the West. It is no surprise that foreign investors have so embraced a man who is willing to put aside the rule of law or the mandate of the ballot. What is surprising is how quiet the left has been in challenging the blatantly backward praise Kagame has so vocally received while stoking one of the most tragic and violent conflicts of the present day and rolling out plans to sell his nation to the highest bidders. It is time to connect the dots in Africa.
(1) “Rwanda Rising: A New Model of Economic Development.” Fast Company, Wednesday, March 18, 2009. http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/134/special-report-rwanda-rising.html
(2) This comes on the heels of reports that Rick Warren and his reactionary cohorts where involved with neighboring Uganda’s efforts to execute homosexuals. http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/2009/11/rick-warren-silent-enabler-of-hatred.html
(3) This BBC report is from the end of the election when Twagiramungu called on Kagame to “accept freedom of speech and association and also to accept democracy.” http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/3104092.stm
(4) Reporters Without Borders profile of Paul Kagame (http://www.rsf.org/en-predateur13640-Paul_Kagame_.html) and also a brief report on the issue of fees for free press (http://www.rsf.org/Government-to-demand-exorbitant.html).
(5) “A Flawed Hero”, The Economist, August 21, 2008
(6) The New York Review of Books printed an extensive article on the matter by Howard W. French in their September 24, 2009 issue (http://www.nybooks.com/articles/23054). The UN has also issued annual reports on the Second Congo War every year which allude to the influence Kagame has played in the conflict.
(7) “Looted Wealth Fuels Congo Conflict”, Financial Times, November 30, 2009. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/8ae76ab0-dde6-11de-b8e2-00144feabdc0.html
Image: UN Photo/Mark Castro
International Solidarity Movement | 29 January 2010
Over 20 village residents – including 14 children – were targeted by Israeli soldiers in a volley of tear gas and rubber coated bullets as they took refuge in the Tamimi family house in An Nabi Salih. The residents were not part of the weekly demonstration and children from surrounding houses had gathered there for safety. One boy was hit in the stomach with a gas canister. Five people, children and elderly women, were taken away in ambulances and treated for injuries including tear gas asphyxiation.
Earlier, near 12:30PM, Israeli soldiers blocked the non-violent demonstration as they attempted to reach a spring recently taken by settlers from the near-by Jewish-only Hallamish settlement. Demonstrators slowly advanced a few meters and sat down. Israeli and international activists joined in solidarity. This tactic was repeated many times until soldiers began firing tear gas canisters directly at the demonstrators. As soldiers surrounded the village, shooting tear gas from three sides, a water cannon shooting foul smelling waste-water was deployed.
Just after the water cannon emptied its tanks, the Tamimi house was fired on.
As tear gas canisters and rubber-coated bullets flew through windows of the house, Red Crescent and activist volunteers responded to the attack, helping women and children outside to safety. In all, nine women, one man and 14 children were caught inside during the attack.
The same house was targeted one week ago when tear gas and sound grenades broke through the windows. Seven people were gassed but no injuries were serious. As the women and children exited the house, soldiers told them to go back in. They refused due to large amounts of tear gas lingering inside and the soldiers hit them. One woman was arrested.
This brutal repression of a non-violent demonstration and targeting innocent bystanders comes as the Israeli government attempts to squash the popular resistance through illegitimate arrests and disproportionate force.
According to one An Nabi Salih resident, the demonstration’s goal was to reach a spring taken by Israeli settlers, but the over all motivation for ongoing demonstrations is to stop the constant advance of the Hallamish settlement onto Palestinian land. Residents say that since 1977 the settlement has taken half of the village’s farm-land, burning or cutting down trees tended by the village for generations.
Approximately six weeks ago, a group of Halamish settlers took over the spring located in privately owned Palestinian land in between the village and the settlement. Since then, and despite the fact that ownership of the land undisputed, the army began preventing Palestinians from accessing the area.
By Nureddin Sabir | Redress Information & Analysis | 29 January 2010
Britain inquiry into the Iraq war has been dealt a severe blow by a pro-Israel activist on the inquiry committee who has given an interview to a Jewish settlers’ radio accusing his critics of “anti-Semitism”.
The Iraq Inquiry, led by former civil servant John Chilcot, was set up by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in June 2009 in order to “identify lessons that can be learned from the Iraq conflict”. It began its deliberations in November.
On 22 November 2009, as the inquiry, was preparing to convene, a former British ambassador, Oliver Miles, wrote an article in the Independent on Sunday newspaper expressing concern at the fact that two out of the five members of the inquiry’s committee, Martin Gilbert and Lawrence Freedman, were “strong supporters of Tony Blair and/or the Iraq war”. He also pointed out that both Gilbert and Freedman were Jewish, and that “Gilbert at least has a record of active support for Zionism”.
Writing in the Independent newspaper a week later, Richard Ingrams wondered whether the Zionists’ links to the Iraq invasion would be brushed aside. Referring to Oliver Miles’s article and to an extraordinary attack on Miles by The Times, in which the paper described his comments as “disgraceful”, Ingrams said:
The ambassador’s comments and the attention paid to them by The Times may be helpful in the long run, if only by drawing attention to the Israeli dimension in the Anglo-US invasion of Iraq in 2003, a dimension that hitherto has scarcely been mentioned. Yet it is a fact that the campaign to overthrow Saddam Hussein was initiated, well before 9/11, by a group of influential American neo-cons, notably Perle, Feith and Wolfowitz (once described by Time magazine as “the godfather of the Iraq war”) nearly all of whom were ardent Zionists, in many cases more concerned with preserving the security of Israel than that of the US.
Given that undeniable fact, the pro-Israeli bias of Sir Martin Gilbert and Sir Lawrence Freedman, both of them supporters of the 2003 invasion, is a perfectly respectable point to raise. It is equally legitimate to ask if at any point the panel will investigate or even refer to the US neo-cons and their links to Israel. Call me snide if you like, but I very much doubt they will.
On 28 January 2010, BBC Radio 4’s “Today” programme reported that Martin Gilbert, whom it described as a “proud practising Jew and Zionist”, had expressed “deep unease” at the previous November’s articles by Miles Oliver and Richard Ingrams.
The radio broadcast extracts from an interview given by Gilbert to an internet radio station run by Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank in which he described Oliver’s and Ingrams’s articles as “really unpleasant”. He referred to people who questioned the wisdom of including pro-Israel activists in an inquiry whose purpose was to investigate an Israeli-instigated war as “these anti-Semites”. And he said that “more leading figures” should “speak out against” what he described as the “crude anti-Israel feelings” in Britain.
|Listen to BBC correspondent Tim Franks’s report on the allegations of “anti-Semitism” made by Israel’s voice on the Iraq Inquiry panel, Martin Gilbert|
In the interview with the settlers’ radio station, Martin Gilbert appeared to be aware of the logic behind concerns regarding the role of Israel lobbyists and agents of influence in the Anglo-US invasion of Iraq in 2003. As an eminent scholar, he should therefore understand why the British public should be worried that an active supporter of Israel on the Iraq Inquiry might not be impartial or rigorous in scrutinizing the conduct of those who launched the aggression against Iraq at the behest of pro-Israel activists like himself. Instead, he chose to divert attention with the smokescreen of “anti-Semitism”.
This subterfuge casts serious doubt about the integrity of the Iraq Inquiry. It means that if Israel lobbyists played a part in pushing Britain to join the US aggression against Iraq, this would probably be overlooked by the Israeli activists on the inquiry, who make up 40 per cent of the panel.
It also means that the Iraq Inquiry has not only been severely compromised, but was in fact doomed before it even started.
Tens of thousands of Palestinian books destroyed after Israel’s establishment, Ben-Gurion University researcher says
Ynet | January 28, 2010
Israel plundered and destroyed tens of thousands of Palestinian books in the years after the State’s establishment, according to a doctoral thesis to be submitted next month by a Ben-Gurion University researcher.
In an interview with the researcher published on al-Jazeera’s website Thursday, he claimed that Israel destroyed the Palestinian books in the framework of its plan to “Judaize the country” and cut off its Arab residents from their nation and culture.
According to the doctoral dissertation, Israeli authorities collected tens of thousands of Arab books in Jerusalem, Jaffa, Haifa, Safed, and other towns that were home to Arabs. Israeli officials proceeded to hand out about half the books, while destroying the second half, characterizing them as a “security threat,” the researcher said.
In his al-Jazeera interview, the researcher claimed that, based on Israeli archives, IDF troops plundered the books from the homes of Palestinians expelled during the “Nakba” and handed them over to authorities. The State proceeded to establish a library in Jaffa and other towns for the books, he said.
The researcher told al-Jazeera that according to documents he possesses, Israel destroyed 27,000 books in 1958, claiming that they were useless and threatened the State. Authorities sold the books, most of them textbooks, to a paper plant, he said.
“This was a cultural massacre undertaken in a manner that was worse than European colonialism, which safeguarded the items it stole in libraries and museums,” the researcher charged.
He added that some books were sold at discounted prices to Arab schools, while the others were transferred to the Hebrew University’s library in Jerusalem.
The researcher estimated that about 6,000 Palestinian books are currently available at the National Library at Hebrew University. However, he claimed that many other books in Arabic, English, and French were not recorded, charging that most of them are being held in the library’s warehouses and cannot be accessed.
By David Reilly
Jan. 29 (Bloomberg) — The idea of secret banking cabals that control the country and global economy are a given among conspiracy theorists who stockpile ammo, bottled water and peanut butter. After this week’s congressional hearing into the bailout of American International Group Inc., you have to wonder if those folks are crazy after all.
Wednesday’s hearing described a secretive group deploying billions of dollars to favored banks, operating with little oversight by the public or elected officials.
We’re talking about the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, whose role as the most influential part of the federal-reserve system — apart from the matter of AIG’s bailout — deserves further congressional scrutiny.
The New York Fed is in the hot seat for its decision in November 2008 to buy out, for about $30 billion, insurance contracts AIG sold on toxic debt securities to banks, including Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Merrill Lynch & Co., Societe Generale and Deutsche Bank AG, among others. That decision, critics say, amounted to a back-door bailout for the banks, which received 100 cents on the dollar for contracts that would have been worth far less had AIG been allowed to fail.
That move came a few weeks after the Federal Reserve and Treasury Department propped up AIG in the wake of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.’s own mid-September bankruptcy filing.
Saving the System
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was head of the New York Fed at the time of the AIG moves. He maintained during Wednesday’s hearing that the New York bank had to buy the insurance contracts, known as credit default swaps, to keep AIG from failing, which would have threatened the financial system.
The hearing before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform also focused on what many in Congress believe was the New York Fed’s subsequent attempt to cover up buyout details and who benefited.
By pursuing this line of inquiry, the hearing revealed some of the inner workings of the New York Fed and the outsized role it plays in banking. This insight is especially valuable given that the New York Fed is a quasi-governmental institution that isn’t subject to citizen intrusions such as freedom of information requests, unlike the Federal Reserve.
This impenetrability comes in handy since the bank is the preferred vehicle for many of the Fed’s bailout programs. It’s as though the New York Fed was a black-ops outfit for the nation’s central bank.
The New York Fed is one of 12 Federal Reserve Banks that operate under the supervision of the Federal Reserve’s board of governors, chaired by Ben Bernanke. Member-bank presidents are appointed by nine-member boards, who themselves are appointed largely by other bankers.
As Representative Marcy Kaptur told Geithner at the hearing: “A lot of people think that the president of the New York Fed works for the U.S. government. But in fact you work for the private banks that elected you.”
And yet the New York Fed played an integral role in the government’s bailout of banks, often receiving surprisingly free rein to act as it saw fit.
Consider AIG. Let’s take Geithner at his word that a failure to resolve the insurer’s default swaps would have led to financial Armageddon. Given the stakes, you might think Geithner would have coordinated actions with then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. Yet Paulson testified that he wasn’t in the loop.
“I had no involvement at all, in the payment to the counterparties, no involvement whatsoever,” Paulson said.
Fed Chairman Bernanke also wasn’t involved. In a written response to questions from Representative Darrell Issa, Bernanke said he “was not directly involved in the negotiations” with AIG’s counterparty banks.
You have to wonder then who really was in charge of our nation’s financial future if AIG posed as grave a threat as Geithner claimed.
Questions about the New York Fed’s accountability grew after Geithner on Nov. 24, 2008, was named by then-President- elect Barack Obama to be Treasury Secretary. Geither said he recused himself from the bank’s day-to-day activities, even though he never actually signed a formal letter of recusal.
That left issues related to disclosures about the deal in the hands of the bank’s lawyers and staff, rather than a top executive. Those staffers didn’t want details of the swaps purchase to become public.
New York Fed staff and outside lawyers from Davis Polk & Wardell edited AIG communications to investors and intervened with the Securities and Exchange Commission to shield details about the buyout transactions, according to a report by Issa.
That the New York Fed, a quasi-governmental body, was able to push around the SEC, an executive-branch agency, deserves a congressional hearing all by itself.
Later, when it became clear information would be disclosed, New York Fed legal group staffer James Bergin e-mailed colleagues saying: “I have to think this train is probably going to leave the station soon and we need to focus our efforts on explaining the story as best we can. There were too many people involved in the deals — too many counterparties, too many lawyers and advisors, too many people from AIG — to keep a determined Congress from the information.”
Think of the enormity of that statement. A staffer at a body with little public accountability and that exists to serve bankers is lamenting the inability to keep Congress in the dark.
This belies the culture of secrecy obviously pervasive within the New York Fed. Committee Chairman Edolphus Towns noted during the hearing that the bank initially refused to disclose even the names of other banks that benefited from its actions, arguing this information would somehow harm AIG.
‘Penchant for Secrecy’
“In fact, when the information was finally released, under pressure from Congress, nothing happened,” Towns said. “It had absolutely no effect on AIG’s business or financial condition. But it did have an effect on the credibility of the Federal Reserve, and it called into question the Fed’s penchant for secrecy.”
Now, I’m not saying Congress should be meddling in interest-rate decisions, or micro-managing bank regulation. Nor do I think we should all don tin-foil hats and start ranting about the Trilateral Commission.
Yet when unelected and unaccountable agencies pick banking winners while trying to end-run Congress, even as taxpayers are forced to lend, spend and guarantee about $8 trillion to prop up the financial system, our collective blood should boil.
(David Reilly is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)
Protests in Afghan Capital as NATO Expresses Regret
By Jason Ditz | January 28, 2010
Mohammad Yonus, the imam of the Paktia Kowt Mosque in the Afghan capital city of Kabul, was killed today by American troops while sitting in his car.
Yonus was reportedly in his car with three of his sons waiting for his other son to arrive. A US convoy saw the parked car and decided it was a “threatening vehicle,” opening fire and killing Yonus. His sons were not injured in the shooting.
Locals said the convoy did not even stop after the shooting, and identified the attackers as American. Yonus was rushed to the hospital but died of his injuries shortly thereafter.
The killing sparked protests in front of a military base in Kabul, and once again brought attention to the growing problem of civilian killings by the international forces in the nation.
NATO spokesmen called the killing an “unfortunate incident” and expressed regret over shooting the imam. They promised that his family would receive an undisclosed amount of money to compensate them for the killing.
29/01/2010 – Al-Manar – Jewish residents in Malmo are furious after the Swedish town’s mayor, Ilmar Reepalu, equated Zionism to anti-Semitism in an interview published on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
During the interview with Skanska Dagbladet newspaper, Reepalu was asked whether he considered a public condemnation of anti-Semitism in Malmo. The mayor responded that “Malmo does not accept anti-Semitism and does not accept Zionism,” charging that both adopt extreme positions towards certain groups.
Reepalu added that local Jews bear some responsibility for the attitude towards them, noting that “they have the possibility to affect the way they are seen by society.” The mayor then urged Malmo’s Jewish community to “distance itself” from Israeli attacks on Gaza’s civilian population.
“Instead, the community chose to hold a pro-Israel demonstration,” he said, adding that such move “may convey the wrong message to others.”
By Syed Fazl-e-Haider | Asia Times | January 29, 2010
KARACHI, Pakistan – Turkey and Pakistan agreed this week to undertake a US$20 billion project to upgrade a railway link from Islamabad to Istanbul, basically to transport cargo more efficiently between the two countries and ultimately on to Europe.
During a meeting in Istanbul, visiting President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan and his Turkish counterpart, Abdullah Gul, discussed the upgrade of the rail route. Three Turkish companies have shown interest in the five-year project that envisages cutting travel time between Islamabad and Istanbul, via Tehran, from the current 11 days or more to three to four days.
The move follows an agreement in November to increase the level of bilateral trade between the two countries to $2 billion from the existing $741 million in a couple of years. Analysts believe that the 6,566 kilometer rail project from Islamabad to Istanbul, with 1,990km of track in Pakistan, 2,570km in Iran and 2,006km in Turkey, will open new avenues of bilateral cooperation as well as strengthening trade and economic ties.
Zardari was on a four-day visit of Turkey, ending on Wednesday, to attend a trilateral summit with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the Istanbul summit on Afghanistan, involving Afghanistan and its six immediate neighbors. He also held discussions on bilateral matters with Turkish leaders. Zardari floated the Islamabad-Istanbul cargo train idea last year when an experimental train was run on the route on his initiative on August 14.
“The cargo rail link could provide a speedier option to expand economic ties between the two countries as well as with Iran,” Associated Press of Pakistan reported Zardari as saying. “This rail link will strengthen Pakistan’s economy as well as people-to-people ties not only with brotherly Muslim countries but also onwards to Europe.”
The existing track between the two countries requires considerable improvement if it is to be used for timely cargo services. The August trial trip of a container train service from Islamabad reached Istanbul in two weeks, traveling from Islamabad through the southwestern Pakistani province of Balochistan then on to Iran. Islamabad is also looking to start a passenger train service on the route.
The two sides have worked to negotiate a preferential trading agreement, aimed to increase trade and investments, especially in transport, telecommunications, manufacturing, tourism and other industries. While Pakistan exports rice, leather, textiles and fabric sports goods, and medical equipment, Turkey exports wheat, diesel, lentils, chemicals, transport vehicles, machinery and energy products to Pakistan.
Many Turkish private firms have invested significantly in industrial and construction projects, developing highways, pipelines and canals in Pakistan.
During a two-day visit to Pakistan in October, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed to upgrade his country’s strategic partnership with Pakistan and strengthen economic cooperation. The two nations signed a joint declaration to strengthen relations in trade, investment, agriculture, industry, culture, education and defense and agreed to increase their trade from $741 million a year to $2 billion in a couple of years.
Erdogan, who was accompanied by an 80-member delegation of business executives, termed the present trade volume insignificant and committed the Turkish Cooperation and Development Agency to boost bilateral trade.
In November, the countries agreed to move forward the timeline for signing a preferential trade agreement and abolish the requirement for visas for businessmen traveling between the two countries.
Zardari reportedly impressed on the business community of Turkey not only the importance of enhancing trade relations with Pakistan but also the lucrative investment opportunities in his country.
Islamabad needs foreign investment to bolster its strife-torn economy. Foreign direct investment (FDI) into the country dropped 57%, to US$1.01 billion, in the six months to June compared with a year earlier, according to the central bank. That continued a decline in FDI to $3.72 billion in the fiscal year that ended in June from $5.4 billion 12 months earlier.
Turkey and Pakistan are founding members of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), the only forum with representation of all the countries bordering Afghanistan. Analysts stress the need to make efforts to establish inter-regional oil and gas pipelines as well as power grids from energy-rich to energy-deficient states. Free trade is central to regional economic integration as it can unlock latent energies and transform socio-economic landscapes.
Pakistan has served as a route for international trade for ECO countries. During the Cold War period and after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, this route was disrupted by political instability and the security crises in Afghanistan. The prevailing situation in Afghanistan hinders any revival of economic, trade and cultural relations between the newly independent states in Central Asia and other Asian countries.
The ECO can only become a coherent organization if it creates inter-dependencies and synergies, especially in areas of energy, transportation and trade. Completion of the Gwadar port in Balochistan province in Pakistan will help to revive transit facilities and trade links among the member countries and it offers tremendous prospects for regional trade, as it lies outside traditional areas of conflict. Pakistan has repeatedly offered ECO member countries port and transit facilities at Gwadar to establish trade links with the world that would benefit the entire region. (The members of the ECO are Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.)
Syed Fazl-e-Haider (www.syedfazlehaider.com) is a development analyst in Pakistan. He is the author of many books, including The Economic Development of Balochistan (2004). He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org