Mention Richard Falk and you think of an honourable man who cares deeply about injustice, particularly the trampled rights of Palestinians under the evil jackboot.
Mention Susan Rice, US Ambassador to the United Nations, and what comes to mind?
The BBC reported in December 2008: “During her stint in the Clinton White House, she was described as ‘brilliant’ but also ‘authoritarian’ and ‘brash’. According to the New York Times, she acknowledges ‘a certain impatience at times’.”
She is also said to be “unwilling to consider opinions that differ from her own”.
Ambassador Rice has just demanded that Falk, the UN Human Rights Council’s special rapporteur in the Palestinian territories, step down from his UN position. “In my view, Mr Falk’s latest commentary [an entry in his blog about the media and 9/11] is so noxious that it should finally be plain to all that he should no longer continue in his position on behalf of the UN.”
Falk’s crime was saying that the US administration’s reluctance to address the awkward gaps and contradictions identified by several scholars in the official explanations of 9/11, only fuels suspicions of a conspiracy. And he suggested that “what may be more distressing than the apparent cover up is the eerie silence of the mainstream media, unwilling to acknowledge the well-evidenced doubts about the official version of the events: an Al-Qaeda operation with no foreknowledge by government officials”.
Fair comment, you might think. And carefully worded to cause no offence.
Enter the American Jewish Committee
But Reuters reported that UN Watch, an advocacy group affiliated with the American Jewish Committee, had written to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon similarly demanding that he “strongly condemn Mr Falk’s offensive remarks – and … immediately remove him from his post”.
The report added that UN Watch had targeted Falk in the past and frequently criticized the Human Rights Council for berating Israel while ignoring rights violations by developing countries.
The American Jewish Committee also called on the UN to immediately dismiss Falk for publicly endorsing “the slander of conspiracy theorists”. Executive Director David Harris said:
We agree wholeheartedly with the US Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador Susan Rice, who stated that Mr Falk’s comments are ‘despicable and offensive’ and, like her, urge the UN to remove him from his position. Falk has long been a conspiracy-ridden and harmful figure who surely does not serve the best interests of the UN.
UN Watch claims to have won “global condemnation” of Falk. Its website trumpets: “After UN Watch exposes noxious remarks, UN official Richard Falk [is] roundly condemned by UN chief, US Gov’t, and media worldwide.”
“Noxious” – that’s Rice’s word. Could they be sharing the same scriptwriter?
UN Watch diligently sets down who said what:
Thursday, 20 January: UN Watch takes action and files complaint with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, demanding he condemn Richard Falk, the UN Human Rights Council’s permanent investigator on “Israel’s violations of the principles of international law”, for his latest remarks suggesting that the US government – and not Al-Qaeda terrorists – destroyed the World Trade Centre. The protest came as part of UN Watch’s three-year campaign to expose and combat Falk’s denial and justification of Hamas and Al-Qaeda terrorism, and his material support for 9/11 conspiracy theorists. At the daily UN press briefing, when Matthew Lee of Inner City Press asks for a response, the secretary-general’s spokesman says they don’t comment on independent experts.
Friday, 21 January: The New York Daily News picks up the story and publishes editorial: “When will the lunacy reach such heights that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon realizes his so-called Human Rights Council is wrecking what little reputation the world body has left?… Ignore those jetliners crashing into the towers, is Falk’s advice. Who are you going to believe, your own eyes or him and his friends? Ban should ring down the curtain on this grotesque buffoonery. He should force out Falk forthwith…”
Monday, 24 January: The United Nations sends letter to UN Watch with unprecedented condemnation of a UN Human Rights Council official: “The secretary-general condemns [Falk's] remarks. He has repeatedly stated his view that any such suggestion is preposterous — and an affront to the memory of the more than 3,000 people who died in the attack”. UN Watch immediately releases the letter to the public, and calls for the UN to fire Falk.
Tuesday, 25 January: US Ambassador Susan Rice condemns Falk and echoes UN Watch’s call for him to be fired: “Mr Falk’s comments are despicable and deeply offensive, and I condemn them in the strongest terms… The United States is deeply committed to the cause of human rights and believes that cause will be better advanced without Mr Falk and the distasteful sideshow he has chosen to create.” Ambassador Eileen C. Donahoe, the US envoy to the Human Rights Council, also speaks out.
On the same day, in a Geneva address to the member and observer states of the Human Rights Council, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon repeats his condemnation of Falk: “Recently, there was a special rapporteur who suggested there was an ‘apparent cover-up’ in the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. I want to tell you, clearly and directly. I condemn this sort of inflammatory rhetoric. It is preposterous – an affront to the memory of the more than 3,000 people who died in that tragic terrorist attack.”
SUCCESS: UN Watch’s campaign led to the unprecedented international condemnation of Richard Falk, who exploits his UN position to justify and deny Hamas and Al-Qaeda terrorism. It sparked dozens of news stories worldwide, as shown in the sample below. All of this succeeded in finally puncturing Falk’s undeserved halo as a “human rights expert”. For the first time ever, the UN itself had condemned Falk, and in the strongest terms. As a result, Falk’s credibility in the international arena is now at zero.
What’s remarkable is how twitchy these people get at the slightest possibility that someone will lift the lid on 9/11, their hysterical protests serving only to deepen already serious suspicions.
Incidentally UN Watch’s founder, chairman and executive director are all Jewish, the latter having worked at Israel’s Supreme Court.
Ambassador Susan Rice “handmaiden to the Zionist cause”
Let’s go back to 14 July last year and remarks made by Ambassador Rice during a reception for Israeli ambassadors Gabriela Shalev and Daniel Carmon held by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Rice said:
Today, I mostly want to talk about my very dear friend, Ambassador Gabriela Shalev. She’s truly one of my favorite people…
Gabi and I had the opportunity to work closely together on a series of important issues, from dealing with the deeply flawed Goldstone Report to seeing through the passage by the Security Council of the toughest sanctions resolution to date against Iran. She has been a lioness in defence of Israel’s security and its legitimacy — working tirelessly to ensure that Israel has the same rights and enjoys the same responsibilities as any other UN member state.
We will continue to work together to seek a lasting and comprehensive peace that meets Israel’s security needs and creates a viable, sovereign Palestinian state. We will continue to strengthen Israel’s qualitative military advantage so that Israel can always defend itself, by itself, against any threat or possible combination of threats. And, as the president pledged, we will continue US efforts to combat all international attempts to challenge the legitimacy of Israel — including and especially at the United Nations.
Having revealed herself as another handmaiden to the Zionist cause, Rice’s attack on Falk for breaking the ridiculous taboo and questioning the US administration’s refusal to hold a proper independent inquiry into 9/11 only raises questions about her own suitability for an important position at the UN.
Meanwhile, there are millions of us out here who are right behind Richard Falk because he stands for justice. We are not amused by growing indications that the official story of 9/11 doesn’t add up. Nor are we too pleased by the realization that it was used to prod our own governments into sacrificing troops and treasure to a couple of unlawful, unwinnable wars that have caused mega-deaths and endless suffering to innocent civilians, trashed our good name abroad and made us vulnerable to reprisals at home – just to advance the crazed ambitions of the US-Israeli axis.
In short, if there’s the slightest doubt we want to know the truth.
Since the Syrian Golan Heights were occupied during the June 1967 War, the indigenous Arab population has resisted Israeli control. The Electronic Intifada contributor Adri Nieuwhof interviews Taiseer Maray, general director of the non-profit organization Golan for Development, about the situation in the occupied Golan Heights.
Adri Nieuwhof: Tell us about the activities of the Golan for Development.
Taiseer Maray: The Golan for Development was established in 1991 in the occupied Golan Heights. We are working on development projects as a method to resist Israel’s occupation and control. We provide basic services in many different projects. We cover most of the health services in all five Arab villages, and we increase awareness of health issues. We offer agricultural outreach services to the farmers. We have a theater project, and in our music center fifty pupils receive music lessons. We run a kindergarten for children, we organize teaching courses and activities for women. We also developed a project on alternative tourism. With our research project we monitor the Israeli settlements in the Golan and relevant issues in our society. We are innovative. For example, we have developed a new technique of growing shitake mushrooms on apple wood. We researched and published information about this.
AN: The media does not cover the situation in the occupied Golan Heights. What can you tell us about it?
TM: In 1967, before the June War, 130,000 Arabs lived in 139 villages and more than sixty farms in the Syrian Golan Heights. After the war, about 60,000 to 90,000 Syrians remained in the Golan. Within two months following the June  war, the Israeli forces transferred the rest of the population. People were pushed out of their houses. Only about 6,300 Syrians remained in five villages, mainly farmers. People were frightened at that time. You don’t hear much about us because of our small numbers. In 1981, Israel annexed the Golan Heights. The people resisted, there were clashes and demonstrations. We were attractive to the press then. Israel tried to force us to take Israeli citizenship. We refused.
In the 1990s, Israel understood that putting pressure on the Arabs in the Golan Heights led to more unity and resistance. Now they want us to assimilate into Israeli society. We don’t face hard Israeli policies like in the 1970s and 1980s. They are trying to destroy our cultural heritage by forcing us to assimilate. The fight is about education, and against the silent attack on our cultural heritage and identity. It makes resistance more difficult. Israel tries to control the brains of the new generation through education. We have to study Hebrew, Zionist history, Jewish history. The culture of Arabs that is taught is in the best case half the truth. In Syria, we have a culture of resisting occupations, by the French, the Ottomans. Our resistance is reflected in our poetry, but the Arab poetry that is taught in school is about love. The Israeli educational curriculum brainwashes the youth.
AN: What are Israel’s motivations for maintaining its occupation of the Golan Heights?
TM: It goes back to the history of the Zionist movement. The Golan Heights has been part of Zionist ambition since its establishment. In the literature you find how the Zionists asked the British to include the Golan Heights in the plans for the new Jewish state. Water is the main reason for Israel to occupy the Golan Heights. The Jordan River springs into the Golan Heights. We in the Golan get about 1,000 mm of rain per year. About 25 percent of the water Israel uses is from the Golan Heights. The biggest water company from Israel, Eden Springs, bottles our water in a factory on our land and exports it worldwide.
Another reason is that we have very fertile land. Since 1967, Israel has used all the potential of the Golan Heights: agriculture, tourism, minerals, grazing land, vineyards. Israeli wine produced from grapes from the vineyards in the Golan Heights is sold in the Netherlands. Flowers grown by Israel in the Golan are exported, also to the Netherlands. There is an Israeli olive oil factory in the Golan. We have lots of Israeli industries on our land.
AN: What does the Israeli occupation look like for the Arabs in the Golan Heights?
TM: In the 43 years of the Israeli occupation we have seen different strategies. The first ten years we were under military rule. Hundreds of people were taken to jail for political resistance in the 1970s and 1980s. You were taken to jail for discussing politics. After the annexation of the Golan Heights in 1981, we resisted and had clashes with the Israeli military forces. They tried to suppress and break us. We resisted and still do not have Israeli citizenship. Israel’s policies change. Now, they opened the gates to work, to assimilate us into Israeli society.
We fight about land and water resources. We fight to cultivate our land, while the settlers have free access to land and free access to water. Arab farmers may only use 150 cubic meters per dunam, which is one thousand square meters. A settler may use 700 cubic meters for one dunam. Water costs us about $1 per cubic meter, settlers pay $0.25 cents. The last four to five years Israel has uprooted more than 10,000 apple trees. Israel claimed it was state land. People went to the land collectively and replanted it with apple trees.
The farmers in the Arab villages in the Golan produce forty percent of the apples and fifty percent of the cherries for the Israeli market. We want to export our produce to the occupied West Bank and Gaza, but we don’t have access to them. We want to export to Europe. Maybe Fair Trade could be an option.
The last four years we could sell about ten percent of our apples to the Syrian market — to Damascus. We negotiated that the apples can pass the demarcation line with Syria. And now Israel tries to use it for political pressure. To use the sale of our apples as an example of normalization. But our apples are a Syrian product, grown by Syrian farmers on our land with our water. The apples are sold to our government in Damascus.
We fight about the education system. We have a big fight about building areas and rights. The municipalities in the Golan Heights are not elected. Israel appoints the mayors. Since 1981 we are forced to pay taxes but we receive nothing in return. We pay more taxes than the settlers. Our population grew from 6,300 in 1967 to 21,000. Israel controls the land near our villages to claim it for future needs of the settlers. We are fed up with it. With a few thousand people we went to the mountain near the village and opened roads. We are going to hand out our land to villagers to build on it.
AN: Do you see similarities between the occupation of the Golan Heights and the occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip?
TM: We are the same people under the same occupation. At present our reality is different. The political prisoners of the Golan Heights spend their time in jail with Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza. People say the first Palestinian intifada was inspired by the resistance in the Golan Heights. The Palestinians supported our struggle. We had a six-month strike and could not survive without the support of the Palestinians from the West Bank, Gaza and Israel. The first Palestinian intifada was a sort of continuation of what happened in the Golan Heights in the 1980s. We had lots of demonstrations to support the Palestinians. In 2008, during Israel’s invasion of Gaza, we collected food and sent trucks to Gaza. We keep close relations, we have the same struggle against the same aggressor. We have the same policy, the same goals. Israel tries to limit our development.
AN: What is the dream of the Arabs living under occupation in the Golan Heights for the future?
TM: Freedom for all of us. We dream that the Golan Heights will be given back to Syria. That Palestinians should be liberated and have their own state. We dream of the liberation of the Jewish people from the Zionist ideology. We dream of a Middle East where we have equal rights. We are not against Jews. No, we should be equal. I want to see Israel become a free, democratic country with no fascism and racism. This is an important step for our liberation from the Israeli occupation.
Photo by Ayman Abu Jaba/Golan for Development.
Adri Nieuwhof is a consultant and human rights advocate.
In his latest Newsweek article Stephen Kinzer wonders who America is betting on to counter the popular rising forces in the Middle East : “The same friends it has been betting on for decades” he answers. “Mubarak’s pharaonic regime in Egypt, Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian Authority, the Saudi monarchy, and increasingly radical politicians in Israel. It is no wonder that Iran’s power is rising as the American-imposed order begins to crumble,” he concludes.
Kinzer explains America’s stance succinctly and accurately : “The U.S. keeps Mubarak in power – it gave his regime $1.5 billion in aid last year -mainly because he supports America’s pro-Israel policies, especially by helping Israel maintain its stranglehold on Gaza. It supports Abbas for the same reason; Abbas is seen as willing to compromise with Israel and is, therefore, a desirable negotiating partner….. American support for Mubarak and Abbas continues, although neither man is in power with any figment of legality; Mubarak brazenly stage-manages elections, and Abbas has ruled by decree since his term of office expired in 2009.”
In the light of Kinzer’s statement, the following questions surely need answering — Why does America support those regimes, whose leaders’ dictates, ideologies and methods of ruling are totally and openly incongruous with America’s alleged value system? And If America is genuinely concerned with the so-called ‘rise of Islam’, why then, did it eradicate Saddam Hussein’s distinctly secular regime? And if America is, as it claims, enthusiastic about encouraging ‘non radicalised’ secular Arabs, why is it constantly seeking conflict with Bashir Asad, leader of another secular stronghold? And If America does indeed champion democracy, why does it support the Saudi regime, Mubarak and Abbas? Why does it not seek friendship with the democratically elected Hamas?
In short American policy seems to be a total mess — unless one is willing to openly admit that there is a clear coherent thread running through American foreign policy : it simply serves Israel’s interests.
For decades American foreign policy has been dictated by Zionist forces within their administration. For decades, America has been exhausting its resources to chase the enemies of the Jewish state. It even sends its young boys and girls to fight and die in Zionist wars. The second Iraq War was obviously such a war. It is becoming clear that America’s decision makers have sacrificed the interests of the American people.
We learned yesterday that the Jewish Lobby in America shamelessly slammed Republican Senator and Tea Party representative Rand Paul for suggesting that the “United States should halt all foreign aid including its financial aid to Israel”. Even the alleged ‘peace seeking’ J Street was quick to attack the patriotic senator. And clearly they didn’t mince their words : “Senator Paul’s proposal would undermine the decades-long bipartisan consensus on U.S. support for Israel. Any erosion of support should concern Israel’s friends on both sides of the political aisle, and we call in particular on leaders and donors in Senator Paul’s party to repudiate his comments and ensure that American leadership around the world is not threatened by this irresponsible proposal,” the statement issued by J Street read.
National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) President and CEO David Harris repeated the same line of thought saying that “Paul’s suggestion is negligent, shortsighted, and just plain wrong….Senator Paul’s statement is yet another illustration of how the Republican Party continues to grow increasingly out of touch with the values of the vast majority of the American Jewish community.”
But NJDC’s spokesman David Harris must have failed to grasp that the patriotic senator Paul is actually concerned with the interest of America, rather than the tribally orientated ‘values of the vast majority of the American Jews’, because Senator Rand Paul obviously points at a clear conflict between American interests and the foreign interests promoted by the Jewish lobby.
In his Newsweek article, Kinzer astutely points out that America needs “new approaches and new partners. Listening more closely to Turkey, the closest U.S. ally in the Muslim Middle East, would be a good start. A wise second step would be a reversal of policy toward Iran, from confrontation to a genuine search for compromise.”
But, It is clear beyond doubt here that America will not be able to integrate Kinzer’s very reasonable suggestions into its foreign policy unless it first liberates itself from the grip of the Jewish Lobby. And It has been proven that it is not easy for our greed-driven politicians to emancipate themselves voluntarily from the Lobby. As we read above, the ‘liberal’ J Street group have called upon donors to cut off the very life supply of Senator Rand Paul. And The Jewish Lobby in America would do the same to every American politician who dared to break the links.
However, in the wake of the current financial turmoil, I am convinced that more and more Americans are beginning to identify the root cause at the bottom of their flawed foreign policy. By the time this happens, America may well be liberated.
And here is my musical take on the subject. Liberating the American People (2006)
An Interview with Kristofer Petersen-Overton
Brooklyn College fired PhD student Kristofer Petersen-Overton yesterday, one day after New York state assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn) sent a letter to BC president Karen Gould accusing Petersen-Overton of being an “overt supporter of terrorism.” Hikind has complained in interviews that Petersen-Overton’s academic work is anti-Israel, and that his attempt to “understand” suicide bombing is unfathomable. Petersen-Overton and I are colleagues at the CUNY Graduate Center.
JS: You were preparing to instruct a course on the Middle East and were fired. What happened?
KPO: I was hired by Mark Ungar at Brooklyn College’s political science department on the recommendation of Dov Waxman at the Graduate Center. I went in for an interview, and he was impressed with my credentials. I have an MA and I’ve published on the situation [in the Middle East], and he said “I would be honored to have you.” And this was for a grad level seminar, which is not lecture-based, meaning that our classes would be discussion-oriented and not some sort of alleged platform.
JS: What was the official explanation for your firing, and why doesn’t it make sense?
KPO: I have not once been contacted by the department itself, but I was told that the official reason I have been fired is that I don’t have a PhD, which is untrue, because no student teaching this course has a PhD, and there are of course many student teachers at BC who do not have their PhD’s. And I’ll point out that I am somewhat more qualified than many student teachers because I came into the program with a Master’s degree, which many students who are teaching for CUNY don’t have.
I was fired immediately after Dov Hikind contacted the school. He is an especially radical assemblyman who goes after people who he perceives as being anti-Israel. He’s actually made a career out of targeting people for alleged anti-Israel bias.
JS: And the charge of bias is doubly problematic. Because, one, it’s inaccurate. But, two, even if it were accurate, what does it imply?
KPO: We all come to the table with our personal political views; there’s not a single professor who doesn’t have their own views. So it all comes down to how one approaches those views, and I devoted an entire class in the syllabus to the subject of objectivity and humanism, meaning I wanted to put this issue of bias on the table to facilitate open and productive discussions.
JS: What does your firing suggest about contemporary politics and higher education?
KPO: They’ve targeted professors up for tenure for so long and have been relatively unsuccessful except for several cases, like with Norman Finkelstein (JS: and, among others, Nicholas De Genova and Thaddeus Russell, at Columbia University and Barnard College, respectively), now I think they’re going after graduate students before their careers even begin. One of the most direct implications of this which is deeply troubling is not the fact that people take issue with one particular class, which is inevitable, but the way in which the college administration caved so quickly – for it to occur within 24 hours is incredible to me, and the school never even consulted me. For this to be decided by a state official poking his nose in a college syllabus is Orwellian. I’ve received tremendous support, which I’m very grateful for. Norman Finkelstein wrote me, and after I contacted Neve Gordon he (Gordon) contacted BC’s provost, writing that he reviewed my syllabus and that it was excellent and reflected a number of different perspectives, noting that the textbook was mainstream and “emphasizes the Zionist narrative.” He also read a scholarly paper I had written, and wrote that he was “struck by (my) academic rigor.”
JS: What can people do to lend support?
I would be greatly appreciative if people can send an email to the provost, even better a letter, and tomorrow it would be great if people could call, and more importantly if people could disseminate this story. It’s especially disgusting that they would go after a grad student, because they have not only impacted my career but also my income and health insurance.
Office of the Provost (William A. Tramontano)
2900 Bedford Avenue
Brooklyn, New York 11210
Joshua Sperber can be reached at email@example.com
President Reagan did not make any bones about his intention to reverse the New Deal economics when he set out to promote the Neoliberal economics. Likewise, President George W. Bush did not conceal his agenda of aggressive, unilateral militarism abroad and curtailment of civil liberties at home.
There is a major similarity and a key difference between these two presidents, on the one hand, and President Obama, on the other. The similarity lies in the fact that, like his predecessor, President Obama faithfully, and indeed vigorously, carries out both the Neoliberal and militaristic policies he inherited.
The difference is that while Reagan and Bush were, more or less, truthful to their constituents, President Obama is not: while catering to the powerful interests vested in finance and military capitals, he pretends to be an agent of “change” and a source of “hope” for the masses.
There has been a wide-ranging consensus that the excessive financial/economic de-regulations that started in the late 1970s and early 1980s played a critical role in both the financial bubble that imploded in 2007-2008 and the continuing persistence of the chronic recession, especially in the labor and housing markets.
Prior to his recent U-turn on the regulation-deregulation issue, President Obama shared this near unanimous view of the destructive role of the excessive deregulation of the past several decades and, indeed, strongly supported the need to bolster regulation: “It’s time to get serious about regulatory oversight,” Mr. Obama argued as the Democratic nominee for President; and again, “…this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control,” as he stated in his inaugural speech.
Expressions of such pro-regulation sentiments were part of his earlier promises of “hope” and “change” in a new direction. Back then, that is, before showing his Neoliberal hand, the majority of the American people believed him—the middle, lower-middle, poor and working people who were tired of three decades of steady losses of economic security were desperately willing to believe a charismatic leader who peddled hope and change in their favor.
Recently, however, the president seems to have had a change of heart, or perhaps an epiphany, regarding the regulation-deregulation debate: he now argues that protracted recession and persistent high levels of unemployment are not due to excessive deregulation but to overregulation! Accordingly, he issued an executive order on 18 January 2011 that requires a comprehensive review of all existing government regulations. On the same day, the president wrote an op-ed piece for the Wall Street Journal in which he argued that the executive order was necessary in order “to remove outdated regulations that stifle job creation and make our economy less competitive.” The president further argued that “Sometimes, those [regulatory] rules have gotten out of balance, placing unreasonable burdens on business—burdens that have stifled innovation and have had a chilling effect on growth and jobs. . . . As the executive order I am signing makes clear, we are seeking more affordable, less intrusive means to achieve the same ends—giving careful consideration to benefits and costs.”
Stripped from its Orwellian language, this “cost-benefit” approach to health, safety and environmental standards is clearly the familiar Neoliberal rhetoric that is designed to help big business and their lobbies that have been working feverishly to stifle the widespread pro-regulation voices that have grown louder since the 2007-08 financial melt-down.
Indeed, the president’s recent agenda of further deregulation has already born fruits for big business. The Wall Street Journal reported on 20 January 2011:
“A day after President Barack Obama ordered the government to get rid of burdensome rules, two federal agencies backed down from proposals that had drawn jeers from businesses. . . . The Labor Department said it was withdrawing a proposal on noise in the workplace that could have forced manufacturers to install noise-reducing equipment. And the Food and Drug Administration retreated from plans to tighten rules on medical-device approvals, postponing a proposal that would have given the FDA power to order additional post-market studies of devices. . . . Industry leaders praised the moves, while consumer advocates expressed disappointment. . . . ‘This is a very positive step forward,’ said Bill Hawkins, chief executive of medical-devices heavyweight Medtronic Inc.”
How is the president’s sharp turnaround on the regulation-deregulation debate to be explained? What “outdated deregulation” is he talking about? How could deregulation, which is widely believed to have been the problem, also be the solution? Why this sudden U-turn?
The change in the president’s view from the need for regulation to that of further deregulation can be explained on a number of planes.
On a narrow, personal and (perhaps) simplistic level, it can be argued that the president’s about-face on the issue of deregulation should not really be surprising; the turnaround represents quintessential Obama: spineless and/or unscrupulous, if you are a critic of the president; pragmatic and/or complex, if you are an apologist or defender of him.
There are also, of course, re-election considerations here. And here it seems that the president’s team is pinning his chances for re-election on big business and big media; confident that once he is able to win their hearts and minds, they will, in turn, be able to manipulate the public to vote for him—just as they did in the 2008 election.
On a deeper (but still personal) level, that is, on a philosophical or ideological level, it can be argued that the president has always been a Neoliberal thinker, albeit a stealth Neoliberal, who is coming out of the closet, so to speak, carefully and gradually. Evidence of his being ideologically more a partisan of Neoliberal than New Deal economics is overwhelming (see, for example, Pam Martin and Alan Nasser).
It is necessary to point out that although the stealth Neoliberal president has been taking baby steps out of the closet, he would always stay by the entrance: as long as there is no popular anger or pressure against his Neoliberal policies, he would stay on the outside; at the first signs of a threatening pressure from the grassroots, however, he would crawl back inside the closet, and begin preaching populism or uttering ineffectual, benign corporate-bashing rhetoric. This is his mission and his political forte – a master demagogue. And this is why the politico-economic establishment promoted him to presidency as they found him the most serviceable presidential candidate. None of his presidential rivals could have served the tycoons of the finance world and the kings of Wall Street as well as he has.
On a more fundamental level, President Obama’s reversal of his view from the need for rigorous regulation to the need for further deregulation, and his economic policies in general, show that while the politics and personalities of a president ought not be ignored, presidential economic policies cannot be explained by purely personality issues such as a failure of nerve, conviction, or ideas. The more crucial determinants of national economic policies are often submerged: the balance of social forces and the dominant economic interests that shape such policies from behind the scene. Stabilization, restructuring or regulatory policies are often subtle products of the outcome of the class struggle.
Thus, when the balance of social forces is tilted in favor of the rich and powerful, crisis-management economic policies would be crafted at the expense of the working people and other grassroots. In other words, as long as the costly consequences of the brutal Neoliberal restructuring policies (in terms of job losses, economic insecurity, and environmental degradation) are tolerated, business and government leaders, Republican or Democrat, would not hesitate to put into effect draconian measures to restore conditions of capitalist profitability at the expense of the impoverishment of the public.
On the other hand, when crisis periods give rise to severe resistance from the people to cuts in social spending, such crisis-management policy measures could also benefit the public. A comparison/contrast of policy responses to major economic crises in the United States clearly supports this point. Economic historians have identified four major economic crises in the past 150 years or so: The First Great Depression (1873-97), The Second Great Depression (1929-37), the long recession of 1973-83 (also known as the stagflation of the 1970s), and the current long recession that started in 2007-08.
Since there was no compelling grassroots pressure in response to either the First Great Depression of 1873-97 or the long recession of the 1970s, crisis management policies in both instances were decisively of the Neoliberal, supply-side type: suppression of trade unions and curtailment of wages and benefits; promotion of mergers, concentrated industries and big business; extensive de-regulations and generous corporate welfare plans; in short, huge transfers of income from labor to capital. Likewise, a glaring lack of grassroots resistance in the face of the current long recession has allowed the ruling kleptocracy (both in the US and beyond) to adopt similarly brutal austerity policies that are gradually reviving financial/corporate profitability at the expense of the poor and working people.
By contrast, in response to the Great Depression of the 1930s workers and other popular forces achieved employment and income security as a result of a sustained pressure from “below.”
The contrast between these two entirely different types of restructuring strategies shows that, as Mark Vorpahl, a union steward, recently put it, “Working people and the unemployed cannot rely on the politicians to get the change we need. We can only rely on our own collective strength. That is, we need to organize and mobilize as a united, massive, powerful force that cannot be ignored by those more intent to do Wall Street’s bidding.” Only the threat of revolution can force people-friendly reform on the ruling kleptocracy.
Ismael Hossein-zadeh, author of The Political Economy of U.S. Militarism (Palgrave-Macmillan 2007), teaches economics at Drake University, Des Moines, Iowa.
We are in the middle of a political earthquake in the Arab world and the ground has still not stopped shaking. To make predictions when events are so fluid is risky, but there is no doubt that the uprising in Egypt — however it ends — will have a dramatic impact across the region and within Palestine.
If the Mubarak regime falls, and is replaced by one less tied to Israel and the United States, Israel will be a big loser. As Aluf Benn commented in the Israeli daily Haaretz, “The fading power of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s government leaves Israel in a state of strategic distress. Without Mubarak, Israel is left with almost no friends in the Middle East; last year, Israel saw its alliance with Turkey collapse” (“Without Egypt, Israel will be left with no friends in Mideast,” 29 January 2011).
Indeed, Benn observes, “Israel is left with two strategic allies in the region: Jordan and the Palestinian Authority.” But what Benn does not say is that these two “allies” will not be immune either.
Over the past few weeks I was in Doha examining the Palestine Papers leaked to Al Jazeera. These documents underscore the extent to which the split between the US-backed Palestinian Authority in Ramallah headed by Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah faction, on the one hand, and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, on the other — was a policy decision of regional powers: the United States, Egypt and Israel. This policy included Egypt’s strict enforcement of the siege of Gaza.
If the Mubarak regime goes, the United States will lose enormous leverage over the situation in Palestine, and Abbas’ PA will lose one of its main allies against Hamas.
Already discredited by the extent of its collaboration and capitulation exposed in the Palestine Papers, the PA will be weakened even further. With no credible “peace process” to justify its continued “security coordination” with Israel, or even its very existence, the countdown may well begin for the PA’s implosion. Even the US and EU support for the repressive PA police-state-in-the-making may no longer be politically tenable. Hamas may be the immediate beneficiary, but not necessarily in the long term. For the first time in years we are seeing broad mass movements that, while they include Islamists, are not necessarily dominated or controlled by them.
There is also a demonstration effect for Palestinians: the endurance of the Tunisian and Egyptian regimes has been based on the perception that they were strong, as well as their ability to terrorize parts of their populations and co-opt others. The relative ease with which Tunisians threw off their dictator, and the speed with which Egypt, and perhaps Yemen, seem to be going down the same road, may well send a message to Palestinians that neither Israel’s nor the PA’s security forces are as indomitable as they appear. Indeed, Israel’s “deterrence” already took a huge blow from its failure to defeat Hizballah in Lebanon in 2006, and Hamas in Gaza during the winter 2008-09 attacks.
As for Abbas’s PA, never has so much international donor money been spent on a security force with such poor results. The open secret is that without the Israeli military occupying the West Bank and besieging Gaza (with the Mubarak regime’s help), Abbas and his praetorian guard would have fallen long ago. Built on the foundations of a fraudulent peace process, the US, EU and Israel with the support of the decrepit Arab regimes now under threat by their own people, have constructed a Palestinian house of cards that is unlikely to remain standing much longer.
This time the message may be that the answer is not more military resistance but rather more people power and a stronger emphasis on popular protests. Today, Palestinians form at least half the population in historic Palestine — Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip combined. If they rose up collectively to demand equal rights, what could Israel do to stop them? Israel’s brutal violence and lethal force has not stopped regular demonstrations in West Bank villages including Bilin and Beit Ommar.
Israel must fear that if it responds to any broad uprising with brutality, its already precarious international support could start to evaporate as quickly as Mubarak’s. The Mubarak regime, it seems, is undergoing rapid “delegitimization.” Israeli leaders have made it clear that such an implosion of international support scares them more than any external military threat. With the power shifting to the Arab people and away from their regimes, Arab governments may not be able to remain as silent and complicit as they have for years as Israel oppresses Palestinians.
As for Jordan, change is already underway. I witnessed a protest of thousands of people in downtown Amman yesterday. These well-organized and peaceful protests, called for by a coalition of Islamist and leftist opposition parties, have been held now for weeks in cities around the country. The protesters are demanding the resignation of the government of Prime Minister Samir al-Rifai, dissolution of the parliament elected in what were widely seen as fraudulent elections in November, new free elections based on democratic laws, economic justice, an end to corruption and cancelation of the peace treaty with Israel. There were strong demonstrations of solidarity for the people of Egypt.
None of the parties at the demonstration called for the kind of revolutions that happened in Tunisia and Egypt to occur in Jordan, and there is no reason to believe such developments are imminent. But the slogans heard at the protests are unprecedented in their boldness and their direct challenge to authority. Any government that is more responsive to the wishes of the people will have to review its relationship with Israel and the United States.
Only one thing is certain today: whatever happens in the region, the people’s voices can no longer be ignored.
Ali Abunimah is co-founder of The Electronic Intifada, author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse
Michael Young, “Lebanon’s False Choice Between Stability and Justice” (via Elliott Abrams)
…..Hezbollah, egged on by Tehran, will fight to ensure that any new Lebanese government distances itself from the special tribunal. But if the tribunal can prove its accusations, Hezbollah may be caught in a vise. If the party resorts to intimidation to stifle dissent and condemnation after the accusations come out, it could plant the seeds of its own destruction. Browbeating its domestic partners will only further isolate Hezbollah and rally other Lebanese communities against it.
A Hezbollah leader lording over Lebanon will represent an invitation for an attack by Israel, which might see an opening to cripple the party if it is isolated. And this time, the Israelis have repeatedly warned that a war would be far worse than in 2006 and Shiite suffering much greater. Even among Shiites, patience with a militant organization that offers only perpetual conflict may wear thin, especially at a time when the community yearns for stability to consolidate its newfound political and economic standing in Lebanon….
Beirut (Photo Credit – Amelia Opalinska)
The worst unrest in Egypt’s history has entered its fifth day with new clashes erupting between police and protesters in several cities across the country.
Incoming reports say at least 100 people have been killed in the crackdown on anti-government protesters. Some 2,000 others have been wounded since the unrest began on Tuesday.
Anti-government protests continue across Egypt despite deployment of army forces and tanks. A curfew has been extended in three cities of Cairo, Suez and Alexandria where protest rallies are underway.
The entire cabinet has now resigned, but President Hosni Mubarak has refused to step down. Instead, he promised economic and political reforms.
Protesters have dismissed the measures as too little too late and demand that the president himself to step down.
Interior Ministry attacked
Reports say at least three people have lost their lives as thousands of protesters tried to storm the interior ministry building in Cairo.
The protesters have also damaged several police vehicles.
Opposition groups calls for transfer of power
Meanwhile, prominent opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei has promised that the street protests will continue even more intensely until Mubarak tenders his resignation.
The main opposition party, the Muslim Brotherhood, has called for a peaceful transfer of power.
World public united behind Egyptian protesters
In addition to that, thousands of people across the world have taken to the streets to express their support for anti-government protesters in Egypt.
Hundreds have gathered outside the Egyptian Embassy in Tokyo, demanding that the Egyptian government stop the crackdown on protesters and President Mubarak to accept increasing calls to step down.
Similar demonstrations have been held in Saudi Arabia, Greece, Germany, France, Turkey and the United States.
The United States supports Mubarak
Meanwhile, US Vice President Joe Biden says the time has not come for the Egyptian president to resign despite mass anti-government protests.
“Mubarak has been an ally of ours in a number of things. And he’s been very responsible on, relative to geopolitical interest in the region, the Middle East peace efforts; the actions Egypt has taken relative to normalizing relationship with Israel, “Biden said.
His statement comes as protesters want an end to the decades-long rule of Mubarak.
The prominent Journalist, Omar Nashabi of al-Akhbar weekly has told the Press TV in a recent interview that the US backs dictatorships across the Arab world.
“I think the US is very careful now — especially after what happened in Tunisia. I think the Americans are really saying something and doing something else.”
Azzam Tamimi, an expert on Middle Eastern Affairs, told the Press TV on Saturday that the US and its Western allies have not learned a lesson from the Tunisian revolution.
He predicted a people power revolution in Yemen and Saudi Arabia, Jordan and several other Arab states in the coming weeks.
Parliamentary democracy is a tricky thing. Prime ministers come and go as alliances shift and majorities change. As this week’s uproar in Lebanon proved, it is a reality outgoing Prime Minister Saad Hariri has yet to grasp.
Lebanon’s sectarian political structure adds a twist of complexity to the country’s governance: the prime minister must be a Sunni, the president a Maronite and the speaker of parliament a Shia. Additionally, cabinet and parliamentary seats must be evenly divided between Christian and Muslim and represent all the nation’s confessional groups, in fixed proportion.
So when 11 opposition ministers withdrew from Hariri’s cabinet on Jan. 12 in wake of his refusal to candidly address the politicized indictments expected from the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, it brought down his government.
Shortly thereafter, Druze and Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt declared, “I hereby … confirm my party’s position by the side of Syria and the Resistance [Hezbollah].”
Jumblatt was dubbed kingmaker because the 11 seats under his (now-disbanded) Democratic Gathering would decide which political bloc controls parliament. Although he was once squarely allied with the March 14 coalition led by Hariri’s Future Movement, in a typical change of position, he distanced himself from them in 2009 and functioned as an independent. After Hariri scuttled the Saudi-Syrian initiative and his administration collapsed, Jumblatt placed his eggs in the basket of the March 8 opposition led by Hezbollah, Amal and Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement.
Of 128 seats in Lebanon’s Chamber of Deputies, a prime ministerial candidate needs the support of at least 65 legislators. March 8 had 57 and March 14, 60 and the Democratic Gathering 11. With the defection of Jumblatt and seven party MPs, March 14 lost the majority they once claimed in the June 2009 elections.
Having stated they would no longer back a Hariri premiership (Aoun said that reappointing Hariri would be “tantamount to consenting to domestic corruption”), March 8 nominated Tripoli MP, former prime minister and billionaire telecom tycoon, Najib Miqati.
A moderate and centrist holding good relations with all sects, Miqati branded himself the “alternative consensus candidate” and went out of his way to extend an olive-branch to Hariri:
“I extend my hand to everyone without exception … I say to Prime Minister Saad Hariri, let us all work together for the sake of Lebanon.”
In a televised address Sunday, Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah likewise struck a conciliatory tone:
“We want the new prime minister to form a national unity government in which everyone participates. We don’t want a cabinet that excludes any party … We respect everyone’s right to representation. All claims that Hezbollah has plans to install an Iranian or Shia government is distortion, misleading and outright false.”
“The Future Movement announces its refusal to participate in a government headed by a candidate named by the opposition.”
After March 8 had secured a total of 68 seats, President Michel Suleiman named Miqati prime minister on Tuesday and asked him to form a government.
It was a peaceful exercise in parliamentary democracy that Hariri, March 14 and their United States patrons thoroughly rejected.
“As for the coup that Hezbollah is carrying out, it is an attempt to put the office of prime minister under the control of waliyatul faqih [rule of the clerics],” said Hariri loyalist Mustafa Alloush in Tripoli, who told Sunnis to reject “Persian tutelage.”
Mirroring the specious claim of Israel, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, March 14 issued a statement saying that Hezbollah would make Lebanon an “Iranian base.” Samir Geagea, head of the extremist Lebanese Forces in the March 14 alliance, said Hezbollah would “turn Lebanon into Gaza.”
In stark contrast to last week’s silent show of strength when Hezbollah men appeared on Beirut’s streets clad in black T-shirts (which Hariri supporters nonetheless described as “hooliganism”), the supposed March 14 moderates called for a “Day of Rage.”
It was nothing more than blatant sectarian incitement.
Tripoli—Lebanon’s northern, Sunni-dominated port city that is a hotbed of Salafi extremism—became the epicenter of violence. Protestors burned tires, fired weapons, torched a van belonging to Al-Jazeera television network and attacked other reporters covering the unrest (who had to be rescued by the Lebanese Army after the rioters had surrounded them). They ransacked the offices of another Tripoli MP backing Miqati and carried banners with sectarian slogans such as “the blood of Sunnis is boiling,” “Iran’s project will not go through Tripoli,” and “Miqati, the Shiite dog.”
In Beirut, they blocked streets as well as the north-south roads connecting the capital to Tripoli and Sidon. Highways to Syria through the Beka’a valley were likewise cut. By Tuesday’s end, 45 people had been wounded, 35 of them Lebanese Army soldiers.
March 14 had successfully unleashed a tide of ugly sectarianism that rocked the country.
“Tripoli has said its word” was Hariri’s reply to the street thuggary he instigated.
Highlightening American’s duplicity in its treat to cut off aid to Lebanon after March 8 nominated the prime minister, Nasrallah commented:
“ … had the situation been reversed with the other camp’s candidate being appointed as prime minister and with opposition supporters heading to the streets, we would have heard condemnations from Washington and Western capitals … Why do you respect that [March 14] majority and not this one?”
If Hariri is the victim of anything, it is the transient nature of power in a democratic system. Anything but the statesman, he instead threw a nationwide temper-tantrum.
Lebanon’s June 2009 legislative elections brought the March 14 coalition to power, thanks only to Lebanon’s sectarian distribution of seats. They unambiguously lost the popular vote, however, which March 8 handily won. One-and-a-half-years later, the people’s mandate has been realized.
Addendum: Miqati held two days of consultations with parliamentary blocs and former prime ministers. His meeting with Hariri lasted no more than three minutes. According to a late AFP report, the Future Movement and the rest of March 14 will boycott the new administration.
Rannie Amiri is an independent Middle East commentator.