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U.S. Darkness in Chile

By Jacob G. Hornberger | March 3, 2011

When President Obama visits Chile next month, he is going to be hit with a request that is certain to make people in the Pentagon, the CIA, and the U.S. State Department uncomfortable. According to an article in today’s Washington Post, survivors of Chilean military dictator Augusto Pinochet’s reign of terror are going to request that Obama declassify hundreds of secret U.S. government documents relating to the 1973 military coup that led to the ouster of democratically elected socialist-communist President Salvador Allende and the subsequent U.S.-supported brutal military dictatorship of Pinochet.

Why does the U.S. government persist on keeping documents secret that relate to a foreign coup almost 40 years ago, one which the U.S. government has consistently maintained it had nothing to do with?

Several possible reasons arise:

1. U.S. officials, especially those in the Pentagon and the CIA, might still feel a sense of loyalty to Pinochet’s memory and his henchmen. Don’t forget that before the Pentagon and the CIA were partnering with and supporting the tyrannical dictators of the Middle East, they were celebrating Pinochet’s assumption to power. In fact, long before the CIA entered into its rendition-torture agreements with dictatorial regimes like Syria and Egypt and its war-on-terrorism assassination program, the CIA was participating with Pinochet’s anti-communist group known as DINA, whose agents assassinated former Chilean official Orlando Letelier and his young American assistant Ronni Moffitt on the streets of Washington, D.C., under the same basic “national security” rationale as the U.S. government’s torture and assassination programs.

2. There is always the possibility that the documents might reflect that the U.S. government’s denial of participation in Pinochet’s coup has been a lie from the get-go. Let’s not forget that for some 25 years U.S. officials, including those in the CIA, knowingly and intentionally lied about participating in the murder of a young American journalist named Charles Horman during the coup. Many years after the killing and the false denials, the State Department released a document that reflected that the CIA had in fact participated in the murder of that young American.

Were the CIA agents involved in the killing brought to justice? Nope. Do we know their names? Nope. Do we know why they helped to murder Horman? Nope. Did Congress ever issue subpoenas to the CIA and conduct hearings into the killing? Nope. Did the Justice Department ever seek grand jury indictments of the killers? Nope. Did the U.S. government ever ask the Chilean government to prosecute the killers? Nope. Hey, this is the CIA we’re talking about!

Question: How is it possible that the U.S. government, including the CIA, was not involved in the Chilean coup if it was involved in the murder of an American journalist during the coup?

3. The documents might reveal U.S. participation in the arbitrary arrests, torture, rapes, and killings by Pinochet’s goons. More than 3,000 people were killed by the Pinochet military-police-intelligence machine, many after being tortured and raped, all of which Pinochet justified under such popular rationales for government wrongdoing as “national security” and “the communist threat.”

4. The declassification of the documents and their possible use by Chilean investigators and prosecutors might cause the American people to begin asking why their own government doesn’t prosecute its own officials for such crimes as torture, indefinite detention, rape, abuse, and extra-judicial execution. According to the Post’s article, more than 600 military officials and civilian collaborators have been tried by Chilean officials. That’s a precedent that surely sends shivers up the spines of U.S. military officials, CIA officials, and civilian collaborators who have committed the same types of crimes under the rubric of the popular mantras “national security” and “the war on terrorism.”

The Chilean people deserve credit for confronting the darkness of their past. Some years ago, they came to the realization that their nation could not genuinely move forward by sweeping the horrible crimes of the Pinochet regime under the rug. Too bad Americans aren’t there yet, which is why Obama will likely get away with refusing to grant the Chilean people’s request to open up all the U.S. government’s files relating to the Chilean darkness.

Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

2. There is always the possibility that the documents might reflect that the U.S. government’s denial of participation in Pinochet’s coup has been a lie from the get-go. Let’s not forget that for some 25 years U.S. officials, including those in the CIA, knowingly and intentionally lied about participating in the murder of a young American journalist named Charles Horman during the coup. Many years after the killing and the false denials, the State Department released a document that reflected that the CIA had in fact participated in the murder of that young American.

March 3, 2011 Posted by | Subjugation - Torture, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | Leave a comment

Ohio Senate Restricts Workers’ Rights

Press TV – March 3, 2011

The Republican-controlled Ohio state Senate has followed Wisconsin in passing controversial legislation that restricts collective bargaining rights by public workers unions.

The Ohio bill was approved on Wednesday in a vote of 17 to 16, with six Republicans joining Democrats in opposing the measure.

“I’ve been saying for weeks that we have the votes to pass this bill. It reflects the diverse interests that our members have around the state of Ohio,” CNN quoted Senate President Tom Niehaus as saying.

The measure, known as Senate Bill 5, would limit a 1983 Ohio State law that grants collective bargaining rights to public employees.

The proposal was amended on Tuesday to include limits on worker’s vacation, new measures to settle workplace arbitration and to cut seniority-based pay hikes.

The modified regulation would restore collective bargaining rights on wages while it bans any kind of strikes by public workers. Ignoring the ban would impose fines and termination of employment contracts.

Meanwhile, demonstrators gathered outside the Senate in Columbus, Ohio and shouted slogans such as “Shame on you!” and “We will remember this,” following the vote.

On Tuesday, protesters occupied Wisconsin’s Capitol for the fifteenth consecutive day in a bid to oppose a similar measure taken by the Republican Governor Scott Walker to reduce employee pay and undermine unions in the state.

Also on Saturday, tens of thousands of people staged rallies in nearly all 50 states, including Washington, New York, California, and Nevada, to express their solidarity with Wisconsin protesters.

March 3, 2011 Posted by | Economics, Solidarity and Activism | Leave a comment

Roots of the Arab Revolts and Premature Celebrations

By James Petras | March 3, 2011

Introduction

Most accounts of the Arab revolts from Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Morocco, Yemen, Jordan, Bahrain, Iraq and elsewhere have focused on the most immediate causes:  political dictatorships, unemployment, repression and the wounding and killing of protestors.  They have given most attention to the “middle class”, young, educated activists, their communication via the internet 1 and, in the case of Israel and its Zionists conspiracy theorists, “the hidden hand” of Islamic extremists.2

What is lacking is any attempt to provide a framework for the revolt which takes account of the large scale, long and medium term socio-economic structures as well as the immediate ‘detonators’ of political action.  The scope and depth of the popular uprisings, as well as the diverse political and social forces which have entered into the conflicts, preclude any explanations which look at one dimension of the struggles.

The best approach involves a ‘funnel framework’ in which, at the wide end (the long-term, large-scale structures), stands the nature of the economic, class and political system; the middle-term is defined by the dynamic cumulative effects of these structures on changes in political, social and economic relations; the short-term causes, which precipitate the socio-political-psychological responses, or social consciousness leading to political action.

The Nature of the Arab Economies

With the exception of Jordan, most of the Arab economies where the revolts are taking place are based on ‘rents’ from oil, gas, minerals and tourism, which provide most of the export earnings and state revenues. 3 These economic sectors are, in effect, export enclaves employing a tiny fraction of the labor force and define a highly specialized economy. 4 These export sectors do not have links to a diversified productive domestic economy:  oil is exported and finished manufactured goods, as well as financial and high tech services, are all imported and controlled by foreign multi-nationals and ex-pats linked to the ruling class. 5 Tourism reinforces ‘rental’ income, as the sector, which provides ‘foreign exchange’ and tax revenues to the class–clan state. The latter relies  on state-subsidized foreign capital and local politically connected ‘real estate’ developers for investment and imported foreign construction laborers.

Rent-based income may generate great wealth, especially as energy prices soar, but the funds accrue to a class of “rentiers” who have no vocation or inclination for deepening and extending the process of economic development and innovation.  The rentiers “specialize” in financial speculation, overseas investments via private equity firms, extravagant consumption of high-end luxury goods and billion-dollar and billion-euro secret private accounts in overseas banks.

The rentier economy provides few jobs in modern productive activity; the high end is controlled by extended family-clan members and foreign financial corporations via ex-pat experts; technical and low-end employment is taken up by contract foreign labor at income levels and working conditions below what the skilled local labor force is willing to accept.

The enclave rentier economy results in a clan-based ruling class which ‘confounds’ public and private ownership: what’s ‘state’ is actually absolutist monarchs and their extended families at the top and their client tribal leader, political entourage and technocrats in the middle.

These are “closed ruling classes”.  Entry is confined to select members of the clan or family dynasties and a small number of “entrepreneurial” individuals who might accumulate wealth servicing the ruling clan-class.  The ‘inner circle’ lives off of rental income, secures payoffs from partnerships in real estate where they provide no skills but only official permits, land grants, import licenses and tax holidays.

Beyond pillaging the public treasury, the ruling clan-class promotes ‘free trade’; i.e., importing cheap finished products, thus undermining any indigenous domestic start-ups in the ‘productive’ manufacturing, agricultural or technical sector.

As a result there is no entrepreneurial national capitalist or ‘middle class’.  What passes for a middle class are largely public sector employees (teachers, health professionals, functionaries, firemen, police officials, military officers) who depend on their salaries, which, in turn, depend on their subservience to absolutist power.  They have no chance of advancing to the higher echelons or of opening economic opportunities for their educated offspring.

The concentration of economic, social and political power in a closed clan-class controlled system leads to an enormous concentration of wealth.  Given the social distance between rulers and ruled, the wealth generated by high commodity prices produces a highly distorted image of per-capital “wealth”. Adding billionaires and millionaires on top of a mass of low-income and underemployed youth provides a deceptively high average income. 6

Rentier Rule:  By Arms and Handouts

To compensate for these great disparities in society and to protect the position of the parasitical rentier ruling class, the latter pursues alliances with multi-billion dollar arms corporations, and military protection from the dominant (USA) imperial power.  The rulers engage in “neo-colonization by invitation”, offering land for military bases and airfields, ports for naval operations, collusion in financing proxy mercenaries against anti-imperial adversaries and submission to Zionist hegemony in the region (despite occasional inconsequential criticisms).

In the middle term, rule by force is complemented by paternalistic handouts to the rural poor and tribal clans; food subsidies for the urban poor; and dead-end make-work employment for the educated unemployed. 7 Both costly arms purchases and paternalistic subsidies reflect the lack of any capacity for productive investments.  Billions are spent on arms rather than diversifying the economy.  Hundreds of millions are spent on one-shot paternalistic handouts, rather than long-term investments generating productive employment.

The ‘glue’ holding this system together is the combination of modern pillage of public wealth and natural energy resources and the use of traditional clan and neo-colonial recruits and mercenary contractors to control and repress the population.  US modern armaments are at the service of anachronistic absolutist monarchies and dictatorships, based on the principles of 18th century dynastic rule.

The introduction and extension of the most up-to-date communication systems and ultra-modern architecture shopping centers cater to an elite strata of luxury consumers and provides a stark contrast to the vast majority of unemployed educated youth, excluded from the top and pressured from below by low-paid overseas contract workers.

Neo-Liberal Destabilization

The rentier class-clans are pressured by the international financial institutions and local bankers to ‘reform’ their economies. ‘open’ the domestic market and public enterprises to foreign investors and reduce deficits resulting from the global crises by introducing neo-liberal reforms. 8

As a result of “economic reforms” food subsidies for the poor have been lowered or eliminated and state employment has been reduced, closing off one of the few opportunities for educated youth.  Taxes on consumers and salaried/wage workers are increased while the real estate developers, financial speculators and importers receive tax exonerations.  De-regulation has exacerbated massive corruption, not only among the rentier ruling class-clan, but also by their immediate business entourage.

The paternalistic ‘bonds’ tying the lower and middle class to the ruling class have been eroded by foreign-induced neo-liberalreforms”, which combine ‘modern’ foreign exploitation with the existing “traditional” forms of domestic private pillage.  The class-clan regimes no longer can rely on the clan, tribal, clerical and clientelistic loyalties to isolate urban trade unions, student, small business and low paid public sector movements.

The Street against the Palace

The ‘immediate causes’ of the Arab revolts are centered in the huge demographic-class contradictions of the clan-class ruled rentier economy.  The ruling oligarchy rules over a mass of unemployed and underemployed young workers; the latter involves between 50% to 65% of the population under 25 years of age. 9 The dynamic “modern” rentier economy does not incorporate the newly educated young into modern employment; it relegates them into the low-paid unprotected “informal economy” of the street as venders, transport and contract workers and in personal services.  The ultra- modern oil, gas, real estate, tourism and shopping-mall sectors are dependent on the political and military support of backward traditional clerical, tribal and clan leaders, who are subsidized but never ‘incorporated’ into the sphere of modern production. The modern urban industrial working class with small, independent trade unions is banned.  Middle class civic associations are either under state control or confined to petitioning the absolutist state.

The ‘underdevelopment’ of social organizations, linked to social classes engaged in modern productive activity, means that the pivot of social and political action is the street.  Unemployed and underemployed part-time youth engaged in the informal sector are found in the plazas, at kiosks, cafes, street corner society, and markets, moving around and about and outside the centers of absolutist administrative power.  The urban mass does not occupy strategic positions in the economic system; but it is available for mass mobilizations capable of paralyzing the streets and plazas through which goods and services are transported out and profits are realized.  Equally important, mass movements launched by the unemployed youth provide an opportunity for oppressed professionals, public sector employees, small business people and the self-employed to engage in protests without being subject to reprisals at their place of employment – dispelling the “fear factor” of losing one’s job.

The political and social confrontation revolves around the opposite poles: clientelistic oligarchies and de clasé masses (the Arab Street).  The former depends directly on the state (military/police apparatus) and the latter on amorphous local, informal, face-to-face improvised organizations.  The exception is the minority of university students who move via the internet.  Organized industrial trade unions come into the struggle late and largely focus on sectoral economic demands, with some exceptions — especially in public enterprises, controlled by cronies of the oligarchs, where workers demand changes in management.

As a result of the social particularities of the rentier states, the uprisings do not take the form of class struggles between wage labor and industrial capitalists.  They emerge as mass political revolts against the oligarchical state.  Street-based social movements demonstrate their capacity to delegitimize state authority, paralyze the economy, and can lead up to the ousting of the ruling autocrats.  But it is the nature of mass street movements to fill the squares with relative ease, but also to be dispersed when the symbols of oppression are ousted.  Street-based movements lack the organization and leadership to project, let alone impose a new political or social order.  Their power is found in their ability to pressure existing elites and institutions, not to replace the state and economy.  Hence the surprising ease with which the US, Israeli and EU backed Egyptian military were able to seize power and protect the entire rentier state and economic structure while sustaining their ties with their imperial mentors.

Converging Conditions and the “Demonstration Effect”

The spread of the Arab revolts across North Africa, the Middle East and Gulf States is, in the first instance, a product of similar historical and social conditions:  rentier states ruled by family-clan oligarchs dependent on “rents” from capital intensive oil and energy exports, which confine the vast majority of youth to marginal informal ‘street-based’ economic activities.

The “power of example” or the “demonstration effect” can only be understood by recognizing the same socio-political conditions in each country.  Street power – mass urban movements – presumes the street as the economic locus of the principal actors and the takeover of the plazas as the place to exert political power and project social demands.  No doubt the partial successes in Egypt and Tunisia did detonate the movements elsewhere.  But they did so only in countries with the same historical legacy, the same social polarities between rentier – clan rulers and marginal street labor and especially where the rulers were deeply integrated and subordinated to imperial economic and military networks.

Conclusion

Rentier rulers govern via their ties to the US and EU military and financial institutions.  They modernize their affluent enclaves and marginalize recently educated youth, who are confined to low paid jobs, especially in the insecure informal sector, centered in the streets of the capital cities.  Neo-liberal privatizations, reductions in public subsidies (for food, unemployment subsidies, cooking oil, gas, transport, health, and education) shattered the paternalistic ties through which the rulers contained the discontent of the young and poor, as well as clerical elites and tribal chiefs.  The confluence of classes and masses, modern and traditional, was a direct result of a process of neo-liberalization from above and exclusion from below.  The neo-liberal “reformers” promise that the ‘market’ would substitute well-paying jobs for the loss of state paternalistic subsidies was false.  The neo-liberal polices reinforced the concentration of wealth while weakening state controls over the masses.

The world capitalist economic crises led Europe and the US to tighten their immigration controls, eliminating one of the escape valves of the regimes – the massive flight of unemployed educated youth seeking jobs abroad.  Out-migration was no longer an option; the choices narrowed to struggle or suffer.  Studies show that those who emigrate tend to be the most ambitious, better educated (within their class) and greatest risk takers.  Now, confined to their home country, with few illusions of overseas opportunities, they are forced to struggle for individual mobility at home through collective social and political action.

Equally important among the political youth, is the fact that the US, as guarantor of the rentier regimes, is seen as a declining imperial power:  challenged economically in the world market by China; facing defeat as an occupying colonial ruler in Iraq and Afghanistan; and humiliated as a subservient and mendacious servant of an increasingly discredited Israel via its Zionist agents in the Obama regime and Congress.  All of these elements of US imperial decay and discredit encourage the pro-democracy movements to move forward against the US clients and lessen their fears that the US military would intervene and face a third military front.

The mass movements view their oligarchies as “third tier” regimes: rentier states under US hegemony, which, in turn, is under Israeli–Zionist tutelage.  With 130 countries in the UN General Assembly and the entire Security Council, minus the US, condemning Israeli colonial expansion; with Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia and the forthcoming new regimes in Yemen and Bahrain promising democratic foreign policies, the mass movements realize that all of Israel’s modern arms and 680,000 soldiers are of no avail in the face of its total diplomatic isolation, its loss of regional rentier clients, and the utter discredit of its bombastic militarist rulers and their Zionist agents in the US diplomatic corps. 10

The very socio-economic structures and political conditions which detonated the pro-democracy mass movements, the unemployed and underemployed youth organized from “the street”, now present the greatest challenge:  can the amorphous and diverse mass become an organized social and political force which can take state power, democratize the regime and, at the same time, create a new productive economy to provide stable well- paying employment, so far lacking in the rentier economy? The political outcome to date is indeterminate.  Democrats and socialists compete with clerical, monarchist, and neo-liberal forces bankrolled by the U.S.

It is premature to celebrate a popular democratic revolution….

Notes:

  1. Los Angeles Times, Feb. 16, 2011
  2. Daily Alert, Feb. 25, 2011
  3. Financial Times, Feb. 22, 2011, p. 14
  4. World Bank Annual Report 2009
  5. Economic and Political Weekly, Feb. 12, 2011, p. 11
  6. Washington Blog, 2/24/11
  7. Financial Times, 2/25/11, p. 1
  8. Economic and Political Weekly, 2/12/11, p. 11
  9. Washington Blog, 2/24/111
  10. Financial Times 2/24/11, p. 7

March 3, 2011 Posted by | Economics, Timeless or most popular | 2 Comments

Lies and Truth in Wisconsin

Fact-Checking Gov. Walker

By WALTER M. BRASCH | CounterPunch | March 3, 2011

Historian Thomas Carlyle said “a lie cannot live.” However, Mark Twain casually remarked, “It shows that he did not know how to tell them.”

More than a century later, newly-elected Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican-dominated Wisconsin legislature have proven themselves to be “quick studies,” having learned how to tell whoppers about the working class and unions. Here are just a few.

LIE: The public workers’ pensions are what caused much of the financial crisis not just in Wisconsin but throughout the country. Gov. Walker has repeatedly said, “We’re broke . . . We don’t have any money.”

FACTS: Wisconsin had a $120 million surplus when Walker came into office in January. Had the newly-elected Republican-dominated Legislature in January not given about $140 million in special tax breaks (also known as “corporate welfare”) to business, the state could have had a surplus, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau. About two-thirds of all Wisconsin corporations pay no taxes at all, according to the Wisconsin Department of Revenue.

Wisconsin could also save significant expenses by having state-employed fiscal analysts, not Wall Street investment counselors, handle the entire pension investment portfolio. Wisconsin pays about $28 million to state managers to handle about half the portfolio; it pays about $195 million to Wall Street investment brokers to handle the other half, according to the 2010 annual report of the Wisconsin Investment Board… Even with the Wall Street crisis, and lower-than-expected revenue, the Wisconsin pension fund is fully funded, able to meet its obligation for several years, according to the independent PEW Center for the States.

Columnist Robert Greenwald says the “shortfall” would be wiped out if Wisconsin brought home only 151 troops from the war in Afghanistan. If the U.S. left Afghanistan completely, the state would save $1.7 billion, according to Greenwald’s analysis.

LIE: The reason the Republicans throughout the country want to end collective bargaining by the public service unions bargaining is to bring fiscal responsibility to the states.

TRUTH: In January 2010, the Supreme Court by a 5–4 decision along party lines declared that corporations enjoy the protection of the First Amendment. This meant that companies could increase funding and advertising for candidates. As expected, the Chamber of Commerce and corporate America gave vast amounts of money to Republican and conservative candidates; labor donated to liberal and Democratic candidates, who traditionally support the working class. In the 2010 mid-term election, seven of the top 10 donors contributed to conservative and Republican candidates. The other three in the Top 10 were labor political action committees. Eliminating collective bargaining for public sector workers would destroy the union movement and significantly reduce the influence of labor in campaigns. Walker has already shown his colors and intent when he was caught in a radio prank. On Feb. 23, Ian Murphy, editor of The Buffalo Beast, pretended to be billionaire David Koch, a supporter of far-right causes, and a major contributor to Walker’s gubernatorial campaign. Punked by the 20-minute call, Walker seemed to be little more than a sycophant for Big Business. The Republicans’ reaction? Instead of worrying about possible ethics violations by the governor, the Republicans planted a bill into the legislature to criminalize prank phone calls

LIE: The unions are greedy and won’t budge.

FACTS: The 267,000 Wisconsin public sector workers, as well as all elected officials, Democrat and Republican, do pay very little to their pensions. However, the unions have already said they’d be willing to pay a higher contribution, essentially taking an 8 percent pay cut, and negotiate fairly other parts of the contracts. Gov. Walker not only refused to budge on his autocratic stand, he refused to take calls from elected Democrats and bluntly told the Milwaukee Journal, “I don’t have anything to negotiate.”

LIE: Gov. Walker’s proposal affects every union in Wisconsin.

TRUTH: He exempted firefighters and police from his draconian assault upon unions, possibly because he was attempting to get support from the first responders, while mining sympathy from the public. What he didn’t count on was that the firefighters and police unions are firm in their opposition to the abolishment of collective bargaining.

LIE: Gov. Walker says he’s just helping the worker when he argues for elimination of the “dues check-off,” saying the workers would have more disposable income.

TRUTH: Eliminating dues check-off would cripple unions, which would have to rely solely upon voluntary contributions.

MYTH: Gov. Walker enjoys wide-spread support for his stand against the unions.

TRUTH: Walker has been governor less than two months. If the election were repeated, he’d receive only about 45 percent of the vote, according to the independent Public Policy Polling (PPP) of Raleigh, N.C. More important, while only 3 percent of Republicans voted for Tom Barratt, the Democratic candidate in the November election, 10 percent of the Republicans say they’d vote for him in a new election, according to PPP. The Republican governors of Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Indiana have said they will not follow Walker’s lead, and will support the rights of public workers to bargain collectively. The massive protests in Wisconsin—more than 100,000 in Madison on the same day—and throughout the nation give evidence that Walker doesn’t have the popularity he and his supporters believe. A New York Times/CBS poll, released March 1, indicates only about one-third of the nation supports the campaign against public sector collective bargaining. A week earlier, an independent USA Today/Gallup poll had almost the same results.

LIE: The protestors are unruly, and should be arrested for violating the law.

TRUTH: The First Amendment gives people the right to assemble peacefully. There have been no arrests because there have been no crimes committed by the protestors. Further, when the governor and the Legislature demanded that protestors be thrown out of the state capitol, and not allowed to stay overnight, the chief of the Capitol Police refused to do so, believing the order was a violation of Constitutional rights. In contrast, Walker had actually considered, then rejected, the idea of planting troublemakers among the protestors—a “dirty trick” that dates back to the ’60s.

LIE: Public sector union workers are overpaid.

TRUTH: A USA Today analysis, published March 1, shows that, on average, public service workers, with wages and benefits included, are paid about $2,500 more per year than those in the private sector. In Wisconsin, the difference is only about $1,800. However, government workers usually are “older and substantially better educated than private sector workers,” according to researchers Robert Pollin and Jeffrey Thompson, professors of economics at the University of Massachusetts. But, again contrary to the lies spewed by the anti-worker Rabid Right, individual union workers, when compared to the same criteria as private sector workers, actually earn 4 percent less income, according to the Center for Economic Policy Research. In Wisconsin, public sector union workers actually earn 4.8 percent less total compensation, according to research published in February by the Economic Policy Institute. One statistic stands out. “The average member of AFSCME, our largest public-sector union, earns less than $45,000 a year,” says author/journalist Bill Press, “and retires after a career in public service with a whopping pension of $19,000 per year.”

LIE: Public service union workers are lazier than non-unionized private sector workers.

TRUTH: Strong labor unions generally have higher productivity, according to independent research done by Harley Shalen of the University of California, because there is less turnover, better worker communication, better work conditions, and a better-educated workforce.”

~

Walter Brasch is an award-winning syndicated columnist, author of 17 books, is a former newspaper and magazine writer/editor and tenured full professor of mass communications. You may contact him at walterbrasch@gmail.com.

March 3, 2011 Posted by | Deception, Economics, Solidarity and Activism | Leave a comment

J Street and the Middle East War Process

By Chase Madar | Pulse Media | March 3, 2011

J Street, America’s premier liberal pro-Israel lobbying group, has just wrapped up its third annual conference in Washington.  There have been sessions and panels on “building peace from the ground up,” on “expanding the tent” and even some passionate condemnations of the Occupation.  Amid so much good feeling it’s almost possible to lose sight of one of J Street’s fundamental missions: to promote and guarantee America’s lavish and unconditional military aid to Israel.

This may seem like a harsh assessment of the lobbying group.  After all, isn’t J Street routinely attacked by neocon ultras and praised by American liberals?  But hack through J Street’s verbiage about “dialogue” and “conversation” and one bumps into this blandly phrased position statement: “American assistance to Israel, including maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge, is an important anchor for a peace process based on providing Israel with the confidence and assurance to move forward on a solution based on land for peace. J Street consistently advocates for robust US foreign aid to Israel.”  This last sentence is 99% of what one needs to know about J Street.

We Americans aren’t used to talking about the one thing we are most directly responsible for in the Israel-Palestine conflict: our $3bn annual military aid package that goes almost exclusively to one of the two sides.  A bit weirdly, debate about Israel/Palestine among Americans tends to leap immediately to the issue of a one-state versus a two-state solution. Or we presume to give the Palestinians tips and pointers about what degree of violence is morally acceptable, and where’s that Palestinian Gandhi?  Or we vow to redouble our efforts towards a “peace process” which doesn’t quite seem to exist.

The one thing we Americans are not very good at discussing, or even acknowledging, is our already vigorous role in the conflict.  Before we continue to micromanage the Palestinians, and (to a far lesser degree) the Israelis, might we first examine, and scale back, our own outsized contributions to what can only be called a war process.

We Americans badly need to understand that we are not now, nor have we ever been, a credible arbiter in the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis.   Our long record of doing things like shipping free-gratis cluster bombs to the IDF, expediting them when so requested for use on Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure in 2006, has long disqualified us as “honest brokers”.  Rhetoric aside, such lopsided military aid packages are our real policy.

This is not another argument against all foreign aid.  There are places on the earth where America does indeed owe a blood debt: Ghana, Haiti, Nicaragua for instance, nations historically wronged by our slave trade or by long-term US military occupation.  It is strange that J Street or any ostensibly liberal outfit could believe that Israel is deserving of [far] more foreign aid than the three of these impoverished nations combined.

There is a standard response to this criticism of J Street.  Their half-measures may be lame, it is conceded, but they are a “comfort zone” for young liberal activists inside the American Jewish community, a space where they can get their message out.  I hope it does not seem callous to view ongoing ethnic cleansing, the collective punishment of 1.3 million Gazans, and significant American security interests to be orders of magnitude more important than the sensitivities of the college students who just attended J Street’s conference.

It seems the true function of J Street is to set the acceptable outer limit to our national discourse on Israel/Palestine, and this is worrisome.  For J Street has not been brave in its positions.  It disapproved of the Goldstone Report; it discouraged a UN investigation into the IDF assault on the Gaza aid flotilla; it threatens to withhold its support from pols who meet with other, less Israel-centric lobbying groups–and that’s just for starters.  Of course it’s super that J Street rallied behind congressional Representative Donna Edwards after she voted “present” on a resolution in support of the IDF’s attacks on Gaza in 2009.  But if she had voted against the measure, how would J Street have responded?  More recently Edwards voted with the majority to give an extra $205 million in emergency military funding to Israel, with only four votes against.  In the midst of the worst economic crisis since the 30s and Israel’s constant flouting of international law regarding settlement construction, a gift of even more military aid seems bizarre.  (J Street, predictably, welcomed the disbursement.)

True, J Street sometimes breaks with its neoconservative peers, as when it urged the US not veto last month’s UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli colonization of the West Bank.  But J Street’s sporadic compliance with minimal standards is distinctly unimpressive compared to the clear-cut policy changes urged by other advocacy groups.  With Jewish Voice for Peace, the Council for the National Interest, the Committee for a Just Peace in Israel and Palestine and New Policy, the rubber meets the road when it comes to reorienting US policy on Israel/Palestine, which they advocate without equivocation.  Unlike J Street, these groups are not getting large checks from George Soros and his children.

Some analysts optimistically see J Street as a sort of gateway drug that will lead its youngish adherents to eventually support a very different role for the United States in the region.  I hope they are right.  For now, J Street will continue to lobby for dialogue, “expanding the tent”, and $3 billion in cluster bombs, white phosphorus and other armaments from the US government to the IDF, no strings attached, year after year.

March 3, 2011 Posted by | Deception, Wars for Israel | 1 Comment

Cut Aid to the Poor, Not Israel

Republicans and Democrats Agree

By MEDEA BENJAMIN and CHARLES DAVIS | CounterPunch | March 3, 2011

With the U.S. economy in the tank and governments at all levels facing massive budget shortfalls, politicians left and right are seeking ways to curb spending. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker wants to eliminate collective bargaining rights and the decent pay that goes with them. President Barack Obama’s budget includes halving the home-heating oil subsidy poor households depend on.

As Republicans and Democrats propose cuts in programs that actually benefit their increasingly impoverished constituents, though, they agree there’s one area of the budget that’s not to be touched: the annual $3 billion subsidy U.S. taxpayers provide to the Israeli military.

One of the biggest defenders of the handout is House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. “There will be no cuts to security assistance to the Jewish State of Israel,” her chief of staff declared in a recent letter to House Republicans. The rest of the U.S. foreign aid budget, including assistance for Iraqi refugees and food aid to the world’s poorest people, is fair game. But the Florida congresswoman insists we must help Israel maintain its “Qualitative Military Edge.”

And congressional Democrats have her back.

Illinois Democrat Jan Schakowsky, for instance – a leading member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus – has drafted a letter, cosigned by California Democrat Anna Eshoo, warning that the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia “have the potential to add to the very real security challenges faced by Israel.” Reducing or “otherwise endangering aid to our ally” would be “unproductive,” she adds, encouraging her colleagues to tell Obama they “strongly support … providing $3.075 billion in assistance to Israel.” (For those shivering at home, that’s more assistance than Obama is proposing to offer Americans trying to keep their houses warm.)

This liberal appeal for Israeli military aid, meanwhile, is being sent out under the auspices of J Street, a group that positions itself as a left-leaning answer to AIPAC. But J Street staff we spoke with at their recent conference were hard-pressed to explain why U.S. taxpayers should fund a right-wing Israeli government that continues to build settlements and maintains an inhumane siege of Gaza.

So it’s left to folks like libertarian Congressman Ron Paul and his son, Kentucky Senator and Tea Party favorite Rand Paul, to call for ending aid to Israel. In a February 4 interview with ABC News, Rand Paul said of Israel, “I think that their per capita income is greater than probably three-fourths of the rest of the world. Should we be giving free money or welfare to a wealthy nation? I don’t think so.”

Indeed, Israel has the 24th largest economy in the world, and ranks 15th among 169 nations on the UN Human Development Index, which makes it a “very highly developed” nation.

Yet what thanks did Senator Paul get for his call to save the U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars? A torrent of criticism, even from J Street, which called on Republicans – and their donors – “to repudiate his comments and ensure American leadership around the world is not threatened by this irresponsible proposal.”

Paul’s fellow Tea Partiers aren’t any better. Of the 87 freshmen House Republicans elected on platforms of cut-baby-cut, at least three-fourths have now signed a letter declaring that, “As Israel faces threats from escalating instability in Egypt” – where have we heard that line of argument before? – “security assistance to Israel … has never been more important.” Subsidies are for militaries, you see, not poor people.

But even without U.S. funding, Israel would still spend $11 billion-plus on its military, more than all but 20 other nations in the world spend on their armed forces – and hundreds of millions of dollars more than the Islamic Republic of Iran, despite having just 1/10th the population. Throw in a couple – as in, couple hundred – little things called nuclear weapons, and, for better or worse, the Jewish state’s “Qualitative Military Advantage” isn’t going anywhere.

But you wouldn’t know that listening to the folks at J Street or to liberals like Jan Schakowsky, who hysterically cite the specter of Arab democracy to advocate billions in subsidies for a government that openly flouts international law. So much for their concern about human rights. And so much for being progressive. Indeed, with liberals like these, the Netanyahu government and its allies at AIPAC are likely asking themselves: who needs the Tea Party?

March 3, 2011 Posted by | Militarism, Timeless or most popular, Wars for Israel | 1 Comment

Israel to Sue Bedouin Residents of Demolished Village for Demolition Costs

Alternative Information Center (AIC) – March 3, 2011

Israel’s State Attorney’s Office is currently preparing a legal petition for more than NIS 1 million against the residents of El Araqib, a Bedouin village in the Negev Desert under increasing attack.

elaraqib
Israeli forces hauling away the remains of the village of El Araqib, demolished 18 times

The State’s Attorney’s Office is demanding that residents cover the costs incurred to evict them and demolish their village, which to date Israel has done 18 times.

According to the right-wing affiliated news source Arutz 7, the State Attorney’s Office is currently gathering information on the costs related to evicting the Bedouin-Palestinian residents of El Araqib in order to calculate an exact sum for the petition. Expenses to be reviewed include working hours of police officers who evicted the El Araqib residents, costs of helicopters and/or airplanes and the trucks employed in hauling away the demolished village.

The many demolitions of El Araqib are part of the aggressive attempts of the Jewish National Fund (JNF) and Israel Land Authority (ILA) attempt to claim their historic land and use it for forestation and future Jewish settlement.

More than 150,000 Bedouin, the indigenous inhabitants of the Negev region, live in informal shanty towns, or “unrecognized villages,” in the south of Israel. They account for around 12% of the Palestinian population of the country, and yet discriminatory land and planning policies have made it virtually impossible for Bedouin to build legally where they live.

Despite being unrecognized by Israel, the village of El Araqib has existed since before the creation of Israel in 1948. Bedouin residents were evicted by the newly declared Israeli state in 1951, but returned to the land on which they live and where they cultivate. Ownership of the land has been the subject of proceedings in the Be’er Sheva District Court.

The first of the 18 demolitions occurred on 27 July 2010, when Israel demolished 40 homes. At 4:30 a.m., 1500 police officers carrying firearms and stun grenades, followed by a special patrol unit, helicopter, mounted horsemen and bulldozers, entered el Araqib and began demolishing everything in the village.

The more than 300 Bedouin village residents, mainly children, were forcefully removed from their village as they watched the Israeli police destroy their homes and property.

Israel has yet to decide against whom to submit the petition, but apparently it will be against those suing for ownership over the land and specifically head of the Al Turi Tribe.

March 3, 2011 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism | Leave a comment

February: Seven Palestinians Killed, 46 Injured By Army Fire In Gaza

By Saed Bannoura – IMEMC & Agencies - March 03, 2011

A report published by the Higher Committee for Medical Services in Gaza, revealed that Israeli soldiers killed, in February, 7 Palestinians, and wounded 46, including several children, during several attacks targeting the Gaza Strip in February.

Committee Spokesperson, Adham Abu Salmiyya, stated that the Israeli Air Force bombarded at least 15 targets in Gaza, including a storehouse for medicines that belong to the Ministry of Health, east of Gaza City.

He also stated that three fishermen were killed by Israeli Navy fire near Beit Lahia, and that one worker, collecting debris to be recycled and used in construction, was also killed and eighteen other workers were wounded.

The number of Palestinian workers who were killed by the army in Gaza since March 2010 now stands at six, while 132 were wounded.

Abu Salmiyya said that two of the slain residents and eleven of the wounded were targeted by Israeli artillery shells, and 18 were injured during aerial strikes carried out by the Israeli Air Force.

Two residents were wounded when an ordnance dropped by the army in previous invasions and attacks detonated near them.

In December of 2010, Israeli soldiers killed seven Palestinians, including two children, and wounded more than twenty resident.

March 3, 2011 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Subjugation - Torture | Leave a comment

Facing up to Jewish nationalism and racist violence

Max Blumenthal and Joseph Dana, The Electronic Intifada, 3 March 2011

When we released the now famous and censored video Feeling the Hate in Jerusalem, we were widely attacked and dismissed for daring to publicize footage of college-age Jewish kids behaving like racist fanatics while intoxicated. We argued that our footage revealed a deep sickness within Israeli society and among diaspora Jews who defined their Jewish identity according to extreme Zionist ideology (“Censored by the Huffington Post and Imprisoned By The Past: Why I Made ‘Feeling the Hate in Jerusalem,'” 6 June 2009).

We insisted that Jews should focus their outrage not at us, but at the statements the subjects of our video made, and recognize the extent to which they echoed the rhetoric of leading Israeli politicians, military figures, pundits and rabbis.

In response, Ben Hartman claimed in Israel’s Haaretz newspaper that we were “on a mission to humiliate the Jewish people” (“Jews gone wild: Why camcorders and booze don’t mix,” 11 June 2009).

American-born Israeli author Gershom Gorenberg argued on his blog that the statements of “a drunken kid in a bar” have no journalistic value, and therefore we were unprofessional (“Racism, Amalek and Videotape ” 13 June 2009).

Gorenberg even asserted that because some of the people who appeared in our video were American, their racist opinions had little or no connection to the Israeli situation. At the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Ron Kampeas, who has disclosed that he purchased an apartment with an Israeli-government subsidized loan in a Jewish colony in occupied East Jerusalem, wrote that it’s “time for [Blumenthal] to grow up and put [his talents] to good use.” (“Best take so far on Blumen-journalism,” 5 June 2009).

Meanwhile, YouTube and Vimeo banned Feeling the Hate, while the Huffington Post’s Roy Sekoff refused to allow us to publish it, claiming in an email that it had no “real news value,” as though the soft core porn that accounted for the content on his and Arianna Huffington’s (now AOL owned) site each day did.

A year and a half later, hate crimes carried out by Jewish youths against random Arabs are increasingly common in Jerusalem, and throughout Israel (“Never again? Elderly Palestinian women called “whores” on Yad Vashem tour, while racism explodes across Israel,” 30 December 2010).

The most recent attack occurred on 11 February on King George Street, just blocks from the warren of seedy bars where we filmed Feeling the Hate. There, a group of drunken religious nationalist youths attacked Hussam Rwidy, a 24-year-old Palestinian from East Jerusalem, stabbing him while they allegedly chanted “Death to Arabs!” Rwidy and his friend, Murad Khader Joulani, staggered into a nearby restaurant drenched in blood and begging for help. Hours later, Rwidy was pronounced dead (“The final moments of the martyred Husam Rwidy,” Wadi Hilweh Information Center — Silwan, 20 February 2011).

What happened next was eerily familiar to us. After a media blackout imposed by the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security police, the Israeli media produced a series of articles dismissing the gravity of the murder (“Did Israeli media sideline racist motives in killing of Arab youth in Jerusalem?” 23 February 2011).

“A drunken brawl gone bad” was how several reports described the killing of Rwidy, parroting statements by the Jerusalem police that his death was the result of a fight. The two main assailants were initially indicted for manslaughter before overwhelming evidence forced Israeli government prosecutors to charge them with premeditated murder. As with the reaction by prominent Israeli media figures to Feeling the Hate, the racist behavior of Jewish nationalists was downplayed as a product of intoxication, if not dismissed altogether, while the incident was portrayed as an aberration. Any reflection about the trend of racial murders inside Israel was officially discouraged (“Murder of Palestinian highlights Israeli judicial discrimination,” 972mag.com, 23 February 2011). And so the band plays on.

With Feeling the Hate, we edited an hour of footage into a four-minute video that focused on the hatred many Jewish nationalists in Israel and the United States felt towards President Barack Obama. Our unreleased footage contains statements by the same kids about Palestinians. The political science major who said “I know my shit” but didn’t know who the Israeli prime minister was told us that the Palestinians should all be transferred to a small corner in the West Bank and kept there in a virtual cage. The boisterous young man with the mesh hat who remarked, “We don’t want any Nazi shit, Obama!” defended Israeli Foreign Minister Avidgor Lieberman’s proposal to strip citizenship from “disloyal” Palestinian citizens. These drunk kids in bars had a coherent, if very simplistic, ideological basis for their racism. It is called Jewish nationalism.

Because Jewish nationalism is an exclusivist project that defines everyone who exists outside the Zionist spectrum as a potential threat and an obstacle to the ultimate ambitions of Israel, racism directed against Obama and anti-Palestinian racism form a seamless thread. This thread connects automatically to the African and Asian migrant workers who Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called “a concrete threat to the Jewish and democratic character of the country” (“Netanyahu: Illegal African immigrants – a threat to Israel’s Jewish character,” Haaretz, 18 July 2010).

It is no coincidence that migrant workers in Israel are increasingly targeted alongside Palestinians in racist vigilante attacks. They are seeking a place in a country that views the removal of non-Jews from as much territory as it can gain control over as a national goal (“Police: Sudanese men stabbed by Israeli gang,” Ynet, 12 February 2011).

While young rightists attack migrants in the street, the government may warehouse some migrant workers in what Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin has called a “concentration camp” in the Negev Desert (planners from the Israeli Prison Service described the camp as an “accommodation center” in official material) (“Knesset Speaker: Racist rabbi’s letter shames the Jewish people,” Haaretz, 9 December 2010).

Though Rivlin condemned the plan, he has simultaneously endorsed a $1.5 billion shekel proposal to build a wall along the border of Egypt. “The goal is to ensure Israel’s Jewish and democratic nature,” Netanyahu said about the proposed wall.

Tzipi Livni, former foreign minister and leader of the opposition Kadima Party, recently warned that an “evil spirit has been sweeping over the country” (“‘Evil spirit’ sweeping over Israel, warns opposition leader Tzipi Livni,” The Guardian, 10 January 2011).

Her words rang hollow, not only because her party had co-sponsored many of the racist and anti-democratic bills winding their way through the Knesset (see “Can’t we all just get along — separately?” — David Sheen’s disturbing 24 February 2011 interview in Haaretz with Kadima lawmaker Shai Hermesh on the “Communities Acceptance Law”), but because she has personally fanned the flames of extremism through her words and actions.

After the Israeli assault on Gaza in winter 2008-2009, Livni boasted, “Israel demonstrated real hooliganism during the course of the recent operation, which I demanded” (I Lost Everything,” Human Rights Watch, 10 May 2010).

She also praised the Israeli army for “going wild” in Gaza, as The Independent, reported on 13 January 2009 (Israeli cabinet divided over fresh Gaza surge“).

Now that some Jewish Israelis are “going wild” against Palestinians inside Israel, and demonstrating “real hooliganism” in racial attacks, does the opposition leader think she has the moral authority to condemn them? If the hooliganism starts in Gaza, where will it end?

Last summer, while living off of Jerusalem’s Ben Yehuda Street, we regularly taped interviews with locals. After the murder of Rwidy, we decided to compile some of those clips into a short video so viewers could get a sense of the atmosphere we lived in. Now everyone can meet a few of our neighbors, like the Birthright Israel alum who believes that if Palestinian resistance becomes too acute, “you gotta just annihilate them.” Or the Canadian lone soldier who joined the Israeli Army’s Kfir Brigade, a notoriously abusive unit that serves exclusively in the Occupied Territories, who believes he’s defending the Jews “from terror, and such,” and that there is no such thing as the occupation (“Kfir brigade leads in W. Bank violations,” Haaretz, 11 May 2008).

Living among droves of heavily indoctrinated extremists on Ben Yehuda Street was not always a pleasant experience. But then again, had either of us been a Palestinian, it might have been impossible. Though many might want to ignore this fact, after Rwidy’s murder, it is increasingly hard to dismiss.

March 3, 2011 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Timeless or most popular, Video | Leave a comment

   

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