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A Checkpoint Isn’t Just a Construction

By Tamar Fleishman | Palestine Chronicle | December 22, 2011

Shuafat checkpoint that was inaugurated a few days ago disconnects the residents of the refugee camp from the center of their lives. It separates family members, employees from their place of work, patients from clinics, children from educational institutions and restricts the free movement of tens of thousands of human beings, for the ultimate goal set by its inventors and constructors to create a “strictly Jewish Jerusalem”.

The architecture of the checkpoint correlates to the principles of modern prisons, the Panopticon, the concept of the design is to allow an observer to observe all inmates of an institution without them being able to tell whether or not they are being watched, according to Michel Foucault’s definition:

“A metaphor for the modern disciplinary power which is based on isolation, individualization and supervision… the construction is divided into cells that provide the supervisors a clear view of the prisoners- so as to enable the creation of hierarchy and power. In this instance, the custodians (prison directors, wardens) are able to observe and control the space through different devises (closed-circuit televisions, patrols and so on) and they have control over and access to the entire site. In contrast, the prisoners’ movement is restricted to a defined and narrow space, and their accessibility, as well as their ability to observe, is partial and limited according to the regulations of the administration”.

When entering this lion’s den one is sure to lose his way in the concrete monster, adorned with the hidden eyes of countless cameras and the revealed eyes of the men in uniform, who are seated in a room separated by bullet proof glass.

The walls of this construction are impenetrable to sun beams, the vast space is lighted artificially, which causes the person walking in the meandering labyrinth to feel uncertain whether he is located on ground level or under it. In this atmosphere, in which one can’t tell if he is above or under, whether it is day or night, of estrangement and isolation from natural surroundings, and in which in each moment a side door might open and the person might disappear to god knows where, it’s no wonder that there is a sense of distress and suffocation.

A protest was supposed to be held on the inauguration ceremony. But the long arm of the occupation was quicker than the protest leaders, and in the dead of night it visited tens of houses and only at morning was it known that thirty five men were arrested. In the absence of the protest leaders children and teenagers took their places. Some had their faces bear and others covered them for fear of the cameras above that immortalize every movement made in the open space, as well as the long sighted camera that was attached to the military jeep patrolling at the side of the protest. Years of experience have taught them that after the cameras come hunters that do not distinguish between children and adults, to them they are all prey that can be arrested and locked up.

The children protested and threw stones and in response a burst of rubber bullets was fired, after which a group of armed men with drawn riffles came out of the checkpoint and stood at the center of the main street. Once they finished notifying every one of their presence- they headed back.

By the new pillbox, on the road heading out of the checkpoint, like a memoranda is the soldier post which was the symbol of the old checkpoint. The old checkpoint wasn’t more humane than the new one, but it gave a sense of impermanence, and with impermanence comes hope. Unlike the new one, the actual construction of the old one enabled a physical encounter between occupier and occupied, without the alienating sterility which is typical to the new checkpoints.

A checkpoint isn’t just a construction implemented for blocking and imprisoning, its essence isn’t architectural; it is also and perhaps mostly there to mold consciousness and ideology.

~

(Translated by Ruth Fleishman)

As a member of Machsomwatch, once a week Tamar Fleishman heads out to document the checkpoints between Jerusalem and Ramallah. This documentation (reports, photos and videos) can be found on the organization’s site: www.machsomwatch.org. She is also a member of the Coalition of Women for Peace and volunteer in Breaking the Silence.

December 22, 2011 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Subjugation - Torture, Timeless or most popular | 1 Comment

Kim Jong-il’s Death is a Danger for North Korea, not its Neighbors

By Stephen Gowans  | What’s Left | December 20, 2011

There are a few facts to keep in mind to understand what’s going on in the wake of the death this week of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

#1. US foreign policy vis-a-vis North Korea has always sought to force the latter’s collapse to pave the way for its absorption into the US-dominated South [1] — and did so well before Pyongyang began to work on nuclear weapons. US hostility toward North Korea has never been about nuclear weapons. On the contrary, North Korea’s nuclear weapons are a consequence of US hostility. US hostility, now in its seventh decade, is about what it has always been about: putting an end to what Washington mistakenly calls North Korea’s Marxist-Leninist system (Marxism-Leninism has been replaced by Juche ideology—a home-grown doctrine of self-reliance), its non-market system, and its self-directed economic development [2]. None of these offer much latitude for US profit-making at North Korea’s expense, and hence are singled out for demolition.

#2. North Korea only began to seek nuclear weapons after the United States announced in 1993 that it was re-targeting some of its strategic nuclear missiles from the former Soviet Union to North Korea. Since then the country has only been able to develop its nuclear capability to a kindergarten level. [3] The plutonium devices it tested in 2006 and 2009 produced only one-tenth the power of the Hiroshima blast. There is no evidence it has miniaturized a warhead to fit atop a missile. And its missile program is plagued by problems. [4]

#3. North Korea is a military pipsqueak, whose personnel are deployed in large numbers to agriculture. The military budgets and weapons’ sophistication of its adversaries, the United States, South Korea and Japan, tower over its own. If the Pentagon’s budget is represented by the 6’ 9” basketball player Magic Johnson, North Korea’s military budget is 1”, about the height of a small mouse. South Korea’s is 4.5” and Japan’s 3.9”, multiple times larger than the North’s. [5]

#4. North Korea has no more military heft to mount a provocation against the United States than a mouse has to beat Magic Johnson on the basketball court. Nor has it the capability to wage a civil war against its southern compatriots and expect to win. North Korea is not an aggressive threat. “In the Obama analysis,” writes New York Times reporter David Sanger, “the North is receding into what the president’s top strategists have repeatedly called a ‘defensive crouch,’ trying to stave off the world with a barrage of missile and nuclear tests…Constantly on the brink of starvation, its military so broke that it cannot train its pilots, it has no illusions about becoming a great power in Asia. Its main goal is survival.” [6]

#5. Because the United States is a military Gargantua compared to North Korea, and South Korea and Japan have better equipped militaries, they can safely stage provocations against the North, forcing Pyongyang into a defense-spending drain of its treasury, bringing closer the realization of the US goal of tipping the country into crisis and possibly collapse. On the other hand, North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party wants to avoid confrontations at all costs, short of surrendering to the demands that it close up shop, and re-open under South Korean management.

#6. Provocations, then, are all on the other side. There are few acts more provocative than the United States’ targeting of North Korea with strategic nuclear missiles, nor former US Secretary of State Colin Powell’s warning that the Pentagon could turn North Korea into a charcoal briquette [7]. Six decades of Washington-led economic warfare against the country is equally provocative, and a principal cause of North Korea’s impoverishment. Tens of thousands of US troops are deployed along the North’s southern borders, US warships and nuclear missile-equipped submarines prowl the periphery of its territorial waters, and US warplanes menace its airspace. Pyongyang is only the immediate architect of North Korea’s Songun (military-first) policy. Washington is the ultimate architect. Finally, US and South Korean militaries conduct regular war games exercises, one of which, Ulchi Freedom Guardian, is an exercise in invading North Korea. Who’s provoking who?

#7. Kim Jong Il, the recently deceased North Korean leader–literally depicted in South Korean children’s books as a red devil with horns and fangs [8]–has been equally demonized in the Western mass media for starving his people. It is true that food shortages have plagued the country. But the vilifying Kim obituaries don’t mention why North Koreans are hungry. The answer is sanctions. [9] US foreign policy, like that of the Allied powers in WWI toward Germany, has been to starve its adversary into submission. This isn’t acknowledged, for obvious reasons. First, it would reveal the inhumane lengths to which US foreign policy is prepared to reach to secure its goals. And second, North Korean hunger must be used to discredit public ownership and a central planning as a workable economic model. North Koreans are hungry, the anti-Communist myth goes, because socialism doesn’t work. The truth of the matter is that North Koreans are hungry because Washington has made them so. Not surprisingly, calls by humanitarian groups for the United States to deliver food aid are being brushed aside with a litany of bizarre excuses, the latest being that food aid can’t be delivered because Kim Jong-il’s son, Kim Jong-eun, has succeeded him. [10] Huh? The real reason food aid won’t be delivered is because it would contradict US foreign policy. The United States once considered the death of half a million Iraqi children “worth it”. [11] Its leaders would consider the sanctions-produced demise through starvation of as many North Koreans worth it, as well.

#8. The death of Kim Jong-il is a potential boon for US foreign policy. There is a possibility of disorganization within the leadership, and internal conflicts leading to a fraying unity of purpose. Rather than focusing on external threats, the leadership may be divided, and pre-occupied with succession. If so, this is, from the perspective of the United States and South Korea, a pivotal moment—a time when the country may be tipped into collapse. And so, at this moment, who would you expect to unleash a provocation: Pyongyang? Or Washington and Seoul? At the best of times, Pyongyang wants to avoid a fight. At this critical juncture, it absolutely needs to. But the calculus works the other way round for the predators. Now is when North Korea is most vulnerable to predation.

#9. Predators never let on that they’re the hunters. Always they portray themselves as seeking to safeguard their security against the multiple threats of a dangerous world. Through guile and cunning, the mouse might just outmaneuver Magic Johnson and sink a basket or two. So it is that the United States, South Korea and Japan are said to be on high alert, in case the North Koreans stage another “provocation,” like the sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan (for which the evidence of North Korean involvement is laughably thin at best [12]) or another Yeonpyeong Island artillery barrage (which the South set off by firing its own artillery into disputed waters, that, under international customary law, belong to the North. [13])

But as we’ve seen, it makes no sense to expect the scenario of a North Korean-furnished provocation to unfold. The more likely explanation for why US, South Korean and Japanese militaries are on high alert is because now is an ideal time for pressure on Pyongyang to be intensified, and because the triumvirate might be preparing to intervene militarily if conditions become propitious.

1. New York Times reporter David Sanger (“What ‘engagement’ with Iran and North Korea means,” The New York Times, June 17, 2009) notes that “American presidents have been certain they could … speed (North Korea’s) collapse, since the armistice that ended the Korean War in 1953.” At the same time, Korea expert Selig S. Harrison has written that “South Korea is once again seeking the collapse of the North and its absorption by the South.” (“What Seoul should do despite the Cheonan”, The Hankyoreh, May 14, 2010.)
2. According to Dianne E. Rennack, (“North Korea: Economic sanctions”, Congressional Research Service, October 17, 2006) many US sanctions have been imposed on North Korea for reasons listed as either “communism”, “non-market economy” or “communism and market disruption.”
3. In an article on Newt Gingrich’s fantasies about North Korea or Iran setting off a nuclear device far above US territory in order to unleash an electromagnetic pulse attack, New York Times’ reporter William J. Broad cites a US military expert who characterizes “the nations in question (as being) at the kindergarten stage of developing nuclear arms.” (“Among Gingrich’s passions, a doomsday vision”, The New York Times, December 11, 2011.)
4. Keith Johnson, “Pyongyang neighbors worry over nuclear arms”, The Wall Street Journal, December 20, 2011
5. The annual military budgets in billions are: United States, $700; North Korea, $10; South Korea, $39; Japan, $34. With the exception of the Pentagon’s budget, annual military expenditures were estimated by multiplying a country’s GDP by its military spending as a percentage of GDP, as estimated by the CIA and reported in its World Factbook. The source for the Pentagon’s military budget is Thom Shanker and Elisabeth Bumiller, “Weighing Pentagon cuts, Panetta faces deep pressures”, The New York Times, November 6, 2011.
6. David Sanger, “What ‘engagement’ with Iran and North Korea means,” The New York Times, June 17, 2009.
7. “Colin Powell said we would…turn North Korea into a ‘charcoal briquette,’ I mean that’s the way we talk to North Korea, even though the mainstream media doesn’t pay attention to that kind of talk. A charcoal briquette.” Bruce Cumings, “Latest North Korean provocations stem from missed US opportunities for demilitarizaton,” Democracy Now!, May 29, 2009.
8. David E. Sanger, “A ruler who turned North Korea into a nuclear state”, The New York Times, December 18, 2011.
9. See Stephen Gowans, “Amnesty International botches blame for North Korea’s crumbling healthcare”, What’s Left, July 20, 2010. http://gowans.wordpress.com/2010/07/20/amnesty-international-botches-blame-for-north-korea%E2%80%99s-crumbling-healthcare/
10. Evan Ramstad and Jay Solomon, “Dictator’s death stokes fears”, The Wall Street Journal, December 20, 2011.
11. Asked about a UN estimate that sanctions had killed 500,000 Iraqi children under the age of five, then US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said infamously, “It’s a hard choice, but I think, we, think, it’s worth it.” 60 Minutes, May 12, 1996. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FbIX1CP9qr4. Retrieved June 19, 2011
12. See Tim Beal’s Crisis in Korea: American, China and the Risk of War. Pluto Press. 2011.
13. See Tim Beal, “Theatre of war: Smoke and mirrors on the Korean peninsula on the anniversary of the Yeonpyeong incident,” Pyongyang Report V13 N2, December 6, 2011 http://www.timbeal.net.nz/geopolitics/Theatre_of_War9.pdf and Stephen Gowans, “US Ultimately to Blame for Korean Skirmishes in Yellow Sea”, What’s Left, December 5, 2010. http://gowans.wordpress.com/2010/12/05/us-ultimately-to-blame-for-korean-skirmishes-in-yellow-sea/

December 22, 2011 Posted by | Militarism, Subjugation - Torture, Timeless or most popular | 1 Comment

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December 22, 2011 Posted by | Economics, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Timeless or most popular, Video | , , , | Leave a comment

One year after FBI subpoena, civil liberties protections in US frighteningly eroded even further

By Maureen Clare Murphy | The Electronic Intifada | December 22, 2011

A year ago yesterday, I got the dreaded house call from the FBI. I was at home working when two agents rang my buzzer and asked to speak with me.

I had been expecting such a visit; on 24 September 2010 the FBI raided the homes of prominent anti-war and international solidarity organizers I have worked with over the years in Chicago, as well as the homes of activists in the Twin Cities and the office of the Anti War Committee there. In the weeks that followed, more Palestine solidarity organizers and Palestinian Americans in Chicago were delivered subpoenas to appear before a federal grand jury in Chicago as part of an investigation into violations of the laws banning material support for foreign terrorist organizations.

I declined to speak with the two agents who visited me; they then gave me a subpoena to appear before a federal grand jury on 25 January 2011. I spent last Christmas and New Year convinced that I would soon be in federal prison for civil contempt of court. Even though it meant we risked being jailed, all 23 of us who have been subpoenaed as part of this grand jury fishing expedition have refused to testify. We have asserted that our first amendment rights guaranteed by the US Constitution, protecting free speech and freedom of association, are being trampled on.

A first amendment issue

The grand jury — essentially a secret court in which you’re not allowed to have a lawyer, and there is not even a judge presiding over the proceedings — has been long abused as a tool of inquisition into domestic political movements. Indeed, no specific crime has been identified related to our case.

The FBI’s operations manual for the September raids, discovered last April to have been accidentally left amongst a raided activist’s files, make it clear that they wanted to question activists about associational information — who activists know and work with in the US, Colombia and Palestine, and how activists organize and what they believe. They wanted people to name everyone they know who has ever traveled to the Middle East or South America.

It is also obvious the FBI put up the LA County Sheriff to raid the home of veteran Chicano liberation activist Carlos Montes last May; he faces trumped-up technical firearms violation charges and serious prison time. The FBI was on hand during the raid to question Montes about his political associations (an organizer of the 2008 Republican National Convention protests, he was named in the search warrant used to raid the Anti War Committee office) and took material from his home related to his long history of political organizing. They even took a kuffiyeh — the traditional checkered Palestinian scarf — only one example of many demonstrating how federal agents so arbitrarily confiscated property from activists’ homes.

And while the threat of indictments looms, I am not spending Christmas and new year’s in federal prison for civil contempt of court. This is, I believe, thanks to the vocal protest that countless people around the US and around the world have made in support of the 24 of us and in support of civil liberties. This is a huge victory. But at the same time, civil liberties and constitutional protections have further eroded even in the last year. More protest must be shown before the situation gets even worse.

A bad time for civil liberties

Even The New York Times has excoriated the Obama administration over its civil liberties record after its justice department went even further than Bush’s to expand the FBI’s powers to investigate US citizens, “even when there is no firm basis for suspecting any wrongdoing.” In an editorial entitled “Backward at the FBI,” the Times takes the FBI’s new operations manual to task, as revised guidelines “will give agents significant new powers to search law enforcement and private databases, go through household trash or deploy surveillance teams, with even fewer checks against abuse.”

The Times adds:

They also expand the special rules covering “undisclosed participation” in an organization by an FBI agent or informant. The current rules are not public, and, as things stand they still won’t be. But we do know the changes allow an agent or informant to surreptitiously attend up to five meetings of a group before the rules for undisclosed participation — whatever they are — kick in.[…]

The FBI’s recent history includes the abuse of national security letters to gather information about law-abiding citizens without court orders, and inappropriate investigations of antiwar and environmental activists. That is hardly a foundation for further loosening the rules for conducting investigations or watering down internal record-keeping and oversight.

After that editorial was published in June, things only got worse. The United States government sanctioned and carried out the assassination of one of its citizens on foreign soil despite the fact that he posed no immediate danger to public safety. Vince Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, stated after the Anwar al-Awlaki was killed by a US drone in Yemen:

The targeted assassination program that started under President Bush and expanded under the Obama Administration essentially grants the executive the power to kill any US citizen deemed a threat, without any judicial oversight, or any of the rights afforded by our Constitution. If we allow such gross overreaches of power to continue, we are setting the stage for increasing erosions of civil liberties and the rule of law.

Other stains on civil liberties this year included the persecution and conviction of the the Irvine 11 — a group of students (all of the Muslim, all of them young men) who were subjected to a criminal trial for briefly and nonviolently disrupting the speech of Israeli ambassador Michael Oren.

Tens of chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine said it best in a statement following the convictions:

We unequivocally condemn these charges, which unfairly single out and criminalize Muslim students who chose to exercise their First Amendment right to speak out against Israel’s human rights abuses. Had the speaker not been Israeli, had the issue not been Palestine, had the students not been Muslim, these charges never would have been pursued. Rather, these charges reflect a climate of Islamophobia and an irrational exceptionalism for Israel when it comes to free speech. The charges chill the free exchange of ideas and students’ right to protest at universities nationwide.

Guantanamo comes to the US

But perhaps the scariest development in the war on civil liberties this year is the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2012, which if enacted would allow the indefinite detention of US citizens without trial, not unlike Israel’s use of administrative detention. Indeed, as Human Rights Watch summarizes, “In addition to codifying indefinite detention without charge in US law, the bill would require that the military, rather than federal, state, or local law enforcement, handle certain terrorism cases.”

@theCCR
The CCR RT: #NDAA codifies into law military’s power to indefinitely detain any American citizen w/o charges, evidence, or trial. Obama must veto.
Dec 02 via webFavoriteRetweetReply

The bill has been already passed by Congress, and now Obama has dropped his threats to veto the bill. Constitutional law attorney Glenn Greenwald described the potential ramifications of the legislation on Democracy Now!:

it will be the first time that the United States Congress has codified the power of indefinite detention into the law since the McCarthy era of the 1950s. The 1950 Congress passed a bill saying that communists and subversives could be imprisoned without a trial, without full due process, based on the allegation that they presented a national threat, an emergency, a threat to the national security of the United States. President Truman, knowing that the bill would—the veto would be overridden, nonetheless vetoed it and said that it made a mockery of the Bill of Rights. That law was repealed in 1971 with the Non-Detention Act, that said you cannot hold people in prison without charging them with a crime. The war on terror has eroded that principle, under both the Bush and Obama administrations, but Congress is now, with the Democrats in control of the Senate and a Democratic president, is about to enact into law the first bill that will say that the military and the United States government do have this power. It’s muddled whether it applies to US citizens on U.S. soil, but it’s clearly indefinite detention, and there’s a very strong case to make that it includes US citizens, as well, which, as we know, the Obama administration already claims anyway, and that’s what makes it so dangerous.

Not only is the Obama administration not closing Guantanamo, but it is paving the way for more Guantanamo-style indefinite detention of US citizens in a military court system.

Of course, there are already so-called “litte Guantanamos” around the US — “Communications Management Units,” or secret prisons populated almost exclusively with Arab and Muslim detainees so as to segregate them from the general prison population.

Following the dismissing of an appeal for the Holy Land Foundation Case, Noor Elashi described on Counterpunch last week how her father — one of five men persecuted and convicted in the US because of the their humanitarian work in support of Palestinians living under US-funded Israeli occupation — has ended up in one of these facilities, and how his “significantly diminished phone calls and visitations are scheduled in advance and live-monitored from Washington DC.”

Will this become the bleak reality for not just Palestinian political prisoners in the US, but also those who stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people? It’s a serious question as the US government moves to further criminalize solidarity with the Palestinian people — as they have criminalized almost all of Palestinian society itself by placing all the major Palestinian political parties (except that which collaborates with the US and Israel) on the State Department’s Foreign Terrorist Organization list.

The US State Department has threatened more than once to use the material support laws against organizers of the US Boat to Gaza. And if passed, a bill introduced in Congress in October would require the State Department to investigate US Boat to Gaza organizers for “terrorist” ties, as Ali Abunimah reported last month.

Who’s a “domestic terrorist”?

The proposed legislation to allow the US military to indefinitely detain without trial “domestic terrorism” suspects who are US citizens is especially scary considering that political activists are increasingly being treated as terrorists — whether it be animal welfare activists investigating factory farms or activists who organized in protest of the 2008 Republican National Convention. And now the Chicago Police Department is creating a counterterrorism unit for the May 2012 NATO and G8 summits in Chicago, at the same time that the city refuses to meet with or issue protest permits to antiwar activists mobilizing large demonstrations against the meetings.

Political repression in the US

Prosecuting Palestine solidarity activists for support of terrorism and going after environmentalists and animal rights organizers is not about protecting public safety. It’s about crushing dissent.

The laws banning material support to foreign terrorist organizations have been expanded so broadly in recent years that the US government defines as “material support” immaterial things like political speech, and travel to places like Colombia and Palestine are now grounds for a judge to approve a search warrant on someone’s home — things thought to be protected by the first amendment.

And Glenn Greenwald, the aforementioned constitutional law attorney, had this to say about the use of para-militarized forces to crush Occupy Wall Street protests around the US:

A country cannot radically reduce quality-of-life expectations, devote itself to the interests of its super-rich, and all but eliminate its middle class without triggering sustained citizen fury.

The reason the U.S. has para-militarized its police forces is precisely to control this type of domestic unrest, and it’s simply impossible to imagine its not being deployed in full against a growing protest movement aimed at grossly and corruptly unequal resource distribution. As Madeleine Albright said when arguing for U.S. military intervention in the Balkans: “What’s the point of having this superb military you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?” That’s obviously how governors, big-city Mayors and Police Chiefs feel about the stockpiles of assault rifles, SWAT gear, hi-tech helicopters, and the coming-soon drone technology lavished on them in the wake of the post/9-11 Security State explosion, to say nothing of the enormous federal law enforcement apparatus that, more than anything else, resembles a standing army which is increasingly directed inward.

Most of this militarization has been justified by invoking Scary Foreign Threats — primarily the Terrorist — but its prime purpose is domestic. As civil libertarians endlessly point out, the primary reason to oppose new expansions of government power is because it always — always — vastly expands beyond its original realm.

Reasons to be hopeful

It’s easy to get depressed about the increasingly repressive conditions in the US. But there are reasons to be hopeful.

I’m inspired and humbled by the courage shown by campus solidarity activists in the wake of the Irvine 11 convictions. Students are showing that they have not been intimidated into silence and are continuing to challenge Israeli government spokespersons and their propagandists.

The potential for true change was made brilliantly clear this year when huge numbers of people come out into the streets for a common goal — whether it be protecting workers’ rights in Wisconsin, calling for the downfall of the regimes in Tunisia and Egypt or for economic justice on Wall Street. Or when young Palestinians born refugees in Syria and Lebanon attempted to march back to their homeland, unafraid of Israel’s landmines and machine guns.

Because of collective action’s power to change, this is precisely why it is being so severely repressed in the US right now. We must stay strong, keep our chins up and keep fighting for a better future.

Update:

The Electronic Intifada contributor Jimmy Johnson has some sharp, in-depth analysis of the National Defense Authorization Act over at Mondoweiss.

December 22, 2011 Posted by | "Hope and Change", Civil Liberties, Timeless or most popular | Leave a comment

24-hour strike brings Belgium to halt

Press TV – December 22, 2011

Public sector workers across Belgium have gone on strike to protest against the new coalition government’s austerity measures aimed at reducing budget deficit.

The 24-hour stoppage, scheduled on the day Belgian parliament debated the measures, shut down the country’s schools, post offices and almost its entire transport grid on Thursday.

“Workers aren’t responsible for the crisis,” said Andrea Della Vechia of the General Federation of Belgian Labour (FGTB union). “If funds be needed, they should go to the financial markets or the banks for cash, not the workers.”

Belgium’s new socialist Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo is trying to raise the early retirement age from 60 to 62, thus making it harder for workers in some professions to stop working and get retirement benefits at the age of 60.

The official retirement age is 65 years.

The pension reform is part of the government’s 2012 budget plan aimed at bringing the country’s budget deficit in line with European Union (EU) rules and keeping the government out of the eurozone debt crisis.

Ratings agencies Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s have both cut their ratings for Belgium in the past month, citing its high debt level, slow economic growth, lingering political crisis and the cost of rescuing its financial sector, notably banking group Dexia.

The strike is the second show of opposition to the two-week-old government’s spending cuts after some 50,000 Belgians took to the streets at the start of December.

Workers in Greece, Italy, Portugal, Cyprus and Britain have held strikes or protests in recent weeks to denounce expenditure reductions.

December 22, 2011 Posted by | Economics, Solidarity and Activism | Leave a comment

Venezuela provides home heating assistance to 400,000 Americans

Press TV – December 22, 2011

Venezuela has launched its energy assistance program for the seventh consecutive year, which helps poor Americans to pay for their home heating oil during the winter, Press TV reports.

The aid, which is provided by Citgo, a branch of the Venezuelan state oil company, PDVSA, will be received by more than 400,000 poor Americans next year, a Press TV correspondent reported on Thursday.

Citgo’s president, Alejandro Granado, has said that rising energy costs continue to affect millions of Americans, impairing their quality of life.

Granado added that his company does not want the US families to be forced to choose between keeping their homes heated, and paying for other basic needs like food or medicines.

“United States is not all roses like people think there are lots of people under poverty, below their standards” Oil industry analyst, Elio Ohep says.

The heating oil program began in 2005, following the aftermath of hurricanes Rita and Katrina. The PDVSA’s subsidiary has so far invested over 400 million dollars in energy assistance for US citizens facing economic hardship.

December 22, 2011 Posted by | Economics, Solidarity and Activism | 7 Comments

Christmas, take II

Gaza Gateway | December 22, 2011

Last Monday we put up a post about the narrowed criteria for allowing Christians to travel out of the Gaza Strip over Christmas this year, which the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) called “easings”.

Adv. Nomi Heger, director of Gisha’s Legal Department, wrote a letter to the Ministry of Defense raising questions about the narrowing of criteria. We can’t tell whether the letter had its intended effect or whether it was our short post on the subject, or perhaps the security establishment’s goodwill, but it appears that COGAT has retreated. The age criterion, which was set this year at allowing travel for those over 46 and under 16, was restored to last year’s age range of over 35 and under 16.

COGAT didn’t bother to post a separate update notifying about its decision to change the criteria but instead chose to quietly alter the original notice posted on its website, the one that reported the “easings” in the first place. It’s unclear how the word “easings” can be used to describe the act of leaving the situation exactly as it was previously. But then again, COGAT is good at coming up with creative uses for this and other words .

Click here to view Google cached version of the original notice, before COGAT decided to change it.

December 22, 2011 Posted by | Civil Liberties | Leave a comment

“Bickering” Britain accommodates Israeli settlements

By David Cronin | The Electronic Intifada | December 22, 2011

One of the first things any journalist covering the Middle East should learn is that rumors of tension between Israel and the West are very much exaggerated. The latest “row” over the expansion of settlements is no exception.

According to the news agency AFP, Britain, France and Germany have led condemnation of Israel’s newly-announced plans to build more houses in the Jewish-only settlements of East Jerusalem and the wider West Bank. Predictably, the Israeli foreign ministry appears disgruntled by this stance. Avigdor Lieberman’s officials are telling the European Union to focus on Iran and Syria, rather than on “inappropriate bickering with one country,” namely Israel.

With a little bit of background research, AFP could have learned that far from being appalled by Israeli settlements, the EU’s governments are accommodating their construction.

A statement made to Britain’s members of Parliament (MPs) on 5 December illustrates that point. Alistair Burt, a Foreign Office minister in the London government, was asked about the statistics provided by Israel to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Israel joined that club of industrialised countries last year, in a diplomatic triumph for Benjamin Netanyahu and his colleagues.

Compromise of convenience

Burt told his fellow MPs of a compromise reached whereby the OECD has agreed to consider the occupied West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and the Golan Heights as property of Israel for certain purposes. Following a visit by OECD officials to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics in the summer this year, it was agreed that Israel would not need to provide “disaggregated data” on macroeconomic issues that distinguish between “pre-1967 Israel and the post-1967 areas.”

Although Burt tried to present the issue as a technical one, his choice of language is revealing. Instead of spelling out that Israel occupies the West Bank (including East Jerusalem), Gaza and the Golan Heights in violation of international law, he simply referred to those territories as “post-1967 areas.” He went on to hint that the compromise was made on practical grounds because the “post-1967 areas” only account for 4 percent of Israel’s gross domestic product.

So there you have it: the West is happy to accommodate the Israeli occupation for the sake of convenience.

If I was so inclined to buy Burt a Christmas present, it would have to be a copy of Shir Hever’s book The Political Economy of Israel’s Occupation. It shows how claims that the occupation is of negligible importance to Israel’s economy are made habitually by mainstream analysts. Hever demolishes those claims by highlighting how the territories that Israel occupies comprise its second largest export market and how Israel has built a lucrative military and “homeland security” industry around the occupation. You can be sure that the 4% estimate cited by Burt does not take such critically important factors into account.

“Remarkable success story”

Exactly one week after Burt made those comments, he attended the annual lunch of the Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI), a lobby group within the main party of the UK’s ruling coalition.

The keynote address to that gathering of 120 parliamentarians and 400 business people was given by George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer (in a country less wedded to imperial bombast, he would simply be called the finance minister). Osborne told his audience that “Israel’s a remarkable success story when it comes to the development of hi-tech industry and it’s really a beacon to the world of how you can foster these small companies that grow into world-beating businesses.”

The review of this sumptuous banquet on the CFI’s website doesn’t give the impression that Osborne was intent on “inappropriate bickering” with Israel. Rather, he seemed more interested in nurturing closer commercial ties with this “remarkable success story.”

Nobody with any knowledge of history would be surprised that the elites in Europe’s one-time colonial powers feel an affinity with Israel. Journalists should bear that in mind the next time they hear rumors of tension.

December 22, 2011 Posted by | Deception, Economics, Illegal Occupation | 1 Comment

1500 deaths reported in India custody

Press TV – December 22, 2011

A human rights body says more than 1,500 people died in custody in India in 2010, most of them from being tortured.

According to the data released by India’s Human Rights Commission, most of the deaths in prison and police custody took place in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

After Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Maharasthra recorded most deaths in custody with 136 and 130 counts respectively.

Twenty-two custodial deaths were also reported from the capital, New Delhi.

This is while the Indian government routinely attributes deaths in custody to illness, attempted escape, suicide and accidents.

The New Delhi-based Asian Center for Human Rights (ACHR) said in a report released on November 28, 2011, that 12,727 also died in judicial custody across India between 2001 and 2010.

“A large majority of these deaths are a direct consequence of torture in custody,” the ACHR said. “These deaths reflect only a fraction of the problem with torture and custodial deaths in India.”

“Torture remains endemic, institutionalized and central to the administration of justice and counter-terrorism measures,” the report added, urging the Indian government to demonstrate the “political will” to end the abuse.

December 22, 2011 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Subjugation - Torture | 1 Comment

Hezbollah: US Claims of Money Laundering Aim to Tarnish Resistance’s Image

Hezbollah Media Relations | December 22, 2011

Hezbollah said Thursday that the US accusations to the party of financing its activities illegally are merely new attempts to target the resistance in Lebanon morally, tarnish its image and cover up its national achievements.

“Hezbollah categorically denies the false accusations about his involvement, directly or indirectly, in money laundering or drug trafficking or any bank transactions as stated in The New York Times,” it said in a statement.

These accusations come after the US security failure in our country as its CIA spy mission was uncovered, the statement indicated. “It aims at blinding on the intelligence criminal networks recruited by the United States to work against Lebanon, for Israel’s sake, and to conceal the defeats of the US policy in the region,” it added.

U.S. federal authorities last week alleged that Lebanese financial institutions wired more than $300 million to the United States in a laundering scheme they said used the U.S. financial system to benefit Hezbollah. A Dec. 14 report by The New York Times said the Lebanese-Canadian Bank was the hub of international money-laundering operations used to fund the group.

Prosecutors said the $300 million was wired from Lebanon to the United States and used to buy used cars and ship them to West Africa. They said Hezbollah money-laundering channels were used to ship proceeds from the car sales and narcotics trafficking back to Lebanon.

December 22, 2011 Posted by | Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | Leave a comment

The Bethlehem Call: Here we stand; Stand with us

By Maria Delgado | CPT | December 22, 2011

More than sixty participants from fifteen countries (including CPT Palestine member Maria Delgado) heeded an urgent call by Kairos Palestine  on 4-10 December 2011 as they joined Palestinians in the Kairos for Global Justice encounter in Bethlehem.

The participants gathered to commemorate the second anniversary of the launching in Bethlehem of the document Kairos Palestine: a Moment of Truth by Palestinian Christians. A significant representation from two Asian countries (India and the Philippines), and from South Africa, together with delegates from Jordan and Uruguay, demonstrated solidarity arising from the Global South towards the initiative.

Many churches, Christian and secular movements around the word have endorsed the Kairos document, and have issued responses in support of it.

After listening to the presentations and exchanging ideas in working groups (by regions and by themes), the participants approved a final declaration: The Bethlehem Call: Here we stand; Stand with us.

The document specifies some “non-negotiable” issues and asks Christians and churches to

  • “Reject the silence of the church, lest we be accomplices in crimes against humanity, such as those of apartheid and persecution.
  • “Refuse to be coerced into accepting financial assistance from any church or organisation that supports the Occupation. (…)
  • “Challenge any church which, either directly or indirectly, invests in companies which support the occupation.
  • “Call the Israeli occupation of Palestine a crime and sin.
  • “Reject any argument aimed at convincing Palestinians and the international community that the problems are caused by Muslims rather than the Occupation.
  • “Demand that churches take bold and courageous positions for justice against injustice. We are appalled at the spiritual and institutional cowardice that refuses to take an unequivocal stand for justice.  Equally, victims and perpetrators cannot be put on equal footing in efforts to create illusions of balance.
  • “Confirm our obligation to resist the Occupation in faith, hope and love. We reject calls to cease advocating and practising [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] or any other form of non-violent civil resistance that will end the Occupation.
  • “Resist being party to any church or church-related organisation offering tours to the Holy Lands that do not include an encounter with local Palestinians and express our opposition to such initiatives.
  • “Demand that the Right of Return for all Palestinian refugees be enforced.
  • “Steadfastly uphold the principle of compassion toward the oppressor.”

Read the full Bethlehem Call here.

December 22, 2011 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Solidarity and Activism, Timeless or most popular | Leave a comment

   

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