Aletho News

ΑΛΗΘΩΣ

ALBA Advances towards “Alternative Economic Model”, Pursues Anti-Imperialist Agenda

By Rachael Boothroyd | Venezuelanalysis.com | February 6th 2012

Caracas  – Member countries of Latin America’s alternative integration bloc, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), met in the Venezuelan capital this weekend in order to discuss the advancement of the organisation at its 11th official summit.

Following a meeting on Friday to draft proposals and set an agenda, the presidents discussed a series of themes relating to ALBA’s role within the regional economy and various foreign policy issues. The body also approved several declarations relating to global political concerns, including pronouncements on Syria and the current diplomatic altercation between the UK and Argentina with relation to the Falkland Islands.

Bank of the ALBA

At the end of the summit’s first day, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced that member countries had agreed to contribute 1% of their international reserves towards the bloc’s main bank in order to create a reserve fund.

The Bank of the Alba was established in 2008 with the intention of providing economic support to people-centred regional projects and to contribute to sustainable social and economic development across the region. The Bank is also cited as acting as a continental alternative to the International Monetary Fund.

At the summit, ALBA member countries agreed that the financial reinforcement of the bank would be pivotal to the development of the bloc. Chavez also reaffirmed Venezuela’s commitment to funding regional development projects by announcing his intention to increase petroleum production in the Orinoco Belt to that end.

“We should increase oil production from 3 to 3.5 million barrels a day, and by 2014 we should be at 4 million barrels. This is going to allow us greater flexibility in all of these projects,” said the head of state.

According to Chavez, Venezuela’s contribution to the bank will amount to around US$300 million.

Regional Currency

The heads of state also discussed the possibility of increasing the commercial use of the sucre, the bloc’s virtual currency. The sucre is currently used for direct trading between the ALBA countries, allowing them to circumvent the U.S dollar and minimise the foreign-exchange risk.

According to Ricardo Menendez, Venezuelan Vice-minister of Production and Economy, 431 financial transactions using the sucre were carried out between ALBA countries last year, amounting to over US$216 million worth of trade. However, Ecuadorean president, Rafael Correa, called for the use of the currency to be increased.

“Those free trade agreements, free markets, [with]…zero indemnity, annihilating the weak, that’s suicide for our countries…We should encourage fair trade; unite our reserves and financial capacity in the Bank of the Alba and avoid using foreign currencies,” he urged.

Daniel Ortega, the Sandinista president of Nicaragua, also expressed his desire to boost the use of the bloc’s currency. In statements, Ortega said that he hoped to begin using the sucre within the next few weeks, subject to approval from Nicaragua’s national assembly.

Anti-imperialist Agenda

As well as condemning what it referred to as the “systemic policies of destabilisation and interventionism” currently being implemented in Syria, the bloc also signed a document in support of Puerto Rico’s right to self-determination and full independence.

Further, ALBA reiterated its support for the Argentinean government in its diplomatic dispute with the UK over the Falkland Islands. In a special communication, the bloc called for a negotiated settlement to the Falkland’s question which does not violate the United Nation’s 31/49 resolution. The ALBA’s statements come as Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez also expressed his solidarity with the Argentinean President Cristina Kirchner on Saturday, stating that the South American nation would “not be alone” in the event of a conflict.

Correa suggested that the bloc should move to impose sanctions against the UK government due to its unwillingness to engage in dialogue with the Argentinean government to resolve the issue. Last week, the UK’s Foreign Secretary, William Hague, revealed that he had sent a warship to the Falklands as a “routine” measure.

Chavez has confirmed that the ALBA group will now review what sanctions may be taken in response to the “negative dialogue” and “ridiculous military threat” from David Cameron’s coalition government.

The ALBA also struck out against the Organisation of American States for its exclusionary stance with regards to Cuba. In accordance with a proposal from Correa, the bloc said it would consider not attending the Summit of the Americas, due to be held in Colombia this April, if Cuba were not invited.

“We could take this to the host country, which is the Colombian government, with whom we have re-established political and commercial relations… I am in agreement with Rafael Correa, if Cuba isn’t invited, we will consider not attending, it’s a matter of dignity,” concluded Chavez.

Helping Haiti  

As part of the summit, the ALBA agreed to step up its humanitarian assistance to Haiti through the formation of an ALBA-Haiti work plan. The project will be aimed at providing emergency relief and facilitating reconstruction efforts in the Caribbean nation, which is still suffering the effects of the earthquake of January 2010.

Member countries also agreed to establish a Haiti fund in order to execute the projects and provide the country’s energy plants with fuel. Details will be finalised at a foreign ministers meeting in Haiti at the beginning of March.

In comments to the Venezuelan press, Haitian President Michel Martelly thanked the ALBA for its continued efforts to help the Caribbean nation in the wake of its humanitarian catastrophe. He added that the new ALBA plan would go towards alleviating extreme poverty in Haiti. Venezuela and Haiti also signed an independent bilateral agreement to increase cooperation between the two countries.

ALBA Expands

In the final act of the summit, the ALBA ratified St. Lucia and Surinam as two new honorary members to the bloc and confirmed that soon both countries would be full members of Venezuela’s energy integration organisation, Petrocaribe.

Other proposals that the group will now pursue include the creation of regional schools for social movements and the establishment of a communications secretary general; as well as the proposal to create a “defence counsel” for the bloc, which was submitted by Bolivian President Evo Morales.  

Formed in 2004 by Venezuela and Cuba, the ALBA is an alternative to U.S free trade agreements in the region and seeks to address unjust terms of trade by engaging in commerce on the basis of solidarity and cooperation. ALBA nations currently include; Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Bolivia, Dominica, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Antigua and Barbuda. The governments of Haiti, Surinam and St. Lucia also attended the event as “participant observers”.

February 6, 2012 Posted by | Economics, Solidarity and Activism, Timeless or most popular | , , , , | Leave a comment

Netanyahu: Abbas must choose between Hamas and peace

Ma’an - 06/02/2012

BETHLEHEM – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated his opposition to reconciliation between Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas on Monday, after the parties signed an agreement in Qatar to form a unity government to prepare for elections.

“Hamas is a terrorist organization that seeks to destroy Israel and is supported by Iran,” Netanyahu insisted during a meeting of his Likud party.

“I have said more than once that the Palestinian Authority must chose between an alliance with Hamas, or peace with Israel. Hamas and peace do not go together.”

Fatah leader President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas chief-in-exile Khalid Mashaal agreed that Abbas will head the joint government at a meeting in Doha on Monday.

The accord also included agreements on releasing political prisoners, reforming the Palestinian National Council and activating the PLO for the next elections, Palestine TV said.

Fatah and Hamas agreed to end four years of bitter dispute and rival governments in May 2011, but the deal has repeatedly stalled as disagreements rumble on. The candidate to lead an interim unity government had been a key sticking point.

After the May deal, Israeli officials froze the transfer of tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority, collected by Israel on the PA’s behalf under international agreements. When Mashaal and Abbas met again in November, Israel moved to maintain a second freeze, initially imposed after Abbas applied for full Palestinian membership of the UN.

A statement from Netanyahu’s office after the Qatar meeting on Monday did not refer to punitive measures, but warned that the deal would imperil the peace process.

“If Abbas implements what has been signed today in Doha, then he has chosen to renounce the path of peace and embrace Hamas.

“I tell Abbas: you can’t have your cake and eat it, either you have a deal with Hamas or chose peace with Israel.”

PLO officials held five rounds of exploratory talks with Israeli representatives in January, but insist they cannot progress to direct negotiations until Israel halts settlement building on occupied Palestinian land.

February 6, 2012 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , | 3 Comments

Doha agreement: Government under Abbas to prepare for elections

Palestine Information Center – 06/02/2012

DOHA — Hamas and Fatah factions have agreed on the formation of a new Palestinian government under chairmanship of PA chief Mahmoud Abbas that would primarily be concerned with preparing for the general elections.

The agreement, which was signed by Abbas and political chairman of Hamas Khaled Mishaal under Qatari patronage, stipulates postponing the presidential and parliamentary elections for “procedural reasons” but did not fix a new date.

It stipulated among other things the formation of a government of technocrats that would prepare for the elections and reconstruction of Gaza.

The agreement also called for progressing in the reactivation and restructuring of the PLO and for re-formation of the Palestinian national council in correspondence with the elections. They agreed in this respect on holding the second meeting on the PLO in Cairo on 18 February.

The agreement called for continuation of the reconciliation-related committees.

Gaza premier Ismail Haneyya welcomed the agreement and announced his government’s preparedness to implement it.

Independent MP Jamal Al-Khudari also welcomed the agreement and hoped that it would herald an end to the division in the Palestinian political arena.

Khader Habib, a leader with Islamic Jihad movement, called for expediting implementation of the agreement on the ground, adding that his movement would not join the government, which he described as temporary with independent members.

The popular front for the liberation of Palestine objected to the agreement, saying that it was against the legislation passed by the Palestinian legislative council back in 2003 that separated between the posts of president and premier.

Other political analysts and writers expressed reserved optimism toward the agreement while others rejected it outright such as Dr. Abdul Sattar Qassem, political science professor and former presidential candidate, who expected failure of the agreement.

Qassem attributed his conclusion to the fact that the agreement did not resolve the root causes of the internal Palestinian division.

February 6, 2012 Posted by | Aletho News | Leave a comment

“Al-Qaeda” Takeover of Radaa: Saleh’s Latest Ploy?

Ali Abdallah Saleh has not tired of playing the al-Qaeda card to retain any toehold of power in Yemen well after he was ostensibly reduced to an honorary president by the Gulf Initiative.

By Jamal Jubran | Al Akhbar | February 5, 2012

Sanaa – “Either me, or al-Qaeda” has long been the message Saleh has sought to press home.

He did that last May in the southern governorate of Abyan, when he ordered security forces in Zinjibar to keep the town gates open and mount no resistance against an invasion by hundreds of armed men. The regime later said they belonged to al-Qaeda.

Saleh was at it again last month, shortly before his departure to the US for medical treatment, though the stage-management this time was dire.

A tribal sheikh named Tareq al-Dahab, who wields considerable clout within his heavily-armed and famously fierce clan, descended on the town of Radaa, 170 km southeast of Sanaa in the governorate of al-Bayda. Units of the Central Security Forces and Republican Guards deployed in the vicinity but put up no resistance.

With nothing standing in their way, Dahab and his men moved into the town as though on a picnic or hunting trip. They went on to occupy it completely and proclaim an Islamic Emirate.

The group proceeded to the main al-Ameriyah Mosque, where in between performing sunset and evening prayers, Dahab delivered a sermon. It featured a pledge of allegiance to Nasser al-Wuhayshi and Ayman Al-Zawahiri, respectively the leaders of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.

Dahab also announced a number of administrative decrees. In a bid to curry favor with local people, he ordered gasoline station owners to slash fuel prices to what they had been before the outbreak of Yemen’s youth-led popular revolution last year.

The gunmen then made for al-Ameriyah Castle, an ancient fort overlooking the town. But they did not stop there. Over the course of the next two days, Dahab and his fighters took over the rest of the town, including the central prison, where they released all the inmates.

According to Yemen’s Deputy Information Minister, Abdu al-Jundi, the jailbreak was intended to recruit more members for the group. Weapons were given to any convicts who were willing to join. That was denied by Dahab, however, who issued a statement claiming he had only freed two of his own followers from the prison.

Dahab later released a video recording of himself proclaiming that “the Islamic Caliphate is coming, even if we must sacrifice our souls and our skulls for its sake!” He pledged to liberate the entire Arabian Peninsula, after first “bringing about the rule of Islamic sharia in Yemen in line with the wishes of the people.”

Meanwhile in Sanaa, the military commission set up in accordance with the Gulf Initiative to oversee ending “armed manifestations” in urban areas convened. It reviewed efforts to get barricades dismantled and armored vehicles taken off the streets of the capital and of Yemen’s third-largest city, Taiz. The Commission issued a statement applauding the progress made in this regard and announced that a fact-finding mission would be formed to look into the developments in Radaa.

But local tribal leaders had other ideas about what needed to be done.

Conditions in the town had deteriorated sharply, the security forces having disappeared after allowing Dahab and his fighters to take over. People were out on the streets guarding their homes and shops with whatever weapons they had at hand.

Particularly alarming was the presence of all those freed convicts among the gunmen. Many of the released prison inmates had committed revenge-killings, or been convicted of serious crimes such as rape, murder, and armed robbery. They included 165 men who had been formally sentenced to death.

Local sources said that Dahab’s men did not enter the town en masse, as media reports suggested, but collected there over a period of time. Local sheikhs repeatedly approached the authorities about the growing numbers of armed strangers appearing in the town, but their complaints went unheeded.

The sheikhs met to consider the situation and decided to issue an ultimatum. Dahab and his followers were given three days to leave Radaa, or be expelled by force. Dahab requested an extension to allow for negotiations with the sheikhs on a mutually-acceptable solution without having to resort to arms. Eventually, under tribal pressure, he agreed to pull out his men, in exchange for the authorities acceding to a number of demands he put forward – notably the release of his youngest brother Nabil from the Political Security Prison in Sanaa.

A bigger surprise was sprung by another brother, Khaled al-Dahab, when he revealed in remarks to the press that Tareq al-Dahab had long worked closely with Saleh’s national security apparatus and his former interior minister. The question was immediately raised whether Dahab was truly affiliated to al-Qaeda or had been acting at the behest a security agency.

Al-Dahab has never been outside Yemen and his name has never been linked to al-Qaeda or its operations. His only connection to the group is that his sister used to be married to Anwar al-Awlaqi, the radical preacher believed to be a leading light of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, who was killed in an American drone strike last year.

Hilal conceded that the group does operate in nearby areas and in other parts of Yemen – unlike many opposition supporters, who deny that al-Qaeda exists at all in the country and claim it is a fiction invented by Saleh to serve his purposes. But it was clear from the way Radaa was taken over that the group involved was connected to Saleh’s regime, he said.

“He wants to cause renewed confusion in the country and take it back to square one,” Hilal charged.

Another journalist, Khaled Abd al-Hadi of the opposition Yemeni Socialist Party newspaper al-Thawri, agreed that it was unreasonable to deny that al-Qaeda had established a permanent presence in Yemen.

But he said that the regime was playing a major role in developments, and al-Qaeda was seeking to exploit the breakdown of security in the country to extend its control to new areas.

This could have grave consequences, he warned. The group could try to move on Dhamar to the northwest of Radaa, a town inhabited mainly by members of the Zaydi sect and home to a Zaydi religious center. That would be seen as launching “a clearly sectarian war,” he said.

“There are armed Zaydi tribes in Dhamar province, fierce fighters. They are will not stand back in the face of any attack on them,” he said.

The suspicion that Saleh has a hand in such schemes is widely shared. Even an official of Saleh’s General People’s Congress (GPC) party, speaking to Al-Akhbar on condition of anonymity, charged that prior to departing Yemen, Saleh had taken a number of measures “as part of an attempt to plunge the country into chaos.”

This despite the immunity he received from prosecution for anything he may have done during his 33 years in office.

Meanwhile, the alarm has been raised about the reported arming of GPC members, especially in Taiz and the city of al-Dalei south of the capital.

Informed sources say the main immediate objective is to foil the early presidential elections scheduled for February 21, in a bid to take Yemen, as Hilal put it, ”back to square one.”

February 6, 2012 Posted by | Deception, False Flag Terrorism, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Iran honestly cooperating with IAEA: Britain’s former IAEA envoy to Iran

Mehr News Agency | February 4, 2012

Britain’s former representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency Peter Jenkins has said that Iran has honestly and sincerely been cooperating with the UN nuclear watchdog.

Jenkins made the remarks in a recent interview with the BBC Persian service in reply to a question about claims that Iran has not provided answers about the alleged weapons studies.

Jenkins, according to a translation of his comments, said that he does not think that is the case and that he believes Iran has been honestly and sincerely cooperating with the IAEA and its inspectors.

On the main bone of contention between Iran and the West, he said that the West maintains that Tehran should halt the uranium enrichment component of its nuclear program, but Iran is opposed to such a view.

And Iran is right according to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty because every country has the right to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes under the NPT, Jenkins stated.

Britain’s former representative to the IAEA also commented on the pressure exerted and the sanctions imposed by the West on Iran, saying that experiences of the past few years have shown that the continuation of this trend cannot help resolve the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program.

It would be better if the Western countries learn a lesson from their past mistakes and engage in open negotiations with Iran, he stated, adding that a peaceful solution can be worked out to Iran’s nuclear issue based on the NPT.

Asked about the fact that he used to believe that Iran’s nuclear activities have a military dimension, Jenkins said that he used to think that Tehran is pursuing nuclear weapons, but the reports prepared by U.S. intelligence institutions and the IAEA on Iran’s nuclear activities made him change his mind.

February 6, 2012 Posted by | Timeless or most popular | , , , | Leave a comment

US Palestinians organize as government renews threats to indict solidarity activists

By Maureen Clare Murphy – The Electronic Intifada – 02/06/2012

The US Palestinian Community Network (USPCN) is asking supporters to sign a pledge to defend civil and human rights as it was revealed last week that the lead government prosecutor of the Holy Land Five has been assigned to the ongoing secret investigation against anti-war and international solidarity activists across the US.

USPCN is a Palestinian formation aimed at unifying Palestinians in the Shatat (exile) in support of self-determination and the right of return and ending the Zionist occupation and colonization of Palestine.

USPCN has rallied around Palestine solidarity and anti-war activists who are being targeted as part of an investigation into material support for foreign terrorist organizations. I am one of almost two dozen activists in Chicago and the Minneapolis/St.Paul areas who have been subpoenaed to a federal grand jury as part of this investigation.

The FBI and other federal agencies, in a coordinated raid in September 2010, burst into the homes of prominent organizers in the Midwest and harassed activists across the country. In the following months, subpoenas were delivered to a total of 23 activists; all of us have refused to testify, saying that we are being targeted because of our political work which is protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution.

Veteran Chicano liberation, anti-war and immigrant rights activist Carlos Montes was also raided by the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department last May. Montes is named in one of the search warrants served in Minneapolis in September 2010, and when he was in custody the FBI questioned him about his political associations.

He was charged with trumped-up technical firearms code violations related to his participation in protests decades ago. (For more information about Montes and this attack on him, see this good backgrounder by Chris Hedges: “Carlos Montes and the Security State: A Cautionary Tale.”)

Readying for national day of action

The USPCN’s pledge in support of the activists reads:

In solidarity with the 23, we will defend our constitutional rights of freedom of speech and assembly. We will stand up to any escalation of the attacks on human rights activists.

We will join in the National Day of Protest when any of the 23 human rights activists are ordered to appear in front of the Chicago Grand Jury or indicted.

The Committee to Stop FBI Repression, which formed in the wake of the September 2010 raids, also has a petition that has already been signed by thousands of individuals. There is also a national petition in support of Carlos Montes.

Lead prosecutor of Holy Land Five now part of secret investigation

It was revealed last week that not only is the the investigation into the anti-war and solidarity activists ongoing, but Barry Jonas, the lead prosecutor of five men associated with the Holy Land Foundation, is now working on the investigation under US District Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald in Chicago.

The Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF), once the largest Islamic charity in the US, was shut down by the Bush administration in December 2001 and indictments came down a few years later. After a first trial resulted in a hung jury that favored toward acquittal, a second trial resulted in the conviction of the five men, who were given sentences ranging from 15 to 65 years in prison.

The US government alleged that the HLF was providing material support to Hamas, a Palestinian political party on the US State Department’s designated foreign terrorist organization list. As is summarized in Alia Malek’s excellent book Patriot Acts: Narratives of Post-9/11 Injustice:

The HLF was not accused of directly financing terrorist violence, but of supplying funds to Hamas-controlled charitable societies and committees. The US government has argued that providing humanitarian aid to victims of war or natural disasters is a crime if provided to or coordinated with a group labeled as a foreign terrorist organization.

The charitable groups, known as Zakat Committees, identified in the indictment have been funded by the US and the defense denied that the committees are controled by Hamas. The Hamas party won a majority of seats in the 2006 Palestinian Legislative Council elections and the Gaza Strip has been subjected to a devastating siege of collective punishment following the Hamas government’s takeover of the territory’s internal affairs.

All of the major Palestinian political parties, except for Fatah, is on the State Department’s terrorist organization list, essentially criminalizing an entire people. Of course I don’t have to point out the hypocrisy of criminalizing Palestinian political groups while the US funds the Israeli occupation to the tune of $3 billion a year and provides Israel with diplomatic cover at the United Nations.

Charity treated as “local face of terrorism”

Holy Land Foundation co-founder Ghassan Elashi is currently serving a 65-year sentence in a Communications Management Unit — self-contained detention centers where communication is severely restricted and monitored, and which are disproportionately populated by Arabs and Muslims. He provides a revealing testimony in Patriot Acts, describing how the HLF and his family company, InfoCom, which was raided days before the 11 September 2001 attacks, became the “local faces of terrorism.” It was at one point even speculated whether the 11 September attacks were in reprisal for the raid on the company.

Elashi also describes how the government agencies who raided the HLF’s offices in December 2001 had neither a search warrant or a court order to seize its contents.

The injustices against the HLF continued during the trials. During the first trial, Elashi recounts, “the prosecutors focused on the killing of Israeli soldiers and civilians by Palestinian elements, and specifically Hamas, as opposed to the actions of the HLF or the defendants themselves.”

Elashi adds:

One government witness testified in detail about suicide bombings claimed by Hamas, and prosecutors were also allowed to present to the jury numerous images and statements made by individuals other than us. For example, they showed pictures of the aftermath of suicide bombs, and videos of Palestinian school ceremonies in which children played the roles of suicide bombers, complete with suicide belts. None of the videos came from the HLF’s files. The videos depicted events that happened years after the HLF closed, and there is no evidence that the defendants attended these ceremonies.

Yet all attempts by our attorney to show the jury fundraising videos demonstrating the HLF’s charity work were met with objections from prosecutors and the judge. The judge even deemed the evidence irrelevant.

Like in the Chicago trial of US Palestinians Muhammad Salah and Dr. Abdelhaleem Ashqar a few years back, the prosecution’s star witness in the HLF trial was an “anonymous expert who worked with the Israeli secret intelligence.” His real name was not revealed to the court and the defense attorneys were severely limited in what they were allowed to ask during cross-examination. “This is the first time in history the US court had allowed an expert witness to testify with an anonymous name,” Elashi recounts in Patriot Acts.

Elashi also recalls that after the first trial, none of the defendants were found guilty of any of the 197 counts against them. However, the prosecution had more tricks up its sleeve, as Elashi recalls:

Prosecutors then asked the judge to poll the jurors. The judge agreed, and one of the jurors changed their mind. Suddenly there was confusion in the court. Some of the marshals told us that they had never seen such a thing in their lives. The judge then ordered the jurors to go back to the deliberation room and come out with a final verdict … This time one of the jurors changed their minds … the final verdict was a hung jury on all counts for all defendants, except [Mohammad] Elmezain, who was acquitted on all counts, with a hung jury on one count. The judge then announced a mistrial. A mistrial meant of course that prosecutors decided to retry the case.

A second trial resulted in guilty verdicts on all counts and lengthy prison sentences for the five men.

Palestine solidarity construed as material support for terrorism

The injustice of the trial, convictions and sentencing of the Holy Land Foundation five gives an idea of what anti-war and international solidarity activists are in for should they be put on trial.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts’ Privacy Matters blog published a spot-on analysis last week on “International solidarity and the First Amendment in the crosshairs,” saying that government prosecutor Barry Jonas’ involvement “suggests that criminalizing support for Palestine could be at the top of the grand jury’s agenda.”

The post also states:

Since the Holy Land Foundation case was decided, prosecutors have obtained a new weapon to use against international solidarity activists like those at the receiving end of grand jury subpoenas. The Supreme Court ruling in June 2010 in the case of Holder v. the Humanitarian Law Project was the culmination of 12 years of litigation over the interpretation of the “material support to terrorism” provision of the 1996 Anti Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which was expanded by the USA PATRIOT Act to include the categories of giving “expert advice or assistance,” training, service and personnel.

The case revolved around groups that were helping the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) develop non violent ways of getting its message across and an organization that maintained that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE) should be the recipient of aid for northern Sri Lanka in the aftermath of the deadly tsunami.

In a 6-3 decision written by Chief Justice John Roberts, the Court in June 2010 carved out a frightening new exception to the First Amendment. Basically it says that if a person or organization has carried out some kind of activity that was somehow “coordinated” with a group that has been listed by the Secretary of State as a terrorist organization, then that person or organization can be prosecuted for giving “material support” to terrorists. That activity can be wholly peaceful, have peacemaking or humanitarian relief as its goal, and involve nothing more than words.

The Supreme Court’s constitutionally vague decision gives the government a powerful tool to prosecute international solidarity activists. As the ACLU-Mass blog notes:

If the African National Congress were still on the State Department’s list — it was taken off by an Act of Congress as a 90th birthday present to Nelson Mandela in 2008 — then, theoretically at any rate, anyone from this country who worked with Mandela, or enabled Mandela’s voice to be heard could have faced criminal charges.

While in its June 2010 decision the Supreme Court declared that it was not criminalizing independent advocacy of ideas or opinions, ACLU-Mass notes that this was “overlooked in Boston where, in December 2011, a federal jury found Tarek Mehanna guilty of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists without any kind of demonstrated link being made to a terrorist organization.”

Ideological war

The (mis)application of anti-terror legislation is something that I have been scrutinizing on my blog, focusing on the case of three young North Carolina Muslim men who were indicted, convicted of and received decades-long sentences for conspiracy to provide material support for foreign terrorist organizations and, in two of their cases, for conspiracy to kill, kidnap, harm or maim persons in a foreign country.

However, the government did not identify which specific groups the men were plotting to provide material support for. The indictment instead uses the word jihad over and over again, as though that was a specific crime codified in US law, and refers to generic mujahideen (repeatedly mis-transliterated from Arabic as mujihadeen in the indictment, revealing US attorneys’ complete ignorance with the subject matter). Mujahideen roughly translates to “holy warrior” but does not refer to any specific group of people.

During the sentencing hearings for the three young North Carolina men, which I covered for The Electronic Intifada, statements made by government prosecutors suggested that it was ideology on trial. One of the defendants’ sympathies with Iraqis resisting US occupation forces in Fallujah was treated as evidence of him being sympathetic with terrorism. In one of the other men’s hearing, a US attorney referred to the US military as the “arm by which we have fought radical Islam all over the world.”

The North Carolina defendants were conflated with parties fighting the US military overseas, suggesting that the US government views the prosecution of US Muslims as the “domestic” front of the war on terror, and that ideological opposition to US foreign policy is “evidence” of “terrorist” leanings.

Never-ending “war on terror”

The dangers posed to civil liberties by the indefinite, ideological “war on terrorism,” which has no geographic boundaries, have been particularly felt by Arab and Muslim communities in the US. Environmental and animal liberation activists have also been treated as domestic terrorists, and now Palestine solidarity activists are under threat of being prosecuted under anti-terrorism legislation. (Of course, Palestine activism in the US has been criminalized for decades — see this story I co-authored with my colleague Nora Barrows-Friedman for a bit of that history.)

The US State Department has said more than once that organizers with the US Boat to Gaza may be investigated for violations of material support to foreign terrorist organizations. US Congress late last year introduced a bill seeking to investigate the US Boat to Gaza.

Meanwhile the flow of money and arms to Israel goes unabated, and groups raising money to fund Israeli settlements enjoy tax-exempt status, just to identify but some of the double standards of what constitutes material support for “terror.”

The situation on the ground grows ever worse in Palestine, and Arab and Muslim communities face increased injustice in the US. It’s our job to raise our voices both in support for boycott, divestment and sanctions measures on Israel — including cutting off US aid — and in support of the civil liberties of those being repressed in the US.

February 6, 2012 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Solidarity and Activism, Timeless or most popular, Wars for Israel | , , , | Leave a comment

Egyptians oppose US economic aid, says Gallup

By Joseph Mayton | BikyaMasr | 6 February 2012

CAIRO: A new poll published by Gallup revealed that some 70 percent of Egyptians surveyed oppose United States economic aid to Egypt. The poll, conducted in December 2011, also said that Egyptians are against direct aid to civil society organizations in the country.

“This rebuke of US financial support may be a challenge for Egypt’s newly elected parliament and its future president as the government attempts to bolster the nation’s financial stability,” wrote Gallup in their report published on Monday.

Egyptians were not against international economic assistance altogether, however, showing signs of support from international aid groups.

Gallup reported that around 50 percent of the country favoring aid and assistance from international institutions.

Egypt’s ruling military junta and the interim government appointed by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) had initially rejected assistance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), but has since reversed their opposition.

Last month, Masood Ahmed, Director for the Middle East and Central Asia Department for the IMF, was in Egypt to discuss a potential $3.2 billion IMF loan to Egypt.

“Egyptian leaders’ ability to attract foreign aid and investment will be important to collecting the capital needed to move the nation’s economy forward,” Gallup continued.

Civil society groups have received tens of millions of dollars from the US since the January 2011 uprising ousted President Hosni Mubarak, but in the past month, the military rulers have cracked down on local and international NGOs, sending some 43 employees to a criminal court on Sunday to face charges for illegal funding.

Among those sent are 19 Americans, 5 Serbians, two Germans, three Arabs and the remaining Egyptians. Sam LaHood, the son of US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who has made headlines recently after being barred from leaving Egypt, was among those charged.

The spat over American citizens being barred from leaving Egypt has left a diplomatic row between the military junta here in Egypt and the American government.

A senior State Department official said last week that a “handful of US citizens have opted to stay in the embassy compound in Cairo while awaiting permission to depart Egypt.”

The official, who was not allowed to discuss the matter on the record, would not say whether Sam LaHood, the son of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, was among those at the embassy.

LaHood said last week that he fears he could be jailed for up to five years after being barred from leaving the country earlier this month.

“As Egypt’s new parliament begins its work and the country’s citizens prepare for presidential elections, many Egyptians are suffering from the day-to-day realities of unemployment and price inflation. According to Gallup’s most recent survey in December 2011, Egyptians are most likely to name inflation and lack of money as the biggest problem facing their families; the second is lack of jobs,” added the report on the implications for Egypt’s future.

February 6, 2012 Posted by | Corruption, Deception, Timeless or most popular | , , | Leave a comment

Palestinians in Israel – Book Review

| January 31, 2012 – AVAILABLE IN HD
By Ludwig Watzal | Palestine Chronicle | February 6, 2012

(Ben White, Palestinians in Israel. Segregation, Discrimination and Democracy, Pluto Press, London 2012, 128 pp., 13 Pounds.)

With the signing of the Oslo Accords that led to the outbreak of the so-called peace process between Israel and the occupied Palestinian people, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) abandoned its initial political goals (to realize the right of return of Palestinian refugees and to liberate Palestine from Zionist colonization) for some privileges and turned itself into an obedient servant of the colonizers. Whereas the PLO under the leadership of Yasser Arafat tried to get back some territory from Israel to establish a Palestinian state, Palestinians living in Israel, although suffering under discrimination as second-class citizens, demand Israel to become finally “a state for all its citizens” instead of staying a “Jewish State”. Since the establishment of the State of Israel, the non-Jewish inhabitants have been subject to a second-class status in most walks of life.

Ben White is a freelance journalist and writer specializing in the subject of Palestine/Israel. In his previous book “Israeli Apartheid” he showed that Israel established its special kind of “Israeli apartheid” that differs in its sophistication from the petty apartheid in South Africa under the white racist regime. His current book deals with the Palestinians living in Israel and their plight. It was overdue, that someone as competent as White would shed some light on Israel’s discriminatory treatment of some 20 per cent of its citizens. In comparison to their fellow countrymen in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), who live a life in extreme oppression; Israeli Palestinians might be designated as “Palestinians de luxe”.

The well-known Israeli Palestinian Knesset member Haneen Zoabi contributed a fine foreword in which she demanded full citizenship rights and added; “These taken for granted demands, for the indigenous people and for ‘full citizenship’, are suffice to undermine the moral and political legitimacy of the entire Zionist project, and to relegate it to the status of a racist, colonialist venture.” Israeli Palestinians demand from the State of Israel no less than to become the “state of all its citizens”. According to Zoabi, this demand “has forced the Jewish state to admit the primacy that it grants to Jewish-Zionist values over democratic values and to recognize the impossibility of coexistence between the two”. Currently, Israel is a democracy sui generis.

For making such demands, MK Zoabi and also the author came under attack by Zionist propagandists in Israel and Great Britain. Yaniv Halili wielded in “ynet” the worn Zionist “argument”, accusing both of “anti-Semitism”. Zionist defenders of Israeli war crimes, crimes against humanity, violations of human rights, contempt for international law and the United Nations, can only “justify” the morally bankrupt policies of the “only democracy in the Middle East” by slandering people who merely describe the horrible reality. The infamous Zionist lobby in Great Britain attacked the British branch of amnesty international, because it had dared present White’s book, and called for a “balanced” debate. The problem with Zionist slanderers is not their meanness – any rational person will immediately discount their arguments – the real problem lies with the non-Zionist citizens or politicians who are afraid of standing up to such intimidation, because they fear being accused of “anti-Semitism” or threatened in their career.

Ben White brings the discrimination of the forgotten minority of Israel´s colonization project in Palestine, to light. The author pursues two aims: First, he wants to show how Israel relates to its Palestinian citizens, and second, he attempts to demonstrate that “denying democracy has been part of the Zionist colonization of Palestine from the very beginning”. For White, Israel’s definition as “Jewish and democratic” is the central contradiction and the heart of the conflict.

In seven chapters White describes the manifold discrimination against what some Israelis call “Israel’s fifth column”. To preserve their status of second-class citizens, Israel developed a sophisticated set of laws that apply to Jews only. This Palestinian minority is seen by Israel’s power elite as a “demographic threat” to “Jewish majority rule”. The author shows that Israel’s Declaration of Independence, which solemnly promises to “ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex” is not considered by the Israeli High Court as “constitutional law”. White quotes Ari Shavit’s article “Formative words” in the daily Haaretz saying: “The state it declared was not a state of all its citizens. It was not even a Jewish-democratic state, but a Jewish state, pure and simple.” In the last phrase of this sentence lies Israel’s ongoing dilemma and its inherent contradictions. That is why many Israelis and Jews around the world call Israel an “ethnocracy” rather than a “democracy”.

The rest of the book deals with the implementation of Israel’s institutional discrimination. One of these discriminatory laws is the “Absentee Property Law” passed in 1950. This law regulates the exclusion of Palestinians from land acquisition and the “mechanism of expropriation” to realize the permanent alienation of (Palestinian absentees) land in favor of the Jewish state”. (24) According to White, there are numerous other laws to be used to confiscate land, such as the “Emergency Land Requisition of 1949”, or article 125 of the Emergency Regulations of 1948. This law enabled an area to be declared “closed” and then, using the “Land Acquisition” law of 1950 to designate the land as “uncultivated” and expropriate it for Jewish-only use, writes the author. It should come to no one’s surprise that current Israeli President Shimon Peres called this judicial sophistry a means of “directly continu(ing) the struggle for Jewish settlement and Jewish immigration”. (25) The Israeli land regime was finally completed in 1960, with the passing of Basic Law: Israel Lands 1960.

The campaign entitled “Judaising of the Galilee” overlaps and echoes and “judaisation” of occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights. This strategy goes along with “day-to-day racism”, a phenomenon widely cited by White. (54) Israeli newspapers periodically, including recently, report the most outrageous racist statements by rabbis, who do not mind to cite biblical texts in justification. It should be noted, that there has been no outcry by Zionist politicians against such overt racism. The author cites opinion polls showing “deep-seated levels of anti-Arab racism” in the population. (56) Such racism is reflected, among other things in the “judaisation program” against the Bedouins in the Naqab desert and the refusal to “recognize” certain Arab villages.

Systemic discrimination is described by White in areas such as education, budgetary allocations to Palestinian communities in the Galilee and petty discrimination at all levels of society. Just being an Arab disqualifies a person from serving in the Israeli military, except for members of the Druze minority. With these disqualifications goes the loss of privileges granted to Jewish soldiers and veterans.

Summing up his findings, the author tries to remain objective by writing that there might be some “logic” to the Israeli argument in “justifying” its racist policies towards the Palestinians in the OPT by pretending that the occupied territories might be “disputed” or that there might be “security concerns”. The fallacy of these arguments is revealed when it comes to the treatment of Palestinians in Israel. Israeli politicians and their friends in the U. S. and Western Europe often point out as evidence for Israeli democracy the presence of Israeli Arabs in the Knesset. However, they ignore the fact that these Arab MKs are subjected to regular slander and threats by their right-wing Jewish “colleagues” to have their parliamentarian immunity lifted or their citizenship withdrawn. It is true that “Arabs and Jews” in Israel share the same beaches, work at the same hospitals, and may travel on the same buses. The relative absence of such petty racism hides, however, the more fundamental and pernicious discrimination against Palestinians enshrined in legislation and administrative practices.

White ends his book by quoting a revealing statement of Shmuel Dayan, General Moshe Dayan’s father, who admitted in 1950: “Maybe (not allowing the refugees back] is not right and not moral, but if we become just and moral, I do not know where we will end up.” The ongoing Zionist colonization dilemma could not be better phrased.

For democrats, who are interested in the reality and the functioning of the “Jewish and democratic” State, this book can be an eye-opener.

February 6, 2012 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Timeless or most popular, Video | , , , | Leave a comment

Wall Street’s Secret Spy Center, Run for the 1% by NYPD

How 60 Minutes Blew the Story

By PAM MARTENS | CounterPunch | February 6, 2012

On September 25, 2011, just eight days after the Occupy Wall Street protests began in Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan, the much acclaimed CBS News program, 60 Minutes, aired a fawning look at the thousands of surveillance cameras affixed to buildings and lampposts throughout New York City.  The cameras feed live images of people going about their everyday lives to a $150 million computer center equipped with artificial intelligence to integrate and analyze the daily habits of what are, for the most part, law-abiding Americans.

The thrust of the 60 Minutes  program was the fine job of counter terrorism being done by the NYPD and its Commissioner, Raymond Kelly. It was a triumph in public relations for a police department about to go on an assault spree –  pepper spraying and punching  peaceful protestors;  kicking, ramming and arresting journalists attempting to cover the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations.

On air, the reporter, Scott Pelley, said the surveillance center was “housed in a secret location,”  as one would expect of a real counter terrorism program — as opposed to a program to simply quash dissent.  Mr. Pelley also said the program was run by the NYPD.  As it turns out, neither of those assertions were accurate.

The New York Times, the worldwide news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP), Wired Magazine, the New York City Council had all previously reported the location of the supposedly super secret counter terrorism  center on their public web sites: 55 Broadway in the bowels of the financial district.  What was a secret about the operation, and not reported by 60 Minutes to its viewers, despite being well aware of the facts, is that the center is jointly staffed and operated by the NYPD along with the largest Wall Street firms – the same firms under investigation in 50 states for mortgage and foreclosure fraud and widely credited with causing the Nation’s economic collapse.  The Wall Street firms that were involuntarily  bailed out by the 99% are now policing the 99%.

In a telephone conversation with the co-producer of the program, Robert Anderson, he conceded that he was aware of the presence of the Wall Street firms in the center.  It would have been hard to miss them.  The facility is designed with three long rows of computer workstations.  The outside of each cubicle bears a brass plaque with the names of the occupants: Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, JPMorganChase, etc.

You won’t find photographs showing these firms in the surveillance center in any U.S. corporate news outlet, but a foreign news service has them openly displayed – a news organization servicing countries of the former Soviet Union.  These photos were taken during a large gathering of reporters and photographers at the invitation of the NYPD.  As shown in the photos, the event was hosted by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly. Very secret counter terrorism operation, indeed, with global reporters and photographers coming and going in both 2010 and 2011.

As we reported in October, the surveillance plan became known as the Lower Manhattan Security Initiative and the facility was dubbed the Lower Manhattan Security Coordination Center. It operates round-the-clock with 2,000 private spy cameras owned by Wall Street firms and other corporations, together with approximately 1,000 more owned by the NYPD.  At least 700 additional cameras scour the midtown area and also relay their live feeds into the downtown center where all film is integrated for analysis.  The $150 million of taxpayer money that’s funding this corporate/police spying operation comes from both city and Federal sources, with the cost rising daily as more technology is added.

Not only is it unprecedented for corporations under serial and ongoing corruption probes to be allowed to spy on law abiding citizens under the imprimatur of the largest police force in the country, but the legality of the operation by the NYPD itself is highly questionable.

During the 60 Minutes program (at elapsed time 8:50), the following exchange takes place between the reporter Scott Pelley and Jessica Tisch, the NYPD Director of Counterterrorism Policy and Planning who played a significant role in developing the Lower Manhattan Security Coordination Center. (Tisch is in her early thirties and did not come up through the ranks of counter terrorism or law enforcement. She is the granddaughter and one of the heirs to the fortune of now-deceased billionaire Laurence Tisch, who built the Loews Corporation.  Her father, James Tisch, is the CEO of the Loews Corporation and was elected by Wall Street banks to sit on the Federal Reserve Bank of  New York until 2013,  representing the public’s interest.  Ms. Tisch is apparently standing in for the public’s interest in this surveillance operation:  rather than public hearings, Ms. Tisch drafted the guidelines for the program herself.)

Pelley: “Tisch showed us how the system can search for a suspicious person based on a description – a red shirt for example.”

Tisch: “And I can call up in real time all instances where a camera caught someone wearing a red shirt.”

Pelley: “So the computer looks essentially through all the video, finds all of the red shirts and puts it together for you.”

Tisch: “Video canvasses that used to take days and weeks to do, you’ll now be able to do with the snap of a finger.”

Tisch snaps her fingers for added emphasis.

Unfortunately, electronic surveillance of individuals at the snap of a finger is exactly what New York State law prohibits.  New York Code, Section 700.15,  requires a warrant for video surveillance and the warrant is only issuable “Upon probable cause to believe that a particularly  described  person  is committing, has committed, or is about to commit a particular designated offense.”  Blanket surveillance of hundreds of thousands of law-abiding citizens with cameras that pan, tilt and rotate to track individuals to the doorsteps of their psychiatrist, debt counselor, Alcoholics Anonymous, or prosecutor’s office – shared with corporations that employ hundreds of thousands of these same individuals, is breathtaking in its blatant disregard for privacy rights.

In a letter dated March 26, 2009 to Police Commissioner Kelly, following years of being stonewalled with its Freedom of Information Law requests for more details on the surveillance program, the New York Civil Liberties Union warned:  “…virtually all of the enormous information gathered and maintained by the system will be about people engaged in wholly lawful activity…we believe this entire enterprise is illegitimate and inappropriate…”

In a 2006 formal report on the camera surveillance network, the NYCLU noted that “Today’s surveillance camera is not merely the equivalent of a pair of eyes. It has super human vision.  It has the capability to zoom in and ‘read’ the pages of the book you have opened while waiting for a train in the subway.”  The report further explained that “New York City has a long and troubled history of police surveillance of individuals and groups engaged in lawful political protest and dissent.  Between 1904 and 1985 the NYPD compiled some one million intelligence files on more than 200,000 individuals and groups — suspected communists, Vietnam War protesters, health and housing advocates, education reform groups, and civil rights activists.”

An even bigger problem for New York City came on January 23 of this year when the U.S. Supreme Court issued a rare unanimous decision in United States v. Jones.  All nine justices agreed that the use of an electronic GPS tracking device placed on an automobile by law enforcement constituted a search under the Fourth Amendment and required a warrant.

Writing the decision for the court, Justice Antonin Scalia stated: “As Justice Brennan explained in his concurrence in Knotts, Katz did not erode the principle ‘that when the Government does engage in physical intrusion of a consti­tutionally protected area in order to obtain information, that intrusion may constitute a violation of the Fourth Amendment.”

Writing a concurring opinion, Justice Sonia Sotomayor expanded on the potential for unconstitutional law enforcement actions using electronic surveillance devices: “GPS monitoring generates a precise, comprehensive record of a person’s public movements that reflects a wealth of detail about her familial, political, professional, religious, and sexual associations. See, e.g., People v. Weaver, 12 N. Y. 3d 433, 441–442, 909 N. E. 2d 1195, 1199 (2009) (‘Disclosed in [GPS] data . . . will be trips the indisputably private na­ture of which takes little imagination to conjure: trips to the psychiatrist, the plastic surgeon, the abortion clinic, the AIDS treatment center, the strip club, the criminal defense attorney, the by-the-hour motel, the union meet­ing, the mosque, synagogue or church, the gay bar and on and on.’) The Government can store such records and efficiently mine them for information years into the future.”

Electronic surveillance cameras deployed in New York City, however, do for more than GPS devices: they film the individual, their features, their companions, and show just what doorsteps they are entering in their comings and goings throughout the day; week after week; 24/7.

What zealous prosecutor or Wall Street whistleblower or investigative reporter is safe from being targeted by this surveillance juggernaut.

The electronic tracking capability described by Ms. Tisch on 60 Minutes, where an individual in the snap of a finger is tracked all over Manhattan, with no warrant and no more probable cause than wearing a red shirt, seems just what Justices Scalia and Sotomayor had in mind as illegal activities.

Mara Verheyden-Hilliard and Carl Messineo are civil rights attorneys who co-founded the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund.  They have filed a class action lawsuit against Police Commissioner Kelly, Mayor Bloomberg and the City of New York over the arrest on October 1, 2011 of more than 700 peaceful protestors on the Brooklyn Bridge.  Ms. Verheyden-Hilliard had this to say about the sprawling surveillance program in New York City:

“The clearly stipulated and clearly defined requirement of probable cause, a central guarantee that protects individuals from over-reaching police authority, has been eviscerated in practice and in policy by the all-pervasive surveillance tools that make certain people and groups the ‘usual suspects’ in an environment that authorizes racial, religious and political profiling as the de facto law of the land. The NYPD is engaged in mass surveillance and mass aggregation of data on persons who not only have engaged in no criminal activity, but for whom there is no probable cause or individualized suspicion to believe they have engaged, or are engaged, in criminal activity. This is a perversion of civil rights and civil liberties by the government that is spreading across the country.”

Chris Dunn, Associate Legal Director of the NYCLU, said in response to my question concerning  the significance to New Yorkers of the Jones Supreme Court decision: “This decision opens the door to the argument that police camera systems that systematically track the movements and whereabouts of people in public places trigger constitutional scrutiny.  We have long believed that LMSI [Lower Manhattan Security Initiative]  violates the privacy rights of law-abiding New Yorkers, and this ruling from the Supreme Court supports that view.”  (Mr. Dunn is also an adjunct professor at the NYU School of Law where he teaches in the Civil Rights Clinic and he authors the Civil Rights and Civil Liberties column in the New York Law JournalHe has written a detailed analysis of the United States v. Jones decision in his current column.)

Mr. Dunn’s opinion is buttressed by a powerful corporate law firm, Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale, which ironically lists among its clients the Wall Street firms Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and JPMorganChase.  The firm co-authored the 2007 report for the Constitution Project titled: “Public Video Surveillance: A Guide to Protecting Communities and Preserving Civil Liberties.”

The report singles out New York, interpreting its law as follows: “Several state statutes regulate aspects of public use of video surveillance.  In New York, for example, video surveillance can only be conducted as part of a police investigation into the allegedly criminal behavior of an individual pursuant to a warrant.  Because of what the statute terms ‘the reasonable expectation of privacy under the constitution of this state or of the United States,’ the bar for authorizing or approving such a warrant is set quite high, and the alleged crimes must be quite serious.  Arizona, in contrast, merely makes it a misdemeanor for a person to use video ‘surveillance’ in a public place without posting notice.”

This vast surveillance program in New York City has had no public hearings to develop proper guidelines, no public overseers, no legislative mandate and is operating with no checks and balances.

The City Council’s  Committee on Public Safety, chaired by Peter Vallone, did tour the Lower Manhattan Security Coordination Center on June 16, 2011.  The minutes of the meeting on the City Council’s  public web site list only the date, time and location.  A phone call and email request to Mr. Vallone’s office to make the full minutes available to the public was met with silence.

I asked Michael Cardozo’s office, Corporation Counsel for New York City, to give me a statement as to the legality of this NYPD-Wall Street surveillance program.  Mr. Cardozo declined to be quoted but his associate, Deputy Communications Director, Connie Pankratz, said: “It is perfectly legal to use security cameras in public spaces.  This is no different than having a police officer watch or follow someone on a public street.”

That analogy is like comparing a pea shooter to a heat-seeking missile.  These cameras can pan, tilt, rotate and zoom.  The live feeds are integrated with cameras from all over Manhattan which can simultaneously analyze the images using artificial intelligence to look for specific human features or clothing colors.  To quote Ms. Tisch on 60 Minutes: “Nobody has a system like this.”

I filed two Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests with the NYPD in the Fall of 2011.  New York State has an inspiring sunshine law, which acknowledges that “The people’s right to know the process of governmental decision-making and to review the documents and statistics leading to determinations is basic to our society. Access to such information should not be thwarted by shrouding it with the cloak of secrecy or confidentiality. The legislature therefore declares that government is the public’s business and that the public, individually and collectively and represented by a free press, should have access to the records of government in accordance with the provisions of this article…”

Notwithstanding the noble intent of the law and notwithstanding the legislative mandate to respond in 5 business days or a period reasonable to the request, both of my requests received a written response stating it would take five months to answer — five months or 30 times longer than the legislative intent.  The NYPD has 15,000 non uniformed employees available to fulfill the legislative mandate to permit participatory government.  If it wanted to honor the legislative mandate, it could assign more staff to the Records Access Department.  Until it does, it is functioning in contravention of the state legislative mandate.

In the 2010 book “Heat and Light: Advice for the Next Generation of Journalists” by Mike Wallace and Beth Knobel, the producer of the 60 Minutes episode on the surveillance center, Robert Anderson, is quoted as follows:

“Mike [Wallace] has always said that we are seekers of truth, and that’s what we are.  We are seekers of truths that people would be better off knowing, and that they probably don’t know.  And we are looking for something that is hopefully of some significance, because the more significant it is, the better the story it is for us.”

There are two significant stories at the surveillance center at 55 Broadway.  The first is that the largest police force in the country has secretly deputized as its partners the same giant Wall Street firms that are serially charged with looting the public but never prosecuted, no matter how big the crime. The second significant story is that the largest police force in the country has tapped the public coffers to the tune of $150 million to operate what legal experts say is an illegal program.

Kevin Tedesco, Executive Director of 60 Minutes, had this to say about my concerns with the program:  “We find your inquiry somewhat puzzling.  This was a story about defending against terrorism, probably the most important issue of our times.  You have only to look at 60 Minutes’ record to see that we frequently report on Wall Street institutions, the most recent of which, “Prosecuting Wall Street” was broadcast on December 4.  Robert Anderson, the producer of the story on the command center, produced  “The Next Housing Shock,”  an investigation about misleading and fake mortgage documentation that cast a harsh light on financial institutions when it was broadcast on August 7 and April 3.  No one told us what to report or not report in those stories and neither did anyone in this one.  We appreciate the chance to respond.”

I willingly concede that 60 Minutes regularly provides outstanding investigative reports.  I have previously referenced their groundbreaking  work in my writing.  Robert Anderson’s work on “The Next Housing Shock” brings the audacity and collusiveness of the foreclosure crimes into sharp focus and admirably serves the public interest.

But rather than deflecting my criticisms, Mr. Tedesco ends up making my case by pointing to the December 4 broadcast of “Prosecuting Wall Street.”  This is a story alleging systemic corruption at Citigroup made by a Vice President of the firm, Richard Bowen; a man so confident of his facts that he testified before the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission.   Mr. Bowen had his duties reassigned and was retaliated against and told to remain off the premises once he brought the corruption to the attention of the most senior executives at Citigroup.

Charges like these have been made for over a decade against Citigroup by other key employees.  No senior executives have ever been prosecuted.  Now a Citigroup representative sits alongside police in a high tech center where it can monitor the comings and goings of pedestrians, including potential whistleblowers.  If that’s not significant, I don’t know what is.

Pam Martens worked on Wall Street for 21 years. She spent the last decade of her career advocating against Wall Street’s private justice system, which keeps its crimes shielded from public courtrooms.  She maintains, along with Russ Martens, an ongoing archive dedicated to this financial era at  www.WallStreetOnParade.com. She has no security position, long or short, in any company mentioned in this article.  She is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, forthcoming from AK Press. She can be reached at pamk741@aol.com

February 6, 2012 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , | Leave a comment

Russia, China Vetoes Spur Western Hysteria, Indecent Comments

Al-Manar | February 6, 2012

Russia and China condemned Monday the angry Western reaction to its veto of a UN resolution over Syria where the US envoy expressed her “disgust” and the French Defense Minister said such countries deserve a “kick in the ass”!

“Some comments from the West on the UN Security Council vote, I would say, are indecent and bordering on hysteria,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters in Moscow after a meeting with Bahraini counterpart Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa. Lavrov expressed frustration that Western states did not postpone Saturday’s UN Security Council vote until after his visit Tuesday to Damascus, where he will deliver a message to President Bashar al-Assad.

“Such hysterical comments are aimed at suppressing what is actually happening and what has happened,” said Lavrov. “It reminds me of the proverb: ‘he who gets angry is rarely right’,” he added.

Lavrov reaffirmed Russia’s position that the resolution was wrong to blame Assad’s regime for the “violence” and should have also taken aim at the so-called opposition. “In Syria there is more than one source of violence. There are several there,” he said.

China also denied US accusations and criticisms on Monday. Foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told reporters that “China does not have its own selfish interest on the issue of Syria. We don’t shelter anyone, nor do we intentionally oppose anyone. We uphold justice and take a responsible attitude.”

A top Chinese diplomat said over the weekend that other nations had failed to take account of “reasonable” revision proposals suggested by Russia. Moscow has also defended its UN veto, saying Western powers had refused to reach a consensus. “The authors of the draft Syria resolution, unfortunately, did not want to undertake an extra effort and come to a consensus,” Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov wrote on Twitter.

France’s outspoken Defense Minister Gerard Longuet slammed China and Russia for their veto.”It is a disgrace for countries to refuse to assume their responsibilities,” Longuet told Europe 1 radio. “Frankly, there are some political cultures that deserve a kick in the ass.”

“Everyone must face up to their responsibilities. We must wake up those who accept conformity, and conformity that closes its eyes about a bloody dictator is unacceptable,” he said.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said on Sunday that Europe will strengthen sanctions imposed on Damascus in a bid to boost pressure on the regime and called the dual veto a “moral stain” on the United Nations.

The US representative to the UN said she was “disgusted” by Russia and China’s veto, considering that the two countries’ stances were the results of particular interests.

Syria’s Representative to the United Nations Bashar Al-Jaafari said he respected her opinion. “However,” he asked: “Is she also disgusted of the 60 vetoes used in the past to prevent inclusive peace in the region and any just solution for the Arab-Israeli conflict?”

February 6, 2012 Posted by | Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , , , | Leave a comment

   

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 757 other followers