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Germany halts ACTA approval

RT – February 10, 2012

Germany has delayed its approval of the ACTA treaty after the Justice Ministry voiced its concerns about the legislation. It is the third EU country after Poland and the Czech Republic to challenge the controversial treaty.

­The Justice Ministry said that the European Parliament should vote on ACTA before it is considered by the state’s parliament.

Three of Germany’s parties, the Pirate Party, the Left Party and the Greens, have also spoken out against ACTA.

German protesters are expected to stage demonstrations in over 60 towns across the country on Saturday.

Earlier Poland and the Czech Republic had refused to approve the agreement. Both countries saw major protests in the streets. Critics of ACTA accuse its authors of hammering out the agreement in secret and say the deal will limit online freedom of speech.

On January 26, the controversial ACTA treaty was signed by the 22 of 27 European Union member states, and the EU itself. It now has to be ratified by the European Parliament and is scheduled to be debated in June.

ACTA is an international agreement aimed at protecting intellectual property. It shares similarities with the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the US, which was shelved by lawmakers after a partial blackout by Wikipedia and Google in protest.

The ACTA treaty was negotiated by industrialized countries struggling for ways to fight intellectual property theft. The US, most of the EU, Australia, Canada, Japan and several other countries have signed the treaty.

February 10, 2012 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , | Leave a comment

Foreclosure Settlement: Just Another Link In a Long Chain of Corruption

Why the Feds Won’t Prosecute the Big Wall Street Banks

By PAM MARTENS | CounterPunch | February 10, 2012

Yesterday the Department of Justice and 49 state attorneys general announced the long anticipated $25 billion deal with 5 large Wall Street firms — Bank of America Corporation,  JPMorgan Chase & Co., Wells Fargo & Company, Citigroup Inc. and Ally Financial Inc. — to settle foreclosure and mortgage servicing abuses.  Unfortunately, the settlement is not yet 24 hours old and cracks are emerging.

Each major corruption settlement with Wall Street, and they are legion over the past 15 years, triggers a commemorative magazine cover.  I keep some favorites handy.

The October 1996 cover of  Registered Representative Magazine, the trade magazine for financial consultants and stock brokers, blared in 48 point bold red type: “How the NASD Was Corrupted.”  That issue focused on the years of price fixing of stocks traded on the Nasdaq market by the biggest firms on Wall Street while the self regulatory body, the National Association of Securities Dealers, was dominated by the same firms and looked the other way.  (Think SEC today.)

The Department of Justice, then under Janet Reno, had this to say about the settlement: “We have found substantial evidence of coercion and other misconduct in this industry.  By providing for the random monitoring of traders’ telephone calls, we expect to deter future price fixing on Nasdaq.”  At the time, Reno said the “law does not provide the Department with statutory authority to recover damages or monetary penalties in such cases.”

The next big corruption probe drew a giant green serpent wrapped around the street sign for Wall Street on the cover of BusinessWeek with the rhetorical  question: “Wall Street: How Corrupt Is It?”  That settlement collectively cost the big firms $1.4 billion for peddling fake stock research to the public to induce investors to buy bad companies while the same  analysts called the firms  “dogs” and “crap” in internal emails.  The announcement of the deal came on April 28, 2003 from the SEC, the New York Attorney General of that day, Eliot Spitzer, the NASD, the New York Stock Exchange and state securities regulators — all gushing over how great this deal was for the public and how it was going to reform Wall Street.

New York Magazine has found an odd way of commemorating the crumbs available to illegally evicted and displaced children and families under the current settlement.   The current magazine cover has a Wall Street guy clasping his… uh…private portfolio…with the headline: “The
Emasculation of Wall Street.”  If Wall Street is being emasculated, you sure can’t tell it from yesterday’s settlement.

Not only did Wall Street settle its robo-signing, illegal foreclosures and servicing problems with the Department of Justice and 49 state attorneys  general (Oklahoma settled independently) but lost in the headlines was that the two major regulators of national banks, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) and the Federal Reserve, also settled with the biggest Wall Street banks in a decidedly cozy deal that effectively lets them off without a monetary fine as long as they pay under the federal-state settlement agreement.

The OCC settled with Bank of America, Citibank, JPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo for a combined $394 million but here’s the cozy part: “the OCC agrees to hold in abeyance imposition of such penalties provided the servicers make payments and take other actions under the federal-state settlement with a value equal to at least the penalty amounts that each servicer acknowledges that the OCC could impose…”

The Federal Reserve issued monetary sanctions of $766.5 million against the parent holding companies: Bank of America Corp., Citigroup Inc., Ally Financial, Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co., and Wells Fargo & Co. and two mortgage servicers GMAC Mortgage, LLC a subsidiary of Ally Financial, Inc., and EMC Mortgage Corporation, a subsidiary of JPMorgan Chase & Co.   But again, the Wall Street firms can get off the hook for paying these sums by simply paying them under the $25 billion federal-state settlement.

The specifics of just what the state attorneys general agreed to is unknown, even to some of the attorneys general.  According to the web site set up to inform the public about the settlement both the primary “Settlement Document” and the “Executive Summary” will be “coming soon.”  Without those documents available for public perusal, there is the reasonable suspicion that the public has once again been feted to lipstick on a pig, as they like to say on Wall Street.

One striking problem is that California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris states on her web site and in this video that California is getting $18 billion.  Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi
says on her web site that Florida is receiving $8.4 billion.  Those two amounts would leave a negative figure for the other 47 states that agreed to the $25 billion deal.

There’s also something peculiar about the Federal Department of Justice and 49 states setting up an informational web site that ends in .com instead of .gov.  Register.com shows the web site has used a privacy shield to block the name of the owner of the site.

Corporate media is reporting that the deal settles only foreclosure and servicing abuses.  But this web site states: “The agreement settles only some aspects of the banks conduct related to the financial crisis (foreclosure practices, loan servicing, and origination of loans) in return for the second largest state attorneys general recovery in history and direct relief to distressed borrowers while they can still use it.”  The Florida Attorney General concedes on her web site that the deal with the state includes loan origination issues.  That may not sit well with residents of a state where massive loan origination frauds occurred.

I called the AG’s office in Massachusetts – historically a tough regulator when it comes to Wall Street.  The spokesperson could not answer why loan origination is included on the settlement web site.

Why is mortgage loan origination a big deal?  Because tens of thousands of consumers were victimized in a bait and switch racket, believing they were getting a fixed rate mortgage only to find out a few years down the road that they had an adjustable rate mortgage that reset and doubled or even tripled their monthly payment – making it impossible to stay in their home; an effective wealth stripping enterprise by Wall Street against decent, hardworking families across America.

Other abuses in loan origination abounded.  The Federal Trade Commission took this testimony from Michele V. Handzel, a former Branch Manager for CitiFinancial, a unit of Citigroup.  Ms. Handzel is comparing the practices of CitiFinancial after it acquired another firm, The Associates.

“CitiFinancial put much more pressure on employees than the Associates did to include as many credit insurance and ancillary products as possible on every loan….In fact, I feel that the credit insurance sales practices at CitiFinancial were worse than at The Associates.  From January to June 2001, the policy was that no personal loan at CitiFinancial would be approved if it did not include some type of credit insurance, nor would a real estate loan be approved without some type of ancillary product…There were several internal measures in place to effectuate this policy.  For instance, District Managers would frequently refuse to send a loan to underwriting if it did not include some type of insurance product.  Moreover, loans that were closed and did not include any insurance would be identified by CitiFinancial’s internal insurance auditors, and the employee who closed the loan would be written up…Closings at CitiFinancial resembled those at The Associates – they were brief.  Personal loan closings took approximately 10 minutes.  Real estate loan closings took a little longer but also did not provide a lot of details about the loan.  At CitiFinancial, I was instructed to do a ‘closed folder’ closing, meaning that information would be discussed orally first.  Only after the borrower indicated that he wanted to sign would the employee open the folder and have the borrower sign the papers.”

In the past, Wall Street knew it could steal billions and settle with its easily maneuvered regulators for millions.  It did this time and time again, never having to admit to any crime.  Wall Street translated this to mean that crime was a lucrative profit center.  This latest settlement raises the potential of this profit center.  Wall Street now understands that it can steal trillions and settle for billions.

And just why is it that the Feds can’t or won’t prosecute the biggest of the Wall Street firms?  Because they are the Federal Government’s bond brokers, the primary dealers who contractually agree to buy Treasury bills or notes or bonds  at every U.S. Treasury auction.  They may be serially corrupt, but Uncle Sam needs those contractual guarantees of its primary dealers to be sure it can pull off its debt auctions.  And the U.S. government cannot engage in contracts with convicted financial felons.

And it won’t break up these bloated behemoths because big balance sheets are just what a government with $15 trillion in debt is looking for in a bond broker.

~

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

The Next Financial Crisis Hits Wall Street, As Judges Start Nixing Foreclosures

A Secret Deal Between Wall Street and Washington Shines a Harsh Light on Federal Housing Agency

February 10, 2012 Posted by | Corruption, Deception | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Soldier, 2 Female Settlers, Arrested For Writing Racist Graffiti

By Saed Bannoura | IMEMC & Agencies | February 10, 2012


File Photo

The Israeli daily, Haaretz, reported Friday that an Israeli soldier and two young female settlers were arrested by the Israeli Police for writing anti-Arab, Anti-Islam graffiti in the Al-Lubban Ash-Sharqiyya Palestinian village, south of the northern West Bank city of Nablus.

The three were arrested on Thursday at night; the soldier is a resident of the Itamar illegal settlement, near Nablus.

The soldier and two young female setters were caught on tape by a surveillance camera infiltrating into the Palestinian village last Tuesday at 1:30 A.M.

He drove a car into the village and one of the female settlers stepped-up and used a knife to cut open some cement sacks.

Later on, the three sprayed graffiti including “Death to Arabs”, “Mohammad is a pig”, and “Price Tag” in the village.

Dozens of residents in the village, woke up on the sound of the settlers’ vehicle driving in their village, and tried to intercept the car; an argument took place and the soldier used his automatic rifle to scare the residents away; the three settlers then drove out of the village.

The District Court in Jerusalem decided to remand the soldier under interrogation until Monday; he admitted to the vandalism act, while the two young women, Orien Nizri, from Jerusalem, and Sarah Goldberg from Tapuach illegal settlement, will remain in detention, until Tuesday, pending further legal action.

Price Tag attacks carried out by extremist settlers, including Israeli soldiers who are also settlers, are continuously being carried out against the Palestinians, their property, their orchards and farmlands, and against holy sites; such attacks included burning several mosques and a church.

These attacks also targeted offices and property that belong to leftist Israeli groups, including offices and property of members of the Israeli Peace Now Movement.
The settlers blame Israeli peace groups, and the Palestinians for any evacuation of illegal settlement outposts in the occupied territories.

February 10, 2012 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Subjugation - Torture | , , | 1 Comment

Al Jazeera English Doesn’t Care About Khader Adnan

By Linah Alsaafin – The Electronic Intifada – 02/10/2012

Palestinian prisoner Khader Adnan has entered his 55th day of hunger strike. He has long passed the critical stage and is in danger of organ failure any moment now. In other words, Khader Adnan is dying.

The silence from international media is deafening. Much of the publicity highlighting Adnan’s case came from social media via Twitter and blogs.

Does a young father of two arrested in the dead of night from his home, held under illegal administrative detention i.e. no charges have been brought against him, beaten and tortured during his interrogation, hunger striking since December 18th—a day after his arrest—not warrant headlines?

Does his identity as spokesperson for the Islamic Jihad cloud the editors’ judgments? Does his long beard — most of which has now fallen out due to the effects of starvation — not make for sexy media attention?

Yesterday a group of Palestinians called up Al Jazeera’s Jerusalem Bureau, demanding to know the reason for the bureau’s nonexistent coverage regarding Khader Adnan. Why Al Jazeera English? Why not the myopic BBC—who’ve recently proclaimed their censorship of the word “Palestine” from their music programmes—or The Guardian or CNN? (The last one was a joke.)

As an Arab news source based in Jerusalem, Al Jazeera English holds the responsibility to report what is happening to Palestinians.  Not only are they not covering the bombings in Gaza, but they are ignoring the ethnic cleansing happening under their noses in Jerusalem. They have also completely ignored the weekly, daily popular protests in Palestine, while at the same time attempting to present themselves as the voice of the people who are revolting against oppression in the Middle East.

The litany of crimes that Israel commits on a daily basis against Palestinians is long and ranges from land theft, ethnic cleansing, violence against men, women, and childrenbi or tri-weekly bombing campaigns on the besieged people of Gaza, political arrests of dozens of Palestinians on a weekly basis including children as young as 13 years of age and institutionalized racism and discrimination that Palestinians face every day which prohibits them from living anything resembling a normal life.  As a result many of us turn to blogs and twitter to find out what is happening which begs the question, what exactly is AJE correspondent Cal Perry being paid to report on in Palestine?

Furthermore, while all political prisoners are a shame to the countries imprisoning them, what was the criteria that Al Jazeera used to determine that a self professed Egyptian Zionist, Maikel Nabil, was more worthy of coverage than a Palestinian anti-Zionist?

Coverage of Maikel Nabil from Al Jazeera English:

Al Jazeera simply cannot state that Khader Adnan’s hunger strike is not news worthy as international human rights organizations have expressed alarm and condemnation over his detention and concern for his deteriorating health.

The following conversation took place between one caller and a woman from Al Jazeera English Jerusalem office, in response to that caller’s question about why Khader Adnan has been receiving so little exposure from Al Jazeera English.

“But there are other important stories we’re covering.”

“But Khader Adnan has been on hunger strike for 54 days in administrative detention and he’s dying.”

“But there are people dying everywhere.”

The caller was then directed to the editor, who said:

“With all due respect, it’s not up to you to tell us what to cover. I’m only accountable to my superiors in Doha.”

The editor continued to say that there will be a story on the website today so perhaps “you should wait before passing judgments.”

Did that mean that the caller should wait until Khader Adnan dies before he can get decent coverage?

The disrespect and arrogance that Al Jazeera English has shown to Palestinians with the lack of coverage has been nothing short of shocking. If Al Jazeera cannot commit itself to doing actual reporting about the cruelty of the Israeli occupation on a daily basis against Palestinians then it would be best for them to move their office to Tel Aviv or head back home to Qatar.

February 10, 2012 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Subjugation - Torture | , , , , | Leave a comment

The Invention of Ancient Israel, the Silencing of Palestinian History

By Roy Bard | Uprooted Palestinians | February 10, 2012

492183.mp3

Sheffield PSC last night hosted a talk by Professor Keith Whitelam, author of The Invention of Ancient Israel, the Silencing of Palestinian History and Palestine, the Bible and the Imperial Imagination.

Keith Whitelam’s book has caused some controversy in academic circles, as explained by Simon Targett

Like other sceptics, Whitelam, a soft-spoken Quaker with a Lincolnshire lilt, contends that ancient Israel is an invention of modern scholarship. He believes that the picture of a thriving Iron Age Jewish kingdom headed by David and Solomon is “a fiction”. Unlike other sceptics, he goes one key step further, contending that the scholarly debate has been driven by a dominant “biblical discourse” fuelled by a tankful of “unspoken and unacknowledged” assumptions. The main effect, he says, has been “the silencing of Palestinian history”.

According to Whitelam, the history of Palestine has been distorted by the deference shown to the Hebrew Bible. All the great biblical scholars – from the earliest explorers like Edward Robinson through mid-century biblical specialists like the German Albrecht Alt and the American William Albright, to modern scholars like Israel Finkelstein – have been diverted by the search for ancient Israel, and particularly the Davidic empire. This search, he maintains, has sometimes been underpinned by more controversial political assumptions, which have a bearing on the fraught contemporary politics of the Near East.

The audio provides an interesting introduction to the ideas that Professor Whitelam explores in his book, along with some up to date commentary.

In case you missed it:

Jerusalem does not belong to Jewish-Israelis: “The Bible Came From Arabia”,

February 10, 2012 Posted by | Deception, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism | , , | Leave a comment

We May Yet Lose Tokyo (and Alaska and Georgia)

The Nuclear Menace

By HARVEY WASSERMAN | CounterPunch | February 10, 2012

As the Nuclear Regulatory Commission approves a construction/operating license for two new reactors in Georgia, alarming reports from Japan indicate the Fukushima catastrophe is far from over.

Thousands of tons of intensely radioactive spent fuel are still in serious jeopardy. Radioactive trash and water are spewing into the environment. And nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen reports that during the string of disasters following March 11, 2011′s earthquake and tsunami, Fukushima 1′s containment cap may actually have lifted off its base, releasing dangerously radioactive gasses and opening a gap for an ensuing hydrogen explosion.

There are some two dozen of these Mark I-style containments currently in place in the US.

Newly released secret email from the NRC also shows its Commissioners were in the dark about much of what was happening during the early hours of the Fukushima disaster. They worried that Tokyo might have to be evacuated, and that airborne radiation spewing across the Pacific could seriously contaminate Alaska.

Reactor pushers have welcomed the NRC’s approval of the new Westinghouse AP-1000 design for Georgia’s Vogtle. Two reactors operate there now, and the two newly approved ones are being funded with $8.3 billion in federally guaranteed loans and state-based rate hikes levied in advance of the reactors’ being completed.

NRC Chair Gregory Jazcko made the sole no vote on the Vogtle license, warning that the proposed time frame would not allow lessons from Fukushima to be incorporated into the reactors’ design.

The four Commissioners voting to approve have attacked Jaszco in front of Congress for his “management style,” but this vote indicates the problem is certainly more rooted in attitudes toward reactor safety.

The approval is the first for a new construction project since 1978. The debate leading up to it stretched out for years. Among other things, the Commission raised questions about whether the AP1000 can withstand earthquakes and other natural disasters. Even now the final plans are not entirely complete. Only two other US reactors—in neighboring South Carolina—are even in the pre-construction phase. As in Georgia, South Carolina consumers are being forced to pay for the reactors as they are being built. Should they not be completed, or suffer disaster once they are, the state’s ratepayers will be on the hook.

The industry is heralding the Vogtle approval as a major boon to the “Nuclear Renaissance.” But it comes alongside the announcement that all 17 reactors owned by the Tokyo Electric Company are shut, as are all but two of Japan’s 50-plus nukes.

Germany has decided to shut all its nukes by 2022. New reactor financing in Great Britain is under legal attack, as it is in Florida. India has announced that in 2011 it led the world in new green energy projects. China has yet to make its future nuclear commitments clear in the wake of the Fukushima disaster. And no American utility is readily available to follow in Vogtle’s path, with operating reactors in Vermont and New York’s Indian Point under fierce governmental attack. Florida’s Crystal River is beset by huge bills for faulty repair work, and may be headed for permanent shutdown. Both currently licensed reactors at California’s San Onofre are closed following radioactive leaks, and a disturbing pattern of tube holes in newly installed steam generators has surfaced at a number of reactors across the US.

But the biggest shock waves this week were caused by Tama University Professor Hiroshi Tasaka, a key advisor to Prime Minister Naoto Kan during the Fukushima disaster.

Warning that Fukushima is “far from over,” Tasaka said official assurances of the complex’s alleged safety were based on “groundless optimism.” Tasaka cited more than 1500 fuel rods dangerously exposed to the open atmosphere at Unit Four alone. The waste problem has gone nationwide, he said in a newly published book, as “the storage capacities of the spent fuel pools at the nation’s nuclear power plants are reaching their limits,”

Tasaka’s statements came as a new temperature spike unexpectedly stuck Fukushina Unit Two. For reasons not yet clear, heat releases in excess of 158 degrees Farenheit spewed from the core, prompting Tokyo Electric to pump in more water and boric acid meant to damp down an apparently on-going chain reaction. Prof. Tasaka and others warn that this in turn will contribute to spreading still more radiation into the water table and oceans.

With bitter debate raging in Japan, the US and elsewhere over the killing power of Fukushima’s emissions, the certification of a new US reactor design may someday be remembered as a bizarre epitaph for the 20th century’s most expensive failed technology.

Without state ratepayers and federal taxpayers being forced to foot the bill, new reactor construction in the US is going nowhere.

And without a final resolution to the on-going horrors at Fukushima, the entire planet, from Tokyo to Alaska to Georgia and beyond, remains at serious radioactive risk.

February 10, 2012 Posted by | Nuclear Power | , , , | 2 Comments

Veteran US Diplomat Questions Syria Storyline

By Sharmine Narwani | Al Akhbar | 2012-02-10

The problem with US policy in the Middle East is that it now operates almost entirely at the political level: gone are the days when area experts were the heavyweights in the command center, weaving historical context, relationships and nuance into vital policy decisions.

Today you are more likely to have single-issue interest groups, commercial projects and election cycles impact key deliberations. It’s a short-term view: tactical more than strategic and black and white in its approach. Like a high-octane marketing campaign, it is heavily focused on key phrases, scene-setting, and narrative building.

The spotlight on Syria in recent weeks has been intense and the propaganda has been incessant: Regime massacres in Homs, evil Russia and China, a benevolent UN Security Council trying to save Syria, 1982’s Hama slaughter resuscitated, and an American ambassador left “disgusted” at the gall of others using veto power.

But take the hysteria down a notch or two, bring the debate back into the hands of measured, experienced observers, and the storyline may be tangibly different. Over the weekend, I had the privilege of receiving an email that reminded me of a time when area experts at the US State Department delivered honest assessments of events so that wiser decisions could be taken.

The missive was from a former US diplomat with service experience in Syria who has asked to remain unnamed. I am publishing the email below in its entirety for the benefit of readers:

I have serious problems with all the talk about military intervention in Syria. Everyone, especially the media, seems to be relying solely on anti-regime activists for their information. How do we know 260 people were killed by the regime in Homs yesterday? That number seems based solely on claims by anti-regime figures and I seriously doubt its accuracy.

I served over three years in Damascus at the US Embassy and I know how difficult it is to sort fact from rumor in that closed political society. We were constantly trying to verify rumors that we had heard about assassinations, regime arrests, etc., and that included the Agency, which was just as much in the dark as everyone else. Today, we have a skeleton embassy which I am sure is under constant surveillance and with very few personnel to go out and report on what is happening. When I was in Damascus over two years ago, I was less than impressed with the Embassy’s sources and with its understanding of the dynamics of what was going on Syria. And the same is true when I talk to officials at the State Department.

The media, and to an extent the Administration, have personalized the conflict in Syria as being about Bashar Assad and his family. They have consistently underestimated the sectarian nature of the conflict there. It is not just Bashar Assad and his family that are hanging onto power at all costs, it is the entire Alawi system of control of the country, including the military, the security services and the Baath Party. I believe that Alawites firmly think that if they lose power, the Sunnis will slaughter them, That was one reason Hafez and his brother Rifaat were so ruthless in Hama thirty years ago. And everyone in the West conveniently forgets the campaign of assassinations and suicide bombings carried out in the three or four years before Hama by the Muslim Brotherhood throughout the country. I personally witnessed the aftermath of such bombings in which several hundred people were killed. While the State Department, the CIA and other organs of government may have short historical memories, the people in Syria do not.

There have been few good analyses of the conflict in Syria. With the exception of the journalist Nir Rosen and the International Crisis Group, most reporting has been superficial and biased in favor of opponents of the regime. This is no basis on which to base policy, especially if officials in Washington are contemplating some form of military intervention. We would be opening a Pandora’s box of sectarian conflict that could easily spread to Lebanon, Israel, Kurdish areas of Iraq and elsewhere.

One irony of the current situation compared to thirty years ago is Iraq’s role. Then, we had reasonably good information that Saddam Hussein was supporting the Brotherhood with arms, explosives and facilitating the smuggling of both across the Syrian-Iraqi border. Today, the Maliki government in Baghdad appears to be supporting the Assad regime. And thirty years ago, we also had information that the Brotherhood leadership was given sanctuary in Jordan by King Hussein and in Saudi Arabia.

I don’t think we know how to play in this arena, just as we don’t understand how to play in the Afghanistan-Pakistan arena. US military intervention, whether under the guise of NATO or some other umbrella, could have serious unforeseen consequences for the US, Europe and the region. Officials in Washington should have the law of unforeseen consequences hammered into their heads every morning.

These thoughts are from a US diplomat with direct and fairly recent experience in Syria. Why don’t we ever hear similarly sober assessments from the figures in Washington? Part of the reason, of course, is the over-politicization of the policy-making process, which has long been wrested from the hands of able area experts and delivered into the arms of hawks, ideologues and politicians building campaign warchests.

It is worth mentioning that much of the US administration’s focus on Syria derives from its unhealthy fixation on Iran. In supporting Iran’s worldview that US and Israeli hegemony in the Middle East must end, Syria has put itself in the crosshairs of American policy priorities.

The New York Times’ David Sanger wrote shortly after the Arab Awakening had devoured its first two dictators, Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak:

“Every decision — from Libya to Yemen to Bahrain to Syria — is being examined under the prism of how it will affect what was, until mid-January, the dominating calculus in the Obama administration’s regional strategy: how to slow Iran’s nuclear progress, and speed the arrival of opportunities for a successful uprising there.”

Efforts to undermine Bashar Assad’s government were a longstanding policy objective, even in the years before popular revolts hit the wider Middle East in 2011. WikiLeaks has revealed a veritable goldmine of information about Washington’s interventions in Syria, which include direct US financial assistance to opposition groups.

Dirty politics and geopolitical mudslinging aside, at the heart of this matter rests an issue that is fundamental to good policy-making: When do handy narratives simply become lies that spawn bad policies?

This WikiLeaks cable from 2006 illustrates Washington’s efforts to identify “opportunities” to expose “vulnerabilities” in the Syrian regime and cause sectarian/ethnic division, discord within the military/security apparatus and economic hardship. How will the US achieve this? The cable lists a whole host of Syrian vulnerabilities to be exploited, and then recommends:

“These proposals will need to be fleshed out and converted into real actions and we need to be ready to move quickly to take advantage of such opportunities. Many of our suggestions underline using Public Diplomacy and more indirect means to send messages that influence the inner circle.”

Propagandizing the American Public

Public Diplomacy, in effect, means propaganda – which under the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 specifies the terms in which the US government can disseminate information to foreign audiences. In 1972, the Act prohibited domestic access to information intended for foreign audiences – in other words, it became illegal for the US government to propagandize Americans.

But Washington has found many ways around this. After all, US citizens need to be “on board” the myriad overseas military adventures undertaken by successive administrations. How, then, does government stay within the confines of the law while propagandizing Americans so that they are pumped up for wars (Iraq, Afghanistan, maybe Iran), weapons sales to questionable allies (Saudi Arabia and Israel), and human rights violations (Guantanamo, drones)?

The fake story of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) targeting the US and its allies was an essential narrative in the build-up to military intervention in Iraq. Recall then-Secretary of State Colin Powell’s testimony about evidence of Saddam’s WMD activities and President George W. Bush’s State of the Union speech when he falsely accused Iraq of procuring yellowcake uranium from Niger – the media scrutiny of these statements was wholly justified: it is illegal to lie to the American people.

Officials are careful about how they circumvent the restrictions of Smith-Mundt. The quickest way to feed Americans inaccurate, tainted or sometimes entirely false information is through “leaks.” Peruse any newspaper of record in Washington, New York or Los Angeles and you will see the foreign news sections chock full of leaks from “officials.”

The internet, too, is a natural playground for the dissemination of disinformation. Its vast reach across the globe, its millions of blogs with varying credibility – these lend themselves well to the game of public diplomacy.

Powell’s former Chief of Staff Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson – another ex-official who has spoken candidly about policy and process shortcomings since leaving his post – told me in April 2010: “(Defense Secretary Donald) Rumsfeld and others, for example, just ignored the law. They would put a story in a Sydney newspaper, for example, and then ‘internet it’ back to the United States. So you’re propagandizing the American people.”

Wilkerson insists: “we have a statutory divergence that needs to be fixed first – legislation that says you can’t mix public affairs, which is aimed at the American people, and public diplomacy, which is aimed at the international audience. We need to stop propaganda, period. We need to tell the truth. I understand we don’t give out state secrets, but why don’t we tell the truth?”

The problem with foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East, is ultimately about the kinds of people making the decisions – ideologues with clear agendas: against Iran and for Israel; against the Syrian “dictator” but in favor of the Saudi, Bahraini, Yemeni, Qatari ones; against Iranian nuclear capability, defending 200 nukes in Israel; abusing UN veto power (80+ times), deriding others for exercising a veto (Russia, China), and so on and so forth.

“It’s broken – it’s utterly dysfunctional,” Wilkerson says about the decision-making process in government: “They put ideologues in to corral, corner, orchestrate, cajole, push, wheedle the civil servants into doing something that they think ought to be done.”

Back to Syria.

A reporter from a major western cable news network just emailed me about his visit to Syria: “I got back from Homs last month unconvinced that the country was rising up against the Assad regime, and far from convinced that there are any good guys.”

Very little is known about what’s going on in the country. And it is not necessarily because there is limited media there: the Arab League mission report lists 147 foreign and Arab media organizations in Syria. The reason we still do not know what is taking place in Homs is because there is a ferocious battle for narratives between two rigid political mindsets. And the current dominant narrative is the one coming out of Washington – which, according to Wikileaks, has been waiting for “opportunities” to seize upon “vulnerabilities” to undermine the regime of Bashar Assad.

Not give us the truth, mind you. But to pursue a policy objective that US citizens have not agreed upon because they are unaware of the facts.

Sharmine Narwani is a commentary writer and political analyst covering the Middle East. You can follow Sharmine on twitter @snarwani.

February 10, 2012 Posted by | Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Timeless or most popular | , , , , | Leave a comment

Seven abducted Iranian engineers released in Syria

Press TV – February 10, 2012

The seven Iranian engineers and specialists abducted while working on a power plant project in the Syrian city of Homs in December have been released.

“The engineers who were working on the development of Syria’s Jandar power plant were kidnapped by terrorist groups in this country based on unfounded claims such as collaboration with Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guard Corps,” an informed source with the Iranian Energy Ministry said on Friday.

Five of the seven freed Iranians were kidnapped by unknown armed gunmen on their way to the 450-MW power plant in the troubled Syrian city of Homs on December 21.

The technicians have been building the city’s Jandar power plant for the past two years.

The two other released Iranians were abducted one day after the initial kidnapping while on a mission to establish the whereabouts of the missing engineers.

Iranian engineers and experts are currently implementing development projects in Syria, valued at more than 1.7 billion dollars.

A group of 11 Iranian pilgrims, who were kidnapped by the ‘Free Syrian Army’ on a road connecting the Syrian city of Hama to the capital, Damascus, on February 1, were handed over to Iranian officials in the Turkish city of Adana on Thursday.

The Free Syrian Army is affiliated to the Syrian opposition groups which have cordial relations with Ankara.

However, the whereabouts of another 11 Iranians, who were abducted on January 26 by a group of unidentified armed men on a road connecting Damascus to the northwestern city of Aleppo, remains unknown.

Syria has been experiencing unrest since mid-March 2011. While the opposition blames the government, the Syrian government says “outlaws, saboteurs and armed terrorist groups” are responsible for the unrest, which is being orchestrated from abroad.

February 10, 2012 Posted by | War Crimes | , | Leave a comment

Russia Says West “Accomplice” to Violence in Syria

Al-Manar | February 10, 2012

Russia accused the West on Friday of being an “accomplice” to the violence in Syria and said the country’s opposition bore full responsibility for ending the ongoing violence.

Speaking to ITAR-TASS news agency, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said that “Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s promise to stage a new constitutional referendum meant that it was now up to the armed resistance movement to take the next step.”

He also warned that “Russia was ready to follow this month’s veto of a draft UN Security Council resolution on the crisis with additional strong measures if the West continues to refuse acknowledging the opposition’s role in the crisis.”

“The Syrian leadership has assured us of its readiness to quickly hold a referendum on a new constitution and move toward elections,” Ryabkov said.

“This means that the opposition bears full responsibility for improving the situation and finding a way to stop the bloodshed… Western states that push the Syrian opposition into uncompromising measures, which arm them and give them advice and instructions are accomplices in the process of inflaming the crisis,” he added.

“The responsibility rests with those who while holding the levers of influence over the opposition still fail to call it to order and demand that it accepts the Syrian government’s offers and begin real talks,” the Russian deputy foreign minister further pointed out, warning that “Russia will have to again and again resort to strong measures at the Security Council if Western states introduce new resolutions on the crisis that only blame Assad.”

In addition, Ryabkov dismissed joint efforts by the United States and Turkey to organize an international conference on the crisis and possible relief efforts for the opposition.

“Russia does not share the West’s views about so-called humanitarian intervention,” he said.

February 10, 2012 Posted by | Militarism | , , | Leave a comment

UK helps Israel steal Palestinian water

Press TV – February 10, 2012

Britain has decided to help the Israeli regime steal water from Palestinians, while even the Israeli press describe the act as a ‘water occupation.’

British Water, which represents the UK water industry supply chain, signed an agreement with Israel in December which received no media coverage. The agreement was not even published on British Water’s website. However, the Israeli regime’s embassy in London proudly reported the agreement.

This comes as Israel’s 400-mile apartheid wall illegally encloses key water supplies. The International Court of Justice at The Hague ruled the apartheid wall is ‘contrary to international law’ and that “all States are under an obligation not to recognize the illegal situation resulting from the construction of the wall and not to render aid or assistance in maintaining the situation created by such construction.”

Israel’s apartheid wall is not even built along the so-called Green Line which itself is not a legal and official border. It bites deep into the occupied Palestinian West Bank and its construction is aimed at stealing Palestinians’ water and selling them their own water at an inflated price.

Palestinians have no access to the Jordan River because of the Israeli regime’s closures. Moreover, during the Gaza Massacre in 2008, Israel destroyed more than 30 kilometers of water networks and 11 water wells in a ‘deliberate and systematic’ manner, as described by a UN Fact Finding Mission.

Despite the establishment of a Joint Water Committee, which was set up to secure water supply to Palestinians, Israel was given veto power.

This way, Palestinians are forced to buy their own water, which is extracted from wells within their own land.

Although between 100 and 150 liters of water per day are necessary to meet health needs, an individual in marginalized Palestinian communities in the Occupied West Bank live on less than 20 liters of water a day. This comes as an average Israeli consumes 280 liters of Palestinians’ water each day.

Britain’s complicity with Israel in robbing the Palestinians of their water comes as even the Israeli newspaper Haaretz admitted that “some 450,000 [illegal] Israeli settlers on the [Occupied] West Bank use more water than the 2.3 million Palestinians that live there.”

The newspaper even considered the situation as a ‘water occupation’ that the Israeli regime has launched against the Palestinian people.

Given the bigger picture of the establishment of the Zionist state which would not be possible without Arthur Balfour, Britain’s foreign secretary from 1916 to 1919, and the UK Trade and Investment Department’s commitment to benefit Israel such acts on the part of Britain are not unexpected.

“In Palestine we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country. The four powers are committed to Zionism and Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long tradition, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now occupy that land,” said Balfour in his Balfour Declaration back in 1917.

Balfour’s comments were made as Britain had promised “the 700,000 Arabs” that had “occupied the land” independence in return for their assistance in defeating the Ottoman-German Alliance in World War I.

However, after “Turks were smitten,” as described by Stephen Ostrander, the British government gave no thought to its promise as it surrendered Palestine for the establishment of a Zionist state.

February 10, 2012 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Subjugation - Torture, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , | 4 Comments

   

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