The Russian Foreign Ministry expressed outrage over the deadly gun battle on Saturday night in the protester-held city of Slavyansk in eastern Ukraine. It said Kiev must deliver on its commitment to de-escalate the violence.
Russia, Ukraine, the US and the EU agreed this week in Geneva on a roadmap to calm tension down in protest-gripped eastern Ukraine. The agreement includes disarmaming paramilitary groups on both sides of the conflict.
Yet on Saturday night an apparent raid by a Right Sector radical paramilitary unit ended with up to 6 people killed in Slavyansk, a city in Ukraine’s Donetsk region controlled by anti-Kiev protesters.
Moscow condemned the violence on Sunday and said it indicates Kiev’s unwillingness to implement the Geneva agreement.
“The Russian side is outraged with the provocation, which indicates that Kiev is unwilling to put in check and disarm nationalists and extremists,” the ministry said in a statement.
The ministry added that Moscow “insists on the strict implementation by the Ukrainian side of its commitments to de-escalate the situation in southeastern Ukraine.”
The Geneva document agreed on Thursday after marathon negotiations is aimed at defusing the Ukrainian political crisis. In addition to disarming paramilitary groups, it provides for an amnesty for protesters not involved in violent crimes and preparation of constitutional reform to provide greater autonomy for Ukrainian regions.
JERUSALEM – Dozens of Palestinian worshipers were wounded and dozens were detained after clashes broke in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on Sunday morning with Israeli forces who had stormed the courtyards firing stun grenades and rubber-coated bullets.
The raid comes amid frequent clashes in recent days after right-wing Jewish groups urged Jews to flock to the compound — which they believe is the site of a former Jewish temple — and conduct Passover rituals inside.
Director of Al-Aqsa Mosque Omar Kiswani told Ma’an that more than 400 police officers stormed the courtyard of the Al-Aqsa Mosque through the Moroccan Gate and the Chain Gate escorting Ultra-Orthodox Jews other Jewish visitors into the compound.
Israeli forces, Kiswani said, “besieged” worshipers in the southern mosque “attacking them with clubs and pepper spray,” after clashes broke out with Palestinian worshipers in the compound.
Dozens of Palestinians sustained injuries during the assault, while several others suffered from excessive tear gas inhalation. Twenty five young men were reportedly detained by Israeli forces.
Kiswani said that Likud member of Knesset Moshe Feiglin had also entered the compound during the raid, accompanied by special security units. Feiglin has visited the site frequently in recent months, and he has vocally supported the extension of Israeli sovereignty over the compound.
Earlier on Sunday morning, clashes erupted outside the Lions’ Gate (Bab al-Asbat) and Gate of Remission (Bab al-Hutta) of the Al-Aqsa compound when Israeli police denied hundreds of worshippers access to the compound.
Witnesses said that Israeli officers had denied all Palestinian residents of Jerusalem under the age of 60 access to the compound, including students who attend schools inside. Men and women were also attacked with clubs and pepper spray, witnesses said.
Israeli forces detained a young man after he was beaten brutally.
Israeli police spokesman said in a statement that police had detained 16 Palestinian “rioters,” adding that they were all detained “as they threw stones/blocks at officers at the scene this morning.”
He also said that two police officers lightly injured in the clashes, which broke out after the Palestinians threw stones as “tourists visited.”
About 100 Muslim worshipers have decided to stay inside the compound day and night throughout Passover after right-wing Jewish organizations called for Jewish worshipers to enter the area en masse for religious festivities.
Because of the sensitive nature of the Al-Aqsa compound, Israel maintains a compromise with the Islamic trust that controls it to not allow non-Muslim prayers in the area. Israeli forces regularly escort Jewish visitors to the site, leading to tension with Palestinian worshipers.
The compound, which sits just above the Western Wall plaza, houses both the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa mosque and is the third holiest site in Islam.
It is also venerated as Judaism’s most holy place as it sits where Jews believe the First and Second Temples once stood. The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.
Al-Aqsa is located in East Jerusalem, a part of the internationally recognized Palestinian territories that have been occupied by the Israeli military since 1967.
Israeli police reportedly blocked a top UN diplomat, alongside other diplomats and Palestinians, entrance to a pre-Easter Holy Fire ceremony at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, which Israeli authorities called a ‘micro-incident.’
Robert Serry, the UN special envoy for Middle East peace, said he and Palestinian Christians were making their way to attend the ‘Holy Fire’ ceremony at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the site where Christians believe Jesus was crucified and buried before rising from the dead.
Despite earlier promises of unrestricted access to the church, Israeli police refused to let the group of worshipers pass, saying they had orders to that effect.
Serry said he, along with Italian, Norwegian and Dutch diplomats, were forced to wait for up to 30 minutes, crushed by the excited crowd against a barricade, while Israeli officers ignored his request to speak with a superior, according to Reuters.
“A precarious standoff ensued ending in an angry crowd pushing their way through,” Serry said, lashing out at “unacceptable behavior from the Israeli security authorities.”
“It became really dangerous because there was a big crowd and I was pushed against a metal fence the police put up there, the crowd tried to push really hard,” the diplomat said, adding they might have been trampled had police not finally let them pass.
Serry in a statement called on “all parties to respect the right of religious freedom, granting access to holy sites for worshipers of all faiths and refraining from provocations, not least during religious holidays.”
The incident comes as the Holy City, which is of religious importance to Christians, Jews and Muslims alike, prepares Pope Francis’s Holy Land visit next month.
Israel dismissed the UN diplomat’s complaint, calling it an attempt to exaggerate a “micro-incident” while crediting police with maintaining order as crowds of worshipers descended on the city.
Later on Saturday, Israel’s Foreign Affairs Ministry dismissed Serry’s account as “an odd communique on a non-event.”
“Christian dignitaries of the highest level have this evening thanked the Jerusalem Police Department for its efficient service, which has enabled the Holy Day’s celebrations to take place without any hindrance,” the ministry said.
“Had any harm come to the pilgrims due to uncontrolled crowd movements, Mr. Serry would have been prompt to cast responsibility on the same police which he now condemns for doing its job properly,” the Israeli statement added.
Meanwhile, Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Jerusalem in May, an event that may be overshadowed by a breakdown in US-brokered peace talks between Israeli and Palestinians, who face an April-29 deadline to resolve their differences.
An examination of texts published by Father Frans van der Lugt in 2011 and 2012 shows that the late Dutch Jesuit priest had a dim view of the Syrian rebellion, which he held to be the work of a violent minority, and favored a process of political reform in Syria to be implemented by the current government under President Bashar Al-Assad.
Father Frans was murdered under still unclarified circumstances in the embattled Syrian city of Homs earlier this month.
Opposition sources have blamed the Syrian government for his death. But it is widely believed that Father Frans was killed by hard-line Islamist members of one of the rebel factions that have taken control of his Bustan al-Diwan neighborhood in Homs.
The texts of Father Frans, who had lived in Syria since 1966, provide an eyewitness account of the origins of the anti-Assad rebellion and the gradual hardening of the front between opposing rebel and government forces in Homs.
In many respects, the Father’s observations contrast sharply with what has become the standard view of the rebellion in Western media.
Perhaps most notably, whereas the rebellion is typically held to have been sparked by the violent repression of peaceful protests, according to Father Frans, the “protest movement” contained an armed and violent element “from the start” and the violent opposition quickly gained the ascendancy over the peaceful opposition.
Thus, in a letter published in January 2012 on the Dutch-Flemish Mediawerkgroep Syrië website, Father Frans wrote:
From the start, the protest movements were not purely peaceful. From the start I saw armed demonstrators marching along in the protests, who began to shoot at the police first. Very often the violence of the security forces has been a reaction to the brutal violence of the armed rebels.
In the same letter, Father Frans insisted that what was occurring in Syria could not be described as a “popular uprising,” since the majority of Syrians do not support the opposition and “certainly not” its armed component.
Already in September 2011, Father Frans had made similar observations in a guest post on a Belgian blog, going so far as to accuse armed opposition groups of blaming the regime for their own acts of violence.
Having noted the splintering of the opposition among Islamists, “liberals and democrats”, communists and so on, Father Frans continued:
Moreover, from the start there has been the problem of the armed groups, which are also part of the opposition….The opposition of the street is much stronger than any other opposition. And this opposition is armed and frequently employs brutality and violence, only in order then to blame the government. Many representatives of the government [regeringsmensen – Father Frans might also be referring to supporters of the government] have been tortured and shot dead by them.
“Personally,” Father Frans concluded, “I expect little good to come from the opposition, which, moreover, has been instigated and paid by foreign interests.”
Favoring political reform
Faced with a choice between an opposition as so described and the current Syrian government, Father Frans clearly favored a process of political reform undertaken by the latter and not the “regime change” that has been favored by the West.
“Personally,” he wrote in September 2011, “I think this government has to stay, despite all difficulties, and proceed along the path of reforms.”
In his January 2012 letter, he outlined a similar course of action, noting that the current government is “perhaps more democratic than possible replacements.”
In particular, he regarded the current regime as the best guarantee against the spread of sectarian violence in Syria.
Whereas Western press reports have emphasized his efforts to promote understanding among Christians and Muslims, Father Frans identified the main sectarian fault-line in Syria as that running between two Muslim communities: Sunnis, who make up the majority of the population, and the Alawite minority, which is not only associated with the current regime but whose members are regarded as apostates by radical Sunni currents.
In January 2012, Father Frans warned that the Syrian army was the only thing standing in the way of a full-fledged civil war between Sunnis and Alawites in Homs.
In the same letter, he noted that most Christian leaders in Syria support Assad, “because they are convinced that they would be worse off with another solution.”
In his critical observations on the Syrian crisis, Father Frans did not spare the Western media, which he accused of distortion and bias.
In September 2011 he wrote that he was disturbed by Western coverage of the Syrian crisis because there was “never a good word” published about the current government.
He said that Western media blamed the Syrian government “for things that it had not done”. He went on:
Our experience with the government has not been so negative. In my case, they always helped my projects and supported my idea of being of service to Sunnis and Alawites. They wanted an ever greater separation of church and state and were enthusiastic about projects that were non-denominational.
According to the Dutch daily de Volkskrant, the help provided by the Syrian government to Father Frans included a grant of over 100 acres of land for the Father’s agricultural projects.
Lords and masters
Ironically, by March 2012, Father Frans found himself living under siege by the forces of the very Syrian government he supported. In the meanwhile, rebel forces, which had briefly taken control of Bustan al-Diwan in September 2011, were back again and this time they were there for the long-term.
Now, as Father Frans noted in an eyewitness report for the Flemish monthly Streven, the rebel forces were “much better organized” and “called themselves ‘the Free Syrian Army.’”
“They had an abundance of food,” he continued, “and they also distributed it to poor people. They are financially and militarily supported by foreign interests.”
“For now,” Father Frans concluded, referring to both the Bustan al-Diwan and Hamidiyeh neighborhoods of Homs, “the Free [Syrian] Army is lord and master of our Christian neighborhoods….”
In late March, Father Frans’s own car was destroyed by a missile or mortar fired into Bustan al-Diwan by the Syrian army. “The army was aiming for a restaurant not far from us where the FSA has its headquarters,” he explained to the Swiss Catholic new agency APIC.
“There is a Greek Orthodox church right next door, which was also damaged.”
Father Frans told APIC that ninety percent of the Christian population of Homs had already fled the city, because of the fighting.
“They were not chased out by the Sunni militias,” Father Frans took care to add, “This needs to be emphasized! The Syrian army was first driven from the neighborhood by the FSA and now it’s the FSA that is being bombed.”
In his contribution to Streven, Father Frans wrote about the futility of the army’s bombing campaign and its disastrous effects upon the remaining Christian population:
… [T]he only result is that many Christian homes and also churches… have been bombed and partially or wholly destroyed, while the soldiers of the Free [Syrian] Army remain unharmed. The latter hide in the cellars of the Christian homes to protect themselves from the bombing.
Nonetheless, Father Frans remained clear about where he believed the ultimate responsibility for the disaster lay. “There is no excusing the fact,” he wrote, “that the Free Syrian Army has taken the Christian neighborhoods in order to use them as a battlefield for combating the government army.”
But not even the experience of siege and bombardment by government forces could shake Father Frans’s conviction that distorted, one-sided coverage of the Syrian crisis in the media was itself a major obstacle to peace.
Reflecting on the way forward in the conclusion to his contribution to Streven, Father Frans warned:
In the first place, it has to be said that it is very difficult to provide a nuanced and objective account of what is happening. Many journalists fall into describing matters in black and white. For them, good and evil are not interwoven, but are clearly separated. They demonize the one side and glorify the other. Thus, for example, it is not true that our [the Syrian] government has only bad sides and the opposition only good ones. But because the US, Europe and certain Arab countries support the opposition, they endeavor, whether consciously or unconsciously, to idealize it as much as possible, without engaging in any careful analysis of the real situation. Certain interests are obscuring our view of the real situation and contaminating the description of it.
The author of this article John Rosenthal is a European-based journalist and political analyst who writes on European politics and transatlantic issues. His articles have appeared in such publications as Al-Monitor, World Affairs, The Wall Street Journal Europe, Les Temps Modernes, and Die Weltwoche. He is the author of the recent book The Jihadist Plot: The Untold Story of Al-Qaeda and the Libyan Rebellion. You can follow his work at www.trans-int.com or on Facebook
Why capitalists do not want recovery, and what that means for America
Can it be true that capitalists prefer crisis over growth? On the face of it, the idea sounds silly. According to Economics 101, everyone loves growth, especially capitalists. Profit and growth go hand in hand. When capitalists profit, real investment rises and the economy thrives, and when the economy booms the profits of capitalists soar. Growth is the very lifeline of capitalists.
Or is it?
What motivates capitalists?
The answer depends on what motivates capitalists. Conventional economic theories tell us that capitalists are hedonic creatures. Like all other economic “agents” – from busy managers and hectic workers to active criminals and idle welfare recipients – their ultimate goal is maximum utility. In order for them to achieve this goal, they need to maximize their profit and interest; and this income – like any other income – depends on economic growth. Conclusion: utility-seeking capitalists have every reason to love booms and hate crises.
But, then, are capitalists really motivated by utility? Is it realistic to believe that large American corporations are guided by the hedonic pleasure of their owners – or do we need a different starting point altogether?
So try this: in our day and age, the key goal of leading capitalists and corporations is not absolute utility but relative power. Their real purpose is not to maximize hedonic pleasure, but to “beat the average.” Their ultimate aim is not to consume more goods and services (although that happens too), but to increase their power over others. And the key measure of this power is their distributive share of income and assets.
Note that capitalists have no choice in this matter. “Beating the average” is not a subjective preference but a rigid rule, dictated and enforced by the conflictual nature of the system. Capitalism pits capitalists against other groups in society – as well as against each other. And in this multifaceted struggle for greater power, the yardstick is always relative. Capitalists – and the corporations they operate through – are compelled and conditioned to accumulate differentially; to augment not their personal utility but their relative earnings. Whether they are private owners like Warren Buffet or institutional investors like Bill Gross, they all seek not to perform but to out-perform – and outperformance means re-distribution. Capitalists who beat the average redistribute income and assets in their favor; this redistribution raises their share of the total; and a larger share of the total means greater power stacked against others. In the final analysis, capitalists accumulate not hedonic pleasure but differential power.
Now, if you look at capitalists through the lens of relative power, the notion that they should love growth and yearn for recovery is no longer self-evident. In fact, the very opposite seems to be the case. For any group to increase its relative power in society, that group must be able to strategically sabotage others in that society. This rule derives from the very logic of power relations. It means that capitalists, seeking to augment their income-share-read-power, have to threaten or undermine the rest of society. And one of the key weapons they use in this power struggle –sometimes consciously, though usually by default – is unemployment.
Joblessness affects redistribution
Unemployment affects distribution mainly through the impact it has on relative prices and wages. If higher unemployment causes the ratio of price to unit wage cost to decline, capitalists will fall behind in the redistributional struggle, and this retreat is sure to make them eager for recovery. But if the opposite turns out to be the case – that is, if higher unemployment helps raise the price/wage cost ratio – capitalists would have good reason to love crisis and indulge in stagnation.
In principle, both scenarios are possible. But as Figure 1 shows, in America the second prevails: unemployment redistributes income systematically in favor of capitalists. The chart contrasts the share of pretax profit and net interest in domestic income on the one hand with the rate of unemployment on the other (both series are smoothed as 5-year moving averages). Note that the unemployment rate is lagged three years, meaning that every observation shows the situation prevailing three years earlier.
This chart does not sit well with received wisdom. Mainstream economics tells us that the two series should be inversely correlated; that the capitalist income share should rise in the boom when unemployment falls and decline in the bust when unemployment rises. But that is not the case in the United States. In this country, the correlation is positive, not negative. The share of capitalists moves counter-cyclically: it rises in downturns and falls in booms – exactly the opposite of what economic convention would have us believe. The math is straightforward: for every 1% rise in unemployment, capitalists can expect their income share three years later to jump by 0.8%. Needless to say, this equation is very bad news for most Americans – precisely because it is such good news for the country’s capitalists.
Remarkably, the positive correlation shown in Figure 1 holds not only over the short-term business cycle, but also in the long term. During the booming 1940s, when unemployment was very low, capitalists appropriated a relatively small share of domestic income. But as the boom fizzled, growth decelerated and stagnation started to creep in, the share of capital began to trend upward. The peak power of capital, measured by its overall income share, was recorded in the early 1990s, when unemployment was at post-war highs. The neoliberal globalization that followed brought lower unemployment and a smaller capital share, but not for long. In the late 2000s, the trend reversed again, with unemployment soaring and the distributive share of capital rising in tandem. Looking forward, capitalists have reason to remain crisis-happy: with the rate of unemployment again approaching post-war highs, their income share has more room to rise in the years ahead.
The power of capitalists can also be examined from the viewpoint of the infamous Top 1%. Most commentators stress the “social” and “political” problems created by the disproportional wealth of this group, but this emphasis puts the world on its head. Redistribution is not an unfortunate side-effect of growth and stagnation, but the main force driving them.
Figure 2 shows the century-long relationship between the income share of the Top 1% and the annual growth rate of U.S. employment (with both series smoothed as 10-year moving averages). And as the chart makes clear, the distributional gains of this group have been boosted not by growth, but by stagnation. The overall relationship is clearly negative. When stagnation sets in and employment growth decelerates, the income share of the Top 1% actually rises – and vice versa during a long-term boom.
Historically, this negative relationship can be divided into three distinct periods, indicated by the dashed, freely drawn line going through the employment growth series. The first period, from the turn of the twentieth century till the 1930s, is the so-called Gilded Age. Income inequality is rising and employment growth is plummeting.
The second period, from the Great Depression till the early 1980s, is marked by the Keynesian welfare-warfare state. Higher taxation and public spending make distribution more equal, while employment growth accelerates. Note the massive acceleration of employment growth during the Second World War and its subsequent deceleration brought by post-war demobilization. Obviously these dramatic movements were unrelated to income inequality, but they did not alter the series’ overall upward trend.
The third period, from the early 1980s to the present, is marked by neoliberalism. In this period, monetarism assumes the commanding heights, inequality soars and employment growth plummets. The current rate of employment growth hovers around zero while the Top 1% appropriates 20 per cent of all income – similar to the numbers recorded during Great Depression.
So what do these facts mean for America?
First, they make the fault-lines obvious. The old slogan “what’s good for GM is good for America” now rings hollow. Capitalists seek not utility through consumption but more power through redistribution. And they achieve their goal not by raising investment and fueling growth, but by allowing unemployment to rise and jobs to become scarce. Clearly, we are not “all in the same boat.” There is a distributional struggle for power, and this struggle is not a mere “sociological” issue. It is the center of our political economy, and we need a new theoretical framework to understand it.
Second, macroeconomic policy, whether old or new, cannot offset the aggregate consequences of this distributional struggle. Not by a long shot. Till the late 1970s, the budget deficit was small, yet America boomed. And why? Because progressive taxation, transfer payments and social programs made the distribution of income less unequal. By the early 1980s, this relationship inverted. Although the budget deficit ballooned and interest rates fell, economic growth decelerated. New methods of upward redistribution have caused the share of the Top 1% to zoom, making stagnation the new norm.
Third, and finally, Washington can no longer hide behind the bush. On the one hand, the concentration of America’s income and assets, having been boosted by large post-crisis bailouts and massive quantitative easing, is now at record levels. On the other hand, long-term unemployment remains at post-war highs while job growth is at a standstill. Eventually, this situation will be reversed. The only question is whether it will be reversed through a new policy trajectory or through the calamity of systemic crisis.
Jonathan Nitzan teaches political economy at York University in Canada. Shimshon Bichler teaches political economy at colleges and universities in Israel. All of their publications are available for free on The Bichler & Nitzan Archives.
The Islamic Republic of Iran and the United States have now locked horns at the United Nations in the dispute over Iran’s next ambassador to UN, Hamid Aboutalebi, in light of the US refusal to issue a visa for him and Iran’s stern reaction of lodging a complaint with the relevant authorities at the UN.
By all indications, the coming battle will be fought hard by both sides and may turn out to be time-consuming and involve a lengthy arbitration process. Objectively speaking, Iran’s chance of winning this battle is fair to excellent, because Iran has the weight of international law on its side.
As stated in Iran’s letter of April 14, 2014, addressed both to the UN Secretary General and the permanent representative of Cyprus, the current chair of the UN Committee on Relations with the Host Country, the US is now in breach of its international obligations by refusing to issue an entry visa to Mr. Aboutalebi.
Specifically, the US is now in contempt of its obligation under the US-UN treaty known as the “Headquarters Agreement,” which was signed in 1947. Section 11 of this Agreement expressly prohibits the US from imposing any restrictions on travel to the UN by representatives of UN member states.
Not only that, even the US’s own law, enacted in 1947, which imposes certain restrictions with respect to foreign officials who may pose a security risk to the US, does not give the US government the right to a blanket exclusion.
Section 6 of the US legislations states, “Nothing in the agreement shall be construed as in any way diminishing, abridging, or weakening the right of the United States to safeguard its own security and completely to control the entrance of aliens into any territory of the United States other than the headquarters district and its immediate vicinity.”
Clearly, this section simply does not permit the US to deny entry completely to any individual who has a right of entry, particularly the designated permanent representative of a UN member state.
What lies ahead, then, is a potentially lengthy arbitration process. Section 21 of the Headquarters Agreement provides a specific arbitration mechanism for such disputes between the US and the UN. If the negotiations between Iran, UN, and US at the above-said committee, scheduled for April 22nd, fail, then the matter would be referred to a tribunal of three arbitrators, one to be named by the UN Secretary General, one to be named by the United States, and the third to be chosen by the two, or, if they should fail to agree upon a third, then by the President of the International Court of Justice.
Legally speaking, US’s stated unhappiness with Mr. Aboutalebi over his alleged role with the Iranian students who took over the US embassy in 1979 does not suffice to warrant his exclusion from the UN. As a veteran Iranian diplomat for the past quarter of century, serving in several Western countries, Aboutalebi, who holds a degree from the prestigious Sorbonne University, is well-suited for the designated position at the UN and his credential simply nullifies any lame US excuse that he poses a “security risk.”
Besides, the US and Iran have signed an agreement known as the Algiers Accord in 1981, which has specific provisions regarding the settlement of disputes arising out of the US embassy ‘crisis’ and which are relevant to Iran’s defense of its choice for the top position at the UN. The US is beholden to the terms of the Algiers Accord, which precludes the US from punishing Iran one way or another for the embassy situation.
Clearly, this is a vexing issue for not only Iran but also many other UN member states, particularly those who may have a past or present dispute with the US, in light of the new US legislation that opens a Pandora’s Box by enhancing US free hand to screen foreign diplomats and impose restrictions on them based on criteria that violate the terms of the Headquarters Agreement, thus jeopardizing the future of “multilateral diplomacy” as correctly stated in Iran’s letter to UN mentioned above; as result, the Non-Aligned Movement, comprising the largest UN grouping at the General Assembly, may intervene on Iran’s behalf.
This may be why US President Obama has not yet acted on this legislation, which is Iranophobic through and through and was initiated by the hawkish members of US Congress who are on record opposing the recent nuclear agreement between Iran and the world powers. But, sooner or later, the US has to furnish a detailed and official explanation as to why it refuses a visa for Mr. Aboutalebi. But once it does, it will inevitably make more clear the already glaring fact that the US is in contempt of its international obligations.
The fact that Mr. Aboutalebi has entered the US in the past, as part of Iran’s delegation to the UN General Assembly, represents another strike against the US, which would have to be taken into consideration by the UN officials and the arbitration panel, the argument being that if he did not pose any security risk in the past, why should he be so regarded now?
With respect to any US argument that Aboutalebi has violated international law in the past by acting as a US “hostage-taker,” this is not convincing either due to the following: (a) by his own admission, Aboutalebi was not among the hostage-takers and played a limited role as an interpreter; (b) the embassy take-over was in part a response to a prior US violation of international law by engineering the 1953 coup in Iran and then supporting a ruthless dictatorship for a quarter of century; (c) those events are now remote in time and have been followed by the Algiers Accord that, as stated above, implicitly if not explicitly precludes the US from imposing punishments on Iran over the “hostage crisis.”
Henceforth, the US is likely to lose the legal battle with Iran at the UN, which in turn raises the question of what happens if the US ignores the adverse opinion of the arbitration panel. This case has striking similarities with the (PLO Chairman) Yasser Arafat visa affair, when the US showed callous disrespect for the bounds of its UN host agreement in 1988, which completely backfired and led to the General Assembly’s decision to hold its next annual gathering at the UN headquarter in Geneva.
If the US loses the legal bout, as it logically should given the above-stated reasons, then Iran has the option of seeking a similar move by the General Assembly.
For now, however, Tehran is keen on resolving this matter amicably through in-house negotiation at the UN, and hopefully reason will prevail and Mr. Aboutalebi will be able to assume his position in the near future, irrespective of how certain groups and individuals in the host country feel about it.
By Gilad Atzmon | November 21, 2009
‘Israel is the light unto the nations’ says the Torah. Indeed it is, and not just because the Torah says so. Israel is ahead of everyone else in many fronts. Take for instance, terrorizing civilian populations and practicing some of the most devastating murderous tactics upon elders, women and young.
The Jerusalem Post reported yesterday that the Chairman of NATO’s Military Committee, Admiral Giampaolo Di Paola, visited Israel earlier this week to study “IDF tactics and methods that the military alliance can utilise for its war in Afghanistan.” A senior Israeli defence official added “The one thing on NATO’s mind today is how to win in Afghanistan… Di Paola was very impressed by the IDF, which is a major source of information due to our operational experience.”
I would advise both the Israeli official and Admiral Di Paola to slightly curb their enthusiasm. The IDF didn’t win a single war since 1967. Yes, it murdered many civilians, it flattened many cities, it starved millions, it has been committing war crimes on a daily basis for decades and yet, it didn’t win a war. Thus, the IDF cannot really teach NATO how to win in Afghanistan. If NATO generals are stupid enough to follow IDF tactics, like the Israeli generals, they will start to see the charges of war crimes pile up against them. They may even be lucky enough to share their cells with some Israelis in due course, once justice is performed.
Admiral Di Paola spent two days with the infamous IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, the man who led the IDF into Gaza last December.
In the Jewish state they were very enthusiastic with Admiral Di Paola’s visit. They regarded it as just another reassurance of ‘business as usual. The visit of a NATO high supreme official was there to convince them that no one takes note of the Goldstone report. “Di Paola’s visit is significant” says the Jerusalem Post, “since it comes at a time when the IDF is under increasing criticism in the wake of the Goldstone Report on Operation Cast Lead as well as a decision by Turkey – a NATO member – to ban Israel from joint aerial exercises.”
However, it would be crucial to elaborate on the emerging mutual interests between the two parties, Israel and NATO. “During their meeting on Wednesday, Ashkenazi and Di Paola discussed ways to upgrade Israeli-NATO military ties as well as the plan to include an Israeli Navy vessel in Active Endeavor, a NATO mission established after the 9/11 attacks under which NATO vessels patrol the Mediterranean to prevent illegal terror trafficking”. This is indeed a necessary move for the Israelis. At the moment the Israeli Navy is operating in the Mediterranean as a bunch of Yiddish Pirates (Yidisshe Piraten), assaulting, hijacking and robbing vessels in international waters. Once operating under the NATO flag, the Israelis would be able to terrorise every vessel in the high seas in the name of the ‘West’. For the Jewish state this would be a major step forward. Until now the Israelis have been committing atrocities in the name of the Jewish people. Once operating under the NATO flag, the Israelis will be able to perform their piracy in the name of ‘Europe’. Such a move is further evidence of the spiritual and ideological transition within Zionism from ‘promised land’ into ‘promised planet’.
While the Israelis desperately need NATO’s legitimacy, NATO is far more modest. All it needs is knowledge and tactics. For some reason it insists on learning from the Israelis how to inflict pain on a civilian population. More pain, that is, than it is already making. “NATO’s Defence officials said that Di Paola used his meetings with the IDF to learn about new technology that can be applied to the war in Afghanistan”. The Jerusalem Post reports that Israel is a “known world leader in the development of specialized armor to protect against improvised explosive devices (IEDs), otherwise known as roadside bombs.” This is indeed the case. Israeli generals realised a long time ago that their precious young soldiers prefer to hide in their tanks rather than engage with the ‘enemy’ i.e. the civilian population, kids, elders and women. But it doesn’t stop there, Di Paola was also interested in “Israeli intelligence-gathering capabilities and methods that the IDF uses when operating in civilian population centers.” Di Paola noted that “NATO and the IDF were facing similar threats – NATO in Afghanistan and Israel in its war against Hamas and Hizbullah.”
I would suggest to Admiral Di Paola to immediately read the Goldstone report thoroughly, so he grasps his own personal legal consequences once he starts to implement ‘Israeli tactics’. If Admiral Di Paola wants to serve his army, he should indeed visit Israel, he should also meet every war criminal both in the military and politics so he knows exactly what NOT to do.
NATO’s chances of winning in Afghanistan are not limited, they are actually exhausted. It can only lose. Some military analysts and veteran generals argue that it is lost already. NATO has brought enough carnage on the Afghani people without achieving any of its military or political goals. Given that Israel was severely humiliated in Lebanon in 2006 by a tiny paramilitary Hizbullah and failed to achieve its military goals in Operation Cast Lead in its genocidal war against Hamas, there is nothing for NATO to learn from the Israelis. Should NATO proceed in implementing added IDF tactics, all it will achieve is a dramatic reduction of security across Europe and America.
If we are concerned with peace and we want it to prevail, what we have to do is to move away as far as we can from any spiritual, ideological, political and military affiliation with Zionism, Israel and its lobbies. If ‘Israel’ is indeed a ‘light onto the nations’, someone better explain to us all, why its prospect of peace is becoming slimmer and darker.
My answer is actually simple. Israel can be easily seen as the ‘light of nations’ as long as you learn from Israel what not to do. In fact this is the message passed to us by the great humanist prophets Jesus and Marx. Love your neighbour, be among others, transcend yourself beyond the tribal into the realm of the universal. In fact this is exactly what the Israelis fail to grasp. For some reason, they love themselves almost as much as they hate their neighbours.
If Admiral Di Paola wants to win the hearts and the minds of the Afghan people (rather than ‘winning a war’), he should first learn to love. This is something he won’t learn in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. Gaza, Ramallha and Nablus are more likely.
The corporate media is focused on the question of how or if Iran could ever break out of its promise under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to eschew nuclear weapons and use reactors only for civilian purposes. So many headlines refer to sanctions imposed against Iran that millions of people mistakenly think Iran has a nuclear arsenal. It doesn’t.
Meanwhile the Congress in January fully funded production of a new B61 thermonuclear gravity bomb, a program dubbed “Life Extension.” This year’s $537 million is the down payment on the new version of the B61 that the millionaires in DC agreed should get $11 billion over the next few years.
Dubbed the “solid gold nuke” by critics, the 700 pound H-bomb is running $28 million apiece at the moment. That much gold bullion is only worth $16 million.
The program to replace today’s B61s with a new “mod12,” is being condemned by our allies in NATO, by Congressional budget hawks and of course by the entire arms control community. Even former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James Cartwright has said the bombs are “practically nil” in military value. (Gen. Cartwright only is partly right: Since it seems the Department of Defense is in the business of producing suicides by the thousands, among veterans and active duty soldiers, the suicidal mission of deploying B61s across Europe — for detonation there — seems a perfect fit.)
“This decision represents the triumph of entrenched nuclear interests over good government. The B-61 is no longer relevant for U.S. national security, but continues to rob billions of dollars from programs that would make America safer,” President Joe Cirincione of the Ploughshares Fund told Hans M. Kristensen for the Federation of American Scientists.
Kristensen reported March 12 that the Pentagon has decided that the new B61 will begin its deployment in Europe next year.
This 300-to-500 kiloton “variable yield” thermonuclear device has 24 to 40 times the destructive power of the US bomb that killed 170,000 people at Hiroshima in 1945. Still, this machine’s threat of meaningless, genocidal, radioactive violence is called “tactical.”
Rush to Deploy New H-bomb Before it’s Killed by Public Opposition
The Air Force budget makes it appear that the older B61s will all be replaced — in Turkey, Italy, Belgium, The Netherlands and Germany — by 2020. This rush job is being hustled through the military-industrial-complex in a very big hurry because the broad international condemnation of the program is gaining depth and breadth.
Even the rightwing Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., along with Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., and Rep Jared Polis, D-Colo., tried to curtail the program last year. Five NATO partners — Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, The Netherlands and Norway — asked four years ago that all B61s be removed permanently from Europe. In Germany, every major political party has formally resolved to pursue final withdrawal of the 20 remaining B61s at Buchel AFB.
Major US allies in Europe informed Gen. Cartwright’s critical opinion. High-level European politicians have been saying the B61s are “militarily useless” since the end of the Cold War. In a widely published op/ed in 2010, former NATO secretary-general Willy Claes and three senior Belgian politicians said, “The US tactical nuclear weapons in Europe have lost all military importance.”
Still, Kristensen reports, “integration” of the new B61 is supposed to take place on Belgian, Dutch, and Turkish F-16 jets and on German and Italian Tornado fighter-bombers soon.
Another reason for the rush to deploy this perfect candidate for dumb bomb retirement is that Germany is considering replacing its Tornado jets in short order. All the expense of refitting its current Tornadoes to carry the “more accurate” and “more usable” B61-mod 12 would be wasted. New B61 production could also be made expensively moot by progress in arms control.
The “nuclear sharing” arrangement with the five technically non-nuclear NATO partners glaringly contradicts, in Kristensen’s words, “the non-proliferation standards that member countries are trying to promote in the post-Cold War world.” In its 2012 posture review, even NATO’s ministers pledged to work for a world without nuclear weapons.
So as the White House and its Secretary of State wag fingers at Iran, we and our NATO friends openly violate the binding promise made in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty “not to receive the transfer from any transferor whatsoever of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or of control over such weapons or explosive devices directly, or indirectly.”
Maybe Iran can arrange for some sanctions to be imposed on us.
John LaForge works for Nukewatch, edits its Quarterly, and lives at the Plowshares Land Trust out of Luck, Wisconsin.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday called on all European states concerned to join efforts to keep the Ukrainian economy afloat.
“We do not want to undermine the Ukrainian economy or to call the reliability of [gas] transits to Europe into question. That’s why we call on all European states, all countries interested in supporting the Ukrainian economy to join the process of helping Ukraine and to flesh out measures to finance the budget,” said Putin.
The Russian President said on Saturday he currently saw no obstacles to bringing relations between Moscow and the West back to normal.
The Russian president, who appeared on the Vesti v Subbotu (Vesti on Saturday) TV show, was asked by its host Sergey Brilev about whether the relations between Russia and the West, which sank to record lows amid the ongoing political crisis in Ukraine, can improve by the end of the year.
“It depends on our partners,” Putin replied.
“I think that currently there is nothing to prevent us from normalizing [the relations] and [returning to] normal cooperation,” he continued.
The Russian Foreign Ministry has earlier condemned as “hypocrisy” attempts by the West to justify violent acts during pro-European rallies in Ukraine earlier this year, at the same time accusing pro-federalization protesters in the east of terrorism.
Tehran has slammed as illegal a US court ruling to confiscate the assets of Alavi Foundation in Manhattan, saying the move runs counter to the principle of religious freedom for American citizens.
“The recent ruling regarding the forfeiture of the assets belonging to the foundation is, to all appearances, in contradiction to realities, void of legal validity and even in breach of US commitments to guarantee religious freedom for its citizens,” Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham said in a Friday statement.
“Contrary to the prosecutors’ baseless allegations and the court’s politically-motivated ruling which was a propaganda fuss, the Alavi Foundation is an independent charity institution in the US which has no links with Iran,” she added.
Afkham noted that Iran has been a victim of terrorism itself, dismissing as ridiculous the US court’s claim that Tehran was involved in the 9/11 attacks.
She argued that the US court verdict brings the credibility of the US judicial system into question.
On Thursday, Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara said that federal judge Katherine Forrest approved a deal between the US government and 19 anti-Iran plaintiffs to sell Alavi Foundation’s 36-story Manhattan skyscraper on Fifth Avenue and other properties owned by Iran, following a 2008 lawsuit by the government against the building’s owners.
Under the deal, the US Marshals Service will sell the 36-story building and other so-called Iran-linked property in California, Maryland, Texas, Virginia and the Queens borough of New York. US authorities will also receive the contents of bank accounts of the entities which allegedly served as Iran fronts in the past.
The US government will receive reimbursement for litigation expenses and any costs of the sales and the remainder will be distributed among what the court has called terror-attack victims, including those of the 9/11 attacks and their survivors.
In September 2013, the judge had ruled in favor of the government’s suit, claiming the building’s owners had violated Iran sanctions and money laundering laws.
Prosecutors allege the building’s owners, the Alavi Foundation — a non-profit organization promoting the Islamic culture and Persian language — and Assa Corporation, transferred rental income and other funds to Iran.
What’s the punishment for a 300 million euro tax fraud? If you are in Italy and your name is Silvio Berlusconi it is about a week hanging out with people your age.
A court in Milan ruled earlier this week that as his sentence the 77-year-old billionaire media mogul and thrice Italian PM would be performing community service in the small northern town of Cesano Boscone – “once a week and for a period of no less than four consecutive hours” – in a centre for the elderly and disabled.
The ruling came eight months after his conviction for tax fraud was made definitive by Italy’s supreme court. In August last year the country’s top court had found him guilty of having had a role in allowing his Mediaset company – which has a virtual private terrestrial TV monopoly in Italy – to fraudulently lower its tax bill by buying US film and television rights at inflated prices.
Last August, the supreme court judges handed down a four-year sentence, but immediately commuted it to a year.
Under this week’s ruling, the poor ex-premier will be subject to a curfew of 11pm and will not be able to leave the region of Lombardy.
Except, that is, to go to his home in the centre of Rome. And he will be able to do that every week from Tuesday to Thursday, providing he is back at his vast Arcore palace – the venue of his bunga bunga parties located just 40 kilometres down the road – by 11pm on the Thursday.
Furthermore, the sentence could be further cut for good behaviour to nine months.
It is not just the punishment that is scandalously soft.
Just how appropriate is it? His job may entail entertaining the elderly guests of the home – and his past life as a cruise ship crooner will no doubt help.
But according to Article 47 of the Prison Administration Act community service should only be offered to the criminal “in cases where it can be assumed that the measure…contributes to the rehabilitation of the offender and ensures the prevention of the danger of committing other crimes,” Rossella Guadagnini highlights in the Italian journal Micromega.
As Al Jazeera points out Berlusconi claims total innocence of any crime he has ever been charged with. And he is currently involved in two other court cases.
In a trial set to start on June 20, he will appeal a seven-year prison sentence and lifetime ban from parliament for having sex with an underage 17-year-old prostitute and abusing his official powers. He is also a defendant in a trial for allegedly paying a $4m bribe to get a centre-left senator to join his party in 2006 in a move that helped bring down a rival government.
As a indicator of the seriousness of the crime of robbing a heavily indebted state blind, the punishment speaks for itself. Tax dodging - running at 130 billion euros annually officially but double that figures according to some sources – is bleeding the public coffers dry. The result is two trillion euros in public debts, which are being used as the excuse for swinging cuts to welfare and public services, privatisation, roll back of labour rights, and attacks on public servants’ wages.
Italian businessmen with access to expensive lawyers and good political links (any serious player in Italy has them) will have been taking due note of Berlusconi’s case.
The worst of it is that, as the Guardian reports, although he has been booted out of the Senate and is now banned from office, he’ll still be ‘allowed time’ to continue his political activities – nominally behind the scenes but no doubt very visible on Italians’ screens – as head of Forza Italia.
The party is the third largest political force in the country, behind PM Matteo Renzi’s centre-left Democratic Party and Beppe Grillo’s anti-establishment Five Star Movement, according to recent polls. The first appointment is the European elections next month.
Italy has lost two decades under the rule of Berlusconi, who entered politics in person in 1994 when his political protectors – notably former right-wing Socialist PM Bettino Craxi - melted away under the scrutiny of the same ‘communist’ judges Berlusconi has so long railed against. But if this is the best the toghe rosse can do, it can only be said that communism is well and truly dead in Italy.
As WUWT points out, John Holdren is one of many who have tried to link the cold winter in the USA this year to global warming.
In his White House video in January, he had this to say:
“A growing body of evidence suggests that the kind of extreme cold being experienced by much of the United States as we speak is a pattern that we can expect to see with increasing frequency as global warming continues….
We also know that this week’s cold spell is of a type there’s reason to believe may become more frequent in a world that’s getting warmer, on average, because of greenhouse-gas pollution.”
But is there any evidence that extreme cold winters are becoming more common, or, for that matter, more extreme?
First, let’s check the temperature trends for the CONUS in winter.
Clearly, on a national basis, recent winters have not been unusually cold. In the last 10 years, only three winters have been colder than the 1901-2000 mean. Moreover, no winters in recent years have come anywhere near to being as cold as some of the winters in the 1970’s, for instance, or earlier.
But this graph only tells half the story. As it covers the whole country, it could cover up regional extremes. As we know, this winter has seen particularly cold weather in Mid West and East, but warmer conditions out West. The result is that, to some extent, they cancel each other out.
So, is there a way we can isolate the warm from the cold, and see whether cold winters are becoming more extreme in just parts of the country?
There is actually a very simple method, and that is to use NOAA’s own Climate Extremes Index. This provides the percentage of the country which have had extreme temperatures (or precipitation, drought etc) during the year. As both above average and below average temperatures are shown separately, we can look at extreme cold weather on its own.
The graphs below cover the Winter months (Dec to Feb) only, with the first using mean monthly maximum temperatures, and the second minimums. The results seem pretty similar.
It is abundantly clear that much less of the country has been affected by extreme cold this winter, and indeed other recent ones, when compared with the 20thC. There is also no trend towards cold winters becoming more common.
What is also interesting is that there does not seem to be much of a trend towards milder winters taking over. Only the winter of 2011/12 stands out in this respect, and there have been plenty of similar years previously.
There has been nothing unusual or unprecedented about this winter. And, as cold winters have become less frequent in the last couple of decades, there is absolutely no evidence to support Holdren’s claim that “this week’s cold spell is of a type there’s reason to believe may become more frequent in a world that’s getting warmer”.
NOAA give this definition for the (maximum temperature) index:
The U.S. CEI is the arithmetic average of the following five or six# indicators of the percentage of the conterminous U.S. area:
- The sum of (a) percentage of the United States with maximum temperatures much below normal and (b) percentage of the United States with maximum temperatures much above normal.
And their definition for “much above normal”:
In each case, we define much above (below) normal or extreme conditions as those falling in the upper (lower) tenth percentile of the local, period of record. In any given year, each of the five indicators has an expected value of 20%, in that 10% of all observed values should fall, in the long-term average, in each tenth percentile, and there are two such sets in each indicator
The Climate Extremes Index can be accessed at the link below. It covers temperatures, drought, rainfall and hurricanes, and can used on a seasonal or annual basis. There is also a regional section.