October 2008 – Robin M. Mills writes in an op-ed for Informed Comment
A pernicious myth has recently re-emerged: that oil is ‘running out’, that global production will soon peak and enter inexorable decline. What is the proper response to ‘peak oil’ – to attempt energy self-sufficiency, or to take military control of oil producing regions before the Chinese or Russians get there?
The current high energy prices emerge from a long period of low prices and under-investment, itself the fruit of the breakdown of international energy relationships in the oil crises of 1973-4 and 1978-80. Contrary to vocal ‘peak oil’ claims, high prices are not due to a lack of resources in the ground. There remains vast potential around the world for increasing recovery from existing fields, discovering new oil, as recently in deepwater Brazil, or in the largely untouched US offshore, and for ‘unconventional’ sources such as Canada’s famous ‘oil sands’, biofuels, synthetic fuels from natural gas and coal, and others.
Ideas about forestalling an oil crisis by ‘energy independence’, or by military action, are therefore mistaken. Indeed, such ‘solutions’ are likely to create the crisis they seek to mitigate. ‘Energy independence’ for the United States was touted by Nixon in 1974, by Ford in 1975, by Carter in 1977, by Reagan in 1981, by Bush Senior in 1991, by Clinton in 1992 and by Bush Junior in 2003, during which time American oil imports doubled. ‘Peak oil’ ideas, recent high oil prices and fears of Middle East hostilities seem to have made the quest more urgent. Campaigns encourage American consumers to boycott Middle Eastern ‘terrorist oil’, and laws are proposed to sue OPEC. When Arab countries, even staunch US allies, attempt to recycle their oil earnings into the faltering American economy, politicians whip up media storms to keep them out.
Such a climate, with elements of paranoia, racism and Islamophobia, is profoundly harmful to the proper objective of energy policy: not independence, but security. Energy security is achieved when suppliers find markets, and markets find supply, at prices permitting both of them economic stability and growth. This requires a complex web of inter-relationships between producers and consumers. As the oil company Chevron observes in its advertising, ‘There are 193 countries in the world. None of them are energy independent’, a fact well illustrated by the USA’s recent deal to supply nuclear power technology to the oil-rich United Arab Emirates. In a global market, like that for oil, no country can wall itself off – compare the flourishing state of energy-poor Japan or Singapore with the poverty of isolated Burma or North Korea. Attempts by a major nation to achieve energy self-sufficiency are very distorting to economic competitiveness, as is clear from the contradictory blunders of 1970s US energy policy.
It is even worse when bad relations with major energy suppliers, and conflicting messages about future energy policy, discourage much-needed investment. If one side believes they are buying oil from terrorists, and the other thinks they are selling to neo-imperialists, it is not surprising that oil prices are high, investment is lacking and most of world oil reserves are monopolised by state companies. In fact, the Middle Eastern nations have generally been very reliable suppliers, and use of a mythical ‘oil weapon’ is very unlikely – any régime would be reliant on its oil earnings to sustain the economy, while strategic reserves in the industrialised countries give some ‘staying power’ to outlast an embargo. Moreover, while terrorists might manage to penetrate the strong defences of an oil facility and mount a spectacular attack, it is unlikely that they could achieve major, long-running disruptions in global energy supplies.
Policies to encourage US domestic production, increase efficiency and introduce alternative energy sources are desirable, often for environmental rather than energy security reasons, but they have to be pursued with vigour and resolution. With its ‘pork barrel’ subsidies and the interminable, inconclusive debates over whether to open new exploration areas, build new pipelines and terminals for clean natural gas, extend support for renewable energy and increase mileage standards, United States energy policy has been more erratic and hostile to increasing output than most of the Middle Eastern countries. Promises to ‘jawbone’ OPEC into supplying more oil sit very oddly with the US’s uniquely comprehensive moratoria on offshore oil and gas production.
Because of the abundance of oil and other energy sources, an era of ‘resource wars’, predicted by some, is far from inevitable, and certainly not a desirable policy outcome even for the likely ‘winners’ of such wars. We should certainly not fall into the monomaniac trap of seeing every geopolitical conflict as rooted in oil policy. Military ‘control’ of oil is not achievable or cost-effective, as the Iraq war shows, and as we know already from the Japanese experience in World War II, and Saddam Hussein’s attack on Iran. The expenditure on such wars vastly exceeds the value of any oil ‘secured’, and while production can struggle along in war-torn areas, it is impossible to develop major new fields. ‘Police actions’ to deal with specific threats are entirely reasonable, as long as they are multi-lateral and proportional to the danger posed. It would be nice, although possibly a lot to ask, for them to be carried out competently.
Thus grandiose military adventures destroy the co-operation which is essential for global energy trade. ‘Energy independence’ is a chimera, expensive, unachievable, and swimming against the tide of greater global economic integration. The world is not running out of oil, but we need a rational and balanced dialogue about how to co-operate on bringing that abundant energy to consumers. If the profound misunderstanding of, and hostility towards, the Middle East, continues, the house of energy security is being built on sand.
Report | 3 February 2010
Mona al-Samouni shows a photo of her parents who she witnessed being killed in Israel’s assault on Gaza in January 2009. (Suhair Karam/IRIN)
OCCUPIED GAZA STRIP (IRIN) – Mona al-Samouni, 12, is depressed and has nightmares about the day — just more than a year ago — when she witnessed her parents and a number of relatives being shot by Israeli soldiers in their home in Zeitoun, southeast of Gaza City.
Like a number of other children who witnessed horrific events during last year’s 23-day Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip, Mona has become increasingly withdrawn and silent — common ways of coping with tragedies, doctors say.
Statistics about Palestinians who lost their life during the military operation vary, but nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) place the overall number of persons killed between 1,387 and 1,417. The Gaza authorities report 1,444 fatal casualties, while Israel provides a figure of 1,166, according to the UN Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, also known as the Goldstone report.
The killing of Mona’s family is one of the most notorious incidents of last year’s conflict in Gaza and was one of 11 incidents investigated by the UN mission “in which Israeli forces launched direct attacks against civilians with lethal outcome” and in which “the facts indicate no justifiable military objective pursued by the attack.” It said Israeli forces “killed 23 members of the extended al-Samouni family” on that day.
“There is a significant deterioration in the psychological well-being of Palestinian children who are living in the Gaza Strip, especially after the recent war,” Ayesh Samour, director of the Psychiatric Hospital in Gaza, told IRIN.
According to a study by NGO Ard al-Insan in Gaza, 73 percent of Gaza children are still suffering from psychological and behavioral disorders, including psychological trauma, nightmares, involuntary urination, high blood pressure and diabetes.
Samour said children in Gaza were being denied a normal childhood because of the insecurity and instability in their environment. He said a culture of violence and death had pervaded their mentalities, making them angrier and more aggressive.
A dearth of health professionals in the Strip and a lack of access to medical equipment meant children were not getting the help they needed, Samour said.
Basem Naim, the Hamas minister of health in Gaza, said hospitals and primary care facilities damaged during the Gaza conflict have not been rebuilt due to the blockade of the territory under which Israel bans the entry of construction materials, saying they could be used for military purposes.
“Health professionals in Gaza have been cut off from the outside world,” Naim said.
Hussain Ashour, director of al-Shifa Hospital, the main hospital in Gaza City, said they lacked medical equipment and pediatricians.
Save the Children Sweden and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on 25 January launched the Family Centers Project in Gaza.
“The project will ensure that the right to survival and development of children at risk … is ensured through the establishment of 20 Family Centers in different communities of the Gaza Strip,” Patricia Hoyos, director of Save the Children in Gaza, told IRIN.
“Its main role is to serve a wide population and to provide quality child protection, educational, health and psychosocial services to all those in need of support,” she said.
This item comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian news and information service, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. All IRIN material may be reposted or reprinted free-of-charge; refer to the copyright page for conditions of use. IRIN is a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
A Review of Shahid Alam’s “Israeli Exceptionalism”
By KATHLEEN CHRISTISON | February 3, 2010
The essential point of M. Shahid Alam’s book, Israeli Exceptionalism: The Destabilizing Logic of Zionism, comes clear upon opening the book to the inscription in the frontispiece. From the Persian poet and philosopher Rumi, the quote reads, “You have the light, but you have no humanity. Seek humanity, for that is the goal.” Alam, professor of economics at Northeastern University in Boston and a CounterPunch contributor, follows this with an explicit statement of his aims in the first paragraph of the preface. Asking and answering the obvious question, “Why is an economist writing a book on the geopolitics of Zionism?” he says that he “could have written a book about the economics of Zionism, the Israeli economy, or the economy of the West Bank and Gaza, but how would any of that have helped me to understand the cold logic and the deep passions that have driven Zionism?”
Until recent years, the notion that Zionism was a benign, indeed a humanitarian, political movement designed for the noble purpose of creating a homeland and refuge for the world’s stateless, persecuted Jews was a virtually universal assumption. In the last few years, particularly since the start of the al-Aqsa intifada in 2000, as Israel’s harsh oppression of the Palestinians has become more widely known, a great many Israelis and friends of Israel have begun to distance themselves from and criticize Israel’s occupation policies, but they remain strong Zionists and have been at pains to propound the view that Zionism began well and has only lately been corrupted by the occupation. Alam demonstrates clearly, through voluminous evidence and a carefully argued analysis, that Zionism was never benign, never good—that from the very beginning, it operated according to a “cold logic” and, per Rumi, had “no humanity.” Except perhaps for Jews, which is where Israel’s and Zionism’s exceptionalism comes in.
Alam argues convincingly that Zionism was a coldly cynical movement from its beginnings in the nineteenth century. Not only did the founders of Zionism know that the land on which they set their sights was not an empty land, but they set out specifically to establish an “exclusionary colonialism” that had no room for the Palestinians who lived there or for any non-Jews, and they did this in ways that justified, and induced the West to accept, the displacement of the Palestinian population that stood in their way. With a simple wisdom that still escapes most analysts of Israel and Zionism, Alam writes that a “homeless nationalism,” as Zionism was for more than half a century until the state of Israel was established in 1948, “of necessity is a charter for conquest and—if it is exclusionary—for ethnic cleansing.”
How has Zionism been able to put itself forward as exceptional and get away with it, winning Western support for the establishment of an exclusionary state and in the process for the deliberate dispossession of the native population? Alam lays out three principal ways by which Zionism has framed its claims of exceptionalism in order to justify itself and gain world, particularly Western, support. First, the Jewish assumption of chosenness rests on the notion that Jews have a divine right to the land, a mandate granted by God to the Jewish people and only to them. This divine election gives the homeless, long-persecuted Jews the historical and legal basis by which to nullify the rights of Palestinians not so divinely mandated and ultimately to expel them from the land. Second, Israel’s often remarkable achievements in state-building have won Western support and provided a further justification for the displacement of “inferior” Palestinians by “superior” Jews. Finally, Zionism has put Jews forward as having a uniquely tragic history and as a uniquely vulnerable country, giving Israel a special rationale for protecting itself against supposedly unique threats to its existence and in consequence for ignoring the dictates of international law. Against the Jews’ tragedy, whatever pain Palestinians may feel at being displaced appears minor.
The ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians that came as the result of Zionism’s need for an exclusivist homeland was no unfortunate consequence, and indeed had long been foreseen by Zionist thinkers and the Western leaders who supported them. Alam quotes early Zionists, including Theodore Herzl, who talked repeatedly of persuading the Palestinians “to trek,” or “fold their tents,” or “silently steal away.” In later years, the Zionists spoke of forcible “transfer” of the Palestinians. In the 1930s, David Ben-Gurion expressed his strong support for compulsory transfer, crowing that “Jewish power” was growing to the point that the Jewish community in Palestine would soon be strong enough to carry out ethnic cleansing on a large scale (as it ultimately did). In fact, the Zionists knew from the start that there would be no persuading the Palestinians simply to leave voluntarily and that violent conquest would be necessary to implant the Zionist state.
The British knew this as well. Zionist supporter Winston Churchill wrote as early as 1919 that the Zionists “take it for granted that the local population will be cleared out to suit their convenience.” In a blunt affirmation of the calculated nature of Zionist plans and Western support for them, British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour, like Churchill another early supporter and also author of the 1917 Balfour Declaration, which promised British support for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, wrote that Zionism “is rooted in age-long traditions, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land.” It would be hard to find a more blatant one-sided falsity.
Alam traces in detail the progression of Zionist planning, beginning with the deliberate creation in the nineteenth century of an ethnic identity for Jews who shared only a religion and had none of the attributes of nationhood—neither a land, nor a common language or culture, nor arguably a common gene pool. Here Alam covers briefly the ground trod in detail by Israeli historian Shlomo Sand, whose book The Invention of the Jewish People, appearing in English just months before Alam’s book, shattered the myths surrounding Zionism’s claim to nationhood and to an exclusive right to Palestine. But Alam goes further, describing the Zionist campaign to create a surrogate “mother country” that, in the absence of a Jewish nation, would sponsor the Zionists’ colonization of Palestine and support its national project. Having gained British support for its enterprise, Zionism then set about building a rationale for displacing the Palestinian Arabs who were native to Palestine (who, incidentally, did indeed possess the attributes of a nation but lay in the path of a growing Jewish, Western-supported military machine). Zionist propaganda then and later deliberately spread the notion that Palestinians were not “a people,” had no attachment to the land and no national aspirations, and in the face of the Jews’ supposedly divine mandate, of Israel’s “miraculous” accomplishments, and of the Jews’ monumental suffering in the Holocaust, the dispossession of the Palestinians was made to appear to a disinterested West as nothing more than a minor misfortune.
Addressing what he calls the “destabilizing logic” of Zionism, Alam builds the argument that Zionism thrives on, and indeed can survive only in the midst of, conflict. In the first instance, Alam shows, Zionism actually embraced the European anti-Semitic charge that Jews were an alien people. This was the natural result of promoting the idea that Jews actually belonged in Palestine in a nation of their own, and in addition, spreading fear of anti-Semitism proved to be an effective way to attract Jews not swayed by the arguments of Zionism (who made up the majority of Jews in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries) to the Zionist cause. Early Zionist leaders talked frankly of anti-Semitism as a means of teaching many educated and assimilated Jews “the way back to their people” and of forcing an allegiance to Zionism. Anti-Semitism remains in many ways the cement that holds Zionism together, keeping both Israeli Jews and diaspora Jews in thrall to Israel as their supposedly only salvation from another Holocaust.
In the same vein, Alam contends, Zionists realized that in order to succeed in their colonial enterprise and maintain the support of the West, they would have to create an adversary common to both the West and the Jews. Only a Jewish state waging wars in the Middle East could “energize the West’s crusader mentality, its evangelical zeal, its dreams of end times, its imperial ambitions.” Arabs were the initial and enduring enemy, and Zionists and Israel have continued to provoke Arab antagonism and direct it toward radicalism, to steer Arab anger against the United States, to provoke the Arabs into wars against Israel, and to manufacture stories of virulent Arab anti-Semitism—all specifically in order to sustain Jewish and Western solidarity with Israel. More recently, Islam itself has become the common enemy, an adversary fashioned so that what Alam calls the “Jewish-Gentile partnership” can be justified and intensified. Focusing on Arab and Muslim hostility, always portrayed as motivated by irrational hatred rather than by opposition to Israeli and U.S. policies, allows Zionists to divert attention from their own expropriation of Palestinian land and dispossession of Palestinians and allows them to characterize Israeli actions as self-defense against anti-Semitic Arab and Muslim resistance.
Alam treats the Zionist/Israel lobby as a vital cog in the machine that built and sustains the Jewish state. Indeed, Theodore Herzl was the original Zionist lobbyist. During the eight years between the launch of the Zionist movement at Basel in 1897 and his death, Herzl had meetings with a remarkable array of power brokers in Europe and the Middle East, including the Ottoman sultan, Kaiser Wilhelm II, King Victor Emanuel III of Italy, Pope Pius X, the noted British imperialist Lord Cromer and the British colonial secretary of the day, and the Russian ministers of interior and finance, as well as a long list of dukes, ambassadors, and lesser ministers. One historian used the term “miraculous” to describe Herzl’s ability to secure audiences with the powerful who could help Zionism.
Zionist lobbyists continued to work as assiduously, with results as “miraculous,” throughout the twentieth century, gaining influence over civil society and ultimately over policymakers and, most importantly, shaping the public discourse that determines all thinking about Israel and its neighbors. As Alam notes, “since their earliest days, the Zionists have created the organizations, allies, networks, and ideas that would translate into media, congressional, and presidential support for the Zionist project.” An increasing proportion of the activists who lead major elements of civil society, such as the labor and civil rights movements, are Jews, and these movements have as a natural consequence come to embrace Zionist aims. Christian fundamentalists, who in the last few decades have provided massive support to Israel and its expansionist policies, grew in the first instance because they were “energized by every Zionist success on the ground” and have continued to expand with a considerable lobbying push from the Zionists.
Alam’s conclusion—a direct argument against those who contend that the lobby has only limited influence: “It makes little sense,” in view of the pervasiveness of Zionist influence over civil society and political discourse, “to maintain that the pro-Israeli positions of mainstream American organizations . . . emerged independently of the activism of the American Jewish community.” In its early days, Zionism grew only because Herzl and his colleagues employed heavy lobbying in the European centers of power; Jewish dispersion across the Western world—and Jewish influence in the economies, the film industries, the media, and academia in key Western countries—are what enabled the Zionist movement to survive and thrive in the dark years of the early twentieth century; and Zionist lobbying and molding of public discourse are what has maintained Israel’s favored place in the hearts and minds of Americans and the policy councils of America’s politicians.
This is a critically important book. It enhances and expands on the groundbreaking message of Shlomo Sand’s work. If Sand shows that Jews were not “a people” until Zionism created them as such, Alam shows this also and goes well beyond to show how Zionism and its manufactured “nation” went about dispossessing and replacing the Palestinians and winning all-important Western support for Israel and its now 60-year-old “exclusionary colonialism.”
M. Shahid Alam‘s superb book, Israeli Exceptionalism: The Destabilizing Logic of Zionism is finally available in paperback.
Kathleen Christison is the author of Perceptions of Palestine and the Wound of Dispossession and co-author, with Bill Christison, of Palestine in Pieces: Graphic Perspectives on the Israeli Occupation, published last summer by Pluto Press. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Another Constitutional Right flies out the Door
By Marti Hiken | February 2, 2010
The words we hear in so many movies and television shows when someone is arrested, “Read him his Miranda rights,” no longer have meaning. These rights are dead because the courts have “interpreted” them out of existence.
Throughout our country, if you don’t say the right words during police interrogations, your rights to remain silent and to a lawyer don’t kick in. This leads to unfettered police power when any arrestee tries to protect herself in a powerless situation when confronted by the police. And in a courtroom, all your statements are admissible against you.
This is about the only phrase left to ensure that you retain your rights: “I want to remain silent. I want a lawyer.” Again, another way: “I don’t want to speak to you anymore without my lawyer being present.” It is important not to answer further questions after asserting these rights; instead, merely repeat the statement.
The reason for the Miranda warnings in the first place was that the torture and cruelty inflicted on prisoners in this country decades ago and especially in the South, brought a public outcry. It resulted in the Miranda v. Arizona, (384 U.S. 436) decision in 1966.
In that decision, the Court attempted to strike the appropriate balance between law enforcement interests in obtaining a confession and a suspect’s Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself. “….[T]he decision mandated that the suspect be informed prior to any custodial interrogation that he has the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney and that no interrogation can occur until the suspect waives these rights. Moreover, the suspect can assert these rights any point during the interrogation and, if he does, questioning must immediately cease.” (Strauss, Marcy, “The Sounds of Silence: Reconsidering the Invocation of the Right to Remain Silent Under Miranda,” “William and Mary Bill of Rights Journal,” March 2009. In her article Strauss lists the status of the courts’ interpretations of Miranda warnings state-by-state.)
Custodial police interrogations can go on for hours on end and the Miranda Court “recognized that they were so inherently coercive as to create a presumption that a resulting confession was involuntary unless the suspect was explicitly told prior to questioning that he need not answer questions and that he had the right to consult with an attorney for advice.” (Ainsworth, Janet, “’You have the right to remain silent…’ but only if you ask for it just so: the role of linguistic ideology in American police interrogation law.” The International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law, Vol. 15.1, 2008, p. 3)
The problem is that “ambiguous” statements aren’t enough, and in actuality, everything you say will be interpreted by the courts to be ambiguous other than the sentences: “I want to remain silent. I want a lawyer.” Invoking the Miranda rights means clear, unequivocal and unambiguous declarations in the interrogation room. Of course, in jail there is a power disadvantage in that the tempo, timing, and level of brutality are set by the police.
So, no hedged or indirect language invokes the rights.
– No theoretical comments about the availability of counsel, such as
“Could I get a lawyer?” or “May I call a lawyer?”
– No language that softens the demand for a lawyer:
“It seems like I need a lawyer.”
– No logistic questions:
“Could you get me my wallet and bring my lawyer’s business card to me?”
– No imploring ambiguous language:
“I don’t want to talk about it.” or “I won’t talk anymore.”
– No being and remaining silent (you must be definite and utter words)
– No combining demands:
“Screw you, talk to my lawyer.” or “I don’t feel like I can talk with you without any attorney sitting right here to give me some legal advice.”
The situation becomes bleaker, however, in the case Davis v. United States (1994) U.S. 452:
“Give me a lawyer” or “I want a lawyer” are not deemed by the police or courts as kicking in your constitutional rights. (Note that wanting and requesting a lawyer is not the same thing as your right to remain silent by taking the Fifth.)
– Refusing to sign a form indicating a waiver of your rights when coupled with incriminating statements to the police does not invoke your rights. (The incriminating statements obtained by the police are proof that your rights were waived.) To state simply: Make an incriminating statement and your rights are waived.
Underlying all of this is that judges now have no compunction regarding the role of unlimited and brutal interrogation, torture, and intimidation by the police. They also ignore the context that language plays when someone communicates in an abusive situation. Finally, the social context of the arrestee and his intentions become blurred by language. Losing our Miranda rights is simply another step in the wrong direction.
Marti Hiken is the executive director of Progressive Avenues. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
By Rannie Amiri | February 1, 2010
It has been nearly three months since the Saudi military directly inserted itself in the conflict between Zaidi rebels and the government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen’s mountainous northwest governorate of Saada. After two of its border guards were killed last November by the rebels, known as Houthis (named after their erstwhile leader, Hussein Badr al-Din al-Houthi) and claims made that they had crossed into Saudi territory, a massive aerial assault was unleashed.
Using U.S. and Western-supplied weapons unavailable to Saleh’s government, the Saudi military employed Apache helicopters, F-15 and Tornado jets, infrared detection equipment, surveillance drones and quite possibly banned white phosphorus shells, to target Houthi positions in the rugged terrain of the border region and well into Yemen proper.
Despite their sophisticated weaponry, Saudi Arabia lost an unusually high number of soldiers; 133 at last count. Although an unknown number of Houthi fighters – and Yemeni civilians – were killed in the attacks, what is known is the great humanitarian toll the Saudi intervention exacted on the population. Already a cauldron of human suffering, malnutrition and overflowing camps for the internally displaced as a result of five years of war, the fresh offensive only added to the misery of Saada and the neighboring provinces.
Since the conflict began in 2004, aid agencies place the number of displaced Yemenis at 200,000. The Saudi government’s policy of forcibly returning those fleeing the conflict back into the war zone – a morally reprehensible practice not to mention a violation of international law – was widely condemned.
This week, the Houthis announced a unilateral ceasefire and declared their intention to voluntarily withdraw from any Saudi territory occupied. The current Houthi leader, Abdul Malek al-Houthi, stated, “If the Saudi regime maintains its aggression after this initiative, it would be showing that its intention is not to defend its territory, but to invade our borders.”
Yet, just after of the Houthi proposal was made, the Saudi government claimed it was they who had driven the rebels out of the border region.
“They did not withdraw. They were forced out,” asserted Deputy Defense Minister Prince Khaled bin Sultan.
In order for Saudi Arabia to accept the Houthi ceasefire, Sultan said the rebels must create a 10 km buffer zone between them and the border, agree to let Yemen’s military to take up positions along it, and return six captured Saudi soldiers.
Regardless of whether any tenable agreement is actually reached, it must be asked: what was accomplished by Saudi Arabia’s attack on Yemen?
The more salient question is: what was the real message behind Saudi Arabia’s (fruitless) intervention?
Although it was purportedly to defend the “territorial integrity” of the Kingdom, even supporters of the Royal Family concede it was more to stem perceived encroaching Iranian influence at its doorstep. Yet that too is a spurious argument.
To date, there has been no convincing evidence of any significant material support provided to the Houthi rebels by the Iranian government. Claims of such have been found to be no more credible than those issued by Yemen’s government that Abdul Malek al-Houthi had been killed in the fighting (he appeared on video a few days later appearing quite healthy).
To understand the real motive behind the bombardment, one only needs to return to the primary demand of the Houthi rebels: an end to the ever-increasing socioeconomic marginalization and religious discrimination of the Zaidi community in Yemen.
This war was not just to aid the fledging Saleh regime in combating an enemy far less threatening to its existence than al-Qaeda, but to send a clear message to Saudi Arabia’s own citizens who suffer the same systemic and institutionalized discrimination as do the Zaidis. Namely, Shia Muslims, Ismaili Muslims, Sufi Muslims and any who dare challenge the authority of the House of al-Saud or the doctrines of the officially-sanctioned Wahabi school of thought.
Saudi Arabia’s own oil-rich Eastern Province has seen tensions with Saudi Shia Muslims escalate in recent months as the Wahabi religious establishment clamps down ever more harshly on the practice of their religion and liberties as citizens of the state.
The senseless war in Saada waged by the Saudi government was thus meant to send an unmistakable warning to any in the Kingdom who might espouse similar beliefs or demands as the Houthis: do so at your own peril.
One wonders, though, whether those on the Saudi side who advocated or supported such reckless interventionism were aware of this equally important admonition: military force never succeeds in quieting the quest of people striving to achieve their basic rights, freedoms, and dignity.
Rannie Amiri is an independent Middle East commentator.
By Paul Craig Roberts | February 2, 2010
Is the financial crisis over? Is the recovery for real and, if not, what are Americans’ prospects? The short answer is that the financial crisis is not over, the recovery is not real, and the U.S. faces a far worse crisis than the financial one. Here is the situation as I understand it:
The global crisis is understood as a banking crisis brought on by mindless deregulation of the U.S. financial arena. Investment banks leveraged assets to highly irresponsible levels, issued questionable financial instruments with fraudulent investment grade ratings, and issued the instruments through direct sales to customers rather than through markets.
The crisis was initiated when the U.S. allowed Lehman Brothers to fail, thus threatening money market funds everywhere. The crisis was used by the investment banks, which controlled U.S. economic policy, to secure massive subsidies to their profits from a taxpayer bailout and from the Federal Reserve. How much of the crisis was real and how much was hype is not known at this time.
As most of the derivative instruments had never been priced in the market, and as their exact composition between good and bad loans was unknown (the instruments are based on packages of securitized loans), the mark-to-market rule drove the values very low, thus threatening the solvency of many financial institutions. Also, the rule prohibiting continuous shorting had been removed, making it possible for hedge funds and speculators to destroy the market capitalization of targeted firms by driving down their share prices.
The obvious solution was to suspend the mark-to-market rule until some better idea of the values of the derivative instruments could be established and to prevent the abuse of shorting that was destroying market capitalization. Instead, the Goldman Sachs people in charge of the U.S. Treasury and, perhaps, the Federal Reserve as well, used the crisis to secure subsidies for the banks from U.S. taxpayers and from the Federal Reserve. It looks like a manipulated crisis as well as a real one due to greed unleashed by financial deregulation.
The crisis will not be over until financial regulation is restored, but Wall Street has been able to block re-regulation. Moreover, the response to the crisis has planted seeds for new crises. Government budget deficits have exploded. In the U.S. the fiscal year 2009 federal budget deficit was $1.4 trillion, three times higher than the 2008 deficit. President Obama’s budget deficits for 2010 and 2011, according to the latest report, will total $2.9 trillion, and this estimate is based on the assumption that the Great Recession is over. Where is the U.S. Treasury to borrow $4.3 trillion in three years?
This sum greatly exceeds the combined trade surpluses of America’s trading partners, the recycling of which has financed past U.S. budget deficits, and perhaps exceeds total world savings.
It is unclear how the 2009 budget deficit was financed. A likely source was the bank reserves created for financial institutions by the Federal Reserve when it purchased their toxic financial instruments. These reserves were then used to purchase the new Treasury debt. In other words, the budget deficit was financed by deterioration in the balance sheet of the Federal Reserve. How long can such an exchange of assets continue before the Federal Reserve has to finance the government’s deficit by creating new money?
Similar deficits and financing problems have affected the EU, particularly its financially weaker members. To conclude: the initial crisis has planted seeds for two new crises: rising government debt and inflation.
A third crisis is also in place. This crisis will occur when confidence is lost in the U.S. dollar as world reserve currency. This crisis will disrupt the international payments mechanism. It will be especially difficult for the U.S. as the country will lose the ability to pay for its imports with its own currency. U.S. living standards will decline as the ability to import declines.
The financial crisis is essentially a U.S. crisis, spread abroad by the sale of toxic financial instruments. The rest of the world got into trouble by trusting Wall Street. The real American crisis is much worse than the financial crisis. The real American crisis is the offshoring of U.S. manufacturing, industrial, and professional service jobs such as software engineering and information technology.
Jobs offshoring was initiated by Wall Street pressures on corporations for higher earnings and by performance-related bonuses becoming the main form of managerial compensation. Corporate executives increased profits and obtained bonuses by substituting cheaper foreign labor for U.S. labor in the production of goods and services marketed in the U.S.
Jobs offshoring is destroying the ladders of upward mobility that made the U.S. an opportunity society and eroding the value of a university education. For the first decade of the 21st century, the U.S. economy has been able to create net new jobs only in domestic nontradable services, such as waitresses, bartenders, sales, health and social assistance and, prior to the real estate collapse, construction. These jobs are lower paid than the jobs were that have been offshored, and these jobs do not produce goods and services for export.
Jobs offshoring has increased the U.S. trade deficit, putting more pressure on the dollar’s role as reserve currency. When offshored goods and services return to the U.S., they add to imports, thus worsening the trade imbalance.
The policy of jobs offshoring is insane. It is shifting U.S. GDP growth to the offshored locations, such as China, thus halting growth in U.S. consumer incomes. For the past decade, U.S. households substituted an increase in indebtedness for the lack of growth in income in order to continue increasing their consumption. With their home equity refinanced and spent, real estate values down, and credit card debt at unsustainable levels, it is no longer possible for the U.S. economy to base its growth on a rise in consumer debt. This fact is a brake on U.S. economic recovery.
Stimulus packages cannot substitute for the growth in real income. As so many high value-added, high productivity U.S. jobs have been offshored, there is no way to achieve real growth in U.S. personal incomes. Stimulus spending simply adds to government debt and pressure on the dollar, and sows seeds for high inflation.
The U.S. dollar survives as reserve currency because there is no apparent substitute. The euro has its own problems. Moreover, the euro is the currency of a non-existent political entity. National sovereignty continues despite the existence of a common currency on the continent (but not in Great Britain). If the dollar is abandoned, then the result is likely to be bilateral settlements in countries’ own currencies, as Brazil and China now are doing. Alternatively, John Maynard Keynes’ bancor scheme could be implemented, as it does not require a reserve currency country. Keynes’ plan is designed to maintain a country’s trade balance. Only a reserve currency country can get its trade and budget deficits so out of balance as the U.S. has done. The prospect of U.S. default and/or inflation and decline in the dollar’s exchange value is a threat to the reserve system.
The threats to the U.S. economy are extreme. Yet, neither the Obama administration, the Republican opposition, economists, Wall Street, nor the media show any awareness. Instead, the public is provided with spin about recovery and with higher spending on pointless wars that are hastening America’s economic and financial ruin.
Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury in the Reagan administration. His latest book, How The Economy Was Lost, has just been published by CounterPunch/AK Press. He can be reached at: PaulCraigRoberts@yahoo.com
Clinical student was entering country to perform human rights research
By Rebecca Agule | The Harvard Law Record | January 28, 2010
A warm smile and easy laugh reveal Hebah Ismail’s unthreatening, gentle personality. An American citizen, this 3L of Egyptian descent works with the International Human Rights Clinic on projects related to Bedouin land rights. Hebah wears a hijab. She still does not know which one, or combination, of these characteristics prompted the immigration personnel at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport to deem her dangerous and deny her entry to Israel.
Ismail flew to Israel to join Clinical Instructor and Global Advocacy Fellow Ahmad Amara and a fellow student for field research related to a 2008 report prepared by the Goldberg Committee. Convened by the Housing Ministry in 2007, the Goldberg Committee examined land disputes between the state of Israel and the Bedouin community and offered subsequent recommendations.
As her colleagues had already been in Israel for several days, Ismail arrived alone on the afternoon of December 23rd and planned to travel from Tel Aviv to Be’er Sheva by train. That evening, as Amara prepared to meet Ismail at the station, the Ben Gurion security services phone to notify him that she had been detained.
“I originally knew something would happen, that she would be held,” Amara said. “And we prepared for that.”
As expected, Ismail was pulled aside in border control for more intense screening. Over several hours, security personnel questioned her reasons for traveling to Israel, often returning to whether or not she intended to visit the Occupied Territories. A signed letter from the Human Rights Program attesting to the purpose of her trip and outlining her agenda did nothing to assuage their misgivings.
After almost seven hours, Hebah was directed to claim her luggage and open it for examination.
“I wasn’t strip searched, but they did pat me down well,” Ismail said.
After going through her computer, including the external hard drive, the line of questions continued. While most of those originally holding Ismail appeared rather young, a man in his 30s and clearly in a position of authority took over the interrogation.
Ismail recounts how this man introduced himself.
“I don’t remember his exact words,” she says. “But basically he told me, ‘Before we get started, we want you to know that this is a democratic country, and we respect other points of view. But we found things on your external hard drive that are very concerning.’ He was sure I had some other objective, but I had no idea what that could be.”
Hebah tried to assure the security officer that her trip related only to the clinical project and a personal desire to visit Jerusalem. But he remained convinced that an article on her computer describing modern Israeli as being on land previously held by Palestinians pointed to a more insidious motivation and began pressuring Ismail to allow him to read her emails.
“He told me, ‘I cannot let you through until I know I can go home and get a good night’s sleep,’” Ismail said. “He kept saying, ‘If you let me go through your email, I’ll let you in.”
Having been counselled by Amara prior to the trip that the security forces had no right to demand access to her emails, Ismail denied his request. Almost eight hours after landing, Ismail’s passport progressed from border control to immigration, who would proceed to ask the same set of questions. Only later would be learn that security had finally granted her entry and immigration ultimately denied her. Again, the demands centered upon her emails, but now the consequences escalated.
“They told me that if I didn’t let them read my emails, not only would I not be allowed into Israel, I would be banned for life.”
Having stood by her initial refusal regarding the personal mail, Ismail cannot ever travel to Israel.
“I always wanted to go to Jerusalem. And this was finally my chance. But I won’t be trying to go back.”
After being fingerprinted, photographed and having her passport scanned, Ismail was moved to van. She assumed this would take her to the departure gate, and she texted family about her imminent deportation. But instead of boarding a plane, Ismail found herself in the “Hedar Mesuravimor”, or “Rejected Room”, a holding pen for those awaiting deportation, a place she describes as akin to “a really bad Egyptian hostel.” This room would become her home over the next day, as she waiting for a flight 23 hours away. Before she could re-inform her family, the phone was taken, along with all of her other belongings.
“Once they asked if I had a heart condition, they even took my medication. I was allowed to keep one small sweater.”
Unable to contact her family, Ismail continued to request that someone contact Amara, so that he could at least reach out to them. Each time, the person on duty would simply tell her she could call later. But no one ever allowed her to make that call.
Morning arrived, and with it a breakfast of cheese and tea. Lactose-intolerant, Ismail could do little more than stare at the food. Hours later, she finally met with Amara, though as her lawyer, not as her professor. Explaining that they could launch a case and arose media interest on her behalf, Amara laid out the various options. However, a best case scenario would take at least a week, during which Ismail would remain in detention. The decision was made for her to return to the US.
Finally boarding a plane on Christmas Eve, Hebah had never managed to leave the Ben Gurion Airport. Arriving in the U.S., three plainclothes Israeli security officials walked her to the Department of Homeland Security and handed over her passport.
“The DHS officer asked if I had been arrested. The Israelis said no. He asked me if I was an American citizen, and I said yes. Then he walked me to the front of the passport line, stamped me and said, ‘Welcome home.’ I turned to my escort and said, ‘Have a happy holiday,’ and walked through to meet my family,” Ismail said.
Of course, they were worried about me going to Israel in the first place, so now they get to say, I told you so!” she laughs.
Ismail joins a growing list of human rights and development workers recently denied entry to and work permits in Israel.
“There is a general practice of denying entry to American citizens,” Amara said. “Its not uncommon with those of Palestinian origin, or anything about Jerusalem, the Negev, human rights. In the past, I had an American student of Pakistani descent who was also denied entry. No matter what you say, they assume you are going to the Territories.”
According to Reuters, in December 2008, Israel denied entry to Richard Falk, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Israeli Behaviour in the Occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip and an American Jew. According to Reuters, “Falk had angered Israel by making remarks comparing its forces’ actions in the Gaza Strip to those of the Nazis in wartime Europe.” More recently, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that “Israeli immigration police were involved in the arrest and deportation earlier this month of a Czech pro-Palestinian activist living in Ramallah.” In addition to the UN and pro-Palestinian groups, impacted organizations include Oxfam, Save the Children and Doctors without borders.
Amara cannot determine how Ismail’s adventures will impact the future of the Bedouin land project. Unable to do the research, the group cannot complete the project, which must be put on hold until another trip can be arranged.
“Hebah knew the Goldberg report, there were meetings arranged specifically for her trip,” Amara said. “It means now we won’t have something ready.”
By Margaret Kimberley | BAR | February 3, 2010
The United States government has held Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Guantanamo ever since his capture in 2003. He was one of many “enemy combatants” held there without charge or trial. Not only did he suffer from this violation of American and international law, but Mohammed suffered through water boarding torture an incredible 180 times in just 30 days.
In November 2009 the Obama administration Justice Department announced that Mohammed would finally be tried in federal court in Manhattan. The courthouse is located just blocks away from the World Trade Center site that Mohammed is now charged with plotting to destroy.
A collection of reactionary, racist politicians eager to incite hysteria, such as Rudy Giuliani and Congressman Peter King, led New Yorkers and the rest of America to believe that Mohammed and his co-defendants should have been tried by military tribunal. Mayor Bloomberg initially appeared to be supportive of the venue but recently joined his police commissioner in claiming that security measures would require a shut down of all of lower Manhattan. Now the Obama administration has back tracked and no longer promises a trial in New York City.
It probably doesn’t matter where Mohammed is tried. Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder both promised a conviction. Holder assures us. “Failure is not an option. These are cases that have to be won. I don’t expect that we will have a contrary result.” His boss said pretty much the same thing. When asked about those who might be offended by a civilian rather than military trial Obama told everyone to relax, promising that they wouldn’t find it “. . . offensive at all when he’s convicted and when the death penalty is applied to him.” The law professor president knew he had made a faux pas and tried to extricate himself immediately. “I’m not going to be in that courtroom. That’s the job of the prosecutors, the judge and the jury.”
While easily impressed liberals sang praises for the civil trial, the administration has chosen to continue military tribunals at Guantanamo for other defendants. Mohammed is in fact an anomaly for the Obama administration. The Bush policy continues unabated.
In the days of the Soviet Union, Americans and other westerners were quick to use the derisive term “show trial” when dissidents faced prosecution. That term can now surely be applied to the United States if a guilty verdict and execution are presented as foregone conclusions by both the president and his chief law enforcement officer.
Now Obama seems to be backing away from a commitment to civilian prosecution. His press secretary, Robert Gibbs, continues the promise of conviction and death, but not the promise of a trial in a courtroom. “He will be brought to justice and he is likely be executed for the heinous crimes he has committed in masterminding the killing of 3,000 Americans. That you can be sure of.” When pressed on the question of civilivan versus military jurisdiction, Gibbs was less than forthcoming. “The Attorney General believes the best place to do this is in an American courtroom.” (*link Gibbs) Smelling blood in the water, Republicans are determined to prevent any civilian prosecution of Mohammed. Senator Mitch McConnell has threatened to prevent the use of federal funds for a trial to be held in New York City or anywhere else.
Once again all Americans are made complicit in their government’s crimes. Phony concerns about security costs and whipped up fears of impending terror attacks are used to subvert the legal system that was once held up as a model for the rest of the world to follow.
Barack Obama and the Democratic Party still have solid majorities in the House and Senate. A few off year election defeats have given the president an excuse to cut and run before shots have been fired. Just as he announced a freeze on domestic spending programs that benefit every American citizen, he and the rest of the craven Democrats are now ready to toss the entire legal system under the back wheels of a large bus.
Bill Clinton didn’t begin his retreat away from Democratic Party principles until he actually lost control of Congress. As in all other matters, Obama is out-Clintoning Clinton. The Obama doctrine appears to be, “Why wait for defeat when you can create it yourself.”
The consequences of progressive Democratic capitulation to Obama grow more terrible every day. The military budget balloons, domestic spending vanishes and the Bush doctrine of an imperial president is continued by his predecessor. A show trial is but one symptom of what ails the Democratic Party and the nation.
Margaret Kimberley’s Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR. Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgandaReport.com.
By Tara Patel
They also called for strikes later this month as a labor dispute over the future of the industry in France escalates ahead of regional elections.
Management of Total, Europe’s largest refinery, have until Feb. 15 to restart the Flanders refinery or “we will take possession of the site,” the CGT, FO and Sud Chimie unions said in a joint e-mailed statement. The CGT union also called for 48- hour strikes at French refineries during the week of Feb. 15.
Total plans to halt refining operations at the Flanders plant permanently after the recession eroded demand for oil products. The refinery was idled in September. The French company, which last year said it may sell refining assets in Europe, will announce a final decision on the future of the site before the end of June.
Total delayed a final decision after the government, which faces regional elections next month, urged the company to protect the local economy and jobs with a plan for a “substitute” business activity.
Union members held noisy demonstrations at Total headquarters in the La Defense business district two days ago amid talks with management about the future of Flanders.
Hundreds of workers with drums and horns crowded into the building’s atrium and smashed a glass security barrier. This led security personnel to seal off access for more than four hours to elevators leading to upper storeys, where the office of Chief Executive Officer Christophe de Margerie is located.
Total has said it would guarantee “each employee a job at Total that is a fit with his or her competencies” as well as “helping to secure” the future of local contractors. The complex employs 376 workers and has about 400 sub-contractors.
Union leaders including Charles Foulard of the CGT have said the dispute has wider implications beyond Flanders of protesting Total’s strategy to gradually pull out of refining in France, where it operates six of the country’s 12 plants, in favor of overseas expansion.
The company is among several European refiners to lower operating rates, idle plants and seek to sell others in a bid to save costs and maintain profit after the recession cut fuel use. European refining margins dropped to their lowest level in at least two years in December, according to data on the Web site of the Union Francaise des Industries Petrolieres trade group.
Total will create a Refining Operations Technical Support Center and training school at the Flanders facility, allowing it to keep two-thirds of the refinery jobs, it said. The Paris- based company is also in talks to invest in a planned liquefied natural gas terminal near the Port of Dunkirk as it seeks to maintain jobs.
CGT representatives have also said Total won’t restart the idled crude-distillation unit at Gonfreville. The unit was scheduled to close in 2012, according to a plan announced in March.
Total plans to reduce Gonfreville’s capacity by 25 percent to 12 million tons a year while raising the proportion of diesel output and lowering surplus gasoline. The proposal would lead to the loss of 555 refining and petrochemical jobs in France.
Ramallah – Ma’an – A 27-year-old American woman was detained along with two Palestinians by Israeli forces during a night raid in the village of Bil’in on Wednesday.
All three were taken to the border police station, an organizer said. An Israeli military spokesman confirmed the detentions.
Forces broke into the home of Abed Al-Fattah Burnat, 27, then surrounded the home of Ashraf Abu Rahma. International and Palestinian activists were alerted of the raid and went to the location to film the event.
Witnesses said the home was declared a closed military zone by army officials, who demanded reporters and activists stay 50 meters away from the door. Organizers said the group moved 50 meters back, but soldiers continued to harass photojournalist and B’Tselem volunteer Hamdi Abu Rahameh, 22.
The Israeli military said Rahameh is a Palestinian citizen of Israel, and said he was detained for failing to move back from the home after soldiers declared it a closed area.
As soldiers detained the young man, an American activist known locally as “Stormy” attempted to intervene.
The military said the American woman “interfered” in the work of the Israeli army and attempted to “prevent Israeli soldiers from carrying out their duty.” They also said the actions of the woman caused rioting in the area. They confirmed her arrest and transfer to the Israeli police.
US Consulate officials said they were looking into the incident.
Another Palestinian resident of Bil’in, Ashraf Abu Ramhe, was later detained near the village mosque. Upon his detention, Israeli soldiers handcuffed and blindfolded him, ushering him into a car with a gun pointed at his head, Popular Committee organizers said.
The army also confirmed the arrest of Ramhe.
International peace activists have been staying overnight in the village of Bil’in since the Israeli army began night raids into the village, initially following each Friday’s demonstration against the separation wall being constructed on village lands.
Night raids became more regular during the fall of 2009, and now occur almost nightly, villagers say. Activists and photojournalists work to document the raids and treatment of Palestinians at the hands of Israeli forces.
In January, a Czech woman working on solidarity projects with Palestinians via the International Solidarity Movement was detained from her home in Ramallah during a night raid and deported the following day.
Night raid in Nablus
In addition to the raids of Bil’in and Ni’lin, sources reported Israeli forces operating in Nablus, where they detained one man, identified as 22-year-old Shurahbil Awwad.
The young man was taken from his home in the Al-Makhfiyeh area in the west of Nablus before sunrise.