Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Peretz considers retaking parts of Gaza

By Aluf Benn

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will convene the security cabinet today to discuss the continued Qassam rocket fire from the Gaza Strip. Prior to the meeting, Olmert will hold consultations with Defense Minister Amir Peretz, in what will be the first meeting of the two since a dispute broke out between them on Sunday.

Political sources in Jerusalem said they do not believe a large-scale operation to reoccupy Gaza, similar to 2002's Operation Defensive Shield in the West Bank, will be approved in today's meeting. However, Olmert does expect to hear new operational plans from the Israel Defense Forces.

Peretz held a security briefing yesterday, and requested an examination of options for reoccupying areas from which rockets are fired in order to distance the fire from Israeli communities.

Peretz would like to avoid a long-term presence in Gaza, and therefore instructed the IDF to come up with "creative solutions."

A political source said proposals for an international force in Gaza are "worth studying," as "only a diplomatic agreement ended the Katyusha fire from Lebanon."

Olmert told his Italian counterpart, Romano Prodi, roughly two weeks ago, that it is too early to determine the success of the Lebanon model.

Olmert spoke with Prodi again yesterday, and expressed his opposition to the Spanish-French-Italian peace proposal presented last week, which includes the deployment of an international force. Olmert told Prodi there has been progress in talks with PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.

Olmert's aides Yoram Turbovitz and Shalom Turjeman will meet today with their Palestinian counterparts, Rafik Husseini and Saeb Erekat. The Prime Minister's Office said Olmert has yet to decide whether to accept a proposal for strengthening the security forces loyal to Abbas.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni met yesterday with British Prime Minister Tony Blair in London. The meeting focused primarily on the situation with the Palestinians. Earlier, Livni met British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett, and told her the best way to strengthen Abbas is to demand that the new Palestinian government accept the international community's three requirements: recognition of Israel, rejection of violence, and acceptance of prior agreements.

During the meeting, Beckett raised the British proposal for constructing "governance ability" in the PA, in order to prepare it for future statehood. Livni said Israel supports the plan in principle, but that currently a terror organization has gained control of the PA.

Livni and Becket agreed Syria is "not playing a positive role."

The Grind

by Bruce Patterson

[ed. This is an excerpt from Rural Manpower, a work in progress by the author of a little-known but splendid book, Walking Tractor and Other Tales of Old Anderson Valley.]

(Swans - November 20, 2006) It was my experiences in Vietnam that turned me against the war. It wasn't like, after carefully weighing all of the evidence and balancing the pros and cons, I'd up and changed my mind. What happened to me was more like -- the process was so common among us grunts that we had a name for it -- "getting turned around in your boots." It was like an explosion of experiences, with you in the center of the impact dome, with bleeding ears and dust settling, looking down and seeing your boots pointing due north while the rest of you is pointing due south. Arriving in combat ready to play a game, have some fun, become a man, take some scalps, serve your country, and earn the everlasting gratitude and esteem of your countrymen and women and girls, in the grind of days you realize that war isn't a game, it serves no purpose, and the folks back home may as well be living on the moon.

Another bush term for getting turned around in your boots? "Getting your cherry popped."

Out in the jungle -- at least if you were determined to live -- you couldn't even suspend disbelief because belief itself was irrelevant and immaterial, no more important than that flickering beam of moonshine glowing in the mountain blackness under the towering foliage, below your foxhole and at the bottom edge of your field of fire.

In combat human life is cheap, talk is cheaper, and the only thoughts that matter are keeping your eyes and ears open, your nerves taut, your heart cold, and your weapons ready.

Yet, even by totally submitting to the tyranny of your situation and expendability, there's no guarantee that total submission won't be your last one. Everything can change all over again with the crack of a bullet -- the bullet you never heard, the bullet you'd fired mistakenly, or the one that killed your partner.

To armor yourself with your blown-away stateside illusions, or by allowing your old civilian imagination to carry you back to The World with its easy pleasures and all you'd willingly left behind, was worse than useless. Reality was too blaring, too in-your-face and for keeps, for flights of fancy. What you needed to do was to keep your bloody nose to the bloody ground at all times, your mind just a mirror of the bush. You wanted your mind to be just another piece of gear that you were forced to hump around in your rucksack.

In combat the very worst thing that can happen to your morale is to lose your "enemy concept." Even though you and your adversaries are trapped in a symbiotic relationship, and even though you are faced-up across a divide that binds you together, and even though you and they wish for the same things in life and share the very same fears, and even though, like you, they are made of flesh and blood and they cry out lustily when mutilated, they asked for it and they got everything they deserved. They got everything they deserved while your side had been dragged forward kicking and screaming.

Locked in a death grip and eyeball-to-eyeball, each must be the opposite of the other. One must be Good, and the other Evil, and which is which depends on who you talk to.

When I was in Vietnam I not only kept my hatred of the enemy, but during my short tour I tried my best to grow it, to cultivate it, to make it even bigger so I could wrap it around my shivering body like a bulletproof wool poncho. I wanted a magic poncho to keep me warm while I was out sleeping under the cold pelting rain below the slippery-steep rim of some nameless, root-bound vine and thorn-choked summit. I wanted my hatred for the enemy to keep me awake at night in my half-foxhole/half-rock pile while I was sitting a shift of guard duty, blinded by triple canopy darkness, or deafened by splattering rain dropping like bomblets, or gusts of wind rustling and bending the trees, or made totally senseless by all three.

In my hatred for the enemy I wanted a little dose of something to help keep me awake all night long while I was out on a six man ambush detail, my belly to the ground, my eyes pealed and my trigger finger itchy.

Hatred for the enemy was not just energy and purpose; it was guns and ammunition, bountiful rations, cool clean water, ripe old age, eagle eyes, cat-quickness, and the nose of a bloodhound.

In combat the enemy must die so that you can live. If there is anything wrong with that equation, then the last source you want to hear it from is your own weak and wicked mind. If questions like that don't get you or your partners killed or maimed, they'll damn sure make you all the more miserable.

Yet what had originally turned me against war wasn't, I must admit, the killing. The killing -- as terrorizing and hideous as it sometimes was -- was built into the contract I'd signed.

Instead, what had initially turned me against the war was my own nearly constant hunger for food. I'd arrived in Vietnam fourteen days after my eighteenth birthday, and I was still a growing boy with a big, Chicago-bred appetite. And even though back stateside I'd given serious thought to the possibility that I might get killed, or worse, in the service of my country in this outrageously faraway and foreign place, it had never occurred to me that, week after week and month after month, they'd starve me half to death.

I never imagined that -- during desperate times -- while on the run I'd fill my canteens with muddy water scooped from the bottoms of bomb craters. Not only that, but I'd be glad to get it. I'd treat the bomb crater muck with iodine pills and an envelope of Kool-Aid sent from home and then I'd gulp it down like I was some thirsty English lord craving a slug of hot brown tea.

Nor had it ever occurred to my young volunteer ass that when first thing in the morning I got a hole punched into my plastic "tit bag" holding the last of my drinking water, I'd spend a day begging sips of water from my fellow thirsty GI compadres before I managed, before dark, to convince my platoon sergeant, who was flush with water and proud of it, to sell me a quart canteen of it -- just the water, not the canteen -- for ten dollars American and cash up front.

Nor was I prepared for the unrelenting drudgery. True, back stateside, I'd been warned many times and from many sources about what was in store for me once I got out in the bush. And, true, I'd spent a year in vigorous physical, tactical, and psychological preparation for it. Still it'd never occurred to me that, even when the strongest of us were sleepwalking through the jungle, we'd never get a day off.

Mine was an elite, hunter-killer outfit commanded by ambitious officers -- a good percentage of them were West Pointers -- and we American paratroopers under their command were trained to attack and only to attack. It wasn't our job to hold on to territory, nor were we getting paid to guard anything.

But -- here was the rub -- the people we were fighting, which were mostly units of what was then the North Vietnamese Army, saw themselves exactly as we saw ourselves and they saw their mission exactly as we saw ours.

As a result, we bad-assed bush bunnies were not just the hunters, but the hunted. In order to avoid inviting possible annihilation, we were forced to always keep on the move. With swinging machetes we hacked paths through the jungle instead of following established trails, and we never, ever returned the way we came. We never slept anywhere but atop a mountain, and then only after digging a perimeter of holes, cutting out of the bushes fields of fire and communication trails, setting out booby traps and trip flares and sending out three or four overnight ambush details, one or two to cover our tracks and the remainder to stake out the most likely "approaches." Again, to avoid possible annihilation, we never slept on any one mountain twice.

Our cycle began on re-supply day when, after a couple of fat-bellied gunships had swooped over our summit to let the enemy know the sheriff was in town, a Huey dropped into the hole we'd hacked in the jungle canopy. Whatever replacements that had rolled down the pipe would jump from the deck of the Huey and run like hunchbacks for cover while the flight crew, with the help of a detail of us bush bunnies, hurled cargo to the ground like there was no tomorrow (with the wound-up whine of the chopper primed to get back up out of there, you couldn't hear incoming bullets or mortars).

While the replacements were getting "orientated" and divvied-up ("cherries" were sprinkled into the ranks where it was decided they'd do the least damage), the rest of us took turns having at our rations of bounty. The choppers might have brought us letters and care packages from home, or real care packages from the USO to be divvied up within our half-squads. We'd often get clean, fresh water and sometimes we'd get new socks and underwear and complimentary cigarettes from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, or packages of milk chocolate from Hershey, Pennsylvania. Always we'd get more ammunition, munitions, weapons, and medicines as needed. Plus we'd get whatever special orders that our CO had put in through channels; formal written requests for stuff like a new barrel for a machine gun, or a base plate for a mortar, six new helmets, fifty more canteens and the like. Yet special orders, like the care (food) packages sent to us from our families back home had a way of disappearing in the rear areas and either getting devoured on base or sold on the black market in town.

In addition, the re-supply choppers brought us our next stash of C-rations. Since, for reasons of self-preservation, we only got re-supplied once every five days, each of us was issued fifteen boxed and canned C-Rat meals. We'd stack our C-Rats like building blocks inside an empty sandbag, tie the bag shut with a length of parachute cord and then, once it was time for us to move out in the morning, tie our bulging sandbags to the tops of our rucksacks.

More than anything else on re-supply day it was the hot chow brought to us in five gallon cans that we most looked forward to. Even if the monsoon was blowing and half of our turkey and gravy, potatoes and dressing got washed off our trays before we could spoon it up into our mouths, still that hot meal was about the closest we'd ever get to feeling full bellies.

The next morning at first light, we'd all be up and at our battle stations, awaiting a dawn attack ("stand-to," the position was called). Then we'd take turns eating C-Rats for breakfast and then we'd "saddle up and move out," our shoulders straining under our over-stuffed, seventy-pound rucksacks.

During the day we'd play cat and mouse with the enemy until, two or three hours before sundown, we'd climb a mountain, dig in, eat C-Rats, tend to our ammunition, weapons, and equipment and then, from dusk till pitch black, "stand-to" again before beginning our rotation of overnight guard duty.

Barring a fixed-piece or a running battle, or a gauntlet of booby traps, the next day would be exactly the same, as would be the next night, and so on through the five-day cycle. You survive three cycles and, on the 16th day, you get rewarded with a chopper ride back to your forward artillery base -- another carved mountaintop somewhere off in the sticks -- to line up for breakfast and supper in a chow line and then, sitting on the ground wherever it was comfortable and balancing your tray on your lap, devouring what little food they'd given you.

While guarding the "firebase" you'd get the chance to take makeshift soapy showers to scrub the caked salt, stink, bugs, and tropical rot off you. If it was to your liking, you could gather in the bent grass and sit and listen to patriotic sermons delivered by military chaplains enthralled by the universal and everlasting spirit of the M-16. While resting in a firebase, you'd fill sandbags, build bunkers, dig communication trenches between bunkers, run short recon patrols, go out in pairs as "pickets" (human trip wires), sit and GI your equipment, stand guard, write letters home, and listen to the 105mm Howitzers blasting what seemed like all day and all night long.

After five days of rest and relaxation in the firebase, that gave you roughly two-thirds of one month served. Then it was back to the bush for you for another fifteen days. Multiply that bush-to-firebase rotation about sixteen times, and that was a tour.

Naval boats injure a fisherman near Rafah

IMEMC & Agencies - Wednesday, 22 November 2006, 10:07

Israeli army naval boats opened fire at Palestinian fishermen boats near the coast of Rafah beach, in southern Gaza and injured one on Wednesday at dawn.

The fishermen reported that the naval boats opened heavy fire on them while they were fishing and injured one, who was moved to Abu Yousif Al Najar Hospital in Rafah after receiving medium range wounds. Boats sustained some damage, the fishermen added.

New in Gaza: Priest, nun human shields

Priest, nun from Michigan join dozens of Palestinians gathered at Gaza houses in effort to prevent bombing, say ‘If Israel claims family member involved in violence, arrest them, don’t’ destroy home populated by entire family’

Ali Waked

For the past two months, the IDF has been called activists and their family members in Gaza to warn them of their intent on bombing their homes.

Palestinians have found away to prevent the bombings; dozens, even hundreds, gather at the homes of those wanted, thereby thwarting the destruction. In recent days, Father Peter and Sister Mary Ellen of Michigan have joined them.

At the end of last week, the IDF informed the Brudi family in Jabalya of their intent to bomb and demolish their home in protest of their son’s activities with the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC).

Since then, hundreds of neighbors and activists of all organizations congregated at the house in an effort to prevent the demolition. The same idea was adopted at the home of a prominent Hamas activist in the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Lahiya.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh even held a press conference there.

These homes have become pilgrimage sites in recent days not only for locals. Foreign peace activists have started to show interests in the phenomenon, and two Americans, a priest and a nun from Michigan, arrived at Jabalya from Michigan to take part in the human shield mission at the Brudi family home.

Sister Mary Ellen told Ynet, “We are here to find out the truth and to be with the family and these people, who are trying to prevent the demolition of a home where an entire family lives.”

The Sister continued, “We are against any type of violence, whether from the Palestinian side or the Israeli side, by we are here to be with a family that may have their house bombed and demolished because of the claim that one or two members are involved in violence.”

She explained, “We are against any type of collective punishment and feel this punishment is wrong, a complete mistake. If the Israelis claim a family member is involved in violence, then they can arrest them, but not destroy a home populated by an entire family.”

She also explained that she was well aware of the Qassam rockets fired from the northern Gaza Strip towards Sderot, and said, “I adamantly oppose and condemn the firings like I condemn all violence.”,2506,L-3331460,00.html

US leads global house price slowdown


Home prices down 1.2% in third quarter


Five countries in Knight Frank Global House Price Index recording negative price growth

By Finfacts Team
Nov 20, 2006, 10:45

· Third quarter 2006 results from the only truly global house price index are released today, with new data and more countries covered

· Average global house prices stood 8.4% higher at the end of September 2006 compared to the same period 12 months earlier; global house price inflation has continued to slow from the peak levels reached in 2004, average annual prices were growing by 10.9% in September 2005

· Norway, Australia and the UK have seen biggest uplift in growth, climbing the ranks of the index list by 12, 10 and 9 places respectively

· The biggest losers have been Hong Kong, US and Italy, down 26, 10 and 9 places respectively

· Growth is led by European countries, taking nine of the top index rankings; the recent and proposed accession states are particularly strong performers

MORE with graphics

Dollar Declines to 5-Month Low Against Euro on Cooling Economy

By Daniel Kruger and Min Zeng

Nov. 22 (Bloomberg) -- The dollar fell to a five-month low versus the euro and tumbled against the yen as a report showing an increase in jobless claims suggested the economy is cooling.

Dollar losses accelerated as a government report showed more workers filing for unemployment benefits during the past week. The yen gained against 14 of the world's 16 major currencies as investors bought back low-yielding currencies used to fund investments elsewhere, a practice known as the carry trade.

``There is a general pessimism on the dollar right now,'' said Samarjit Shankar, director of global strategy for the foreign exchange group in Boston at Mellon Financial Corp. ``People are now concerned that the growth outlook heading into next year is on the down side.''

The dollar declined to $1.2938 per euro at 4 p.m. in New York, from $1.2844 yesterday. The U.S. currency reached an intraday low of $1.2957, the weakest since June 5 when it touched $1.2979. The dollar dropped to 116.74 yen, from 117.92. The euro traded at 151.05 yen, from 151.46 yesterday and a record high of 151.67 on Nov. 20.

The yen gained about 1 percent today against the dollar, the biggest increase since June 29.

The U.S. currency fell against 14 of 16 major currencies after economic advisers to President George W. Bush yesterday cut their forecasts for growth next year.

The yen extended its gains against the euro after Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, who's also chairman of the panel of finance ministers from the euro region, said a recent decline in the yen has been ``too rough.''

Economic Growth

U.S. economic growth will slow in 2007 because of a weaker housing market, Bush's economic advisers said in their semi- annual forecast. Gross domestic product will increase 2.9 percent next year, slower than the 3.6 percent forecast in June, the Council of Economic Advisers said.

Initial jobless claims increased by 12,000 to 321,000 in the week that ended Nov. 18 from the prior week's revised 309,000, the Labor Department said today in Washington. The four-week moving average rose to 317,000 from 314,000.

The University of Michigan's index of consumer sentiment slipped to 92.1. The measure has averaged 88.1 since monthly data were first compiled in 1978. The Michigan index was expected to slip to 93.3 in November from the previous month's final reading of 93.6, according to the median estimate of 57 economists in a Bloomberg News survey.

Thanksgiving Holiday

The dollar's decline may have been aided by trading below the $1.9 trillion average leading up to tomorrow's U.S. Thanksgiving holiday.

``The dollar's losses today were a bit exaggerated,'' said Christian Dupont, a senior currency trader at Societe Generale SA in Montreal. ``The market is a lot less liquid.''

Juncker's comments and data indicating a slowing U.S. economy led traders to cancel carry trade bets.

``You're seeing an unwind of carry trades that have been a dominant feature of the market since the end of the second quarter,'' said Paresh Upadhyaya, who helps manage $29 billion in currency assets at Putnam Investments in Boston.

Popular carry trades this year have included selling the yen to finance investments in the Australian dollar, euro and British pound, and selling the Swiss franc to invest in the euro and the pound, Upadhyaya said.

The yen and the franc are popular as so-called funding currencies because of the low interest rates in Japan and Switzerland.

``These are the currencies that are doing well today,'' Upadhyaya said.

The Swiss franc has outperformed 15 of the 16 major currencies today and gained about 1.2 percent versus the dollar.

Yield Advantage

The Bank of Japan's benchmark lending rate is 0.25 percent and the Swiss National Bank's benchmark rate is 1.75 percent. That compares with the European Central Bank's benchmark rate of 3.25 percent and the Bank of England's 5 percent benchmark.

Based on spot prices, the pound has gained 10.1 percent against the yen while the euro has increased 8.2 percent versus the Japanese currency so far this year.

When you factor in the higher yields in the U.K. and throughout Europe, ``a lot of these currencies look even better,'' Upadhyaya said.

The dollar is declining as the yield advantage of U.S. bonds is narrowing. Ten-year Treasury notes yield 85 basis points more than 10-year German bunds, the smallest advantage since June 2005. Ten-year Treasuries yield 2.90 percentage points more than comparable-maturity Japanese government bonds, near the lowest since December.

Investors see a 40 percent chance the Federal Reserve will lower its overnight interest rate on loans between banks at its March 21 meeting, compared with 17 percent odds on Nov. 15, according to interest-rate futures prices. Policy makers left the rate on hold for the past three months, after 17 quarter- percentage point increases to 5.25 percent.

To contact the reporters on this story: Daniel Kruger in New York at ; Min Zeng in New York at .

Last Updated: November 22, 2006 16:03 EST

Home demolitions resisted in Al Funduq

November 22nd, 2006 Posted in Reports, Qalqilya Region, Photos

by aspiringnomad, November 22nd

Five buildings were destroyed and three Palestinians were hospitalized by the Israeli military in Al Funduq, east of Qalqilya today. The Israeli army arrived at 5.30 this morning, allowing the occupants of homes just minutes to collect valuables and evacuate before their homes were demolished. The Israeli army claimed that the three homes and two agricultural structures were constructed without permits despite ongoing court cases.

“I saw women convulsing and grown men weep…it was truly horrific witnessing the devastation of whole families’ lives”, said Alice from the International Women’s Peace Service.

MORE with photos:

Sinking Superpower Navies

Davy Jones’s Locker

by William S. Lind

Last week, for three days running, the Washington Times carried front-page stories about the interception of a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, the Kitty Hawk, by a Chinese submarine. The submarine, a Song-class diesel-electric boat, popped up undetected in the middle of a carrier battle group, which was operating in deep water off Okinawa. Armed with Russian-made wake-homing torpedo’s that can ruin a carrier’s day, the sub was well within range of the Kitty Hawk when it surfaced.

While the Washington Times headline read "Admiral says sub risked a shootout," the incident meant little in itself. Navies play these kinds of "Gotcha!" games with each other all the time; both U.S. and Soviet subs were quite good at it during the Cold War. Since neither the U.S. nor China is seeking war, there was no danger of a naval Marco Polo Bridge Incident. The paper quoted an unidentified U.S. Navy official as saying, correctly, "We were operating in international waters, and they were operating in international waters. From that standpoint, nobody was endangering anybody. Nobody felt threatened."

There are, still, some lessons here. One is that, contrary to the U.S. Navy’s fervent belief, the aircraft carrier is no longer the capital ship. It ceded that role long ago to the submarine. In one naval exercise after another, the sub sinks the carriers. The carriers just pretend it didn’t happen and carry on with the rest of the exercise.

About thirty years ago, my first boss, Senator Robert Taft Jr. of Ohio, asked Admiral Hyman Rickover how long he thought the U.S. aircraft carriers would last in the war with the Soviet navy, which was largely a submarine navy. Rickover’s answer, on the record in a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, was, "About two days." The Committee, needless to say, went on to approve buying more carriers.

Another lesson is that diesel-electric subs can be as effective or more effective than nuclear boats in the same situations. The U.S. Navy hates the very idea of non-nuclear submarines and therefore pretends they don’t count for much. You can buy four to eight modern diesel-electric submarines for the cost of a single American "U-cruiser" nuke boat.

At this point, the Chinese sub’s successful interception of our carrier does raise an interesting question: how was that sub in the right position to make an interception? What a nuclear submarine can do but a diesel-electric sub cannot is undertake a along, high-speed chase. Was it just dumb luck the Chinese sub was where we were in effect ran into it? Or were the Chinese able to coordinate the sub’s movement over time with successful tracking of our carrier battle group? If the latter is the case, the Chinese Navy may be starting to become a real navy instead of just a collection of ships. That transformation is far more important than whether China has this or that piece of equipment. It won’t happen fast, but it bears watching.

Or does it? The somewhat regrettable message from the world of real war, Fourth Generation war, is that deep-water battles or prospective battles between navies mean little if anything. Speculating about the balance between U.S. Navy aircraft carriers and Chinese submarines is like wondering what would happen at Trafalgar if Villeneuve’s van had responded immediately to his signal to wear and support the center of the Allies’ line, or Admiral Gravina had led his Squadron of Observation straight for Collingwood’s column. It’s fun to think about – personally, I enjoyed it immensely – but c’est ne pas la guerre. Control of coastal and inland waters may play highly important roles in Fourth Generation war, but deep water naval battles like the Glorious First of June, if they occur, will be jousting contests, with broomsticks. In real war, the U.S. Coast Guard may be more useful than the U.S. Navy.

That is the real lesson of the Chinese sub incident: the U.S. navy, like the U.S. Air Force, without a torpedo fired or a single dogfight, is on its way to Davy Jones’s Locker through sheer intellectual inanition. Preparing endlessly for another carrier war in the Pacific against the Imperial Japanese navy, it has become a historical artifact.

In the late 19th century, the Chinese people, outraged by repeated foreign humiliations of China, took up a sizeable collection of money to build China a modern navy. The Dowager Empress used the funds to build a marble pleasure boat for herself in the lake near her summer palace. The U.S. Navy’s carrier battle groups are the marble pleasure boats of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees of the U.S. Congress.

November 22, 2006

William Lind [send him mail] is an analyst based in Washington, DC.

Copyright © 2006 William S. Lind

US Inflation Statistics: 'Nonsense'


November 16, 2006 -- YOU will be happy to know that your household costs actually went down in October because of that light truck you didn't buy.

I don't mean to mess with your head this early in the day. But the declining costs of light trucks was a major reason the government earlier this week was able to announce a surprise 1.6 percent drop in producer prices for October.

If you believe the U.S. Department of Labor - whose statistics rarely make much sense - we are on the verge of another deflationary episode like the last one that never happened.

I'll explain about deflation scares in a minute.

But first, let me talk about light trucks.

I didn't buy a light truck last month, and I'm guessing that you didn't either.

Yet as insignificant as the price of these vehicles is to the average American's budget, a $392.10 drop in light-truck prices did help the government conclude that the producer price index (PPI) declined.

Wow! It almost makes me wish I needed a truck.

And I'm almost tempted to buy one - except that the price didn't really drop $392.10. (Remember that lies are always best when told with precision - hence the 10 cents.)

In fact, the new light trucks that reached showrooms this fall didn't really go down 9.7 percent in price as the government implies.

Washington simply concluded that the new models are so much better than last year's class that buyers got more for their money - and a price break.

How did the Labor Department come up with the $392.10 figure?

It said that you got an extra $160.09 (notice again the precise number) in extra value from new federally mandated and non-mandated safety improvements "such as tire pressure monitor systems, stability control and airbag system improvements."

And you got another $58.01 in powertrain improvements, plus another $174.00 in value for "other quality changes." These include "changes in levels of standard and optional equipment."

Voila, the price went down even if it really went up.

Hedonics (a word that I've been barred from using ever again) and an assortment of other such razzmatazz allows Washington to report lower inflation, which automatically makes economic growth look stronger than it is, which in turn allow politicians to proclaim that an economy is great when it isn't, which ultimately gets them thrown out of office.

But on a more pernicious note, these inflation tricks can also fool economic planners like the folks at the Federal Reserve.

Recently the head of the Dallas Fed, Richard Fisher, complained that Alan Greenspan's Central Bank kept interest rates too low because it had been tricked into thinking the nation was on the verge of deflation.

He said the Fed was incorrectly worrying about deflation.

"In this case, poor data led to a policy action that amplified speculative activity in the housing and other markets," Fisher added.

In other words, if you bought a house at a price that turns out to be too high, you can blame bad data caused by hedonic adjustments to light trucks that makes the PPI looked tamer than it really is.

Today, the government will announce its October Consumer Price Index.

It too will be nonsense.

US Inflation Statistics: 'Nonsense'


November 16, 2006 -- YOU will be happy to know that your household costs actually went down in October because of that light truck you didn't buy.

I don't mean to mess with your head this early in the day. But the declining costs of light trucks was a major reason the government earlier this week was able to announce a surprise 1.6 percent drop in producer prices for October.

If you believe the U.S. Department of Labor - whose statistics rarely make much sense - we are on the verge of another deflationary episode like the last one that never happened.

I'll explain about deflation scares in a minute.

But first, let me talk about light trucks.

I didn't buy a light truck last month, and I'm guessing that you didn't either.

Yet as insignificant as the price of these vehicles is to the average American's budget, a $392.10 drop in light-truck prices did help the government conclude that the producer price index (PPI) declined.

Wow! It almost makes me wish I needed a truck.

And I'm almost tempted to buy one - except that the price didn't really drop $392.10. (Remember that lies are always best when told with precision - hence the 10 cents.)

In fact, the new light trucks that reached showrooms this fall didn't really go down 9.7 percent in price as the government implies.

Washington simply concluded that the new models are so much better than last year's class that buyers got more for their money - and a price break.

How did the Labor Department come up with the $392.10 figure?

It said that you got an extra $160.09 (notice again the precise number) in extra value from new federally mandated and non-mandated safety improvements "such as tire pressure monitor systems, stability control and airbag system improvements."

And you got another $58.01 in powertrain improvements, plus another $174.00 in value for "other quality changes." These include "changes in levels of standard and optional equipment."

Voila, the price went down even if it really went up.

Hedonics (a word that I've been barred from using ever again) and an assortment of other such razzmatazz allows Washington to report lower inflation, which automatically makes economic growth look stronger than it is, which in turn allow politicians to proclaim that an economy is great when it isn't, which ultimately gets them thrown out of office.

But on a more pernicious note, these inflation tricks can also fool economic planners like the folks at the Federal Reserve.

Recently the head of the Dallas Fed, Richard Fisher, complained that Alan Greenspan's Central Bank kept interest rates too low because it had been tricked into thinking the nation was on the verge of deflation.

He said the Fed was incorrectly worrying about deflation.

"In this case, poor data led to a policy action that amplified speculative activity in the housing and other markets," Fisher added.

In other words, if you bought a house at a price that turns out to be too high, you can blame bad data caused by hedonic adjustments to light trucks that makes the PPI looked tamer than it really is.

Today, the government will announce its October Consumer Price Index.

It too will be nonsense.

U.S.- Iran history, beyond the fear

First published: Friday, November 17, 2006

So warm, gracious and welcoming were the people of Iran, in just two days I felt safer walking the streets of Tehran, a city of 16 million, than I did in Albany. Where was this "axis of evil"?

The rhetoric of fear and misinformation often promoted by the U.S. government and news media quickly dissolved as our delegation, Academics For Peace, met face to face last year with former President Mohammad Khatami and various officials in Tehran. As we traveled to Esfahan and Shiraz, the depth and beauty of Iranian culture became readily apparent, and we shed any remaining vestiges of fear. I wondered what was a truthful accounting of U.S. foreign policy with Iran as our delegation began to initiate dialogue between the people of Iran and the U.S. with hopes of preventing a war between our two countries.

In 2003, Stephen Kinzer, a New York Times correspondent, provided a vivid account of the 1953 CIA-led coup against the democratically elected Iranian prime minister, Mohammad Mossadegh. In his best-selling, "All The Shah's Men," Mr. Kinzer documented how, during the Eisenhower administration, the CIA's Kermit Roosevelt, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and his brother, CIA director Allen Dulles, subverted this fledgling Iranian democracy.

Prime Minister Mossadegh was replaced by Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, a brutal dictator who ruled for the next 25 years, thus explaining much of Iran's distrust for the U.S. During the shah's reign, the Iranian oil industry previously nationalized by Mossadegh, was "un-nationalized," with U.S. firms reaping a 40 percent interest. During the shah's reign, the United States also encouraged the beginning of Iran's nuclear industry. In 1979, the shah was deposed resulting in the Islamic Republic of Iran headed by Ayatollah Khomeini.

Why is this history important to us?

While few U.S. citizens in 1979 knew of the 1953 CIA-led coup, many Iranians did and were afraid the CIA working out of the U.S. Embassy might attempt to reinstall the shah. The 1979 hostage crisis, seen in historical context, then becomes understandable along with much of the current instability of the Middle East, which can be traced to this CIA-led coup.

On Sept. 22, 1980, Iraqi forces commanded by Saddam Hussein attacked Iran. Most Americans know little about this war or the role of the U.S. government. According to The Washington Post, the CIA provided the Iraqi government intelligence in 1984 to help "calibrate" its mustard gas attacks on Iranian troops. Starting in 1985, a direct Washington-Baghdad intelligence link was established providing Iraq with "data from sensitive U.S. satellite reconnaissance photography ... to assist Iraqi bombing raids."

By 1986, Washington's attempts to simultaneously improve its position with both countries ended abruptly when arms trading with Iran became public knowledge. With the Reagan administration's double dealing and treachery exposed, and to save its position with one side, U.S. foreign policy was redirected to heavily favor Iraq.

On Aug. 20, 1988, the war ended in stalemate under a U.N. mandated cease-fire. During those eight years of war, the world powers had stood by and profited by selling arms to both sides. During this brutal war, approximately 500,000 Iranians were killed. Quite frankly, it appears that the United States supported both sides while working toward their mutual destruction, but with Iraq receiving the bulk of supplies and intelligence.

This history underscores Iran's legitimate and vital interest in the formation of a new Iraqi government along with recent and compelling reasons for its distrust of the U.S. government. Currently, Iran is accused of attempting to develop weapons of mass destruction, and is threatened with sanctions and military attack without any hard substantiating evidence. The United States has edged dangerously close to yet another unnecessary and ill-advised war in the Middle East.

Iran has not authored a first strike against any of its neighbors recently and remains a conservative state, not seeking radical change. Its war with Iraq was defensive. Perhaps the single most important step for achieving good relations with Iran is both simple and shocking. We must insist that our own government stops attacking Iran either directly or indirectly. It also would be sensible to find ways to help Iran feel secure rather than threatening it with attack.

With certainty, a military attack on Iran will fail. The consequences will be horrendous, both to the United States and to the rest of the world. As U.S. citizens, the choice is ours: a continued descent into world war or a constructive dialogue and peace. John Amidon is a community organizer and peace activist in Albany. He traveled to Iran last year with Academics For Peace to help initiate responsible dialogue between those nations.

All Times Union materials copyright 1996-2006, Capital Newspapers Division of The Hearst Corporation, Albany, N.Y.

Israel/Palestine: Violence Hasn’t Worked

By Vivienne Porzsolt

Wednesday 22 November 2006

First of all, I need to say that violence hasn’t worked.

Israel , with its 1982 invasion of Lebanon, created the very Hezbollah it now seeks to destroy. The recent war against Lebanon has spectacularly failed in its stated aim to destroy or even ‘degrade’ Hezbollah. On the contrary, Hezbollah has gained massive support in Lebanon and throughout the Arab and Muslim world.

For Hezbollah, the rocket attacks in response to the Israeli bombings did not succeed in repelling Israeli attacks and Lebanon has been laid waste. Suicide killings of civilians have not achieved Palestinian liberation either.

The physical violence is obvious. But I want to look at the kinds of violence beyond the physical. Violence also occurs at the level of language, at the level of emotion, at the level of claims to knowledge and fact, at the level of suppressing or distorting public debate and at the level of fundamentally racist attitudes.

Information and ‘truth’ are major sites of struggle in this conflict. The mainstream media in Australia base their reporting on the Middle East on assumptions which favour Israel. The conflict is presented as a legitimate if unequal struggle for land, rather than a struggle against colonial occupation and repression.

How often are the words of official Zionist propaganda reported as fact? Israel is fighting for its existence; Israel has a right to defend itself. As if Israeli actions in the recent war had anything to do with rational self-defence.

Then there is the lie that Israel has withdrawn from Gaza: ‘We gave them Gaza and look how they treat us!’ The reality is that not a cabbage or a lettuce, let alone a human being, can get out of or into Gaza without Israel’s permission. Gaza is a giant prison with people combing through garbage for scraps of food to survive. The ongoing killings — over 250 in Gaza in July/August — can only be called genocidal. The conditions are reminiscent of the Warsaw Ghetto. And who knows about them? All these suppressions and misrepresentations of information must be exposed.

At the same time, we cannot correct this distortion by equally biased narratives from Arab/Palestinian/Muslim perspectives. In parts of the Left, there is a tendency to exaggerate the crimes of the State of Israel. The reality is bad enough. Sometimes, rhetoric is used against Israel with a venom that I don’t notice in quite the same way with other Left struggles. Calling the massacres at Sabra and Shatilla in September 1982 ‘the other Holocaust,’ or claiming ‘Zionism = Nazism’ is not just bad history; it provokes resistance for no purpose.

I appreciate that anger at the Zionist hijack of the Holocaust as a justification for Israel’s actions, lies behind some of this. However, as a Jew, I find this special hatred anti-semitic. We are better served by opposition grounded in evidence and language appropriate to its object.
Jacqueline Rose, author of, The Question of Zion, warned against treating Zionism as a ‘dirty word.’ Zionism is problematic because it is at once a national liberation movement of Jews and a settler colonialist project.

A homeland for Jews did not always mean a Jewish State. There have historically been many kinds of Zionism including the bi-national visions of Buber and Magnes which were not based on a demographic Jewish majority. The Jewish State model won out historically, and that history has been racist and oppressive — but should this mean that national aspirations for the Jewish people are illegitimate?

I reject the double standard that denies Jewish/Israeli national aspirations in the same breath as supporting Palestinian nationalism. No nationalism, even if expressed as a struggle against national oppression and dispossession, is without problems. Could the Palestinians be said to have attained national self-determination if they were a minority in their own land?

The way out of the inherent violence of nationalist rhetoric and action is to base the struggle on justice, and human and national rights for both Palestinians and Israelis. In other words, a truly bi-national vision. Too often, the very notion of national aspirations for Jews is attacked in parts of the Left as illegitimate and racist. If we want a peaceful, just future, we need to challenge this.
Thanks to Scratch

I think we are witnessing a sea change in public attitudes to Israel. No longer is it such a sacred cow. The unprovoked Israeli onslaught on Lebanon has further undermined the guilt-laced sympathy many liberals in the West feel for Israel. The publication in the Sydney Morning Herald of John Safran’s marvellous satirical article ‘Jumping off the Zeppelin of Zion’ is particularly telling of the shift in attitudes. He makes the point that considering how hard Israel’s actions make it for Jews to identify with Israel these days, there are other ways of affirming Jewish identity than Zionism. Allelluja, I say!

Unfortunately, at the same time, in response to Israel’s actions, there is a revival of traditional anti-semitism. Jewish silence feeds this. Arab and Muslim anger at the oppression of the Palestinians is sometimes expressed as anti-semitism. As a progressive movement we must expose and oppose it as we oppose all racism, especially among our own ranks.

So what can be done?

There are numerous non-violent movements in both Israel and Palestine that get little exposure in our mainstream media. The refusenik movement is well known. Less well known is the Palestinian non-violent movement, the International Solidarity Movement. There are daily demonstrations against the Occupation Wall with local Palestinians, international and Israeli activists taking part.

During my visits to Israel/Palestine, it has been evident that both the Palestinian resistance movements and the Israeli peace movement are too weak to bring about change unaided from outside. The Palestinians, with all their steadfastness, cannot defeat the military might of Israel. The brave activists of the Israeli peace movement have little impact on the outlook of the great majority of Israelis.

Boycott is the most obvious form of outside pressure. In a recent email to me, Dorothy Naor, a veteran Israeli peace activist, pleaded for this. ‘If you can, please push boycott/divestment/sanctions of all kinds. That’s about what is left to give us here any hope.’ But we need to be smart about boycotts. This is not the same context as apartheid South Africa. While US firms had investments in South Africa, it did not have the same strategic importance for the US as does Israel.

A scattergun approach, targeting everything from Israel, has little chance of success. We are on stronger ground if we target those operations that directly support the Occupation and where a boycott can create a lot of waves — for example, a campaign against Caterpillar, which supplies the bulldozers that destroy Palestinian homes.

A cultural boycott should be carefully framed. It should be aimed only at those who do not speak out publicly against the Occupation. We need to support Israelis who oppose it. We also need to avoid the trap of creating a best-seller, as Michael Danby’s attacks have done with Antony Loewenstein’s book, My Israel Question.

A key issue is to campaign to shift Australian Government policy to conform to international law and human rights instead of the US line. Currently, both Government and Opposition act as mouthpieces for the Zionist Lobby. Two Australian ex-ambassadors from the region — Peter Rodgers and Ross Burns — have felt bound to speak out. Naturally, they have been met with a barrage of attacks. But they have stimulated the debate.

Those of us who are Jewish have a particular responsibility to raise the issues. I call on my fellow Jews to break their silence.

I understand that for many Jews, the State of Israel is a guarantee of survival and that any criticism that exposes its failings seems to undermine that refuge. Yet what black despair lies behind this belief! That there is no safe place in the world except in an Israel armed to the teeth constantly at war with its neighbours and trampling on the rights of its citizens.

Like Norman Finkelstein and Andrew Benjamin, I am outraged at the way the Holocaust has been used by the Zionist movement to manipulate the fears of Jews — always constructing Jews, and by extension, Israel, as eternal victims. If we are always powerless victims, then all is justified in self-defence.

If we take a reality check, we see that we are not at all collectively powerless. We must take responsibility for the crimes and injustices committed in our name, stop this uncritical support for Israel and speak out for what is right. That is the best antidote to anti-semitism.
This is an edited version of a speech given at Politics in the Pub.

About the author

Vivienne Porzsolt is a member of Jews against the Occupation Sydney

John Bolton v. Lee Kinchen: A Tale of Two Charities

by Steven D

Wed Nov 22nd, 2006 at 09:26:54 AM EST

In one, your money will go to a truly worthy cause:

The short version is that Lee has been diagnosed with a brain tumor, which is part of her disease, and that this tumor is pressing down on 8 of the 15 major nerve branches in her brain, as well as causing blockages and constriction of most of her major blood vessels in her brain.
Since Lee has been fucked out of SSI/SSDI, Medicare and Medicaid by the illiterate state-level bureaucrats who think that they know what a "disability" is, and her job at Fred's Super Discount Store isn't even enough for that child to pay RENT on, she needs your help.
She needs a LOT of help.

If she waits for the one remaining major hospital in the Louisiana state hospital (charity) system, she won't get a surgical date until March or April. Even though she is still working her skinny little ass off, she has already had her legs collapse out from under her, and has had the physical requirements of her job curtailed by her manager, Susan.
In the other one, not so much:

If Congress is absolutely determined to reject the best UN ambassador the world has seen in about a quarter of a century — John Bolton — then the only alternative if President Bush wants to keep him is another recess appointment. For that, Bolton would have to work without pay. It’s enough to make a person want to suggest that if you really care about trying to do some good in the world via the UN, stop sending your kids out to collect for UNICEF, and start sending them out to collect donations to keep John Bolton in office. Bolton, from everything I have seen, is far more honest and competent on every level than UNICEF, any of the other UN agencies, or most of the senior staff walking the halls of the UN, let alone many of the UN ambassadors whose limos cruise the streets of New York.

I would normally be against any such private meddling in U.S. foreign policy, or in matters relating to the public institution that is the UN. But the State Department in 2001 blithely accepted a $31 million check from left-leaning Ted Turner to fill a gap in U.S. dues to the UN (and thus free up much larger sums of U.S. taxpayer money to flood Turtle Bay). And the UN itself has been trumpeting its joy over its ever-expanding agenda of “public-private partnerships.” These set-ups are all very bad ideas, and someone needs to be asking why on earth both the U.S. and the UN should be franchising out public policy matters (and financing) to private players with their own agendas. But without John Bolton there, no one at the UN is going to be asking about anything very much…we will see the dawn of a new era of even greater UN impunity, moral bankruptcy and financial corruption. Why should only the left wing of U.S. politics have a private hand in UN affairs?

So, in the interest of fighting fire with fire, I wonder if anyone will start a campaign to scrap the UNICEF cans (they are not all about feedling wide-eyed children; they double-billed and padded their budgets in Iraq), and start collecting for Bolton.

If you would like to donate online to the Fund for Lee Kinchen, you can go to this LINK which has a PayPal button to click on, or you can snail mail your check to the following address:

Fund For Leola KinchenBank Of St. FrancisvilleP.O. Drawer 818St. Francisville, LA 70775
If you wish to donate to the "Pay John Bolton's Salary Fund" you're on your own.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

DoJ Quashes Wiretapping Inquiries

By Onnesha Roychoudhuri

Though Maine resident Doug Cowie just celebrated his 75th birthday in October, it was only this past January that he retired from the Maine Public Utility Commission (PUC) where he worked for 18 years. It would be easy to think of Cowie as an innocuous grandfatherly type—particularly after his response when I told him some of his e-mails ended up in my spam folder: “Your what folder?”—but he is one of a growing number of Americans who are acting, in lieu of Congress, as the only check and balance on the Bush administration’s domestic spying program.

When USA Today published an article on May 11 alleging that the National Security Agency (NSA) had teamed up with major telecommunications companies to obtain access to Americans’ communication records, Cowie sent an e-mail to Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg, asking if the company was taking part in this program. After ambiguous responses from Verizon, Cowie filed a complaint with the Maine PUC. According to Cowie, the “PUC is supposed to determine whether the complaint has merit and if it does, it’s supposed to open an investigation and have a hearing.” (He would know—part of his former position there was managing these very complaints.) After two months of silence, the PUC finally acted, asking Verizon to swear under oath to the veracity of a May press release the company issued in response to the USA Today allegations.

That release claimed that Verizon was not providing records to the government, but was ambiguous enough to leave room for doubt. A deadline was set for Verizon to respond and about an hour after the deadline passed, a response was received—a Justice Department announcement that it was suing the state of Maine.

The department invoked the state secrets privilege and claimed that for Verizon to even affirm that their previous statement was true would endanger the country. That’s ridiculous, says Cowie. “[If] Verizon’s public statements had classified information in them, they would have gone to jail.”

Minutes after receiving notice of the Justice Department suit, Verizon submitted their filing, which stated that it could not verify its previous press statement because of the lawsuit that had just been announced. At that point, the Maine Civil Liberties Union (MCLU) got involved. The MCLU maintains that the Justice Department has no legal basis to sue the state of Maine for enforcing state law. Shenna Bellows, executive director of the MCLU, says that the department’s claim that forcing Verizon to verify its previous statements would threaten national security “doesn’t pass the straight-face test.”

The Justice Department has sued four other states that launched similar inquiries: Missouri, Connecticut, Vermont and New Jersey—where the DoJ sued the attorney general for subpoenaing telecommunications companies within the state.

Doug Cowie’s call for an investigation in Maine has now been backed up by some 400 other Mainers. That the PUC has yet to be assertive in its investigation confuses him. “I honest to God don’t understand it,” he says. “I’m so disappointed. The PUC should have tried to do the investigation based on unclassified data. I’ve been basically told that the staff has been told not to talk to anybody about this.” Because the PUC refuses to pursue Cowie’s complaint, legal remedy can’t be sought.

While the legality of the NSA program has been challenged, the Bush administration has been pushing Congress to keep the cases out of the courts. Bills sponsored by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.) would redefine electronic surveillance and force the cases against the NSA and telecommunications companies into the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review, effectively keeping the cases, and any judicial remedy, from public eyes.

Regardless of the outcome, Cowie intends to spend his retirement making sure Americans’ constitutional rights aren’t violated. “Who the hell wants to take up all your time doing stuff like this?” asks Cowie. “But something has to be done. You just gotta do it.”

Class Struggle


American workers have a chance to be heard.


Wednesday, November 15, 2006 12:01 a.m.

The most important--and unfortunately the least debated--issue in politics today is our society's steady drift toward a class-based system, the likes of which we have not seen since the 19th century. America's top tier has grown infinitely richer and more removed over the past 25 years. It is not unfair to say that they are literally living in a different country. Few among them send their children to public schools; fewer still send their loved ones to fight our wars. They own most of our stocks, making the stock market an unreliable indicator of the economic health of working people. The top 1% now takes in an astounding 16% of national income, up from 8% in 1980. The tax codes protect them, just as they protect corporate America, through a vast system of loopholes.

Incestuous corporate boards regularly approve compensation packages for chief executives and others that are out of logic's range. As this newspaper has reported, the average CEO of a sizeable corporation makes more than $10 million a year, while the minimum wage for workers amounts to about $10,000 a year, and has not been raised in nearly a decade. When I graduated from college in the 1960s, the average CEO made 20 times what the average worker made. Today, that CEO makes 400 times as much.

In the age of globalization and outsourcing, and with a vast underground labor pool from illegal immigration, the average American worker is seeing a different life and a troubling future. Trickle-down economics didn't happen. Despite the vaunted all-time highs of the stock market, wages and salaries are at all-time lows as a percentage of the national wealth. At the same time, medical costs have risen 73% in the last six years alone. Half of that increase comes from wage-earners' pockets rather than from insurance, and 47 million Americans have no medical insurance at all.

Manufacturing jobs are disappearing. Many earned pension programs have collapsed in the wake of corporate "reorganization." And workers' ability to negotiate their futures has been eviscerated by the twin threats of modern corporate America: If they complain too loudly, their jobs might either be outsourced overseas or given to illegal immigrants.

This ever-widening divide is too often ignored or downplayed by its beneficiaries. A sense of entitlement has set in among elites, bordering on hubris. When I raised this issue with corporate leaders during the recent political campaign, I was met repeatedly with denials, and, from some, an overt lack of concern for those who are falling behind. A troubling arrogance is in the air among the nation's most fortunate. Some shrug off large-scale economic and social dislocations as the inevitable byproducts of the "rough road of capitalism." Others claim that it's the fault of the worker or the public education system, that the average American is simply not up to the international challenge, that our education system fails us, or that our workers have become spoiled by old notions of corporate paternalism.

Still others have gone so far as to argue that these divisions are the natural results of a competitive society. Furthermore, an unspoken insinuation seems to be inundating our national debate: Certain immigrant groups have the "right genetics" and thus are natural entrants to the "overclass," while others, as well as those who come from stock that has been here for 200 years and have not made it to the top, simply don't possess the necessary attributes.

Most Americans reject such notions. But the true challenge is for everyone to understand that the current economic divisions in society are harmful to our future. It should be the first order of business for the new Congress to begin addressing these divisions, and to work to bring true fairness back to economic life. Workers already understand this, as they see stagnant wages and disappearing jobs.

America's elites need to understand this reality in terms of their own self-interest. A recent survey in the Economist warned that globalization was affecting the U.S. differently than other "First World" nations, and that white-collar jobs were in as much danger as the blue-collar positions which have thus far been ravaged by outsourcing and illegal immigration. That survey then warned that "unless a solution is found to sluggish real wages and rising inequality, there is a serious risk of a protectionist backlash" in America that would take us away from what they view to be the "biggest economic stimulus in world history."

More troubling is this: If it remains unchecked, this bifurcation of opportunities and advantages along class lines has the potential to bring a period of political unrest. Up to now, most American workers have simply been worried about their job prospects. Once they understand that there are (and were) clear alternatives to the policies that have dislocated careers and altered futures, they will demand more accountability from the leaders who have failed to protect their interests. The "Wal-Marting" of cheap consumer products brought in from places like China, and the easy money from low-interest home mortgage refinancing, have softened the blows in recent years. But the balance point is tipping in both cases, away from the consumer and away from our national interest.

The politics of the Karl Rove era were designed to distract and divide the very people who would ordinarily be rebelling against the deterioration of their way of life. Working Americans have been repeatedly seduced at the polls by emotional issues such as the predictable mantra of "God, guns, gays, abortion and the flag" while their way of life shifted ineluctably beneath their feet. But this election cycle showed an electorate that intends to hold government leaders accountable for allowing every American a fair opportunity to succeed.

With this new Congress, and heading into an important presidential election in 2008, American workers have a chance to be heard in ways that have eluded them for more than a decade. Nothing is more important for the health of our society than to grant them the validity of their concerns. And our government leaders have no greater duty than to confront the growing unfairness in this age of globalization.

Mr. Webb is the Democratic senator-elect from Virginia.

Copyright © 2006 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Moral Consequences of the Occupation

BLOG Posted 11/22/2006 @ 4:06pm

Christopher Hayes

It may be an old saw, but it remains true: power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. And this, ultimately, is why occupation is so pernicious. The occupier is at once all powerful, able to arrest and berate the occupied at will, but also powerless, for he knows that his security and safety are largely outside his control. He knows he is hated.

The result is this .

There's a lot of talk about the mounting toll in Iraq: in blood , in treasure , in the lives of innocent Iraqis. But one of war's darkest legacies is the moral corrosion it inflicts on those who wage it. The longer we stay in Iraq, the worse it will get.

Next time that little boy will be wielding a rock. Later, a bomb.

Breaking the Law in the West Bank - One Violation Leads to Another: Israeli Settlement Building on Private Palestinian Property


Peace Now’s Settlement Watch team has compiled precise information regarding the legal status of the land on which Israeli settlements have been constructed in the West Bank over the last four decades. The data, which is compiled and made public here for the first time, has enormous significance. It indicates the direct violation of Israeli law carried out by the State itself, driven by the architects and leaders of the settlement movement. Israel never annexed the territories in the West Bank conquered in the war of June 1967, leaving the status of this land as "spoils of war". During the past forty years of occupation, Israel has ruled the territories through military orders and the laws of the State. In so doing, Israel has ignored international laws and agreements, such as the 4th Geneva Accords and the Hague Agreement, which define and limit changes the occupier may make in occupied territory during the period of occupation. This report demonstrates that, in addition to ignoring international laws and agreements, Israel has violated even its own norms and laws in the West Bank, through the confiscation of private Palestinian property and the building of settlements upon them. Data which its source is the Civil Administration, applied to each and every settlement by the Peace Now Settlement Watch team, indicate that a large proportion of the settlements built on the West Bank are built on privately owned Palestinian land. This, despite the fact that Israeli law guarantees the protection of the private property of the civil population resident on the West Bank. The data presented in this report demonstrate that the property rights of many Palestinians have been systematically violated in the course of settlement building. The government's own information confirms this contravention of Israeli law - law, defined precisely in the landmark Elon More decision of the Israeli High Court of Justice in 1979 (discussed in detail, below). Peace Now condemns the violation of Israeli law carried out over the past forty years by the State of Israel. We condemn the efforts of politicians and bureaucrats to launder the land grab, which deprived thousands of Palestinians of the basic human right of possession, on the individual and collective levels. We demand that the present Israeli Government rectify the situation, which means returning the private land to its owners. Key findings include: > Palestinians privately own nearly 40% of the land on which the settlements have been built; > Palestinians privately own over 40% of the land in settlements located in "settlement blocs," west of the fence being constructed by Israel, including 86.4% of Ma’ale Adumim, 44.3% of Giv'at Ze'ev, 47.7% of Kedumim, and 35.1% of Ariel; > More than 3,400 buildings in settlements are constructed on land that is privately owned by Palestinians; > “Survey lands” are areas whose ownership has yet to be determined and on which development is not legal, yet 5.7% of settlement territory is “survey land” and 2.5% of the “settlement blocs” are on “survey lands;” > Only a small percentage of settlement land was purchased by Jews; and > Over 50% of the land on which settlements have been constructed has been declared “State land,” often through controversial means and mostly for the benefit of settlements.

Full report

Speaking with the enemy

Rima Merriman, The Electronic Intifada, 22 November 2006

Palestinian cars wait at a gas station in the West Bank city of Nablus after the Israeli fuel company 'DOR' stopped their supplies to Palestinian gas stations as a result of unpaid bills, October 10, 2006. (MaanImages/Rami Swidan)

The phrase "Ugly America" which epitomized American arrogance, corruption and tragic blunders in South East Asia in the early sixties is no longer in vogue in that region. But "Ugly Israeli" is alive and well in the Middle East, wherever there is an agreement of any kind between Israel and an Arab partner.

Much has been written after the Al Aqsa Palestinian uprising of 2000 about the imminent "collapse" of the Palestinian economy. Not as well known is how structurally hobbled this economy has been from the start and how amazing that it even has a pulse now, that people are able to discuss GDP and trade balances and labor, for all the world as though the Palestinians have a sovereign state and are in control of their borders, of all their remnant "territories" from A - Z, and of their natural resources.

There are two essential rules to follow for anyone attempting in good faith to "normalize" relations with Israel: Avoid ambiguity in any transaction and make sure that working procedures as well as processes of arbitration and enforcement are firmly in place.

In an agreement between two parties where there is an imbalance in power, as with the Israelis and Palestinians, the rights of the weaker party must be protected. The big secret of the Paris Protocol of 1994 on economic relations between the PLO and the Palestinians is that it failed to protect the Palestinians from Israeli predation. Economists have a fancy phrase for what resulted from the Paris agreement. It is called "Asymmetric containment" and refers to the economic constraints placed on the Palestinian Authority from the get go.

Anyone trying to understand or rail against the performance of the Palestinian Authority must link that performance to Israel's policy of "asymmetric containment", which means separation and deliberate resistance to integration.

Both the Jews and the Palestinians, wherever they are found, have acquired the reputation of being sharp business people. But in the occupied territories and in their economic dealings with Israel, the Palestinians are so far removed from an even playing field in business and commerce, they must be judged as the superior business people to have just survived.

On a daily basis, Palestinians have had to deal with sharks, with institutionalized Israeli systems whose hallmarks since the establishment of the State of Israel have been segmentation, exclusivism and separation.

Before the Paris Protocol, Israel exploited the occupied Palestinian territories and took in more taxes than it put back in basic services. After the Paris Protocol, Israel's capital investment in the West Bank is and continues to be in the form of hundreds of Jewish settlements, related infrastructures and industrial zones all along the north-south main Palestinian highway at the expense of Palestinian land and water and operated outside the Palestinian legal economic framework.

After Israel's flow of capital into the West Bank in the form of Jewish islands high on hilltops overlooking the main Palestinian commerce highway and in spite of repeated but bootless protests from the Palestinians (faintly echoed by the US), Israel, as the world knows, has now moved on to the next logical step - safeguarding its illegal and ugly real-estate and industrial gains and its expropriation of neighboring Palestinian arable land - for security.

The military protection from people Israel was robbing in broad daylight took the form of an extensive network of checkpoints and virtual boundaries designed to control the flow of movement of Palestinian labor into those shining Jewish industrial stations, also known as "Israeli Controlled Areas". When Palestinian anger erupted, the move from already established virtual boundaries and check points to concrete walls and more check points was but a small one - simply the logical next step in Israeli capital investment in the West Bank.

The Palestinian economy is characterized by "profound structural imbalances and high external dependence." The oPt is dependent on imports (90 percent of Palestinian imports are from Israel) and its exports (88 percent of which go to Israel) are restricted. Because of restrictions on foreign trade and lack of protection from Israeli imports, the Palestinian economy has a chronic trade deficit.

Since the Israeli occupation, the GDP per head in the oPt has risen in only one year (1994). The GDP per head in 1999 is about one eighth of what it was in 1993, when economic growth was infused by substantial foreign aid meant to lay the foundation for future development.

Israel's power to switch the internal and external prison gates on and off at will has a simple name among economists - "closures". The news has seeped out even into the pages of the New York Times that Israel has now effectively divided the WB into three sectors and isolated them form one another, delaying people who are on their way to jobs or schools for hours, rerouting them as well as truck loads of goods to dirt roads and sometimes turning them back altogether - all to safeguard their ill capital gains in the West Bank. The main north-south WB highway suddenly dead ends as it approaches Jerusalem making Bethlehem a lengthy detour for Palestinians on a narrow, winding road through barren hills circling Jerusalem eastward. Bethlehem is divided from Jerusalem by 25-foot concrete walls.

But the groundwork for the deforming structural constraints on the Palestinian economy have been long in place and are a direct result of Israel's "interpretation" of the Paris Protocol and the lack of working procedures or an arbitration system between the two sides.

Here are some examples of the structural constraints imposed by Israel on the Palestinian economy * In agriculture Palestinian agricultural land is continually shrinking as a result of Israeli land expropriation; access to Israeli markets is unpredictable because of closures; the area of Palestinian land under irrigation is tiny (about a quarter of the total), because water is diverted for use by Jewish settlers and Palestinian water use (including the digging of wells) is restricted.

In industry: Manufacturing contributes only 10 percent to the Palestinian economy because of Israeli-imposed limitations on the legal and regulatory system, e.g., in the process of industrial and commercial licensing, and agricultural production planning

Nearly 90 percent of industrial enterprises in the oPt employ less than five workers each. The share of construction of the GDP exceeds that of manufacturing, but it is dependent on donor assistance.

In the service sector (wholesale retail trade, transport, tourism, etc): This sector is unusually large in an attempt to compensate for the lack of opportunities in production. But growth in this sector has been underpinned by the doubling of employment in the public sector since the establishment of the PA. This growth has been under attack by the international community first as part of the "reform" effort and then as a result of international sanctions that has left employees to languish without salaries for months and still counting.

The service sector has to contend with Israeli prohibitions on the development of financial and credit institutions. Tourism is hostage to the political situation, and manpower/expertise from outside the oPt is restricted, as Israel controls the Palestinian population registry, visas to the oPt and work permits.

Fiscally: Tax revenues provide the oPt with basic public services such as education and health. Capital spending in the oPt is covered by foreign aid. Although the PA has managed to triple its tax base (to 863m or 25percent of GDP in 1998), and even managed to balance the budget in 1998, its revenue clearance system is operated by Israel, which is therefore in control of the PA budget, and can choose to freeze, delay or withhold revenues from the PA for political purposes, as it has done most recently after the January 2006 elections.

Israel has defrauded the Palestinians out of substantial sums in customs by interpreting "imports" into the oPt to mean only those imported directly by Palestinian companies via Israel but not those imports first imported by an Israeli company for onward shipment to the oPt.

The bulk of imports into the oPt come via Israeli companies, because imports by Palestinian companies are subject to "security" delays at Israeli ports. Therefore, all import charges paid on goods that come into the WBG as indirect imports are collected and pocketed by Israel - i.e., they are not refunded to the PA.

The PA is also prevented from taxing a very wide range of economic activity if any part of the activity could be shown to have originated in Israel. For example, because Israeli transportation is more likely to get through check points, almost all transportation between Israel and WBG are carried out by Israelis. This includes tourist agencies and buses operated by Israelis for tourists visiting areas under PA jurisdiction. The PA cannot tax such transportation activity.

In trade: Israel's imposition of security measures on Palestinian trade constitutes Non Tariff Barriers to Palestinian trade. The export routes running through Israel have been unreliable and costly

Israeli measures include permits, import licenses, security checks and delays, the stipulation of Israeli import agents, clearing/shipping agents and insurance agents. These measures result in high transportation, storage, insurance and clearance costs for Palestinian traders

Direct trading through Jordan and Egypt could decrease the PA's fatal dependence on the tax revenues that Israel agreed to remit in the Paris Protocol. Attempts have been made in that direction. For example:

The technical Economic Cooperation Accord between The Arab Republic of Egypt and the PLO of January 25, 1994 (ease border restrictions; create free-transit areas; make use of Egyptian ports, airports and land borders).

The Trade Agreement between the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and the Palestinian National Authority of Jan 26, 1995 (duty-free import by the other party of 77 products originating in Jordan and 60 products originating in the oPt)

However, at present, imports through Jordan and Egypt do not exceed 2 percent of total imports. Israeli control of oPt borders as well as Jordan's and Egypt's readiness to receive such trade are the two major obstacles.

Whereas foreign aid helps Palestinians survive, it has little or no structural impact on the economy. The daunting task of the PA is to dismantle Israel's policy of asymmetric containment. Anyone out there would like to help take this on?

Rima Merriman is a Palestinian-American living in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank.

Bush's Unspoken Reason to Back Israel's Attack on Lebanon

By Sherwood Ross

Condoleeza Rice shocked the world when she rejected calls for an immediate cease-fire after Israel invaded Lebanon. But her stalling may have been to give Israel the time it needed to wind up its bombing campaign against Hezbollah.

According to an article in The New Yorker, which is setting records for its brilliant coverage of the Middle East, CheneyBush believed a successful Israeli aerial attack on Hezbollah’s underground command-and-control centers could “serve as a prelude to a potential American preemptive attack to destroy Iran’s nuclear installations, some of which are also buried deep underground.” Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh said Cheney reportedly was enthusiastic about the chance to learn from Israel’s attack.

So maybe President Bush let on more than he knew when he said the conflict represented “a moment of opportunity.” Indeed, the Pentagon expedited the shipment of bombs and fuel for the Israeli warplanes. The scheme was “the mirror image of what the United States has been planning for Iran,” a former senior intelligence official told Hersh.

Israel believed by targeting Lebanon’s infrastructure, such as highways, fuel depots, bridges, and the Beirut airport, it could get Lebanon’s Christian and Sunni populations to turn on Hezbollah, Hersh wrote. But the bombing only united the Lebanese against Israel.

Even though it has strongly denied it, the White House was “closely involved” in the planning of Israel’s invasion – planning that started well before Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers last July 12th.

In fact, the U.S. told Israel it would be better to attack sooner than later so that the Pentagon would have more time to learn from Israel’s tactics to aid its own contemplated assault against Iran before President Bush departed in January, 2009, Hersh noted.

As far back as last Spring, “under pressure from the White House to develop a war plan for a decisive strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities,” ranking U.S. Air Force officials met with their Israeli counterparts. What’s more, early last summer, before Hezbollah crossed into Israel to capture the two soldiers, Hersh wrote, several Israeli officials made separate visits to Washington “to get a green light for the bombing operation and to find out how much the United States would bear.”

A consultant to the U.S. government stated, “Israel began with Cheney. It wanted to be sure that it had his support and the support of his office and the Middle East desk of the
National Security Council,” Hersh wrote. The Israelis outlined a major bombing campaign to start after the next Hezbollah provocation.

“The Israelis told us it would be a cheap war with many benefits,” a U.S. government consultant with close ties to Israel told Hersh. “Why oppose it? We’ll be able to hunt down and bomb missiles, tunnels, and bunkers from the air. It would be a demo for Iran.”

“The long-term Administration goal was to help set up a Sunni Arab coalition --- including countries like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt --- that would join the United States and Europe to pressure the ruling Shiite mullahs in Iran,” Hersh wrote. “But the thought behind that plan was that Israel would defeat Hezbollah, not lose to it,” a consultant with close ties to Israel said.

One Middle East expert told Hersh that Hezbollah’s military showing “is a massive setback for those in the White House who want to use force in Iran. And those who argue that the bombing will create internal dissent and revolt in Iran are also set back.”

U.S. Army, Navy, and Marine Corps leaders have been arguing a like aerial assault against Iran will not work. They claim it will lead to sending in ground forces, just as the Israelis were forced to do in Lebanon. Richard Armitage, deputy Secretary of State during Bush’s first term, told Hersh:

“If the most dominant military force in the region --- the Israel Defense Forces --- can’t pacify a country like Lebanon, with a population of four million, you should think carefully about taking that template to Iran, with strategic depth and a population of seventy million.”

“Strategic bombing has been a failed military concept for 90 years, and yet air forces all over the world keep on doing it,” observed John Arquilla, a defense analyst at the Naval Postgraduate School.

“The warfare of today is not mass on mass,” he added. “You have to hunt like a network to defeat a network. Israel focused on bombing against Hezbollah, and, when that did not work, it became more aggressive on the ground. The definition of insanity is continuing to do the same thing and expecting a different result.”

President Bush’s thrashing by the voters November 7th might curb his appetite for bombing Iran. Or it might inspire this vindictive individual “to show them all” by attacking before he leaves office or gets booted out.

To prevent Bush-Cheney from launching yet another aggression is an urgent reason to impeach this Dangerous Duo now. If it defies belief Bush will trigger another war when he is in the deep doo-doo up to his lying lips in Iraq, recall Hitler invaded the Soviet Union while the British bulldog had its teeth clinging to the seat of his pants.

Sherwood Ross is a reporter and columnist. Reach him at

Israel/Lebanon: Urgent need for UN inquiry

Amnesty International

Israel/Lebanon: Urgent need for UN inquiry

"A full, impartial UN-led inquiry that includes provision for reparations to the victims is urgently needed. Anything less would not only be a gross betrayal of the civilian victims, more than one thousand of whom were killed, but also a recipe for further civilian bloodshed with impunity,"
--Malcolm Smart, Director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa programme

Amnesty International has published its latest and concluding report into violations of international humanitarian law committed during this year's Israel-Hizbullah conflict. The report focuses on Israeli attacks in which civilians were killed as well as the impact on civilians of other attacks by Israeli forces. It also examines allegations that Hizbullah used civilians as "human shields".

"More than three months have now gone by since the ceasefire and to Amnesty International's knowledge neither side has even begun investigations into the grave violations committed during last summer's conflict," according to Malcolm Smart.

Based on field research conducted in Lebanon and Israel in July, August and September 2006, the report includes evidence from interviews with victims; meetings with Israeli and Lebanese military and government officials, as well as senior Hizbullah officials; information from non-governmental groups; and official statements and media reports.

Amnesty International is calling on the United Nations to set up an international commission empowered to investigate the evidence of violations of international law by both Hizbullah and Israel, and to make provision for reparations for the victims. The organization is also calling for an arms embargo on both sides, and an immediate moratorium on cluster weapons.

For further information, please see:
Press Release:

Israel/Lebanon: Further evidence of grave violations in Israel-Hizbullah conflict underlines urgent need for UN inquiry (Hebrew / Arabic)Reports:Israel/Lebanon, Out of all proportion – civilians bear the brunt of the war (21 November 2006)Under fire - Hizbullah's attacks on northern Israel (14 September 2006)Deliberate destruction or 'collateral damage'? Israeli attacks against civilian infrastructure (23 August 2006)

Curb unilateral decisions regarding Iraqis


By Raed Jarrar

November 22, 2006

The Iraq Study Group, led by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Rep. Lee Hamilton, is being portrayed as a magic wand that will conjure up a solution for Iraq the same way rabbits jump out of empty hats.

President George W. Bush seems to be giving the group enough space by making a number of surprisingly open-minded statements about changing the course in Iraq. And by nominating Robert Gates, a member of the group, as the next secretary of defense, he has raised its profile.

Many observers suspect that the latest flexibility in the administration's discourse is nothing more than a PR job attempting to draw a less stubborn image. Besides, Bush could always blame future failure on the group's nonpartisan recommendations and plans.

Reminding the Middle East region of a history of other ill-fortuned plans with two names, like the Sykes-Picot agreement in 1916 and San Remo conference in 1920, the Baker-Hamilton group appears to be intent on drawing more borders and partitions that will further fragment the region. It seems that the new group may recommend some kind of "divisions but not partitions" plan to cut Iraq into three regions.

Such partitionist ideas have been floating around lately and repeated by many U.S. lawmakers and analysts. Nevertheless, the majority of Iraqi leaders and analysts believe that any division plans, in addition to keeping foreign military presence in Iraq, are a perfect formula for creating a full-scale, long-lasting war between the different regions and factions fighting over territory and natural resources.

Ironically, the only people who seem to be working to cut Iraq into three states are the U.S, al-Qaida and Iranian politicians. The three enemies seem to have finally found some common ground.

The pro-Iranian parties in the Iraqi government, like SCIRI and Dawa, are working to create a Shi'a state in the south of Iraq. Al-Qaida wants to create a Sunni state in the middle, and the U.S., supported by some allies in the region, wants to cut Iraq apart into small fragments and run away. But the vast majority of Iraqi Sunni and Shi'a groups and leaders are working, without a foreign agenda, to protect their country's unity.

If the United States were really concerned about peace and stability in Iraq, it would stop interfering in Iraq's domestic politics and give Iraqi leaders the space to build their national government and armed forces.

It's shocking that the only times "diplomacy" is mentioned in dealing with Iraq, it's about negotiating with Iran and Syria instead of negotiating with Iraqis.

We all know there's a need to change course in Iraq, but the new course will not be any better if it is based on more unilateral decisions. The U.S. should learn from Israel's failed unilateral approaches to its conflicts with the Lebanese and the Palestinians. The only way out of Iraq will not be through more military and political unilateral solutions; it will be through giving Iraqis the time and space they need to rule their own country by themselves, and to take their own decisions when it comes to keeping their country's unity and sovereignty.

Raed Jarrar is the Iraq project director at Global Exchange and a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus, on the Web at

Copyright © 2006, South Florida Sun-Sentinel,0,3920788.story?coll=sfla-news-opinion

Is Iraq connected to Pierre Gemayel assassination in Lebanon?

Before the assassination yesterday, Elaph revealed the deal made between the US and Syria, according the new site.

Syria’s foreign Minister AlMualem visit to Iraq came after “Iraq Study group” meeting with Syrian officials, for sure Syria is now in much stronger position than ever because events have proved once again the correctness of what Syria had anticipated about the American fall in the Iraqi quagmire.

AlMualem visit to Iraq would not take place if it were not coordinated with the Americans the green light them, which means that Syria is ready after a long reluctance to cooperate with the United States in Iraq and possibly in Palestinian territory.

Which means Syria is ready after a long reluctance to cooperate with the United States in Iraq and possibly in Palestinian territory.

Damascus wants to give in Iraq, in return to take elsewhere, in the Golan, and/or in Lebanon, Syrian leadership looking for the restoration of their political influence in Lebanon.
What I miss from the whole story is; with all this happening, Israel is just sitting and waiting?.
Faisal Jaloul a Lebanese political told Qudspress:Strange coincidence accompanied the assassination of the Lebanese Minister:

First: This crime comes few days after warnings from Samir Gaja that government ministers need to take caution of assassination attempts.

Two: this comes two days before the decision of the International Court on the assassination of Rafik Hariri, this means pouring more oil to ignite the fire.

Three: that it comes at a time when the opposition announced it will come to the streets, and all political solutions are blocked.

Four: that the assassination of Pierre Jamil comes in the wake of Lebanon’s independence celebrations at the time was expected to meet with the three presidents Lahoud and Siniora, Berri, means the possibility of breaking the deadlock

He said that the biggest beneficiary of the assassination is Israel.
I think the chain is completed.