Tuesday, December 12, 2006

War Crimes: How Israeli Soldiers Kill and Civilians Grow Numb

One Iraqi solder says the world doesn't seem to notice killing in small numbers. And those closest to the violence become too scared to empathize for those who die.

By Orit Weksler, AlterNet
Posted on December 12, 2006,

J and I met in middle school. He was a thin guy passionate about music; I was a raging teen who smoked way too much pot. We both went through our parents' divorces at the same time. We celebrated our birthdays in the same week. We were good friends- best friends at times. We graduated from high school and served in the army. I married, had a family and moved to the United States. He stayed, not only in Israel but also in the military, eventually becoming a high-ranking intelligence officer. We managed to keep our friendship for twenty years now.

When I visited Israel this summer we spent some time together, cruising the streets of Tel Aviv where the best lattes in the world are served in sunny, stylish sidewalk cafés. We talked about love, family and yoga. J, who had just returned from a month long retreat in India, shared his experiences and photos. We discussed old friends, music and art. There's nothing like hanging out with a childhood friend.

Then the war started. The way I saw it Israel was showering Lebanon with bombs, spraying it with artillery. My friend J said Hezbollah had too much ammunition. We had to destroy it sooner or later, this is as good a time as any, he said. Fine, I argued, I could see the need to destroy weapons that are aimed at civilian targets inside Israel, but why bomb Beirut? Why bomb civilians? Everyone does that, said J, the trick is to kill them three by three, not in big numbers. That way the world doesn't even notice.

Israel's summer adventures in Lebanon left the region with more grief, vengeance and hate. I flew back to California, inspired by my friend J to take up yoga.

Israel is still killing its neighbors three by three and as my friend pointed out, the world doesn't seem to notice. When 17 civilians, mostly women and children were killed in their sleep in the northern part of Gaza strip, there was some discussion about it in the UN. But Israel is killing civilians every day claiming it to be a war against those who are launching rockets at the southern Israeli towns of Shderot and Ashkelon.

In the winter of our senior year of high schools J and I would climb on the roof of his Jerusalem apartment building. Those were the days of the Gulf War and schools were closed. We would climb up there when the sirens sounded and cheer the scud missiles on their way to Tel Aviv. Our friends from the coast were terrified; a fact we found to be amusing. Only weeks before, they refused to visit us claiming that Jerusalem was too dangerous because of the riots and stabbings. And yes, it was dangerous, and we were afraid to walk to school. But now we knew that the Iraqis wouldn't aim at Jerusalem. Enjoying the unexpected school break, the fear of our friends in Tel Aviv felt surreal. The fact that it was they who were now in greater danger was a comic relief.

It's so easy to lose your capacity for empathy when you are scared.

A preschool teacher was killed in Gaza this past November while riding a bus with her students on their way to school. Well, there might have been someone driving on that same road that was planning to launch a missile, an Israeli would say to herself. She won't be thinking what it would be like for her own daughter to see her preschool teacher falling to the floor of the bus in a pool of blood.

Of course she can't be thinking of that, this Israeli mother who could have been me. That kind of thought is too terrifying. For an Israeli mother this situation is so real that when it happens to others it might actually be relieving. For her and other Israelis, who have been subject to attacks on civilians for as long as they can remember, it might not be possible to see the suffering of others. They're too scared.

But their government, generals and intelligence officers have no right to be scared. They are abusing their people's fear, their inability to empathize. They're killing and wounding Palestinian civilians one by one, two by two, three by three every day in the name of this fear.

Israeli society is worn, torn and terrified. It's led by an irresponsible government that is making them all into criminals of war. Because what Israel is doing in Gaza these past months is a war crime by any standard.

My friend J is very dear to me. I know he thinks his service in the Israeli Intelligence saved lives. Perhaps it did. Still I think nothing can justify civilian killings- neither mass killings nor killings that are done one by one. For those families it really doesn't matter if their children were all killed on the same day or during a course of a whole month.

Those of us who are lucky not to be living in fear, those of us who know this kind of life is possible, are obligated to stand up against war crimes that are committed in the name of fear and in abuse of peoples inability to see their neighbors' pain.

Orit Weksler, a psychotherapist living in the East Bay, emigrated with her family from Israel to the United States in 2003.

© 2006 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online

Shares drop for products made in U.S.

Posted on Thu, Dec. 07, 2006

A nonprofit's study says imports are beating them in almost all engineered and industrial categories.
By Bob Fernandez
Inquirer Staff Writer

U.S.-made products are losing market share to imports across a wide range of core industries in the United States, according to a new study.

Among 114 product categories, U.S.-based producers boosted their domestic market share in only three categories between 1997 and 2005: heavy trucks and chassis, computer storage devices, and computer chips. Imports gained market share in 111 categories.

The survey from the U.S. Business and Industry Council, a nonprofit group in Washington of small and midsize manufacturers and a critic of U.S. trade policy, used Census Bureau data. The survey excluded inexpensive consumer products found in Wal-Marts, Targets and dollar stores. Toys, clothing, sporting goods and other products in those retail stores are typically blamed for the soaring trade deficit.

Instead, the study focused on industrial and engineered products, such as wireless equipment, plumbing fixtures, tire cord, navigation and guidance systems, power boilers, and heat exchangers.

Alan Tonelson, a research fellow at the council and author of the study, said yesterday that the study showed that the United States "is failing to pass the test of global competition." He said the country appeared to no longer be a place where many manufacturers want to invest in advanced factories.

A spokesman for the National Association of Manufacturers, the main trade group for manufacturing companies, said yesterday that there was a "mixed picture" for U.S. manufacturers and dismissed Tonelson's study as too pessimistic. "Manufacturing is still the heart and soul of the U.S. economy," spokesman Hank Cox said. U.S. manufacturers are losing market share, but the entire market is growing, allowing them to expand, Cox said.

"To be sure, U.S. manufacturing companies have a lot of problems," Cox said. "But to have Alan Tonelson and Lou Dobbs running around waving a bloody shirt, saying 'we've been sold down the river' does not help." Dobbs, a CNN commentator, has criticized U.S. trade policy.

The last recession pounded the manufacturing sector, causing it to shed about three million jobs. Profits at U.S. manufacturing companies have rebounded modestly in recent years. But job losses from earlier in the decade appear permanent, as factory employment has remained stuck at 14.3 million to 14.4 million since mid-2003.

"The reality is that until there is a change in the trade situation, there won't be new manufacturing jobs," said Daniel Meckstroth, chief economist with the Manufacturers Alliance, a nonprofit educational and business-research organization. The group is free-trade-oriented.

Meckstroth said the number of U.S. factories declined every year between 1997 and 2005, falling to 334,700 from 374,600. Meckstroth said he expected the factory level to stabilize this year. He said the nation's trade deficit as a share of the economy, now at about 6 percent, is unsustainable.

Many economists have said a weaker dollar might help manufacturing companies. But Tonelson said he believed import penetration rates would keep rising even when the U.S. dollar was weak. "Anyone who thinks that a major U.S. devaluation will be a cure-all for U.S. manufacturing is really kidding themselves," he said.

Tonelson also said it was unlikely that U.S.-made products were capturing a higher share of foreign markets, which would offset losses at home.

"It does not make sense to suppose that U.S. products are doing better in foreign markets than in their home U.S. market," Tonelson said.

Contact staff writer Bob Fernandez at 215-854-5897 or bob.fernandez@phillynews.com.

The 9/11 Truth Movement's Dangers

Dec. 10, 2006

(The Nation) This column was written by Christopher Hayes

According to a July poll conducted by Scripps News Service, one-third of Americans think the government either carried out the 9/11 attacks or intentionally allowed them to happen in order to provide a pretext for war in the Middle East. This is at once alarming and unsurprising. Alarming, because if tens of millions of Americans really believe their government was complicit in the murder of 3,000 of their fellow citizens, they seem remarkably sanguine about this fact. By and large, life continues as before, even though tens of millions of people apparently believe they are being governed by mass murderers. Unsurprising, because the government these Americans suspect of complicity in 9/11 has acquired a justified reputation for deception: weapons of mass destruction, secret prisons, illegal wiretapping. What else are they hiding?

This pattern of deception has not only fed diffuse public cynicism but has provided an opening for alternate theories of 9/11 to flourish. As these theories — propounded by the so-called 9/11 Truth Movement — seep toward the edges of the mainstream, they have raised the specter of the return (if it ever left) of what Richard Hofstadter famously described as "the paranoid style in American politics." But the real danger posed by the Truth Movement isn't paranoia. Rather, the danger is that it will discredit and deform the salutary skepticism Americans increasingly show toward their leaders.

The Truth Movement's recent growth can be largely attributed to the Internet-distributed documentary "Loose Change." A low-budget film produced by two 20-somethings that purports to debunk the official story of 9/11, it's been viewed over the Internet millions of times. Complementing "Loose Change" are the more highbrow offerings of a handful of writers and scholars, many of whom are associated with Scholars for 9/11 Truth. Two of these academics, retired theologian David Ray Griffin and retired Brigham Young University physics professor Steven Jones, have written books and articles that serve as the movement's canon. Videos of their lectures circulate among the burgeoning portions of the Internet devoted to the cause of the "truthers." A variety of groups have chapters across the country and organize conferences that draw hundreds. In the last election cycle, the website www.911truth.org even produced a questionnaire with pointed inquiries for candidates, just like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce or the Sierra Club. The Truth Movement's relationship to the truth may be tenuous, but that it is a movement is no longer in doubt.

Truth activists often maintain they are simply "raising questions," and as such tend to focus with dogged persistence on physical minutiae: the lampposts near the Pentagon that should have been knocked down by Flight 77, the altitude in Pennsylvania at which cellphones on Flight 93 should have stopped working, the temperature at which jet fuel burns and at which steel melts. They then use these perceived inconsistencies to argue that the central events of 9/11 — the plane hitting the Pentagon, the towers collapsing — were not what they appeared to be. So: The eyewitness accounts of those who heard explosions in the World Trade Center, combined with the facts that jet fuel burns at 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit and steel melts at 2,500, shows that the towers were brought down by controlled explosions from inside the buildings, not by the planes crashing into them.

If the official story is wrong, then what did happen? As you might expect, there's quite a bit of dissension on this point. Like any movement, the Truth Movement is beset by internecine fights between different factions: those who subscribe to what are termed LIHOP theories (that the government "let it happen on purpose") and the more radical MIHOP ("made it happen on purpose") contingent. Even within these groups, there are divisions: Some believe the WTC was detonated with explosives after the planes hit and some don't even think there were any planes.

To the extent that there is a unified theory of the nature of the conspiracy, it is based, in part, on the precedent of the Reichstag fire in Germany in the 1930s. The idea is that just as the Nazis staged a fire in the Reichstag in order to frighten the populace and consolidate power, the Bush Administration, military contractors, oil barons and the CIA staged 9/11 so as to provide cause and latitude to pursue its imperial ambitions unfettered by dissent and criticism. But the example of the Reichstag fire itself is instructive. While during and after the war many observers, including officials of the U.S. government, suspected the fire was a Nazi plot, the consensus among historians is that it was, in fact, the product of a lone zealous anarchist. That fact changes little about the Nazi regime, or its use of the fire for its own ends. It's true the Nazis were the chief beneficiaries of the fire, but that doesn't mean they started it, and the same goes for the Bush Administration and 9/11.

The Reichstag example also holds a lesson for those who would dismiss the very notion of a conspiracy as necessarily absurd. It was perfectly reasonable to suspect the Nazis of setting the fire, so long as the evidence suggested that might have been the case. The problem isn't with conspiracy theories as such; the problem is continuing to assert the existence of a conspiracy even after the evidence shows it to be virtually impossible.

In March 2005 Popular Mechanics assembled a team of engineers, physicists, flight experts and the like to critically examine some of the Truth Movement's most common claims. They found them almost entirely without merit. To pick just one example, steel might not melt at 1,500 degrees, the temperature at which jet fuel burns, but it does begin to lose a lot of its strength, enough to cause the support beams to fail.

And yet no amount of debunking seems to work. The Internet empowers people with esoteric interests to spend all kinds of time pursuing their hobbies, and if the Truth Movement was the political equivalent of Lord of the Rings fan fiction or furries, there wouldn't be much reason to pay attention. But the public opinion trend lines are moving in the truthers' direction, even after the official 9/11 Commission report was supposed to settle the matter once and for all.

Of course, the ommission report was something of a whitewash — Bush would only be interviewed in the presence of Dick Cheney, the commission was denied access to other key witnesses, and just this year we learned of a meeting convened by George Tenet the summer before the attacks to warn Condoleezza Rice about al Qaeda's plotting, a meeting that was nowhere mentioned in the report.

So it's hard to blame people for thinking we're not getting the whole story. For six years, the government has prevaricated and the press has largely failed to point out this simple truth. Critics like The New Yorker's Nicholas Lemann might lament the resurgence of the "paranoid style," but the seeds of paranoia have taken root partly because of the complete lack of appropriate skepticism by the establishment press, a complementary impulse to the paranoid style that might be called the "credulous style."

In the credulous style all political actors are acting with good intentions and in good faith. Mistakes are made, but never because of ulterior motives or undue influence from the various locii of corporate power. When people in power advocate strenuously for a position it is because they believe in it. When their advocacy leads to policies that create misery, it is due not to any evil intentions or greed or corruption, but rather simple human error. Ahmad Chalabi summed up this worldview perfectly. Faced with the utter absence of the WMD he and his cohorts had long touted in Iraq, he replied, "We are heroes in error."

For a long time the credulous style has dominated the establishment, but its hold intensified after 9/11. When the government speaks, particularly about the Enemy, it must be presumed to be telling the truth. From the reporting about Iraq's alleged WMD to the current spate of stories about how "dangerous" Iran is, time and again the press has reacted to official pronouncements about threats with a near total absence of skepticism. Each time the government announces the indictment of domestic terrorists allegedly plotting our demise, the press devotes itself to the story with obsessive relish, only to later note, on page A22 or in a casual aside, that the whole thing was bunk.

In August 2003, to cite just one example, the New York dailies breathlessly reported what one U.S. official called an "incredible triumph in the war against terrorism," the arrest of Hemant Lakhani, a supposed terrorist mastermind caught red-handed attempting to acquire a surface-to-air missile. Only later did the government admit that the "plot" consisted of an FBI informant begging Lakhani to find him a missile, while a Russian intelligence officer called up Lakhani and offered to sell him one.

Yet after nearly a dozen such instances, the establishment media continue to earnestly report each new alleged threat or indictment, secure in the belief that their proximity to policy-makers gets it closer to the truth. But proximity can obscure more than clarify. It's hard to imagine that the guy sitting next to you at the White House correspondents' dinner is plotting to, say, send the country into a disastrous and illegal war, or is spying on Americans in blatant defiance of federal statutes. Bob Woodward, the journalist with the most access to the Bush Administration, was just about the last one to realize that the White House is disingenuous and cynical, that it has manipulated the machinery of state for its narrow political ends.

Meanwhile, those who realized this was the White House's MO from the beginning have been labeled conspiracy theorists. During the 2004 campaign Howard Dean made the charge that the White House was manipulating the terror threat level and recycling old intelligence. The Bush campaign responded by dismissing Dean as a "bizarre conspiracy theorist." A year later, after Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge retired, he admitted that Dean's charge was, indeed, the truth. The same accusation of conspiracy-mongering was routinely leveled at anyone who suggested that the war in Iraq was and is motivated by a desire for the United States to control the world's second-largest oil reserves.

For the Administration, "conspiracy" is a tremendously useful term, and can be applied even in the most seemingly bizarre conditions to declare an inquiry or criticism out of bounds. Responding to a question from NBC's Brian Williams as to whether he ever discusses official business with his father, Bush said such a suggestion was a "kind of conspiracy theory at its most rampant." The credulous style can brook no acknowledgment of unarticulated motives to our political actors, or consultations to which the public is not privy.

The public has been presented with two worldviews, one credulous, one paranoid, and both unsatisfactory. The more the former breaks apart, the greater the appeal of the latter. Conspiracy theories that claim to explain 9/11 are wrongheaded and a terrible waste of time, but the skeptical instinct is, on balance, salutary. It is right to suspect that the operations of government, the power elite and the military-industrial complex are often not what they seem; and proper to raise questions when the answers provided have been unconvincing. Given the untruths to which American citizens have been subjected these past six years, is it any surprise that a majority of them think the government's lying about what happened before and on 9/11?

Still, the persistent appeal of paranoid theories reflects a cynicism that the credulous media have failed to address, because they posit a world of good intentions and face-value pronouncements, one in which the suggestion that a government would mislead or abuse its citizens for its own gains or the gains of its benefactors is on its face absurd. The danger is that the more this government's cynicism and deception are laid bare, the more people — on the left in particular and among the public in general — will be drawn down the rabbit hole of delusion of the 9/11 Truth Movement.

To avoid such a fate, the public must come to trust that the gatekeepers of public discourse share their skepticism about the agenda its government is pursuing. The antidote, ultimately, to the Truth Movement is a press that refuses to allow the government to continue to lie.

By Christopher Hayes
Reprinted with permission from The Nation.

None Dare Call It Imperialism

Dec 12, 2006

The other day I had one of those moments of clarity that resulted from recognizing an obvious, but rarely perceived, connection. It wasn't more than two or three days later that thereisnospoon posted an article on the vain hope for an apology from the neocons regarding their collosal blunder in Iraq. That article consisted of a rundown of the far right's response to the ISG's report. They universally dubbed it the work of "surrender monkeys."

<>Who were these reactionaries? The usual suspects, namely Limbaugh, Coulter, Frank Gaffney in the Washington Times, the editors of the New York Post, "Every. Single. Front. Page. Editor" at Red State, and of course, the knuckle draggers over at Free Republic. So what's the obvious connection? Simple. Every conservative who is an unreconstructed supporter of continuing the war in Iraq, is also an unreconstructed cheap labor conservative.

These same people have a near religious belief in the "war on terror" -- and Iraq's position as its "central front." They are also the people -- see for example, Coulter's famous "convert them all the Christianity" remark -- who want to frame the "war on terror" as a "clash of civilizations," which means a war on the religion of Islam. Go look here and here for a couple of representative examples. That site, American Thinker, is most interesting in that it includes representatives specimens of "stay the course," "clash of civilizations," and free market fundamentalism, all in one convenient location. While we're at it, throw in universal contempt for the scientific consensus regarding global warming.

You wouldn't think the war in Iraq, and cheap labor ideology would have much to do with each other. One can be hawkish on national security abroad, and still believe in what's left of New Deal liberalism at home. Indeed, many blue collar American union members have supported examples of aggressive US foreign policy. Jack Murtha would be a prime example of a "strong defense" Democrat in the tradition of Scoop Jackson -- whose change of heart regarding Iraq ought to tell you something. It has told the flying monkeys nothing. Your credentials as a "patriotic American" are defined by agreement with them.

So what is the relationship between the war in Iraq and cheap labor "minimalist government" McKinley-era-without-protectionism ideology?

Consider how Iraq was bungled -- or wasn't "bungled," as the case may be. It turns out that the neoconservative policies regarding the post invasion occupation created the mess. Paul Bremer's first official act in Baghdad in May, 2003, was to fire a half million Iraqi government employees. He then began selling off state owned industries, which led to massive "downsizing" of those industries, and shunned contracting with local Iraqi firms that were, once again, state owned. One would think that putting people to work in the new "democratic" Iraq would be a high priority. Administration ideologues were intent on imposing "market discipline" on Iraqi's. "Market discipline" of course means the starvation induced willingness of wage earners to work cheap. What they got was the starvation induced willingness to join the insurgency.


But wait, there's more. From Year Zero linked above, comes this quote:

[G]reed is good. Not good just for them and their friends but good for humanity, and certainly good for Iraqis. Greed creates profit, which creates growth, which creates jobs and products and services and everything else anyone could possibly need or want. The role of good government, then, is to create the optimal conditions for corporations to pursue their bottomless greed, so that they in turn can meet the needs of the society. The problem is that governments, even neoconservative governments, rarely get the chance to prove their sacred theory right: despite their enormous ideological advances, even George Bush's Republicans are, in their own minds, perennially sabotaged by meddling Democrats, intractable unions, and alarmist environmentalists.

Iraq was going to change all that. In one place on Earth, the theory would finally be put into practice in its most perfect and uncompromised form. A country of 25 million would not be rebuilt as it was before the war; it would be erased, disappeared. In its place would spring forth a gleaming showroom for laissez-faire economics, a utopia such as the world had never seen. Every policy that liberates multinational corporations to pursue their quest for profit would be put into place: a shrunken state, a flexible workforce, open borders, minimal taxes, no tariffs, no ownership restrictions. The people of Iraq would, of course, have to endure some short-term pain: assets, previously owned by the state, would have to be given up to create new opportunities for growth and investment. Jobs would have to be lost and, as foreign products flooded across the border, local businesses and family farms would, unfortunately, be unable to compete. But to the authors of this plan, these would be small prices to pay for the economic boom that would surely explode once the proper conditions were in place, a boom so powerful the country would practically rebuild itself.

Cheap labor conservatives support the Iraq debacle for one simple reason. Their cheap labor ideology is on trial there -- and so far, it has come up wanting. Minimalist government paradise was the object of the exercise -- conveniently implemented on top of what Wolfowitz once referred to as a "sea of oil."

Let's put this in perspective. You see, what they sought to create "in its most perfect and uncompromised form" is in fact what US government policy has been to create everywhere in the third world. It has been our policy for over fifty years. Iran is a good example. The "thinkers," such as they are, over at American Thinker are also all worried about Iran. From that article:

All one has to do is examine the motivations of Iran and Syria in fomenting the violence in Iraq. Iran, quite reasonably, sees Iraq as fertile ground for growing the Shiite Islamic Revolution as both countries are included in the small group of nations with a majority Shi’a population. Securing Iraq as a strong ally would provide the benefits of a secure border with a former enemy, economic benefits such as influence on Iraq’s oil sales, and the realistic chance of dealing the United States a humiliating blow on the world stage. On the other hand, Iran can keep the US busy fighting sectarian violence in Iraq which can also lead to humiliating failure that might evoke a new policy of disengagement in the Middle East (not unlike the US strategy of supporting the Mujihadeen in Afghanistan against the USSR one might note). In other words, Iran is in a win-win position unless there is a radical US strategy shift.

I wonder what this author would think about the prospect of a democratic Iran. In fact, Iran had a democracy until 1953. That's when they started talking about nationalizing their oil fields -- presumably so that their oil wealth could benefit the people of Iran, instead of western oil company investors. Eisenhower sent the CIA to bring that government down in favor of the Shah. We have paid for that little caper ever since.

It didn't stop there. The next year a democratic government in Guatemala was toppled, in favor of a rightwing military goverment. Why? To stop land reform, and protect the assets of a US corporation known as the United Fruit Company. The list of these adventures is long, and includes intervention in places like Indonesia, the Congo, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Nicaraqua [multiple times since the 1930's], El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba, and of course, Vietnam. The pattern is the same everywhere. Rightwing authoritarian governments -- though agreeably authoritarian, according to the late Jeanne Kirkpatrick -- have supported US business interests around the world. What are those interests? Cheap labor and control of raw materials, including oil.

The means of intervention aren't limited to military intervention and paramilitary subversion. IMF "austerity" policies have sought to establish the very same minimalist government paradise that Iraq was supposed to be. The results have been uniform, as exemplified by Argentina's economic collapse a few years ago. Now, after a generation of IMF austerity -- following on the heals of the US sanctioned "dirty war" -- the people of Argentina are shaking off the influence of the IMF and US ideologues dictating their internal economic policies. They are helped by a new Latin American bogeyman in the person of Hugo Chavez. Dubya and his band of neocons would no doubt topple his regime -- in fact, they tried in 2002 -- but they're a little busy in the middle east right now.

Here's the bottom line. Iraq is nothing new. It is just a continuation of US policy toward third world governments. The policy supports "democracy" in those countries, but they don't mean democracy like you mean it. They mean cheap labor paradise. They mean governments willing to open their doors to American corporate plunder. If you aren't willing to let American corporations chain your citizens to the oars, and haul off you nation's mineral wealth, don't think being popularly elected will save you. It didn't save Salvador Allende.

It is the war in Iraq about oil? Of course it is -- and that is no minimal concern. Oil fuels our corporate industrial economy. But so does chromium, rubber, timber, and cheap labor. Corporate capitalism demands these inputs, and further demands access to markets for what it produces. This is the essential nature of the American corporate empire. Only now that empire has overreached itself, and has found itself in crisis. The corporate power structure can't stay in Iraq. Neither can it leave. Make no mistake, leaving will spell disaster for the corporate investor class, as they lose control over middle eastern oil, and as other regions of the third world slip away from their domination -- see, Venezuela. Indeed, this crisis of the American corporate empire may be the end of that empire -- and it may not be pretty.

I will explore the full dimensions of that crisis in the next installment.

--By mail@conceptualguerilla.com


Monday, December 11, 2006

(Ben Heine © Cartoons)
Surprise...Surprise!!!! Desmond Tutu will not be coming to Israel/Palestine after all. The Right of Entry has been denied to the UN Commission he would have headed to investigate the massacre that took place in Beit Hanoun.
Hiding the truth will not prevent the facts from becomming known throughout the world... the world has become too small a place for that to happen. The events have been recorded in photos, on video, as well as through interviews with eye witness survivors.
Olmert can be as coy as he likes in this matter.... it will not work.

Below is a Reuters report that just appeared on the Net regarding the cancellation of the Mission...

Tutu mission to probe Beit Hanoun deaths cancelled

UN mission, set to depart to region Sunday, called off due to Israel's refusal to authorize trip, spokeswoman says. Olmert's office responds: 'Commission was sent on premise that Israel targets civilians, did not take into account rocket fire from Gaza'

Reuters Published: 12.11.06, 11:38

A UN mission to be led by South Africa's Desmond Tutu to probe last month's deaths of 19 civilians in Gaza under Israeli shelling has been called off because Israel did not authorize the trip, a spokeswoman said on Monday.

The Nobel Peace laureate, who was asked to head the team by the Geneva-based Human Rights Council, had other engagements and could not wait any longer for Israeli permission, she added.

"It has been cancelled. We were supposed to go yesterday (Sunday)," Spokeswoman Sonia Bakar said.

The United Nations' top human rights body condemned the Nov. 8 deaths at Beit Hanoun and last month voted to send a mission to investigate the incident.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's spokeswoman Miri Eisin said Israel had investigated and acknowledged its mistakes in the incident, seeing no role for the UN mission.

"The commission was sent on the premise that Israel targets civilians and it did not take into account the daily rocket fire targeting Israeli civilians."

Corporate debt bubble to burst in 2008

giovedì, 7 dicembre 2006 1.55 145

By Elena Moya

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's corporate 'debt bubble' will burst in 2008 as overleveraged companies grapple with debt payments while consumer confidence is likely to fall, experts said at a conference on Wednesday.

Companies acquired by private equity firms typically face their first debt payments three years after the acquisition. The firms purchased during the 2005 private equity boom are, therefore, expected to struggle in 2008 after adding high levels of debt over the past three years, said Keith McGregor, a partner at accountancy firm Ernst & Young.

"Debt markets are definitely in a bubble," McGregor said during a restructuring conference. "Prices are high, firms are overleveraged and it's in the nature of a bubble to burst."

Consumer spending is expected to fall in 2008 by about 10 percent, McGregor said. The annual 100 billion pounds that Britons spend in food and drink may remain stable, but the 150 billion spent for non-discretionary retail items is expected to suffer, he said, adding, "There will be casualties as a result".

Some specific sectors such as retail will suffer as early as next year, said Peter Marshall, a director at restructuring boutique Houlihan Lokey Howard & Zukin.

Some retailers will be particularly vulnerable after hedge funds and private equity houses provide them with more funds, postponing any restructuring needed now, Marshall said.

Medium-sized footwear and apparel high-street chains that offer neither the cheapest nor the most expensive products are also vulnerable, McGregor said.

"It'll be really tough after Christmas," McGregor said. "We're not good at retail in this country. We don't have good salesmen."

Woolworths warned earlier this week its full-year profits could plunge to half of last year's total if sales did not pick up in the next three weeks of trading.

Justice on Katrina time: Hundreds, if not thousands, languish behind bars without their day in court.

By Ann M. Simmons
Times Staff Writer

December 12, 2006

NEW ORLEANS — In October 2005, less than two months after Hurricane Katrina struck, Pedro Parra-Sanchez was arrested for allegedly stabbing a man with a broken bottle during a fight. With the city's prison damaged by flooding, he was taken to a makeshift jail at the Greyhound bus station, then transferred to a correctional facility about 70 miles away, and later to a prison in southwest Louisiana.

That's where Parra-Sanchez sat for more than a year — never seeing a lawyer or setting foot in a courtroom. At the time of the fight, he had been in New Orleans only six days: He'd left his family in Bakersfield, Calif., and come to help with the storm cleanup effort.

By law, the district attorney should have brought Parra-Sanchez to court to formally charge him within 60 days. Instead, "he disappeared," said Pamela R. Metzger, director of Tulane University's Criminal Law Clinic. "The system failed."

Parra-Sanchez's case is not unique in post-Katrina New Orleans. An untold number of people got "lost" in the prison system in the weeks immediately after the storm, Metzger said. Many are still among the 3,000 active criminal court cases. At least 85% of them qualify for representation by a public defender from the Orleans Parish Indigent Defender program.

The city's indigent defense system has long been plagued by negligent attorneys who provide haphazard and deficient representation. But in the months after Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, the program spiraled into chaos: Funding plummeted; 15 lawyers quit the already thin legal staff; documents and evidence were lost or destroyed.

"None of the functioning institutions of government were there," Metzger said. Now, "the public defenders office is dealing with a massive influx of new arrests, and cannot go back to other cases."

Parra-Sanchez at least should have had access to a lawyer from the public defenders office, Metzger said.

She has helped to form the Katrina-Gideon Interview Project, a national coalition of law students and law professors. Gideon refers to Clarence Earl Gideon, whose landmark appeal in the 1960s led to a Supreme Court decision mandating that all criminal defendants be provided with a lawyer even if they were too poor to hire one.

Led by the Tulane law clinic and the Student Hurricane Network, the project aims to free indigent "Katrina prisoners" — people who have served time but remain in jail because they haven't had legal representation.


1,800 cases under review

The students and lawyers are reviewing about 1,800 pre- and post-Katrina cases. They include people who have been imprisoned well beyond any sentence they might receive for such charges as probation violation, failure to pay a fine or prostitution.

Tulane law clinic students helped indigent clients before Katrina, but since the storm they've gone into overdrive. The Katrina-Gideon team's permanent members consist of Metzger, another full-time attorney and three law students. Attorneys from around the country have come to do pro bono stints.

They learned of Parra-Sanchez's case from other inmates: His name didn't appear on the sheriff's list of prisoners in custody because of a booking error.

Katrina-Gideon team member and student lawyer Sara Johnson, 23, says she becomes so outraged over the system's inefficiencies, and the treatment of indigent clients, that "some days, you want to throw something … you want to go into the jail and just leave with them."

Leah Shaver, a woman in her 50s, is another of the team's cases. She has been in jail since July 2005 on prostitution and drug-possession charges. She was arraigned a week after her arrest. Two status hearings were called in her case earlier this year, but no public defender brought her to court until May — nine months after her arrest. She is still incarcerated.

Iben O'Neal was charged with possession of heroin in October 2004 and was out on bail until spring 2005, when the court revoked his bond in error. In June of that year, O'Neal had a pretrial hearing. An August 2005 trial date came and went. His case was scheduled on the court calendar several times, but he was never brought to court. Instead, he spent another 14 months in jail without seeing a lawyer or a judge.

The public defenders office had no file on O'Neal, Metzger said, "not a scrap of paper" since 2004. Her team secured O'Neal's release on Oct. 31, 16 months after his last court appearance.


Volunteered to help

The first time Parra-Sanchez spoke with a lawyer was on Nov. 17, when Metzger interviewed him in jail.

Parra-Sanchez, a legal U.S. resident from Mexico, had initially volunteered with a hurricane-relief effort sponsored by his church, according to court documents. But his limited English skills disqualified him for volunteer work; instead, he signed on as a paid laborer with a tree-removal company. Less than a week later, he was in jail.

Johnson and fellow Tulane law senior Alex Wells wrote the motion for Parra-Sanchez's arraignment.

Before the hearing, Wells, a 29-year-old former political consultant turned attorney, Johnson, Metzger, Parra-Sanchez and the court-appointed interpreter rehearsed and did role-playing in the hallway outside the courtroom of Judge Darryl Derbigny. Then Wells took his place at Metzger's side to question Parra-Sanchez about what he described as "a human tragedy."

Speaking through the courtroom interpreter, Parra-Sanchez said he repeatedly asked prison guards and a prison psychologist when he would be brought to trial. His wife, Alma, tried to call the public defender, but the office phone was not working, Wells said.

When Parra-Sanchez did not show up in court for arraignment in May, Derbigny issued a warrant for his arrest, even though he was already in jail.

The father of four wept as he spoke of the hardships his imprisonment had had on his family.

His wife was forced to move from a rented house to a trailer park. She sold her husband's tools to pay bills and depleted the family's savings. The bank repossessed Parra-Sanchez's truck. And his eldest daughter left home to help alleviate some of the family's financial burden.

"It was very difficult mentally," Parra-Sanchez told the court as he dabbed his eyes with a tissue.

"I asked for help, but nobody would give me" any, he added in later testimony.

Assistant Dist. Atty. Greg Thompson called the Parra-Sanchez case "a snafu" and, during the defendant's arraignment, formally apologized on behalf of the state for his "prolonged incarceration."

A judge freed Parra-Sanchez the Friday before Thanksgiving. His arraignment finally took place on Nov. 28, and a local synagogue donated money for Parra-Sanchez's train journey home to Bakersfield on Nov. 29.

He has since consulted Bakersfield attorney Daniel Rodriguez about possible civil rights litigation against law enforcement agencies in New Orleans.

Derbigny is slated to hear a defense motion to drop Parra-Sanchez's case on the grounds that his constitutional right to a speedy trial has been violated.

"I have no idea whether this man is guilty or innocent," said Metzger. "What I do know for sure is that the state is guilty for depriving this man of his bill of rights for the last 13 months."

Stephen Singer, a professor at Loyola University New Orleans law school and the lead trial counsel for the public defenders office, said his agency welcomes input from the Katrina-Gideon group because "we can use all the help we can get." But he said indigent defense needs more than the spot treatment the Katrina team provides.

"That helps individual clients, but it doesn't help us solve the problem," Singer said. "What we really need to do is fix the public defenders office."



How Mass-Murderers "Take Responsibility"

Dec 12, 2006

It's the same with Right-wing authoritarians everywhere.

They're victims. Even if they've killed thousands and "disappeared" hundreds of thousands.

They're persecuted. Even if their "enemies" hold zero power.

Augusto Pinochet, former dictator of Chile who overthrew democratically elected "Leftist" Dr. Salvador Allende in a Right-wing military coup that was backed by the CIA, shortly before his untimely death on Sunday at the age of 91 (too soon for a war crimes trial) stepped forward to "take responsibility" -- but that doesn't mean he "showed remorse."

And Pinochet's wife read a message that

the former dictator held "no grudge against anyone," despite all the "persecutions and injustices" against him.

Pinochet's method of taking responsibility -- for the disappearances & torture & murder of thousands of Chilean citizens -- is to engage in a campaign of attempting to justify his actions as "defensive."

Despite Pinochet's multi-thousands of dead & tortured victims, it's Pinochet who is "persecuted."

Sound familiar?

Pinochet had spent years dodging extradition & dodging trials & dodging justice, but shortly before his death was on the attack.

We should learn about authoritarians like the Cheneys and the Boltons and the Scalias of this world by observing Pinochet's deathbed behavior.

Pinochet "took responsibility," but it was the liberals' fault. He was "forced" to torture & kill thousands, and disappear hundreds of thousands.

Ain't it a hoot.

Do Right-wing authoritarians around the world have some sort of Universal Playbook?

How many examples of this must we see, before we detect a pattern?

How shall we count the examples of this strategy of "Remorse Via Justification" of the Right-wing purveyors of "America's Moral Values"?

"Today, near the end of my days," said General Pinochet, "I want to say that I harbor no rancor against anybody, that I love my fatherland above all and that I take political responsibility for everything that was done which had no other goal than making Chile greater and avoiding its disintegration," he said in a statement read aloud by his wife as he sat by her side. "I assume full political responsibility for what happened."

"Fatherland" and "Heimat" and other such manipulative language aside, the good General never meant to hurt anybody, you see.

He also sent "a message of support to my comrades in arms, many of whom are imprisoned, suffering persecution and revenge," a clear reference to the scores of military officers facing trials, initiated since the restoration of democratic rule, for human rights abuses.
"It is not fair to demand punishment for those who prevented the continuation and worsening of the worst political and economic crisis that one can remember," he added.

Chile's "worst political and economic crisis" was... a depression? A war? No, it was a democratically-elected physician who nationalized the copper mines, and in retaliation from the wealthy classes was hit with a general strike (which, like the 2003 Venezuelan general strike, didn't work in the oligarchs' favor) in a bid to destabilize Allende's presidency.

Canada nationalized its health care system and has a nationalized oil company called "PetroCanada." Does this mean Canada is Marxist and should be overthrown, its citizens rounded-up and tortured and exterminated?

Even so, Pinochet felt strongly that the mass-murder of thousands was justified -- using the National Stadium in Santiago, Chile as a concentration camp for torture & execution, the secret disappearances of hundreds of thousands more, the mass graves, and innumerable other atrocities.

I hear the echo of Pinochetism in the defenses of Right-wing authoritarians from Oliver North to Dick Cheney to Alberto Gonzales.

I hear the echo of Pinochetism in the defenses of Donald Rumsfeld, John Bolton & Antonin Scalia.

I foresee no surcease of U.S. Pinochetism until its natural conclusion. Because most refuse to acknowledge it's actually happening and prefer to quash discussion with "Tin Foil Hat" charges.

Allende's niece, Isabel Allende, disagrees, and warns that the U.S. could be headed for a Chile-style showdown if the U.S. doesn't heed Chile's lessons.

But we all can see the examples of Pinochetism here at home.

The psychology is plain and clear and abundant.

Perhaps you have some examples to add.

--By by judasdisney

The Right and Torture

12 Dec 2006 08:59 am

I was once befuddled by the American right's toleration of torture as an instrument of statecraft and the seeming indifference of so many 'conservatives' to Bush's obsession with ends over means. And then I read National Review's symposium on the death of Pinochet. It really speaks for itself.

Permalink :: E-Mail This :: Trackback (0)

Ex-aides allege abuse of power


Rep. Gary Miller of Diamond Bar exercised political muscle for personal gain, they say.
By William Heisel
Times Staff Writer

December 12, 2006

With community activists packed into the Monrovia Community Center one winter night in 2000, U.S. Rep. Gary Miller (R-Diamond Bar) implored City Council members to purchase 165 acres he owned in the foothills and turn the land into a wilderness preserve.

Earlier that day, according to interviews with former Miller staff members and official correspondence reviewed by The Times, Miller asked one staffer to find a way to place one of the councilmen — a pawnshop owner with no parks experience — on the prestigious National Park System Advisory Board.

The aide said he was told to "make it a priority."

Miller then continued to push for the councilman's appointment even after staff members warned him that trying to secure the park board seat for the councilman could appear to be a bribe, internal memos show.

The move was one of many that Miller has made over the years in which he brought his congressional muscle to bear on personal business matters, according to the former staff members and the correspondence from Miller's congressional office — handwritten notes, letters on Miller's congressional letterhead and e-mails.

All four former staff members requested anonymity to protect their current jobs in politics.

"There was never a clear line in the office between what was congressional business and what was just business," one former aide said. "The expectation was that you would do both."

A real estate developer and one of the wealthiest members of Congress, Miller, 58, routinely asked his staff to handle personal errands, such as helping his children with schoolwork, searching for rock concert tickets and sending flowers to family members and friends, according to documents reviewed by The Times.

Federal law prohibits members of Congress from using their staff for anything other than official work.

"We taxpayers trust that our members of Congress will not turn their staff into butlers. That's not what they're paid for," said Gary Ruskin, director of the Congressional Accountability Project, a nonpartisan group. "It's a misuse of funds and an abuse of power."

Miller has also collected nearly $25,000 a year in rent from his campaign committee in each of the last three elections by using the offices of his real estate development firm in Diamond Bar as his campaign office.

Under federal election law such rents are considered self-enrichment unless a member can demonstrate that the private offices were used for legitimate campaign purposes.

Miller said through spokesman Scott Toussaint that the rent payments complied with federal law. He declined further comment.

Robert Hammond, the Monrovia councilman for whom Miller had sought the park board appointment, said in an interview that he raised the idea with Miller. Now Monrovia's mayor, Hammond said he saw no conflict, especially because the appointment never materialized.

Hammond ultimately voted in favor of purchasing Miller's land for about $12 million. The deal was approved unanimously.

Miller represents the 42nd Congressional District, which includes parts of Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Orange counties. He was reelected this fall without opposition to his fifth term in a district that is about 50% Republican and 28% Democratic, one of the most Republican-leaning districts in the state.

He has come under scrutiny in his district and in Washington for a series of recent votes and other maneuvers that public watchdogs said were ethically and legally questionable.

In August 2005, Miller helped allocate federal funds for street improvements near a development he co-owned in Diamond Bar. In the same bill, he helped insert a provision to close an airport in Rialto used by emergency medical personnel and private pilots, opening up the land to development by one of his largest campaign contributors, Lewis Operating Corp.

In August of this year, The Times reported that Miller had worked with Lewis Operating Corp. to shelter an estimated $10 million in real estate profits from capital gains taxes. In response, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a nonpartisan watchdog group that earlier helped launch a federal probe of Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Redlands), filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service asking for an investigation of Miller.


'Make Monrovia a priority'

Miller has said in previous interviews that his use of tax code provisions to avoid capital gains taxes — including those owed on the 165 acres he sold in Monrovia — was appropriate. The Monrovia sale was closely monitored and managed by Miller's congressional staff, according to e-mails, letters and interviews with former staff members.

"Everyone in the office knew that even though Monrovia was not in his district, you had to make Monrovia a priority," a former aide said.

Staff members said they were asked to write letters and prepare documentation for Miller's meetings with city staffers.

In one letter to Hammond, the Monrovia city councilman, the congressman took pains to point out that he was acting as a private citizen. The letter was written by an aide, one former staffer said, and signed by Miller.

That letter was dated Feb. 29, 2000. That same day, Miller made his impassioned plea before the council for the city to buy his land. After a decade of meetings and public hearings, he had all but given up on the idea of developing the property. At the same time, former staff members said, Miller ordered an aide to find a way to get Hammond on the National Park System board. Miller persisted even after members of his staff cited Hammond's lack of qualifications, the former staff members said.

The 12-member National Park System Advisory Board makes policy recommendations to the director of the National Park Service and the secretary of the Interior. Hammond said he broached the idea of a seat on the board with Miller about the time of the Feb. 29 hearing.

"He wanted to tell me how long this had been going on," Hammond said, referring to Miller's efforts to either develop his land or sell it to the city.

Hammond said he asked Miller how he could secure a position on the federal board because he thought that Monrovia would benefit by having a local member in that post.

Later, a Miller aide found that the board was composed mostly of academics, preservation experts and attorneys.

"I know that Gary only wants to help Mr. Hammond, but we have the potential to look foolish if we push to nominate a guy who may be totally unqualified," one staff member wrote in an e-mail reviewed by The Times.

Staff members also raised ethical concerns.

"I told GM that given his significant personal property interests pending before the Monrovia City Council, the nomination could obviously have a questionable appearance," an aide wrote to Miller's chief of staff.

Hammond, however, said he did not see a problem. "Hearing you say it, it doesn't sound so good," Hammond said. "It didn't cross my mind that it was a conflict." Ultimately, the effort to nominate Hammond stalled because there were no openings at the time and because Hammond, after learning about the qualifications of its members, lost interest.


Campaign fundraising

In 2000, Miller's reelection campaign raised and spent half a million dollars to defeat a Democrat with little party support and only $74,000 in campaign contributions. Miller won with 59% of the vote. A similar pattern emerged in each of his next three elections: He raised large sums of money to fend off token opposition and won by landslides.

Over the years Miller has been the biggest recipient of the campaign money that he raised from people in his district and big donors such as the National Assn. of Homebuilders, according to campaign finance records.

Miller's corporate office, located in an office park in Diamond Bar, doubles as his campaign office. But this November, the presence of campaign activity was impossible to discern from the front office. There were no posters, pictures or bumper stickers for constituents. There were no yard signs out front, no campaign volunteers calling people to get out the vote. On election day, Miller was out of the office, a secretary said.

Yet Miller has used campaign money to pay himself for the use of the building and its equipment — nearly $25,000 a year in each of the last three elections.

Federal law allows members to rent office space to themselves for campaigning under three conditions: that the rent is paid with campaign donations; that the amount is typical for the area; and that the office is indeed used for a campaign.

This fall, of the eight members of Congress from California who ran with little or no opposition, only two had campaign offices. The other, Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles), paid about $8,000 to rent space in L.A.

Unlike other members of Congress who have used the relative safety of their seats to raise large sums for colleagues and moved quickly into House leadership positions, Miller gave just $28,000 to other campaigns, including $12,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee.

"Gary wants to leave early to get back home on the weekends, and he doesn't want to come back early on Mondays for votes, because he's focused on his business, and he'd rather be at home," one former aide said.

According to the Washington Post's database of congressional votes, Miller missed 65 votes during this session, putting him in the top quarter for the most votes missed in the House.


Blending home, work lives

His home life often blends into his official work, according to e-mails and receipts. Once, staffers were told to overnight him a copy of "House Mouse, Senate Mouse," a children's book about the legislative process, because he had given his copy to his grandson.

They were asked, on occasion, to help his son register for college classes. They were asked to check his stock prices and put together a morning report for him. And they twice bought flowers for his wife for Valentine's Day. Miller had flowers sent to so many of his friends, relatives and constituents that his chief of staff sent out this message in August of 2001, saying, "We should be careful with the flower orders! Therefore, no one should mention any death of any resident in the district to Gary — let Gary bring it to our attention."

Some of the most urgent e-mails reviewed by The Times focus on tickets to concerts and sporting events. Miller has, on several occasions, interrupted his staff's congressional work to send them hunting for concert tickets.

A die-hard Rolling Stones fan, Miller learned in May 2002 that the band was coming to Edison Field in Anaheim that October.

"Per his instructions, we are checking with city officials, Edison contacts, etc., to see what we can come up with," an e-mail written by an aide to Miller's chief of staff states.

A few days later, the staff was told by Miller's chief of staff to look for tickets to a Staples Center concert as well, according to e-mails. By May 29, a Miller staffer had prepared a memo outlining four options for getting tickets. The most promising was for the Edison Field show.

"I spoke to Greg Smith, who handles tickets," the aide wrote to Miller. "He said for you not to worry, they would try and take care of you."

Miller even did a little legwork himself. Using congressional letterhead, he sent a fax to the head of Ticketmaster's public affairs office. The message was short: "I am requesting four (4) very good seats for the Rolling Stones concert on Thursday, Oct. 31, 2002 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Please contact me as soon as possible."



The Gravitational Physics of a Settlement in Iraq

Dec 12, 2006

by Robert Freeman

Icarus's father knew it; scientists dropping iron balls from leaning towers knew it; even markets in the heady throes of bubbles begrudgingly know it: gravity eventually wins.

Gravity is the reason that the Iraq Study Group's recommendations will no more produce peace in Iraq than have Bush's already catastrophically failed policies. Eventually, gravity will reassert itself. The political configuration of Iraq and of the whole Middle East will return to earth. When that happens, the new lay of the land will bear little resemblance to what it is today.

Instead, the warring sectarian factions will override the arbitrary national boundaries laid down at the time of the nation's colonialist founding and will align with their historic religious roots in neighboring countries, especially Iran. Neither Bush's delusion of democracy nor James Baker's desperate attempt at saving the situation for the oil companies will come to pass.

Iraq is a political fiction. It was created in the aftermath of World War I so the British could control its oil. The Ottoman Empire had mistakenly sided with the Germans during the War and suffered dismemberment as a result. Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Palestine sprung into fullblown existence as wards of the victors: Britain and France.

Winston Churchill drew up Iraq's boundaries according to Alexander the Great's redoubtable formula: divide and conquer. Churchill enclosed rival Shi'ites, Sunnis, and Kurds in the new country, placing three scorpions in the same bottle, the better to fight amongst themselves than against their new masters.

Then, the British imported an alien Sunni prince from Arabia to act as king and overlord of the much larger Shi'ite majority. When the Shi'ites revolted in 1920, the British reinforced their Sunni puppet with the world's first aerial bombing of civilians, killing some 10,000 Iraqis. It was a bracing display of the distasteful but dutiful discharge of the white man's burden: pacifying the restive natives.

But the uppity Shi'ites would never learn their place. In 1953, in neighboring Iran, the world's leading Shi'ite nation, the CIA ousted the democratically elected Prime Minister, Muhammad Mossadegh. It replaced him with a western-friendly henchman, Shah Reza Pahlavi, who reliably pumped out the oil according to British and U.S. dictates. That same year, the U.S. shipped weapons to Iraq's Sunni government to help suppress a strike by Shi'ite oil workers.

In 1958, Iraqi colonel Abdul Kareem Qasim overthrew the British-imposed monarchy in an anti-imperialist uprising intended to return the country to the governance of Iraqis. But Qasim's rule was short-lived. In 1963 he himself was ousted in yet another U.S.-engineered coup that replaced him with the secular Ba'athist party whose chief operative was Saddam Hussein.

In 1979, Iran overthrew the puppet the U.S. had installed in the 1953 coup, the Shah. The Islamic Revolution, headed by Ayatollah Khomeini, began the radicalization of Shi'ite politics in the Persian Gulf. To punish Iran, the U.S. backed Iraq in the bloody Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, providing Saddam with weapons of mass destruction that he used to gas Iranian troops.

Over a million people were killed in that war, almost all of them Shi'ites. It was fewer than the 3 million lost in Vietnam but more than the 600,000 killed so far in the most recent Iraq war. Saddam, sitting atop 10% of the world's known oil supply, remained the U.S.'s faithful ally until his ill-considered invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Good puppets must know to stay on their strings.

What does this brief history portend for the eventual settlement of Iraq and the Middle East?

Iraq's majority Shi'ite population will eventually be absorbed, either in fact or in effect, into Iran, the world's largest Shi'ite nation. Iran, for obvious reasons, is implacably anti-American. But the bitter joke says it all: "The U.S war with Iraq is over. Iran won."

Similarly, Iraq's 20% Sunni minority will move into its natural ambit, Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia. But Saudi Arabia, with 25% of the world's known oil reserves, is perilously unstable, a ruthlessly authoritarian medieval dictatorship that has only survived with U.S. backing since 1945. It is fracturing from religious tensions between fundamentalist Sunnis and secular modernists and can only be held together as a police state practicing ever-increasing repression.

These are the essential gravitational physics of religion and nationality in the region. The trouble this scenario leaves for the U.S. is that there will be no "there" there as far as its desire to maintain control of Persian Gulf oil. There will be no government that will sponsor its continuing occupation of the region.

This is what the Baker Commission had really hoped to do: maintain enough military presence for long enough so that a Baghdad government - any government - could turn its oil leases over to US. companies. Bush's efforts were clearly not leading to any such solution. The commission's recommendation to include Iran and Syria in the settlement is an attempt to co-opt their support for such a solution, to buy them in by promising a well- mannered neighbor, a well-behaved occupation.

The additional inducement to the Arab states is that Baker is willing to have the U.S. throw over Israel, to compel it to settle its 60 year war with the Palestinians. This is the reason the Commission's report is being savaged by Israel, U.S. neocons in Israel's pay, the substantial U.S.-based Israeli lobby, and its legions of obeisant Congressmen, media pundits, editors, and think-tank talking heads.

But Iraq's neighbors will offer little succor to the bleeding superpower. More than anything else, they want an end to the near century-long western colonial occupation of the region. They have effectively defeated the invaders on the battlefield in the same way the Viet Cong had. They needn't cooperate with them in securing their own enduring subjugation.

Ironically, this is exactly the same process that played out in the U.S. loss in Vietnam. Like Iraq, South Vietnam was a political fiction, created by the U.S. in 1956 to forestall the assumption to power of communist nationalists who had defeated the colonialist French occupiers. Once the U.S. army left Vietnam, in 1973, "South" Vietnam quickly ceased to exist and fell back to its natural gravitational state: Vietnam.

As the U.S. implodes in Iraq, its position in the entire Middle East becomes at risk. In addition to Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt are also dictatorships propped up by decades of U.S. military and financial support. The Iraq War has radicalized their populations against the U.S., forcing both to impose dramatic recisions of civil liberties in order to quell the uprisings and save their leaders' skins.

Lebanon, another contrivance of the settlement of World War I, is in full scale meltdown. Its war with Israel this past summer was a contest between Syria and Iran on the one hand and the U.S. on the other, with Hezzbolah and Israel acting as proxies. Israel's (and, indirectly, America's) nose was bloodied, exposing, as Iraq has done, the impotence of the western nations' traditional "shock and awe" warfare against asymmetrical resistance by committed nationalist insurgents.

Neither Bush's delusional design for democracy in Iraq, nor Baker's fantasized rapprochement in the region is going to come to pass. Bush's 2003 invasion kicked out from beneath Iraq the strongman support that had allowed it to defy gravity for eight decades. But that support is gone and cannot be gotten back.

Long suppressed religious and ethnic rivalries, together with equally long suppressed nationalist yearnings, all now unleashed, will wreak havoc for years, perhaps decades to come. When things finally settle back to earth, the U.S. will have no place in the region.

This unraveling of the Middle East is simply the final playing out of the same anti-colonialist dynamic that shook the world in the aftermath of World War II. Between 1945 and 1965, more than 100 nations threw off the mantle of western colonial domination in wars of national liberation. Of all the major regions of the world, only the Middle East remained subjugated. It is now peeling itself out of what, for the last 60 years, has been the American orbit.

America's own empire will be irreparably harmed. It has long been based on control of the world's oil and, through oil, on the dollar as the world's reserve currency. Both of those props are rapidly failing and will soon be gone. Neither Bush's nor Baker's vision can halt the decline. Unfortunately, gravity is unkind to the impetuous. Just ask Icarus.

Robert Freeman writes about economics, history, and education. Email to robertfreeman10@yahoo.com

Chile: The Death of a Murderer

Neither Forgiveness Nor Oblivion
by Tito Tricot
December 11, 2006

Neither forgiveness nor oblivion, for that distant Tuesday of a late Autumn lives in the memory, the skin and gaze of a people that did not deserve so much sorrow. None can and should not forget the desperate chanting of the disappeared, reclined, who knows, against the shadow of a peach tree, gasping for a sunbeam. And the military know where they are, they know their names, they heard their last sighs. They know where they are, the Generals know, the Admirals know. Pinochet knows, therefore we did not feel sorry for his agony, we did not commiserate with his plight, we do not grieve his death.

What really does hurt us is the fact that the dictator did not spend a single minute in prison and that all sorts of subterfuges were used to evade justice. Tenuous and lenient justice at that, fading away in numerous habeas corpus, appeals and the coward cries of a man who did not hesitate to kill and torture, but whenever he had to face the lukewarm Chilean justice, claimed impunity and insanity so that he could seek refuge in the tranquility of his home.

But he knows, he always knew everything that went on in this country, because he gave precise orders to detain, torture and murder. The dictator dictated. That's why businessmen worshiped him, because they rejoiced themselves buying Chile at a cheap price. That's why he was loved by large state owners who recovered their land handed over to poor peasants through the agrarian reform. That's why he was venerated by bankers that sold out the country with the dictatorship's support. That's why the Right greeted him unconditionally in his days of obscure glory. But when the glory was over, when slowly but surely the truth about human rights violations became known, everyone turned their back on him. Thus the dictator was alone in the abyss of his senility. However, he continued lying and betraying, as he always did, because he was not as senile after all, because he was not as lonely after all; because every time he faced charges or some alleged health problem arose, his supporters re-appeared again praising his work.

Then they talked about economic growth, the country's modernization or its insertion in the world market, of Free Trade Agreements and macroeconomic indicators. And then the disappeared disappeared again, as did the assassinated, the tortured, and the prisoners. They disappeared between the interstices of an omnipresent market that pierces the soul of a wounded country. Like it was wounded on September 11th 1973 and every day and every night after by the dictatorship of a dictator that knew, that always knew.

But Pinochet never had the courage to admit his personal and political responsibility for the State terrorism he imposed on Chile for nearly two decades. But no matter how many times he denied it or how many deaths he dies, our people know, the world knows of his cowardice and the cowardice of all those that protected him. He killed us a thousand times, but he could not kill our memory or quell our spirit. He died and we are alive; he lost and we triumphed.

Tito Tricot was a political prisoner during the Pinochet dictatorship and is an independent journalist and a sociologist. He directs academic programs in Chile for the School for International Training, the University Academy of Christian Humanism and the University of Art and Social Sciences.

Religious equality or the hijacking of Christianity? Jews setting the agenda in the US

Monday, December 11, 2006

Several weeks ago NPR ran a three-part series on European attitudes towards Islam. Overall the rather biased reporting (courtesy of Sylvia Poggioli) indicated that European countries felt that Muslim immigrants to their countries did not want to give up their native customs and refused to integrate as easily as they were expect to. Yet the accusations towards Muslim immigrants to Europe and the US is negligible compared to what vocal Jews in America have dictated in this nation.

In what country of Europe have Muslims turned "Merry Christmas" into "happy holidays"? In which country has the cresent and star turned up next to the Cross? In what country is every single calendar published equalizing Muslim holy days alongside the Christian and national holidays? In which country is a rabbi arrested for praying in an airport or airplane? In what country can an imam threaten to sue the airport because the Christmas trees insult his religion AND THE AIRPORT COMPLIES by taking down all the Christmas decorations?!

In which country do 3% of the population set the agenda for 97% of the remaining majority? Please don't blame Muslims for wanting to practice their religion and culture when you allow vocal Jewish fascists for forcing their icons and religion on the rest of us. Lets be quite clear that "Christ" is being taken out of Christmas is not because of "Islamofascists" or Nasrallah or Iran. The de-Christianization and the increasing Judaicization of America is because of one subsect group alone--the vocal Jews with Judaism and arrogance as dual chips on their shoulders.

Saudi Ambassador Abruptly Resigns, Leaves Washington

By Robin Wright

Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 12, 2006; A23

Prince Turki al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States, flew out of Washington yesterday after informing Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and his staff that he would be leaving the post after only 15 months on the job, according to U.S. officials and foreign envoys. There has been no formal announcement from the kingdom.

The abrupt departure is particularly striking because his predecessor, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, spent 22 years on the job. The Saudi ambassador is one of the most influential diplomatic positions in Washington and is arguably the most important overseas post for the oil-rich desert kingdom.

Turki, a long-serving former intelligence chief, told his staff yesterday afternoon that he wanted to spend more time with his family, according to Arab diplomats. Colleagues said they were shocked at the decision.

The exit -- without the fanfare, parties and tributes that normally accompany a leading envoy's departure, much less a public statement -- comes as his brother, Prince Saud al-Faisal, the highly influential Saudi foreign minister, is ailing.

Saud, who was appointed in 1975, has held the position of foreign minister longer than any of his counterparts anywhere in the world -- dating back to Henry Kissinger's tenure as secretary of state.

Saudi officials have not commented on Saud's condition, but he has suffered from tremors for years. Last year, he slipped in the shower and fractured a shoulder. After attending the opening of the U.N. General Assembly in September, he flew to Los Angeles for surgery and quietly remained in the United States until shortly before Thanksgiving, according to an Arab official.

As Saud's health has declined, Turki has increasingly been rumored as a possible replacement for his older brother. He would symbolize continuity in Saudi foreign policy at a moment of tension over Iraq between Riyadh and Washington, two long-standing allies in forging common political and economic policy in the Middle East. King Abdullah summoned Vice President Cheney after Thanksgiving for talks on Iraq and other Middle East flashpoints.

Turki has been the subject of both high praise and controversy. In the 1980s, while he was intelligence chief, he reportedly met al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden several times during the U.S.- and Saudi-backed support of mujaheddin fighting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. He subsequently denounced bin Laden.

Turki later served as ambassador to Britain. "He was regarded as being one of the most effective ambassadors from any country and was held in very high regard," a British diplomat said yesterday.

Saudi Arabia, the guardian of Islam's holiest sites and a predominantly Sunni country, has been deeply concerned about the change in the balance of power in Iraq, with which it shares a 500-mile border. Riyadh has been alarmed by the rise of the Shiite majority in Iraq and the marginalization of the traditional Sunni elite. Young Saudi men have joined the Sunni insurgency as foreign fighters, while there have been persistent reports that Saudi citizens have provided financial aid to the Sunni insurgency.

The kingdom announced earlier this year that it will build an elaborate barrier along the remote desert frontier, with ultraviolet night-vision cameras, underground sensor cables and command posts.

Turki, a 1968 graduate of Georgetown University, will return briefly in January after the Hajj pilgrimage, the busiest time of the year in the kingdom, to say formal goodbyes, according to an Arab official.

Feds Ease Tactics on Corporate Scandals

Tuesday December 12, 2006 4:01 PM


Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Justice Department on Tuesday eased its tough legal tactics against scandal-tainted corporations, requiring prosecutors to get approval from Washington before seeking confidential information between firms and their lawyers.

Moreover, the government cannot penalize corporations that pay attorney fees for their employees - which some prosecutors have viewed as a sign of not cooperating with their investigation.

In a New York speech to the Lawyers for Civil Justice, Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty vowed to ``safeguard every tool prosecutors need to fight fraud and continue our aggressive efforts in rooting out corruption in our financial markets to protect the interests of the investing public.''

Still, McNulty said, the Justice Department ``supports the sanctity of attorney-client privilege. We encourage full and frank communication between corporate employees and their lawyers.''

The shift in the Enron-era policy comes after complaints - led by a coalition of conservative and liberal legal experts alike - that the Justice Department was unfairly pressuring companies and employees to cooperate in investigations.

German gamers face jail for acts of virtual violence

Bobbie Johnson, technology correspondent
Tuesday December 12, 2006
The Guardian

Players and creators of video games could face imprisonment for acts of virtual violence under draft legislation being drawn up by two of Germany's state governments.

Politicians in Bavaria and Lower Saxony have proposed a new offence that will punish "cruel violence on humans or human-looking characters" inside games. Early drafts suggest that infringers should face fines or up to 12 months' jail for promoting or enacting in-game violence.

The scheme comes in response to a shooting last month in the town of Emsdetten on the Dutch border, where Sebastian Bosse, an 18-year-old games fan, stormed into his former school and wounded 37 people before killing himself.

The incident caused outrage and the bill's sponsor, the Bavarian interior minister Günther Beckstein, claimed there was a direct connection between Bosse's actions and his love of the game Counter Strike. "It is absolutely beyond any doubt that such killer games desensitise unstable characters and can have a stimulating effect," he said.

Germany already has drastic censorship laws for games, and industry officials are preparing organised protests against the proposals. Research has yet to show a link between violence in video games and violent acts in the real world.

American economy under threat from notes on a scandal

The Times December 09, 2006

Tom Bawden in New York

In March it was merely a scandal, laid bare by the news that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) was investigatng suspected cases of stock-option back-dating at a dozen companies in the United States. Now that scandal, itself getting bigger and deeper almost by the day, is threatening to do real damage to the American economy.

Since March, the number of American companies that have disclosed internal or government probes into their stock- option practices has soared to more than 160. Affiliated Computer Services (ACS) was the first company to be named in the SEC’s investigation, but, after it was named, it quickly became apparent that the watchdog suspected that scores of other companies could be guilty of the practice.

At the time, the investment community drew comfort from the fact that suspected cases were almost exclusively confined to fledgeling Silicon Valley companies during the dotcom boom of the late 1990s. These companies, it was argued, did not have the cashflows to pay skilled executives, so instead had lured them with mouthwatering stock-option packages, made sweeter by manipulating the “grant” date to a time when they would be more beneficial to the holders.

The admission in October by Apple Computer, by no means a fledgeling company, that it, too, had manipulated stock options blew a large hole in that notion.

At around the same time, chief executives at some of the companies under investigation began to fall like dominoes. To date, at least 60 senior departures have been clocked up. Mark King, chief executive of ACS, was among the victims, resigning with his finance director at the end of last month. An internal investigation concluded that they had been closely involved in manipulating stock options.

Last week came the biggest scalp so far when William McGuire, the chairman and chief executive of UnitedHealth Group, the health insurer, was sacked after 15 years. UnitedHealth’s board voted unanimously to dismiss him after deciding that his explanations for a pattern of unusually well-timed stock- options grants did not add up. Dr McGuire and Stephen Hemsley, who succeeded him this month, agreed to forfeit a combined $390 million (£200 million) in stock-option compensation, by far the biggest payback of the scandal.

And still there is more. This week Home Depot, America’s second-biggest retailer and its largest DIY chain, admitted to “routinely” changing the dates of its stock-option grants to benefit employees from 1981, the year in which it went public, to November 2000, the month before Robert Nardelli took over as chief executive.

Larry Brown, Professor of Accountancy at Georgia State University, said: “The Home Depot case tells us that the back-dating of stock options is not just a high-tech phenomenon and not just something that happened in the late 1990s.

“It has been going on at much larger firms and for much longer than we thought. It is bound to put some foreign investors off the US as they draw the conclusion that the US is more corrupt than they previously thought.”

The practice of back-dating has accounting implications for companies because “in-the- money” stock options must be treated as compensation and accounted for as an expense, since they are, essentially, income. As a result, scores of companies are likely to have to restate several years of earnings. Normally stock options are not accounted for in this way, because when they are granted nobody knows whether the share price will rise or fall so their value cannot be calculated.

It is not clear, either, if the practice is a thing of the past. While the manipulation of stock options is more difficult since a law was introduced in 2002 requiring companies to inform the SEC within two days of granting an employee share options, Professor Brown says that it will be difficult to police effectively. What remains of greatest concern, however, is just how pervasive the practice has been in the recent past and how much of a public relations blow this will be for the American economy.

How the mighty have fallen

March 18 SEC investigation into suspicious practices at 12 companies is revealed

July 26 New rules to combat stock-option fraud

August Kobi Alexander, former chief executive of Comverse Technology, flees to Namibia rather than face charges relating to alleged stock-option fraud

October 4 Apple Computer admits changing grant date of stock options made on 15 days between 1997 and 2002

September 22 Cablevision admits it awarded lucrative options to the late Marc Lustgarten and made it look like he was alive

November 8 William McGuire and Stephen Hemsley of UnitedHealth agree to forfeit about $390m in stock-option compensation

November 26 Mark King, ACS's chief executive, resigns

December 7 Home Depot admits manipulating stock options from 1981 to 2000