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22 July 2009
20 July 2009
15 July 2009
11 July 2009
June 2009 was marked by a number of significant events, including two elections in the Middle East: in Lebanon, then Iran. The events are significant, and the reactions to them, highly instructive.
The election in Lebanon was greeted with euphoria. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman gushed that he is "a sucker for free and fair elections," so "it warms my heart to watch" what happened in Lebanon in an election that "was indeed free and fair — not like the pretend election you are about to see in Iran, where only candidates approved by the Supreme Leader can run. No, in Lebanon it was the real deal, and the results were fascinating: President Barack Obama defeated President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran." Crucially, "a solid majority of all Lebanese -- Muslims, Christians and Druse -- voted for the March 14 coalition led by Saad Hariri," the US-backed candidate and son of the murdered ex-Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, so that "to the extent that anyone came out of this election with the moral authority to lead the next government, it was the coalition that wants Lebanon to be run by and for the Lebanese -- not for Iran, not for Syria and not for fighting Israel." We must give credit where it is due for this triumph of free elections (and of Washington): "Without George Bush standing up to the Syrians in 2005 -- and forcing them to get out of Lebanon after the Hariri killing -- this free election would not have happened. Mr. Bush helped create the space. Power matters. Mr. Obama helped stir the hope. Words also matter."
Two days later Friedman's views were echoed by Eliott Abrams, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign relations, formerly a high official of the Reagan and Bush I administrations. Under the heading "Lebanon's Triumph, Iran's Travesty," Abrams compared these "twin tests of [US] efforts to spread democracy to the Muslim world." The lesson is clear: "What the United States should be promoting is not elections, but free elections, and the voting in Lebanon passed any realistic test....the majority of Lebanese have rejected Hezbollah's claim that it is not a terrorist group but a `national resistance'...The Lebanese had a chance to vote against Hezbollah, and took the opportunity."
Reactions were similar throughout the mainstream. There are, however, a few flies in the ointment.
The most prominent of them, apparently unreported in the US, is the actual vote. The Hezbollah-based March 8 coalition won handily, by approximately the same figure as Obama vs. McCain in November 2008, about 54% of the popular vote, according to Ministry of Interior figures. Hence by the Friedman-Abrams argument, we should be lamenting Ahmadinejad's defeat of President Obama, and the "moral authority" won by Hezbollah, as "the majority of Lebanese...took the opportunity" to reject the charges Abrams repeats from Washington propaganda.
Like others, Friedman and Abrams are referring to representatives in Parliament. These numbers are skewed by the confessional voting system, which sharply reduces the seats granted to the largest of the sects, the Shi'ites, who overwhelmingly back Hezbollah and its Amal ally. But as serious analysts have pointed out, the confessional ground rules undermine "free and fair elections" in even more significant ways than this. Assaf Kfoury observes that they leave no space for non-sectarian parties and erect a barrier to introducing socioeconomic policies and other real issues into the electoral system. They also open the door to "massive external interference," low voter turnout, and "vote-rigging and vote-buying," all features of the June election, even more so than before. Thus in Beirut, home of more than half the population, less than a fourth of eligible voters could vote without returning to their usually remote districts of origin. The effect is that migrant workers and the poorer classes are effectively disenfranchised in "a form of extreme gerrymandering, Lebanese style," favoring the privileged and pro-Western classes.
In Iran, the electoral results issued by the Interior Ministry lacked credibility both by the manner in which they were released and by the figures themselves. An enormous popular protest followed, brutally suppressed by the armed forces of the ruling clerics. Perhaps Ahmadinejad might have won a majority if votes had been fairly counted, but it appears that the rulers were unwilling to take that chance. From the streets, correspondent Reese Erlich, who has had considerable experience with popular uprisings and bitter repression in US domains, writes that "It's a genuine Iranian mass movement made up of students, workers, women, and middle class folks" - and possibly much of the rural population. Eric Hooglund, a respected scholar who has studied rural Iran intensively, dismisses standard speculations about rural support for Ahmadinejad, describing "overwhelming" support for Mousavi in regions he has studied, and outrage over what the large majority there regard as a stolen election.
It is highly unlikely that the protest will damage the clerical-military regime in the short term, but as Erlich observes, it "is sowing the seeds for future struggles."
As in Lebanon, the electoral system itself violates basic rights. Candidates have to be approved by the ruling clerics, who can and do bar policies of which they disapprove. And though repression overall may not be as harsh as in the US-backed dictatorships of the region, it is ugly enough, and in June 2009, very visibly so.
One can argue that Iranian "guided democracy" has structural analogues in the US, where elections are largely bought, and candidates and programs are effectively "vetted" by concentrations of capital. A striking illustration is being played out right now. It is hardly controversial that the disastrous US health system is a high priority for the public, which, for a long time, has favored national health care, an option that has been kept off the agenda by private power. In a limited shift towards the public will, Congress is now debating whether to allow a public option to compete with insurers, a proposal with overwhelming popular support. The opposition, who regard themselves as free market advocates, charge that the proposal would be unfair to the private sector, which will be unable to compete with a more efficient public system. Though a bit odd, the argument is plausible. As economist Dean Baker points out, "We know that private insurers can't compete because we already had this experiment with the Medicare program. When private insurers had to compete on a level playing field with the traditional government-run plan they were almost driven from the market." Savings from a government program would be even greater if, as in other countries, the government were permitted to negotiate prices with pharmaceutical corporations, an option supported by 85% of the population but also not on the agenda. "Unless Congress creates a serious public plan," Baker writes, Americans "can expect to be hit with the largest tax increase in the history of the world -- all of it going into the pockets of the health care industry." That is a likely outcome, once again, in the American form of "guided democracy." And it is hardly the only example.
While our thoughts are turned to elections, we should not forget one recent authentically "free and fair" election in the Middle East region, in Palestine in January 2006, to which the US and its allies at once responded with harsh punishment for the population that voted "the wrong way." The pretexts offered were laughable, and the response caused scarcely a ripple on the flood of commentary on Washington's noble "efforts to spread democracy to the Muslim world," a feat that reveals impressive subordination to authority.
No less impressive is the readiness to agree that Israel is justified in imposing a harsh and destructive siege on Gaza, and attacking it with merciless violence using US equipment and diplomatic support, as it did last winter. There of course is a pretext: "the right to self-defense." The pretext has been almost universally accepted in the West, though Israeli actions are sometimes condemned as "disproportionate." The reaction is remarkable, because the pretext collapses on the most cursory inspection. The issue is the right TO USE FORCE in self-defense, and a state has that right only if it has exhausted peaceful means. In this case, Israel has simply refused to use the peaceful means that have been readily available. All of this has been amply discussed elsewhere, and it should be unnecessary to review the simple facts once again.
Once again relying on the impunity it receives as a US client, Israel brought the month of June 2009 to a close by enforcing the siege with a brazen act of hijacking. On June 30, the Israeli navy hijacked the Free Gaza movement boat "Spirit of Humanity" -- in international waters, according to those aboard -- and forced it to the Israeli port of Ashdod. The boat had left from Cyprus, where the cargo was inspected: it consisted of medicines, reconstruction supplies, and toys. The human rights workers aboard included Nobel Laureate Mairead Maguire and former congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, who was sent to Ramleh prison in Israel - apparently without a word from the Obama administration. The crime scarcely elicited a yawn - with some justice, one might argue, since Israel has been hijacking boats travelling between Cyprus and Lebanon for decades, kidnapping and sometimes killing passengers or sending them in Israeli prisons without charge where they join thousands of others, in some cases held for many years as hostages. So why even bother to report this latest outrage by a rogue state and its patron, for whom law is a theme for 4th of July speeches and a weapon against enemies?
Israel's hijacking is a far more extreme crime than anything carried out by Somalis driven to piracy by poverty and despair, and destruction of their fishing grounds by robbery and dumping of toxic wastes - not to speak of the destruction of their economy by a Bush counter-terror operation conceded to have been fraudulent, and a US-backed Ethiopian invasion. The Israeli hijacking is also in violation of a March 1988 international Convention on safety of maritime navigation to which the US is a party, hence required by the Convention to assist in enforcing it. Israel, however, is not a party - which, of course, in no way mitigates the crime or the obligation to enforce the Convention against violators. Israel's failure to join is particularly interesting, since the Convention was partially inspired by the hijacking of the Achille Lauro in 1985. That crime ranks high in Israel and the West among terrorist atrocities -- unlike Israel's US-backed bombing of Tunis a week earlier, killing 75 people, as usual with no credible pretext, but again tolerated under the grant of impunity for the US and its clients.
Possibly Israel chose not to join the Convention because of its regular practice of hijacking boats in international waters at that time. Also worth investigating in connection with the June 2009 hijacking is that since 2000, after the discovery of apparently substantial reserves of natural gas in Gaza's territorial waters by British Gas, Israel has been steadily forcing Gazan fishing boats towards shore, often violently, ruining an industry vital to Gaza's survival. At the same time, Israel has been entering into negotiations with BG to obtain gas from these sources, thus stealing the meager resources of the population it is mercilessly crushing.
The Western hemisphere also witnessed an election-related crime at the month's end. A military coup in Honduras ousted President Manuel Zelaya and expelled him to Costa Rica. As observed by economist Mark Weisbrot, an experienced analyst of Latin American affairs, the social structure of the coup is "a recurrent story in Latin America," pitting "a reform president who is supported by labor unions and social organizations against a mafia-like, drug-ridden, corrupt political elite who is accustomed to choosing not only the Supreme Court and the Congress, but also the president."
Mainstream commentary described the coup as an unfortunate return to the bad days of decades ago. But that is mistaken. This is the third military coup in the past decade, all conforming to the "recurrent story." The first, in Venezuela in 2002, was supported by the Bush administration, which, however, backed down after sharp Latin American condemnation and restoration of the elected government by a popular uprising. The second, in Haiti in 2004, was carried out by Haiti's traditional torturers, France and the US. The elected President, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was spirited to Central Africa and kept at a safe distance from Haiti by the master of the hemisphere.
What is novel in the Honduras coup is that the US has not lent it support. Rather, the US joined with the Organization of American States in opposing the coup, though with a more reserved condemnation than others, and without any action, unlike the neighboring states and much of the rest of Latin America. Alone in the region, the US has not withdrawn its ambassador, as did France, Spain and Italy along with Latin American states.
It was reported that Washington had advance information about a possible coup, and tried to prevent it. It surpasses imagination that Washington did not have close knowledge of what was underway in Honduras, which is highly dependent on US aid, and whose military is armed, trained, and advised by Washington. Military relations have been particularly close since the 1980s, when Honduras was the base for Reagan's terrorist war against Nicaragua.
Whether this will play out as another chapter of the "recurrent story" remains to be seen, and will depend in no small measure on reactions within the United States.
09 July 2009
Posted by Doug at 5:06 PM
Labels: 2008 Presidential Election, Al Qaeda, Apartheid, Bush, Central Asia, Chávez, China, Chomsky, Class Warfare, Corporate Socialism, Democracy, Democratic Socialism, Europe, Fascism, Free Video, Globalization, History, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Latin America, Neoliberalism, New York Times, Nuclear Weapons, Obama, Oil, Palestine, Propaganda, Race, Russia, Social Movements, South Asia
08 July 2009
07 July 2009
02 July 2009
On "Gigantism: Threat to Urbanism," 2008:
A Q&A from early 2009; Moses and LBJ:
Lyndon Johnson: The Roots of a Presidency, 2007:
Charlie Rose interview, 2009:
A conversation with author Robert Caro about Lyndon B. Johnson, 2002:
Investigative journalist Gareth Porter uncovers startling new evidence on the case in a five-part series:
PART 1: Al Qaeda Excluded from the Suspects List
PART 2: Saudi Account of Khobar Bore Telltale Signs of Fraud
PART 3: U.S. Officials Leaked a False Story Blaming Iran
PART 4: FBI Ignored Compelling Evidence of bin Laden Role
PART 5: Freeh Became "Defence Lawyer" for Saudis on Khobar
01 July 2009
Posted by Doug at 2:27 PM
Labels: Al Qaeda, Anarchism, Apartheid, Bush, Chomsky, Class Warfare, Education, Europe, Evolution/Genetics, Finkelstein, Free Video, Hillary, Human Rights, Infrastructure, Iraq, Israel, Jewish Right, Journalism, Language, Middle East, New York Times, Palestine, Philosophy, Propaganda, Psychology, Race, Torture
Noam Chomsky on the Past 10 Years: Seattle '99 to WSF to Climate in '09. Pittsburgh Indymedia. June 18, 2009
Click title to listen.
30 June 2009
29 June 2009
Posted by Doug at 4:09 PM
Labels: Apartheid, Biology, Bush, Central Asia, Chomsky, Christian Right, Civil Liberties, Class Warfare, Corporate Socialism, Democracy, Europe, Evolution/Genetics, Free Audio, Globalization, History, Human Rights, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Language, Latin America, Middle East, Neoliberalism, Nuclear Weapons, Obama, Palestine, Philosophy, Privatization, Propaganda, Race, Social Movements
27 June 2009
26 June 2009
Do I have to sit through a year of nonstop coverage, sobbings, and vulture-like preying on the corpse? Apparently, I do.
I don't even care about the supposed kiddie fondling -- it's just the enforced mourning, and especially the appalling necrophilic vulturing of the press.
My two cents, unrelated to the rest, is that, hey, he's not that great, anyway: four good songs on _OTW_, _Billie Jean_, one or two other catchy ones. I never liked him much as a preteen, and I won't pretend I do now to join in The Big Weep.
But what one thinks of his music/art isn't really relevant. Shit, when Ingmar Bergman died, I didn't have a public sobfest to show that I was part of the "in crowd," using my loud liking of him to show my conformity. I mean, why not sell pieces of his dead body and home for shrines around the world to worship -- or better yet: a Michael Jackson cookie we can all eat to share of His goodness?
I mean, who in their right mind would launch such a death cult...uh...hmmm.
It’s good that Barack Obama is an agile basketball player because on financial regulatory reform he’s having to straddle an ever widening chasm between his words and his deeds.
Obama said: “Millions of Americans who have worked hard and behaved responsibility have seen their life dreams eroded by the irresponsibility of others and by the failure of their government to provide adequate oversight. Our entire economy has been undermined by that failure.”
“Over the past two decades, we have seen, time and again, cycles of precipitous booms and busts. In each case, millions of people have had their lives profoundly disrupted by developments in the financial system, most severely in our recent crisis.”
Strong words, even though he didn’t include “corporate crime, fraud and abuse” to replace the euphemism “irresponsibility.” One would think that his 88 page reform proposal to Congress would be up to his words. Instead he provides Washington aspirins for Wall Street brain cancer.
The anemic nature of these reforms ostensibly designed to prevent or deter another big bust on Wall Street and its hostage grip on the nation’s savings and investments immediately drew the ire of well-regarded business columnists.
Joe Nocera of the New York Times wrote the “the Obama plan is little more than an attempt to stick some new regulatory fingers into a very leaky financial dam rather than rebuild the dam itself.” Nocera asserts that the reforms do not “attempt to diminish the use” of the customized type of derivatives which trillions of risky dollars generated “enormous damage to the financial system” ala A.I.G’s collapse. He notes President Roosevelt’s far more fundamental reforms, included the Glass-Steagall Act, which “separated banking from investment.” It prevented a lot of banking mischief until Clinton, his Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and Citigroup got Glass-Steagall repealed in 1999. Obama is not proposing to re-instate this critical safeguard. Nocera said, firms “will have to put up a little more capital, and deal with a little more oversight, but….in all likelihood, [it will] “be back to business as usual.”
Star business reporter, Gretchen Morgenson, ripped into the Obama plan in the Sunday New York Times for doing too little to eliminate systemic risks posed by financial firms that are “too big to fail.” “Rather than propose ways to shrink these companies and the risks they pose, the Geithner plan argues instead for enhanced regulatory oversight of the behemoths.” She implies that taxpayers will be on the hook for even greater bailouts in the future.
A measure to prevent the “too big to fail” bailouts was suggested by none other than Obama’s current economic advisor, former Federal Reserve Chairman, Paul Volcker. Speaking in China, no less, Volcker recently said the Federal government could simply prevent these big banks from trading for their own accounts. But Obama is not listening to Volcker these days. Instead Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and White House advisor, Larry Summers, who played important roles in the past decade facilitating the enormous speculation on Wall Street, have got Obama’s ear.
The President’s plan omits, (1) strong antitrust enforcement, (2) tough corporate crime prosecution, and (3) more authority for shareholders, who own their companies, to control their hired bosses. The plan should have included giving shareholders the decisive power to set executive compensation—the perverse compensation incentives helped push companies to wild speculation.
The reform plan’s defaults go on and on. There are no mechanisms to encourage millions of investors to band together in Financial Consumer Associations. In 1985 then Cong. Chuck Schumer (Dem. NY) introduced such an amendment to the savings and loans bailout legislation. It did not pass.
What about sub-prime mortgage securities? Banks would be required to retain just a five percent stake before handing them off to other syndicates. This hardly is enough to induce prudence by banks selling these mortgages to impecunious home buyers.
Obama does propose a new financial consumer regulatory agency. But unless he appoints someone, as chair, like tough-minded Harvard Law Professor, Elizabeth Warren, who advanced the idea, the regulated financial firms will, as usual, take over the agency.
The Washington Post’s Steven Pearlstein, derided the Obama proposals for not being “grounded, first and foremost, in a thorough and independent analysis of how the crisis was allowed to develop and what regulators did and didn’t do to prevent it….” He was disappointed by the lack of controls over “hedge funds, private-equity funds or structured investment vehicles.”
Obama did strengthen the fiduciary duties to investors by stock brokers. But he did not give these defrauded investors any better civil action rights in court beyond what they were left with by the hand-tying securities law passed in 1995.
So now it is up to Congress and its hordes of banking and insurance lobbyists. Good luck, savers and investors. Unless that is, you’re doing your business with credit union cooperatives which don’t gamble with your money.
18 June 2009
From the definition of "diptych" in the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary:
"Tablets recording a list of the living and the dead who were prayed for at the Eucharist; the names themselves..."
There once was a man with no hair
Who pined for a visage more fair
From days long ago
That all of us know
The death of which all must forbear.
A woman was feeling depressed
Her beauty, she knew, was suppressed
By oncoming age.
The crux of her rage?
An outcome she could not contest.
17 June 2009
From the London Review of Books: John Lanchester, "It's Finished." Indeed. Click above and read the whole damn thing, especially you financial neophytes, like myself.
Posted on Jun 14, 2009
By Chris Hedges
This week marks the end of the dollar’s reign as the world’s reserve currency. It marks the start of a terrible period of economic and political decline in the United States. And it signals the last gasp of the American imperium. That’s over. It is not coming back. And what is to come will be very, very painful.
Barack Obama, and the criminal class on Wall Street, aided by a corporate media that continues to peddle fatuous gossip and trash talk as news while we endure the greatest economic crisis in our history, may have fooled us, but the rest of the world knows we are bankrupt. And these nations are damned if they are going to continue to prop up an inflated dollar and sustain the massive federal budget deficits, swollen to over $2 trillion, which fund America’s imperial expansion in Eurasia and our system of casino capitalism. They have us by the throat. They are about to squeeze.
There are meetings being held Monday and Tuesday in Yekaterinburg, Russia, (formerly Sverdlovsk) among Chinese President Hu Jintao, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and other top officials of the six-nation Shanghai Cooperation Organization. The United States, which asked to attend, was denied admittance. Watch what happens there carefully. The gathering is, in the words of economist Michael Hudson, “the most important meeting of the 21st century so far.”
It is the first formal step by our major trading partners to replace the dollar as the world’s reserve currency. If they succeed, the dollar will dramatically plummet in value, the cost of imports, including oil, will skyrocket, interest rates will climb and jobs will hemorrhage at a rate that will make the last few months look like boom times. State and federal services will be reduced or shut down for lack of funds. The United States will begin to resemble the Weimar Republic or Zimbabwe. Obama, endowed by many with the qualities of a savior, will suddenly look pitiful, inept and weak. And the rage that has kindled a handful of shootings and hate crimes in the past few weeks will engulf vast segments of a disenfranchised and bewildered working and middle class. The people of this class will demand vengeance, radical change, order and moral renewal, which an array of proto-fascists, from the Christian right to the goons who disseminate hate talk on Fox News, will assure the country they will impose.
I called Hudson, who has an article in Monday’s Financial Times called “The Yekaterinburg Turning Point: De-Dollarization and the Ending of America’s Financial-Military Hegemony.” “Yekaterinburg,” Hudson writes, “may become known not only as the death place of the czars but of the American empire as well.” His article is worth reading, along with John Lanchester’s disturbing exposé of the world’s banking system, titled “It’s Finished,” which appeared in the May 28 issue of the London Review of Books.
“This means the end of the dollar,” Hudson told me. “It means China, Russia, India, Pakistan, Iran are forming an official financial and military area to get America out of Eurasia. The balance-of-payments deficit is mainly military in nature. Half of America’s discretionary spending is military. The deficit ends up in the hands of foreign banks, central banks. They don’t have any choice but to recycle the money to buy U.S. government debt. The Asian countries have been financing their own military encirclement. They have been forced to accept dollars that have no chance of being repaid. They are paying for America’s military aggression against them. They want to get rid of this.”
China, as Hudson points out, has already struck bilateral trade deals with Brazil and Malaysia to denominate their trade in China’s yuan rather than the dollar, pound or euro. Russia promises to begin trading in the ruble and local currencies. The governor of China’s central bank has openly called for the abandonment of the dollar as reserve currency, suggesting in its place the use of the International Monetary Fund’s Special Drawing Rights. What the new system will be remains unclear, but the flight from the dollar has clearly begun. The goal, in the words of the Russian president, is to build a “multipolar world order” which will break the economic and, by extension, military domination by the United States. China is frantically spending its dollar reserves to buy factories and property around the globe so it can unload its U.S. currency. This is why Aluminum Corp. of China made so many major concessions in the failed attempt to salvage its $19.5 billion alliance with the Rio Tinto mining concern in Australia. It desperately needs to shed its dollars.
“China is trying to get rid of all the dollars they can in a trash-for-resource deal,” Hudson said. “They will give the dollars to countries willing to sell off their resources since America refuses to sell any of its high-tech industries, even Unocal, to the yellow peril. It realizes these dollars are going to be worthless pretty quickly.”
The architects of this new global exchange realize that if they break the dollar they also break America’s military domination. Our military spending cannot be sustained without this cycle of heavy borrowing. The official U.S. defense budget for fiscal year 2008 is $623 billion, before we add on things like nuclear research. The next closest national military budget is China’s, at $65 billion, according to the Central Intelligence Agency.
There are three categories of the balance-of-payment deficits. America imports more than it exports. This is trade. Wall Street and American corporations buy up foreign companies. This is capital movement. The third and most important balance-of-payment deficit for the past 50 years has been Pentagon spending abroad. It is primarily military spending that has been responsible for the balance-of-payments deficit for the last five decades. Look at table five in the Balance of Payments Report, published in the Survey of Current Business [[[I can't find what he's referring to; let me know if you can. -- Doug]]] quarterly, and check under military spending. There you can see the deficit.
To fund our permanent war economy, we have been flooding the world with dollars. The foreign recipients turn the dollars over to their central banks for local currency. The central banks then have a problem. If a central bank does not spend the money in the United States then the exchange rate against the dollar will go up. This will penalize exporters. This has allowed America to print money without restraint to buy imports and foreign companies, fund our military expansion and ensure that foreign nations like China continue to buy our treasury bonds. This cycle appears now to be over. Once the dollar cannot flood central banks and no one buys our treasury bonds, our empire collapses. The profligate spending on the military, some $1 trillion when everything is counted, will be unsustainable.
“We will have to finance our own military spending,” Hudson warned, “and the only way to do this will be to sharply cut back wage rates. The class war is back in business. Wall Street understands that. This is why it had Bush and Obama give it $10 trillion in a huge rip-off so it can have enough money to survive.”
The desperate effort to borrow our way out of financial collapse has promoted a level of state intervention unseen since World War II. It has also led us into uncharted territory.
“We have in effect had to declare war to get us out of the hole created by our economic system,” Lanchester wrote in the London Review of Books. “There is no model or precedent for this, and no way to argue that it’s all right really, because under such-and-such a model of capitalism ... there is no such model. It isn’t supposed to work like this, and there is no road-map for what’s happened.”
The cost of daily living, from buying food to getting medical care, will become difficult for all but a few as the dollar plunges. States and cities will see their pension funds drained and finally shut down. The government will be forced to sell off infrastructure, including roads and transport, to private corporations. We will be increasingly charged by privatized utilities—think Enron—for what was once regulated and subsidized. Commercial and private real estate will be worth less than half its current value. The negative equity that already plagues 25 percent of American homes will expand to include nearly all property owners. It will be difficult to borrow and impossible to sell real estate unless we accept massive losses. There will be block after block of empty stores and boarded-up houses. Foreclosures will be epidemic. There will be long lines at soup kitchens and many, many homeless. Our corporate-controlled media, already banal and trivial, will work overtime to anesthetize us with useless gossip, spectacles, sex, gratuitous violence, fear and tawdry junk politics. America will be composed of a large dispossessed underclass and a tiny empowered oligarchy that will run a ruthless and brutal system of neo-feudalism from secure compounds. Those who resist will be silenced, many by force. We will pay a terrible price, and we will pay this price soon, for the gross malfeasance of our power elite.
The Obama-Netanyahu-Abbas meetings in May, followed by Obama's speech in Cairo, have been widely interpreted as a turning point in US Middle East policy, leading to consternation in some quarters, exuberance in others. Fairly typical is Middle East analyst Dan Fromkin of the Washington Post, who sees "signs Obama will promote a new regional peace initiative for the Middle East, much like the one championed by Jordan's King Abdullah... [and also] the first distinct signs that Obama is willing to play hardball with Israel." (WP, May 29). A closer look, however, suggests considerable caution.
King Abdullah insists that "There is no change to the Arab Peace Initiative, and there is no need to amend it. Any talk about amending it, is baseless" (AFP, May 16). Abbas, regularly described as the president of the Palestinian Authority (his term expired in January), firmly agrees. The Arab Peace Initiative reiterates the long-standing international consensus that Israel must withdraw to the international border, perhaps with "minor and mutual adjustments," to adopt official US terminology before it departed sharply from world opinion in 1971, endorsing Israel's rejection of peace with Egypt in favor of settlement expansion (in the northeast Sinai). Furthermore, the consensus calls for a Palestinian state to be established in Gaza and the West Bank after Israel's withdrawal. The Arab Initiative adds that the Arab states should then normalize relations with Israel.
The Initiative was later adopted by the Organization of Islamic States, including Iran (Akiva Eldar, Ha'aretz, June 1).
Obama has praised the Initiative and called on the Arab states to proceed to normalize relations with Israel. But he has so far scrupulously evaded the core of the proposal, thus implicitly maintaining the US rejectionist stand that has blocked a diplomatic settlement since the 1970s along with its Israeli client, in virtual isolation. There are no signs that Obama is willing even to consider the Arab Initiative, let alone "promote" it. That was underscored in Obama's much heralded address to the Muslim world in Cairo on June 4, to which I will return.
The US-Israel confrontation -- with Abbas on the sidelines -- turns on two phrases: "Palestinian state" and "natural growth of settlements." Let's consider these in turn.
Obama has indeed pronounced the words "Palestinian state," echoing Bush. In contrast, the (unrevised) 1999 platform of Israel's governing party, Netanyahu's Likud, "flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan river." Nevertheless, it was Netanyahu's 1996 government that was the first to use the phrase. It agreed that Palestinians can call whatever fragments of Palestine are left to them "a state" if they like -- or they can call them "fried chicken" (David Bar-Illan, director of Communications and Policy Planning in the office of the Prime Minister; Interview, Palestine-Israel Journal, Summer/Autumn 1996).
The 1996 Netanyahu government's contemptuous reference to Palestinian aspirations was a shift towards accommodation in US-Israeli policy. As he left office shortly before, Shimon Peres forcefully declared that there will never be a Palestinian state (Amnon Barzilai, Ha'aretz, Oct 24, 1995). Peres was reaffirming the official 1989 position of the US (Bush-Baker) and the Israeli coalition government (Shamir-Peres) that there can be no "additional Palestinian state" between Israel and Jordan -- the latter declared to be a Palestinian state by US-Israeli fiat. In the Peres-Shamir-Baker plan, barely reported (if at all) in the US, the fate of the occupied territories was to be settled in terms of the guidelines established by the government of Israel, and Palestinians were permitted to take part in negotiations only if they accepted these guidelines, which rule out Palestinian national rights.
Contrary to much misunderstanding, the Oslo agreements of September 1993 -- the "Day of Awe," as the press described it -- changed little in this regard. The Declaration of Principles accepted by all participants established that the end point of the process would be realization of the goals of UN 242, which accords no rights to Palestinians. And by then, the US had withdrawn its earlier interpretation of 242 as requiring Israeli withdrawal from the territories conquered in 1967, leaving the matter open.
The Peres-Shamir-Baker declarations of 1989 were in response to the official Palestinian acceptance of the international consensus on a two-state solution in 1988. That proposal was first formally enunciated in 1976 in a Security Council resolution introduced by the major Arab states with the tacit support of the PLO, vetoed by the US (again in 1980). Since then US-Israeli rejectionism has persisted unchanged, with one brief but significant exception, in President Clinton's final month in office.
Clinton recognized that the terms he had offered at the failed 2000 Camp David meetings were not acceptable to any Palestinians, and in December, proposed his "parameters," inexplicit but more forthcoming. He then announced that both sides had accepted the parameters, though both had reservations. Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met in Taba, Egypt to iron out the differences, and made considerable progress. A full resolution could have been reached in a few more days, they announced in their final joint press conference. But Israel called off the negotiations prematurely, and they have not been formally resumed.
The single exception suggests that if an American president were willing to tolerate a meaningful diplomatic settlement, it might very well be reached.
The facts are well documented in Hebrew and English sources (for review, see Chomsky, Failed States). But like much of the relevant history, they are regularly reshaped to suit doctrinal needs; for example by Jeffrey Goldberg, who writes that "By December of 2000, Israel had accepted President Bill Clinton's `parameters,' offering the Palestinians all of the Gaza Strip, 94 percent to 96 percent of the West Bank and sovereignty over Arab areas of East Jerusalem. Arafat again rejected the deal" (NYT, May 24). That is a convenient tale, false or seriously misleading in all particulars, and another useful contribution to US-Israeli rejectionism.
Returning to the phrase "Palestinian state," the crucial question on the US side is whether Obama means the international consensus or "fried chicken." So far that remains unanswered, except by studious omission, and -- crucially -- by Washington's steady funding of Israel's programs of settlement and development in the West Bank. All of these programs violate international law, as Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan conceded in 1967 and as has been reaffirmed by the Security Council and the World Court. Probably Netanyahu would still accept his 1996 position.
The contours of "fried chicken" are being carved into the landscape daily by US-backed Israeli programs. The general goals were outlined by Prime Minister Olmert in May 2006 in his "Convergence program," later expanded to "Convergence plus." Under "Convergence," Israel was to take over the territory within the illegal "separation wall" along with the Jordan Valley, thus imprisoning what is left, which is broken into cantons by several salients extending to the East. Israel also takes over Greater Jerusalem, the site of most of its current construction projects, driving out many Arabs. These Jerusalem projects not only violate international law, as do all the others, but also Security Council resolutions (at the time, still backed by the US).
The plans being executed right now are designed to leave Israel in control of the most valuable land in the West Bank, with Palestinians confined to unviable fragments, all separated from Jerusalem, the traditional center of Palestinian life. The "separation wall" also establishes Israeli control of the West Bank aquifer. Hence Israel will be able to continue to ensure that Palestinians receive one-fourth as much water as Israelis, as the World Bank reported in April, in some cases below minimum recommended levels. In the other part of Palestine, Gaza, regular Israeli bombardment and the cruel siege reduce consumption far below.
Obama continues to support all of these programs, and has even called for substantially increasing military aid to Israel for an unprecedented ten years (Stephen Zunes, Foreign Policy in Focus, March 4). It appears, then, that Palestinians may be offered fried chicken, but nothing more. Israel's forced separation of Gaza from the West Bank since 1991, intensified with US support after a free election in January 2006 came out "the wrong way," has also been studiously ignored in Obama's "new initiative," thus further undermining prospects for any viable Palestinian state.
Gaza's forced separation from Palestine, and its miserable condition, have been almost entirely consigned to oblivion, an atrocity to which we should not contribute by tacit consent. Israeli journalist Amira Hass, one of the leading specialists on Gaza writes that "The restrictions on Palestinian movement that Israel introduced in January 1991 reversed a process that had been initiated in June 1967. Back then, and for the first time since 1948, a large portion of the Palestinian people again lived in the open territory of a single country--to be sure, one that was occupied, but was nevertheless whole... The total separation of the Gaza Strip from the West Bank is one of the greatest achievements of Israeli politics, whose overarching objective is to prevent a solution based on international decisions and understandings and instead dictate an arrangement based on Israel's military superiority... Since January 1991, Israel has bureaucratically and logistically merely perfected the split and the separation: not only between Palestinians in the occupied territories and their brothers in Israel, but also between the Palestinian residents of Jerusalem and those in the rest of the territories and between Gazans and West Bankers/Jerusalemites. Jews live in this same piece of land within a superior and separate system of privileges, laws, services, physical infrastructure and freedom of movement" (April 24, BitterLemons.org).
The leading academic specialist on Gaza, Sara Roy, adds that "Gaza is an example of a society that has been deliberately reduced to a state of abject destitution, its once productive population transformed into one of aid-dependent paupers...Gaza's subjection began long before Israel's recent war against it. The Israeli occupation--now largely forgotten or denied by the international community--has devastated Gaza's economy and people, especially since 2006... After Israel's December  assault, Gaza's already compromised conditions have become virtually unlivable. Livelihoods, homes, and public infrastructure have been damaged or destroyed on a scale that even the Israel Defense Forces admitted was indefensible. In Gaza today, there is no private sector to speak of and no industry. 80 percent of Gaza's agricultural crops were destroyed and Israel continues to snipe at farmers attempting to plant and tend fields near the well-fenced and patrolled border. Most productive activity has been extinguished... Today, 96 percent of Gaza's population of 1.4 million is dependent on humanitarian aid for basic needs. According to the World Food Programme, the Gaza Strip requires a minimum of 400 trucks of food every day just to meet the basic nutritional needs of the population. Yet, despite a 22 March decision by the Israeli cabinet to lift all restrictions on foodstuffs entering Gaza, only 653 trucks of food and other supplies were allowed entry during the week of May 10, at best meeting 23 percent of required need.. Israel now allows only 30 to 40 commercial items to enter Gaza compared to 4,000 approved products prior to June 2006." (Harvard Crimson, June 2, 2009).
It cannot be too often stressed that Israel had no credible pretext for its December attack on Gaza, with full US support and illegally using US weapons. Near-universal opinion asserts the contrary, claiming that that Israel was acting in self-defense. That is utterly unsustainable, in light of Israel's flat rejection of peaceful means that were readily available (see Chomsky, "Exterminate all the Brutes," updated footnoted version at www.chomsky.info). That aside, Israel's siege of Gaza is itself an act of war, as Israel of all countries certainly recognizes, having repeatedly justified launching major wars on grounds of partial restrictions on its access to the outside world.
One crucial element of Israel's siege, little reported, is the naval blockade. Peter Beaumont reports from Gaza that "On its coastal littoral, Gaza's limitations are marked by a different fence where the bars are Israeli gunboats with their huge wakes, scurrying beyond the Palestinian fishing boats and preventing them from going outside a zone imposed by the warships." (Guardian, 27 May). According to reports from the scene, the naval siege has been tightened steadily since 2000. Fishing boats have been driven steadily out of Gaza's territorial waters and towards the shore by Israeli gunboats, often violently without warning and with many casualties. As a result of these naval actions, Gaza's fishing industry has virtually collapsed; fishing is impossible near shore because of the contamination caused by Israel's regular attacks, including the destruction of power plants and sewage facilities.
These Israeli naval attacks began shortly after the discovery by the British Gas group of what appear to be quite sizeable natural gas fields in Gaza's territorial waters. Industry journals report that Israel is already appropriating these Gazan resources for its own use, part of its commitment to shift its economy to natural gas. The standard source, Platt's Commodity News, reports (Feb. 3, 16) that "Israel's finance ministry has given the Israel Electric Corp. approval to purchase larger quantities of natural gas from BG than originally agreed upon, according to Israeli government sources [which] said the state-owned utility would be able to negotiate for as much as 1.5 billion cubic meters of natural gas from the Marine field located off the Mediterranean coast of the Palestinian controlled Gaza Strip. Last year the Israeli government approved the purchase of 800 million cubic meters of gas from the field by the IEC.... Recently the Israeli government changed its policy and decided the state-owned utility could buy the entire quantity of gas from the Gaza Marine field. Previously the government had said the IEC could buy half the total amount and the remainder would be bought by private power producers."
The pillage of what could become a major source of income for Palestine is surely known to US authorities. It is only reasonable to suppose that the intention to steal Palestine's limited resources is the motive for preventing Gaza fishing boats to enter Gaza's territorial waters. It would also not be a great surprise if we were to discover some day that the same intention was in the background of the criminal US-Israeli attack on Gaza in December 2008.
The restrictions on movement used to destroy Gaza have long been in force in the West Bank as well, with grim effects on life and the economy. The World Bank has just reported that Israel has established "a complex closure regime that restricts Palestinian access to large areas of the West Bank... The Palestinian economy has remained stagnant, largely because of the sharp downturn in Gaza and Israel's continued restrictions on Palestinian trade and movement in the West Bank." The Bank "cited Israeli roadblocks and checkpoints hindering trade and travel, as well as restrictions on Palestinian building in the West Bank, where the Western-backed government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas holds sway" (AP; Avi Issacharoff, Ha'aretz; May 6).
All of this constitutes what Israeli activist Jeff Halper calls a "matrix of control" to subdue the colonized population, in pursuit of Defense Minister Moshe Dayan's recommendation to his colleagues shortly after the 1967 conquests that we must tell the Palestinians in the territories that "we have no solution, you shall continue to live like dogs, and whoever wishes may leave, and we will see where this process leads" (Yossi Beilin, Mehiro shel Ihud, 42).
Turning to the second bone of contention, settlements, there is indeed a confrontation, but it may again be less dramatic than portrayed. Washington's position was presented most strongly in Hilary Clinton's much-quoted statement rejecting "natural growth exceptions" to the policy opposing new settlements. Netanyahu, along with President Peres and in fact virtually the whole Israeli political spectrum, insists on permitting "natural growth" within the areas that Israel intends to annex, complaining that the US is backing down on Bush's authorization of such expansion within his "vision" of a Palestinian state.
Senior Netanyahu cabinet members have gone further. Minister Yisrael Katz announced that "the current Israeli government will not accept in any way the freezing of legal settlement activity in Judea and Samaria." (Ha'aretz, May 31). The term "legal" in US-Israeli parlance means "illegal, but authorized by the government of Israel." In this usage, unauthorized outposts are termed "illegal," though apart from the dictates of the powerful, they are no more illegal than the settlements granted to Israel under Bush's "vision."
The harsh Obama-Clinton formulation is not new. It repeats the wording of the 2003 Road Map, which stipulates that in Phase I, "Israel freezes all settlement activity (including natural growth of settlements)." All sides formally accept the Road Map -- consistently overlooking the fact that Israel, with US support, at once added 14 "reservations" that render it inoperable.
If Obama were serious about opposing settlement expansion, he could easily proceed with concrete measures, for example, by reducing US aid by the amount devoted to this purpose. That would hardly be a radical or courageous move. The Bush I administration did so (reducing loan guarantees), but after the Oslo accord in 1993, President Clinton left calculations to the government of Israel. Unsurprisingly, there was "no change in the expenditures flowing to the settlements," the Israeli press reported: "[Prime Minister] Rabin will continue not to dry out the settlements," the report concludes. "And the Americans? They will understand" (Hadashot, Oct. 8; Yair Fidel, Hadashot Supplement, Oct. 29, 1993).
Obama administration officials informed the press that the Bush I measures are "not under discussion," and that pressures will be "largely symbolic" (Helene Cooper, NYT, June 1). In short, Obama "understands."
The US press reports that "A partial freeze has been in place for several years, but settlers have found ways around the strictures... construction in the settlements has slowed but never stopped, continuing at an annual rate of about 1,500 to 2,000 units over the past three years. If building continues at the 2008 rate, the 46,500 units already approved will be completed in about 20 years... If Israel built all the housing units already approved in the nation's overall master plan for settlements, it would almost double the number of settler homes in the West Bank" (Isabel Kirshner, NYT, June 2). The probable source, Peace Now, which monitors settlement activities, estimates further that the two largest settlements would double in size: Ariel and Ma'aleh Adumim, built mainly during the Oslo years in the salients that subdivide the West Bank into cantons.
"Natural population growth" is largely a myth, Israel's leading diplomatic correspondent, Akiva Eldar, points out, citing demographic studies by Col (res.) Shaul Arieli, deputy military secretary to former prime minister and incumbent defense minister Ehud Barak. Settlement growth consists largely of Israeli immigrants in violation of the Geneva Conventions, assisted with generous subsidies. Much of it is in direct violation of formal Government decisions, but carried out with the authorization of the Government, specifically Barak, considered a dove in the Israeli spectrum (Eldar, Ha'aretz, June 2).
Some deride the "long-dormant Palestinian fantasy," revived by Abbas, "that the United States will simply force Israel to make critical concessions, whether or not its democratic government agrees" (Jackson Diehl, WP, May 29). He does not explain whether refusal to participate in Israel's illegal expansion -- which, if serious, would "force Israel to make critical concessions" -- would be improper interference in Israel's democracy.
Diehl also refers to a recent Olmert peace plan of unprecedented generosity offered to Abbas, which he turned down, though it yielded just about everything to which Palestinians might reasonably aspire. Others have also confidently referred to this mysterious plan and its rejection by Abbas. Efforts to unearth the plan have so far been unavailing. The only sources detected in an assiduous search by David Peterson are comments by Palestinians in the Arab media that appear to be part of internal conflict about power sharing, not the usual source for Western commentators. Eliot Abrams dates the plan to January 2009 (WP, April 8, citing unspecified press reports, while also falsifying earlier plans for which records exist; June 3 response to query about his sources).
If there were any truth to this tale, one can be confident that it would be trumpeted by Israeli propaganda and its enthusiasts here, as a welcome demonstration that Palestinians simply will not accept peace, even the most moderate of them. It is highly dubious on other grounds. For one thing, Olmert was in no position to offer any credible proposal, having announced his resignation as he was facing indictment for serious corruption charges. The alleged plan is also hard to reconcile with the steady ongoing expansion of settlement under Olmert, vitiating even far less forthcoming offers.
Returning to reality, all of these discussions about settlement expansion evade the most crucial issue about settlements: what Israel has already established in the West Bank. The evasion tacitly concedes that the illegal settlement programs already in place are somehow acceptable (putting aside the Golan heights, annexed in violation of Security Council orders) -- though the Bush "vision," apparently accepted by Obama, moves from tacit to explicit. What is in place already suffices to ensure that there can be no viable Palestinian self-determination. Hence there is every indication that even on the unlikely assumption that "natural growth" will be ended, US-Israeli rejectionism will persist, blocking the international consensus as before.
It might be different if a legitimate "land swap" were under consideration, a solution approached at Taba and spelled out more fully in the Geneva Accord reached in informal high-level Israel-Palestine negotiations. The Accord was presented in Geneva in October 2003, welcomed by much of the world, rejected by Israel, and ignored by the US.
There is a "land swap" under consideration, but a radically different one. The ultra-right Israeli leader Avigdor Lieberman, now Foreign Minister, proposed to reduce the non-Jewish population of Israel by transferring concentrations of Israeli Arabs (specifically, Wadi Ara in the Galilee) to a derisory "Palestinian state" -- over the overwhelming opposition of the victims, to be sure. When first advanced, these ideas were denounced as virtually neo-Nazi -- which is a little odd; they were first proposed by Democratic Socialist political philosopher Michael Walzer, who wrote 30 years before Lieberman that those who are "marginal to the nation" (Palestinians) should be "helped to leave" in the interests of peace and justice. These ideas have now shifted to the political center in Israel, and are praised by New York Times Israel correspondent Ethan Bronner, who writes that the left likes Lieberman's "willingness to create two states, one Jewish, one Palestinian, which would involve yielding areas that are now part of Israel" in a land swap (NYT, Feb. 12) -- a polite way of saying that Israeli citizens of the wrong ethnicity will be transferred by force from a rich first world country to "fried chicken."
Obama's June 4 Cairo address to the Muslim world kept pretty much to his well-honed "blank slate" style -- saying very little of substance, but in a personable manner that allows listeners to write on the slate what they want to hear. CNN captured its spirit in headlining a report "Obama looks to reach the soul of the Muslim world." Obama had announced the goals of his address in an interview with NYT columnist Thomas Friedman (June 3): "'We have a joke around the White House,' the president said.'We're just going to keep on telling the truth until it stops working -- and nowhere is truth-telling more important than the Middle East.'" The White House commitment is most welcome, but it is useful to see how it translates into practice.
Obama admonished his audience that it is easy to "point fingers... But if we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth: the only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security."
Turning to truth, there is a third side, with a decisive role throughout: the US. But that participant in the conflict is unmentioned. The omission is understood to be normal and appropriate, hence unmentioned: Friedman's column is headlined "Obama speech aimed at both Arabs and Israelis"; the front-page Wall St. Journal report on Obama's speech appears under the heading "Obama Chides Israel, Arabs In His Overture to Muslims." Other reports are the same. The convention is understandable on the doctrinal principle that though the US government sometimes makes "mistakes," its intentions are by definition benign. Washington has always sought desperately to be an honest broker, only yearning to advance peace and justice. The doctrine trumps truth, of which there is no hint in the speech or the mainstream coverage.
Obama once again echoed Bush's advocacy of two states, without saying what he means by the phrase "Palestinian state." His intentions are clarified not only by crucial omission, but also by his one explicit criticism of Israel: "The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop" (my emphasis). That is, Israel should live up to Phase I of the 2003 Road Map, though the truth is that Obama has ruled out even steps of the Bush I variety to withdraw from participation in these crimes.
The operative words are "legitimacy" and "continued." By omission, Obama indicates that he accepts Bush's "vision": the vast existing settlement project and infrastructure is "legitimate," thus ensuring that the phrase "Palestinian state" means "fried chicken."
Even-handed, Obama also had an admonition for the Arab States: they "must recognize that the Arab Peace Initiative was an important beginning, but not the end of their responsibilities." Plainly, it cannot be a meaningful "beginning" if Obama continues to reject its core principles: implementation of the international consensus. But to do so is evidently not Washington's "responsibility" in Obama's vision, presumably because the US has no responsibilities other than to persist in its traditional vocation of doing good.
On democracy, Obama said that "we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election" -- as in January 2006, when Washington turned at once to severe punishment of the Palestinians because it did not like the outcome of the peaceful election. Obama politely refrained from comment about his host, President Mubarak, one of the most brutal dictators in the region, though elsewhere he has had some illuminating words about him. As he was about to board the plane to Saudi Arabia and Egypt, the two "moderate" Arab states, "Mr. Obama signaled that while he would mention American concerns about human rights in Egypt, he would not challenge Mr. Mubarak too sharply, calling him a 'force for stability and good' in the Middle East... Mr. Obama said he did not regard Mr. Mubarak as an authoritarian leader. 'No, I tend not to use labels for folks,' Mr. Obama said. The president noted that there had been criticism 'of the manner in which politics operates in Egypt,' but he also said that Mr. Mubarak had been `a stalwart ally, in many respects, to the United States'" (Jeff Zeleyna and Michael Slackman, NYT, June 4).
Obama also had observations on nuclear weapons, a matter of no slight significance in the light of his focus on Iran. Obama repeated his hope for their general abolition and called on all signers of the Non-Proliferation Treaty to abide by the responsibilities it imposes. His comments pointedly excluded Israel, which is not a signer of the NPT, along with India and Pakistan, all of them supported by the US in their development of nuclear weapons -- Pakistan particularly under Reagan, India under Bush II. India and Pakistan are now escalating their nuclear weapons programs to a level that is highly threatening (see, e.g., Jeffrey Smith and Joby Warrick, "Nuclear Aims By Pakistan, India Prompt U.S. Concern," WP, May 28, 2009). But our significant role in this confrontation confers no "responsibility."
Some who are placing their hopes in Obama have cited remarks of Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller: "Universal adherence to the NPT itself -- including by India, Israel, Pakistan and North Korea -- also remains a fundamental objective of the United States." But the threat that her comment might mean something was quickly allayed by the report of a senior Israeli diplomat that Israel had received assurances that Obama "will not force Israel to state publicly whether it has nuclear weapons,... [but will] stick to a decades-old U.S. policy of 'don't ask, don't tell.'" And as the Institute for Public Accuracy was quick to remind us, the Bush administration had also adopted Gottemoeller's stand, calling for "universal adherence to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. (Julian Borger, Guardian, May 6. Reuters, May 21, http://www.reuters.com/article/latestCrisis/idUSLL942309. http://www.accuracy.org/newsrelease.php?articleId=222.).
It appears, then, that "universality" applies to Iran's alleged programs, but not to the actual ones of US allies and clients -- not to speak of Washington's own obligations under the NPT.
With regard to Iran's nuclear programs, Obama chose his words carefully. He said that "any nation -- including Iran -- should have the right to access peaceful nuclear power if it complies with its responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty." His words again reiterate the Bush administration's position: it too held that Iran could "access peaceful nuclear power." But the contentious issue has been whether Iran has the rights guaranteed to signers of the NPT under Article IV: "Nothing in this Treaty shall be interpreted as affecting the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination and in conformity with Articles I and II of this Treaty," which refer to nuclear weapons. There is a considerable difference between research and production, as Article IV permits, and "access," which Bush and Obama are willing to permit, meaning access from the outside. That has been the heart of the dispute, and remains so. The Non-aligned Movement, most of the world's states, has forcefully affirmed Iran's position (which is also supported by the majority of Americans). The "international community" -- a technical term referring to Washington and whoever happens to agree with it -- opposes allowing Iran the rights guaranteed to NPT signers, and Obama, by careful choice of misleading words, indicates his continued adherence to this stand.
There is a sensible approach to the threat of nuclear weapons in the region: to join in the overwhelming international support (including a large majority of Americans) for a nuclear-weapons-free zone [NWFZ] including Iran, Israel, and US forces deployed there. Adequate verification is by no means impossible. That should mitigate, if not terminate, the regional nuclear weapons threat. But it is not on the agenda.
It is too easily forgotten that the US is officially committed to establishing a NWFZ in the region, in accord with Security Council Resolution 687 in 1991. This Resolution assumes special significance for the US and UK, because they appealed to it in their half-hearted attempt to provide at least some thin legal basis for their invasion of Iraq. The resolution calls for elimination of Iraqi WMD and delivery systems, as a step towards "the goal of establishing in the Middle East a zone free from weapons of mass destruction and all missiles for their delivery and the objective of a global ban on chemical weapons" (Article 14). Since that includes Israel, it was never intended seriously by the US and UK, and it was quickly dispatched to the memory hole along with other inconvenient truths that escape the commitment to "keep on telling the truth until it stops working."
It should perhaps be added that despite much fevered rhetoric, rational souls understand that the Iranian threat is not the threat of attack -- which would be suicidal. Wayne White, former deputy director of the Near East and South Asia office of State Department Intelligence (INR), quite plausibly estimates the likelihood that the Iranian leaders would carry out "some quixotic attack against Israel with a nuclear weapon," thus instantly destroying Iran and themselves, as "down there with that 1 percent possibility." Also timely is his confirmation, from direct knowledge as the INR Iraq intelligence analyst at the time, that Israel's 1981 attack on Iraq's nuclear reactor did not end Saddam's nuclear weapons program, but initiated it.
No one wants Iran -- or anyone -- to develop nuclear weapons, but it should be recognized that the perceived threat is not that they will be used in a suicide mission, but rather the threat of deterrence of US-Israeli actions to extend their domination of the region. And to repeat, if the concern were Iranian nuclear weapons, there would be sensible ways to proceed -- to which, furthermore, the US is officially committed.
Obama's "new initiative" is spelled out more fully by John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate, now chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in an important speech at the Brookings Institute on March 9. (http://kerry.senate.gov/cfm/record.cfm?id=309250). In interpreting Kerry's words, we have to suspend normal rationality, and agree that the actual facts of history are completely irrelevant. What is important is not the contrived picture of past and present, but the plans outlined.
Kerry urges that we acknowledge that our honorable efforts to bring about a political settlement have failed, primarily because of the unwillingness of the Arab states to make peace. Furthermore, all of our efforts to "to give the Israelis a legitimate partner for peace" have foundered on Palestinian intransigence. Now, however, there is a welcome change. With the Arab Initiative of 2006, the Arab states have finally signaled their willingness to accept Israel's presence in the region. Even more promising is the "unprecedented willingness among moderate Arab nations to work with Israel" against our common enemy Iran. "Moderate" here is used in its technical meaning: "willing to conform to US demands," irrespective of the nature of the regime. "This re-alignment can help to lay the groundwork for progress towards peace," Kerry said, as we "re-conceptualize" the problem, focusing on the Iranian threat.
Kerry goes on to explain that there is also at last some hope that a "legitimate partner" can be found for our peace-loving Israeli ally: Abbas and the Palestinian Authority. How then do we proceed to support Israel's new legitimate Palestinian partner? "Most importantly, this means strengthening General [Keith] Dayton's efforts to train Palestinian security forces that can keep order and fight terror... Recent developments have been extremely encouraging: During the invasion of Gaza, Palestinian Security Forces largely succeeded in maintaining calm in the West Bank amidst widespread expectations of civil unrest. Obviously, more remains to be done, but we can help do it."
Routinely, Kerry describes the attack on Gaza as entirely right and just: by definition, since the US crucially participated in it. It doesn't matter, then, that the pretext lacks any credibility, under principles that we all accept -- with regard to others.
General Dayton's forces, armed and trained in Jordan with Israeli participation and supervision, are the soft side of population control. The tougher and more brutal forces are those trained by the CIA: General Intelligence and Preventive Security.
Kerry is right that we can do more to ensure that West Bank Palestinians are so effectively controlled that they cannot even protest the slaughter in Gaza -- let alone move towards meaningful self-determination. For this task, the US can draw on a long history of colonial practice, developed in exquisite detail during the US occupation of the Philippines after the murderous conquest a century ago, then widely applied elsewhere. This sophisticated refinement of traditional imperial practice has been highly successful in US dependencies, while also providing means of population control at home. These matters are spelled out in groundbreaking work by historian Alfred McCoy (Policing America's Empire, forthcoming). Kerry should be familiar with these techniques from his service in South Vietnam. Applying these measures to Palestine, collaborationist paramilitary forces can be employed to subdue the domestic population with the cooperation of privileged elites, granting the US and Israel free rein to carry forward Bush's "vision" and Olmert's Convergence-plus. Gaza can meanwhile be kept under a strangling siege as a prison and occasional shooting gallery.
Washington's new initiative for Middle East peace, so it is hoped, will integrate Israel among the "moderate" Arab states as a bulwark for US domination of the vital energy-producing regions. It fits well into Obama's broader programs for Afghanistan and Pakistan, where military operations are escalating and huge "embassies" are being constructed on the model of the city-within-a-city in Baghdad, clearly signaling Obama's intentions (Saeed Shah and Warren Strobel, McClatchy Newspapers, May 27).
The "re-conceptualization" is evidently satisfactory to US high tech industry, which continues to enhance its intimate relations with Israel. One striking illustration as a gigantic installation that Intel is constructing in Israel to implement a revolutionary reduction in size of chips, expecting to set a new industry standard and to supply much of the world with parts from its Kiryat Gat facility. Relations between US and Israeli military industry remain particularly close. Israel continues to provide the US with a strategically located overseas military base for prepositioning weapons and other functions. Intelligence cooperation goes back half a century.
These are among the unparalleled services that Israel provides for US militarism and global dominance. They afford Israel a certain leeway to defy Washington's orders -- though it is skating on thin ice if it tries to push its luck too far, as history has repeatedly shown. So far the jingoist extremism of the current government has been constrained by more sober elements: for example, the shelving of the proposals to require a loyalty oath and to prevent citizens from commemorating the Nakba -- the disaster for Palestinians in 1948. But if Israel goes too far, there might indeed erupt a confrontation of the kind that many commentators perceive today, so far, with little basis.
15 June 2009
14 June 2009
On the forty-year anniversary of the publishing of his classic American Power & the New Mandarins, Noam Chomsky comes to the historic Riverside Church in Harlem, New York City, to address a wide range of issues from the global economic crisis, US military intervention in the Middle East and South Asia, left electoral and social movement upsurges in places like El Salvador, Bolivia and Venezuela, and the election of Barack Obama. Chomsky, whom The New York Times Book Review has called "arguably the most important intellectual alive," is the author of over 100 books including in the last few years; What We Say Goes: Conversations on U.S. Power in a Changing World, Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy and Hegemony or Survival.
Professor Chomsky has received honorary degrees from University of London, University of Chicago, Loyola University of Chicago, Swarthmore College, Delhi University, Bard College, University of Massachusetts, University of Pennsylvania, Georgetown University, Amherst College, Cambridge University, University of Buenos Aires, McGill University, Universitat Rovira I Virgili, Tarragona, Columbia University, University of Connecticut, Scuola Normale Superiore, Pisa, University of Western Ontario, University of Toronto, Harvard University, University of Calcutta, and Universidad Nacional De Colombia. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Science. In addition, he is a member of other professional and learned societies in the United States and abroad, and is a recipient of the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award of the American Psychological Association.
Posted by Doug at 7:44 PM
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12 June 2009
Straight-up brilliant -- and utterly accurate. My only critique is that this self-absorption, though perfected by fascists, pollutes discourse across the political spectrum, especially in what passes for "the left" in this country.
Another version of the same argument from Lewis Black:
11 June 2009
Hyperlink courtesy of yours truly; all else is Norm's. To see the graphic at the top of Norm's website, reproduced below, at full size, just click here. Please make this widely known.
The time is now to break the siege of Gaza.
Please see the announcement at the top of my web site.
Please spread the word! I hope you''ll join me on that historic day.
The father of modern linguistics
Marshaled with facts and statistics
A crushing critique
Of his country's mystique
That commissars met with ballistics.
The commissars hated his bent
But failed to dispel his dissent
Which spread like the flu
'Cause everyone knew:
Elites manufacture consent.
Disciples anew gain in traction
Which drives the elites to distraction.
As Chomsky insists,
His value consists
In organizational action.
Disciples of old kill the father.
You wonder why any would bother.
To do such a murder
Could not be absurder
Since all that is shown is their pother.
This classic reaction formation,
A typically strong indication
Of blessings denied
By mentors who eyed
Their progeny once with elation,
Accounts for the whole situation.
Like Hitchens' most recent creation:
A bargain-rack Blair
With none of the flair --
A bar mitzvah boy in deflation.
Yes, Chomsky's a man and thus flawed.
His acolytes are overawed.
But as Orwell said
Of Gandhi's life's thread,
There's far less to blame than to laud.
So, now let me end with a mention
Of Chomsky's most precious extension
Of wisdom long noted
Which ought to be quoted
Until you are sure of retention.
It's not about Language or Reason
Or theories that go out of season
But, rather, advice
Astute and precise
Applicable always, but treason.
It's not all that subtle, my pets,
So proffer I will, with regrets:
It ought to be clear
That notions held dear
View logic and data as threats.
10 June 2009
Madeleine provided the first and sixth lines in consecutive weekly limerick-offs. I thought I'd try a "through-story," having missed the first deadline!
A hard-working author named Fink
Would sit in his bedroom and think.
The walls of his room
Began to assume
Projections best left to a shrink.
There once was a woman named June
Who sang to a Finkian tune
Of sex long repressed
Pretentiously dressed --
What Henry'd've labeled jejune.
04 June 2009
From the delegation in Gaza at the moment; actually, direct from Medea Benjamin's e-mail. At minimum, the bluff, if bluff it is, should be called. It's not bluff; I happen to know second-hand, and the first hand is an old hand and personal friend.
It would be great if you forwarded this widely, including to your local media, Senators, and congressmen.
Hamas Delivers Peace Letter to President Obama
The Hamas government in Gaza reached out to President Obama on the occasion of his visit to the Middle East, announcing that Hamas was willing to talk to all parties “on the basis of mutual respect and without preconditions.” CODEPINK cofounder Medea Benjamin, who carried the letter out from Gaza, said that the letter represented a significant development and an effort by Hamas to present a new face to the Western world. “While Osama bin Laden used the occasion of President Obama’s visit to deliver a scathing attack, Hamas reached out to a feminist U.S. peace group to deliver a letter to Obama urging dialogue, mutual respect and adherence to international law,” said Medea Benjamin.
In the letter, Hamas urged Obama to visit “our ground Zero” in Gaza and bring about a “paradigm shift” in the Israel-Palestine conflict based on enlightened world opinion and international law.
“This is a people who have just been subjected to a vicious attack that left over 1,300 dead and thousands wounded, and there is not a word here about armed resistance or Zionism. They are reaching out and actively seeking a resolution to the conflict based on the findings of the world’s leading international legal bodies and human rights organizations from the United Nations and the International Court of Justice to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. This is a major breakthrough and the U.S. government should take advantage to begin a dialogue with Hamas.”
The letter was signed by Ahmed Yusef, Deputy Foreign Minister and hand-delivered to Benjamin, who was in Gaza headed a 66-person delegation representing 10 nations. Benjamin and representatives of CODEPINK are delivering the letter to the U.S. Embassy in Cairo today, June 4, during Obama’s visit to Egypt.
The text of the letter is below.
His Excellency President Barack Obama,
President of the United States of America.
Dear Mr. President,
We welcome your visit to the Arab world and your administration’s initiative to bridge differences with the Arab-Muslim world.
One long-standing source of tension between the United States and this part of the world has been the failure to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict.
It is therefore unfortunate that you will not visit Gaza during your trip to the Middle East and that neither your Secretary of State nor George Mitchell have come to hear our point of view.
We have received numerous visits recently from people of widely varied backgrounds: U.S. Congressional representatives, European parliamentarians, the U.N.-appointed Goldstone commission, and grassroots delegations such as those organized by the U.S. peace group CODEPINK.
It is essential for you to visit Gaza. We have recently passed through a brutal 22-day Israeli attack. Amnesty International observed that the death and destruction Gaza suffered during the invasion could not have happened without U.S.-supplied weapons and U.S.-taxpayers’ money.
Human Rights Watch has documented that the white phosphorus Israel dropped on a school, hospital, United Nations warehouse and civilian neighborhoods in Gaza was manufactured in the United States. Human Rights Watch concluded that Israel’s use of this white phosphorus was a war crime.
Shouldn’t you see first-hand how Israel used your arms and spent your money?
Before becoming president you were a distinguished professor of law. The U.S. government has also said that it wants to foster the rule of law in the Arab-Muslim world.
The International Court of Justice stated in July 2004 that the whole of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem are occupied Palestinian territories designated for Palestinian self-determination, and that the Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories are illegal.
Not one of the 15 judges sitting on the highest judicial body in the world dissented from these principles.
The main human rights organizations in the world, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have issued position papers supporting the right of the Palestinian refugees to return and compensation.
Each year in the United Nations General Assembly nearly every country in the world has supported these principles for resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict. Every year the Arab League puts forth a peace proposal based on these principles for resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Leading human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch have also stated that Israel’s siege of Gaza is a form of collective punishment and therefore illegal under international law.
We in the Hamas Government are committed to pursuing a just resolution to the conflict not in contradiction with the international community and enlightened opinion as expressed in the International Court of Justice, the United Nations General Assembly, and leading human rights organizations. We are prepared to engage all parties on the basis of mutual respect and without preconditions.
However, our constituency needs to see a comprehensive paradigm shift that not only commences with lifting the siege on Gaza and halts all settlement building and expansion but develops into a policy of evenhandedness based on the very international law and norms we are prodded into adhering to.
Again, we welcome you to Gaza which would allow you to see firsthand our ground zero. Furthermore, it would enhance the US position; enabling you to speak with new credibility and authority in dealing with all the parties.
Very Truly Yours,
Dr. Ahmed Yousef
Deputy of the Foreign Affairs Ministry
Former Senior Political Advisor
to Prime Minister Ismael Hanniya