Archive | June 20th, 2010



To Boldly Go Nowhere: Obama’s Fight to Kill NASA

To Boldly Go Nowhere: Obama’s Fight to Kill NASA

by Jeff Davis

The Times of London reports: “NASA has begun to wind down construction of the rockets and spacecraft that were to have taken astronauts back to the Moon — effectively dismantling the US human spaceflight programme despite a congressional ban on its doing so. Legislators have accused President Obama’s Administration of contriving to slip the termination of the Constellation programme through the back door to avoid a battle on Capitol Hill.”

A space program is something that an advanced First World nation would have. The United States however is rapidly turning into a Third World nation. We have our first Third World president squatting in the Oval Office, who wants to kill off our space program to shift money to support that growing burden caused by 100 million Third World people in the US.

The Times goes on: “Constellation aimed to build upon what was arguably America’s greatest technological achievement, the first lunar landing of 1969, by launching new expeditions to the Moon and to Mars and worlds beyond. Mr Obama proposed in February that it should be scrapped because it was over budget, behind schedule and lacking in innovation, but he has met opposition in Congress, which has yet to approve his plan.

The head of NASA, Major-General Charlie Bolden — an Obama appointee — has now written to aerospace contractors telling them to cut back immediately on Constellation-related projects costing almost $1 billion (£690 million), to comply with regulations requiring them to budget for possible contract termination costs.

The move has been branded a disingenuous legal manoeuvre and referred to NASA’s inspector-general for investigation. ‘It’s bordering on arrogance by the Administration to boldly and brazenly go forward with this approach. It shows a blatant disregard for Congress,’ said the Republican Congressman Rob Bishop, of Utah, whose constituency stands to lose thousands of jobs.”

We’re in the middle of a Depression and we don’t need to be losing any more high tech jobs. The original mission to the moon helped pioneer a variety of new technology from compact computers to camcorders to Tang. The invention of the compact computer led to the whole PC industry, the software industry and the Internet.

A mission back to the moon and/or mars could easily create even more high technology that could ultimately help the economy.

The article notes “Two weeks ago the Senate passed legislation that compels NASA to continue work on Constellation unless Congress directs otherwise. That legislation is due to be signed into law by Mr Obama this month while Congress continues its deliberations over his proposal to cancel the current space progamme.”

I guess that’s one way to pay for Obamacare.

Liberals and Democrats have never been comfortable with the space program. It’s way too much of a “White thing.” The more they try to shoehorn quota-hire Blacks and Latinos into the space program, the more we start crashing space probes. NASA needs to be competent enough to accomplish its mission without barbecuing astronauts during reentry or plunging billion dollar lawn darts into the surface of mars.

The space program has also always been one of the proudest achievements of the Old America, the one run by White people. We obviously can’t have a government program that allows White people, many of them “the hated White males” to shine. The Democrats are spending money right, left and center like drunken sailors to bail out banks and to stimulate the economy, but apparently when it comes to exploring the universe around us in the name of all humanity, the cupboard is bare. What pathetic easily-forgotten historical pygmies they are!

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New Zealand Bans Kosher Slaughter


New Zealand Bans Kosher Slaughter

by Ian Mosley

Here’s a story you won’t see discussed in any detail in the mainstream media. It comes from the private Jewish news service, the Jewish Telegraph Agency. The article reports: “New Zealand has banned shechita, the kosher slaughter of animals. The country’s new animal welfare code, which took effect Friday, mandates that all animals for commercial consumption be stunned prior to slaughter to ensure they are treated humanely and in accordance with good practice and scientific knowledge. The regulation has shocked the Jewish community.”

I can imagine the outrage. Jews normally tell us what Christian beliefs or traditions should be trumped by the government. The Jews are being forced to treat an animal humanely and in accordance with good practice. What’s next? Israel being forced to accord humane treatment for Palestinians?

The article notes “ ‘This decision by the New Zealand government, one which has a Jewish prime minister is outrageous,’ said Rabbi Moshe Gutnick, acting president of the Organization of Rabbis of Australasia. ‘We will be doing everything possible to get this decision reversed.’ Gutnick, who travels frequently to New Zealand to oversee shechita, added, ‘One of the last countries I would have expected to bring in this blatantly discriminatory action would have been New Zealand.’ ”

David Zwartz, the chairman of the Wellington Jewish Council, agreed. ‘I am sure there will be objections made that this action is an infringement of the right of Jews to observe their religion,’ he said. Agriculture Minister David Carter rejected a recommendation that shechita be exempt from the new code.

The National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee did recommend a dispensation for kosher slaughter in 2001, but the new code does not allow any exemptions. Among other countries that have banned shechita are Iceland, Norway and Sweden.”

No one who has ever seen a film of kosher slaughter can deny that the ritualistic butchering of cattle and birds is horribly cruel. The animal is hung upside down by one leg, alive and conscious, and the kosher butcher slashes the throat with a single stroke accompanied by a chant in Hebrew. The animal then bleeds to death.

What most likely will happen here is that some kind of special exemption will be made to exempt Jews (but not Muslims) from the new law. My guess is that one of the main purposes of this law, if an unspoken one, is to discourage Muslim immigration.

However, it will be an interesting exercise in Jewish power to see how they somehow enforce their alleged divine right to be cruel to animals. And it would do us all good to remember that the Jewish definition of “animal” includes all non-Jewish human beings.





June 13, 2010

by Gordon Duff

Helen Thomas Reporter


By Gordon Duff

Veterans Today urges veterans and any supporter of American values to give their support to Helen Thomas, one of the few to stand up for America only and especially for the needs of American veterans during her 57 year career.  We urge our readers to contact everyone they know.  Helen’s 90th birthday is coming up.  Our support would be an excellent gift for someone who has given so much more than she has ever received.


YouTube – Veterans Today –

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U.S. Identifies Vast Riches of Minerals in Afghanistan, $1 trillion-plus

June 14, 2010

by Michael Leon

Ghazni Province – Pentagon: World’s largest deposits of lithium

By James Risen in the NYT

WASHINGTON — The United States has discovered nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan, far beyond any previously known reserves and enough to fundamentally alter the Afghan economy and perhaps the Afghan war itself, according to senior American government officials.

The previously unknown deposits — including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium — are so big and include so many minerals that are essential to modern industry that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world, the United States officials believe.

An internal Pentagon memo, for example, states that Afghanistan could become the “Saudi Arabia of lithium,” a key raw material in the manufacture of batteries for laptops and BlackBerrys.

The vast scale of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth was discovered by a small team of Pentagon officials and American geologists. The Afghan government and President Hamid Karzai were recently briefed, American officials said.

While it could take many years to develop a mining industry, the potential is so great that officials and executives in the industry believe it could attract heavy investment even before mines are profitable, providing the possibility of jobs that could distract from generations of war.

“There is stunning potential here,” Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of the United States Central Command, said in an interview on Saturday. “There are a lot of ifs, of course, but I think potentially it is hugely significant.”

The value of the newly discovered mineral deposits dwarfs the size of Afghanistan’s existing war-bedraggled economy, which is based largely on opium production and narcotics trafficking as well as aid from the United States and other industrialized countries. Afghanistan’s gross domestic product is only about $12 billion.

“This will become the backbone of the Afghan economy,” said Jalil Jumriany, an adviser to the Afghan minister of mines.

American and Afghan officials agreed to discuss the mineral discoveries at a difficult moment in the war in Afghanistan. The American-led offensive in Marja in southern Afghanistan has achieved only limited gains. Meanwhile, charges of corruption and favoritism continue to plague the Karzai government, and Mr. Karzai seems increasingly embittered toward the White House.

So the Obama administration is hungry for some positive news to come out of Afghanistan. Yet the American officials also recognize that the mineral discoveries will almost certainly have a double-edged impact.

Instead of bringing peace, the newfound mineral wealth could lead the Taliban to battle even more fiercely to regain control of the country.

The corruption that is already rampant in the Karzai government could also be amplified by the new wealth, particularly if a handful of well-connected oligarchs, some with personal ties to the president, gain control of the resources. Just last year, Afghanistan’s minister of mines was accused by American officials of accepting a $30 million bribe to award China the rights to develop its copper mine. The minister has since been replaced.

Endless fights could erupt between the central government in Kabul and provincial and tribal leaders in mineral-rich districts. Afghanistan has a national mining law, written with the help of advisers from the World Bank, but it has never faced a serious challenge.

“No one has tested that law; no one knows how it will stand up in a fight between the central government and the provinces,” observed Paul A. Brinkley, deputy undersecretary of defense for business and leader of the Pentagon team that discovered the deposits.

At the same time, American officials fear resource-hungry China will try to dominate the development of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth, which could upset the United States, given its heavy investment in the region. After winning the bid for its Aynak copper mine in Logar Province, China clearly wants more, American officials said.

Another complication is that because Afghanistan has never had much heavy industry before, it has little or no history of environmental protection either. “The big question is, can this be developed in a responsible way, in a way that is environmentally and socially responsible?” Mr. Brinkley said. “No one knows how this will work.”

With virtually no mining industry or infrastructure in place today, it will take decades for Afghanistan to exploit its mineral wealth fully. “This is a country that has no mining culture,” said Jack Medlin, a geologist in the United States Geological Survey’s international affairs program. “They’ve had some small artisanal mines, but now there could be some very, very large mines that will require more than just a gold pan.”

The mineral deposits are scattered throughout the country, including in the southern and eastern regions along the border with Pakistan that have had some of the most intense combat in the American-led war against the Taliban insurgency.

The Pentagon task force has already started trying to help the Afghans set up a system to deal with mineral development. International accounting firms that have expertise in mining contracts have been hired to consult with the Afghan Ministry of Mines, and technical data is being prepared to turn over to multinational mining companies and other potential foreign investors. The Pentagon is helping Afghan officials arrange to start seeking bids on mineral rights by next fall, officials said.

“The Ministry of Mines is not ready to handle this,” Mr. Brinkley said. “We are trying to help them get ready.”

Like much of the recent history of the country, the story of the discovery of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth is one of missed opportunities and the distractions of war.

In 2004, American geologists, sent to Afghanistan as part of a broader reconstruction effort, stumbled across an intriguing series of old charts and data at the library of the Afghan Geological Survey in Kabul that hinted at major mineral deposits in the country. They soon learned that the data had been collected by Soviet mining experts during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, but cast aside when the Soviets withdrew in 1989.

During the chaos of the 1990s, when Afghanistan was mired in civil war and later ruled by the Taliban, a small group of Afghan geologists protected the charts by taking them home, and returned them to the Geological Survey’s library only after the American invasion and the ouster of the Taliban in 2001.

“There were maps, but the development did not take place, because you had 30 to 35 years of war,” said Ahmad Hujabre, an Afghan engineer who worked for the Ministry of Mines in the 1970s …


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June 14, 2010

by Michael Leon


Israel’s Destruction of Gaza

And Israel too, just maybe.

By Asif Haroon Raja

Illegal creation of state of Israel in 1948 with the help of USA and Britain at the cost of Palestinians sowed the seeds of antagonism and extremism in Middle East . It gave birth to several radical groups including PLO within the Arab world. Defeat of armed forces of Arabs in 1967 Arab-Israeli enhanced the prestige of Israeli forces. Occupation of additional territory of Egypt , Syria and Jordan by Israel and its policy of forward settlement of Jews in occupied lands to extend perimeter of security propelled PLO activists to resort to air piracy.

This was a new form of terrorism to combat Israeli oppression and chauvinism. Egyptian forces broke the Israeli myth of invincibility in the 1973 war by breaching the unassailable Barlev Line; Syrian forces too gave a tough fight to Israeli forces. Psychological advantage gained by the Arabs was squandered when Egypt agreed to sign Camp David peace accord with Israel in 1978 and got back its oil rich Sinai Peninsula .

Non-serious attitude of Arab leaders towards the suffering of Palestinians at the hands of Israelis and US unjust support to Israel paved the way for Intifada in early 1980s in which teenaged boys’ pelted stones on Israeli soldiers in occupied territories of West Bank and Gaza.

 Intifada was deceptively blunted through US facilitated Oslo Accord signed in 1993 which led to creation of PLA in occupied territories. However, disregard of several clauses of the agreement, particularly status of Jerusalem and Aerial Sharon led armed march to Jerusalem ’s temple Mount led to second Intifada in September 2000.

It sparked suicide attacks by young Palestinians, which were a new phenomenon to bleed Israelis.

Occupation of Lebanon by Israeli forces in early 1980s and their ruthless policies gave birth to Hezbollah in Lebanon . Likewise, persecution of Gazans and PLO not measuring up to Israeli intrusions catapulted Hamas in Gaza . Defeat of Israeli forces at the hands of Hizbollah in Lebanon in 2006 and spirited defence put up by Hamas fighters in Gaza in early 2009 jolted Israel .

Cruel sanctions against hapless people of Gaza failed to cow them down. Despite killing tens of thousands of Palestinians and inflicting gruesome atrocities, spirits of Palestinians have not waned since they are on the right. It has bred in them greater unity and steadfastness to fight back Israeli aggression. However, they are utterly disappointed with Obama on whom they had pinned high hopes since he too is following pro-Israeli policies.

Islamic revolution in Iran resulting in toppling of Shah of Iran and takeover by Imam Khomeini in March 1979 had a ripple effect throughout the Islamic world including six Soviet Republic States in Central Asia .

 Invasion and occupation of Afghanistan by Soviet troops in December 1979 was resisted by Afghan Mujahideen and supported by Pakistan . CIA played a key role in marshalling holy warriors from all over the Muslim world, financing, training and equipping them to wage a Jihad.

It provided funds and weapons to religious seminaries in Pakistan to impart military training to the students undergoing religious education and to motivate them to become Jihadis. Religious madrassas in tribal belt in particular became venues for military training as well. For eight years heroics of Mujahideen were generously praised.

Besides cash earned from drug trade in Afghanistan , Saudi monetary assistance was also available to fund Jihad and to promote Jihadi culture.

Defeat of Soviet Union was made possible by rag tag Muslim fighters fighting guerrilla warfare after sacrificing 1.5 million lives and suffering crippling injuries to tens of thousands. Shattering defeat and humiliating withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan led to collapse of Soviet Empire within two years.

Spectacular victory achieved by the Mujahideen was no mean accomplishment since it helped the US to emerge as the sole super power. They were looked at with great respect and admiration. Fragmentation of Soviet Union gave fillip to Jihadist culture.

Abandonment of Afghanistan instead of rebuilding the war ravaged country and leaving Afghan Mujahideen in a lurch disenchanted them. Mission oriented Jihadism directed against godless Soviets became unruly and resulted in internecine war between various Afghan factions vying for power.

Afghans held the Americans responsible for their woes and gradually the ire of Jihadis started to gravitate towards them. They blamed the Americans for using them as gun fodder and then dumping them when their interests were served without paying any compensation for their colossal sacrifices.

Russia too didn’t give a single penny in war reparations. This resentment against USA turned into aversion when US forces invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 without a justifiable cause since Afghans had no connection with 9/11. Heroes of yesterday known as Mujahideen were named as Al-Qaeda and Taliban and branded as terrorists.

They are being hounded and persecuted with impunity thereby giving a just cause to the oppressed to wage Jihad against the occupation forces.

Iraq venture undertaken on a false pretext over extended the US militarily, financially and diplomatically. It drained the US of its credibility, resources and resolve. It discredited its leadership, degraded its financial health and disabled its political will.

Fomenting of sectarianism in Iraq by CIA and Mossad shifted the focus of suicide bombers from Israel towards Iraq where suicide and car bomb attacks became a norm. It further fuelled Jihadi culture in Middle East .

In South Asia , Kashmir is the unfinished agenda of partition in 1947. Indian unyielding stance to resolve the dispute in accordance with UN Resolutions became the bone of contention between India and Pakistan resulting in three wars and two local conflicts.

It stoked antagonism and fueled extremism. Fed up of Indian policy of ambivalence and oppression, docile Kashmiris launched armed uprising in November 1989 to break the shackles of slavery. Over seven lacs Indian forces unleashed a reign of terror. Despite massacring more than 100,000 Kashmiris, raping thousands of women, destroying houses, shops and property and imposing inhuman laws they failed to extinguish the liberation movement.

Tens of Jihadi groups sprouted in IHK to wage Jihad against occupation forces. Kashmiri Mujahideen are now resorting to unarmed Jihad against Indian soldiers armed to the teeth since India has sealed the Line of Control and divided the APHC.

Passions of Islamists were deliberately inflamed by defaming Islam and displaying caricatures of Holy Prophet (Pbuh) to provoke them to resort to violent means and thus giving the US excuse to dub them as extremists and terrorists deserving no mercy. Islam phobia also gave rise to Jihadi culture.

Unresolved Palestinian and Kashmir disputes, Islamic revolution in Iran and occupation of Afghanistan by Soviet troops had direct bearing on rise of extremism and Jihadi culture in Middle East and South Asia .

Pakistan had been converted into a breeding and a training ground for Jihadi forces and a springboard for launching Jihadis into Afghanistan in the 1980s by CIA. After the fall of communism, war on terror was conceived by neo-cons and US arms merchants to find an excuse to steal resources of Muslim world and to keep arms industry running.

Having deliberately pushed terrorism into Pakistan , the US and its partners are now vilifying Pakistan for promoting extremism and terrorism. It is being blamed for propping up Jihadi culture whereas in actuality it is USA that had laid the foundation of Jihadi culture within Muslim world and nurtured it.

The US is now trying to axe the Frankenstein monster it had created since its creation has become hostile and gone berserk.

Ill-famed Indo-US-Israeli nexus is shamelessly fabricating series of false stories to defame Pakistan which is the biggest victim of terrorism. Story appearing in Jewish controlled London School of Economics about ISI training Taliban with full knowledge of civil government is the latest concoction. Suchlike idiotic stories fuel Jihadi culture.

The writer is a retired Brig and a freelance defence and security analyst. Email:






Israel approves internal probe into Gaza flotilla massacre, White House Applauds

June 14, 2010

by Michael Leon

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Resisting international pressure, Israel’s Cabinet acceded to allow a domestic inquiry into the Gaza flotilla massacre conducted by an Israeli investigative panel.

Though Israel has included two foreign observers as it continues to reject an international investigation, the move appears unlikely to satisfy the demands of the world community and human rights groups, such as Professor Philip Alston, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, for an impartial and comprehensive inquiry.

Critics the world-over already are ridiculing the outcome of Israel’s investigation before it begins, predicting caustically: Israel will exonerate itself.

Newly released video footage of the massacre includes that of an American human rights worker being kicked repeatedly while lying on the deck of an aid ship, the Mavi Marmara, before being shot to death by Israeli Marines in international waters.

Though Israel’ self-defence line is falling apart in the face of the massacre of human rights workers at sea, the White House kept up its abiding support for Israel, saying the inquiry was a significant step, and that Israel is capable of conducting a fair investigation.

“But we will not prejudge the process or its outcome, and will await the conduct and findings of the investigation before drawing further conclusions,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said in a statement. 

By Josef Federman

JERUSALEM – Israel’s Cabinet on Monday approved an investigation into the navy’s deadly raid on a flotilla carrying pro-Palestinian activists bound for blockaded Gaza that will include two respected foreign observers in a step aimed at countering worldwide criticism of the operation.

Israel has been under heavy pressure to carry out an impartial inquiry into the events of May 31, when naval commandos clashed with activists on board a Turkish ship headed to Gaza. Nine Turkish activists were killed, and dozens of people, including seven soldiers, were wounded.

Israel has rejected calls for an international investigation, saying the United Nations and other global bodies have a long history of bias against the Jewish state.

But in consultation with its key ally, the United States, Israel agreed to add two high-ranking foreign observers to bolster the credibility of the probe: David Trimble, a Nobel peace laureatefrom Northern Ireland, and Canada’s former chief military prosecutor, retired Brig. Gen. Ken Watkin.

Trimble is a member of a pro-Israel faction in Britain’s House of Lords. Watkin has been a visiting fellow in the human rights program at Harvard Law School.

Before Monday’s Cabinet vote, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was confident the makeup of the commission would blunt the international criticism and prove Israel handled the affair responsibly.

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Derivatives are a hotbed of abuses and bailouts, why are taxpayers footing the bill?

June 14, 2010

by Michael Leon

Share Money Changing Hands

By Zach Carter at AlterNet

For the Wall Street reform package currently making its way through Congress to work , it has to accomplish two broad goals: It must take a huge bite out of banking profits and end the too-big-to-fail oligopoly that encourages megabanks to take megarisks and stick taxpayers with the tab.

Neither of these goals can be accomplished without taking on derivatives — the wild, unregulated market that brought down AIG. Right now, the U.S. government pays big banks for operating derivatives casinos. If we’re going to clean up the derivatives mess, we have to move taxpayer money out of the market.

“The dirty little secret here is that the American government has been subsidizing the derivatives market through the Fed and other avenues since its inception,” says Adam White, director of research for White Knight Research and Trading. “That’s crazy.”

What kind of business is the American taxpayer subsidizing? One with a history of deception and abuse that dates back to its earliest years. Back in 1993 when derivatives casino was first getting off the ground, a Wall Street titan called Bankers Trust Co. sold a derivatives package to drug and chemical giant Procter & Gamble.

 At the time, Bankers Trust was a powerful, well-respected financial player, which was how it scored big-time clients like P&G. But P&G ultimately took a huge loss on the deal with Bankers Trust, and took the bank to court, where it obtained more than 6,500 tape recordings of horrific derivatives strategizing.

The public release of those tapes was not enough to compel Congress to actually do anything as a matter of public policy, but it was more than sufficient to utterly ruin Bankers Trust. One quote from the tapes, in particular, has become infamous among the nation’s financial establishment, but remains obscure to the general public. It’s a Bankers Trust salesman, describing the Procter & Gamble deal:

“Funny business you know? Lure people into that calm and then just totally fuck ‘em.”

To this day, such techniques remain a central part of the derivatives business, as the SEC’s recent fraud suit against Goldman Sachs has made clear. These operations are ugly enough as purely private-sector enterprises. But the real disgrace is that ordinary taxpayers are actually helping to fund it. That taxpayer payout, in turn, creates market distortions that encourage fraud, abuse and bailouts.

“In the fall of 2008, when the derivatives market-making of the five big banks lead to a systemic catastrophe, the banks all proudly walked back to the Fed window to get assistance to prop up their derivatives market-making,” says Michael Greenberger, who served as the chief deputy to Commodity Futures Trading Commissioner Brooksley Born during her unsuccessful attempt to rein in the derivatives market in 1998. “The central question is whether we want this to be part of the basic business of derivatives. That seems insane.”

As the Wall Street reform bill moves into its final stage of negotiations, the only proposal still on the table that would actually move taxpayer money out of the derivatives sinkhole comes from the unlikely source of Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., a career corporatist who has never shown much interest in regulating anything. But it’s a whopper of a proposal, one that comes free of any loopholes and goes straight to the heart of Wall Street’s bubble machine.

The plan is simple: If you want to be dealing the crazy, complex financial products that toppled AIG, Enron and Long-Term Capital Management, then you can’t receive any funding from the Federal Reserve. No bank can operate without access to the Federal Reserve’s money supply, so the five megabanks would have to choose — do they want to be derivatives houses or do they want to be banks? If they want to be banks, they have to move all of their derivatives operations to an independently capitalized subsidiary — a company that raises money on its own and has no access to taxpayer perks.

While several policymakers close to the financial industry like Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner oppose the Lincoln language — known on Capitol Hill as “Section 716″– many top economists agree that getting taxpayers out of the derivatives business is the most important Wall Street reform still on the table for 2010.

“To me, preserving section 716 is really the critical issue,” Nobel Laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz said on a June 9 conference call with reporters. “It protects the taxpayer.” Top economic thinkers like Nouriel Roubini, former IMF chief economist Simon Johnson, Dean Baker and Jane D’Arista have also offered support for the measure.

If banks can’t pump taxpayer money into the derivatives machine, that machine becomes much less profitable. Instead of booking fictitious profits based on perpetual government aid, derivatives dealers will have to price their risks as they exist in the real world. Market forces would shrink the casino, putting the entire economy in a better place.

Most followers of the Wall Street collapse know that derivatives are dangerous — but even some dedicated reformers can find themselves wondering just what the hell a derivative actually is. The answer: just about anything a banker wants it to be. Derivatives are used to for everything from straightforward insurance to outrageous accounting fraud.

Any financial contract whose value is derived from some other asset can be classified as a derivative. They can be derived from just about any asset imaginable, which is why derivatives scandals are so diverse in nature. Enron used derivatives to loot the California electricity market. AIG used them to loot the U.S. mortgage market, J.P. Morgan Chase used them to loot Jefferson County, Alabama and Goldman Sachs used them to loot the European Union.

“You can use derivatives to get into any business you want,” says Michael Masters, an incredibly successful hedge fund manager who has worked closely with White on derivatives reform proposals. “If a bank wants to get into the iron ore business, they can do that.

They can get into the coal transportation business. You can say, ‘I’m going to be in the shoe business now,’ and concoct some derivatives based on shoes, and all of a sudden, you come to dominate the shoe industry. Banks are supposed to be banks. They’re supposed to facilitate commercial activity, not directly compete with commercial enterprises.

That taxpayer subsidy gives them a leg up on every other industry, financial or otherwise, when they can deploy it on derivatives.”

A bloated financial sector is bad for the economy. Instead of acting as a catalyst for broader economic growth, oversized financial sectors actually devour other productive activity. By 2007, finance accounted for about 40 percent of corporate profits, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

After taking a dive during the crash of 2008, finance was back to 36 percent of profits by the end of 2009, almost all of that rebound carried by derivatives operations. If we cannot shrink bank profits, our economic recovery is going to be unnecessarily weak. The rest of the economy will be suffering at the expense of our financiers.

But the very fact that most people need to ask the question — what is a derivative? — is part of this market’s profit magic. By injecting needless complexity into otherwise straightforward financial transactions, banks can game their balance sheets, deceive investors and defraud their own clients.

The recent examples are nauseating—Goldman Sachs setting up its own customers to fail and then betting against them; Lehman Brothers using derivatives to hide mountains of debt from its own investors; and on and on.

Taxpayers have subsidized banking since the 1930s by providing both deposit insurance from the FDIC and cheap emergency lending from the Fed. There’s a damn good reason for providing this aid: If a bank fails, its depositors don’t lose their savings. This keeps ordinary people from being directly wiped out by a financial crisis, and it also makes financial crises less likely by preventing bank runs.

These guarantees also help banks. Since there is no risk of loss, banks do not have to pay depositors very much to win their money. That makes financing the everyday operations of the bank very cheap, and allows the bank to book bigger profits. So the flip-side of that subsidy is regulation. Up until the 1990s, that regulation meant that banks couldn’t do any risky securities trading while receiving taxpayer perks. By 1999, Congress and regulators had ripped away all of those restrictions.

But the explosion of the derivatives market in the 1990s may have been even more significant than the repeal of the Depression-era restrictions on what banks could do. Derivatives did not become a significant part of the banking business until the 1990s.

At the end of 1992, at the dawn of the Clinton administration, the total face value of the derivatives market was $12.1 trillion, according to the Government Accountability Office. That sounds like a lot, and it is, but by the end of George W. Bush’s reign in 2008, the derivatives market had exploded to $683 trillion, according to the Bank for International Settlements. In today’s banking industry, just five U.S. banks control nearly $300 trillion of that international market: Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Bank of America and Morgan Stanley.

This explosion didn’t happen by accident. The surest way to feed a destructive market in anything — finance, oil, junk food, whatever — is to deregulate it, and then subsidize it. Fraudsters love to specialize in products the government doesn’t scrutinize, and everybody likes free money from Uncle Sam.

The Bankers Trust scandal was a major event in financial circles, but it didn’t spark a systemic freak-out. But in 1998, one of the world’s largest hedge funds, Long-Term Capital Management, found itself on the brink of collapse after getting in way over its head on derivatives. The scare was so severe that the Federal Reserve orchestrated a bailout for the hedge fund, albeit one financed by the private sector rather than taxpayers.

 Brooksley Born took that collapse to heart and pushed to regulate derivatives, but was blocked by a coalition of Alan Greenspan, Robert Rubin and Lawrence Summers. In 2000, a Republican Congress passed legislation that further deregulated the market with the blessing of both Clinton and Summers. Suddenly, bankers had carte blanche to do whatever they wanted with derivatives, and get subsidized by the American public.

Derivatives are a fundamentally risky business, much more so than lending. Loans provide a much more direct economic function, their risk is much more easily ascertained, and they can be put to productive uses — buying a home, investing in new inventory, whatever.

“The whole point of government guarantees is to avoid bank runs and establish confidence so that they can lend money out,” says White. “You don’t want to give your money to a bank and have them stick it in the mattress. They’re not lending it out any more. These days, every time they get a dollar from the Fed, they have to make a choice: Are we going to make a loan, are we going to conduct derivatives trades, or are we use it to do proprietary trading. Generally, making a loan is third on that list.”

Even when they are not fraudulent or abusive, derivatives are usually purely speculative instruments. They often do not serve any productive economic function, but instead allow clever opportunists to cash in on some economic event (say, the collapse of the subprime mortgage market).

That doesn’t actually help anybody create jobs or bring a great new product into the economy—it just lets somebody get rich at the economy’s expense.

Speculation in small amounts is not an economic disaster. Indeed, some degree of speculation is necessary for a financial system to function at all. But when speculation is subsidized by the government, the rewards offered by raw gambling very easily outweigh the risks. Subsidizing speculators results in way too much speculation in the economy, and puts the economy at large in serious danger.

This is essentially what happened in the subprime mortgage market. As Nomi Prins has detailed, only about $1.4 trillion in subprime mortgages were issued between 2002 and 2008, while about $14 trillion in securitized bets were derived from these mortgages. When the subprime market cratered, the economy’s problem was several trillion dollars larger than it needed to be thanks to derivatives.

The derivatives dealing problem is different from the matter of proprietary trading—banks simply gambling for their own accounts. By dealing derivatives, banks act as a go-between for other speculators. The bank is not betting for its own account, but the taxpayer subsidies for the operation make acting as this go-between much more profitable, and, as a result, speculation throughout the entire financial system becomes cheap and rampant.

A strong Volcker Rule — something not yet included in the Wall Street reform package — would end the subsidies for prop trading. But we shouldn’t be subsidizing speculation anywhere, and so long as banks are allowed to deal derivatives, that’s exactly what we’ll be doing.

“They should be seen as complementary,” Stiglitz said. “What is obviously clear is that the current Volcker Rule needs to be strengthened, but even after it’s strengthened…the two are dealing for the most part with different issues, different kinds of activities, different risks, different distortions.”

But there is another still deeper problem in derivatives beyond the subsidization of recklessness, abuse and speculation. By allowing derivatives dealers to operate within the commercial banking system, taxpayers are directly subsidizing too-big-to-fail.

 Banks deliberately wrap themselves in extremely complex webs of derivatives trades in an effort to insulate themselves from regulatory scrutiny. The current Wall Street reform package tries to end too-big-to-fail by giving regulators new powers to shut down failing financial behemoths. But if banks can still deal derivatives, those powers are likely to prove meaningless. As a subsidized derivatives dealer, a bank can conduct millions of dollars worth of derivatives trades every day, making it impossible for regulators to predict the fallout from shutting the bank down.

When push comes to shove, the regulator won’t shut down the bank—it will just bail it out.

“Without OTC derivatives reform enhanced resolution powers for dealing with insolvent institutions could well be rendered impotent and future crises in the credit allocation system will likely be longer and deeper than is necessary,” former Senate Banking Committee economist Robert Johnson told the Houses Financial Services Committee in November 2009.

Everybody in Washington who has bothered to be educated in derivatives knows that banks use derivatives to make themselves too-big-to-fail, and key politicians have taken direct steps to prevent the public from getting the message. When Johnson testified in November 2009, he was cut off early by Rep. Melissa Bean, D-Ill., and Congress refused to post his testimony online until outrage from the financial blogosphere reached a fever-pitch several weeks later.

 The House was in the middle of a plan to gut the already timid derivatives reforms offered by the administration of President Barack Obama, and the House ultimately offered an incredibly weak plan to cope with the catastrophe.

But the overarching lesson is clear: you cannot end too-big-to-fail without divorcing taxpayer subsidies for derivatives from the banking industry. Insane profitability carries with it extreme political power. Every other aspect of Wall Street reform hinges on the willingness of Congress to defuse derivatives profits.

So long as megabanks can rake it in on derivatives, it will be extremely difficult to rein in other aspects of their business, regardless of what rules are actually on the books.

Fortunately, the political winds are shifting. Kansas City Federal Reserve President Thomas Hoenig offered strong support for the plan to end derivatives subsidies in a June 10 letter to Sen. Blanche Lincoln. Lincoln herself decided to run with the derivatives crackdown when she realized that her primary challenger Bill Halter had both the funding and the support from progressives to unseat her.

While Obama remains opposed to the Lincoln proposal, Lincoln’s sudden ferocity on derivatives was championed by both Obama and former President Bill Clinton as reasons for her relevance in the November elections, and this support led Lincoln to a narrow victory in the Democratic primary last week. After watching so-called “moderate” Democrats spend a full year watering down reforms to please their Wall Street backers, at least one Blue Dog finally realized that Americans want real reform, and that real political gain could be realized by providing it.

Organized labor, major boosters of financial reform, poured $10 million into Halter’s campaign against Lincoln. Even though Halter didn’t win, this investment is beginning to look like one of the greatest in history. J.P. Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon expects the current derivatives language to cost his company $2 billion a year in profits. Multiply that figure by the number of major dealer-banks, and it comes to $10 billion a year.

Over the course of a decade, $100 billion in Wall Street profits will remain in the real economy instead of being distributed as dividends and bonuses. Score $100 billion for the economy on a $10 million investment is a return of 1,000,000 percent—easily the greatest single trade in history.

Forcing banks out of the derivatives business is by no means a done deal. Only continued public pressure can keep politicians from selling out to Wall Street (again).

Call Congress today and tell them you’re sick of seeing your money go to financial predators.

Zach Carter is an economics editor at AlterNet. He writes a weekly blog on the economy for the Media Consortium and his work has appeared in the Nation, Mother Jones, the American Prospect and Salon.

Posted in UncategorizedComments Off on AMERICAN DIRTY LITTLE SECRET’S



Targeting Whistleblowers and Journalists Under the Obama Administration

June 13, 2010

by Michael Leon

Stephen Lendman at OpEdNews has a piece that should make every libertarian, conservative, progressive; hell every American cringe: At the Obama administration. Is the change President Obama promised?

Targeting Whistleblowers: Truth Telling Endangered

By Stephen Lendman

On April 16, journalist John Cole wrote:

“The message is clear – you torture people and then destroy the evidence, and you get off without so much as a sternly worded letter. If you are a whistle blower outlining criminal behavior by the government, you get prosecuted.”

In fact, it’s worse. Under Bush, torture was official policy. It remains so under Obama who absolved CIA torturers, despite unequivocal evidence of their guilt. But leaking it risks criminal prosecution for revealing state secrets and endangering national security.

On June 7, New York Times writer Elisabeth Bumiller headlined, “Army Leak Suspect Is Turned In, by Ex-Hacker,” explaining that US Army intelligence analyst Specialist Bradley Manning told Adrian Lamo that he leaked the following materials to WikiLeaks:

– “260,000 classified United States diplomatic cables and video of a (US) airstrike in Afghanistan that killed 97 civilians last year,” and

– an “explosive (39 minute) video of an American helicopter attack in Baghdad that left 12 people dead, including two employees of the Reuters news agency.” Manning called it “collateral murder,” a crime he felt obliged to expose.

Lamo told the military, saying “I outed Brad Manning as an alleged leaker out of duty. I would never (and have never) outed an Ordinary Decent Criminal. There’s a difference.” He didn’t explain or how any criminal can be decent.

On June 7, the military command in Iraq arrested Manning, saying in Pentagon boilerplate:

“The Department of Defense takes the management of classified information very seriously because it affects our national security, the lives of our soldiers, and our operations abroad.”

So far, Manning is uncharged and is being held in Kuwait pending further action.

On June 6 in, Kevin Poulsen and Kim Zetter broke the story in their article headlined, “US Intelligence Analyst Arrested in WikiLeaks Video Probe,” explaining:

The Army’s Criminal Investigation Division arrested Manning after Lamo outed him. The State Department said it wasn’t aware of the arrest.The FBI had no comment, then later the Defense Department confirmed his arrest for allegedly leaking classified information. According to army spokesman Gary Tallman:

“If you have a security clearance and wittingly or unwittingly provide classified information to anyone who doesn’t have security clearance or a need to know, you have violated security regulations and potentially the law.”

Manning said:

Everywhere there’s a US post, there’s a diplomatic scandal that will be revealed. It’s open diplomacy. World-wide anarchy in CSV format. It’s Climategate with a global scope, and breathtaking depth.

It’s beautiful and horrifying. (The documents describe) almost criminal political back dealings. (They belong) in the public domain, and not on some server stored in a dark corner in Washington, DC. (Our government is involved in) incredible things, awful things.

He exposed cold-blooded murder of innocent civilians and reporters, the perpetrators laughing on video like it was a game – the public unaware that Pentagon rules-of-engagement (ROEs) target Iraqi and Afghan civilians as well as alleged combatants.

On June 11, New York Times writer Scott Shane headlined, “Obama Takes a Hard Line Against Leaks to Press,” saying: “In 17 months in office, President Obama has already outdone every previous president in pursuing leak prosecutions,” citing actions against Thomas A. Drake (discussed below), and Times columnist James Risen, subpoenaed (by Bush and Obama) to disclose his sources for his book, “State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration.”

Lucy Dalglish, executive director for Reporters Committee for Freedom, explained:

“The message they are sending to everyone is ‘You leak to the media, we will get you.’ As far as I can tell there is absolutely no difference (between Bush and Obama), and (he) seems to be paying more attention to it. This is going to get nasty.”

Attorney General Eric Holder approved the subpoena, his Justice Department spokesman, Matthew Miller, saying: “As a general matter, we have consistently said that leaks of classified information are something we take extremely seriously.”

Risen’s lawyer, Joel Kurtzberg, explained that the subpoena relates to his report about covert CIA measures to subvert Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program. “We will be fighting to quash” it, he said. “Jim is the highest calibre of reporter and adhered to the highest standards of his profession. And he intends to honor the promise of confidentiality he made to (his) source or sources.”

Risen’s publisher, Simon and Schuster, is handling the matter, but a Times statement said: “Our view, however, is that confidential sources are vital in getting information to the public, and a subpoena issued more than four years after the book was published hardly seems to be important enough to outweigh the protection an author needs to have.”

First brought in 2006 by Bush Attorney General Michael Mukasey, the grand jury session expired without resolution. Holder will impanel a new one. Risen faces possible prosecution and jail time for honoring his confidentiality commitment, what no reporter should ever violate.

WikiLeaks – What It Is, How It Operates

Calling itself “the intelligence agency of the people,” WikiLeaks says it’s “a multi-jurisdictional public service designed to protect whistleblower, journalist and activists who have sensitive materials to communicate to the public” that has a right to know.

Only when they’re told “the true plans and behavior of their governments” can they decide whether or not they deserve support, or as Jack Kennedy said on April 27, 1961:

“The very word secrecy is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and to secret proceedings. We decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweighed the dangers, which are cited to justify it.”

WikiLeaks believes that “Principled leaking has changed the course of history for the better; it can alter the course of history in the present; it can lead us to a better future.” It can expose abuses of power by “rel(ying) upon the power of overt fact to enable and empower citizens to bring feared and corrupt governments and corporations to justice,” and help make nominal democracies real ones.

Secrecy and Targeting Whistleblowers and Journalists Under Obama

More than ever under Obama, we live in a secret society, in which whistleblowers and journalists are targeted for doing their job – why Helen Thomas, unfairly pilloried by the pro-Israeli chorus, last July said his administration was “controlling the press,” during a White House Robert Gibbs briefing, then afterward added:

“It’s shocking. It’s really shocking….What the hell do they think we are, puppets? They’re supposed to stay out of our business. They are our public servants. We pay them.”

In a July 1, 2009 interview with, she said even Nixon didn’t exert press control like Obama, saying: “Nixon didn’t try to do that. They couldn’t control (the media). They didn’t try….I’m not saying there has never been managed news before, but this is carried to (a) fare-thee-well for town halls, the press conferences. It’s blatant. They don’t give a damn if you know it or not. They ought to be hanging their heads in shame.”

In February 2009, the Free Flow of Information Act was introduced in the House and Senate. In March, the lower body passed it overwhelmingly, after which it stalled in Senate Committee.

At the time, the Obama administration weakened it in opposition to strong congressional support – on the pretext of national security considerations over the public’s right to know, to let prosecutors judicially force reporters and whistleblowers to reveal their sources. Though the bill never passed, the administration uses it to prevent exposure of information it wants suppressed, more aggressively than any of his predecessors, another measure of a man promising change.

Thomas Drake was an Obama administration target, a former National Security Agency (NSA) “senior executive,” indicted on April 15, 2010, on multiple charges of “willful retention of classified information, obstruction of justice and making false statements,” according to Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Criminal Division.

The 10-count indictment alleges he gave Baltimore Sun reporter Sibohan Gorman classified NSA documents about the agency. In fact, she wrote about waste and mismanagement in its “Trailblazer” project (a program analyzing data on computer networks), and illegal spying activities, saying on May 18, 2006 in her article headlined, “NSA Killed System That Sifted Phone Data Legally” that:

“Once President Bush gave the go-ahead for the NSA to secretly gather and analyze domestic phone records – an authorization that carried no stipulations about identity protection – agency officials regarded the encryption as an unnecessary step and rejected it.”

Her stories, however, focused mainly on the Trailblazer $1.2 billion initiative that one insider called “the biggest boondoggle going on now in the intelligence community,” what the public had every right to know.

Drake’s leaks exposed illegal NSA spying, its enormous amount of waste and fraud, and the formation of a public/private national security/surveillance state, incentivizing profiteers to hype fear for their own bottom-line self-interest.

As a candidate, Obama promised transparency, accountability, and reform of extremist Bush policies. As president, he usurped unchecked surveillance powers, including warrantless wiretapping, accessing personal records, monitoring financial transactions, and tracking emails, Internet and cell phone use to gather secret evidence for prosecutions. He also claims Justice Department immunity from illegal spying suits, an interpretation no member of Congress or administration ever made, not even Bush or his Republican allies.

As a result, his national security state targets activists, political dissidents, anti-war protestors, Muslims, Latino immigrants, lawyers who defend them, whistleblowers, journalists who expose federal crimes, corruption, and excesses who won’t disclose their sources, and WikiLeaks, cited in a 2008 Pentagon report as a major US security threat, important to shut down by deterring, discouraging or prosecuting its sources. More on that below.

At a time of extreme government secrecy, lawlessness, and betrayal of the public trust, exposes and public debate more than ever are vital – whistleblowers, WikiLeaks, and courageous reporters essential to an open society, one endangered without them.

WikiLeaks March 15, 2010 Release: “US Intelligence planned to destroy WikiLeaks

The group’s founder, Julian Assange, described a 32-page February 2008 counterintelligence investigation “to fatally marginalize the organization.” However, after two years, without success, at least so far.

It called WikiLeaks “a potential force protection, counterintelligence, operational security (OPSEC), and information security (INFOSEC) threat to the US Army, (jeopardizing) DoD personnel, equipment, facilities, or installations.

Such information (could help) foreign intelligence and security services (FISS), foreign military forces, foreign insurgents, and foreign terrorist groups (by providing them) information (they could use to attack) US force(s), both within the United States and abroad” – typical Pentagon boilerplate to hype threats and deter whistleblowers from exposing government crimes and excesses, what the public has every right to know.

In response, WikiLeaks said protecting the identity of leakers takes high priority. It operates “to expose unethical practices, illegal behavior, and wrongdoing within corrupt (government agencies and) corporations (as well as) oppressive regimes” abroad, some in collusion with Washington.

The goal – expose wrongdoing, demand accountability, and support democratic principles in a free and open society – what governments are supposed to do, but when they don’t, organizations like WikiLeaks exhibit the highest form of patriotism, to be lauded, not spied on, pilloried, or destroyed.

Among its many accusations, DOD claimed WikiLeaks:

– has possible DOD moles giving it sensitive or classified information;

– uses its site to post fabricated and manipulated information;

– has 2,000 pages of leaked army documents with information about US and coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, including on the kinds and numbers of equipment assigned to US Central Command;

– Julian Assange wrote and co-authored articles, based on leaked information, “to facilitate action by the US Congress to force the withdrawal of US troops by cutting off funding for the war(s);”

– leaked information “could aid enemy forces in planning terrorist attacks, (choose) the most effective type and emplacement of improvised explosive devices (IEDs)” and use other ways to target US military units, convoys, and bases;

– data published is misinterpreted, manipulated misinformation, disinformation, and propaganda;

– a November 9, 2007 report said US forces “had almost certainly violated the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC),” and has 2,386 low grade chemical weapons in Iraq and Afghanistan;

– the same report charged DOD with illegal white phosphorous use in the 2004 Fallujah attack;

– the Bush administration was accused of torture and denying ICRC representatives access to Guantanamo detainees;

– details were provided on DOD’s use of asymmetric tactics, techniques, and procedures in the April 2004 Fallujah assault; and

– many other accusations and concerns were listed, including whether “foreign organizations….foreign military services, foreign insurgents, or terrorist groups provide funding or material support to”

DOD concluded that successfully identifying, prosecuting, and terminating the employment of leakers “would damage and potentially destroy” WikiLeaks’ operation and deter others from supplying information. It also stressed “the need for strong counterintelligence, antiterrorism, force protection, information assurance, INFOSEC, and OPSEC programs to train Army personnel” on ways to prevent leaks and report “suspicious activities.”

Julian Assange is a man with a mission – total transparency. WikiLeaks is a vital resource by providing key information on how governments and corporations betray the public interest. Given America’s tradition of war crimes, corruption and other abuses of power, no wonder DOD is concerned, thankfully so far without success, or according to WikiLeaks:

Its activities are “the strongest way we have of generating the true democracy and good governance on which all mankind’s dreams depend,” and may have a chance to achieve from their work and others like them – grassroots activism, power and determination, the only way change ever comes, never from the top down, a lesson to internalize, remember, and act on.

A Final Note

On June 10, Daily Beast writer Philip Shenon headlined, “Pentagon Manhunt,” saying:

“Anxious that WikiLeaks may be on the verge of publishing a batch of secret State Department cables, investigators are desperately searching for founder Julian Assange.”

In early June, he was scheduled to speak at New York’s Personal Democracy Forum, but was advised against it for his safety. Instead, he appeared via Skype from Australia.
Interviewed about Assange, famed whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg believes he could be in danger, saying: “I happen to have been the target of a White House hit squad myself. On May 3, 1972, a dozen CIA assets from the Bay of Pigs, Cuban emigres, were brought up from Miami with orders to ‘incapacitate me totally.’”

Ellsberg asked if that meant to kill him, and was told “It means to incapacitate you totally. But you have to understand these guys never use the word ‘kill.’ ”

Is Assange now in danger? “Absolutely. On the same basis, I was….Obama is now proclaiming rights of life and death, being judge, jury, and executioner of Americans without due process” at home or abroad, besides non-citizens anywhere as well, the rule of law be damned. “No president has ever claimed that and possibly no one since John the First.”

Ellsberg’s advice to Assange: “Stay out of the US. Otherwise, keep doing what he is doing. It’s pretty valuable….He is serving our democracy and serving our rule of law precisely by challenging the secrecy regulations, which are not laws in most cases, in this country. He is doing very good work for our democracy,” something Obama, like his predecessors, works daily to subvert.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at Also visit his blog site at and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.

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Movements take years to build… to Freedom Summer

Posted: 20 Jun 2010

Like everyone else, I’ve been closely following the events regarding the flotilla massacre; as well as the upcoming boats. It’s been a very exciting time to be a Palestine solidarity activist.

I literally got the chills when I read about two boats of German Jews coming to break the siege.

I was also deeply inspired upon reading about the ship full of Lebanese women coming to break the siege. Being that I’m in Beirut, Lebanon right now, it makes me particularly proud.

To boot: the ship is named Mariam, after the Virgin Mary. In a country with a recent history of sometimes tense relations between Christians and Muslims; it touches my heart to see what I presume to be a mixed group of women naming their boat after the Virgin Mary. The predominant Christian sect in Lebanon is of course the Maronite Catholics.

Now with all the news about more flotillas and Israel trying to undermine the efforts with token gestures like soda or cinnamon; I can see the movement is having tangible success. Why?

Because of Viva Palestina, Gaza Freedom March (with which I went to Gaza last December), the Free Gaza Movement, and all the other convoys which came before the IHH Turkish Flotilla.

IHH wouldn’t have happened on such a grand scale with the Turkish flag on it, without the precedents set by the previous convoys: both land and sea.

Movements take time and effort, and change happens little by little; not overnight and not in one fell swoop. Anyone who has studied the history of social movements in any way, or who at least has read Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States; knows this. Momentum is built with each successful (albeit temporary and incomplete) weakening of the siege of Gaza.

In America, we learn history from the top-down instead of how it really happens, the bottom up. We like to believe that Martin Luther King came along one day, organized a few marches and POOF black people got rights! But that’s not the way it went.

Thousands if not millions of today unknown people took part in marches, strikes, civil disobedience, and yes: armed struggle.

This is the reality of the Civil Rights Movement.
Without Stokely Carmichael and SNCC (which coincidentally supported Palestinians unequivocally after the 1967 war and occupation) doing sit ins at Historically Black Colleges and Universities throughout the American South and the rest of the country as well; there would never have been a March on Washington or a Civil Rights Act in 1964.

Without W.E.B. DuBois helping to form the Niagara Movement, there would be no NAACP and no de-segregation success in the Brown vs. Board of Education case.
Between slavery and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, it took HUNDREDS OF YEARS for success, and we‘re clearly not all the way there yet. But, there were many small and large victories along the way.

I believe in our movement. We must count and appreciate the victories, large and small, and acknowledge that Palestine will not be freed before the next season of Lost starts.

But, think about it…We (the Palestinians in 1948, occupied territories, diaspora, refugees and Israeli & international activists) have achieved so much so quickly.
It took 18 years from the time of the South African BDS call for the first college to successfully divest. In contrast: in the Palestinian case, from the initial Palestinian BDS call until the first successful university divestment, it took only 7 years.

What I’m getting at here is that even though huge movements typically take many decades if not centuries (women’s right to vote, Civil Rights Movement, Abolitionist movement, anti-Vietnam War movement, Algerian Liberation Movement, etc.) change is happening incredibly rapidly in the Palestinian case.

So, don’t be upset when things don’t go perfectly and foreign ministers make comments that hurt our feelings. Progress is what matters, if we keep chipping away at Israeli Apartheid, the goal will eventually be achieved (probably sooner rather than later).

This is an inclusive movement, because this is the issue of our time. Palestine is Selma and Soweto. The Palestinians are SNCC, those of us from every Gaza convoy (both those who entered Gaza and those who didn’t) are the freedom riders, and 2010 is the Freedom Summer for Palestine.

And yes, the Palestinians will show the internationals and Israelis the way; as countless whites of conscience followed the lead of Malcolm X.

A fellow cabinet member of Students for Justice for Palestine at Cal State Northridge, Alex Shahin, a Palestinian, would often wear a shirt which said “We Are All Palestinians”.

Much credit must be given to him, and the countless other Palestinians I’ve met who were never judgmental or suspicious of an outsider with a Jewish last name joining their movement.  To all the popular committees in the West Bank who welcomed in internationals and treated us like family, I thank you.

We are the white and black students who sat together at the Woolworth’s lunch counters, demanding to be served, in violation of the Jim Crow laws.

We are the ones who keep knocking on Zionism’s door, opening it crack by crack, until the hinges are completely blown off.

The refugees will return. My friend Wasim Zahir from the Gaza Strip will be able to return to Ashkelon. Ali Abunimah’s mother and Mustafa Barghouti will be able to return to Al Quds.

Palestine will be desegregated and decolonized; and it will be a multi ethnic multi religious democracy with one person one vote, and I will live to see that first free election.
I will live to see the end of Zionism and the rebirth of a place which we can currently only hold sacred as a state of mind in our hearts: Palestine.

Indeed, we are all Palestinians. I won’t be able to truly breathe a free breath until Palestinians are completely free. And the day is quickly approaching when we will all truly be free.

Friedman: Middle Easterners are scheming, except Israel

Posted: 20 Jun 2010

Orientalism, the globalist variety: Notice how Tom Friedman, now in Istanbul, goes from describing as insane a conspiracy theory that on its face is plausible– the shocking possibility that the enemy of Israel’s new enemy is Israel’s friend– to mounting his own (mildly interesting) theory of why Erdogan used the flotilla as a radical raid on Israel.

Moreover, Erdogan has evolved from just railing against Israel’s attacks on Hamas in Gaza to spouting conspiracy theories — like the insane notion that Israel is backing the P.K.K. terrorists — as a way of consolidating his political base among conservative Muslims in Turkey and abroad…

Only two weeks before the Gaza flotilla incident, a leading poll showed Mr. Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, known as the A.K.P., trailing his main opposition — the secularist Republican People’s Party — for the first time since the A.K.P. came to office in 2002. That is surely one reason Erdogan openly took sides with one of the most radical forces in the region, Hamas — to re-energize his political base. But did he overplay his hand?

I never forget that Friedman also dismissed as insane and conspiratorial the theory that American Zionists had anything to do with the decision to invade Iraq. Then a year or two later he essentially conceded the point to Haaretz (not his large American audience).

How Israelis rationalize tyranny (ad infinitum)

Posted: 20 Jun 2010

This bears reading because it is how Israelis think. A lot of us know it, but it bears repeating. Because it never ends, and it is enabled by the U.S. Leah Green:

1990 and 1991 were defining years for me. I had the opportunity to stay with Palestinian families, sometimes under Israeli curfew – which would trap me in a West Bank or Gaza home for hours or days. There was nothing to do but visit and listen to all of the people in the immediate vicinity. And I was shocked with what I heard and saw. Every single Palestinian family had many horror stories concerning life under occupation. 

There was simply no way to rationalize it. My Israeli friends had told me that if a Palestinian family was hurt, there had to be a reason for that. But I spoke with many mothers and elderly people during those years, since the husbands and older sons were often in prison, and I was left with no doubt that the violence was systemic.  

To this day, almost 20 years later, I see that it’s very difficult for Israeli Jews to believe how harsh the occupation is. People that I speak with want to believe that if a Palestinian home is destroyed, or a family is beaten, or a child arrested, that they did something to deserve that treatment. Israelis predominantly see themselves as the victims in relation to Palestinians, and it’s difficult for anyone who defines oneself as a victim to simultaneously see himself as an aggressor.

Israeli leaders assure their citizens over and over that if an innocent Palestinian is hurt, it falls under the unfortunately broad banner of “collateral damage” in the line of self-defense. 

Cartoonists get the story, even if MSM is muzzled

Posted: 20 Jun 2010

Here’s Jeff Darcy at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, great. Hispaper promptly retrenched from his view of Gaza. And here’s Matt Bors, more Gaza inhumanity. Thanks to Idrees Ahmad.

Oh and here’s Emily Henochowicz again. Her paintings for the “apartheid wall.”

Who does Tony Blair work for?

Posted: 19 Jun 2010

“In the conversations I’ve had with the Israeli Prime Minister there is now, in principle, agreement for Israel to allow goods in” Tony Blair told reporters on Monday. And like magic, an official Israeli statement today announced the ‘easing’ of the Gaza blockade. After three years of lucrative ambassadorial work, the man best known for invading Iraq on doctored evidence is back in the big time. As pressure mounts on Netanyahu’s government to end the illegal blockade on Gaza following the flotilla massacre, the former PM has been asked to step up his Hasbara duties.

Today’s announcement confirmed that Israel will “liberalise the system by which civilian goods enter Gaza and expand the inflow of materials for civilian projects that are under international supervision”. Specific goods were not specified, but it is believed a severely limited quantity of foodstuffs and education materials will be taken off the banned list. The UK-based Palestine Solidarity Campaign derided the “so called easing of the blockade as a sham designed to divert the world’s attention from the inhumane blockade”.

Francis Beckett, author of the biography “The Survivor: Tony Blair in Peace and War” sees Blair’s role as “translator for the Israeli government, serving for Israel’s benefit. Netanyahu is in a hole. Politically he cant afford to give in to foreign pressure, but he has to take some action. Blair is his escape route.”

Beckett believes Blair is at heart a pragmatist and his politics have always tracked the changing dynamics of American presidencies. “He always knew to ask ‘how high’ when the President told him to jump. As a result he became far more right-wing when Bush replaced Clinton, which marked the end of his connection with any old Labour ideals.”

Blair was appointed as the Quartet’s Envoy to the Middle East on January 27, 2007, the same day he retired as Prime Minster. It came about through the lobbying of former President George W. Bush and Beckett believes at the time it was an “honorific” position, devoid of meaningful responsibility, adding “now that Obama is in charge he is being pressured to be more active”.

The appointment, with a brief to build Palestinian institutions, was met with surprise and dismay. “Like most people, I thought it was a very odd appointment.” says Beckett, “the job requires someone trusted by both sides and while he is certainly trusted by Israelis, he is not by Palestinians. A serious peace envoy would have to be less damaged.”

There are obvious reasons for distrust. The war over WMDs in Iraq, supported by Israel but largely opposed by the British public and Labour party, has killed over 100,000 civilians to date. In 2006, Blair refused to support a UN resolution for a ceasefire during Israel’s Lebanon offensive, giving them every chance to destroy Hezbollah. In Beckett’s words, Blair has “no feeling for Muslims. Aside from shuttle diplomacy before Iraq, persuading Saudi Arabians to co-operate, he has had practically no relations with Arab leaders.”

While international leaders loudly condemned the bloody assault on the Mavi Marmara, Blair’s voice struck a different note: “When it comes to security, I am one hundred percent on Israel’s side”, he said a few days after the tragedy. He has since gone on record supporting Israel’s right to an internal investigation.

During three years as the Quartet’s Envoy Blair has been a rare sighting in the occupied territories. He has taken two brief trips to Gaza, the first in March 2009, and visited troubled Hebron just long enough to have “terrorist” chants directed at him.

That Blair has combined his role with so many other positions, including the ‘Africa Governance Initiative’, multiple directorships and controversially the ‘Tony Blair Faith Foundation’, has led to criticism that he lacks commitment. Oxford professor Avi Shlaim memorably characterised him as “a man who wears too many hats”.

It is believed that Blair has amassed a personal fortune in excess of £20 million since leaving office, mainly through middle east contacts established through his envoy position. In 2009 he made in excess of £5million advising the governments of Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates and is also an ambassador of investment bank JP Morgan in the Middle East.

Beckett sees this as highly unusual behaviour from a former Prime Minister. “Most (ex-PMs) go into retirement quietly, they receive a pension of over £100,000 and live comfortably on that. But because Blair mixes with the super-rich he feels the need to scrabble for money in a dreadfully undignified way.” Beckett goes on to detail Blair’s endorsement trips to the USA, during which Americans would line up to shake his hand for a set tariff of over $1000.

Controversy over religion has dogged the former PM since his resignation and prompt conversion to Catholicism. A public admission that he had “talked to God” before invading Iraq plainly illustrates the extent to which faith has informed his politics. Indeed Blair’s ‘Faith Foundation’, a predominantly Christian coalition of religious leaders has attracted severe criticism, with even high profile Catholic leaders called it a “messianic plan for world domination”.

His active participation in the ‘Labour Friends of Israel’ society is another clue to his deeply held partisanship in relation to Middle-Eastern politics, which Shlaim commented “was probably considered a qualification” for his position.

But while avarice and pragmatism have superseded any ideals Blair possessed, members of his own family have frequently served to prick his conscience. His cousin Lauren Booth, a left-wing journalist and activist, was a passenger aboard the first flotilla in 2008 and has publicly criticised her brother-in law’s policies, saying he should be “ashamed” of the civilian deaths in Iraq and that his plans for Gaza would lead to “a slow, agonising death for Palestinians”.

Booth is also co-founder of ‘Aloha Palestine’, along with Ken O’ Keefe who was this week declared a terrorist by Israel. Beckett, who commissioned Booth for articles, confirms that “Lauren has been a dreadful embarrassment to the Blairs for years. In the middle of Blair’s premiership, a deal was made so that she would stop talking about him.”

Today he is talk of the town once more, feted as the man who engineered progress on the world’s thorniest issue. But for anyone who has followed the series of disappointments that constitute his career, it is classic Blair. Support whoever is winning.

Kieron Monks is editor of the Palestine Monitor news website in Ramallah.

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By David Cronin

BRUSSELS, June 19, 2010 (IPS) – European Union subsidies earmarked for reducing air travel’s contribution to climate change may help develop deadlier warplanes than those already found in the world’s arsenals, Brussels officials have admitted.

Some 1.6 billion euros (2 billion dollars) has been allocated to the EU’s “Clean Sky” project, which aims to develop aircraft engines that emit half as much carbon dioxide as those now in use. With the funding being divided between industry and the European taxpayer, plane and engine manufacturers have stated that the project underscores their eagerness to be more ecologically responsible.

Yet a closer look at the glossy brochures promoting the scientific research initiative reveals that the list of participants reads like a who’s who of major arms producers from Europe and further afield. These include Dassault, EADS, Safran, Israel Aerospace Industries, Saab and Westland Helicopters.

Under the terms of their involvement, individual companies may apply for patents on innovations realised during the course of their research. The European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, says that there will be nothing to stop such firms from using the technology they develop for military purposes.

Rudolf Strohmeier, deputy head of the Commission’s scientific research department, said that having EU-funded engines inserted into warplanes is “something which you can’t really exclude from the outset” as such engines are “easily switched over” from civilian to military aircraft.

“If a military airplane uses this type of technology, then it will be greener,” he told IPS. “But to my knowledge, this (potential military applications) is definitely not the objective.”

The participation of Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) in the project has drawn criticism from some human rights advocates. This firm supplied many of the weapons used by Israel in its attacks on Gaza during late 2008 and early 2009. Even though it is not a fully-fledged member of the EU, Israel is a participant in its scientific research programme and has proven more adept at drawing down grants than most of the Union’s own states.

An EU official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that Israeli firms had recently asked the Commission to support a project explicitly focused on military aircraft but the request was turned down. While the source said that the EU’s research activities are nominally civilian, no guarantees can be given that their fruits will not have military applications. “The Israelis don’t play by the same rules as everybody else,” the source added.

Frank Slijper from the Dutch Campaign Against the Arms Trade said: “It is beyond my comprehension how Israeli arms companies get Brussels money for their research. This really is a very weird situation. As far as I know, IAI does very little civilian business, it is just an arms company. IAI has made a clear and direct contribution in the Middle East against the Palestinians and the Lebanese.”

As well as lowering their emissions of climate-changing gases, Clean Sky’s goals include the introduction of aircraft that consume less fuel and are less noisy. A project of this nature is bound to prove enticing for arms companies, Slijper added. “Mostly, they say it works the other way around: subsidies that go into European military aircraft research have a spin-off effect for civilian aircraft research work. But this could be an example where subsidies for environmental flying ultimately also benefit the military. The more silent aircraft are, the closer they can get to where they can pick their targets to bomb before anyone might notice.”

Eric Dautriat, who directs the team overseeing the implementation of Clean Sky, said “I don’t see what the problem is” with involving arms manufacturers, who will have “the same rules of participation” as the other firms and research institutes involved.

Due to be completed in 2017, Clean Sky is one of the largest research projects ever financed by the EU. Gareth Williams, a representative of Airbus, the French aviation firm, said that air traffic tends to double every 15 years and is likely to double once more in the coming 15 years. “With this growth in the sector, we must address the issues around emissions,” he told a conference held in Brussels Jun. 18.

Aviation accounts for about 5 percent of all releases of climate-changing gases into the atmosphere, with some studies predicting that the environmental impact of flying will be three to four times greater than in 2000 by the middle of this century. Unlike most other industries, aviation has still not been brought within the scope of an international emissions control agreement.

Jos Dings, director of the campaign group Transport and Environment, questioned why the aviation industry is being lavished with subsidies under Clean Sky, when it has been highly cosseted by EU governments for decades

“The aviation sector already enjoys more than enough subsidies,” he said. “There is no VAT (value added tax) on an airline ticket and it is the only mode of transport where there is no fuel tax. When it comes to subsidy programmes, the industry is always very optimistic about bringing down emissions. But when it comes to other measures like a fuel tax, they are always saying that absolutely nothing will bring down emissions so ‘stop thinking about applying legal measures to us’.”

Because scientists believe that greenhouse gases released at high altitude have a more pronounced effect on the climate than those released at ground level, aviation is considered the most environmentally damaging form of transport.

“If we want to decarbonise our economy, aviation really should be one of the first thing we should start to tackle,” Dings added. “In these times of austerity, it is absolutely untenable and irresponsible that we keep holding onto all tax exemptions that the sector is enjoying. Tackling these exemptions would be one of the fairest ways for any austerity package to start.”

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