Archive | June 8th, 2014

Back to the Dark Ages of Feudalism

The Crushing Force of Capitalism


History never repeats itself, but from time to time, consciously or not, some influential men attempt to force us into the monstrosity of their imaginary time machines to try to reverse decades, and in the case of feudalism, almost a millenium of social progress. The mid-20th century brought the years of collective psychosis of Adolf Hitler’s “thousand year Reich,” and more recently what can be viewed as the United States of America’s imperialist manifesto or so-called “Project for the New American Century”, concocted in 1997 but still in effect today under the current administration, with the self-proclaimed objective to “promote American global leadership” resolutely and by military force, if necessary.

Montesquieu and his colleagues of the mid-18th century, such as Voltaire, Diderot and Rousseau of the Age of  Enlightenment, denounced feudalism as being a system exclusively dominated by aristocrats who possess all financial, political and social power.  During that time, which incubated the French Revolution and built its  ideological foundations, feudalism became synonymous with the French monarchy. To the Enlightenment writers, feudalism symbolized everything that was wrong with a system based on birth privilege, inequality and brutal exploitation. In August 1789, shortly after the takeover of La Bastille on July 14, one of the first action of the Assemblee Constituante was to proclaim the official abolition of the “feudal regime.”

Ironically, feudalism is making a comeback  in the latest evolution and under the impulse of predatory global capitalism. After all, Karl Marx, in the mid-19th century, considered feudalism to be a precursor of capitalism. Typically a feudal system can be defined as a society with inherited social rank. In the Middle Ages, wealth came exclusively from agriculture: the aristocracy strictly assumed ownership of the land while the serfs provided the labor.

The feudal system of the Dark Ages was the social and economic exploitation of peasants by lords. This led to an economy always marked by poverty, sometimes famine, extreme exploitation and wide gaps between rich and poor.  The feudal era relation of a serf to his lord is essentially identical to the relation of a so-called WalMart associate to a heir of the Walton family. If one looks objectively at the power stratum in the US circa 2013, and the one of, let’s say, France circa 1750, it is hard to ignore the startling similarity. For example, attendance at Ivy-League schools in the US is principally an inherited privilege; the same can be said for elected positions in Congress. The concept of dynasties rules, not personal merit.

A powerful network of oligarchs worldwide seems to be pursuing the objective to set back the social clock to before the era of  Enlightenment so as to return us to the Dark Ages of  lords and serfs: a new era of global slavery to benefit Wall Street’s “masters of the universe.” Compared to the Middle Ages, today’s servitude is more insidious: the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, and many private banks operate like mega drug dealers. The IMF and World Bank do so with countries, while the banks do so with individuals. Once Greece, Detroit or John Doe is addicted to its fix — loans in this case — the trick is done. After a while, money must be borrowed even to service the debt.

In a recent cynical opinion piece titled “Detroit, the New Greece”, New York Times columnist and Nobel-prize winning economist Paul Krugman reasoned more like a callous Wall Street operator than someone with the self-proclaimed humanist “conscience of a liberal” by casually calling Detroit a “victim of market forces.”

“Sometimes the losers from economic change are individuals whose skills have become redundant; sometimes they are companies serving a market niche that no longer exist; and sometimes they are whole cities that lose their place in the economic ecosystem,” writes Krugman, forgetting Greece in his laundry list of “innocent victim of these mysterious “market forces.” Krugman concludes his paragraph with: “Decline happens,” as if this is a physical phenomenon, like gravity or magnetism. Like most of the leading international economists, Krugman has adamantly supported the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the World Trade Organization (WTO). Detroit and Greece are not some sort of collateral damage of “market forces” in Krugman’s “decline happens” scenario. Detroit was demolished wholesale by NAFTA, and Greece was enticed to borrow money to join the EURO zone.

The IMF itself recently conceded that the policies it has implemented for Greece resulted in “notable failures.” The IMF failed to push for an immediate restructuring of Greece’s debt, but didn’t prevent money owed by the country before 2010 to private-sector creditors from being fully repaid at the onset of the fiscal crisis. Greece’s overall debt level remained the same, except it was now owned to the Euro-zone taxpayers and the IMF instead of banks and hedge funds. Both Greece and Detroit were targets of  a predatory capitalism that sought to downgrade and then shut down all public sectors of an economy.

The “market forces” are not physical phenomena; they are the hyenas and vultures from Wall Street who dismantle and then feed on the carcasses of a city or country. Decline does not just happen; it is engineered by the corporate entities of global capitalism  to maximize profit without regard for human costs. It is ultimately up to us, for the common good of human kind, to put wrenches  into the well-oiled wheels of this global corporate machine that is breaking our backs by grinding and crushing our accomplishments of more than 250 years to return us to the servitude of feudalism.

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Saber Rattling at West Point

Madness, I Tell You


On May 28, President Barack Obama delivered his most belligerent and menacing speech to date at the US Military Academy at West Point. Aside from the lofty rhetoric we’ve come to expect in every Obama presentation, the president’s commencement address was a defiant restating of the Bush Doctrine of unilateral intervention, executive authority and endless warfare. The speech contained no new initiatives or surprises, but emphasized Obama’s unwavering support for the policies which have plunged large parts of the Middle East, Africa, and Eurasia into civil conflict, economic collapse and war. Obama defended US aggression on the grounds of “American exceptionalism”, the dubious idea that Americans are special and cannot be held to the same standards as others. The theory implies that Washington’s relentless war-mongering and killing of civilians cannot be prosecuted under international law because the US is a law unto itself.

“I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being,” said Obama. “But what makes us exceptional is not our ability to flout international norms and the rule of law; it is our willingness to affirm them through our actions.”

Obama’s statement is deliberately misleading. As the president knows, the Bush administration notified U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan that the US would withdraw from the International Criminal Court Treaty in May 2002 just prior to the invasion of Iraq claiming that the ICC treaty put U.S. service members and officials at risk of prosecution by a court that is “unaccountable to the American people.” In retrospect, we can see that Bush and his lieutenants wanted to remove themselves from any accountability for the atrocities and crimes against humanity they planned to perpetrate in the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Thus, exceptionalism does not affirm Washington’s willingness to comply with “international norms and the rule of law” as Obama says, but to absolve US leaders from any responsibility for their habitual war-making. As policy analyst Noam Chomsky has said many times, “If the Nuremberg laws were applied, then every post-war American president would have been hanged.”

Here’s Obama again: “Let me repeat a principle I put forward at the outset of my presidency: The United States will use military force, unilaterally if necessary, when our core interests demand it… International opinion matters, but America should never ask permission to protect our people, our homeland or our way of life.”

In other words, the United States will do whatever the hell it wants to and if you don’t like it: “Too bad”. This is the Bush Doctrine verbatim. The West Point oration proves that the new administration has simply modified the Bush credo to suit Obama’s pretentious speaking style. Strip out the visionary formulations, the grandiose bloviating, and the sweeping hand gestures and the ideas are virtually identical; unilateralism, preemption, and exceptionalism, the toxic combo that has spurred 13 years of war, occupation, regime change, black sites, extra-judicial assassinations, drone attacks, and hyperbolic state terror most of which has been directed at civilian populations whose only fault is that they occupy regions where vast petroleum reserves have been discovered or which have some fleeting strategic importance to Washington’s war planners. Here’s an excerpt from an article in the World Socialist Web Site titled “Obama’s West Point speech: A prescription for unending war” by Bill Van Auken:

“Obama is not elaborating here a policy of defensive war to be waged only in response to an attack or the threat of an imminent attack. He is spelling out that the US reserves the right to intervene militarily wherever it believes its “core interests”—i.e., the access of its corporations and banks to markets, raw materials, cheap labor and profits—are involved.

When he speaks of “our livelihoods” and “our way of life,” he is referring not to the ever-declining living standards of the American worker, but to the eight-figure compensation packages of American CEOs, whose fortunes are founded on the exploitation of the working populations and resources of the entire planet…

Everything put forward by Obama is a repudiation of international law and an endorsement of the policy of aggressive war practiced by the Nazis three-quarters of a century ago.” (Obama’s West Point speech: A prescription for unending war, Bill Van Auken, World Socialist Web Site)

Here’s Obama again defending his malignant foreign policy in terms of “leadership”:

“America must always lead on the world stage. If we don’t, no one else will. The military that you have joined is, and always will be, the backbone of that leadership.”

Obama finds it easy to praise the people who fight his wars, even while he stealthily carries out a plan to privatize the Veterans Administration. Check out this blurb from an article titled “VA secretary resigns amid push to privatize US veterans’ health care”:

“Obama and members of Congress have responded to the VHA scandal with a breathtaking level of cynicism and hypocrisy, even by Washington standards … according to many lawmakers, the answer to this crisis is not the appropriation of funds to hire new doctors and other medical professionals, but the dismantling of the government program in order to provide a profit windfall to private insurers and health industry firms. The result of this policy will be less care at greater cost to veterans…

Under the “Veterans Choice Plan” being promoted by Rep. Andy Harris (Republican of Maryland), veterans could either choose to continue receiving care through the VHA or go to a private provider of their choosing. In what amounts to a voucher system, the federal government would cover the cost of insurance premiums and some out-of-pocket costs, depending on a veteran’s priority ranking…

The moves to privatize veterans’ health care underscore the hypocrisy of the bipartisan glorification of soldiers and veterans. It also sets a precedent for privatizing Medicare and Medicaid, the federal-state health care program for the poor.” (VA secretary resigns amid push to privatize US veterans’ health care, World Socialist Web Site)

Is there any doubt that Obama forced General Eric Shinseki to step down so he could start to dismantle the VA? And if Obama cares so much about veterans, then why hasn’t he spoken out before about other veteran-related issues like the epidemic of suicides, rapes, traumatic brain injury or PTSD? Obama’s phony outrage is just a headline-grabbing gimmick to conceal what’s really going on, which is the VA is being handed over to America’s insatiable health care tycoons on a silver platter.

Obama again: “For the foreseeable future, the most direct threat to America, at home and abroad, remains terrorism, but a strategy that involves invading every country that harbors terrorist networks is naïve and unsustainable. I believe we must shift our counterterrorism strategy, drawing on the successes and shortcomings of our experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, to more effectively partner with countries where terrorist networks seek a foothold.”

Obama’s comment absurdly implies that the US has learned from its past mistakes and has fine-tuned the art of counterterrorism so it doesn’t involve the squandering of valuable resources. What a joke. It’s like listening to a Mafia hit-man boast that he ‘s learned how to save money on ammo by strangling his victims with his bare hands. This is also a good example of how the Dems think they’re more effective (and discreet) in executing the elitist/corporate agenda than their rivals in the GOP. As if that was the purpose of the party!

Obama also made a few perfunctory remarks about closing Guantanamo, ending indefinite detention and taking steps to address climate change. But clearly these had nothing to do with the main thrust of the speech which was to announce his intention to expand the wars abroad. Citing hotspots in Syria, Ukraine and the South China Sea, Obama promised to “lead” with the military, asserting, by implication, dominion over these regions where the US claims to have “national interests”. Obama is as committed as his predecessor, Bush, to rule by force of arms even though his current adversaries (Russia and China) are not ragtag militias in sandals, but nuclear-armed nation-states who could level the better part of the planet with a flip of the switch. Even so, Obama is determined to pursue the same provocative strategy whatever the risks increasing the probability of a miscalculation that ends in a mushroom cloud.

It’s madness.

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Naziyahu threatens to force-feed hunger striking Palestinian prisoners

by Maureen Clare Murphy


Palestinians in Israel and allies protest outside Ichilov hospital in Tel Aviv where at least six hunger striking prisoners were hospitalized on 5 June.

The ongoing silence of international bodies and the Palestinian Authority has contributed to the deteriorating situation of approximately 125 Palestinians being held by Israel without charge or trial who have been on hunger strike since 24 April, the Palestinian human rights group Addameer warned yesterday.

Calling for “immediate intervention,” Addameer reports that approximately 80 hunger strikers have been transferred to civilian hospitals where they “are shackled to their hospital beds 24 hours a day.”

The rights group adds that some of the protesters “have already lost between 13 and 20 kilograms of weight and the numbers of those who are fainting is rapidly increasing. As a result of their deteriorating health some of the hunger strikers are suffering from intestinal bleeding and are also vomiting blood.”

There seems to be no impending resolution to the hunger strike, which was launched after Israel reneged on an agreement reached with prisoners after a previous mass hunger strike to restrict the jailing of Palestinians without charge or trial, a practice known as administrative detention.

As of 1 May, Israel was holding approximately 200 Palestinians without charge or trial,including eight members of the Palestinian Legislative Council. There were a total of 5,271 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails on that date, according to Addameer.

Addameer reported yesterday that “the Israel Prison Service (IPS) has informed the hunger strikers committee that it is not within their power to negotiate with the hunger strikers.”

Force-feeding threats

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has threatened to force-feed hunger striking prisoners and vowed to push forward proposed legislation which will allow physicians to feed prisoners against their will.

Rights groups have stated that the bill is a blatant attempt to break the current hunger strike and that the government’s professed concern for the health of hunger strikers is “contradicted by a reality in which the health needs of persons imprisoned in Israel in general, and of Palestinian prisoners in particular, are ignored,” as Physicians for Human Rights-Israel noted in a petition to Israel’s attorney general.

Several Palestinian detainees have over recent years launched hunger strikes in protest of medical neglect, including Muhammad TajAkram Rikhawi and Dirar Abu Sisi, and the withholding of medicine has been previously used as a punishment by Israeli prison authorities to break strikes.

Force-feeding is a grave breach of the World Medical Association’s guidelines on the treatment of hunger strikers, which states that:

Physicians or other health care personnel may not apply undue pressure of any sort on the hunger striker to suspend the strike. Treatment or care of the hunger striker must not be conditional upon suspension of the hunger strike.

Adalah, a nongovernmental organization which promotes the rights of Palestinians in Israel, stated in a press release emailed to The Electronic Intifada on Wednesday that the bill “would remove the last civil right that administrative detainees possessed, after they had been denied all other rights that would allow them to strike against their illegal imprisonment.”

Doctors colluding in torture

The Israel Medical Association has condemned the proposed legislation and a spokesperson said that “Force-feeding is torture, and we can’t have doctors participating in torture.”

However, Israeli medical professionals have long colluded in the widespread and routine torture of Palestinian detainees.

2011 report by Physicians for Human Rights-Israel and the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel describes the active role of medical professionals in the torture of Palestinian detainees and specifically criticizes the Israel Medical Association’s ethical guidelines which “allow the doctor to compromise the patient’s health in the face of the demands of the security apparatus.”

A year later, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel described in a report how the Israeli prison medical system was actually wielded as a weapon against prisoners during the 2012 hunger strikes:

There is a strong suspicion that by blatantly violating the rights of the striking detainees to access adequate medical care and by flagrantly ignoring medical ethical standards and professional norms, the IPS [Israel Prison Service] utilized its medical system to pressure Palestinian prisoners and detainees on hunger strike causing unnecessary and illegitimate danger to their health and lives. Indeed, through various means, hunger strikers were isolated from any contact with persons not under IPS authority. They did so by delaying and denying entry to physicians, attorneys, and prisoners’ family members, as well as by denying treating physicians’ access to their patients’ medical information.

Punishing prisoners, banning lawyers

Addameer yesterday described other punishments that the Israel Prison Service is taking out against the prisoners:

The IPS and its special units continue to take extreme punitive measures against the hunger strikers in an attempt to break their strike. These include the forbidding of any communication with the outside world; restricting access to their legal counsel; continuously transferring hunger strikers between prisons; isolation; solitary confinement of the hunger strikers leadership; denial of family visits; and fines (up to 475 NIS).

The hunger strikers are held in empty sections and cells; their clothes and basic possessions have been confiscated; and they are only allowed to keep cups to drink water. In some prisons they are forced to drink dirty water from taps or to walk 40 meters in order to get water.

The prison guards and IPS special units beat and insult the hunger strikers on a daily basis, forcing them to stand for a head count without taking their health conditions and their inability to stand up into consideration.

In addition, the doctors and nurses of the IPS continue to treat the hunger strikers inhumanly which is a violation of the professional ethics stated in both the Tokyo and Malta Declarations. These violations include giving the hunger striker salt and water in urine-sample containers and IPS special units delay taking the hunger strikers to restrooms. Many hunger strikers who have been transferred to civil hospitals, and are shackled to their hospitals beds 24 hours a day, have demanded to be brought back to prison, instead of staying at these civil hospitals. There are currently approximately 80 hunger strikers who remain in civil hospitals.

Human rights groups have also condemned the Israeli prison authorities’ prohibition on lawyers from visiting prisoners on hunger strike.

“Israeli prison authorities were using all possible justifications to prevent and obstruct lawyers’ visits to the hospitals where the hunger-striking prisoners have been transferred,” Adalah stated in a letter to the public prosecutor in preparation for a petition to Israel’s high court demanding and end to the prohibition on visits.

UN rights experts: “heed hunger strikers’ plea”

A United Nations fact-finding committee of human rights experts expressed grave concernyesterday for the worsening health of Palestinian detainees and called on Israel to “heed the demand of the hunger strikers to end the practice of arbitrary administrative detention of Palestinians.”

The committee stated following a five-day fact-finding mission to the region: “It is a desperate plea by these detainees to be afforded a very basic standard of due process: to know what they are accused of and to be able to defend themselves.”

The committee expressed alarm at the Israeli government’s push to force-feed hunger strikers and added that concerns “over the health of Palestinian prisoners extend more widely.” The group added that “this year again, we have a number of testimonies indicating that medical needs of Palestinian detainees within the Israeli prison system have been neglected, in some cases leading to deaths which might have been avoided with proper care and timely diagnosis.”

The rights experts also noted with concern Israel’s settlement expansion, excavations under the site of the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, the involvement of international companies in the settlements, settler violence in the occupied West Bank, and the excessive use of force by the Israeli military against Palestinian children.

The committee also described “the worrying UN projection that Gaza might not be livable in 2020 … as possibly too optimistic” as a result of Israel’s years-long blockade imposed on the territory.

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Why did The New York Times ignore Palestine’s Christians during Pope’s visit?



The New York Times is aligning itself with Israel’s attempts at decoupling Palestinian and Christian identity.

The New York Times’ coverage of the Pope’s recent visit to the Middle East demonstrates yet another facet of how the US’ most important media outlet obfuscates Palestinian identity and realities and misinforms the public on Palestine.

In seven news articles about the Pope’s visit by Jodi Rudoren and Isabel Kershner totaling 9,000 words, the paper fails to mention even once, or to even hint at, the existence ofPalestinian Christians, despite their very significant presence in the towns that the Pope visited — BethlehemJerusalem, and even in Amman, Jordan — and Palestinian Christians’ intense interest in the Pope’s visit.

Ironically, the single instance in seven articles in which The Times acknowledges the existence of an Arab Christian signals another key category of obfuscation of Palestinian identity employed by their news reporters (“Seeking balance on Mideast visit, Pope pleases few,” 21 May 2014).

The Times typically prefers not to recognize Palestinian citizens of Israel. So in one instance in the seven articles, Rudoren and Kershner identify a Palestinian Christian citizen of Israel as “an Israeli Arab and a Christian,” despite Rudoren’s own acknowledgement in a 2012 article that “most now prefer Palestinian citizens of Israel” (“Service to Israel tugs at identity of Arab citizens,” 12 July 2012).

Through careful avoidance of the phrases “Palestinian Christian” and “Palestinian citizen of Israel,” The New York Times’ coverage of the Pope’s visit collapses and simplifies Palestinian identity, and reinforces the impression that the Palestinian people are exclusively Muslims who live in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

This framing by The Times obscures the more complex reality that Palestinians are both Muslims and Christians, who live in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, but who also live within Israel and as refugees in the diaspora in places including Amman.

The Times’ framing pits Israel in a conflict with Palestinian Muslims in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, wittingly or unwittingly supporting Israeli efforts to divide and rule the Palestinian people. The paper’s framing ignores the way many Palestinians view their own situation — as a people facing systematic discrimination by Israel, whether they live in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, within Israel or as refugees in the diaspora.


The Times’ framing, which targets a US audience including many who hold stereotypes about Arabs and Muslims, also perpetuates the falsehood that Israelis and Palestinians are engaged in a religious conflict, rather than a conflict resulting from decades of Israeli ethnic cleansing, military occupation and discrimination.

Analysis of the seven articles reveals systematic choices by the paper. The Times notes the Pope’s participation in five events, but remarkably never once mentions that among the hundreds — and in some instances thousands — of attendees at these five events with the Pope were large numbers of Arab Christians.

For example, on 24 May, The Times reported on a Catholic Mass at a stadium in Amman with a communion for “1,000 schoolchildren,” covered a palace ceremony with Jordan’s king and “200 diplomats and Christian dignitaries” and wrote about an event at a national park on the Jordan River — without indicating anything about the attendees themselves.

And in a 25 May article, The Times describes the Pope leading “a spirited Mass in a crowded Manger Square” in Bethlehem, with no mention of who made up the crowd. The next day, the paper reported that the Pope celebrated an “intimate mass” in the Cenacle in Jerusalem, again with no explanation of who else was at the mass. Uneducated readers were likely left confused, perhaps guessing the attendees were American and European Christians visiting the Holy Land.

Never identified

Palestinian Christians who are quoted in the articles commenting on the Pope’s visit are never identified as both Palestinian and Christian. Jamal Khadar is called the “head of a West Bank seminary and a spokesman for the pope’s visit,” Issa Kassissieh is identified as “the Palestinian ambassador to the Holy See,” and in the same article, Hanan Ashrawi is labeled a representative “of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee.”

Taken individually, the failure to identify Arab Christians at an event or in a quotation is of little significance, nor is it always necessary. However, Arab Christians’ almost total absence from all seven articles about the visit of a pre-eminent Christian leader to the Middle East adds up to a glaring omission, attributable either to laziness, insensitivity or design.

On top of leaving out the Palestinian identity of the single “Arab” Christian noted in the seven articles, a second pre-visit article includes another unidentified Palestinian citizen of Israel, Mazen Ghanaim — the mayor of Sakhnin, in the northern Galilee — in a discussion about “Israel’s Arab citizens” (“As Pope’s visit nears, hate crimes a concern in Israel,” 19 May 2014).

But “Arab Israelis,” as The Times and the Israeli government prefer to call them, share the same families, culture and history as Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. They are only divided by Israeli boundaries and prefer to be identified as “Palestinian citizens of Israel” as Rudoren noted in 2012, to indicate that shared identity, as well as the shared oppression by Israel of the indigenous non-Jewish population.


Other mainstream coverage of the Pope’s visit reveals what The New York Times did not.The Boston Globe reported that Christians in Jordan are “prominent in the economic and political elite,” and that “the overwhelming majority of the Catholic population in the Holy Land is Arab and Palestinian … The previous Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Michele Sabbah, was a Palestinian, and the incumbent, Fouad Twal, is a Jordanian with deep affinity for the Palestinian experience” (“Francis invites Palestinian, Israeli leaders to meet,” 25 May 2014).

The Daily Beast explained that the mass at Manger Square was “attended by thousands of Palestinian Christians,” and Israel’s normally right-wing Jerusalem Post interviewed many Palestinian Christians who attended.

The Los Angeles Times quoted Yousef Daher, “a Palestinian Christian from Jerusalem, who helped organize the papal visit to Bethlehem.”

The Wall Street Journal ran a long story about Arab Christians, and noted some of the problems faced by Palestinian Christians in Bethlehem. Al Jazeera America noted some of the Israeli restrictions on Palestinian Christians’ attendance at the events with the Pope.

The Times has received plenty of criticism in the past for the paper’s reporting on Israel and the Palestinians, including repeated problems in coverage of the Nakba ( the forced expulsion of Palestinians from their homeland leading up to and after the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948), former bureau chief Ethan Bronner’s numerous conflicts ofinterest, reporter Isabel Kershnar’s conflict of interest, current reporter Jodi Rudoren’sinsensitivity to Israeli violence against Palestinians in GazaThe Times’ compliance with an Israeli gag order and reliance on Israeli military sources, and the rejection of a commissioned video documentary on racism against Africans in Israel (later published byThe Nation magazine and republished on The Electronic Intifada).

There is a history of the Israel lobby in the United States working to mobilize Christian support at the expense of the majority of Israel’s own Christian citizens — who are Palestinian. In a 60 Minutes television segment on CBS in 2012, then Israeli ambassador to the US Michael Oren took the liberty of speaking for Palestinian Christians, who in turn countered his very assertions on the same segment.

The Israeli government, and elements within it, have recently attempted to introducelegislation stipulating that Palestinian Christians are “not Arab” (therefore not Palestinian), and to push Palestinian Christian citizens of Israel to serve in the Israeli military.

Ultimately, what is most dangerous about The New York Times’ shoddy journalism is that, whether intentionally or not, the paper is aligning itself with Israel’s attempts at decoupling Palestinian and Christian identity.

Patrick Connors is a member of Adalah-NY: The New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel.

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Why are US lawmakers more enraged over Hamas-Abbas deal than AIPAC?

Submitted by Ali Abunimah


Israel lobby AIPAC has not called for halt to US aid to Abbas-run Palestinian Authority.

Prominent US lawmakers are demanding that the US immediately “halt” aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA) after the formation yesterday of a government of national consensus” endorsed by Hamas.

Republican senators Mark Kirk (Illinois) and Marco Rubio (Florida) issued a statement“calling on the Obama administration to halt and review US aid to the Palestinian Authority following President [Mahmoud] Abbas’ announcement of a new Hamas-backed transitional government.”

Kirk is a member of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee and Rubio, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, has spoken about running for president in 2016.

But the senators’ position is at odds with that of leading Israel lobby group AIPAC, which has not called for an immediate halt to aid.

By going further than AIPAC, the two leading senators have revealed a split in Israel lobby reaction to the latest developments.

Yesterday, the Obama administration announced that it would work with the new PA government and continue its aid.

At odds with AIPAC

In its own statement, AIPAC claims that it was “greatly concerned and disappointed” by the “formation of a Palestinian Authority unity government backed by Hamas.”

AIPAC, however, notably does not call for aid to be “halted.” Rather it uses a more cautious formula: “US law is clear – no funds can be provided to a Palestinian government in which Hamas participates or has undue influence. We now urge Congress to conduct a thorough review of continued US assistance to the Palestinian Authority to ensure that the law is completely followed and implemented.”

Reached by telephone, Kirk staffer Danielle Varallo was apparently taken aback by Kirk’s deviation from the AIPAC line. Asked why Kirk called for a “halt” in aid when AIPAC didn’t, Varallo said that Kirk’s press release “doesn’t necessarily” call for a halt in aid.

When confronted with the clear language in the Kirk-Rubio statement, Varallo said further questions would have to be referred to Kirk’s legislative staff.

Confusion among Israel supporters?

Eric Cantor, the Republican majority leader in the US House of Representatives, echoed Kirk and Rubio in calling for halting aid. “Until such time that it is determined that assistance to this so-called technocratic government is consistent with our own interests, principles, and laws it is incumbent on the administration to suspend US assistance,” he said in a statement.

New York Representative Nita Lowey, the highest ranked Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, reportedly “stopped short of calling for a funding review, but said the unity government endangered US support for the Palestinian Authority.”

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), another leading anti-Palestinian lobby group, also expressed caution, saying it does “not believe the US should immediately end all funding to the Palestinian Authority.”

The ADL says it would “support the idea of a pause in funding US aid to see if the new government can qualify to avoid a full cut of funding under the 2006 Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act prohibiting US foreign aid to a Palestinian government which includes Hamas.”

Why the difference?

The reason that the US lawmakers are more extreme even than the powerful lobby group AIPAC is likely because they have somewhat different agendas: Kirk, Rubio and Cantor are pandering to an electorate and to campaign donors for whom acknowledging the very existence of Palestinians – like recognizing the reality of climate change – can be a major political liability.

It is also a way for Republicans to bash Obama as “soft on terrorism” or unfairly accuse him of being insufficiently pliant to Israel’s demands.

AIPAC’s role, however, is to push the Israeli government’s agenda. While Israel is publicly furious about the Abbas-Hamas deal, in reality, the Israeli government continues to work closely with PA security forces – collaboration that is funded and supported by US aid.

Netanyahu-Abbas partnership

Palestinian Authority de facto leader Mahmoud Abbas recently stated that his collaboration with the Israeli army is a “sacred” duty.

This partnership between occupier and occupied was recently praised by Martin Indyk, the career Israel lobbyist put in charge of the “peace process” by US President Barack Obama.

The “IDF [Israel Defense Forces] and the Shin Bet now highly appreciate” Abbas’ ongoing work with them, Indyk told an Israel lobby think tank in Washington last month.

“If there’s one thing [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] doesn’t want to do, it’s cause the Palestinian Authority to collapse,” observes Haaretz diplomatic correspondent Barak Ravid, who notes that Israel’s angry reaction has gone little beyond words.

Indeed, as leading Israeli columnist Nahum Barnea recently observed, Netanyahu is the Palestinian Authority’s “savior,” repeatedly stepping in to ensure its survival so it can continue to perform its functions.

Despite its bluster, Israel remains closely allied with the Palestinian Authority, on which it relies to maintain control of millions of Palestinians living under occupation in the West Bank.

And this means that as long as the Abbas-run PA continues to serve as Israel’s native enforcer, AIPAC will ensure that the funds from Washington continue to flow into its coffers.

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Argentina Reaches Agreement with Paris Club Preventing IMF Austerity


Argentina reached agreement with the Paris Club, a 19-member block representing some of the world’s wealthiest countries, to repay nearly $10 billion in debts. The agreement ended a dispute that dates back to Argentina’s 2001 default and ensures that there will be no International Monetary Fund (IMF) promoted austerity programs. Further, Argentina has renewed access to capital markets and strengthened its position within the G20.

“Argentina negotiated an agreement that keeps the IMF out of Argentina,” said Eric LeCompte, Executive Director of the religious anti-poverty organization Jubilee USA. “IMF austerity programs have wreaked havoc in both poor and wealthy countries.”

According to Spain’s El Pais, two-thirds of the debt is rooted in previous Argentine dictatorships and corrupt regimes.
“One of the principle problems with Paris Club negotiations is the unwillingness to assign fault to lenders that kept corrupt governments in power that abused their people. We are sending the wrong message to emerging democracies when they are forced to pay for the sins of their oppressors,” shared LeCompte, who is also an expert to United Nations working groups on these issues.

Meanwhile, on May 27th the country filed its final arguments at the US Supreme Court in its dispute with hold-out creditors NML Capital and Aurelius Capital. These predatory hedge funds seek more than $1 billion in debt payments and refuse a deal that nearly 93% of Argentina’s creditors accepted after its default. The high court is expected to decide in June whether or not to take the case. Because of the case’s impacts on poor populations, global debt restructuring and poor country access to credit, Jubilee USA filed an amicus curiae brief to the Supreme Court.

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Unnecessary and Disproportionate: How the NSA Violates International Human Rights Standards


(Cartoon: El Spectador)

Even before Ed Snowden leaked his first document, human rights lawyers and activists were concerned about law enforcement and intelligence agencies spying on the digital world. One of the tools developed to tackle those concerns was the development of the International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance (the “Necessary and Proportionate Principles”).  This set of principles was intended to guide governments in understanding how new surveillance technologies eat away at fundamental freedoms, and outlined how communications surveillance can be conducted consistent with human rights obligations.  Furthermore, the Necessary and Proportionate Principles act as a resource for citizens—used to compare new tools of state surveillance to global expectations of privacy and due process.

We are now able to look at how the NSA’s mass surveillance programs, which we have learned about in the past year, fare when compared to the Necessary and Proportionate Principles.

As you might expect, the NSA programs do not fare well. To mark the first anniversary of the Snowden disclosures, we are releasing Unnecessary and Disproportionate, which details how some of the NSA spying operations violate both human rights standards and the Necessary and Proportionate Principles.

Some of the conclusions are as follows:

  • The NSA surveillance lacks “legality” in that NSA surveillance laws are largely governed by a body of secret law developed by a secret court, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), which selectively publishes its legal interpretations of the law;

  • The NSA surveillance is neither “necessary,” nor “proportionate,” in that the various programs in which communications data are obtained in bulk violate the privacy rights of millions of persons who are not suspected of having any connection to international terrorism;

  • The NSA surveillance programs are not supported by competent judicial authoritybecause the only judicial approval, if any, comes from the FISC, which operates outside of normal adversarial procedures such that the individuals whose data are collected lack access to the court;

  • The NSA surveillance programs lack due process because the FISC presents no opportunity for a public hearing;

  • The NSA surveillance programs lack user notification: those whose data is obtained do not know that their communications have been monitored and hence they cannot appeal the decision nor get legal representation to defend themselves;

  • The NSA surveillance programs lack the required transparency and public oversight, because they operate in secret and rely on gag orders against the entities from whom the data are obtained, along with secret, if any, court proceedings;

  • The NSA surveillance programs damage the integrity of communication systems by undermining security systems, such as encryption, requiring the insertion of surveillance back doors in communications technologies, including the installation of fiber optic splitters in transmission hubs; and

  • The US surveillance framework is illegitimate because it applies less favorable standards to non-US persons than its own citizens; this discrimination places it in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

More broadly, the United States justifies the lawfulness of its communications surveillance by reference to distinctions that, considering modern communications technology, are irrelevant to truly protecting privacy in a modern society. The US relies on the outmoded distinction between “content” and “metadata,” falsely contending that the latter does not reveal private facts about an individual. The US also contends that the collection of data is not surveillance—it argues, contrary to both international law and the Principles, that an individual’s privacy rights are not infringed as long as her communications data are not analyzed by a human being. It’s clear that the practice of digital surveillance by the United States has overrun the bounds of human rights standards. What our paper hopes to show is exactly where the country has crossed the line, and how its own politicians and the international community might rein it back.

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Jackson Rising: People Power and the New Cooperative Movement


Once home to some of the most violent racists in the U.S., Jackson, Mississippi is now a key training ground for self-determination and organized “people power” throughout the U.S. South. From May 2 through May 4, 2014 activists, organizers and fellow revolutionaries from all over the world gathered at the Jackson Rising: New Economies Conference at Jackson State University. An estimated 500 people participated in some or all of the conference.

The primary objective of such an assembly was “to educate and mobilize the people of Jackson to meet the economic and sustainability needs of their community,” and to share with others how such strategies can help produce the radical change oppressed communities will need to survive within the current global capitalist crisis. The event was organized by the Jackson Rising Organizing Committee and was held at the Walter Payton Recreation and Wellness Center, where students and community members were welcomed alike. The spirit of resistance and self-reliance filled the air.

As an opening, the Federation of Southern Cooperatives provided a warm welcome and an insightful introduction to the local cooperative movement there in Jackson, Mississippi, outlining how their efforts have been a form of resistance and an assistance in providing the people’s needs. The Southern Grassroots Economies Project (SGEP) offered an intense overview on why the cooperative movement has begun to blossom and take form throughout the Southern Black Belt, highlighting how public policy can actually support and finance such grassroots efforts.  Regional activists and organizers learned firsthand how the SGEP has been working diligently since 2011 to “build a Southern economy rooted in self-reliance, solidarity, community ownership and meeting human needs rather than maximizing profit.”

Black Workers for Justice and a host of union activists expressed the importance that strategies for worker’s rights coincide with burgeoning worker-owned cooperatives, and how in hindsight, such forces actually strengthen one another.

The Rosa Luxemburg Foundation sponsored a community workshop presenting four case studies inspired by Argentina’s cooperative movement. Omar Sierra, deputy consul general of Venezuela in Boston highlighted the redesigning of communal territories in Venezuela through participatory planning. Manuel Matos, representative of the Afro-Descendant Community Council of La Toma [Colombia], shared how Afro-Colombians are building ties for land autonomy and participatory governance. Mazibuko Jara, of Amanda! Magazine and Alternative Information Center introduced conference participants to how the cooperative movement is resisting the rise of neocolonialism in South Africa.

Black Arts Movement poet and pioneer, Askia Toure was in attendance, along with representatives from Black Left Unity Network. The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement was also there, accompanied by world renowned Hip Hop emcee, Brother Ali. Guest speaker and long-time union organizer, Saladin Muhammad outlined how Black workers in the U.S. South are extremely underpaid, unprotected, and how their rights are completely ignored in a region that claims the “right to work” without union representation.

A call for independent institutions

The main political orientation of this conference was that the working class should no longer depend on capitalism to provide for our basic needs. How can we, if it’s failing us from every angle? Speakers and cultural artists emphasized that freedom fighters have to assist the people in building institutions of liberation, and implementing practical strategies that promote autonomy from the capitalist system. Building cooperatives was stressed as an alternative to corporate grocery chains to supply oppressed communities with fresh fruits and vegetables. Educational cooperatives were presented as a working model to educate our children in a manner that enriches both them and society.

Organizers stressed that the task at hand now is working to construct economic and social networks that serve the oppressed rather than cater to the elite.  The question is how do the people begin to provide themselves with adequate healthcare? How do low-income and marginalized communities create sustainable employment with living wages for themselves? How do underserved communities become their own solution to dilapidated housing, food deserts and waste management? How can communities affected by the school-to-prison pipeline combat such practices through participatory planning and self-reliance? How do communities protect themselves from police departments that terrorize rather than “protect and serve?” Fact is, the capitalist system and its various layers of control and exploitation will not stop until we make it stop! While issuing demands and raising voices is necessary, the harsh reality is the needs of the people have continued to be ignored.

Low-income oppressed communities need more than free newspapers, pamphlets and open access to political forums. In order to truly empower those who are marginalized, freedom fighters must be engaged in the work of providing basic survival needs including food, clothing, shelter and community safety. True, mass marches and political protests are very much so needed, but it will take another kind of mobilization to toil the soil and feed hungry children. It will take more than film screenings to help provide employment for those who have been incarcerated. Such developments require the collective application of practical skills, knowledge and community-based planning. Capitalism couldn’t care less about the needs of the oppressed. Hard work, creativity and revolutionary ingenuity can help lay groundwork for oppressed communities to begin meeting their own needs – creating their own modes of child care and transportation, manufacturing and apparel.

Within the capitalist structure, self-reliance among marginalized communities is a critical form of resistance. Limiting the power and impact capitalism and its corporatocracy possesses over our everyday lives is one of the first steps to building a “People’s Power” Movement. These points were recurring themes amongst organizers throughout the conference.

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Mr. Kerry: Why Snowden Can’t ‘Make his Case’ in ‘Our System of Justice’


Secretary of State John Kerry said that Edward Snowden should “return home and come back here and stand in our system of justice and make his case.” Kerry seems to have a high opinion of the Department of Justice and the US courts when it comes to national security issues. I can’t imagine for the life of me why. Kerry is either amazingly ignorant or being disingenuous when he suggests that Snowden would be allowed to “make his case” if he returned to the US. No one outside the penal justice system would ever see him again, the moment he set foot here, assuming he was not given a prior deal. He could maybe try to explain himself to the prison guards, assuming they didn’t stick him in solitary. Here are some reasons Mr. Snowden would be unwise to trust himself to that system, given the charges against him:

1. The United Nations Special Rapporteur found that the US was guilty of cruel and inhuman treatment of Chelsea (Bradley) Manning, who was responsible for the Wikileaks and revelations of US killing of unarmed journalists in Iraq. Manning was kept in solitary confinement and isolated 23 hours a day for months on end, was kept naked and chained to a bed, and was subjected to sleep deprivation techniques, all three well known forms of torture, on the trumped up pretext that he was suicidal (his psychiatrist disagreed).

2. The Espionage Act under which Snowden would likely be tried is a fascist law from the time when President Woodrow Wilson (like Obama a scholar of the constitution) was trying to take the US into the war, and was used to repeal the First Amendment right of Americans to protest this action. It was used to arbitrarily imprison thousands and is full of unconstitutional provisions. In recent decades the act was used against whistleblowers only three times, but Barack Obama loves it to death. It is an embarrassment that it is still on the books and it reflects extremely badly on Obama and on Eric Holder that they have revived it as a tool against whistleblowing (which is most often a public service).

3. John Kiriakou, who revealed CIA torture under Bush-Cheney, was prevented by the Espionage Act from addressing the jury to explain the intentions behind his actions and therefore forced into a plea bargain. None of the CIA officers who perpetrated the torture or their superiors, who ordered it, have been punished, but Kiriakou is in prison and his family is in danger of losing the house because of the lack of income. The US public deserved to know about the torture rather than having Obama bury it the way he has buried so many other things wrong with the system.

4. National security official such as Snowden are not covered by protections for whistleblowers in the Federal government, as Thomas Drake discovered. Drake helped bring to public attention the National Security Agency abuses that Snowden eventually made more transparent. But he was forced to plea bargain to a charge of misusing government computers. He lost his career and his retirement, for trying to let us know that when faced with a choice between a surveillance system that was indiscriminate and one that was targeted, the US government went indiscriminate. Indiscriminate is unconstitutional.

5. Not only did the US torture Manning, US officials have on many occasions practiced arbitrary arrest and imprisonment and torture. Most often these policies have been enacted abroad, as at Abu Ghraib, Bagram, Guantanamo, and black sites in countries such as Poland. But arbitrary arrest, trigger-happy killings, and extended solitary confinement are all practiced domestically as well, on America’s vast gulag of 2.4 million prisoners, 4/5s of them black or brown. A fourth of all the prisoners in jail in the entire world of 7 billion people are in the United States. At any one time 80,000 US prisoners are in 23-hour-a-day solitary confinement. Abu Ghraib wasn’t a low-level military excess. It was simply the transposition to Iraq of the ideals of an incarcerating society, dedicating to disciplining and interrogating those who fall into the system’s hands. You don’t get these outcomes– a fourth of the world’s prisoners and a small city worth people in solitary confinement by accident. These abuses are systemic, and worsened by the privatization of prisons. John Kerry’s notion that there is a fair trial to be had for Snowden in this cruelly flawed system is bizarre.

Kerry is a bright and informed man and knows all this. I vote for disingenuous. He is just trying to deflect Snowden’s obvious popularity with the public and is trying desperately to keep the NSA warrantless dragnet on us all in place. I remember when he compared the US military in Vietnam to the Mongol hordes. He should take off those big black expensive shiny shoes once in a while. He’d find feet of clay there now.

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IMF’s Insistence on Economic Austerity Could Derail Ukraine’s Chance of Survival


Ukraine’s interim Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk in Kiev on April 3, 2014. Yatseniuk has repeatedly said that “painful” economic measures demanded by the IMF in exchange for billions in loans are necessary for Ukraine. (Credit: Reuters/Valentyn Ogirenko)On May 25, the “Chocolate King” handily won the Ukrainian presidential elections in the first round.

Billionaire Petro O. Poroshenko is so named because he made his fortune in the confectionary business. The defeated runner-up, former prime minister Yulia V. Tymoshenko is sometimes referred to as “the Gas Princess,” since she struck it rich in the energy sector.

It seems that Ukraine has not yet achieved the nominal separation of oligarchy and state that we have in the United States, and being extremely rich is almost a constitutional requirement to run for president – like being at least 35 years old and a natural-born citizen is here.

The U.S. government, which has invested billions of dollars over the last 20 years to bring Ukraine into its political/military orbit in Eastern Europe, seems pleased with the result.

It has become standard operating procedure to get an elected government as soon as possible after a coup such as the one that toppled the prior-elected – and also super-rich President Viktor Yanukovych in February – with help from other Western governments.

Yanukovych, who tried to balance his government between the competing interests of the U.S./European Union alliance and Russia, never really had a chance. If he had agreed to the IMF conditions, his government would probably have become at least as unpopular as it did when he turned to Russia for a desperately needed $15 billion loan.

Which brings us to today: the new government of the Chocolate King is committed to those same conditions, now spelled out in an IMF agreement released at the end of April. I would not want to be in his shoes.

After two years of almost no economic growth, the IMF is now projecting a steep recession for this year, with the economy shrinking by 5 percent. This is largely because of budget tightening that the government has committed to, amounting to about 3 percent of GDP over the next two years.

For comparison, think of the U.S. government cutting $500 billion, roughly the equivalent of the Pentagon’s annual base allocation, from its budget over two years. The economy is supposed to recover next year, but we have heard that before – think of Greece, or Spain or Eurozone austerity generally over the past four years.

Poroshenko took a hard line against Russia during his electoral campaign, which was not surprising since millions of Russian-speaking voters in eastern Ukraine would not be voting anyway – some because they didn’t consider the election legitimate and many because armed militants closed the polling places.

But he has since become friendlier, emphasizing his good personal relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin. This is probably a smart move, and not only because Russia can help him negotiate an end to the civil conflict.

Recent events indicate that Russia may have less influence on separatists in eastern Ukraine than the U.S. and the EU have on their allies in the West.

As it turns out, Putin does not appear interested in annexing more pieces of a divided Ukraine, contrary to the assertions of some in the U.S. His main goal seems more likely to be preventing Ukraine from becoming another base for the NATO military alliance, on its border, which in Russia is understandably seen as a threat.

NATO added 12 countries from Eastern Europe between 1999 and 2009. And this could be better achieved through negotiations.

As for Poroshenko, depending on how badly things go with the IMF/EU program, he may end up needing help from Russia after all.

At the very least he wouldn’t want to leave himself completely at the mercy of the IMF-Washington-EU decision-makers. They have a plan to restructure Ukraine’s economy, and it could turn out to be a mass-unemployment nightmare.

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