Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Watching Sandy, Ignoring Climate Change

A couple of weeks ago, Munich Re, one of the world’s largest reinsurance firms, issued a study titled “Severe Weather in North America.”

According to the press release that accompanied the report, “Nowhere in the world is the rising number of natural catastrophes more evident than in North America.” The number of what Munich Re refers to as “weather-related loss events,” and what the rest of us would probably call weather-related disasters, has quintupled over the last three decades. While many factors have contributed to this trend, including an increase in the number of people living in flood-prone areas, the report identified global warming as one of the major culprits: “Climate change particularly affects formation of heat-waves, droughts, intense precipitation events, and in the long run most probably also tropical cyclone intensity.”

Munich Re’s report was aimed at the firm’s clients—other insurance companies—and does not make compelling reading for a general audience. But its appearance just two weeks ahead of Hurricane Sandy seems to lend it a peculiarly grisly relevance. Sandy has been called a “superstorm,” a “Frankenstorm,” a “freakish and unprecedented monster,” and possibly “unique in the annals of American weather history.” It has already killed sixty-five people in the Caribbean, and, although it’s too early to tell what its full impact will be as it churns up the East Coast, loss estimates are topping six billion dollars.

As with any particular “weather-related loss event,” it’s impossible to attribute Sandy to climate change. However, it is possible to say that the storm fits the general pattern in North America, and indeed around the world, toward more extreme weather, a pattern that, increasingly, can be attributed to climate change. Just a few weeks before the Munich Re report appeared, scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, in New York, published a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on the apparent increase in extreme heat waves. Extreme summertime heat, which just a few decades ago affected much less than one per cent of the earth’s surface, “now typically covers about 10% of the land area,” the paper observed. “It follows that we can state, with a high degree of confidence, that extreme anomalies”—i.e., heat waves—“such as those in Texas and Oklahoma in 2011 and Moscow in 2010 were a consequence of global warming because their likelihood in the absence of global warming was exceedingly small.” It is worth noting that one of several forces fuelling Sandy is much-higher-than-average sea-surface temperatures along the East Coast.

Coming as it is just a week before Election Day, Sandy makes the fact that climate change has been entirely ignored during this campaign seem all the more grotesque. In a year of record-breaking temperatures across the U.S., record drought conditions in the country’s corn belt, and now a record storm affecting the nation’s most populous cities, neither candidate found the issue to be worthy of discussion. Pressed about this finally the other day on MTV, President Obama called climate change a “critical issue” that he was “surprised” hadn’t come up during any of the debates, a response that was at once completely accurate and totally disingenuous. (As one commentator pointed out, he might have brought up this “critical” issue on his own since “he is the friggin’ POTUS.”) More




Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Bill McKibben on Hurricane Sandy and Climate Change: "If There Was Ever a Wake-up Call, This Is It"

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Let’s start with Bill McKibben. Bill, you’ve just made it back to Vermont, to your home. Can you talk about the significance of what the East Coast is facing right now?

BILL McKIBBEN: Well, I think, Amy, that the first thing is this is a storm of really historic proportion. It’s really like something we haven’t seen before. It’s half, again, the size of Texas. It’s coming across water that’s near record warmth as it makes its way up the East Coast. Apparently we’re seeing lower pressures north of Cape Hatteras than have been ever recorded before. The storm surge, which is going to be the very worst part of this storm, is being driven by that huge size and expanse of the storm, but of course it comes in on water that’s already somewhat higher than it would have been in the past because of sea level rise. It’s—it’s a monster. It’s—Frankenstorm, frankly, is not only a catchy name; in many ways, it’s the right name for it. This thing is stitched together from elements natural and unnatural, and it seems poised to cause real havoc. The governor of Connecticut said yesterday, "The last time we saw anything like this was never." And I think that’s about right.

AMY GOODMAN: There certainly was a lack of discussion, to put it mildly, in the presidential debates around the issue of climate change.


AMY GOODMAN: I don’t think it was raised at all in the three debates.

BILL McKIBBEN: How do you think Mitt Romney is feeling this morning for having the one mention he’s made the whole time? His big laugh line at the Republican convention was how silly it was for Obama to be talking about slowing the rise of the oceans. I’d say that’s—wins pretty much every prize for ironic right now.

There has been a pervading climate silence. We’re doing our best to break that. Yesterday afternoon, there was a demonstration in Times Square, a sort of giant dot to connect the dots with all the other climate trouble around the world. Overnight, continuing in Boston, there’s a week-long vigil outside Government Center to try and get the Senate candidates there to address the issue of climate change.

It’s incredibly important that we not only—I mean, first priority is obviously people’s safety and assisting relief efforts in every possible way, but it’s also really important that everybody, even those who aren’t in the kind of path of this storm, reflect about what it means that in the warmest year in U.S. history, when we’ve seen the warmest month, July, of any month in a year in U.S. history, in a year when we saw, essentially, summer sea ice in the Arctic just vanish before our eyes, what it means that we’re now seeing storms of this unprecedented magnitude. If there was ever a wake-up call, this is it. More

I suggest that it is an abuse of human rights for states not to undertake all possible adaptation and mitigation measures against climate change. Editor

Monday, October 29, 2012

Tourists and Terrorists

RIF DIMASHQ — If you go to Damascus and ask a taxi driver to take you to the suburb of Harasta, you will not find it. Nor will you find Jobar. You will not find al-Hajar al-Aswad, either. Nor Qaddam. You will find half of Douma, three quarters of Daraya. Zamalka you will not find.

What you will find in place of these villages in the Damascus countryside, which the Syrian army reclaimed from the rebels in August and September, is the rubble of war. Rows of four- and five- and six-story buildings razed to their foundations. Symmetrical heaps of broken masonry, neatly setting off the original real estate lots -- and then whole oceans of stone, with jagged waves. Electricity poles shattered at the trunk like felled trees, their tangle of wires branching in the dirt. Cars flattened as at the junk yard. Buses riddled with bullets. Apartment buildings with their fronts sheared off, so that you get an axial view of the floors, furniture and tenants gone missing.

The Damascus outskirts are not entirely unpeopled, however. I'm in the cab with Khalid, driving from Douma, the half-destroyed district northeast of the capital city, south along the smooth, deserted Hafez al-Assad highway. "Jobar," Khalid points left across the highway to hulks of buildings heavily shelled yet erect amid the ruins. "We cannot go in. If we go in, they will kill us."


"Both sides, the jaysh al-suri and the jaysh al-hur," the Syrian government army and the Free Syrian Army (FSA), a collection of anti-government fighters and army defectors. "They are in there" -- I peer down the narrow, empty streets as we drive slowly past -- "but they fight at night."

Night-fighting goes on among the alleyways and rooftops and oblique angles of Zamalka and Ain Terma, too. But not in Jaramana, a town southeast of Damascus that appears entirely unscathed, where people fill the streets and merchants hawk their wares. Even the drabness remains undisturbed. The only sign that something is rotten is the garbage that remains uncollected by the curbs. "Why no damages?" I ask.

"They support Assad."

"Why do they support Assad and their neighbors don't?"

"Bee-khafuu," They are scared. That they are mostly Christian and Druze might also have something to do with it. The Assads are Alawites, a Shiite Muslim offshoot, and the minorities have largely stuck together, fearful of a takeover by the Sunni majority.

Returning north, we see a white-haired man trudging across the grassless median. He tells us he is going home. Where is home? "Zamalka." How are you? "Mneeh," fine. How is everything? "Kil shee mneeh," everything is fine. Are they any problems? "Maa fee mashakil," there are no problems. We say our goodbyes.

"Kil shee mneeh," Khalid repeats, as we drive off. He points to one of Zamalka's leveled buildings, lifts his hands, palms to the ground, and brings them down. "Bee-khaf," He is afraid.

He has good reason to be afraid. Within minutes, we see a security officer leading a man in handcuffs across the highway. The officer turns to us with the snarl of a carnivore who has caught his prey. The detained has the look of one upon whom the reason why his wrists are hurting is slowly dawning. "Harasta," Khalid points to the ghost town -- once the scene of thousands-strong protests -- on the right. "Jaysh," he looks out the window at the army quarters on our left. A giant billboard image of President Bashar al-Assad looms over the sandbagged gate. More


Sunday, October 28, 2012

Abuses colour Cambodia's fight for land

Phnom Penh, Cambodia - Nearly three years ago, a few hundred small-scale cassava farmers migrated from a district on Cambodia's eastern border to Kratie, a neighbouring province, where they heard there was farmland available in a village called Broma.

The move was not unusual in this predominantly rural country, where land tenure is shaky and poor farmers often uproot themselves for a chance at acquiring land.

"Villagers went there expecting to make their living from farming. They just wanted to survive," explained Bun Sothea, 22, one of the migrants.

But what supposedly happened next was extraordinary. According to the Cambodian government, the villagers allegedly banded together into a separatist movement and decided to "secede" from the Southeast Asian nation.

This so-called secession culminated in a violent battle between villagers and security forces, in which soldiers shot and killed a 14-year-old girl who had been hiding underneath her house.

After the Khmer Rouge abolished private property and instituted forced communal farming, the country - which never had a strong tradition of land ownership in the first place - was left in economic shambles.

Six months later, a total of 14 people have now been prosecuted and convicted for spearheading the so-called Broma separatist movement, including Mam Sonando, an elderly French-Cambodian who owns one of the few independent radio stations here. He was sentenced earlier this month to 20 years in prison.

But rights groups, internationals observers, and the villagers themselves say that the "secessionist plot" is a convenient fiction manufactured by the Cambodian government to justify the death of the girl, Heng Chantha, during a forced eviction.

'No evidence'

The farmland where the villagers had settled was on the edge of a 15,000-hectare plantation that the government had granted to an agroindustrial firm.

The company allegedly attempted to evict them starting in late 2011 so that it could plant rubber saplings. When villagers resisted, hundreds of police and soldiers sealed off the village and called in a helicopter for backup before storming in-and shooting Chantha in the process.

Both rights workers and villagers insist that arrested radio presenter Sonando did not even have a connection to the events in Broma, other than broadcasting stories about them on his radio station.

"This entire court case was just for hiding the death of the girl during the combat against villagers," says Am Sam Ath, the technical supervisor for Licadho, a human rights group that campaigns against land grabs and forced evictions. "There is no actual evidence proving that there was an insurrection."

Sam Ath, who was blocked from approaching the village on the day of the battle but was able to observe from a distance, said that 1,000 soldiers, police and military police officers had surrounded Broma in all directions. "They tied red cloths to their heads like they were about to go to war."

Land tenure

Although most outsiders still associate this Southeast Asian country with land mines, civil war, and the depredations of the Khmer Rouge regime, the biggest issue facing many Cambodians is one that gets little traction in the international media: land tenure.

After the Khmer Rouge abolished private property and instituted forced communal farming, the country - which never had a strong tradition of land ownership in the first place - was left in an economic shambles.

Although the ultra-Maoist regime was ousted in 1979, an additional decade of Vietnamese-backed Communist rule meant that private property rights were not re-established until the early 1990s.

Since then, despite a few high-profile land titling drives and the creation of the Land Law in 2001, many Cambodians still do not have titles to their homes or farmland, even if they have lived there for decades. More


The Mau Mau may rewrite the history of the British empire

There was dancing and praying in the streets of Nairobi earlier this month when three elderly Kenyans won an unexpected legal victory in London.

They had been granted the right to sue the British government over the horrific ordeals they suffered during the Mau Mau insurgency, although the abuses had been inflicted on them more than half a century earlier.

Even before the judgment had been formally handed down at the royal courts of justice, however, and the claimants and their families informed of their achievement, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office had decided on its response: it was going to appeal the decision, one more set-back for those old people who had already been battling through the courts for more than three years.

There was widespread dismay among many who had been observing the case. The FCO's lawyers had already conceded in court that the accounts given by the three Mau Mau veterans – of castration, rape and savage beatings – had been honest accounts, and that senior British and colonial officials had been aware of the ugly truth about daily life in the prison camps of 1950s Kenya. So why was the government continuing to resist their claim for compensation, and an apology?

Some wondered whether the FCO was, with supreme cynicism, simply dragging out the process, waiting for these troublesome litigants, Paulo Muoka Nzili, Wambugu Wa Nyingi and Jane Muthoni Mara, to die. Already a fourth claimant, Susan Ciong'ombe Ngondi, had passed away, aged 71.

A explanation is to be found in the FCO's own statements after its decision was announced.

While stressing that they "understand the pain and grievance" felt not only by detainees but also those who suffered the terrible violence that the Mau Mau inflicted upon others, the FCO described the ruling as disappointing. "The judgment has potentially significant and far-reaching legal implications. The normal time limit for bringing a civil action is three to six years. In this case, that period has been extended to over 50 years despite the fact that the key decision-makers are dead and unable to give their account of what happened. Since this is an important legal issue, we have taken the decision to appeal."

But having already conceded the use of torture during the seven-year counter-insurgency operation in Kenya, what would the FCO have to fear from the legal implications of a ruling that has allowed a claim for compensation from Britain's recent colonial past?

The three Mau Mau veterans won their case, in part, because last year their claim exposed the existence of the Foreign Office's secret annals of the end of empire, an archive stuffed with many of the documents that recorded how confused and bloody the withdrawal had been (but not all, as some of the most damning colonial-era papers were destroyed).

The foreign secretary, himself a historian, has to his great credit pledged that every surviving document will be transferred to the National Archives at Kew. But could it be that FCO officials have reason to believe that this archive, hidden from view for decades, may contain more documentary evidence of abuses that could result in claims through the high court?

Is there a realisation at the FCO that the tortures inflicted on the Mau Mau – largely concealed at the time through official secrecy and ministerial lies – then migrated to Cyprus during the Eoka insurgency, where they were brutally applied and always similarly denied? Or that they then travelled to Aden, where they were during the four years of conflict that preceded British withdrawal in 1967? More


Israeli maker of ‘Gatekeepers’ says occupation is ‘past the point of no return’

Important statement by Israeli filmmaker Dror Moreh, director of wrenching film, The Gatekeepers, to the Hollywood Reporter's Scott Feinberg. This is important because it is bringing the news to America about the occupation and the death of the two-state solution, news that the New York Times doesn't want to tell us:

Most striking to me is the fact that the former Shin Bet heads and Moreh himself have arrived at very different outlooks for the future -- and not the ones that you might have guessed. The Shin Bet heads interviewed in the film, though somewhat dark and conservative by nature, seem to feel that it is essential for Israel to maintain dialogue with the Palestinians, and that peace is ultimately achievable. Moreh, meanwhile, a gregarious man with a sunny disposition who cares enough about Israel's future to have devoted years to studying it, has arrived at a different conclusion. As he conveys in the film, and said to me, "Regrettably, I feel that we are past the point of no return."

Nevertheless, the fact that Israel recently announced new elections gives him at least a little hope. More


Between anger and denial: Israeli collective memory and the Nakba

A strange thing regarding the debate on the Nakba: the responses it generates in Israeli society are becoming more and more hostile, while at the same time, the Nakba is mentioned more and more often.

Those contradicting elements live side by side, as if the more we work to forget the Nakba, the harder it gets – the recent campaign regarding “the Jewish refugees” that the Foreign Office launched is just one example.

Israeli-Russian-Canadian journalist Lia Tarachansky (from The Real News) is presently finishing up work on a documentary that tries to deal with the complexity of Israeli sentiments towards the Nakba. “Seven Deadly Myths” (working title) tells the stories of four veterans from 1948, linking them to the lives of modern-day Palestinian refugees and to Tarachansky’s own childhood in a West Bank settlement. When I wrote about the memory of the Nakba on this blog, I also began with my childhood memories. Of all the political and historical issues here, the Nakba has the most intimate feeling to it – another reason it is such a taboo.

Filming has ended, and Tarachansky is now engaged in a fundraising effort to allow her to complete editing and post-production (more details on the film’s website). The project is also taking part in the Cuban Hat competition.

This week, I conducted an email interview with Lia Tarachansky on the roots of her project and the memory of the Nakba in Israeli society. The video above explains how this project was born.

LT: Most of the people in the film I found by word of mouth. I had asked around in the left’s circles. Then I stumbled onto Sergio Yahni of the Alternative Information Center who knew Tikva Honig-Parnass [seen in the above video] from when she edited the journal “Between The Lines” with Toufic Haddad.

Ruins of Palestinian Nakba village Qula, 2010 (photo: Deborah Bright /
Amnon Noiman I met through Zochrot ["Remembering," an Israeli NGO that deals with the memory of the Nakba – N.S], other veterans (some of whom later refused to take part in the film) I met through friends of friends or through the various war museums. At first, most were not willing to speak about the war and that period in general. They reminded me of my grandfather who until his dying years couldn’t talk about his memories of the Holocaust. I realized through their silence the immense power of memory and that’s what drove me to dig through my own.

Did you find regret in the Israelis you interviewed, or a feeling that “we did what we had to do?”

Honestly, most of the veterans, both those who are in the film and those who refused, didn’t want to “reopen that file.” One particularly profound moment in the film was in my various conversations and interviews with veteran Amnon Noiman. About three years ago, the Israeli activist Amir Hallel convinced him to give a testimony of his experience in 1948 to a small crowd in the Tel Aviv offices of Zochrot. When I heard about it I grabbed my camera and begged to film it.

I was amazed at how critical Noiman was that evening speaking about the general approach of the Israeli forces during the war, but it was clear even through his criticisms that there were corners of his memory that he refused to touch. Eitan Bronstein, the director of Zochrot asked him about one specific place – Burayr. In April 1948 its residents were expelled to Gaza by the Palmach unit Noiman was part of, and yet he refused to talk about it. It was only in our interview months later that he was ready to speak about what happened that April, 65 years ago. More


Saturday, October 27, 2012

How Britain tortured Nazi PoWs

The horrifying interrogation methods that belie our proud boast that we fought a clean war

Getty Images

The German SS officer was fighting to save himself from the gallows for a terrible war crime and might say anything to escape the noose. But Fritz Knöchlein was not lying in 1946 when he claimed that, in captivity in London, he had been tortured by British soldiers to force a confession out of him.

Tortured by British soldiers? In captivity? In London? The idea seems incredible.

Britain has a reputation as a nation that prides itself on its love of fair play and respect for the rule of law. We claim the moral high ground when it comes to human rights. We were among the first to sign the 1929 Geneva Convention on the humane treatment of prisoners of war.

Surely, you would think, the British avoid torture? But you would be wrong, as my research into what has gone on behind closed doors for decades shows.

It was in 2005 during my work as an investigative reporter that I came across a veiled mention of a World War II detention centre known as the London Cage. It took a number of Freedom Of Information requests to the Foreign Office before government files were reluctantly handed over.

From these, a sinister world unfolded — of a torture centre that the British military operated throughout the Forties, in complete secrecy, in the heart of one of the most exclusive neighbourhoods in the capital.

Thousands of Germans passed through the unit that became known as the London Cage, where they were beaten, deprived of sleep and forced to assume stress positions for days at a time.

Some were told they were to be murdered and their bodies quietly buried. Others were threatened with unnecessary surgery carried out by people with no medical qualifications. Guards boasted that they were ‘the English Gestapo’.

The London Cage was part of a network of nine ‘cages’ around Britain run by the Prisoner of War Interrogation Section (PWIS), which came under the jurisdiction of the Directorate of Military Intelligence. More


Boycott Companies Violating Human Rights Of The Palestinians, Says UN Expert

Call to boycott Caterpillar, Hewlett Packard, Motorola, Veolia Environment, G4S, Dexia, Volvo Group, Assa Abloy, Ahava, Elbit Systems, Mehadrin, Riwal Holding Group and Cemex has been made by the UN special investigator on human rights in the Palestinian territories.

These companies are violating international human rights and humanitarian laws by exploiting Palestinian resources and helping Israel construct illegal settlements and provide security for them.

An AP report carried by Arizona Daily Star [1] said:

Richard Falk, the UN special investigator on human rights in the Palestinian territories called on October 24, 2012 for a boycott of all companies that have dealings with Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem until they adhere to international rights standards and practices.

In a report presented to the UN General Assembly, Falk said a number of Israeli-owned and multinational corporations headquartered in the US, Europe and Mexico appear to be violating international human rights and humanitarian laws by exploiting Palestinian resources and helping Israel construct illegal settlements and provide security for them. But he said further investigations will be made to determine whether the allegations are well-founded.

Falk said the call for a boycott is an effort to take infractions of international law seriously and "use what influence we have to change behavior." He said the pace of Israeli settlement building has accelerated and Israel has ignored UN resolutions condemning the practice, so "there is a sense that what the U.N. says doesn't count."

Falk, a professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University, has previously angered Israel by comparing the Jewish state to Nazi Germany and accusing it of crimes against humanity because of its treatment of Palestinians. Israel has barred Falk from visiting the Palestinian territories.

In the report, Falk reiterated his request that the Israeli government cooperate with his efforts, as he said it is required to do under the UN Charter.

However, an AFP news carried by [2] said:

The US and Israel on October 25, 2012 slammed the call for a boycott of companies helping Israel’s colony expansion in the Palestinian territories.

US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said the boycott appeal by Richard Falk would “poison the environment for peace.”

An Israeli spokeswoman criticized the “distasteful sideshow.”

Richard Falk singled out Caterpillar, Hewlett Packard and Motorola of the United States, Veolia Environment of France, G4S of Britain, Dexia of Belgium, Volvo Group and Assa Abloy of Sweden, Ahava, Elbit Systems and Mehadrin of Israel, Riwal Holding Group of the Netherlands and Cemex of Mexico.

He said all were involved in building and maintaining Israeli colonies in the occupied territories that the UN, US and EU all consider illegal. More


Friday, October 26, 2012

Chomsky’s "Who Owns the World?"

In the week when President Obama and Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney debated issues of foreign policy and the economy, we turn to world-renowned political dissident, linguist, author and MIT professor, Noam Chomsky. In a recent speech, Chomsky examined topics largely ignored or glossed over during the campaign: China, the Arab Spring, global warming, nuclear proliferation, and the military threat posed by Israel and the U.S. versus Iran. He reflects on the Cuban missile crisis, which took place 50 years ago this week and is still referred to as "the most dangerous moment in human history." He delivered this talk last month at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst at an event sponsored by the Center for Popular Economics. Chomsky’s talk was entitled "Who Owns the World?"

AMY GOODMAN: We’re on the road in Portland, Oregon. We are here as part of our 100-city Silenced Majority tour. On this week when President Obama and Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney debated issues of foreign policy and the economy, we turn to world-renowned political dissident, linguist, author, MIT Professor Noam Chomsky. In a recent speech, Professor Chomsky examined topics largely ignored or glossed over during the campaign, from China to the Arab Spring, to global warming and the nuclear threat posed by Israel versus Iran. He spoke last month at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst at any event sponsored by the Center for Popular Economics. His talk was entitled “Who Owns the World?”

NOAM CHOMSKY: When I was thinking about these remarks, I had two topics in mind, couldn’t decide between them—actually pretty obvious ones. One topic is, what are the most important issues that we face? The second topic is, what issues are not being treated seriously—or at all—in the quadrennial frenzy now underway called an election? But I realized that there’s no problem; it’s not a hard choice: they’re the same topic. And there are reasons for it, which are very significant in themselves. I’d like to return to that in a moment. But first a few words on the background, beginning with the announced title, “Who Owns the World?”

Actually, a good answer to this was given years ago by Adam Smith, someone we’re supposed to worship but not read. He was—a little subversive when you read him sometimes. He was referring to the most powerful country in the world in his day and, of course, the country that interested him, namely, England. And he pointed out that in England the principal architects of policy are those who own the country: the merchants and manufacturers in his day. And he said they make sure to design policy so that their own interests are most peculiarly attended to. Their interests are served by policy, however grievous the impact on others, including the people of England.

But he was an old-fashioned conservative with moral principles, so he added the victims of England, the victims of the—what he called the “savage injustice of the Europeans,” particularly in India. Well, he had no illusions about the owners, so, to quote him again, “All for ourselves and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind.” It was true then; it’s true now.

Britain kept its position as the dominant world power well into the 20th century despite steady decline. By the end of World War II, dominance had shifted decisively into the hands of the upstart across the sea, the United States, by far the most powerful and wealthy society in world history. Britain could only aspire to be its junior partner as the British foreign office ruefully recognized. At that point, 1945, the United States had literally half the world’s wealth, incredible security, controlled the entire Western Hemisphere, both oceans, the opposite sides of both oceans. There’s nothing—there hasn’t ever been anything like that in history.

And planners understood it. Roosevelt’s planners were meeting right through the Second World War, designing the post-war world. They were quite sophisticated about it, and their plans were pretty much implemented. They wanted to make sure that the United States would control what they called a “grand area,” which would include, routinely, the entire Western Hemisphere, the entire Far East, the former British Empire, which the U.S. would be taking over, and as much of Eurasia as possible—crucially, its commercial and industrial centers in Western Europe. And within this region, they said, the United States should hold unquestioned power with military and economic supremacy, while ensuring the limitation of any exercise of sovereignty by states that might interfere with these global designs.

And those were pretty realistic plans at the time, given the enormous disparity of power. The U.S. had been by far the richest country in the world even before the Second World War, although it wasn’t—was not yet the major global actor. During the Second World War, the United States gained enormously. Industrial production almost quadrupled, got us out of depression. Meanwhile, industrial rivals were devastated or seriously weakened. So that was an unbelievable system of power. More


Drones: A Non-Issue in U.S. Presidential Debate Riles Pakistan

It was something both candidates could agree on. Near the end of the last debate between President Barack Obama and his opponent Mitt Romney on Monday, moderator Bob Schieffer asked the Republican presidential candidate where he stood on the U.S.’s “use of drones.”

Predator drone, Southern Afghanistan

Romney voiced his support for the President’s ongoing policy of using unmanned weapons to attack terrorist targets, saying the U.S. should be ready by “any and all means necessary to take out people who pose a threat to us and our friends around the world.” In a conversation that ranged from U.S. education to trade with China, Obama and Romney saw eye to eye on a several foreign policy points, but none generated as little debate as the Obama Administration’s increased dependence on drone technology, which has proved to be such a nonissue in this presidential race that it merited only a few words from Romney, and none at all from the sitting President.

But if Schieffer were to bring up drones among politicians in Islamabad today, a few more sparks might fly. The U.S. has been using drones to target parts of the country that lie on the border with Afghanistan since 2004 in an ongoing campaign to root out militants working against U.S. troops and interests. Many in Pakistan say that its governments in the past eight years have been complicit in — if not covertly supportive of — the campaign, if simply by dint of the fact that it has not taken up what’s a clear breach of sovereignty with any international legal body. Most of the drone strikes take place in parts of Pakistan that are both physically and socially remote from the rest of the country. Few journalists have been permitted to go into these specially administered areas to see what the drones do firsthand, and while compiled reports from groups like the nonprofit Bureau of Investigative Journalism put the total number of people killed in drone strikes as high as 3,365, including 176 children, these figures have been questioned by parties both inside and outside Pakistan in the absence of official data from either government.

Pakistan’s domestic debate over drone attacks gained momentum last year, when relations between the country and the U.S. soured after Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. Navy SEALs in Abbottabad. It has become even louder still in recent weeks, after cricketer turned politician Imran Khan staged a widely publicized demonstration against the strikes. Khan’s plan was to march all the way to Waziristan, a border area where most of the drone strikes are reportedly happening. Though the military stopped his thousands-strong rally from entering the area on security grounds, the campaign did bring the conversation back into the spotlight, and forced others in Pakistan’s political arena to take a position on a subject that many would prefer to avoid. “All over the country, resistance has been building to drone attacks,” says Javed Hashmi, the president of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party. “Drones are killing children and creating suicide attackers. You can’t win a war this way. Now international resistance is growing, even in the U.S.”

He’s right about that. A recent Pew Global Attitudes survey found that in “17 of 20 countries, more than half disapprove of U.S. drone attacks targeting extremist leaders and groups in nations such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.” And in Pakistan, many suggest that the drone campaign, while it may be fulfilling an immediate objective of picking off militants who support the fight against U.S. troops in Afghanistan, is actually working against America’s long-term interests in the country. As reports continue to emerge of the strikes’ negative impact on civilians in the border area, people all over the country are beginning to feel fed up. “When everybody turns against [the strikes], they lose their political purpose,” says Hasan Askari Rizvi, a political analyst in Lahore. “It contributes to anti-Americanism in Pakistan.” More



Thursday, October 25, 2012

How We Can Solve the Palestinian Israeli Problem

Sami Moukaddem’s hour-and-a-half film, released in late September 2012, includes several long excerpts from an interview with Jonathan Cook, recorded in the UK in 2010. The line-up of more than 30 interviewees includes Noam Chomsky, Gideon Levy, Mairead Maguire, Ken Loach, David Hirst and Ghada Karmi. More

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Israel’s formula for a starvation diet

How 400 trucks to feed Gaza became just 67

Jonathan Cook
Six and a half years go, shortly after Hamas won the Palestinian national elections and took charge of Gaza, a senior Israeli official described Israel’s planned response. “The idea,” he said, “is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.”

Although Dov Weisglass was adviser to Ehud Olmert, the prime minister of the day, few observers treated his comment as more than hyperbole, a supposedly droll characterisation of the blockade Israel was about to impose on the tiny enclave.

Last week, however, the evidence finally emerged to prove that this did indeed become Israeli policy. After a three-year legal battle by an Israeli human rights group, Israel was forced to disclose its so-called “Red Lines” document. Drafted in early 2008, as the blockade was tightened still further, the defence ministry paper set forth proposals on how to treat Hamas-ruled Gaza.

Health officials provided calculations of the minimum number of calories needed by Gaza’s 1.5 million inhabitants to avoid malnutrition. Those figures were then translated into truckloads of food Israel was supposed to allow in each day.

The Israeli media have tried to present these chilling discussions, held in secret, in the best light possible. Even the liberal Haaretz newspaper euphemistically described this extreme form of calorie-counting as designed to “make sure Gaza didn’t starve”.

But a rather different picture emerges as one reads the small print. While the health ministry determined that Gazans needed daily an average of 2,279 calories each to avoid malnutrition – requiring 170 trucks a day – military officials then found a host of pretexts to whittle down the trucks to a fraction of the original figure.

The reality was that, in this period, an average of only 67 trucks – much less than half of the minimum requirement – entered Gaza daily. This compared to more than 400 trucks before the blockade began.

To achieve this large reduction, officials deducted trucks based both on an over-generous assessment of how much food could be grown locally and on differences in the ”culture and experience” of food consumption in Gaza, a rationale never explained.

Gisha, the organisation that fought for the document’s publication, observes that Israeli officials ignored the fact that the blockade had severely impaired Gaza’s farming industry, with a shortage of seeds and chickens that had led to a dramatic drop in food output.

UN staff too have noted that Israel failed to factor in the large quantity of food from each day’s supply of 67 trucks that never actually reached Gaza. That was because Israeli restrictions at the crossings created long delays as food was unloaded, checked and then put on to new trucks. Many items spoiled as they lay in the sun.

And on top of this, Israel further adjusted the formula so that the number of trucks carrying nutrient-poor sugar were doubled while the trucks carrying milk, fruit and vegetables were greatly reduced, sometimes by as much as a half.

Robert Turner, director of the UN refugee agency’s operations in the Gaza Strip, has observed: “The facts on the ground in Gaza demonstrate that food imports consistently fell below the red lines.”

It does not need an expert to conclude that the imposition of this Weisglass-style “diet” would entail widespread malnutrition, especially among children. And that is precisely what happened, as a leaked report from the International Committee of the Red Cross found at the time. “Chronic malnutrition is on a steadily rising trend and micro-nutrient deficiencies are of great concern,” it reported in early 2008. More


Sunday, October 21, 2012

CIA chiefs face arrest over horrific evidence of bloody 'video-game' sorties by drone pilots

The Mail on Sunday today reveals shocking new evidence of the full horrific impact of US drone attacks in Pakistan.

A damning dossier assembled from exhaustive research into the strikes’ targets sets out in heartbreaking detail the deaths of teachers, students and Pakistani policemen. It also describes how bereaved relatives are forced to gather their loved ones’ dismembered body parts in the aftermath of strikes.

The dossier has been assembled by human rights lawyer Shahzad Akbar, who works for Pakistan’s Foundation for Fundamental Rights and the British human rights charity Reprieve.

Filed in two separate court cases, it is set to trigger a formal murder investigation by police into the roles of two US officials said to have ordered the strikes. They are Jonathan Banks, former head of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Islamabad station, and John A. Rizzo, the CIA’s former chief lawyer. Mr Akbar and his staff have already gathered further testimony which has yet to be filed.

How the attacks unfolded...t

‘We have statements from a further 82 victims’ families relating to more than 30 drone strikes,’ he said. ‘This is their only hope of justice.’

In the first case, which has already been heard by a court in Islamabad, judgment is expected imminently. If the judge grants Mr Akbar’s petition, an international arrest warrant will be issued via Interpol against the two Americans. More



Israel Bans Humanitarian Aid

Israeli troops board boat carrying 20 people from eight countries, carrying items like medicines, cement, basketballs and musical instruments.

October 20, 2012 -- Israeli troops on Saturday boarded a boat carrying pro-Palestinian MPs and activists seeking to run its naval blockade on the Gaza Strip, blocking the latest attempt to reach the enclave by sea, the military said.

The operation, which the military said was concluded peacefully, ended the latest bid by activists to breach Israel's tight maritime embargo on Gaza which prohibits all naval traffic in and out of the Palestinian coastal territory.

"A short while ago, Israeli navy soldiers boarded (the MV) Estelle, a vessel which was en route to the Gaza Strip, attempting to break the maritime security blockade," the military said in a statement, indicating the Finnish-flagged vessel was being led to Ashdod port in southern Israel.

"There was no violence," a military spokeswoman told AFP, saying troops had taken control of the 53-metre (174-foot) vessel. "The passengers did not resist."

On board the ship are 17 passengers, among them five parliamentarians from Europe and a former Canadian lawmaker, organisers said.
It was also carrying a shipment of humanitarian aid and 30 doves, which the passengers had been intending to release on arrival in Gaza.

The announcement came shortly after organisers told AFP that the ship had "come under attack" after being approached by navy vessels some 38 nautical miles off the Gaza coast.

The military said the boarding was carried out only after "numerous calls to the passengers onboard" which went unanswered.
"As a result of their unwillingness to cooperate and after ignoring calls to change course, the decision was made to board the vessel and lead it to the port of Ashdod," the military said, indicating that troops "did not need to use force."

On arrival at Ashdod, the ship's passengers would be handed into police custody and then onto the immigration authorities.

Activists on previous Gaza-bound flotillas which were stopped by the navy have all been taken to Israel and immediately deported.

The vessel had set sail from Sweden several weeks ago, stopping off in Finland, France and Spain before leaving the Italian port of Naples on October 6.
"The Estelle is now under attack -- I have just had a message from them by phone," Victoria Strand, a Stockholm-based spokeswoman for the Ship to Gaza-Sweden campaign told AFP at 0830 GMT.

Among those on board are parliamentarians Ricardo Sixto Iglesias from Spain, Sven Britton from Sweden, Aksel Hagen of Norway, and Vangelis Diamandopoulos and Dimitris Kodelas, both from Greece. Former Canadian lawmaker Jim Manly is also on board.

Strand said the Estelle, which has previously been used in Greenpeace missions, had been expected to dock in Gaza late Saturday afternoon. More


Saturday, October 20, 2012

Ship to Gaza boarded by Israeli soldiers: report

Israeli soldiers have surrounded and boarded Estelle, a vessel operated by Sweden-based activist group Ship to Gaza, according to reports from the crew.

"I can confirm that at around 10:15 Central European Time, Estelle was attacked by five or six military vessels. Soldiers wearing masks were trying to board the boat," said Mikael Löfgren at Ship to Gaza to The Local on Saturday.

Löfgren told The Local that communication with the crew onboard the Estelle broke off shortly afterwards and telephone contact had not yet been re-established.


There are no reports of any violence in connection with the incident, which occurred in international waters.

"All I heard were voices that were not calm," Löfgren said.

Ship to Gaza is part of the Freedom Flottilla which aims to raise awareness by attempting to break Israel's sea blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Two years ago at the first attempt to reach Gaza by sea, a Turkish vessel in the flotilla was boarded by Israeli soldiers resulting in the death of nine activists.

Aside from its symbolic cargo or necessities, the Estelle is carrying a crew of 17 which includes nationals from Sweden, Canada, Norway, Israel, Greece and the US.

Löfgren told The Local that the embassies of the nationalities onboard the vessel have been informed and that the organization's lawyers had been contacted.

An Israeli government spokesperson has confirmed that the navy had contacted the Estelle and had been denied access, according to a report by Al Jazeera.

The spokesperson denied that the vessel had been boarded or attacked. More

    Wednesday, October 17, 2012

    Is this democracy?

    US democracy: The power of money

    Just how much does money distort the political process?

    The US presidential elections in November 2012 are expected to become the most expensive in history. One estimate by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) goes as high as $11bn.


    The vast majority of this political money has come from a handful of super-rich supporters of the Republican Party dwarfing the attempts by citizens, associations or labour unions to do the same.


    Many on the right claim deregulating campaign financing as a victory for free speech whilst most on the left fear the changes are corrupting democracy.


    "It's not even that a candidate is spending 30 or 40 per cent of his time raising money. It's that he's spending 30 or 40 or 50 or in some congressional contexts up to 70 per cent of their time raising money from the tiniest slice of the one per cent. Meaning they can't help but become especially sensitive to the needs or desires ... of the one per cent, and increasingly oblivious to the needs or concerns of the rest of the public."

    - Professor Lawrence Lessig, director of the Edmond J. Safra Foundation Center for Ethics at Harvard University

    Controversial campaign funding rule changes brought in after a Supreme Court ruling in 2010 have opened the floodgates to billionaire donors with the potential to buy influence all the way to the White House.


    The Citizens United ruling means that anyone can support a candidate with unlimited funding through the use of groups known as Super PACs (Political Action Committees) and some donors can keep their identity and the source of their money secret through similar organisations which have earned them the nickname 'Dark Money' groups.


    The new system is rarely challenged in the mainstream media. Broadcasters benefit from all the spending on political advertising and news journalists use the adverts as a big source for their election stories. More



    Sunday, October 14, 2012

    Rule of law without human rights is an empty shell

    In the first meeting of its kind, world leaders, ministers of justice, prosecutors, UN officials and representatives of civil society convened on 24 September at the United Nations in New York to discuss exclusively measures for strengthening the rule of law.

    The UN General Assembly’s High Level Meeting on the Rule of Law at the National and International Level adopted a declaration reaffirming that human rights, the rule of law and democracy were interlinked and mutually reinforcing core values of the United Nations.

    UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for concrete action towards equal application of the law at national and international levels; upholding the highest stands of rule of law in decision making; accepting the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice and supporting UN initiatives in the field of rule of law.

    “Strengthening the rule of law is for every country and is in everyone’s interest. It is as essential within countries as it is among the family of nations,” he said.

    Drawing on her personal experience of growing up under the Apartheid regime in South Africa, where legislation served to institutionalise injustice, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said that “the rule of law without human rights is only an empty shell”. At the same time, “the rule of law constitutes the backbone for the legal protection of human rights”.

    The UN Human Rights Office, with 58 field offices around the world, works with national actors to build strong and responsive institutions necessary for effective governance based on the rule of law and respect for human rights.

    “We also support the establishment and functioning of comprehensive accountability frameworks to address human rights violations, including transitional justice mechanisms compliant with international standards and norms,” said the High Commissioner.

    She emphasized the importance of national ownership of rule of law principles. National action and international support to strengthen the rule of law must be based on international human rights law. In this context, she urged Member States to ratify outstanding international human rights treaties, to withdraw reservations, and to accept the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice.

    The President of the General Assembly, Vuk Jeremić, pledged to work with Member States to ensure that the UN General Assembly “sharpens its focus on the effective implementation of best practices in the rule of law.” More


    Saturday, October 13, 2012

    Iraq records huge rise in birth defects

    It played unwilling host to one of the bloodiest battles of the Iraq war. Fallujah's homes and businesses were left shattered; hundreds of Iraqi civilians were killed.

    Its residents changed the name of their "City of Mosques" to "the polluted city" after the United States launched two massive military campaigns eight years ago. Now, one month before the World Health Organisation reveals its view on the legacy of the two battles for the town, a new study reports a "staggering rise" in birth defects among Iraqi children conceived in the aftermath of the war.

    High rates of miscarriage, toxic levels of lead and mercury contamination and spiralling numbers of birth defects ranging from congenital heart defects to brain dysfunctions and malformed limbs have been recorded. Even more disturbingly, they appear to be occurring at an increasing rate in children born in Fallujah, about 40 miles west of Baghdad.

    There is "compelling evidence" to link the increased numbers of defects and miscarriages to military assaults, says Mozhgan Savabieasfahani, one of the lead authors of the report and an environmental toxicologist at the University of Michigan's School of Public Health. Similar defects have been found among children born in Basra after British troops invaded, according to the new research.

    US marines first bombarded Fallujah in April 2004 after four employees from the American security company Blackwater were killed, their bodies burned and dragged through the street, with two of the corpses left hanging from a bridge. Seven months later, the marines stormed the city for a second time, using some of the heaviest US air strikes deployed in Iraq. American forces later admitted that they had used white phosphorus shells, although they never admitted to using depleted uranium, which has been linked to high rates of cancer and birth defects.

    The new findings, published in the Environmental Contamination and Toxicology bulletin, will bolster claims that US and Nato munitions used in the conflict led to a widespread health crisis in Iraq. They are the latest in a series of studies that have suggested a link between bombardment and a rise in birth defects. Their preliminary findings, in 2010, prompted a World Health Organisation inquiry into the prevalence of birth defects in the area. The WHO's report, out next month, is widely expected to show an increase in birth defects after the conflict. It has looked at nine "high-risk" areas in Iraq, including Fallujah and Basra. Where high prevalence is found, the WHO is expected to call for additional studies to pinpoint precise causes.

    The latest study found that in Fallujah, more than half of all babies surveyed were born with a birth defect between 2007 and 2010. Before the siege, this figure was more like one in 10. Prior to the turn of the millennium, fewer than 2 per cent of babies were born with a defect. More than 45 per cent of all pregnancies surveyed ended in miscarriage in the two years after 2004, up from only 10 per cent before the bombing. Between 2007 and 2010, one in six of all pregnancies ended in miscarriage.

    The new research, which looked at the health histories of 56 families in Fallujah, also examined births in Basra, in southern Iraq, attacked by British forces in 2003. Researchers found more than 20 babies out of 1,000 were born with defects in Al Basrah Maternity Hospital in 2003, a number that is 17 times higher than recorded a decade previously. In the past seven years, the number of malformed babies born increased by more than 60 per cent; 37 out of every 1,000 are now born with defects. More