Monday, April 30, 2012

Israel joins UN list of states limiting human rights organizations

UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay lists Israel along with countries such as Belarus, Zimbabwe, Egypt, Ethiopia and Venezuela.

A senior UN official in Geneva last week listed Israel among the countries that she says are restricting the activities of human rights groups.

The statement, issued on Wednesday by UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay, lists Israel along with countries such as Belarus, Zimbabwe, Egypt, Ethiopia and Venezuela. Israel was named due to the bill approved by the Ministerial Committee on Legislation six months ago to restrict funding by foreign governments to nonprofit organizations. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu supported the bill throughout most of its formulation. However, he ordered it frozen after Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein said such a law would be struck down by the High Court of Justice.

Although the law never reached the Knesset, Pillay said in her statement: "In Israel, the recently adopted Foreign Funding Law could have a major impact on human rights organizations, subjecting them to rigorous reporting requirements, forcing them to declare foreign financial support in all public communications, and threatening heavy penalties for non-compliance." More


 

The Middle East counter-revolution -Robert Fisk

It was my old Jordanian-Palestinian chum Rami Khouri who first spotted what is going on in the Middle East right now: it's the counter-revolution. Bahrain is crushing dissent. Syria is crushing dissent. Mubarak's former head of intelligence, the sinister Omar Suleiman, is standing for president in Egypt – the cancellation of his candidacy last week by a dodgy "electoral committee" may well be overturned. Libya is at war with itself. Yemen has got its former dictator's sidekick back. Sixty-one dead in a battle between soldiers and al-Qa'ida last week – in a single day. All in all, a pretty mess.

But let me quote Khouri. "In Washington-speak, a 'crisis' is like love: you can define it any way you want, but you know when it happens to you. So a popular revolt in Bahrain for full civil rights is a crisis that must be crushed by force. But a revolt in Syria is a blessed event that deserves support. Similarly, this peculiar mindset warns against Iranian support to the Houthi rebels in Yemen, while accepting as perfectly logical and legitimate for the US and its allies to send arms and money to their favourite rebel groups around the region – not to mention attacking entire countries..."

And there you have it. As Khouri notes, there's now a new group called the "Security Cooperation Forum" linking the US with the Gulf Cooperation Council. La Clinton turned up to assure the oil states of Washington's "rock solid and unwavering commitment" to the GCC. Now where have we heard that before? Why, isn't that what Obama is always saying to the Israelis? And weren't Bibi Netanyahu of Israel and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia the two guys who called Obama to ask him to save Mubarak?

And in Syria – where the Qataris and the Saudis are all too keen to send weapons for the rebels – things are not going very well for the revolution. After claiming for weeks a year ago that "armed bands" were attacking government forces, the bands now exist and are well and truly attacking Assad's legions. For many tens of thousands who were prepared to demonstrate peacefully – albeit at the cost of their lives – this has become a disaster. Syrian friends of mine call it a "tragedy". They blame the Gulf states for encouraging the armed uprising. "Our revolution was pure and clean and now it's a war," one of them said to me last week. I believe them. More

 

The General's Son

Miko Peled is a peace activist who dares to say in public what others still choose to deny. Born in Jerusalem in 1961 into a well known Zionist family, his grandfather, Dr. Avraham Katsnelson was a Zionist leader and signer of the Israeli Declaration of Independence. His Father, Matti Peled, was a young officer in the war of 1948 and a general in the war of 1967 when Israel conquered the West Bank, Gaza, Golan Heights and Sinai. Miko's unlikely opinions reflect his father's legacy. General Peled was a war hero turned peacemaker. Miko grew up in Jerusalem, a multi-ethnic city, but had to leave Israel before he made his first Palestinian friend, the result of his participation in a dialogue group in California. He was 39. On September 4, 1997 the beloved Smadar, 13, the daughter of Miko's sister Nurit and her husband Rami Elhanan was killed in a suicide attack. Peled insists that Israel/Palestine is one state—the separation wall notwithstanding, massive investment in infrastructure, towns and highways that bisect and connect settlements on the West Bank, have destroyed the possibility for a viable Palestinian state. The result, Peled says is that Israelis and Palestinians are governed by the same government but live under different sets of laws. At the heart of Peled's conclusion lies the realization that Israelis and Palestinians can live in peace as equals in their shared homeland.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Nothing has changed in Israel since 1948

The attitude of the state and its institutions to this act of theft in Samaria sends a single, clear message to Israelis and the world: We will never stop this crushing, ultranationalist melody - then as now, in 1948 and in 2012.

After we are done being appropriately and understandably shocked by the Ulpana neighborhood affair, by the cabinet's scandalous conduct, the absolute impotence of its attorney general and the unthinkable position of the State Attorney's Office, which volunteered its services in support of breaking the law; after we have finished reeling from the depiction of land swindlers as "normative people" and from the undermining of the High Court of Justice, we must ask: How is this anything other than business as usual in the State of Israel?

The generation of 1948 is disappearing, but its spirit has never diminished. In 1948, new immigrants were brought straight from the ships into abandoned Palestinian homes with pots of food still simmering in the kitchen, and no one asked too many questions. In 2012, the Israeli government is trying to whitewash the theft of Palestinian lands, all the while scorning the law. A single straight line - a single, perpetual mode of conduct - runs from 1948 to 2012: Palestinian property is ownerless, always abandoned property, even when this is demonstrably not the case, and Israeli Jews are free to do whatever they want with it. It was catch-as-catch-can with regard to Palestinian property in 1948, and it's catch-as-catch-can in 2012, in a never-ending game. Now, as then, the arrogation is authorized and sanctioned. Now, as then, a crime is a crime. More

 

Jeremy Scahill speaking at the drone summit in Washington, DC

Jeremy Scahill of The Nation spoke at the Drone Summit in DC organized by CODEPINK, Center for Constitutional Rights and Reprieve. Part 1

 

Part 2

 

Friday, April 27, 2012

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

BBC challenged for ignoring plight of Palestinian prisoners

“I had no idea. How could I not have known?”

I heard those words on Palestinian Prisoners’ Day (17 April) from a teacher, shocked at discovering how Israel abducts, abuses and imprisons Palestinian children — some as young as 12 — in the West Bank because they may or may not have thrown stones atIsrael’s wall.

She had tagged along with a friend to a talk given in London by Gerard Horton of Defence for Children International–Palestine Section, and until that moment had been unaware of the brutalities of Israel’s occupation of Palestine. Horton’s lecture focused on a new DCI-Palestine report which documents the various traumas Palestinian children regularly face during Israeli military detention (“Bound, Blindfolded and Convicted: Children held in military detention,” 14 April 2012).

The answer to her question is fairly simple: this woman — a member of the educated, professional middle-classes — did not know because she relies on the mainstream media, led by theBBC, for her news. And that media’s silence on the realities of Israel’s occupation is deafening.

Last week, 1,200 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails began an open-ended hunger strike in protest at the illegalities and injustices of their incarceration. Another 2,300 refused food for the duration of Palestinian Prisoners’ Day. Their action came just weeks after Khader Adnan ended his 66-day hunger strike andHana al-Shalabi was released (though banished to Gaza) after refusing food for 43 days, both protesting at Israel’s use ofadministrative detention against them.

Several other prisoners remain on long-standing hunger strikes, including 27-year-old Bilal Diab and 34-year-old Thaer Halahleh, now into their second month without food.

Extraordinary feat of resistance

If this extraordinary, mass feat of unarmed resistance, where more than a thousand men and women are willing to starve themselves to death in the struggle for liberation from an oppressive regime, was taking place in China or Iran — or any other country not behaving in the interests of the West — it would be receiving constant coverage in newspapers and on television. We would be presented with analysis, comment, talking heads, and we would know.

But these brave men and women are Palestinian, and the oppressive regime is Israel, and so the media’s curtain of self-censorship has been drawn.

Furious at this lack of coverage, Scottish activists from the We Are All Hana Shalabi Network occupied BBC Scotland headquarters on Palestinian Prisoners’ Day demanding reasons for the blackout (“Report on Glasgow’s BBC occupation and ‘Karamah hunger strike’ march,” We Are All Hana Shalabi Network, 18 April 2012). More

Exclusive: Senior U.S. General Orders Top-to-Bottom Review of Military’s Islam Training

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Tuesday ordered the entire U.S. military to scour its training material to ensure it doesn’t contain anti-Islamic content, Danger Room has learned. The order came after the Pentagon suspended a course for senior officers that was found to contain derogatory material about Islam.

The extraordinary order by General Martin Dempsey, the highest-ranking military officer in the U.S. armed forces, was prompted by content in a course titled “Perspectives on Islam and Islamic Radicalism” that was presented as an elective at the Joint Forces Staff College in Norfolk, Virginia. The course instructed captains, commanders, lieutenant colonels and colonels from across all four armed services that “Islam had already declared war on the West,” said Lt. Gen. George Flynn, Dempsey’s deputy for training and education.

“It was inflammatory,” Flynn told Danger Room on Tuesday. “We said, ‘Wait a second, that’s really not what we’re talking about.’ That is not how we view this problem or the challenges we have in the world today.”

The strong response by the Pentagon brass illustrates growing sensitivity around the issue since Danger Room’s investigation of anti-Islam materialin the FBI’s counterterrorism training last September. That story sparked strong condemnation of the training material from the U.S. Attorney General on down, and prompted the White House to order a review of U.S. counterterrorism training last October.

Despite that White House order, the “Perspectives” course, taught since 2004, not only evaded review, but had defenders in the Joint Forces Staff College that taught it.

Danger Room first learned about the course last month, and determined that one of its guest lecturers was Stephen Coughlin, who has taught FBI and U.S. Army audiences that Islamic law is a danger to U.S. national security. We sought comment from a representative for the Joint Forces Staff College, who defended the propriety of the course.

Feedback from students has been “mostly positive, usually around the 90% range,” Steven Williams, a spokesman for the college, e-mailed Danger Room on Mar. 14. “Students generally appreciate thought-provoking discussion and the freedom to consider critical perspectives.”

The Pentagon, though, told a very different story Tuesday. Flynn disclosed that since an unspecified “revision” of the course in the summer of 2011, multiple officers who attended the course had raised internal objections about its presentation of Islam and Muslims. He estimated that about 20 officers attend each eight-week elective course, which is offered four times a year. More

 

South Africa’s Smallholders Lose Battle for Seed Security

CAPE TOWN, South Africa, Apr 23, 2012 (IPS) - In an almost ceremonial manner, Selinah Mncwango opens her big plastic bag and pulls out several smaller packets, each filled with different types of seeds: sorghum, bean, pumpkin, and maize. They are her pride, her wealth, the "pillar of my family," says the farmer from a village in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province.

Sixty-five-year-old Mncwango comes from a family of smallholder farmers in the village of Ingwawuma in the east coast province. The crops she grows today are from seeds that have been handed down from generation to generation, over decades, she says. Other seeds come from exchanges with neighbouring farmers. "My seeds are very important to me. I hope the day will never come when I have to buy seeds from a shop," says the farmer, whose five children and eight grandchildren largely depend on her harvest. She is keenly aware of the fact that seed saving, storing and exchanging promotes crop diversity, saves money and provides smallholder farmers with a safety net in case of harvest failures.

But the traditional farming methods of smallholder farmers – which, researchers say, also help to fight soil depletion, reduce irrigation needs and adapt to climate change – may soon disappear. They are being wiped out by governments focused on promoting commercial monocultures that they hope will bring fast, high yields in order to boost national agricultural sales on global markets.

"The sector is dominated by commercial seed companies and industrial agricultural production," explains Rachel Wynberg, policy analyst at the Environmental Evaluation Unit of the University of Cape Town in South Africa. Small-scale farmers have been systematically pushed out of the system by those who put profits before food security and biodiversity, she says.

"There is a poor understanding of small farmers’ rights. Traditional agricultural practices have thus been eroded over decades," she adds.

In South Africa, and in most other countries on the continent, the rights of small-scale farmers are regularly violated by governments and commercial entities that push genetically modified (GM) and hybrid seeds – which have been cross-pollinated in controlled environments – on them. More

 

 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Palestinians: The Forgotten People

It is impossible to understand the present Palestinian/Israeli conflict without understanding the past, in particular, the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine by Ashkenazi Jews from Eastern Europe, who are not Semitic people, but indigenous to Eastern Europe.

In 1900, there were no Ashkenazi Jews living in Palestine; essentially none, that is, but a few, small mostly temporary Russian Jewish settlers, not totally unusual for various cults in the Holy Land at that time. Theodore Herzl, frequently designated ‘The Father of Modern Zionism' stated in 1897:

“[We shall] spirit the penniless population across the frontier by denying it employment. Both the process of expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly.” Deir Yassin ------------->

Thus the concept of ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians was introduced.

By the 1930' 'transfer' of the Arabs was the unanimous opinion of the founders of Israel. So-called transfer committees, headed by Joseph Weitz, Director of Land Management for the Jewish Agency, were set up explicitly for the purpose of studying ways of ‘transferring the Arabs out of Palestine.

At the beginning of 1948, despite 50 years of land purchases, Jews only owned 6% of the land of Palestine. By the year's end, the Israeli army controlled 78% of Palestine in a process of ethnic cleansing that saw the destruction of 531 Arab cities or villages and 11 Arab urban areas, with massacres at almost all of those towns or villages, the almost complete looting of Palestinian property and wealth, including looting of the banks, confiscation of Palestinian homes and property, businesses, fields and orchards.

The Palestinian people lost everything. Those who survived the massacres lost their careers, their means of livelihood, only to find refuge in tent cities set up by the United Nations which were later to become squalid refugee camps of cinder block buildings dotted around the Middle East.

By just checking the time line, one quickly disposes of the 60 year old Israeli propaganda myth that the state of Israel was innocently minding its own business when it was attacked by five armies of surrounding Arab states.

The ethnic cleansing of Palestinians began on November 30, 1947 in Haifa when the Jewish army under David Ben Gurion, along with the Jewish terrorist group, the Irgun, under Manachem Begin, began shelling the Arab sections of that city. In March of 1948, David Ben Gurion finalized and distributed Plan D to his officers, which was a program for destroying and depopulating Arab villages and eliminating any resistance. The massacre at the Arab village of Deir Yassin, only one of many, but possibly the most famous, occurred on April 9, 1948. Israel declared itself a state on May 14, 1948, and it was the next day, May 15, that the first regular soldier of an Arab army set foot in Palestine. By then, about half of the 800,000 Palestinian refugees had been generated. More




 

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Shooting of peaceful Palestinian protesters in Gaza

 

Events in Beit Hanoun "Erez" in Gaza following the exposure of many of the injuries during a peaceful march headed for the crossing.

 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Israel's leaders incite the public against peace activists

From time to time the news media or human rights groups film an Israeli in uniform using excessive force against human rights or peace activists protesting the wrongs of the occupation.

This week it was the turn of IDF Lt. Col. Shalom Eisner, deputy commander of the Jordan Valley Brigade, to be caught by the camera, in this case striking a helpless Danish national in the face with an M-16 rifle. Following the event's widespread coverage, the officer was widely criticized by the public - not for using excessive force, but for granting human rights groups a photo op serving their interests. He also ruined the celebrations over the successful operation that prevented human rights activists from entering Israel and the territories via Ben Gurion International Airport (and grounded several people who had nothing to do with the fly-in ).

In an effort to minimize the damage to Israel's image, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz swiftly suspended Eisner while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hastened to denounce the offending officer's misdeed.

Such reactions are necessary, but certainly not sufficient. Use of violence against peace activists is not an image problem that can be swept aside with a suspension and denunciation. A political and military leadership that incites the public against peace and human rights activists bears responsibility for the conduct of hot-tempered officers like Eisner.

When the prime minister and foreign minister label left-wingers "anarchists," "provocateurs" and even "terror supporters," they are sanctioning attacks on civilians implementing the right to protest. More




 

Britain destroyed records of colonial crimes

Thousands of documents detailing some of the most shameful acts and crimes committed during the final years of the British empire were systematically destroyed to prevent them falling into the hands of post-independence governments, an official review has concluded.

Those papers that survived the purge were flown discreetly to Britain where they were hidden for 50 years in a secret Foreign Office archive, beyond the reach of historians and members of the public, and in breach of legal obligations for them to be transferred into the public domain.

The archive came to light last year when a group of Kenyans detained and allegedly tortured during the Mau Mau rebellion won the right to sue the British government. The Foreign Office promised to release the 8,800 files from 37 former colonies held at the highly-secure government communications centre at Hanslope Park in Buckinghamshire.

The historian appointed to oversee the review and transfer, Tony Badger, master of Clare College, Cambridge, says the discovery of the archive put the Foreign Office in an "embarrassing, scandalous" position. "These documents should have been in the public archives in the 1980s," he said. "It's long overdue." The first of them are made available to the public on Wednesday at the National Archive at Kew, Surrey.

The papers at Hanslope Park include monthly intelligence reports on the "elimination" of the colonial authority's enemies in 1950s Malaya; records showing ministers in London were aware of the torture and murder of Mau Mau insurgents in Kenya, including a case of aman said to have been "roasted alive"; and papers detailing the lengths to which the UK went to forcibly remove islanders from Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. More




 

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Drone death in Yemen of an American teenager

SANAA, YEMEN— With the house still quiet with slumber, the 15-year-old left a letter for his mother begging forgiveness, then crawled out a second-storey kitchen window and dropped to the garden below.

Abdulrahman al Awlaki crossed the front yard past potted plants and a carnival ride graveyard — Dumbo, Donald Duck, an arched seal balancing a beach ball — debris from his uncle Omar’s failed business venture to install rides in local shopping malls.

The family’s guard saw the grade nine student with a mop of curly hair leave the front gate at about 6:30 a.m. that morning on Sept. 4. Abdulrahman then made his way to the gates of Bab al-Yemen to catch a bus to a cousin’s house in Shabwa province in the south.

As he crossed the desert on his six-hour journey, his family awoke to news of his disappearance.

“He wrote to his mother, ‘I am sorry for leaving in this kind of way. Forgive me. I miss my father and want to see if I can go and talk to him,’ ” said the boy’s grandfather, Nasser al Awlaki, as he sipped tea in his lavish home. “ ‘I will be coming back in a few days.’ ”

“He was very obedient to everybody in the house,” said Awlaki, “and that’s why it was a surprise that he would make that kind of decision.”

Nine days later, Abdulrahman turned 16.

He never found his father, the radical online preacher Anwar al Awlaki, who a U.S. congresswoman had called “Terrorist Number One.”

The teen wasn’t even in the right part of the country.

On Sept. 30, CIA-directed hellfire missiles blasted a target in northern Yemen, killing his father and ending the two-year manhunt for the cleric whose preaching encouraged plots in the United States, United Kingdom and Canada.

Anwar al Awlaki was born in the United States, having grown up in the West after his father, Nasser, moved his family there to study.

Few mourned Awlaki’s death, but there was concern about the precedent. How could U.S. President Barack Obama order an American killed without any review?

There has been considerably less talk about what happened two weeks later.

On Oct. 14, U.S. drones pounded targets again, this time hundreds of kilometres away in the southeastern region of Azzan.

Abdulrahman, also born in the U.S., and his 17-year-old cousin were among the seven killed. They were apparently having a barbecue. More



 

How the US Uses Sexual Humiliation as a Political Tool to Control the Masses

In a five-four ruling this week, the supreme court decided that anyone can be strip-searched upon arrest for any offense, however minor, at any time. This horror show ruling joins two recent horror show laws: the NDAA, which lets anyone be arrested forever at any time, and HR 347, the "trespass bill", which gives you a 10-year sentence for protesting anywhere near someone with secret service protection. These criminalizations of being human follow, of course, the mini-uprising of the Occupy movement.

Is American strip-searching benign? The man who had brought the initial suit, Albert Florence, described having been told to "turn around. Squat and cough. Spread your cheeks." He said he felt humiliated: "It made me feel like less of a man."

In surreal reasoning, justice Anthony Kennedy explained that this ruling is necessary because the 9/11 bomber could have been stopped for speeding. How would strip searching him have prevented the attack? Did justice Kennedy imagine that plans to blow up the twin towers had been concealed in a body cavity? In still more bizarre non-logic, his and the other justices' decision rests on concerns about weapons and contraband in prison systems. But people under arrest – that is, who are not yet convicted – haven't been introduced into a prison population. More

 

 

Thursday, April 12, 2012

U.S. filmmaker repeatedly detained at border

One of the more extreme government abuses of the post-9/11 era targets U.S. citizens re-entering their own country, and it has received far too little attention. With no oversight or legal framework whatsoever, the Department of Homeland Security routinely singles out individuals who are suspected of no crimes, detains them and questions them at the airport, often for hours, when they return to the U.S. after an international trip, and then copies and even seizes their electronic devices (laptops, cameras, cellphones) and other papers (notebooks, journals, credit card receipts), forever storing their contents in government files. No search warrant is needed for any of this. No oversight exists. And there are no apparent constraints on what the U.S. Government can do with regard to whom it decides to target or why.

In an age of international travel — where large numbers of citizens, especially those involved in sensitive journalism and activism, frequently travel outside the country — this power renders the protections of the Fourth Amendment entirely illusory. By virtue of that amendment, if the government wants to search and seize the papers and effects of someone on U.S. soil, it must (with some exceptions) first convince a court that there is probable cause to believe that the objects to be searched relate to criminal activity and a search warrant must be obtained. But now, none of those obstacles — ones at the very heart of the design of the Constitution — hinders the U.S. government: now, they can just wait until you leave the country, and then, at will, search, seize and copy all of your electronic files on your return. That includes your emails, the websites you’ve visited, the online conversations you’ve had, the identities of those with whom you’ve communicated, your cell phone contacts, your credit card receipts, film you’ve taken, drafts of documents you’re writing, and anything else that you store electronically: which, these days, when it comes to privacy, means basically everything of worth.

This government abuse has received some recent attention in the context of WikiLeaks. Over the past couple of years, any American remotely associated with that group — or even those who have advocated on behalf of Bradley Manning — have been detained at the airport and had their laptops, cellphones and cameras seized: sometimes for months, sometimes forever. But this practice usually targets people having nothing to do with WikiLeaks.

A 2011 FOIA request from the ACLU revealed that just in the 18-month period beginning October 1, 2008, more than 6,600 people — roughly half of whom were American citizens — were subjected to electronic device searches at the border by DHS, all without a search warrant. Typifying the target of these invasive searches is Pascal Abidor, a 26-year-old dual French-American citizen and an Islamic Studies Ph.D. student who was traveling from Montreal to New York on an Amtrak train in 2011 when he was stopped at the border, questioned by DHS agents, handcuffed, taken off the train and kept in a holding cell for several hours before being released without charges; those DHS agents seized his laptop and returned it 11 days later when, the ACLU explains, “there was evidence that many of his personal files, including research, photos and chats with his girlfriend, had been searched.” That’s just one case of thousands, all without any oversight, transparency, legal checks, or any demonstration of wrongdoing. More

 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

How BBC views Gaza through a Zionist looking glass

Watching, reading or listening to a BBC report on Israel’s occupation of Palestine is like stepping through the Zionist looking-glass and witnessing not the reality of the situation, but Israel’s totally distorted version of it.

In this inverted world, presented to us by a broadcaster with a huge global reach, we were recently told that the besieged people of Gaza have become accustomed to the relentless violence and deprivation of Israel’s occupation and siege, while the residents of southern Israel continue to feel anxiety and dread when crude rockets are fired into their neighborhood.

These extraordinary claims are made in two juxtaposed articles published on one page recently on BBC Online (“Gaza-Israel clashes: The view from each side,” 13 March 2012).

They perfectly encapsulate the BBC’s general attitude towards reporting on the occupation — reporting which, with sad regularity, lacks truth, honesty and integrity.

Published just after Israel had bombed Gaza continuously for four days, killing 27 Palestinians including children as young as seven, the headline for the article about Gaza reads, “Gazans ‘inured’ to conflict.”

This incredible opinion — that the people of Gaza have become used to the mass killings visited on them by Israeli airstrikes, to the destruction of their homes by F16s, to the suffering caused by near-total blockade, to the restrictions on their freedom and movement, to the daily terror of drones flying overhead — is that of the BBC’s correspondent in Gaza, Rupert Wingfield-Hayes. More


 

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Capitalism: A Ghost Story and a Land Grab

Is it a house or a home? A temple to the new India, or a warehouse for its ghosts? Ever since Antilla arrived on Altamont Road in Mumbai, exuding mystery and quiet menace, things have not been the same. “Here we are,” the friend who took me there said, “Pay your respects to our new Ruler.”

Antilla belongs to India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani. I had read about this most expensive dwelling ever built, the twenty-seven floors, three helipads, nine lifts, hanging gardens, ballrooms, weather rooms, gymnasiums, six floors of parking, and the six hundred servants. Nothing had prepared me for the vertical lawn—a soaring, 27-storey-high wall of grass attached to a vast metal grid. The grass was dry in patches; bits had fallen off in neat rectangles. Clearly, Trickledown hadn’t worked.

But Gush-Up certainly has. That’s why in a nation of 1.2 billion, India’s 100 richest people own assets equivalent to one-fourth of the GDP.

The word on the street (and in the New York Times) is, or at least was, that after all that effort and gardening, the Ambanis don’t live in Antilla. No one knows for sure. People still whisper about ghosts and bad luck, Vaastu and Feng Shui. Maybe it’s all Karl Marx’s fault. (All that cussing.) Capitalism, he said, “has conjured up such gigantic means of production and of exchange, that it is like the sorcerer who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells”.

In India, the 300 million of us who belong to the new, post-IMF “reforms” middle class—the market—live side by side with spirits of the nether world, the poltergeists of dead rivers, dry wells, bald mountains and denuded forests; the ghosts of 2,50,000 debt-ridden farmers who have killed themselves, and of the 800 million who have been impoverished and dispossessed to make way for us. And who survive on less than twenty rupees a day.

Mukesh Ambani is personally worth $20 billion. He holds a majority controlling share in Reliance Industries Limited (RIL), a company with a market capitalisation of $47 billion and global business interests that include petrochemicals, oil, natural gas, polyester fibre, Special Economic Zones, fresh food retail, high schools, life sciences research and stem cell storage services. RIL recently bought 95 per cent shares in Infotel, a TV consortium that controls 27 TV news and entertainment channels, including CNN-IBN, IBN Live, CNBC, IBN Lokmat, and ETV in almost every regional language. Infotel owns the only nationwide licence for 4G Broadband, a high-speed “information pipeline” which, if the technology works, could be the future of information exchange. Mr Ambani also owns a cricket team.

RIL is one of a handful of corporations that run India. Some of the others are the Tatas, Jindals, Vedanta, Mittals, Infosys, Essar and the other Reliance (ADAG), owned by Mukesh’s brother Anil. Their race for growth has spilled across Europe, Central Asia, Africa and Latin America. Their nets are cast wide; they are visible and invisible, over-ground as well as underground. The Tatas, for example, run more than 100 companies in 80 countries. They are one of India’s oldest and largest private sector power companies. They own mines, gas fields, steel plants, telephone, cable TV and broadband networks, and run whole townships. They manufacture cars and trucks, own the Taj Hotel chain, Jaguar, Land Rover, Daewoo, Tetley Tea, a publishing company, a chain of bookstores, a major brand of iodised salt and the cosmetics giant Lakme. Their advertising tagline could easily be: You Can’t Live Without Us.

According to the rules of the Gush-Up Gospel, the more you have, the more you can have.

The era of the Privatisation of Everything has made the Indian economy one of the fastest growing in the world. However, like any good old-fashioned colony, one of its main exports is its minerals. India’s new mega-corporations—Tatas, Jindals, Essar, Reliance, Sterlite—are those who have managed to muscle their way to the head of the spigot that is spewing money extracted from deep inside the earth. It’s a dream come true for businessmen—to be able to sell what they don’t have to buy.

The other major source of corporate wealth comes from their land-banks. All over the world, weak, corrupt local governments have helped Wall Street brokers, agro-business corporations and Chinese billionaires to amass huge tracts of land. (Of course, this entails commandeering water too.) In India, the land of millions of people is being acquired and made over to private corporations for “public interest”—for Special Economic Zones, infrastructure projects, dams, highways, car manufacture, chemical hubs and Formula One racing. (The sanctity of private property never applies to the poor.) As always, local people are promised that their displacement from their land and the expropriation of everything they ever had is actually part of employment generation. But by now we know that the connection between GDP growth and jobs is a myth. After 20 years of “growth”, 60 per cent of India’s workforce is self-employed, 90 per cent of India’s labour force works in the unorganised sector. More


 

Saturday, April 7, 2012

In Defense of Gunter Glass

“Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted, the indifference of those who should have known better, the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most, that has made it possible for evil to triumph”- Haile Selassie

“Have our Jewish sisters and brothers forgotten their humiliation? Have they forgotten the collective punishment, the home demolitions, in their own history so soon? Have they turned their backs on their profound and noble religious traditions? Have they forgotten that God cares deeply about the downtrodden” - Bishop Desmond Tutu

These two cautionary admonitions capture the thrust of Guenter Grass' electrifying poem, “What Must Be Said,” that has brought an avalanche of invective – some scurrilous, some vituperative, some even personal vilification – against the man who warns the people of the world as well as the Jewish people of the dangers inherent in the actions of the Zionist controlled government of the State of Israel. Such condemnations avoid direct rebuttal of Grass' pointed cries of despair as he contemplates continued indifference to the slow yet calculated genocide that exists in Israel 's occupation of Palestine reverting instead to derogatory innuendo, ignorance of conditions prevalent in the occupied territories, ignorance of those determined to destroy Israel , and personal guilt as a German. There is no reflection on the worst sin human kind can inflict on their fellow human beings, the silence of indifference to the plight of the Palestinians or to the potential danger facing the people of the mid-east should Israel preemptively strike Iran .

The title of his poem, “What Must Be Said,” echoes the prophets of old, cries of those weeping in the wilderness to heed the obvious, to hear the hypocrisy that masks the reality of a nation that cries for peace as it stealthily steals more land, that demands dismantling of Iran's nuclear plants as it declares its right to Demona and untold weapons of mass destruction, that denounces with all brazen duplicity, indeed silences those who criticize the state of Israel while they are free to attack them as anti-Semitic.

“Why silence so long,” Grass asks of himself and answers, as must we all, that we are “slaves to an oppressive lie,” what cannot be said without condemnation because Israel has the “right” to demand and defend what it will. Is it wrong to criticize the obvious? Is it wrong to bare truth when silence once before begot a holocaust? Is it wrong for the German people to mark what they have learned through decades of reflection and reparation and not reveal what they have lived and learned? Is it wrong to speak when devastation threatens, when arrogance buries truth, when the weak have no voice, when the unknown consequence of brutal, raw, preemptive poweris imminent?

I would have Guenter Grass speak for me, my children and grandchildren, and all others who could suffer yet another World War, by noting the obvious that has been silenced so long: More

 

Friday, April 6, 2012

NASA Climate Scientist Compares Climate Change to Slavery

This week, NASA climate scientist James Hansen described climate change as a “great moral issue” similar to the movement to end slavery. He linked the climate change debate with the 19th century struggle to abolish slavery from the United States with his claim that both have enormous consequences and are behind the “injustice of one generation to others.” He made the comments in the lead-up to an award he will receive next week for his contribution to science.

Hansen argued that the lack of action on reversing climate change is handing future generations a world spiraling out of control with vast damage to ecosystems, flooded coastal regions and extreme weather. He will expand upon these comments on Tuesday, when he will receive the Edinburgh Medal. His acceptance speech will focus on his advocacy of a global tax on all carbon emissions.

Hansen first made climate change a topic of everyday discussion when he testified about the issue in front of Congress in the late 1980s. He developed one of the first global warming scientific models and is a prolific writer and researcher. Hansen’s work is frequently cited by climate change activists, including Al Gore. His climate activism has also led to several arrests for his protests against the coal industry and the Keystone pipeline.

Describing climate change as an inter-generational issue, Hansen believes that older generations did not realize their energy usage was causing problems for future generations. Now however, he said, the future will be one of climate-related disasters and species extinction because currently Americans “only pretend we don’t know” about climate science. To slow the effects of climate change, Hansen urges a flat-rate carbon tax to force cuts in fossil fuel consumption. Instead of the tax going into governments’ treasuries, however, the funds would be distributed equally among the public. The tax would then simulate the development of low-carbon energy while forcing the most wasteful energy users to curtail their consumption. Hansen’s heightened rhetoric in recent years, however, has earned him sharp criticism from former allies. More


 

 

 

Who Put Tim DeChristopher in Isolation? Tim DeChristopher for Man of the Year

In late 2008 the Bush administration rushed to do one last favor for their friends in the oil and gas industry so the Bureau of Land Management held an auction in December of 2008 to sell oil and gas drilling rights on thousands of acres of federal land. Environmentalists weren't pleased and activist Tim DeChristopher ended up behind bars for trying stop to this sketchy auction. He was charged with two felony counts and last July he was given a two year sentence and a $10000 fine by a federal judge. Rolling Stone reported last week because of an email he sent to the person who manages his finances, using the word "threat", DeChristopher was put in isolation. But the Bureau of Prisons did this reportedly at the request of an anonymous Congressman. So we're asking you to get in touch with your member of Congress office and politely ask the staff to state on the record whether or not they contacted the Bureau of Prisons about DeChristopher's letter. If so, did they ask for the bureau to implement retaliatory measures such as isolation? Twitter: twitter.com Facebook: www.facebook.com

It could be argued that giving the oil companies massive subsidies and allowing them to pillage the United States wild natural heritage is not adding to the countries national security. Nor obviously, is imprisoning a campaigner like DeChristopher whose motivation is to mitigate global warming and climate change. Climate change is going to cause Small Island Developing States (SIDS) (and Arctic Communities) to be submerged and evacuated before the end of the century.

Where will these climate refugees go? Will America, the greatest consumer of fossil fuel (ok China has just passed the USA building your high-tech toys) allow them to come and live with you? If I were a climate refugee I would not go to live in any country that persecutes people for trying in their small way to save our world from the ravages of climate destruction. Editor

 

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

‘Prawer Plan’ to uproot Bedouins shows folly of the phrase ‘democratic Israel’

Peter Beinart’s pro-settlement boycott article in the New York Times has rightly been critiqued from the left for ignoring the fact that “Israel is only a ‘genuine democracy’ for its Jewish citizens,” as Adam Horowitz put it. A close look at the Israeli government’s Prawer Plan, which calls for the forced relocation of tens of thousands of citizens of Israel, further shows why the notion of a “democratic Israel” is a farce.

Beinart’s NYT Op-Ed constantly mentions “democratic Israel,” or variations on the phrase, to distinguish between the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and “Israel proper.” But how do the Bedouin citizens of Israel targeted for forced relocation fit into this “democratic Israel”? The answer is they don’t.

The Prawer Plan, recently okayed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office, calls for the uprooting of 30,000 Bedouin citizens living in the Negev. The Israeli government wants to move these citizens to “recognized” communities set up by the state. Part of the plan is to build new, Jewish-only settlements on the formerly Bedouin land, where generations of Bedouins have been living, longer than the State of Israel has existed. The Bedouin communities are not happy with the plan, but the Israeli government is offering them money and support for infrastructure to convince them to move.

It sounds like a typical story in the occupied West Bank (minus the incentives to move), but this is happening on the Israeli side of the ever-fading Green Line. And the people Israel wants to uproot are citizens. More

 

The real hunger games: How banks gamble on food prices – and the poor lose out

Speculation by large investment banks is driving up food prices for the world's poorest people, tipping millions into hunger and poverty. Investment in food commodities by banks and hedge funds has risen from $65bn to $126bn (£41bn to £79bn) in the past five years, helping to push prices to 30-year highs and causing sharp price fluctuations that have little to do with the actual supply of food, says the United Nations' leading expert on food.

Hedge funds, pension funds and investment banks such as Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Barclays Capital now dominate the food commodities markets, dwarfing the amount traded by actual food producers and buyers. Purely financial players, for example, account for 61 per cent of investment on the wheat futures market, according to the World Development Movement report Broken Markets.

Speculative investment in agricultural commodities in 2011 was 20 times the amount spent by all countries on agricultural aid. Goldman Sachs, the largest player in the agricultural commodities market, earned £600m from food speculation in 2009, and Barclays Capital, the world's third-largest player and largest British bank in this market, earned up to £340m in 2010, according to the report. Goldman Sachs and Barclays Capital declined to comment.

Before it was deregulated in the year 2000, the agricultural commodities futures market was used mainly by farmers and food buyers seeking to insure themselves against changes in the prices of products such as wheat, maize and sugar. When George W Bush passed the Commodities Futures Modernization Act 12 years ago, there was an influx, led by Goldman Sachs, of purely financial players who had no interest in ever buying food, but who sought solely to profit from changes in food prices, says Olivier De Schutter, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food.

He added: "What we are seeing now is that these financial markets have developed massively with the arrival of these new financial investors, who are purely interested in the short-term monetary gain and are not really interested in the physical thing – they never actually buy the ton of wheat or maize; they only buy a promise to buy or to sell. The result of this financialisation of the commodities market is that the prices of the products respond increasingly to a purely speculative logic. This explains why in very short periods of time we see prices spiking or bubbles exploding, because prices are less and less determined by the real match between supply and demand."

Food prices reached a 30-year high in 2008, sparking food riots from Mexico to Bangladesh. Prices rose even higher in September 2010 and, although they have dipped since, they remain above the 2008 crisis level. This has resulted in a "silent tsunami of hunger", according to the UN World Food Programme. High prices for basic foodstuffs, combined with the global economic slump, have pushed 115 million more people into hunger and poverty since 2008, bringing the total number of hungry people in the world today to 925 million. More

 

 

 

Monday, April 2, 2012

Ecocide is a crime.


For almost twenty years, Garth's photography of threatened wilderness regions, devastation, and the impacts on indigenous peoples, has appeared in the world's leading publications. His recent images from the boreal region of Canada have helped lead to significant victories and large new protected areas in the Northwest Territories, Quebec, and Ontario. Garth's major touring exhibit on the Tar Sands premiered on Los Angeles in 2011 and recently appeared in New York. Garth is a Fellow of the International League Of Conservation Photographers

For those interested to know more about our profile cover picture of before and after please watch this excellent TEDx talk by Garth Lenz about the destruction of the Athabasca wetlands and forest in Canada through extraction of the tar sands for oil.

What does environmental devastation actually look like? At TEDxVictoria, photographer Garth Lenz shares shocking photos of the Alberta Tar Sands mining project -- and the beautiful (and vital) ecosystems under threat.

 

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Delhi Disgraces Itself (Again)

The past week brought fresh evidence of just how deeply India abounds in contradiction. On the one hand, New Delhi won international plaudits for standing up for democratic norms in Asia by voting at the United Nations Human Rights Council to investigate alleged war crimes in neighboring Sri Lanka.

Inside its own borders, however, it further tarnished its credentials as a liberal democracy. Eager to avoid discomforting Chinese President Hu Jintao, in town for the annual BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) summit, New Delhi invoked a colonial-era law to impose a heavy-handed police lockdown of the Tibetan exile community. Police units sealed off Tibetan neighborhoods in the capital, denying residents the right of assembly and peaceful protest, or even free movement. People elsewhere in New Delhi who even looked Tibetan were harassed by police, an action that the Delhi High Court reprimanded as “racial profiling.”

Adopting the Chinese practice of rounding up dissidents in advance of politically-sensitive dates, Indian police placed over 300 Tibetans in preventive custody, including two Tibetan exiles who were detained while speaking at the Press Club of India. Tenzin Tsundue, an influential Tibetan poet, was forcibly dragged away while addressing a women’s forum. Tsewang Rigzin, an American citizen who serves as president of the Tibetan Youth Congress, was deported the moment he arrived at New Delhi’s international airport.

These measures – instituted after a Tibetan exile, Jamphel Yeshi, set himself ablaze at a large anti-Hu rally held near the Indian parliament – are the latest instance of the country’s timorous commitment to the ideals of free expression. The past year has witnessed other notable examples, including the imbroglio over Salman Rushdie’s abortive appearance at the Jaipur Literary Festival as well as the invective directed at Joseph Lelyveld’s biography of Mahatma Gandhi. The Hindu newspaper called the Rushdie affair “a national shame” and charged that “India has again betrayed its heritage of providing sanctuary to persecuted individuals and ideas, not to speak of its Constitution.” More