Monday, June 2, 2008

Japanese activists envision "Abolition of War"

While much of Japan was enjoying the extended holiday of Golden Week this year, supporters of Article 9, the war-renouncing clause of Japan's constitution, were hard at work. The first Global Article 9 Conference to Abolish War drew 15,000 people to its plenary session and concert outside of Tokyo on May 4, while 7,000 gathered on May 5 to participate in a day of symposiums and workshops. The crowds far surpassed the expectations of the organizers, who hastily staged an ad hoc rally in a nearby park for several thousand people who were unable to get into the main arena on the first day.

An affiliated conference in Hiroshima on May 5 drew 1,100 participants, and on May 6 another large arena in Osaka was filled with 8,000 people while 2,500 attended a fourth conference in Sendai. Overall, organizers counted more than 30,000 admissions to the series of events.

The Looming Threat to Article 9

The gatherings took place at a time when Article 9 faces the most serious threat of being abandoned since the postwar constitution was enacted in 1947. Prior to leaving office abruptly last September, then-Prime Minister Abe Shinzo—who had made revising the constitution the paramount goal of his administration—pushed a bill through the Diet that provides for national referendums on constitutional changes. The law, which takes effect in May 2010, started the clock ticking toward a showdown.

With this date in mind, the revision camp formed the Diet Members Alliance to Establish a New Constitution in the spring of 2007 with the explicit goal of "placing constitutional revision on the political schedule." The alliance now counts 239 current and former members of the Diet in its ranks. Although the overwhelming majority are Liberal Democratic Party members, the group includes 14 members from the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, including party secretary-general Hatoyama Yukio, vice-president Maehara Seiji, and supreme advisor Fujii Hirohisa.

The alliance held its own meeting in Tokyo on May 1, where Abe repeated his hallmark call to action: "The determination to write a constitution of our own is a spirit that will open up a new era." Japanese conservatives deride the constitution as having been imposed on the country by the post-defeat US occupation, and (together with their present-day American allies) single out Article 9 as a constraint on Japan's full participation in the strong and deepening military alliance with the US.

This constraint was dramatically highlighted on April 17, when the Nagoya High Court ruled that the dispatch of Japan's Air Self-Defense Force to Iraq violates Article 9. Transporting armed troops into a combat zone, the court ruled, constituted "the use of force as a means of settling international disputes," which is explicitly renounced in Article 9. In essence, the court repudiated the government's decades-long practice of "interpreting" the constitution to allow a steady expansion of the capacity and role of Japan's armed forces within the framework of American power.

The unprecedented ruling, however, came in the text of the decision and carried no provision for enforcement. It thus left the status quo intact, and the government doggedly pledged to continue the mission to Iraq. Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo declared, "I have no intention of doing anything in response."

Partly in backlash against Japan's first-ever dispatch of the SDF to an overseas combat zone, public support for Article 9 has revived from the postwar lows registered earlier in the decade. In a poll released by the liberal Asahi Shimbun on May 3, 66% of the public favored retaining Article 9, while only 23% supported its revision. This represented a 17% increase in support for Article 9 over a similar poll conducted a year ago. Some polls show majorities in favor of amending other clauses of the constitution, but when the conservative Yomiuri Shimbun conducted its annual poll on the subject in March, it found that support for revision in general had also lost its plurality (42.5% for and 43.1% against) for the first time in 15 years, while revising Article 9 was opposed by a margin of 60% to 31%.

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A vote for autonomy in Santa Cruz, Bolivia

A vote for autonomy in Santa Cruz, Bolivia was passed by approximately 82% of voters on Sunday, May 4th. The vote endorses a move by Santa Cruz to, among other things, gain more control of gas reserves in the area and resist the central government’s break up of large land holdings. Clashes during the vote in Santa Cruz left 35 injured. One man died from asphyxiation due to tear gas fired by police forces. The vote and conflict marks a new phase in the polarization of Bolivia, and a new challenge for the region.

However, various aspects of the autonomy vote weaken its legitimacy. The Bolivian Electoral Court, the Organization of American States, the European Union, Bolivian President Evo Morales and other South American leaders have stated that the vote is illegal. The national average for voter abstention in Bolivian elections is 20-22%. In the Santa Cruz referendum on May 4th, the rate of abstention was 39%. This abstention percentage added to the number of "No" votes means that at least 50% of Santa Cruz voters did not support the autonomy statute, according to Bolpress. The organizers of the vote in Santa Cruz hired a private firm to count and collect the votes, and voters reported widespread fraud and intimidation across the department. In some cases, ballot boxes arrived in neighborhoods with the "Yes" ballot already marked. (For an extensive report with interviews and photos on the vote and conflict in Santa Cruz, see "Santa Cruz Divided.")

The Santa Cruz autonomy movement’s architects and leaders are right wing politicians, wealthy business owners and large landholders. The autonomy statute voted on calls for increased departmental control of land, water and gas. This would potentially block Morales’ plans to break up large land holdings and redistribute that land to small farmers. The application of the autonomy statute would also mean a redirection of gas wealth from the central government to the Santa Cruz government. Such a move would run counter to the new draft of the constitution passed in December of 2007, which states that the Bolivian people are the owners of the nation’s natural resources, and that those resources should be managed under largely state control. This draft constitution is set to be voted on in a referendum sometime this year.

Morales announced a partial nationalization of gas reserves in Bolivia on May 1st of 2006. The subsequent renegotiated contracts have led to $2 billion a year in government revenues, an increase from $180 million in 2005, according to IPS journalist and political analyst Franz Chavez. This revenue for the Morales administration could be put at risk, particularly if autonomy referendums in the departments of Beni, Pando and Tarija pass in the coming weeks. Tarija is a department producing approximately 80% of Bolivian gas. Autonomy for these four departments is to include the ability to sign new gas exportation contracts with foreign entities. However, Brazil and Argentina, two of the biggest importers of Bolivian gas, continue to support the Morales government and do not officially recognize the autonomy referendums. This would likely cut off pro-autonomy departments from negotiating new gas exportation deals.

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Guatemala jails five for massacre

A court in Guatemala has sentenced five former paramilitaries each to 780 years in prison for the 1982 murder of 26 indigenous Mayan villagers.

They received the maximum sentence of 30 years for each of the murders which took place during an infamous massacre of 177 women and children in Rio Negro.

The victims died refusing to move from the site of a new hydroelectric dam.

Guatemala was fighting a civil war at the time in which 200,000 people either died or disappeared.

The five former members of the Civilian Self-Defence Patrols force were also ordered to pay compensation to the relatives of the victims.

Their defence is expected to lodge an appeal against the sentences.

A sixth defendant in the trial, which began in 2004, was acquitted for lack of evidence.

Three paramilitaries were earlier convicted of a role in the massacre while warrants have been issued for three others.

~ BBC ~

Israel: 'Anti-missionary bill undermines freedom of expression'

A legal opinion prepared by the Justice Ministry determines that missionary activity is "legitimate" and that efforts to persuade Jews to abandon their religion "warrant protection in a democratic society as part of freedom of expression."

The legal opinion was drafted for Justice Minister Prof. Daniel Friedman in response to a bill, presented by Shas MK Yaakov Margi at the urging of Yad L'Achim, to bolster existing laws against missionary activity. The bill calls for a prison sentence of six months for anyone who "seeks to convince another, through a direct appeal, to give up his religion." It also calls for a six-month mandatory sentence for "anyone who conducts a ceremony to convert a person from his religion or engages in some other activity that leads someone to convert, when the decision to convert came as a result of brainwashing or persuasion."

The Justice Ministry's legal opinion, written by attorney Ravid Dekel, asserts that, "the more widespread and threatening the phenomenon of missionary activity becomes, the less suitable is criminal law the means to combat it. It appears that education and information campaigns are more worthy and efficient."

In a particularly infuriating statement, Dekel adds: "The attempt to convince a person and even to encourage him to convert out of his religion, as is the attempt to convince him to change other beliefs and outlooks, is legitimate and worthy of being protected in a democratic society as part of freedom of expression."

In response, Yad L'Achim's founding chairman, Harav Shalom Dov Lifschitz, issued a strongly worded letter to the justice minister, saying that the attorney who drafted the opinion erred in his understanding of the problem.

"Just as the Knesset saw fit to draft laws against the enemies of our people in areas related to the well-being, security and future of the Jewish people in the state of Israel, so too lawmakers must draft legislation against the enemies of our people, the missionaries, who want to destroy the remnant and memory of the Jewish people and convert them to Christianity," he wrote.

"There is no doubt that if the security forces came upon people who incited to violence against the state, they would use the law to act against them and not be concerned about impinging on their freedom of expression. In our view, this must be the attitude missionaries who seek the spiritual destruction of Jews and thus to harm the soul of the Jewish nation."

Yad L'Achim officials reacted with scorn to the recommendation that missionary activity can most effectively be combated through education and information campaigns. "It's true that education and information campaigns help, but state schools provide very little education about Judaism and make it very difficult for Yad L'Achim to gain access to schools to explain about the very real threat of missionaries."

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The Prague Writers' Festival reconsiders the '60s

1968 was a different deal, a time of revolution and turmoil, of people fighting in the streets. Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. were gunned down in the United States, students occupied the Sorbonne in France and Warsaw Pact tanks rolled into Prague.

It was a lot to digest at one time, and four decades later it still seems overwhelming. But the intervening years should lend some insight and perspective, and what better place to ponder it all than the 18th annual Prague Writers’ Festival?

“1968 was a moment of recognition, when people throughout the world realized what needed to be changed in society,” says PWF President Michael March. “It was a rebellion against oppressive bureaucracies from all points along the political spectrum. We want to look back and consider things that were lost and things never gained.”

That in itself is a flash point of departure, as the legacy of the ’60s is still a matter of some controversy. Was it a lot of noise and tumult that, in the end, didn’t really accomplish anything? Were the promises of political and sexual freedom all empty? Or is it possible to trace the advances in, for example, racial equality and women’s rights back to the ideological sea change of the ’60s?

No doubt all these matters and many more will arise in the five lively days of readings and discussions the festival has scheduled this year. Along with attracting the usual cadre of big literary names, March has done a great job of assembling writers who can consider the era from a broad range of geographical vantage points.

The opening night (June 1) features a stellar cross-cultural panel: the remarkable Canadian author Margaret Atwood, American novelist Paul Auster and beat poet and playwright Michael McClure, and Czech poet and essayist Petr Král. Their open-ended discussion on 1968 will be sandwiched between ceremonial opening remarks and a Freedom of Expression award presentation to Russian poet and political activist Natalia Gorbanevskaya.

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Legendary designer Yves Saint Laurent dies at 71

Yves Saint Laurent, one of the most influential and enduring designers of the 20th century, will be remembered for empowering women through his fashion, a longtime friend and associate said.

Saint Laurent died Sunday at his Paris home after a yearlong battle with brain cancer, said Pierre Berge, Saint Laurent's business partner for four decades. He was 71.

"Chanel gave women freedom" and Saint Laurent "gave them power," Berge said on France-Info radio. Saint Laurent was a "true creator," going beyond the aesthetic to make a social statement, Berge said.

"In this sense he was a libertarian, an anarchist and he threw bombs at the legs of society. That's how he transformed society and that's how he transformed women."

In his own words, Saint Laurent once said he felt "fashion was not only supposed to make women beautiful, but to reassure them, to give them confidence, to allow them to come to terms with themselves."

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Book Review: Social Ecology and Communalism by Murray Bookchin

Norwegian communalist Eirik Eiglad edited this collection and presents the reader with a fascinating, if brief, biography of Bookchin, a man literally raised in the radical political culture of Depression-era New York City. Early adulthood saw Bookchin involved in various Communist Party organizations, though he soon broke with the Communists, aligning for a time with the Trotskyist movement before moving towards libertarian socialism after World War II. Eventually, after years of activism, writing, and serious study of radical theory, he engaged in the anarchist movement. With the appearance of his seminal 1964 essay "Ecology and Revolutionary Thought" began to clearly articulate an explicitly radical and ecological body of thought.

The collection's initial lengthy essay "What is Social Ecology?" represents an attempt at a concise elaboration of social ecology's basic premise that nearly all of our present ecological problems originate in deep seated social problems. Bookchin traces the roots of social hierarchy and domination in early aboriginal societies, at the same time observing examples of distinctively social and egalitarian human institutions that represent the latent human striving for freedom. In particular, he identifies the "irreducible minimum" - a social custom that held that all members of the community are entitled to the means of life regardless of the amount of work they perform - and "usufruct" - a notion of property that allowed for the use of the means of life, as needed, by one group or individual so long as they were not already being used by another - as examples of customs which persisted, evolved, and even today continue to exist in latent forms.

These twin legacies of hierarchy and freedom, he suggests, have evolved through history and provide crucial insights into today's social climate. It is the institutionalization of capitalist ideology, reinforced by notions of social Darwinism and instrumental rationality - one that reduces human reasoning faculties to a mere "means-ends" tool that neglects any concern for what "ought be" - that represents a logical, yet not inevitable, unfolding of the legacy of hierarchy and domination.

Bookchin calls for the replacement this existing "grow or die" mentality with an ethics of complementarity, rooted in ecological principles and informed by a dialectical philosophical orientation writing that humanity "can draw far-reaching conclusions for the development of an ecological ethics that in turn can provide serious guidelines for the solution of our ecological problems." Through a developmental, historical perspective we may "educe" the means to a synthesis of the nonhuman and human spheres into a "free nature" where humanity acts ethically and creatively within the wider natural world.

The two subsequent essays, "Radical Politics in an Era of Advanced Capitalism" and "The Role of Social Ecology in a Period of Reaction," focus on both social ecology's concept of politics and its relationship to the Enlightenment tradition, respectively. Here Bookchin underscores the importance of reason, ethics, and citizenship to the social ecology project.

"Politics these days has been identified completely with statecraft, the professionalization of power" - a vital recognition that leads to his call for a re-thinking of citizenship in the spirit of the Athenian polis, positing the importance of face-to-face direct democracy and an emphasis on the neighborhood, town, and municipality. Bookchin places this emphasis on citizenship, face-to-face municipal politics under the rubric of "libertarian municipalism" a strategy based on human-scale eco-communities linked through confederal bodies guided by reason and ethics rather than profit and the private accumulation of power. For Bookchin, it will be "the ability and willingness of radicals to (redefine politics)" that "may well determine future movements like the Greens and the very possibility of radicalism to exist as a coherent force for basic social change."

"The Communalist Project" closes the collection and was Bookchin's last major work before his passing in July 2006. Significant for it's far-reaching scope and positioning of social ecology and libertarian municipalism under the "communalist" banner, the piece begins with an impassioned plea:

Whether the twenty-first century will be the most radical of times or the most reactionary or will simply lapse in the gray era of dismal mediocrity - will depend overwhelmingly upon the kind of social movement and program that social radicals create out of the theoretical, organization, and political wealth that has accumulated during the past two centuries of the revolutionary era.

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Lydon has rotten teeth fixed for £22k

As lead singer of the Seventies punk band the Sex Pistols, he was nicknamed Johnny Rotten – a reference to his decaying, tombstone teeth. However, in yesterday's Sunday Telegraph the rock icon, who has travelled under the name John Lydon for the past 30 years, admitted he can no longer use his former sobriquet.

"I've just spent $22,000 on them," he said. "But it wasn't vanity that sent me to the dentist after all those years. It was necessity. Ill health. All those rotten teeth were seriously beginning to corrupt my system."

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Berlin protestors torch cars for third night amid squatter demo

Protesters in Berlin torched cars for a third night in a row, including a Porsche parked outside a supermarket and 17 vehicles in a car-rental parking lot, as police probed links to a squatters' demonstration.

Thirty-six vehicles have been set alight in the last three nights in Berlin's Kreuzberg, Friedrichshain, Mitte, Neukoelln and Prenzlauer Berg districts, police said. Twenty-nine people were arrested two nights ago after officers stormed an occupied building and suspected arsonists went on a car-torching spree.

``Police investigators have taken up the probe and suspect a connection between the arson activity and the clearing of the occupied building,'' the police said in a statement on their Web site today.

The incidents coincide with a May 27-June 1 gathering of squatters protesting gentrification of their neighborhoods. Organizers, citing riots that broke out in March 2007 in Copenhagen after police raided a culture center, called on squatters worldwide to come to Berlin and ``make the streets unsafe,'' their Web site says.

About 300 police stormed an occupied house on May 27, deploying tear gas as squatters pelted them with bottles. Following the raid, about 150 protesters gathered on a square in Berlin's Mitte district to hold a rally, after which youths took the streets in four districts of the German capital and targeted Audi, BMW, Mercedes and Porsche models.

Two women, aged 19 and 22, were among suspected arsonists taken into custody two nights ago. The night before, three cars were burned.

Berlin's Interior Ministry released an annual report yesterday that showed the number of ``leftist-oriented'' politically motivated cases of arson jumped to 102 from 16 the year before, primarily tied to largely peaceful anti- globalization protests in the run-up to the Group of Eight summit in Heiligendamm on Germany's Baltic coast.

The Copenhagen raid also prompted protests in the German capital, placing the issue of squatting and public spaces at the center of anti-capitalist protests, the report said.

~ From: Bloomberg ~

Antiwar activists clear border

Diane Wilson, an antiwar activist from Texas, drove over the U.S. border south of Vancouver on Sunday just to see if she could.

Whether or not U.S. antiwar activists are allowed into Canada was key to Sunday's Our Way Home Vancouver Peace Conference at Simon Fraser University's Harbour Centre.

Wilson was part of a convoy on-hand to support two of the event's participants.

The keynote speaker, retired U.S. colonel Ann Wright, who resigned from the State Department over the invasion of Iraq, and Medea Benjamin, another leading U.S. political activist, were not expected to make it across the border.

Both were denied entry to Canada last year, with Canadian authorities claiming they are named on a FBI watch list due to misdemeanor convictions stemming from participation in antiwar demonstrations.

But after more than two hours of Canadian questioning at the border crossing at Blaine, the pair arrived at the conference.

NDP MP Libby Davies, who was part of a group of supporters who drove across the border in a van with Wright and Benjamin, said she sat through the questioning.

"I don't think I've ever had to do quite so much to welcome people to the city of Vancouver," said Davies, adding that such treatment of two leading U.S. peace activists raises questions about the government's security provisions. "These are two individuals that pose absolutely no security risk to our country. They are here as peace activists."

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McClellan's Warning on Iran - by Ray McGovern

Stop! Please. Get beneath the hype over former White House press secretary Scott McClellan's book, What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception. Don't miss the forest for the trees.

Not since John Dean told the truth about President Richard Nixon's crimes have we had an account by a very close aide to a sitting president charging him with crimes of the most serious kind.

McClellan writes that George W. Bush abandoned "candor and honesty" to wage a "political campaign" that led the nation into an "unnecessary war."

The chief U.S. prosecutor of senior Nazi officials at the post-World War II Nuremberg Trials, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson, labeled such action – more correctly termed a war of aggression – the "supreme international crime."

In other words, President Bush used propaganda and deception to lead the United States into what an earlier generation of American leaders judged not just a war crime, but the "supreme" war crime.

And, in all this, Bush had an eager cast aiding and abetting – from careerists in the U.S. intelligence community to the fawning corporate media (FCM) whom McClellan referred to as "deferential, complicit enablers."

As for the role of intelligence, McClellan tells of "shading the truth." In the effort to convince the world that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, the president used "innuendo and implication" and intentional ignoring of intelligence to the contrary.

Water over the dam, you say? No way.

White House spinners are at it again – "fixing" the intelligence around the policy, this time on Iran. The fixing is obvious, but don't expect to hear about it from the FCM.

An exception is MSNBC's Keith Olbermann. His antiquated approach is to ask relevant questions – like, for example, will the White House do an encore in preparing us for an attack on Iran?

Interviewing McClellan Thursday evening, Olbermann earmarked time to discuss Iran and asked, "So knowing what you know, if [White House spokeswoman] Dana Perino starts making noises similar to what you heard from Ari Fleischer in 2002 … would you be suspicious?"

"I would be," McClellan said.

Wait. Before taking this with a blasé shrug, consider the source.

Fixing In Fits and Starts

The worst-kept secret in Washington is that Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney are looking for a pretext to order air and missile attacks on Iran. But when and how will Dana Perino and the rest of the propaganda machine market this one?

When to sell? If former White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card's dictum regarding "marketing" the war on Iraq holds sway – i.e., "From a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August" – the administration has only two months, unless it opts for an "October Surprise" as a more effective way to help achieve a Republican victory in November.

But a smooth rolling out of war on Iran has proven more troublesome – no thanks, by the way, to the FCM, most of them still claiming they did just fine before the war on Iraq.

Part of the problem has been the new marketers. With Andy Card, Karl Rove, Dan Bartlett, and Tony Snow gone, it is amateur hour for White House spinners as they start-stop and rotate rationales for striking Iran.

And how to sell? Less than a year ago the focus was twofold:

(1) What President Bush on Aug. 28 called "Tehran's murderous activities" against our troops, including "240-millimeter rockets that have been manufactured in Iran and that had been provided to Iraqi extremist groups by Iranian agents;" and

(2) His ad-lib on Oct. 17: "We've got a leader in Iran who has announced he wants to destroy Israel. … I take the threat of a nuclear Iran very seriously."


But where are those 240-millimeter rocket shells? For some reason, Gen. David Petraeus cannot deliver the goods.

As recently as April 25, his nominal boss, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Mike Mullen, invited the press to what was supposed to be a well-oiled show-and-tell exercise "in a couple of weeks," to display a multitude of captured weapons from Iran.

But the show did not go on; it had to be canceled when the weapons that had been found proved not to be of Iranian origin.

Ironically, one major hurdle would be getting senior Iraqi officials to go along with a hyped-up demonstration of weaponry from Iran.

Shortly after Mullen offered his invitation, the Iraqis announced that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had formed his own Cabinet committee to investigate U.S. claims about Iranian weapons, and to attempt to "find tangible information and not information based on speculation."

The other pretext is the hyped-up danger from Iran's nuclear program.

Here, the administration suffered acute embarrassment when a vestigial group of honest intelligence analysts and supervisors had the temerity to serve up an un-fixed intelligence National Intelligence Estimate last fall that showed that Bush had been knowingly exaggerating the nuclear threat from Iran.

The declassified key findings of the NIE were released on Dec. 3. They included:

  • "We judge with high confidence that in the fall of 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program; we also assess with moderate to high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons."
  • "We assess with moderate confidence Tehran has not restarted its nuclear weapons program as of mid-2007, but we do not know whether it currently intends to develop nuclear weapons."
  • "Tehran's decision to halt its nuclear weapons program suggests it is less determined to develop nuclear weapons than we have been judging since 2005. Our assessment that the program probably was halted primarily in response to international pressure suggests Iran may be more vulnerable to influence on the issue than we judged previously."
  • To Bush and Cheney's dismay, the findings had been shared with Congress and could not be suppressed.

    What followed was the ineffably inept performance one has come to expect from National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, who claimed the Estimate "confirms we were right to be worried about Iran seeking to develop nuclear weapons [which] remains a very serious problem."

    And before leaving for his early January 2008 trip to the Middle East, the president said part of his purpose was to make it "abundantly clear … that we view Iran as a threat, and that the NIE in no way lessens that threat, but in fact clarifies the threat."

    Got that? Threat.

    According to Newsweek's well-connected reporter Michael Hirsh, Bush all but disowned the NIE in conversations with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

    According to a senior U.S. official accompanying the president, Bush told the Israelis that he couldn't control what the intelligence community says, but that the Estimate's key judgments do not reflect his own views.

    Bush reportedly had briefed Olmert in November on the Estimate's findings, and he seemed almost apologetic about the findings.

    After Bush departed Israel in January, a Newsweek reporter asked Olmert if he felt reassured, to which Olmert replied, "I am very happy."

    A Flexible Director of National Intelligence

    Malleable Mike McConnell showed his true colors shortly after the president got back from Israel.

    Unable to withstand withering criticism from the likes of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger, and the irrepressible former U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Bolton, McConnell backpedaled.

    In testimony to the Senate on Feb. 5 he confessed to careless wording in the NIE due to time constraints, and even indicated he "probably would have changed a thing or two."

    He would now say, for example, that "maybe even the least significant portion [of the Iranian nuclear program] was halted and there are other parts that continue."

    Next at bat was the president himself in an interview on March 19 with the U.S.-government-run Radio Farda broadcasting to Iran in Farsi.

    Bush asserted that Iran has "declared it wants a nuclear weapon to destroy people" and that it could be hiding a secret program. A White House cleanup team conceded that Bush's statement about what Iran has "declared" was inaccurate.

    It was Defense Secretary Robert Gates' turn in April. Speaking at West Point, Gates said he believes Iran is "hell bent" on acquiring nuclear weapons. (Does it strike anyone that abandoning their weapons program in 2003 seems a strange way of going about it?)

    Gates added that he favored keeping the military option against Iran on the table.

    The NY Times Jumps In

    And on May 27, the New York Times misquoted one of the key judgments of the NIE. More than a subtle distinction, the Times indicated that the Estimate stated, "It was uncertain whether the weapons work had resumed."

    Speaking to the pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) two days later, McConnell's deputy, Donald Kerr, took the same line, emphasizing that "since the halted activities were part of an unannounced secret program Iran attempted to hide, we do not know if it has been restarted." (Emphasis in original)

    This is the spin that the president, senior officials – and the New York Times – have been putting on the NIE.

    As noted above, the relevant NIE key judgment reads: "We assess with moderate confidence Tehran has not restarted its nuclear weapons program as of mid-2007…"

    (Incidentally, that Kerr, as deputy to McConnell, would give a major address to WINEP moves the intelligence community much too close to a partisanship with this group, at least for this veteran intelligence officer's taste. Martin Indyk, erstwhile research director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, America's self-described "pro-Israel lobby," founded the institute. AIPAC is listed as its parent organization.)

    Rather than shadowboxing, making confessions when it seems opportune, and introducing subtle changes of emphasis aimed at making the Estimate's judgments more politically palatable, McConnell and Kerr should do their duty.

    And that is to follow the long established intelligence community procedure for updating an important NIE by ordering preparation of what is called a "Memorandum to Holders" – in this case, holders of last fall's NIE on Iran.

    This is an orderly, time-tested way to get the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies that prepared the NIE on Iran to revisit it in a deliberate and rigorous way and to indicate what, if anything, they believe needs to be changed.

    At the release of the unclassified version of the NIE on Iran on Dec. 3, 2007, Kerr issued a written statement explaining why the key judgments were being made public.

    "Since our understanding of Iran's capabilities has changed, we felt it was important to release this information to ensure that an accurate presentation is available," he said.

    Exactly right. So if the NIE's judgments are being challenged and/or are in need of update, let Kerr or McConnell give the task to the dedicated professionals responsible for drafting the NIE late last year.

    And if McConnell should decide – or be told by the White House – not to, the congressional oversight committees should awake from their stupor and require a Memorandum for Holders.

    It is certainly their prerogative, their duty, to do so.

    Someone apparently needs to tell Director McConnell that it is not required that the Israelis – or Kissinger, or Schlesinger, or Bolton – agree with the Estimate's conclusions, however much the president would like all to be in sync with the preferred line.

    And, given the stakes, the new findings should not be rushed or done on the cheap.

    Learning Curve Still Steep

    McConnell (and Kerr, for that matter) are still new to substantive intelligence analysis, and McConnell has admitted having difficulty with the rigorous demands of the job. Frankly, I find it unsettling that one of them briefs the president six mornings a week.

    McConnell's lack of experience on issues other than technical intelligence collection showed through in an especially troubling way on Feb. 27, 2007, as he briefed the Senate Armed Services Committee.

    Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) asked McConnell why the Israelis sometimes have a different view on Iran's nuclear program.

    McConnell appeared quite puzzled, noting the closeness of the U.S.-Israeli intelligence relationship and how U.S. intelligence officers discussed these things with the Israelis. As I watched, I could not help feeling sorry for the director of national intelligence – and for the rest of us, as well.

    A pity that his predecessor, the more seasoned John Negroponte, did not take time to tell McConnell what he told NPR's Robert Siegel before Negroponte quit to go back to the State Department.

    Asked by Siegel to explain why the Israelis have suggested a much shorter timeline for Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon, Negroponte stated the obvious with bluntness uncommon for a diplomat: "I think that sometimes what the Israelis will do [is] give you the worst-case assessment."


    ~ Source: CASMII (Campaign against sanctions and military intervention in Iran) ~

    'This hopeful story was reported only in the Bangor Daily News'

    This must be the dreaded scandal fatigue.

    But just when I was feeling tempted to settle for the paltry encouragement in something as entirely meaningless as the demise of yet another administration enabler like Katz, who, for all his weasely ways, is finally only the dull instrument of his boss's heartlessness, a story came my way that gave me a moment of hope.

    But first, the bad news. The bad news is that

    This must be the dreaded scandal fatigue.

    But just when I was feeling tempted to settle for the paltry encouragement in something as entirely meaningless as the demise of yet another administration enabler like Katz, who, for all his weasely ways, is finally only the dull instrument of his boss's heartlessness, a story came my way that gave me a moment of hope.

    But first, the bad news. The bad news is that this hopeful story -- one that illustrates a constructive and effective direct action for change -- was reported only in the Bangor Daily News. Period.

    The good news, which that paper reported on April 30, is that six peace activists were acquitted on charges of criminal trespass for failing to obey a police request that they abandon their sit-in outside U.S. Sen. Susan Collins' office in the Margaret Chase Smith Federal Building in Maine.

    The defendants, Doug Rawlings, Henry Braun, Jimmy Freeman, Dud Hendrick, Rob Shetterly and Jonathan Kreps -- dubbed the Bangor Six -- were arrested in March 2007 for protesting Bush's proposed troop escalation and Collins' continued support of funding for the war. According to Rawlings, "Our case was pretty simple: We argued that we believed we had a right and an obligation to stay in that federal building until Collins heard us out and agreed that the war is not only immoral but illegal under international law." Specifically, they based their defense on the First Amendment's "right of the people ... to petition the Government for redress of grievances," and their belief that the war is being pursued in defiance of Article VI of the Constitution ("all treaties made ... under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby"), the Nuremberg Principles and the Geneva Conventions.

    After a two-day trial in Penobscot County Superior Court, a jury of 12 citizens agreed and brought back a verdict of "not guilty."

    . Period.

    The good news, which that paper reported on April 30, is that six peace activists were acquitted on charges of criminal trespass for failing to obey a police request that they abandon their sit-in outside U.S. Sen. Susan Collins' office in the Margaret Chase Smith Federal Building in Maine.

    The defendants, Doug Rawlings, Henry Braun, Jimmy Freeman, Dud Hendrick, Rob Shetterly and Jonathan Kreps -- dubbed the Bangor Six -- were arrested in March 2007 for protesting Bush's proposed troop escalation and Collins' continued support of funding for the war. According to Rawlings, "Our case was pretty simple: We argued that we believed we had a right and an obligation to stay in that federal building until Collins heard us out and agreed that the war is not only immoral but illegal under international law." Specifically, they based their defense on the First Amendment's "right of the people ... to petition the Government for redress of grievances," and their belief that the war is being pursued in defiance of Article VI of the Constitution ("all treaties made ... under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby"), the Nuremberg Principles and the Geneva Conventions.

    After a two-day trial in Penobscot County Superior Court, a jury of 12 citizens agreed and brought back a verdict of "not guilty."

    ~ more... ~

    'Why not Nirvana?'

    Sometimes a book is published that is virtually unreviewable. Not because it is a mess, but rather because one can not do it justice. Published in 1979 and still being reprinted, Karma Cola is one such work. Recommended to me by someone who had just left India, the subject of the book, I was handed a passage to read. It detailed the story of an English aristocrat who had heard about a guru in the mountains who was reported to be able to turn urine into scented rose water. And so this Englishman went out to find the guru and sampled his wares, which, it turned out, smelt and tasted remarkably like urine.

    Although the book is widely known for its collection of stories of western disciples seeking out mystical gurus and their tailor-made truths, it is its study of how India discovered that they were quite hip after all (in the eyes of some westerners) while they were turning to western culture, makes it a must read. Although the times have changed since it first came out, its biting and well-observed satire mixed with Gita Mehta's electric writing style (on occasions reminding me of Tom Wolfe) stand out. But I've said too much. Here is an early passage from this most funny and insightful work that will give a taste of where she is coming from and where her book is going:

    "American mass-marketing had penetrated so fast to the Indian interior that its experts were invited by our government to popularize contraceptives with the same panache. While population control and pop culture raced hand in hand through the Indian countryside, we of the cities and the universities were getting restless, too. But just when the accelerator seemed within our reach, the unthinkable happened.
    The kings of rock and roll abdicated.
    To Ravi Shankar and the Maharishi.

    As the sitar wiped out the split-reed sax, and mantras began fouling the crystal clarity of rock and roll lyrics, millions of wild-eyed Americans turned their backs on all that amazing equipment and pointed at us screaming,
    "You guys! You've got it!"
    Well, talk about shabby tricks. We had been such patient wallflowers and suddenly the dance was over. Nobody wanted to shimmy. They all wanted to do the rope trick.
    The lines were kept open in spite of the political static.
    "Excuse me, operator, what did they say? What have we got?"
    "Hello, India, my party is saying you have the Big Zero."
    Mao had lost out to Maya. The revolution was dead.

    So we tagged along with the Americans one more time. Not because of right thought, right speech, right action. But because of the rhythm section. Never before had the Void been pursued with such optimism and such razzle dazzle. Everyone suspected that whatever America wanted, America got.
    Why not Nirvana?"

    Reviewer: Luke Brown

    'Different diets often effective in combating disease'

    For two years, her parents tried one medication after another: Tegretol, phenobarbital and Topamax. The same drugs that bring relief to many children with epilepsy just made her sicker.

    Then Lydia's medical team put her on a ketogenic — or high-fat, low-carbohydrate — diet. Within a week, she was seizure-free.

    "I don't know where we would be if it wasn't for that diet," says her mother, Camilla Becket, who has chronicled the stories of several families coping with epilepsy in the film "Childhood Epilepsy: What You Need to Know."
    The diet, which is more than 85 years old and has been extensively studied, made headlines earlier this month when British researchers presented the strongest evidence to date of its efficacy. In a randomized, controlled study of 145 children ages 2 to 16 who had more than seven seizures a week and were unresponsive to medication, senior author Dr. J. Helen Cross of the Institute of Child Health and Great Ormond Street Hospital in London reported a 38 percent reduction in mean seizure frequency among the 54 children assigned to receive the ketogenic diet.

    The control group experienced an increase in seizures, according to the report, which appeared in the online edition of Lancet Neurology

    Turkey aims for clout as regional mediator

    Drawing on its close ties with Israel and growing closeness to Syria, Turkey is working to position itself as a key regional mediator in the Middle East.

    Last week, Israel and Syria revealed that Ankara had stepped in to fill a diplomatic vacuum by facilitating back-channel discussions between the two states.

    That effort received a boost Sunday from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who said that the United States would back such a peace initiative. She qualified her support by stating that Damascus needed to rethink its policy toward Lebanon.

    Turkey's bid, analysts say, is part of a larger plan to improve its relations with neighbors and take full advantage of its location and historical Ottoman ties to play a larger role than it has in previous decades. But many questions remain about its ability to establish itself as a heavyweight quite yet.

    ~ more... ~


    Taxing the rich

    Over four million low-paid workers felt some relief when Gordon Brown was forced into his tax u-turn. It prevented them from losing out following abolition of the 10p tax band. But around one million workers were not assuaged, as they were still left worse off after the government's crisis 'compensation' action.
    Judy Beishon

    However, the pain and anger over these tax decisions may turn out to be relatively minor compared to what is to come. Figures from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) show that 18 million families will become worse off as a result of the expected level of taxes and benefits over the next two years.

    The IFS says that this will be due to the recent increase in the personal tax allowance being a one-off measure for this year only; this year's higher winter fuel payments could also disappear; and because the upper earnings limit for National Insurance contributions will rise.

    The IFS also looked at how high public-sector debt has become, and concluded that if the government extends the extra personal tax allowance (the recent £2.7 billion u-turn) beyond this financial year, it will break through its limit of the debt rising to no more than 40% of national income. This is based on the economy growing at the rate predicted by the government, a rate that even the International Monetary Fund thinks is too optimistic, so the situation is likely to be much worse.

    With the onset of the coming recession, not only could the prediction of 18 million families suffering from tax and benefit changes become a definite fact, but they could be joined by many more millions of families and single people too, as the government seeks to place the burden of the economic crisis on their backs. And the amounts of money involved could be much worse than currently feared.

    This is the picture for the coming period under a government that has prioritised the greed of the super-rich and big business. Over decades, taxation rates have progressively contributed to rising inequality. For most of the 1970s, big corporations paid 52% of their profits in tax, but that percentage has been reduced step-by-step ever since, to now being just 28%.

    Likewise with income tax on the highest earners; for most of the 1970s it was 83%, but it is now only 40%. The lowest tax band over the same period went from around 35% to 20%, so income tax for low to average earners has decreased much less than it has for the rich.

    Add together all taxes: income tax, council tax, national insurance and the long list of indirect and hidden taxes that we are subjected to, then the lowest paid workers pay a massively greater proportion of their income in tax than the rich. And this is before taking into account the huge tax evasion engaged in by the wealthiest in society, estimated at around £25 billion a year by the TUC.

    It is no surprise that a recent survey showed that 74% of people in Britain think that those on low incomes should be taxed less. The struggle of low-paid workers to get by, while food, energy and housing costs shoot up, is becoming intolerable, especially when contrasted with the unprecedented level of wealth of the small minority at the top of society.

    • Increase income tax for the super-rich, not the low-paid!
    • The first £15,000 of income to be exempt from all tax.
    • Increase the tax paid by big corporations and stop their evasions!
    • A minimum wage of £8 an hour without exemptions, as a step towards £10 an hour.
    • Scrap the council tax! Replace it with a local authority tax which takes ability to pay into account.
    • For public ownership of the top 150 companies and banks that dominate the British economy. Compensation to be paid only on the basis of proven need.
    A new Financial Times/Harris Poll finds growing worldwide support for raising taxes on the wealthy.

    The study of 8,748 adults in eight countries found that more than half of respondents in all countries believed the wealthy should be taxed more. Here are the soak-the rich rankings (i.e., the percentage of respondents from each country who said "The government should tax the wealthy more"):

    Japan — 77%
    Spain — 65%
    Germany — 64%
    U.S. — 62%
    China — 60%
    Italy — 59%
    U.K — 56%
    France — 51%

    Granted, there are some obvious problems with the poll — it defines neither "wealthy" nor "tax more." And it's a relatively small sample size per country.

    Yet the responses become more interesting when they're compared with another poll question: Is the gap between rich and poor too wide?

    In this ranking — call it the envy ranking — Japan is at the bottom, with only 64% of respondents saying the gap is too wide, while another 20% believe it's just right. France has the second-highest envy ranking, with 85% believing the gap is too wide — yet it has the lowest "soak-the-rich" ranking. Germany is ranked first in the envy ranking at 87%, while the U.S. ranks second to last, with 78% saying the gap is too wide.

    You would think that the countries with the highest envy ranking would also be the most likely to want to hike taxes on the rich. So why is the relationship nearly the opposite?

    One answer might be existing tax codes. France already taxes its earners heavily, so there might be less pressure to tax people even more, even though the envy ranking is high. The U.S. probably has the highest wealth gap of any of the other countries, yet taxing the rich isn't as popular here, since more voters aspire to become wealthy themselves.

    Another answer may be relative wealth gaps. Germans says their wealth gap is too wide –but Germany is among the more meritocratic economies in the world when it comes to distribution of wealth. Germans' definitions of "too wide" are probably different from those of Japanese and American respondents.

    Super-rich in the spotlight

    On May 29 a US court filing revealed that former UBS private banker Bradley Birkenfeld agreed to plead guilty to tax fraud in federal court. US prosecutors alleged on May 13 that Bradley Birkenfeld helped a wealthy client hide assets in Switzerland and Liechtenstein to avoid paying US taxes.

    In deciding to cooperate with US prosecutors, Bradley Birkenfeld may be thinking about his own future more than his role in history. The former UBS private banker will disclose the names of clients whose assets he helped hide from US tax authorities, according to the Wall Street Journal. But Birkenfeld's move is a sign that the easy times for the super-rich may be coming to an end.

    The aggressive approach of the US government – it is reportedly going to ask UBS to identify its US clients – is not an isolated event. It follows a UK move to increase the tax burden on rich foreign residents and a German swoop on tax evaders who have made use of accounts in Liechtenstein, not to mention the French finance minister's recent complaint about the "perfectly scandalous" pay of corporate big shots.

    In the US, the very rich have been gaining ground for more than a generation. The share of income of the richest 0.1 per cent of the population increased from 1.9 per cent in 1973 to 8.1 per cent in 2006, according to economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez. The story is similar, although less extreme, in much of Europe.

    It's easy to see why many of the 99.9 per cent of the relative losers might feel some resentment at the trend. Although a rebellion has been slow in coming, the end of the financial boom may have provided a catalyst. The top-slice share of US income last peaked – at 7.6 per cent – along with the stock market in 1929.

    TSMC chief urges tax hike for the rich

    Chairman Morris Chang of the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., Ltd., now the world's largest wafer foundry firm, has called for the new government to increase tax on the rich and cut tax burdens on the poor to counter the ever-expanding wealth gap in the society.
    Chang, who is deemed Taiwan's semiconductor godfather issued the call when speaking at a seminar on the "Issues and Challenges in the Knowledge-based Economy" held to commemorate the 7th anniversary of the death of Lee Kuo-ting, Taiwan's godfather of high technologies.

    Chang said the biggest challenge facing the country is the growing formation of an M-shaped society. To counter, the government should move to make the rich pay more taxes and the poor pay less.

    For instance, the maximum personal consolidated income tax rate can be boosted further from the existing 40 percent, and the tax rates of 33 percent, 21 percent, 13 percent and 6 percent for the middle-class and low-income people should be reduced further, according to Chang.

    He also insisted that capital gains, including securities transaction incomes, should also be taxed, while the negative income tax system should be applied to a larger group of people. Under the system, any family with annual income of lower than NT$360,000 will be allowed to retrieve tax payments already made.

    Chang also asserted that the statute for promoting industrial upgrading should not be renewed again after it expires at the end of 2009. Chang's remarks have been seconded by lawmakers of the pan-blue camp. Independent Lawmaker Fei Hung-tai, for instance, said that the statute for promoting industrial upgrading has safeguarded the high-tech sector for over 30 years, and has sharply undermined the fair taxation spirit and should be scrapped thoroughly after expiring at the end of 2009.

    House Approves Tax on Rich to Aid G.I.'s

    Congressional Democrats began to put into practice their philosophy of asking the wealthy to shoulder more of the cost of government programs on Thursday as the House approved an expansive new veterans education benefit that would be paid for by a tax on affluent Americans.

    Some Republicans joined Democrats in approving the aid, for veterans who enlisted after the Sept. 11 attacks, with a cost estimated at $52 billion over 10 years.

    A vote to provide an additional $163 billion for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan went down in a surprise defeat, at least temporarily, because of objections from members of both parties.

    In pushing the tax plan, Democrats are banking on the idea that most Americans will have no quarrel with requiring those on the highest economic rung to pay for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan to receive the equivalent of a free four-year college education at a public university.

    The proposal is the most striking example so far of a Democratic refrain being heard increasingly in Congress and on the presidential campaign trail: Americans with significant financial resources need to contribute more to efforts to help those less prosperous.

    Individuals earning $500,000 or more would pay a surtax of 0.47 percent on income above $500,000 and the tax would apply to couples on incomes above $1 million.

    Democratic officials said one analysis estimated that about 440,000 people would fall under the new tax and would pay an average of nearly $9,000 a year.

    Targeting rich will not work, says study

    Increasing the rate of tax paid by the rich would be unlikely to raise extra revenue, according to research published by an influential think-tank on Monday.

    The Institute for Fiscal Studies said it had "new, albeit tentative" evidence that ratcheting up income tax rates for those earning more than £100,000 was likely to be counter-productive, based on the evidence of the past 40 years.

    But the study, which called for a drastic overhaul of Britain's tax credit and benefit system, said tax cuts were needed for low earners, who face weak work incentives. Under the existing tax credits system, many low to moderate earners lose 70p or more of every pound they earn.

    It said tax cuts for the low paid would have to be paid for by the bulk of the population, rather than by raising tax rates for the highest earners alone.

    Robert Chote, director of the IFS, said: "These findings have important and perhaps uncomfortable implications for would-be tax and welfare reformers of all parties."

    The research is likely to fuel the gathering backbench revolt over the abolition of the 10p income tax rate. Many Labour supporters have been dismayed that the low paid have been made to pay more tax to help combat child poverty.

    The Kalash

    BBC - In the footsteps of Alexander

    In this award winning adventure Micheal Wood embarks on a 2000 mile journey in the foot steps of Alexander's triumphal march from Greece to India. Travelling with Lebanese traders, Iranian pilgrims and Afghan guerillas, by jeep, train, boat, camel and on foot, he interweaves the momentous events of the past with present day reality and brings us new insights into a man whose myth and acheivements still resonate down the centuries

    "We saw things I can scarcely believe. We took shelter for the night with an Afghan warlord who had delivered pizzas in the United States, and were hauled off to jail more than once. It was one of the great experiences of my life" - Michael Wood

    The culture of Kalash people is unique and differs drastically from the various ethnic groups surrounding them. They are polytheists and nature plays a highly significant and spiritual role in their daily life. As part of their religious tradition, sacrifices are offered and festivals held to give thanks for the abundant resources of their three valleys.Kalash mythology and folklore has been compared to that of ancient Greece, but they are much closer to Indo-Iranian (Vedic and pre-Zoroastrian) traditions. According to one of their legends, Kalash people are the descendants of Alexander the Great's soldiers who settled and ruled the area after the expedition. The following statement made by a Kalash named Kazi Khushnawaz indicates Kalash people main belief for the origin of their culture:

    "Long long ago, before the days of Islam, Sikander e Aazem came to India. The Two Horned one whom you British people call Alexander the Great. He conquered the world, and was a very great man, brave and dauntless and generous to his followers. When he left to go back to Greece, some of his men did not wish to go back with him but preferred to stay here. Their leader was a general called Shalakash (i.e: Seleucus). With some of his officers and men, he came to these valleys and they settled here and took local women, and here they stayed. We, the Kalash, the Black Kafir of the Hindu Kush, are the descendants of their children. Still some of our words are the same as theirs, our music and our dances, too; we worship the same gods. This is why we believe the Greeks are our first ancestors."

    The Amazon for sale for 50 bln dollars? Not in Brazil's book

    A Swedish-born tycoon who acts as a deforestation advisor to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has stirred up controversy in Brazil for reportedly claiming all the Amazon could be bought for 50 billion dollars.

    Johan Eliasch, the 46-year-old boss of the Head sports equipment company, is under investigation by Brazilian police and intelligence services for the alleged comments and for 160,000 hectares (395,000 acres) of Amazon forest he is believed to have bought, the newspaper O Globo reported Monday.

    He reportedly made the assertions to stimulate land acquisition as part of his role as director of Cool Earth, an organization he co-founded which finds sponsors for the rainforest as a way of protecting it.

    "Eliasch held meetings with businessmen between 2006 and 2007 in which he proposed that they buy land in the Amazon, and told them 'only' 50 billion dollars would be needed to acquire all the forest," according to a report by Brazil's Abin intelligence agency cited by O Globo.

    The issue is a sensitive one for Brazil, which has been offended by statements by British politicians suggesting that the Amazon is too important to all of mankind to be left to the management of Brazil's government alone.

    Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Monday stated that "the Brazilian Amazon has an owner, and that owner is the Brazilian people."

    ~ more... ~


    East Jerusalem Arabs detail violence they face by city's Jews

    Last month's attack by a Jewish mob on Arab youths got ample press, but shouldn't be considered an isolated incident.

    In fact, Arab residents of Jerusalem, particularly taxi drivers, detail a pattern of racially-motivated violent acts by religious Jews.
    The drivers from East Jerusalem call the western part of the city the "Wild West." This week, prominent rabbis circulated Halakhic rulings online, calling for the city's Jews to carry out violent acts against Arab residents.

    The greatest danger

    Of all the dangers we face, from climate chaos to permanent war, none is so great as this deadening of our response. For psychic numbing impedes our capacity to process and respond to information. The energy expended in pushing down despair is diverted from more crucial uses, depleting the resilience and imagination needed for fresh visions and strategies.

    Zen poet Thich Nhat Hanh was asked, "what do we most need to do to save our world?" His answer was this: "What we most need to do is to hear within us the sounds of the Earth crying."

    ~ more... ~



    French deputies uphold anti-Turkey referendum clause

    The lower house of the French parliament on Thursday (29 May) approved an amendment to constitutional reforms that could make it compulsory for France to hold a referendum on large countries joining the EU, in a move targeting Turkey.

    Under the amendment tabled by Jean-Luc Warsmann – a deputy from the centre-right UMP party - holding a referendum would be obligatory to approve the EU accession of any country whose population surpasses five percent of the EU population (about 500 million people).

    The provision was approved by the National Assembly with 48 to 21 votes.

    The move appears to be targeted at EU candidate Turkey with its population of 70 million, whose accession to the 27-nation bloc is opposed by France and by the majority of UMP deputies.

    French president Nicolas Sarkozy – a former leader of the UMP party – is himself an outspoken opponent of Ankara's EU bid, repeatedly stating that he does not think the country belongs to Europe.

    The new text singling out the Eurasian state did not get the backing of all centre-right parliamentarians, however.

    "Many eyes are fixed on us now - those of our compatriots, but also those of peoples from the world wondering whether we will really introduce in our constitution an arrangement targeting implicitly a particular country," said Bruno Le Maire (UMP), former prime minister Dominique de Villepin's chief of cabinet.

    "[If the US put into its constitution an article] targeting Mexico, Columbia or any other country, then France – the country of human rights, would be shocked. I am now afraid that our neighbours might be [shocked] by this new arrangement," he added, before the vote took place.

    The provision was widely criticised by the opposition, with socialist MP Rene Dosiere calling it "disgraceful and shameful."

    ~ more... ~


    NATO picks Estonia for high-tech crime centre

    One year after government websites in EU state Estonia were crippled by a series of cyber attacks, NATO has moved to set up a centre on cyber defence in the country's capital, Tallinn.

    On Wednesday (14 May), seven NATO members - Estonia, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia and Spain - signed a pact formally establishing a so-called Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence.

    "The need for a cyber defence centre to be opened today is compelling," general James Mattis in charge of NATO's transformation efforts, said after the ceremony, adding that the centre "will help the alliance defy and successfully counter the threats in this area."

    The centre - due to be up and running in August, but formally opened in 2009 - will conduct research and training on cyber warfare. It will have a staff of 30 people, half of them IT specialists from seven founding countries.

    The United States will join the project as an observer, while other NATO allies are free to step in later.

    The project is a direct response to three weeks of systematic cyber-attacks on Estonia's government and private websites in April and May 2007 - something Tallinn claims was orchestrated by Moscow in response to a dispute involving a Soviet-era monument.

    The Baltic state had moved a bronze statue of a soldier from central Tallinn to a military cemetery. The Bronze Soldier was erected by the then Soviet authorities in 1947 and is seen by many Russians as a testament to the Soviet Union's painful contribution to the World War II effort.

    ~ more... ~


    Bulgaria may lose EU funds over organised crime

    EU enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn has signalled that Bulgaria could see a suspension of millions of euros in EU aid over persistent shortcomings in the fight against organised crime, in what could be the first ever such move by Brussels' against a member state.

    The European Commission is preparing a monitoring report on the southeast Balkan country to be published early July, as part of the close scrutiny that both Bulgaria and Romania are undergoing for not meeting EU legal standards before joining the bloc in 2007.

    Speaking at a seminar in Brussels on Thursday (30 May), Mr Rehn said that the issue of insufficient measures introduced by Sofia to root out corruption and organised crime will feature high in the forthcoming evaluation.

    [ ... ]

    Not a single high-level case of corruption has resulted in a successful conviction in recent years, even as EU officials in the country claim corruption reaches the highest levels of government.

    Bulgaria has been allocated €6.9 billion in European funds for the 2007 to 2012 period, which it hopes to use mainly for developing infrastructure, boosting employment and improving good governance.

    The European Commission already froze pre-accession funds to Bulgaria in February due to concerns over possible fraud cases.

    ~ From: ~


    Workers shifting to 4-day week to save gasoline

    When Ohio's Kent State University offered custodial staff the option of working four days a week instead of five to cut commuting costs, most jumped at the chance, part of a U.S. trend aimed at combating soaring gasoline prices.

    "We offered it to 94 employees and 78 have taken us up on it," said university spokesman Scott Rainone.
    The reason is simple: rising gas prices and a desire to retain good workers. And while so far only the university's custodians are eligible, Rainone hopes the option will be offered to all departments -- including his own.
    "In our office, we have people who travel anywhere from five or six miles to a couple who are on the road 45 to 50 minutes," Rainone said. "As the price of gas rises, the level of grumbling rises."

    "In China, earthquake prediction is pure science and earthquake forecasting announcement is pure politics"

    There has been a heated debate over whether the recent devastating earthquake in China was predicted before it took place. Critics are accusing the political regime of being very irresponsible in ignoring earthquake warnings and thereby causing the loss of tens of thousands of lives.

    On July 28, 2006, the Director of the China Earthquake Administration, Chen Jianmin, was speaking on a program of the regime's mouth piece, China's Central TV station. He stated with certainty that earthquakes were predictable. But immediately after the recent devastation in Sichuan, Chinese officials claimed that the prediction of earthquakes was a tough task worldwide. Another commentator said that earthquake prediction in China is a political issue.

    Mixed Messages

    According to Chen, China has been predicting earthquakes since the Xingtai earthquake back in 1966, which killed 8,064 people. "Through continuous scientific research and information gained from many actual cases, we can make a prediction on a certain type of earthquake." However, after the earthquake in Sichuan took place, Zhang Ziaodong from the China Earthquake Networks Center held a press conference at China's State Department on May 13. At the conference Zhang denied the quake in Sichuan was predictable and said that predicting earthquakes was a "difficult task worldwide."

    Later on, the media in China went quiet about this sensitive issue. A frontline reporter disclosed that Beijing had sent out rules on reporting the earthquake, "To propagate positive, constructive news and forbidding criticism and introspective articles." Recently, according to our source, Beijing has officially banned discussing the subject of earthquake prediction in public.

    However, more and more information has indicated accurate prediction on the quake had been presented to Beijing on many occasions. The communist military had also taken preventative measures based on the predictions.

    Predictions Have Saved Lives

    Chen also said during an interview with CCTV two years ago, that following an accurate prediction, a quake that took place in China on February 4, 1975, only took 1,300 lives instead of 100,000. Chen also gave examples from overseas, how predicting earthquakes had cut down the number of deaths - only three died in California in 2003 and 40 in Japan in 2004, two countries where earthquake prediction was released before the event.


    From: CCP Media's Apologizes For Publishing 'Earthquake Truth'

    Since the devastating earthquake happened in Sichuan province on May 12, the topic of whether the regime had received warning but failed to warn the general public, has become the regime's haunting shadow.

    On May 20, the regime's mouth piece, Xinhua News Agency, accidentally published a news report that the Gansu Provincial Party Chief praised the Gansu Seismological Bureau for having "made a prediction and reported its forecast to the Gansu Province Chinese Communist Party Committee and the Gansu government, before the earthquake."

    The report contradicts what the regime previously claimed: that no predication was made before the earthquake.

    The report was soon deleted after people noticed such a contradiction and made it public on the Internet.

    Nine days later on May 29, Gansu Provincial Earthquake Information Net published an "Important Correction" stating the previously published "important speech regarding the earthquake" by Provincial Party Chief Lu Hao contained an "editing error."

    Ironically, the revised news report claims that the Gansu Seismological Bureau "has made a prediction AFTER THE EARTHQUAKE and reported to the Gansu Province Chinese Communist Party Committee and Gansu government, before the earthquake" [emphasis added].


    'In Afghanistan, the U.S. is showing remarkable creativity in the horrors department'

    Given the huge advantages over the Soviet experience, and given the possibility to learn from Soviet mistakes, there really is no excuse for the current tragedy unfolding with no end in sight. But then, in carrying out their invasion of Iraq, the Americans apparently learned nothing from the British invasion of the 1920s, repeating to the letter all the horrors the Brits inflicted on the Iraqis.

    Is it possible the chaos and murder is intentional? While the Taliban were no sweethearts, they did completely disarm the nation and wipe out the production of opium. Similarly, while Saddam Hussein would hardly be one's favourite uncle, he presided over a stable welfare state where its many ethnic groups were at least not blowing each other up. In contrast, the US has destroyed the state structures in both countries, and made both into arms dumps. It has managed to turn the peoples of both countries against each other, with the likely prospect of civil war and disintegration into various malleable statelets.

    All in keeping with Israeli plans first published in 1982 as "A Strategy for Israel", a plan to ensure its "security" (read: expansion) with the Middle East a patchwork of small ethnically-based states which it could keep in order.

    One brilliant innovation by the US, with Israel's Haganah and Irgun as possible inspirations, is the use of private mercenaries to carry out murder and espionage that the NATO troops can't do because of their "concern" for international law. This policy is already well known to Iraqis in the guise of Blackwater. Special investigator for the UN Human Rights Council Philip Alston referred to three such recent raids in south and east Afghanistan during a visit last week, clearly alluding to US intelligence agencies, though he didn't dare state this publicly. Alston said the raids were part of a wider problem of unlawful killings of civilians and lack of accountability in Afghanistan. In one incident, two brothers were killed by troops operating out of an American Special Forces base in Kandahar. Another group, known as Shaheen, operates out of Nangahar, in eastern Afghanistan, where US forces are in charge. "Essentially, they are companies of Afghans but with a handful, at most, of international people directing them. I'm not aware that they fall under any command."

    A Western official close to the investigation said the secret units are known as Campaign Forces, from the time when American Special Forces and CIA spies recruited Afghan troops to help overthrow the Taliban during the US-led invasion in 2001. "The brightest, smartest guys in these militias were kept on," the official said. "They were trained and rearmed and they are still being used. The level of complacency in response to these killings is staggeringly high," he said.

    Yet another innovation -- the most frightening of all -- is the role of the US in allowing, perhaps even facilitating, the huge increase in opium production, which, as already mentioned, was wiped out by the Taliban, which will be discussed in Part II.

    ~ From: Who is the enemy? ~



    Silent tsunami

    Is there more than meets the eye in the sudden flurry of talk about a world food crisis, asks Eric Walberg
    Food protests and riots have swept more than 20 countries in the past few months, including Egypt. On 2 April, World Bank President Robert Zoellick told a meeting in Washington that there are 33 countries where price hikes could cause widespread social unrest. The UN World Food Programme called the crisis the silent tsunami, with wheat prices almost doubling in the past year alone, and stocks falling to the lowest level since the perilous post-WWII days. One billion people live on less than $1 a day. Some 850 million are starving. Meanwhile, world food production increased a mere 1 per cent in 2006, and with increasing amounts of output going to biofuels, per capita consumption is declining.

    The most commonly stated reasons include rising fuel costs, global warming, deterioration of soils, and increased demand in China and India. So is it all just a case of hard luck and poor planning?

    There is just too much of a pattern, and too many elements all pointing in the same direction. Anyone following the news will have heard of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) which first met in 1921 and the group that represents the inner circle within the inner circle, the Bilderberg Club, which first met in 1954. The latter, once a highly secretive organisation bringing together select world political and business leaders, was exposed to the media spotlight in 1990s and since then has had to endure increasing criticism for its, to say the least, undemocratic role in shaping political leaders' thinking and actions in accordance with the desires of the world business elite.

    The US has never been shy about flaunting world opinion. A case in point is its sole "nay" to multiple UN General Assembly and conference resolutions which declare that "health care and proper nourishment are human rights". The resolution was approved by a vote of 135-1 in 1981 under president Ronald Reagan, and at UN-sponsored food summits by similar margins in 1996 under president Bill Clinton and in 2002 under President Bush, dismissing any "right to food".

    Whether Republican or Democrat, Washington instead champions free trade as the key to ending the poverty which it argues is at the root of hunger, and expresses fears that recognition of a right to food could lead to lawsuits from poor nations seeking aid and special trade provisions. And these are only resolutions by a powerless body which is in any case virtually subservient to the US. We can see at this very moment how this international humanitarian body is not above using starvation of innocent Gazans as a political tool in the interests of the status quo. Despite loud protestations to the contrary, there is little real international will opposing a future where millions die of starvation while a world elite consolidate their power.

    Trying to come to grips with the world food crisis, it's hard not to subscribe to some version of a conspiracy theory -- that somehow, for some reason, this rush towards widespread world famine is actually a plan by a world clique intent on drastically reducing the world population, accelerating the collapse of national governments, allowing gigantic world corporations effectively to take their place, controlling vast areas of land, leading towards a world governed by these corporations. Especially with the US so clear in its assumption that indeed widespread famine is in the cards, for which it does not want to be held responsible. Forget about global warming (which is of course very real and harmful to food production). Here are a few more red flags.

    First, the WB and IMF, set up largely by the US following WWII, are notorious for refusing to advance loans to poor countries unless they agree to Structural Adjustment Programmes that require the loan recipients to devalue their currencies, cut taxes, privatise utilities and reduce or eliminate support programmes for farmers. The results are a weakened state, impoverished local farmers and increased economic domination by international corporations. Combined with this is constant pressure on poor countries to lower tariffs, preventing them from building up their industrial potential, often destituting their farmers who cannot compete with heavily subsidised produce from rich nations.

    Second, rich country subsidies, in Canada, for example, allow the federal government to pay farmers $225 for each pig killed in an ongoing mass cull of breeding swine, as part of a plan to reduce hog production. Some of the slaughtered hogs may be given to local Food Banks, but most will be destroyed or made into pet food. None will go to, say, Haiti.

    Third, biofuel programmes are now channelling massive quantities of cereal and other crops to produce fuel for the world's wealthy to run their second and third family cars while close to a billion starve. Add in GMO products, which are now being forced on poor countries (and not only) by large multinationals, protected by copyright laws, effectively enslaving farmers in perpetuity, not to mention their likely dire effects on loss of crop variety.

    Last but not least, the current US-sponsored wars in the Middle East, with the resultant sky- rocketing oil prices, are merely accelerating a descent into the abyss, as it and its conjunct, NATO, continue to expand beyond all responsible limits and venture into Asia, threatening more and more recalcitrant countries with loss of sovereignty, subversion and outright invasion.

    But you don't have to believe in a "Made it Happen On Purpose" (MHOP) conspiracy for either 9/11 or the food crisis. As political analyst William Blum, famously cited by Osama Bin Laden on one of his video missives, told Al-Ahram Weekly, "we're speaking of men making decisions, based not on people's needs but on pseudo-scientific, amoral mechanisms like supply and demand, commodity exchanges, grain futures, selling short, selling long, and other forms of speculation, all fed and multiplied by the proverbial herd mentality -- a system governed by only two things: fear and greed; not a rational way to feed a world of human beings."

    Blum subscribes to a "Let it Happen On Purpose" (LHOP) explanation concerning 9/11, that whatever conspiracy there is is loose and unorganised, that a big dose of incompetence mixed with justified anger by the oppressed is producing an explosive concoction, but that it is still possible that leaders will wake up and address the issues sensibly. This is a much more comforting worldview, but one that looks thinner and thinner as the whirlwind gathers momentum. While Blum dismisses speculation about the food crisis as conspiracy, the links between the current world upheavals starting with 9/11 are there for all to see, and less and less seems to separate MHOP from LHOP as time marches on.

    In fact there has been a food crisis ever since imperialism really got underway three centuries ago. Perhaps the most extensive famines in history were presided over by Britain in India in the 18-20th centuries. It has merely metamorphosed over time, just as has the "one world" movement that imperialism itself launched. Back then, it was more obvious: burn, rape, dispossess, enslave, create monopolies for trade and production (plantations), talk about "darkest Africa". Now it is the WTO, WB, IMF, emergency loans, privatisation, GMO crops, just possibly, the gathering "food crisis".

    Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez perhaps said it best: "It is a massacre of the world's poor. The problem is not the production of food. It is the economic, social and political model of the world. The capitalist model is in crisis."

    Then what is really going on?

    First of all, let's get rid of the idea that we are seeing "impersonal market forces" at work. Supply and demand is not a law, it's a policy. Second, let's ask the question which any competent investigator should pose when starting out on the trail of a possible crime: "Who benefits?" Indeed we can even describe the crime as genocide if the events in question are avoidable or planned. Those who benefit are obviously the ones who finance agricultural operations, those who are charging monopoly prices for the commodities in demand, the various middlemen who bring the products to market, and the owners of the land and other assets used in the production/consumption cycle.

    In other words, it's the financial elite of the world who have gained control of the most basic necessity of life, guided by a long-term strategy by international finance to starve much of the world's population in order to seize their land and control their natural resources.

    In Superclass: The Global Power Elite and the World They Are Making (2008), David Rothkopf, currently at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, former deputy undersecretary of commerce for international trade under Clinton and managing director of Kissinger and Associates, brazenly outlines the real situation. As a consummate insider, he is clearly someone who should know. A global elite now run the planet and have usurped the power of national governments while ensuring laws constrained by borders are all but obsolete. "Each one of them is one in a million. They number six thousand on a planet of six billion. They run our governments, our largest corporations, the powerhouses of international finance, the media, world religions, and, from the shadows, the world's most dangerous criminal and terrorist organisations. They are the global superclass, and they are shaping the history of our time," states the promo for the book. This elite "see national governments as residues from the past whose only useful function is to facilitate the elite's global operations. Their connections to each other have become more significant than their ties to their home nations and governments."

    But why would an insider give the plot away to us plebes, you may well ask. For one thing, the exposure of the conspirators in the world media -- yes, the Internet and satellite communications work both ways -- has meant that there is a pressing need for some soothing PR, showing us that whatever conspiracy there is is benign, for our own good, necessary, if you will. That's the only explanation for such a startlingly frank insider's account as Superclass provides.

    Secondly, it seems the time is ripe to move forward on this plan to drastically reduce world population, and increase control of the Earth's land and resources for a world elite in perpetuity. One- world government, super imperialism, call it what you will.

    The expansion of the US military empire abroad, the Trojan Horse of the conspiracy, comes with the creation of a totalitarian system of surveillance at home and abroad, put into place as part of the "War on Terror". Human microchip implants for tracking purposes are starting to be used. The military-industrial complex has become the US's largest and most successful industry, intent on destroying both foreign and domestic "enemies". The pieces are now in place for world domination.

    The 20th century -- any conspiracy really can only be clearly argued starting from the Great War-to-end-all-war -- surely was the US century, meaning it was able to impose its ideology of markets, consumerism and individualism even to the far reaches of Communist Russia and China, and hence ensure that the global elite it set in motion will subscribe in some form to its agenda -- if indeed there is one.

    This situation is in fact a perverse form of Kant's recipe for world peace: countries must be willing to cede sovereignty to prevent war. His idealistic proposal floundered on the unwillingness of countries to cede meaningful autonomy to a world body, as the experience of the League of Nations and the UN have shown in spades. However, once the US succeeded in amassing overwhelming economic might in the world and in splitting up the SU, it proceeded to use NATO as just such a world body, successfully tempting the resultant statelets to join it. The plan was for Russia to be coaxed into the fold as well, though this part of the plan has, as it turns out, hit a snag.

    What about foreign aid? Yes, Bush just proposed spending an additional $770 million, bringing next year's budget of food assistance to $2.6 billion. But since this is tied aid, forcing countries to import subsidised US produce, less than half the amount actually reaches the starving peasants, and combined with WB/IMF structural adjustment policies such aid really does more to compound the problem than provide any real long-term change for the better.

    For sceptics about the possibility of some form of LHOP/MHOP, just consider the following: if indeed 6,000 elite business leaders control the world's fate, surely such an immensely wealthy and powerful coterie could solve the food crisis in a flash. The massive expenditures on arms and the wanton destruction they cause every second, could, if stopped, provide the will and resources to restructure the world to end starvation, let alone poverty, leaving lots left over for the elite to wallow in. There is no organised force of any consequence opposing this world elite. What's stopping it?

    ~ Al-Ahram Weekly On-line ~



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