Friday, June 29, 2007

Crime Rates in Canada

So in Canada big cities are not that bad especially compared to the US. I find I am in the highest murder rate area, rural prairies. Perhaps it is because most rural people will have a gun handy when they get mad!

Crime rates higher in small cities: Statistics Canada
Last Updated: Thursday, June 28, 2007 | 12:45 PM ET
CBC News
New statistics suggest overall crime rates in Canada are highest in small urban areas, perhaps debunking the assumption that big cities are more dangerous.

The overall crime rate in small urban areas — home to at least 1,000 people — was 43 per cent higher than in large urban areas with a core of at least 100,000, indicates the Statistics Canada study of 2005 crime rates that was released Thursday. Only in Quebec were crime rates higher in bigger cities.

Rates of total violent crime, total property crime and break-ins were also highest in small urban areas, while robbery and motor vehicle theft were more common in large cities, the federal agency reported.

Robbery rates for large urban areas were twice those of smaller cities and nearly 10 times those of rural areas, defined by the study as places that don't qualify as either large or small urban areas.

Keeping with a 10-year trend, homicide rates were highest in rural areas. Taking population into account, the rate of 2.5 homicides per 100,000 people in rural areas was higher than the rate of 2.0 in large urban areas or 1.7 in smaller cities.

The finding is in contrast to American statistics that show homicide rates are highest in large urban areas. A University of Pennsylvania study shows that big American cities have nearly double the firearm homicide rate of most rural areas.

Continue Article

In Canada, the proportion of homicides committed with a firearm was again highest in rural areas, where a rifle or shotgun was the weapon of choice. In large and small cities, handguns were more common.

Homicide, which is considered the most serious of all criminal acts, includes first- and second-degree murder, manslaughter and infanticide.

Rural areas of Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alberta had the highest homicide rates in the country, the study suggests. In Ontario and British Columbia, rates were higher in large cities.

Of the 658 homicides in 2005 where the location was known, 427 were committed in large urban areas, 135 in rural areas and 95 in small urban areas.

Overall, the highest crime rates were reported in the small urban areas of the western provinces — British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The lowest rates were observed in rural areas of Quebec, Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador, and New Brunswick.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Potsdam Plotz

It seems that global trade agreements will remain mired in conflict unless the developed countries are willing to offer underdeveloped countries more incentives. It seems that developing and undeveloped countries do not trust the promises of the developed countries as well. The promises may very well not be politically doable and perhaps critics are correct.

Potsdam plotz

“Lies,” said the Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim of the promises made by the EU and the U.S. — India and Brazil refuse unfair world trade.

>by Duncan Cameron
June 28, 2007

In the summer of 1945, the allied victors (the USSR, UK and U.S.) met in Potsdam to decide the fate of defeated Germany. Last week, meeting in Potsdam, the U.S., the EU, Brazil and India (a.k.a. the G4) failed to revive world trade talks, known within the World Trade Organization (WTO) as the Doha round, which were suspended a year ago.

The G4 meeting broke up in anger after only three days of the scheduled six-day encounter. The EU and the U.S., which have been fighting each other over trade issues for about fifty years, this time agreed — they agreed to blame India and Brazil for the failure of the talks. WTO watcher Daniel Drache of York University observed that breakdown of the Potsdam talks signals that big capital and the major powers lost.

The bargain offered was supposed to be good for all. The EU and the U.S. would get tariff reductions facilitating their access to markets of poor countries, and, in return, the U.S. would reduce subsidies to agricultural exports and the EU would reduce tariffs on agricultural imports, both moves to benefit poor country agriculture.

Brazil and India pointed out that the tariff reductions would hurt development prospects in the poor South, and the agricultural promises amounted to nothing, or worse. “Lies,” said the Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim.

The WTO had a scenario worked out for Potsdam. If the G4 could agree on the important outstanding issues, prospects would improve for a world trade pact by the end of 2007, presumably for the benefit of the 150 WTO member states. When Amorim and Indian Commerce Minister Kamal Nath walked out of the Potsdam talks, they sent the discussion back to Geneva where WTO committees have fallen short of significant agreement.

The problem is that world trade is unfair, and the WTO rules are part of the problem. Those who benefit disproportionately, mainly the rich, developed countries, do not want to give away trade advantages without getting equal or greater advantages in return. Successful trading by China and India in particular has Western nations seeking fresh advantages through control of the WTO agenda.

The poor, developing countries have poor prospects unless the world economic rules of the game change. Trade changes alone are not enough to benefit the world poor: debt forgiveness, foreign aid and financial reforms are more important; and the trade changes under discussion at the WTO would in fact make things worse.

The Doha round was supposed to be the Seattle round, but following the major protests that shut down the 1999 WTO meeting in that city, when trade ministers reconvened two years later in Qatar, they decided to pursue what was called the Doha Development Agenda, in the hopes of persuading poor countries, and protestors, that trade could lead to development.

Trade can makes good sense: it is a way of sharing work. Your country does what it does best, mine will do the same, and then we can choose to exchange what each of us produces beyond our immediate needs. But world trade is about power first. The big and rich want to get bigger and richer, and the small, weak and poor need protection, and attention paid to their development needs. The proposed Potsdam bargain would have expanded trade for poor countries as well as rich, but existing trade rules, such as those protecting patents and intellectual rights — monopoly rights really — take more away from the poor than they would gain from tariff reductions.

The unwillingness of the U.S. and the EU to recognize the injustice of the prevailing trade order provoked the dispute with Brazil and India, speaking for the developing world.

In order to negotiate trade deals the U.S. has acquired “fast track” authority from Congress. That authority expires June 30, 2007, and can only be renewed within two years if the U.S. can show substantial progress in meeting its trade goals. Otherwise, new trade talk authority will await a new president, and another Congress.

So, to make Congress happy, the U.S. is pushing hard to get improved access to markets abroad and is reluctant to give up its own subsidizes to agricultural exporters. India wants the need for food security to be recognized, and domestic subsistence agriculture — the livelihood of billions — made safe from subsidized U.S. exports.

At Potsdam in 1945, the post war international order was being established under U.S. leadership and growing differences with the USSR would create the cold war. In 2007, the U.S. is determined that its domestic priorities dominate the world trading system. Brazil and India have openly challenged U.S. leadership of the rich countries and are calling for a fairer world trading system. Efforts to demonize them, or to bash China, should be understood as the continuation of U.S. efforts to dominate the world. Unlike in 1945, however, today U.S. leadership is widely in question.

Duncan Cameron is associate publisher of He writes from Vancouver.

Internet Radio Stations to protest new royalty rates

This will be a disaster for small niche broadcasters, only a few large commercial internet stations will survive. In fact I understand that even some of the larger classical broadcasters may be badly hurt by the changes. I wonder what is happening in other countries than the US.

Internet radio stations to protest royalty hikes
They will replace music with silence today to fight royalty rate hikes.
By Jim Puzzanghera, Times Staff Writer
June 26, 2007

WASHINGTON — Across the Internet, the music will die today.

It's a protest staged by online radio stations to preview what they say will happen when substantially higher royalty rates kick in next month, silencing for good stations that can't afford them.

Thousands of webcasters will replace their music streams today with periods of silence and occasional messages about the dispute, urging people to press Congress to reverse the royalty rate and fee increase set by a federal board. But despite growing support, Congress is unlikely to act before July 15, when the new rates take effect.

That leaves Internet radio operators hoping that a federal court will grant an emergency stay, or that negotiations with SoundExchange, the organization that collects and distributes Internet music royalties, will lead to lower rates and fees.

"It's not a moneymaking venture; it's a labor of love," said Ted Leibowitz, 39, a software engineer who runs BAGeL Radio from his San Francisco apartment.

He pays about $1,000 a year to broadcast "indie rock" 24 hours a day, sending out about 40,000 music streams a month through, an Internet radio service based in Foster City, Calif. The new royalty rates threaten to shut down Live365, and Leibowitz estimates that he would have to pay more than $100,000 a year in royalties and fees to keep his station going.

"Even if I was a wealthy man," he said, "that would be a very expensive hobby."

So BAGeL Radio is joining Yahoo Music, MTV Online, Rhapsody and other sites in the National Day of Silence led by SaveNetRadio, a coalition of large and small webcasters and artists opposing the royalty hike. Many of those sites will point their listeners to an hourlong forum on the issue being aired continuously today by KCRW-FM (89.9) in Santa Monica, which may have to cut back its Internet music streaming if the rates take effect.

The webcasters are protesting a decision in March by the Copyright Royalty Board, an obscure group of federal judges. The current rate of 0.08 of a cent per listener each time a song is played will more than double by 2010. The board also set a $500-a-year administrative fee for each channel a webcaster broadcasts, and removed an alternative rate structure for small sites that capped royalties at 10% to 12% of their revenue.

Many webcasters will have to pay a large lump sum July 15 because the new rates and fees are retroactive to the start of 2006, when the old rates expired.

The ruling sparked outrage on the Internet, where about 72 million listeners a month tune in Internet music stations as an alternative to broadcast and satellite radio.

Despite the royalty ruling, SoundExchange can strike separate deals with websites. John Simson, the organization's executive director, said negotiations were continuing and dismissed fears of an Internet radio apocalypse July 15.

"We're going to be very busy the next two weeks," he said.

The $500-a-channel fee is as controversial as the per-song royalty hike. Live365, for example, has about 10,000 channels, many of which are run by hobbyists, who pay as little as $10 a month for the company to handle their technology needs and royalties.

Chief Executive N. Mark Lam estimates that Live365 will owe $7 million on July 15. The company made about $7,000 profit on $8.7 million in revenue last year — its first annual profit since launching in 1999. He predicted the new rates would kill the company.

Yahoo Music and Pandora have a similar problem because they create personalized music channels for thousands of listeners, all subject to the $500 fee. Ian Rogers, general manager of Yahoo Music, estimated the company would have to pay about $750 million in that fee alone.

Legislation has been introduced in the House and the Senate to roll back the royalty rate and fee increases. Although the House bill has 119 co-sponsors, there's almost no chance that it can get through Congress before July 15.

Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.), the lead sponsor of the House bill, said he would continue to push for passage after the deadline. "We're just not going to let this nascent industry die and we're not going to let people's websites go blank," he said.


Appeal recommended for convicted Libyan bomber.

As I recall there is evidence against al-Megrahi being the bomber as well. It seemed as if there was a strong desire to convict him, show that Libya was involved, and close the books on the case. As the article mentions even some of the families of victims were troubled by the trial and verdict. Libya was anxious to co-operate it seems in order to help its international reputation.

Convicted Lockerbie bomber wins right to appeal
Last Updated: Thursday, June 28, 2007 | 8:20 AM ET
The Associated Press
A judicial panel recommended Thursday that an appeal be granted to the man convicted of the 1988 airliner bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland.

The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission described the evidence used to convict Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, shown heading into court in 1992, as unreliable.
(Jockel Fink/Associated Press)
Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, a former Libyan intelligence agent, is serving a life sentence for the bombing that claimed the lives of 270 people.

However, the long-expected report by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission described the evidence used to convict him as unreliable and recommended he be allowed to appeal.

The report will now be submitted to the Court of Appeal in Edinburgh, which will decide whether an appeal is warranted.

A number of people, including the families of some of the victims, have in the past questioned the evidence against al-Megrahi, calling it circumstantial at best.

All 259 people aboard the Pan American jetliner, including two Canadians, were killed when a bomb brought down the plane over the Scottish village. Eleven people on the ground also died.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Numbers Surge

Tom Engelhardt almost always provides excellent articles on his website.
There is a wealth of numbers in this article that cumulatively give a good snapshot of the havoc in Iraq.

Tomgram: The Numbers Surge in Iraq

Iraq by the Numbers
Surging Past the Gates of Hell
By Tom Engelhardt

Sometimes, numbers can strip human beings of just about everything that makes us what we are. Numbers can silence pain, erase love, obliterate emotion, and blur individuality. But sometimes numbers can also tell a necessary story in ways nothing else can.

This January, President Bush announced his "surge" plan for Iraq, which he called his "new way forward." It was, when you think about it, all about numbers. Since then, 28,500 new American troops have surged into that country, mostly in and around Baghdad; and, according to the Washington Post, there has also been a hidden surge of private armed contractors -- hired guns, if you will -- who free up troops by taking over many mundane military positions from guarding convoys to guarding envoys. In the meantime, other telltale numbers in Iraq have surged as well.

Now, Americans are theoretically waiting for the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, General David Petraeus, to "report" to Congress in September on the "progress" of the President's surge strategy. But there really is no reason to wait for September. An interim report -- "Iraq by the numbers" -- can be prepared now (as it could have been prepared last month, or last year). The trajectory of horror in Iraq has long been clear; the fact that the U.S. military is a motor driving the Iraqi cataclysm has been no less clear for years now. So here is my own early version of the "September Report."

A caveat about numbers: In the bloody chaos that is Iraq, as tens of thousands die or are wounded, as millions uproot themselves or are uprooted, and as the influence of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's national government remains largely confined to the four-square mile fortified Green Zone in the Iraqi capital, numbers, even as they pour out of that hemorrhaging land, are eternally up for grabs. There is no way most of them can be accurate. They are, at best, a set of approximate notations in a nightmare that is beyond measurement.

Here, nonetheless, is an attempt to tell a little of the Iraqi story by those numbers:

Iraq is now widely considered # 1 -- when it comes to being the ideal jihadist training ground on the planet. "If Afghanistan was a Pandora's box which when opened created problems in many countries, Iraq is a much bigger box, and what's inside much more dangerous," comments Mohammed al-Masri, a researcher at Amman's Centre for Strategic Studies. CIA analysts predicted just this in a May 2005 report leaked to the press. ("A new classified assessment by the Central Intelligence Agency says Iraq may prove to be an even more effective training ground for Islamic extremists than Afghanistan was in Al Qaeda's early days, because it is serving as a real-world laboratory for urban combat.")

Iraq is # 2: It now ranks as the world's second most unstable country, ahead of war-ravaged or poverty-stricken nations like Somalia, Zimbabwe, the Congo, and North Korea, according to the 2007 Failed States Index, issued recently by the Fund for Peace and Foreign Policy magazine. (Afghanistan, the site of our other little war, ranked 8th.) Last year and the year before Iraq held 4th place on the list. Next year, it could surge to number #1.

Number of American troops in Iraq, June 2007: Approximately 156,000.

Number of American troops in Iraq, May 1, 2003, the day President Bush declared "major combat operations" in that country "ended": Approximately 130,000.

Number of Sunni insurgents in Iraq, May 2007: At least 100,000, according to Asia Times correspondent Pepe Escobar on his most recent visit to the country.

American military dead in the surge months, February 1-June 26, 2007: 481.

American military dead, February-June 2006: 292.

Number of contractors killed in the first three months of 2007: At least 146, a significant surge over previous years. (Contractor deaths sometimes go unreported and so these figures are likely to be incomplete.)

Number of American troops Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and other Pentagon civilian strategists were convinced would be stationed in Iraq in August 2003, four months after Baghdad fell:): 30,000-40,000, according to Washington Post reporter Tom Ricks in his bestselling book Fiasco.

Number of armed "private contractors" now in Iraq: at least 20,000-30,000, according to the Washington Post. (Jeremy Scahill, author of the bestseller Blackwater, puts the figure for all private contractors in Iraq at 126,000.)

Number of attacks on U.S. troops and allied Iraqi forces, April 2007: 4,900.

Percentage of U.S. deaths from roadside bombs (IEDs): 70.9% in May 2007; 35% in February 2007 as the surge was beginning.

Percentage of registered U.S. supply convoys (guarded by private contractors) attacked: 14.7% in 2007 (through May 10); 9.1% in 2006; 5.4% in 2005.

Percentage of Baghdad not controlled by U.S. (and Iraqi) security forces more than four months into the surge: 60%, according to the U.S. military.

Number of attacks on the Green Zone, the fortified heart of Baghdad where the new $600 million American embassy is rising and the Iraqi government largely resides: More than 80 between March and the beginning of June, 2007, according to a UN report. (These attacks, by mortar or rocket, from "pacified" Red-Zone Baghdad, are on the rise and now occur nearly daily.)

Size of U.S. embassy staff in Baghdad: More than 1,000 Americans and 4,000 third-country nationals.

Staff U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker considers appropriate to the "diplomatic" job: The ambassador recently sent "an urgent plea" to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for more personnel. "The people here are heroic," he wrote. "I need more people, and that's the thing, not that the people who are here shouldn't be here or couldn't do it." According to the Washington Post, the Baghdad embassy, previously assigned 15 political officers, now will get 11 more; the economic staff will go from 9 to 21. This may involve "direct assignments" to Baghdad in which, against precedent, State Department officers, some reputedly against the war, will simply be ordered to take up "unaccompanied posts" (too dangerous for families to go along).

U.S. air strikes in Iraq during the surge months: Air Force planes are dropping bombs at more than twice the rate of a year ago, according to the Associated Press. "Close support missions" are up 30-40%. And this surge of air power seems, from recent news reports, still to be on the rise. In the early stages of the recent surge operation against the city of Baquba in Diyala province, for instance, Michael R. Gordon of the New York Times reported that "American forces.... fired more than 20 satellite-guided rockets into western Baquba," while Apache helicopters attacked "enemy fighters." ABC News recently reported that the Air Force has brought B-1 bombers in for missions on the outskirts of Baghdad.

Number of years Gen. Petraeus, commander of the surge operation, predicts that the U.S. will have to be engaged in counterinsurgency operations in Iraq to have hopes of achieving success: 9-10 years. ("In fact, typically, I think historically, counterinsurgency operations have gone at least nine or 10 years.")

Number of years administration officials are now suggesting that 30,000-40,000 American troops might have to remain garrisoned at U.S. bases in Iraq: 54, according to the "Korea model" now being considered for that country. (American troops have garrisoned South Korea since the Korean War ended in 1953.)

Number of Iraqi police, trained by Americans, who were not on duty as of January 2007, just before the surge plan was put into operation: Approximately 32,000 out of a force of 188,000, according to the Associated Press. About one in six Iraqi policemen has been killed, wounded, deserted, or just disappeared. About 5,000 probably have deserted; and 7,000-8,000 are simply "unaccounted for." (Recall here the President's old jingle of 2005: "As Iraqis stand up, we will stand down.")

Number of years before the Iraqi security forces are capable of taking charge of their country's security: "A couple of years," according to U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Dana Pittard, commander of the Iraq Assistance Group.

Amount of "reconstruction" money invested in the CIA's key asset in the new Iraq, the Iraqi National Intelligence Service: $3 billion, according to Asia Times correspondent Pepe Escobar.

Number of Iraqi "Kit Carson scouts" being trained in the just-captured western part of Baquba: More than 100. (There were thousands of "Kit Carsons" in the Vietnam War -- former enemy fighters employed by U.S. forces.) In fact, Vietnam-era plans, ranging from Strategic Hamlets (dubbed, in the Iraqi urban context, "gated communities") to the "oil spot" counterinsurgency strategy, have been recycled for use in Iraq, as has an American penchant for applying names from our Indian Wars to counterinsurgency situations abroad, including, for instance, dubbing an embattled supply depot near Abu Ghraib, "Fort Apache."

Number of Iraqis who have fled their country since 2003: Estimated to be between 2 million and 2.2 million, or nearly one in ten Iraqis. According to independent reporter Dahr Jamail, at least 50,000 more refugees are fleeing the country every month.

Number of Iraqi refugees who have been accepted by the United States: Fewer than 500, according to Bob Woodruff of ABC News; 701, according to Agence France Presse. (Under international and congressional pressure, the Bush administration has finally agreed to admit another 7,000 Iraqis by year's end.)

Number of Iraqis who are now internal refugees in Iraq, largely due to sectarian violence since 2003: At least 1.9 million, according to the UN. (A recent Red Crescent Society report, based on a survey taken in Iraq, indicates that internal refugees have quadrupled since January 2007, and are up eight-fold since June 2006.)

Percentage of refugees, internal and external, under 12: 55%, according to the President of the Red Crescent Society.

Percentage of Baghdadi children, 3 to 10, exposed to a major traumatic event in the last two years: 47%, according to a World Health Organization survey of 600 children. 14% of them showed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. In another study of 1,090 adolescents in Mosul, that figure reached 30%.

Number of Iraqi doctors who have fled the country since 2003: An estimated 12,000 of the country's 34,000 registered doctors since 2003, according to the Iraqi Medical Association. The Association reports that another 2,000 doctors have been slain in those years.

Number of Iraqi refugees created since UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon declared a "humanitarian crisis" for Iraq in January 2007: An estimated 250,000.

Percentage of Iraqis now living on less than $1 a day, according to the UN: 54%.

Iraq's per-capita annual income: $3,600 in 1980; $860 in 2001 (after a decade of UN sanctions); $530 at the end of 2003, according to Asia Times correspondent Pepe Escobar, who estimates that the number may now have fallen below $400. Unemployment in Iraq is at around 60%.

Percentage of Iraqis who do not have regular access to clean water: 70%, according to the World Health Organization. (80% "lack effective sanitation.")

Rate of chronic child malnutrition: 21%, according to the World Health Organization. (Rates of child malnutrition had already nearly doubled by 2004, only 20 months after the U.S. invasion.) According to UNICEF, "about one in 10 children under five in Iraq are underweight."

Number of Iraqis held in American prisons in their own country: 17,000 by March 2007, almost 20,000 by May 2007 and surging.

Number of Iraqis detained in Baquba alone in one week in June in Operation Phantom Thunder: more than 700.

Average number of Iraqis who died violently each day in 2006: 100 -- and this is undoubtedly an underestimate, since not all deaths are reported.

Number of Iraqis who have died violently (based on the above average) since Ban Ki-Moon declared a "humanitarian crisis" for Iraq in January 2007: 15,000 -- again certainly an undercount.

Number of Iraqis who died (in what Juan Cole terms Iraq's "everyday apocalypse") during the week of June 17-23, 2007, according to the careful daily tally from media reports offered at the website 763 or an average of 109 media-reported deaths a day. (June 17: 74; June 18: 149; June 19: 169; June 20: 116; June 21: 58; June 22: 122; June 23: 75.)

Percentage of seriously wounded who don't survive in emergency rooms and intensive-care units, due to lack of drugs, equipment, and staff: Nearly 70%, according to the World Health Organization.

Number of university professors who have been killed since the invasion of 2003: More than 200, according to the Iraqi Ministry of Higher Education.

The value of an Iraqi life: A maximum of $2,500 in "consolation" or "solatia" payments made by the American military to Iraqi civilians who died "as a result of U.S. and coalition forces' actions during combat," according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report. These payments imply no legal responsibility for the killings. For rare "extraordinary cases" (and let's not even imagine what these might be), payments of up to $10,000 were approved last year, with the authorization of a division commander. According to Walter Pincus of the Washington Post, "[W]e are not talking big condolence payouts thus far. In 2005, the sums distributed in Iraq reached $21.5 million and -- with violence on the upswing -- dropped to $7.3 million last year, the GAO reported."

The value of an Iraqi car, destroyed by American forces: $2,500 would not be unusual, and conceivably the full value of the car, according to the same GAO report. A former Army judge advocate, who served in Iraq, has commented: "[T]he full market value may be paid for a Toyota run over by a tank in the course of a non-combat related accident, but only $2,500 may be paid for the death of a child shot in the crossfire."

Percentage of Americans who approve of the President's actions in Iraq: 23%, according to the latest post-surge Newsweek poll. The President's overall approval rating stood at 26% in this poll, just three points above those of only one president, Richard Nixon at his Watergate worst, and Bush's polling figures are threatening to head into that territory. In the latest, now two-week old NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, 10% of Americans think the "surge" has made things better in Iraq, 54% worse.

The question is: What word best describes the situation these Iraqi numbers hint at? The answer would probably be: No such word exists. "Genocide" has been beaten into the ground and doesn't apply. "Civil war," which shifts all blame to the Iraqis (withdrawing Americans from a country its troops have not yet begun to leave), doesn't faintly cover the matter.

If anything catches the carnage and mayhem that was once the nation of Iraq, it might be a comment by the head of the Arab League, Amr Mussa, in 2004. He warned: "The gates of hell are open in Iraq." At the very least, the "gates of hell" should now officially be considered miles behind us on the half-destroyed, well-mined highway of Iraqi life. Who knows what IEDs lie ahead? We are, after all, in the underworld.

Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch Interviews with American Iconoclasts and Dissenters (Nation Books), the first collection of Tomdispatch interviews.

Copyright 2007 Tom Engelhardt

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THe Palestinian Follies

This is another interesting analysis of the Palestine situation perhaps a rather surprising analysis for someone usually noted for his rather right wing views and his involvement in the plundering of the assets of the former Soviet empire by enterprising entrepreneurs under the guidance of Americans such as Sachs himself. He was part of what might be called the Harvard University Deconstruction Crew. He also is famous for using shock therapy policies to solve crises of the collapse of socialist economies in countries such as Poland. He later worked on global poverty issues and was employed by the UN supposedly pro bono but actually paid 75 k a year to solve his own poverty problems until someone found out!

The Palestine follies

By Jeffrey D. Sachs

American foreign policy in the Middle East experienced yet another major setback this month, when Hamas, whose Palestinian government the United States had tried to isolate, routed the rival Fateh movement in Gaza. In response, Israel sealed Gaza’s borders, making life even more unbearable in a place wracked by violence, poverty and despair.

It is important that we recognise the source of America’s failure, because it keeps recurring, making peace between Israel and Palestine more difficult. The roots of failure lie in the US and Israeli governments’ belief that military force and financial repression can lead to peace on their terms, rather than accepting a compromise on terms that the Middle East, the rest of the world and, crucially, most Israelis and Palestinians, accepted long ago.

For 40 years, since the Six-Day War of 1967, there has been one realistic possibility for peace: Israel’s return to its pre-1967 borders, combined with viable economic conditions for a Palestinian state, including access to trade routes, water supplies and other essential needs. With small and mutually acceptable adjustments to those borders, these terms would enable peaceful co-existence of two states side by side. Perhaps three-fourths of both Israelis and Palestinians support this “land for peace” compromise, while one-fourth holds out for complete victory over the other side.

Rejectionists on both sides repeatedly undermined efforts to realise that compromise. Starting in the early 1970s, religious Israeli settlers and hardline Israeli nationalists pushed Israel into a disastrous policy of creating and expanding settlements on Arab lands in the West Bank, in violation of common sense and international diplomacy. That policy blocked peace ever since, setting the stage for decades of bloodshed.

Nor have extremists on either side shrunk from political murder. Islamic militants killed Anwar Sadat, the Egyptian peacemaker, while a Jewish militant killed Yitzhak Rabin, the would-be Israeli peacemaker. Violent extremists on both sides have ratcheted up their actions whenever the majority succeeded in getting closer to peace.

For the past 10 years, the greatest practical barrier to peace has been Israel’s failure to carry out any true withdrawal to its 1967 borders, owing to the political weight of hundreds of thousands of settlers in the West Bank and the religious and secular communities that support them. This remains the crucial truth; the rest follows as tragedy.

Even when the US or Israel have tabled peace offers, such as at Camp David in 2000, they have included convoluted ways to sustain the West Bank settlements and large settler populations, while denying an economically viable and contiguous Palestinian state.

The most recent debacle began when President George W. Bush called for Palestinian democracy in 2004, but then refused to honour the democratic process. Hamas, a radical movement, won the Palestinian election in January 2006, but not before blatant pre-election meddling by the US in favour of Fateh, which merely helped to boost Hamas’ legitimacy. Then, after Hamas won, the US and Israel immediately orchestrated a cutoff of finances to the newly elected government, including even Israel’s transfer of Palestine’s own customs revenues, which Israel collects as the occupying authority in control of the borders.

Rather than act pragmatically, and deal with Hamas in government on the basis of its actions vis-à-vis Israel, the US and Israel demanded from the outset that Hamas recognise Israel’s right to exist as a precondition for continued financial flows.

The US and Israel believed that they could force Hamas into submission even before negotiations with the new government began. This is the hubris of believing that brute force and threats, rather than actual negotiation, can yield solutions. The result was predictable, despite US and Israel expressions of shock at recent developments. US and Israeli pressure deeply compromised Palestinians’ access to water, food, medicines and physical safety, especially in overcrowded Gaza.

Although Israel formally withdrew from Gaza, its complete control over the borders, infrastructure, transport and taxation, together with its regular military incursions in response to shelling from Gaza and its killings and capture of senior Hamas officials, left Palestinians there desperate. In this mix, violence escalated. Hamas did not fold in negotiations. Instead, conflict broke out between Hamas and Fateh, leading to Fateh’s collapse and desperate flight from Gaza. In a near-parody of external interventions, the US and Israel encouraged President Mahmoud Abbas of Fateh to dismiss the Hamas-led government, and to declare a new Fateh-led government in the West Bank.

Gaza is now under Hamas control, and the West Bank is perhaps under nobody’s control. Israel has said that it will squeeze Gaza still further, as if the population can be crushed into submission. But there are far too many weapons and young men prepared to die for that to occur. There is, alas, still only one settlement possible, based on true compromise, not unilateral imposition. No amount of machinations by outside powers or internal forces will impose a settlement. Israel and Palestine will have to reach an agreement based on the fact that they share a small and contested space.

The problem is that hatred and demographic changes are making, many people believe, even the two-state solution impossible. A few hope for a single secular democratic state. But many more have lost all hope. My view is that a two-state solution of peace and mutual respect remains possible, but perhaps for not much longer.

The writer is professor of economics and director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. ©Project Syndicate, 2007.

Friday-Saturday, June 22-23, 2007

Divide and Rule Israeli-Style: Jonathan Cook

I found this to be one of the better analytical articles on the situation in Palestine. Cook lives in the area. His articles are usually quite perceptive IMHO.
Cook has his own website. He is a freelance journalist.

Divide and Rule, Israeli-Style
Can the Arab world be turned into
Gaza's jailers?
by Jonathan Cook
The boycott by Israel and the international community of the Palestinian Authority finally blew up in their faces with Hamas' recent bloody takeover of Gaza. Or so argues Gideon Levy, one of the saner voices still to be found in Israel. "Starving, drying up, and blocking aid do not sear the consciousness and do not weaken political movements. On the contrary… Reality has refuted the chorus of experts and commentators who preached [on] behalf of the boycott policy. This daft notion that it is possible to topple an elected government by applying pressure on a helpless population suffered a complete failure."

But has Levy got it wrong? The faces of Israeli and American politicians, including Ehud Olmert and George Bush, appear soot-free. On the contrary. Over the past fortnight they have been looking and sounding even more smug than usual.

The problem with Levy's analysis is that it assumes that Israel and the U.S. wanted sanctions to bring about the fall of Hamas, either by giving Fatah the upper hand so that it could deal a knockout blow to the Palestinian government, or by inciting ordinary Palestinians to rise up and demand that their earlier electoral decision be reversed and Fatah reinstalled. In short, Levy, like most observers, assumes that the policy was designed to enforce regime change.

But what if that was not the point of the sanctions? And if so, what goals were Israel and the U.S. pursuing?

The parallels between Iraq and Gaza may be instructive. After all, Iraq is the West's only other recent experiment in imposing sanctions to starve a nation. And we all know where it led: to an even deeper entrenchment of Saddam Hussein's rule.

True, the circumstances in Iraq and Gaza are different: most Iraqis wanted Saddam out but had no way to effect change, while most Gazans wanted Hamas in and made it happen by voting for them in last year's elections. Nevertheless, it may be that the U.S. and Israel drew a different lesson from the sanctions experience in Iraq.

Whether intended or not, sanctions proved a very effective tool for destroying the internal bonds that held Iraqi society together. Destitution and hunger are powerful incentives to turn on one's neighbor as well as one's enemy. A society where resources – food, medicines, water, and electricity – are in short supply is also a society where everyone looks out for himself. It is a society that, with a little prompting, can easily be made to tear itself apart.

And that is precisely what the Americans began to engineer after their "shock and awe" invasion of 2003. Contrary to previous U.S. interventions abroad, Saddam was not toppled and replaced with another strongman – one more to the West's liking. Instead of regime change, we were given regime overthrow. Or as Daniel Pipes, one of the neoconservative ideologues of the attack on Iraq, expressed it, the goal was "limited to destroying tyranny, not sponsoring its replacement. … Fixing Iraq is neither the coalition's responsibility nor its burden."

In place of Saddam, the Americans created a safe haven known as the Green Zone from which its occupation regime could loosely police the country and oversee the theft of Iraq's oil, while also sitting back and watching a sectarian civil war between the Sunni and Shia populations spiral out of control and decimate the Iraqi population.

What did Washington hope to achieve? Pipes offers a clue: "When Sunni terrorists target Shi'ites and vice-versa, non-Muslims [that is, U.S. occupation forces and their allies] are less likely to be hurt. Civil war in Iraq, in short, would be a humanitarian tragedy but not a strategic one." In other words, enabling a civil war in Iraq was far preferable to allowing Iraqis to unite and mount an effective resistance to the U.S. occupation. After all, Iraqi deaths – at least 650,000 of them, according to the last realistic count – are as good as worthless, while U.S. soldiers' lives cost votes back home.

For the neocon cabal behind the Iraq invasion, civil war was seen to have two beneficial outcomes.

First, it eroded the solidarity of ordinary Iraqis, depleting their energies and making them less likely to join or support the resistance to the occupation. The insurgency has remained a terrible irritation to U.S. forces but not the fatal blow it might have been were the Sunni and Shia to fight side by side. As a result, the theft of Iraq's resources has been made easier.

And second, in the longer term, civil war is making inevitable a slow process of communal partition and ethnic cleansing. Four million Iraqis are reported to have been forced either to leave the country or flee their homes. Iraq is being broken up into small ethnic and religious fiefdoms that will be easier to manage and manipulate.

Is this the model for Gaza now and the West Bank later?

It is worth recalling that neither Israel nor the U.S. pushed for an easing of the sanctions on the Palestinian Authority after the national unity government of Hamas and Fatah was formed earlier this year. In fact, the U.S. and Israel could barely conceal their panic at the development. The moment the Mecca agreement was signed, reports of U.S. efforts to train and arm Fatah forces loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas became a newspaper staple.

The cumulative effect of U.S. support for Fatah, as well as Israel's continuing arrests of Hamas legislators in the West Bank, was to strain already tense relations between Hamas and Fatah to breaking point. When Hamas learned that Abbas' security chief, Mohammed Dahlan, with U.S. encouragement, was preparing to carry out a coup against them in Gaza, they got the first shot in.

Did Fatah really believe it could pull off a coup in Gaza, given the evident weakness of its forces there, or was the rumor little more than American and Israeli spin, designed to undermine Hamas' faith in Fatah and doom the unity government? Were Abbas and Dahlan really hoping to topple Hamas, or were they the useful idiots needed by the U.S. and Israel? These are questions that may have to be settled by the historians.

But with the fingerprints of Elliott Abrams, one of the more durable neocons in the Bush administration, to be found all over this episode, we can surmise that what Washington and Israel are intending for the Palestinians will have strong echoes of what has unfolded in Iraq.

By engineering the destruction of the unity government, Israel and the U.S. have ensured that there is no danger of a new Palestinian consensus emerging, one that might have cornered Israel into peace talks. A unity government might have found a formula offering Israel:

Limited recognition inside the pre-1967 borders in return for recognition of a Palestinian state and the territorial integrity of the West Bank and Gaza.
A long-term cease-fire in return for Israel ending its campaign of constant violence and violations of Palestinian sovereignty.
A commitment to honor past agreements in return for Israel's abiding by UN resolutions and accepting a just solution for the Palestinian refugees.
After decades of Israeli bad faith and the growing rancor between Fatah and Hamas, the chances of them finding common ground on which to make such an offer, it must be admitted, would have been slight. But now they are nonexistent.

That is exactly how Israel wants it, because it has no interest in meaningful peace talks with the Palestinians or in a final agreement. It wants only to impose solutions that suit Israel's interests, which are securing the maximum amount of land for an exclusively Jewish state and leaving the Palestinians so weak and divided that they will never be able to mount a serious challenge to Israel's dictates.

Instead, Hamas' dismal authority over the prison camp called Gaza and Fatah's bastard governance of the ghettoes called the West Bank offer a model more satisfying for Israel and the U.S. – and one not unlike Iraq. A sort of sheriff's divide and rule in the Wild West.

Just as in Iraq, Israel and the U.S. have made sure that no Palestinian strongman arises to replace Yasser Arafat. Just as in Iraq, they are encouraging civil war as an alternative to resistance to occupation, as Palestine's resources – land, not oil – are stolen. Just as in Iraq, they are causing a permanent and irreversible partition, in this case between the West Bank and Gaza, to create more easily managed territorial ghettoes. And just as in Iraq, the likely reaction is an even greater extremism from the Palestinians that will undermine their cause in the eyes of the international community.

Where will this lead the Palestinians next?

Israel is already pulling the strings of Fatah with a new adeptness since the latter's humiliation in Gaza. Abbas is currently basking in Israeli munificence for his rogue West Bank regime, including the decision to release a substantial chunk of the $700 million in taxes owed to the Palestinians (including those of Gaza, of course) and withheld for years by Israel. The price, according to the Israeli media, was a commitment from Abbas not to contemplate reentering a unity government with Hamas.

The goal will be to increase the strains between Hamas and Fatah to breaking point in the West Bank, but ensure that Fatah wins the confrontation there. Fatah is already militarily stronger and with generous patronage from Israel and the U.S. – including arms and training, and possibly the return of the Badr Brigade currently holed up in Jordan – it should be able to rout Hamas. The difference in status between Gaza and the West Bank that has been long desired by Israel will be complete.

The Palestinian people have already been carved up into a multitude of constituencies. There are the Palestinians under occupation, those living as second-class citizens of Israel, those allowed to remain "residents" of Jerusalem, and those dispersed to camps across the Middle East. Even within these groups, there are a host of sub-identities: refugees and non-refugees; refugees included as citizens in their host state and those excluded; occupied Palestinians living under the control of the Palestinian Authority and those under Israel's military government; and so on.

Now, Israel has entrenched maybe the most significant division of all: the absolute and irreversible separation of Gaza and the West Bank. What applies to one will no longer be true for the other. Each will be a separate case; their fates will no longer be tied. One will be, as Israelis like to call it, Hamastan, the other Fatahland, with separate governments and different treatment from Israel and the international community.

The reasons why Israel prefers this arrangement are manifold.

First, Gaza can now be written off by the international community as a basket case. The Israeli media is currently awash with patronizing commentary from the political and security establishments about how to help avoid a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, including the possibility of air drops of aid over the Gaza "security fence" – as though Gaza were Pakistan after an earthquake. From past experience, and the current menacing sounds from Israel's new defense minister, Ehud Barak, those food packages will quickly turn into bombs if Gaza does not keep quiet.

As Israeli and U.S. officials have been phrasing it, there is a new "clarity" in the situation. In a Hamastan, Gaza's militants and civilians can be targeted by Israel with little discrimination and no outcry from the international community. Israel will hope that message from Gaza will not be lost on West Bank Palestinians as they decide who to give their support to, Fatah or Hamas.

Second, at their meeting last week Olmert and Bush revived talk of Palestinian statehood. According to Olmert, Bush "wants to realize, while he is in office, the dream of creating a Palestinian state." Both are keen to make quick progress, a sure sign of mischief in the making. Certainly, they know they are now under no pressure to create the single viable Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza once promised by President Bush. An embattled Abbas will not be calling for the inclusion of Gaza in his ghetto-fiefdom.

Third, the separation of Gaza from the West Bank may be used to inject new life into Olmert's shopworn convergence plan – if he can dress it up new clothes. Convergence, which required a very limited withdrawal from those areas of the West Bank heavily populated with Palestinians while Israel annexed most of its illegal colonies and kept the Jordan Valley, was officially ditched last summer after Israel's humiliation by Hezbollah.

Why seek to revive convergence? Because it is the key to Israel securing the expanded fortress state that is its only sure protection from the rapid demographic growth of the Palestinians, soon to outnumber Jews in the Holy Land, and Israel's fears that it may then be compared to apartheid South Africa.

If the occupation continues unchanged, Israel's security establishment has long been warning, the Palestinians will eventually wake up to the only practical response: to dissolve the Palestinian Authority, Israel's clever ruse to make the Palestinian leadership responsible for suppressing Palestinian resistance to the occupation, thereby forcing Israel to pick up the bill for the occupation rather than Europe. The next stage would be an anti-apartheid struggle for one state in historic Palestine.

For this reason, demographic separation from the Palestinians has been the logic of every major Israeli policy initiative since – and including – Oslo. Convergence requires no loss of Israel's control over Palestinian lives, ensured through the all but finished grid of walls, settlements, bypass roads, and checkpoints, only a repackaging of their occupation as statehood.

The biggest objection in Israel to Olmert's plan – as well as to the related Gaza disengagement – was the concern that, once the army had unilaterally withdrawn from the Palestinian ghettoes, the Palestinians would be free to launch terror attacks, including sending rockets out of their prisons into Israel. Most Israelis, of course, never consider the role of the occupation in prompting such attacks.

But Olmert may believe he has found a way to silence his domestic critics. For the first time he seems genuinely keen to get his Arab neighbors involved in the establishment of a Palestinian "state." As he headed off to the Sharm el-Sheikh summit with Egypt, Jordan, and Abbas this week, Olmert said he wanted to "jointly work to create the platform that may lead to a new beginning between us and the Palestinians."

Did he mean partnership? A source in the prime minister's office explained to the Jerusalem Post why the three nations and Abbas were meeting. "These are the four parties directly impacted by what is happening right now, and what is needed is a different level of cooperation between them." Another spokesman bewailed the failure so far to get the Saudis on board.

This appears to mark a sea change in Israeli thinking. Until now Tel Aviv has regarded the Palestinians as a domestic problem – after all, they are sitting on land that rightfully, at least if the Bible is to be believed, belongs to the Jews. Any attempt at internationalizing the conflict has therefore been strenuously resisted.

But now the Israeli prime minister's office is talking openly about getting the Arab world more directly involved, not only in its usual role as a mediator with the Palestinians, nor even in simply securing the borders against smuggling, but also in policing the territories. Israel hopes that Egypt, in particular, is as concerned as Tel Aviv by the emergence of a Hamastan on its borders, and may be enticed to use the same repressive policies against Gaza's Islamists as it does against its own.

Similarly, Olmert's chief political rival, Binyamin Netanyahu of Likud, has mentioned not only Egyptian involvement in Gaza but even a Jordanian military presence in the West Bank. The "moderate" Arab regimes, as Washington likes to call them, are being seen as the key to developing new ideas about Palestinian "autonomy" and regional "confederation." As long as Israel has a quisling in the West Bank and a beyond-the-pale government in Gaza, it may believe it can corner the Arab world into backing such a "peace plan."

What will it mean in practice? Possibly, as Zvi Barel of Ha'aretz speculates, we will see the emergence of half a dozen Palestinian governments in charge of the ghettoes of Gaza, Ramallah, Jenin, Jericho, and Hebron. Each may be encouraged to compete for patronage and aid from the "moderate" Arab regimes but on condition that Israel and the U.S. are satisfied with these Palestinian governments' performance.

In other words, Israel looks as if it is dusting off yet another blueprint for how to manage the Palestinians and their irritating obsession with sovereignty. Last time, under Oslo, the Palestinians were put in charge of policing the occupation on Israel's behalf. This time, as the Palestinians are sealed into their separate prisons masquerading as a state, Israel may believe that it can find a new jailer for the Palestinians – the Arab world.

Taliban using Soviet era weapons

Surely the Taliban buy from wherever they can. It is ironic that the Taliban would be using Soviet era weapons. They were abandoned due to the success of the Taliban and other jihadists funded by the west to drive the Evil Empire out of Afghanistan. This is a type of blowback.
Imagine one of the worst warlords Dostum is still quite active in the new democratic Afghanistan. He is even military adviser to Karzai.

Officials: Soviet-Era Caches, Not Iran, Arming Taliban

by Tahir Qadiry
MAZAR-E-SHARIF, Afghanistan - While United States officials accuse Iran of arming a resurgent Taliban, officials here say the weapons are actually part of vast caches left behind by the Soviet army that fought a nine-year war in Afghanistan before withdrawing in 1988.

Ustad Basir Arifi, secretary for the Disarmament of Illegal Armed Groups (DIAG) program in northern Afghanistan, told IPS that weapons abandoned by the Soviet Union there are now being moved by professional smugglers to the southern provinces where the Taliban Islamist movement has its stronghold.

"Huge caches of weapons remained with the people from the Soviet Union period. These are now being smuggled to the south of Afghanistan. These weapons are bought in the north of Afghanistan and smuggled to the south to be used against government and foreign forces," Arifi said.

According to Arifi, security officials have on several occasions intercepted weapons being smuggled to the south. He said the DIAG has urged the government to take firm measures to avoid all this.

Abdul Aziz Ahmad Zai, the chief of DIAG, said his group was "very concerned over the issue. It shows that the Taliban are being fortified."

Zai did not rule out the possibility of weapons originating from outside Afghanistan. "Smugglers could be bringing weapons from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan to the north. A good transit point could be Badakhshan province," he said without mentioning Iran.

Zai said powerful syndicates were carrying out the smuggling. "However, our security officials and the Interior Ministry are working very actively in this regard," he added.

According to Zai, the recent riots in northern Jowzjan province were an indicator of the fact that weapons were freely available to people. He also said that there still were armed groups in the north of Afghanistan. "It is a very great concern for us that there are lots of illegal armed groups in the north," he said.

Gen. Abdul Manan, representative of the defense ministry in the DIAG program, said the government has been able to collect 70,000 heavy and light weapons from the whole country under the DDR and DIAG programs. But he believes that at least a million more pieces were in the hands of armed groups in the north.

A gun smuggler operating from the Balkh province district told IPS that he has been in the business for the last two years. The Pashto-speaking, bearded man, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said he regularly comes to the north to buy different kinds of weapons. "I have employed people to collect weapons from people who have them and these are ferried to the south."

"I have my customers in Kandahar. When the weapons reach there, they come and receive it. I make a good profit. I can buy an AK-47 for $200 in the north and sell it for $400 in the south," he added. Occasionally he smuggles explosives as well.

Ahmad Shah, 45, a resident of Chemtal district in the Balkh province, freely admitted to supplying the smugglers with guns. "I earn my living through running this business," he told IPS.

Atta Mohammad Nur, the governor of Balkh province, neither accepts nor rejects the fact that the weapons are being smuggled to the south. "It could be right. Insurgents are doing their utmost to disrupt life in the country. They could be smuggling weapons from north to the south," he said.

Rohullah Samun, spokesman for the Jowzjan governor, accepts that vast amount of weapons still exist in the province. "People do have weapons. There are lots of illegal armed militias in Jowzjan and its neighboring provinces. Some of the warlords are regrouping," he said.

The reference was to Abdorrashid Dostum, one of Afghanistan's most formidable warlords. Dostum, who once supported the Soviets, has had a hand in the many regime changes that this war-torn country has seen over the last three decades and retains enormous influence in Jowzjan.

Dostum was among leaders who helped the U.S.-led forces to overthrow the Taliban government in 2001. Until recently he was regarded as the strongman of the north, but his role has been reduced to that of a military adviser to Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai.

On June 13, U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns told CNN television in Paris that there was "irrefutable evidence" that Iran was supplying weapons to the Taliban.

Ironically, the Taliban owes its origins largely to mujahedeen that were once armed and backed by the U.S. against communist rule in Afghanistan and the Soviet occupation.

(Inter Press Service

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Castro targeted for assassination by CIA

This confirms what was often conjectured years ago. I wonder if Chavez is now in the sights of the CIA? Birds of a feather get along together as the billing and cooing of the CIA and the Mafia illustrates.

CIA tried to get mafia to kill Castro: documents
Tue Jun 26, 2007 12:45PM EDT

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The CIA worked with two of the country's
most-wanted criminals in a botched attempt to assassinate Cuban
President Fidel Castro in a "gangster-type action" in the early 1960s,
according to documents released by the CIA on Tuesday.

The CIA declassified hundreds of pages of long-secret records that
detail some of the agency's worst illegal abuses during about 25 years
of overseas assassination attempts, domestic spying and kidnapping.

The documents are known in the CIA as the "Family Jewels," and some
describe the agency's efforts to persuade Johnny Roselli, believed to
be a mobster, to help plot the assassination of Castro.

A CIA official at the time, Richard Bissell, in August 1960 approached
Col. Sheffield Edwards of the agency's Office of Security to determine
if Edwards "had assets that may assist in a sensitive mission
requiring gangster-type action," according to the documents.

"The mission target was Fidel Castro," one memo said.

Roselli was believed by the CIA to have been a high-ranking member of
the crime syndicate and who controlled all the ice-making machines on
the Las Vegas Strip.

He was approached by a go-between, Robert Maheu, who reckoned Roselli
had connections leading into Cuban gambling interests. The story
Roselli was to be told was that several international business firms
were suffering heavy financial losses in Cuba as a result of Castro's
action and they were willing to pay $150,000 for his removal.

"It was to be made clear to Roselli that the United States government
was not, and should not, become aware of this operation," a document

In documents that often read like a cheap detective novel, the story
is outlined: The pitch was made to Roselli at the Hilton Plaza Hotel
in New York and Roselli was initially cool to the idea. But the
contact led the agency to two top mobsters, Momo Salvatore Giancana
and Santos Trafficant, who were both on the U.S. list of most-wanted

Giancana, who was known as Sam Gold, suggested firearms might be a
problem and said using a potent pill that could be slipped into
Castro's food or drink might work.

Eventually, six pills of "high lethal content" were provided to Juan
Orta, identified as a Cuban official who had been receiving kickback
payments from gambling interests and who still had access to Castro
and was in a financial bind.

"After several weeks of reported attempts, Orta apparently got cold
feet and asked out of the assignment. He suggested another candidate
who made several attempts without success," the document said.

(Additional reporting by Andy Sullivan)

(c) Reuters 2006.


Situation not ripe for a new oil law in Iraq

This is an interesting analysis of the draft oil law in Iraq. I am not sure how privatizing would necessarily mean accountability as opposed to govt. ownership but much of his article makes many good points.

Situation Not Ripe for a New Oil Law in Iraq
Khalil Zahr Al-Hayat - 20/06/07//

Any one who is following up on the ongoing debate among Iraqi oil officials and experts of different walks over the country's oil law cannot help but feel upbeat on the future of the country despite the current bloody situation because of the spirit of objectivity and affirmativeness that dominates the attitudes of a majority of those involved in drafting the oil law and their unmistakable keenness to uphold the unity of Iraq and its higher national interests.

What is hard to grasp, however, is the fact that efforts to study the particularities of this law and the demands for its passing come amid a set of highly unfavorable and oppressive conditions that drastically reduces the chances for arriving at the best model for a law that takes the interests of Iraq into account and allows for the establishment of a successful future oil industry that is able to push the wheel of economic and social development.

The deteriorating security conditions in Iraq that cost many Iraqis their lives, and push many others into destitution have also worsened the exodus of Iraq's qualified cadres, and undermined the country's social fabric and its human resources, which is the most important, if not the only sustainable, of all Iraq's resources.

Therefore, higher priority should be set to reaching the political settlement needed to put an end to the violence and give Iraqis the security and the stability that allows them to think clearly of their other issues, and since it would be difficult to work on developing Iraq's oil resources in light of the current circumstances, there should be no harm in waiting.

Furthermore, debating Iraq's oil law under a foreign military occupation might make the law vulnerable to domestic or international legal challenges in the future, since it would be sanctioned in the presence of a military occupation, by countries that have clear interests that stand to be affected by the wording and the essence of the law being drafted.

Accordingly, it would be normal to expect these country to resort to pressure as means of serving their political and economic strategic interests, as they are certainly anything but neutral, and constitute a main pressure front that influences the ongoing deliberations over the law, particularly in the direction of sanctioning a certain formula during this stage that might not be completely inline with Iraq's national interest as seen by many within and without the country.

The timing of the discussion of the law, coming ahead of a key development taking place in the Kurdish region of Iraq, namely the referendum on the final status of this region, is among the most intriguing factors surrounding the debating of the law, especially since Kurdish politicians constitute the critical mass for the drive to increase the regional and provincial bargaining powers in the debate over the distribution of the exploration, development and oil production operations between the provincial authorities and the central authority in Baghdad.

Since whatever the decision to be taken with this regard is expected to apply to all of Iraq's provinces, and in light of the autonomous nature, which lies at the cornerstone of the attitude that shapes the stance of the Kurdish province, and which sets this province part from the rest of Iraq; the law being drafted would probably lead to the sharing of oil wealth between the central and the provincial governments.

However, any participation by the provincial authorities in the development of Iraq's oil resources would almost certainly guarantee international oil companies a foothold in operations to develop Iraq's oil resources and oil production operations as partners under 'production sharing' contracts as nascent regional oil bodies are seen as lacking the ability to meet the technical, and self-financing requirements needed for the development of the oil field expected to be allocated to it.

It is also wroth taking into account that direct foreign investment in the Iraqi oil sector will not be an advantage to Iraq if national Iraqi oil companies possess these capabilities, especially since Iraq's oil is easily produced and is considered among the cheapest oils to produce world wide.

For these critical technical and funding capabilities to be available, national Iraqi oil companies must be of a certain caliber in terms of their financial assets and production capabilities, which are qualities only available to regional companies as the size of the Iraq oil reserves does not justify the presence of a large number of oil companies, each possessing the needed capabilities.

When it comes to the technical services sector expected to be needed by the Iraqi oil sector, for example in the field of rehabilitating production operations of oilfields that were damaged by the military operations; expert oil companies could be contracted under service contracts that do not entail granting these companies any concessions over Iraq's natural resources or undermining the national sovereignty of Iraq over these companies

Keeping the oil sector completely under the control of a single, central authority does not necessarily entail allowing national oil company to monopolize the oil and gas sectors on the intermediate or the long runs, nor the absence of transparency, which are constitute legitimate concerns by a majority of Iraqi oil experts; leading some to call for a decentralized approach in managing the oil sector.

This is because transparency can be achieved by running the national oil company on commercial basis or completely privatizing it under the appropriate regulatory restrictions.

Moreover, more then one, technically and financial competent national oil companies can be established to ensure competitiveness, high production and transparency levels, since taking into account the amount of confirmed reserve, the Iraqi oil industry might be able to accommodate three or four national oil companies competing in all of the country's regions.

At the same time, the federal oil and gas council proposed by the draft law is largely seen as a suitable framework governing the partnership between the central and provincial authorities in regulating and administering the oil and gas sector. The council also gives provincial authorities, if given the needed powers, the possibility of monitoring and auditing the central administration of the oil sector.

It is also worth mentioning that privatizing the national oil company or companies does not necessarily entail sacrificing the sovereignty of the state over its oil resources, or abandoning the national strategy aimed at developing these resources, since the government - in the event national oil companies were privatized in the future, and in contrast to production sharing contracts - can always maintain shares with a golden cover that allow it to maintain majority control over this critical sector.

When it comes to spending oil-generated revenues, the agreement reached to fairly distribute these revenues among the provinces according to the size of the population is acceptable in principal since it reflects keenness to preserve the unity of the Iraqi people.

The practical implantation of this principal might lie in a methodology for economic and social development that aims at the eliminating the differences between the Iraqi provinces in income distribution and human development in line with the UN report for human development, as such methodology would direct all the central revenues, not just oil revenues toward achieving this critical goal.

Oil revenues might also be streamlined in the initial phase into the process of restructuring, rehabilitating and upgrading the country's infrastructure and basic utilities as demanded by a number of Iraq experts and subject matter specialists.

The bigger part of these revenues, however, should be invested in diversifying the Iraqi economy's productivity base and getting ready to the post-oil era. In this context, Iraq would need massive direct foreign investments, particularly in the field of advanced technologies and the development of high value-added industries.

All this, however, would remain within the realm of wishful thinking or theories if peace and stability could not be maintained throughout the whole of Iraq.

* Mr. Khalil Zahr is an Environmental Affairs Consultant from Lebanon.


Mubarak in fanatasy land.

Mubarak is in fantasy land. Imagine he even asks that no external party should intervene between the factions while Abbas cools down! Haha! What of the arming of Fatah by the US and Israel of the release of 250 FATAH prisoners and the release of tax money only to Abbas. What of the recognition given to the new govt. set up by Abbas with Hamas excluded. Get real!

Mubarak predicts Fatah, Hamas will be reconciled
26 Jun 2007 13:23:35 GMT
Source: Reuters
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Israeli-Palestinian conflict
More CAIRO, June 26 (Reuters) - Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak predicted on Tuesday that the two main Palestinian factions -- Fatah and Hamas -- would soon patch up their differences through dialogue and said that Egypt was willing to mediate. In an interview with Egyptian state television, Mubarak said repeatedly that the two sides needed a period of calm to come to their senses and resume dialogue.

"I believe that after a period of calm, especially as they had a legislative assembly where they (Hamas) had a majority, an understanding between them is bound to come about," he said.

Asked how long the period of calm should be, he said: "Maybe two weeks, maybe three weeks, maybe one month, until people start to think logically and soundly. In that case they are bound to start a dialogue."

Mubarak's approach was a sharp break with recent Egyptian statements on the fighting in Gaza this month, which ended when Hamas took full control and disarmed Fatah forces there.

Mubarak had called Hamas's action a coup and his government has said that it recognises only Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah as the legitimate Palestinian leader.

But on Tuesday Mubarak said that even if Hamas started the trouble in Gaza, the fighting quickly got out of hand and the Palestinian government made "a big mistake" in losing control.

In a speech to Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian leaders in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on Monday, Mubarak called for immediate dialogue between Palestinians but he did not make clear whether he was talking about Fatah and Hamas.

Asked whether Abbas had backed away from his refusal to have dialogue with Hamas, Mubarak said that Abbas was still tense because he thought there had been a plot to assassinate him.

"Of course he will be tense ... and he won't accept any dialogue, but it needs a period of calm and a return to sense and logic and after the process calms down, then it (dialogue) becomes possible," he said.

Mubarak said no external party should intervene between the Palestinian factions in the meantime. "We have been mediating between the two sides but it needs a period of calm (for mediation to resume)," he said.

He noted that the main Palestinian factions recently came to Cairo for talks with Egypt and he did not indicate any review of the Egyptian government's policy of talking to them all.

The Egyptian president said there was no evidence that Syria or Iran played a part in the events in Gaza and that Egypt was in constant contact with Iran despite not having formal relations.

Blair to be named Envoy to Mideast region?

What more appropriate neutral mediator could there be than a retired lapdog to Bush?

Mideast Quartet poised to name Blair envoy
Last Updated: Tuesday, June 26, 2007 | 6:06 AM ET
CBC News
Representatives from the Quartet of Mideast negotiators met Tuesday amid speculation that outgoing British Prime Minister Tony Blair could get a new role in reviving the stalled peace process.

The meeting of the envoys from the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia marked the Quartet's first gathering since the Islamist group Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip by force two weeks ago.

The Quartet is expected to name Blair as a senior envoy to the region, media reports quoting unnamed diplomats as saying.

Blair is stepping down Wednesday after more than a decade in office, with new Labour Leader Gordon Brown set to assume the premiership.

A spokeswoman for the British Embassy in Israel, Karen Kaufman, would not confirm the reports.

Earlier this week, Blair deflected speculation about his next role upon leaving office, but left the door open to getting more involved in the peace process.

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"Anybody who cares about greater peace and stability in the world knows that a lasting an enduring resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian issue is essential," Blair told reporters.

"As I've said on many occasions, I would do whatever I could to help such a resolution come about."

Olmert pledges to free 250 prisoners
The Quartet envoys have "no set agenda" and will discuss "recent developments and the way forward," said a local spokesman for the United Nations, Brenden Varma.

During Monday's Mideast summit at the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert promised to release 250 Fatah prisoners, a gesture of support to the Palestinian president in his struggle against his Hamas rivals.

The move came after Abbas dissolved a three-month-old Hamas-led coalition government and then appointed an emergency Palestinian cabinet in the West Bank on June 17.

The leaders committed to work for the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that have remained effectively frozen since 2001.

The Triumph of US/Israeli policy in Palestine

This is just a part of a longer article available at .Counterpunch
In contrast to some other commentators Loewenstein thinks that US/Isreali policy is triumphing. However, she claims that Fatah and Abbas have not had much benefit from being supported by Israel and the US. By the way it is not long ago that Fatah under Arafat was a terrorist organisation that could not be bargained with. As usual there are the good terrorists (Fatah) and the bad ones (Hamas). Western media just seem to play along changing the wording to meet the new situation. As this article points out at one point references to the fact that Hamas was elected with a majority in the Authority will be less and less mentioned.

The Triumph of US/Israeli Policy in Palestine

Contrary to the many claims that the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip represents the failure of US and Israeli policies in Palestine, the violent civil infighting that has dominated the Gaza Strip over much of the last year and a half and that led directly to the Hamas coup of June 2007, marks yet another major foreign policy victory for the occupiers. Hamas will never be allowed to remain in power in Gaza so we must fear for the future of that tiny, desperately overcrowded strip of land and its 1.4 million inhabitants; additionally, Abbas ­in order to maintain his role as "Good Guy"- will have to accede to the dictates of Israel and the United States or suffer the same fate as his predecessor, Yassir Arafat.

Western nations are standing by in silence as the deadly siege of Gaza and the dismemberment of the West Bank continue unabated. What we are witnessing in full view each day are unprecedented steps taken by the world's only superpower and its favorite client state, Israel, to ensure the death of a nation. While friction between the two key political factions in the occupied Palestinian territories has long undermined the smooth functioning of internal affairs, it was the direct, cynical involvement of US and Israeli policy-makers in these affairs that guaranteed the breakdown of internal stability and paved the way for the Hamas "coup" in Gaza.

Media reports have been careful to leave out important facts leading up to the coup such as that Hamas was the legitimate, democratically elected ruling party in the Palestinian territories following the January 2006 Palestine Legislative Council elections; that it was the US-Israeli dismissal of those election results that fueled the civil infighting between Hamas and Fatah; that obvious US backing of Fatah against Hamas helped create popular mistrust of Fatah increasing Hamas' popularity in Gaza and leading directly to Hamas' takeover of the Fatah military apparatus in the Gaza Strip. In other words, there were real and understandable reasons for the coup. But in the end, Hamas' seizure of the power it should have had in the first place ends up serving the interests not only of Mahmoud Abbas and the warlord Muhammad Dahlan. It also provides the perfect opportunity for US-Israeli policy in the region to move forward with even fewer objections, if that is possible to imagine, than have heretofore been made. Who will stand up for a "terrorist organization that seeks the destruction of Israel"? The line has been beaten into our heads with every mention of the word "Hamas" for years. We should not expect a change in the behavior of the American public or of other western audiences until, when Israel is mentioned, we immediately say to ourselves, "a terrorist state that seeks the destruction of Palestine." Seeks and is succeeding in it.


Watching the barbarous killing between brothers in Gaza, a power struggle between rival factions seething in frenzy like the great prison in which they thrive, Israeli and American political analysts can rest their cases with confidence. Across the spectrum of debate, these experts can expect vindication by the media juries who, in sanctimonious indignation at the brutality meted out by partisans of Fatah or Hamas, have assembled all the "evidence" they need to justify our righteous war against Muslim-Arab terrorists and their internecine blood feuds.

That the US has temporarily chosen a weak, compliant leader, Mahmoud Abbas, and the power thirsty warlord, Muhammad Dahlan, to back during the bitter strife between key Palestinian factions testifies not to a belief that one side is trustworthy and deserves our support, but rather to the ease with which the Americans and their clients pick and choose their pawns in their bitter regional cockfights. Today's statesmen were yesterday terrorists, their titles dependent on the needs of the superpower and its clients: yesterday Fatah was on the US State Department's list of foreign terrorist organizations and its leader, Yassir Arafat, was a declared "terrorist," "irrelevant," and exiled in his presidential compound in Ramallah until his mysterious death. Fatah's military wing, the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades is still listed as a foreign terrorist organization. Neither of these factors apparently bothers the current leadership which understands that power and prestige are most easily acquired and unchallenged when bequeathed from above.

Truth be told, the Abbas/Dahlan alliance elicits far greater contempt in the eyes of the masters than the more independent and genuine resistance faction headed by Hamas. The numerous meetings and photo-ops between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Abbas, and US President George Bush and Abbas, are little more than tactical stunts to make it look as though genuine negotiations are taking place. In fact, Abbas has been repeatedly by-passed and shunned when Israeli and US negotiators make the real policy decisions; decisions that remain one-sided and dismissive of any demands-other than those that are entirely self-serving-that Abbas and his entourage have made. The arms and funding channeled through Abbas' Fatah (for his clique represents only one of the many spin-off Fatahs that emerged during the second Intifada) signify little more than the conduit through which US-Israeli policies can be secured. For all the claims about US backing of Fatah, neither Abbas nor Dahlan have yet to benefit on the ground from this "support". Indeed, the ease with which Hamas was able to wrest control of Gaza indicates just how little US support for Fatah was worth there. Nevertheless, the same pipeline of support for "Fatah" has done a great deal to bolster perceived US and Israeli national security interests in the same region.


Monday, June 25, 2007

The Sins of Tony Blair

I thought that Blair was a bit more progressive with respect to his internal politics than this article indicates. I read in a different article that he had decreased poverty but this article claims otherwise. I find it hard to believe that Blair did not lose his labor base given his record.

Tony Blair's seven lefty sins
>by Jim Stanford
June 25, 2007
Tony Blair exits Britain's political stage next week. Which side he is leaving from, however, is open to question. Having won three consecutive majorities, he's the country's most successful left-wing prime minister ever. Or is he?

I adhere to the old-fashioned notion that what a politician does in office is more important than the number of elections won. By this standard, it's hard to conclude Mr. Blair was a lefty at all: Britain went backward during his era in the things that matter most to our side of the political spectrum. Britain is a leaner, meaner, more unequal society than when Mr. Blair came to power. And considering he inherited Margaret Thatcher's legacy, that's saying something.

Of course, no one expected Mr. Blair to undo the dramatic changes wrought by Ms. Thatcher. He took office in 1997 after deliberately watering down Labour Party policies and distancing himself from the past. But few thought he would actually take Britain in the wrong direction.

Here are seven ways Britain actually shifted to the right during Mr. Blair's tenure. The list doesn't even include the disastrous endorsement of George W. Bush's military adventures — just the home front:

Inequality: Income inequality and poverty didn't budge, staying at the levels reached under Ms. Thatcher. Wealth inequality actually got worse: In 1997, the richest 1 per cent of Britons owned one-quarter of all wealth (excluding dwellings); today they own one-third.

Children: Nothing reveals the soul of a society more than how it treats its children. Last year, the United Kingdom ranked dead last on UNICEF's ranking of 21 industrialized countries for the quality of children's lives.

Tuition Fees: Even when they go off to school, Mr. Blair hurt the kids. He broke a campaign promise and introduced “market-sensitive” tuition fees at universities — now worth many thousands of dollars.

Unions: Mr. Blair kept almost all of Ms. Thatcher's anti-union laws, and union membership declined further.

Industry: 1.25 million manufacturing jobs disappeared under Mr. Blair, cementing Britain's status as an industrial has-been. He oversaw the near-demise of Britain's automotive industry, and watched its merchandise trade deficit swell to 6.5 per cent of GDP.

Privatization: Mr. Blair extended Ms. Thatcher's commitment to selling off public assets, but he did it in disguise. He pioneered public-private partnerships, in which taxpayers bear the risks while investors reap the profits.

The Labour Party itself: Needless to say, the activists who worked their behinds off to bring Mr. Blair to power quickly lost enthusiasm under his unprincipled rule. It was Mr. Blair's deliberate goal to break the ties binding his government's policies to actual party decisions. It's poetic justice that Labour membership fell by more than half during his rule, leaving his successors without a grassroots base.

In each case, it wasn't that Mr. Blair failed to undo Ms. Thatcher's right-wing shift or to fulfill the hopes of the progressive voters who elected him. Rather, he actually led Britain in the wrong direction. Despite a few positive measures (like Britain's first minimum wage, and modest increases in public spending), there's no doubt the country remains one of the most market-oriented, business-dominated, unequal jurisdictions in the developed world.

There are lessons in Mr. Blair's legacy for those who still aspire to build a more inclusive, equal society. Most important is that merely electing someone who professes to share your views is no guarantee you'll even head in the right direction. Mr. Blair's foremost goal, in retrospect, was getting elected, not changing society. And despite the initial relief at ousting the Conservatives, that wasn't enough to put Britain back on track.

Worst of all, the groups that should have demanded more from Mr. Blair were silenced by their allegiance to Labour's electoral strategy. They mostly kept their mouths shut as Mr. Blair headed in an increasingly conservative direction. Only recently have they found their voices again.

That's a crucial lesson for Canada's lefties to keep in mind, given our own fractured and confusing political landscape. The experience of Blairism proves we must keep our eyes on the prize (namely, better policies) — not on the party.

Jim Stanford is an economist with the Canadian Auto Workers union.

The Olmert-Abbas meeting: A Lebanese view

This is from a Lebanese newspaper. It sounds pro-Hamas. Certainly it gives a different slant from the almost universal pro-Abbas effusions in the mainstream Western press. I imagine that Abbas is happy enough that a considerable number of Fatah Israeli prisoners will be released. It will do nothing to help the Israeli soldier held by Hamas.

Olmert's summit gesture to Abbas was more insult than overture
By The Daily Star Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Israeli officials worked hard to play down expectations ahead of Monday's four-way summit at the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert worked just as hard to meet them by sharply limiting what were unconvincingly advertised as his efforts to bolster Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. With Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah II on hand to lend credibility as Arab "moderates," the best Olmert had to offer was a commitment to put a proposal before his Cabinet to free 250 members of Abbas' Fatah faction held in Israeli jails.

Given the fact that approximately 10,000 Palestinians - including hundreds of women and children - are currently languishing in Israeli custody, many of them without charge, no one should be fooled into thinking that Olmert is serious about peace.

It is true that Olmert's domestic political position is a weak one, but that is because of past failures to understand the direct causal relationship between his country's continued occupation of Arab land and his people's inability to live in peace and security. He will not, therefore, improve his dismal performance in opinion surveys by subjecting Palestinians (and other Arabs) to the insulting spectacle of tangential "concessions" that would be hollow even if he made good on them. On the contrary, by refusing to accept the evidence of the past 40 years that the Arabs will not be beaten into submission, he can only guarantee further conflict.

As Abdullah has repeatedly warned, the time to make a full and fair peace is not limitless. The longer Israel substitutes brute force for diplomacy, disguises insult as overture, and treats would-be interlocutors like lesser beings entitled to fewer rights, the more it weakens those Palestinians and other Arabs who believe in a negotiated solution. By refusing to abide by international law and plain common sense, the Jewish state has consistently reduced the number of those willing to risk their credibility by working with it diplomatically.

Now Olmert has only made matters worse, and at precisely the wrong moment. Abbas needed desperately to show that his strategy of engagement has a better chance of achieving Palestinian statehood than the confrontation recommended by his rivals from Hamas. He needed to come home with a trophy for his championing of a two-state solution arrived at by mutual agreement, some kind of evidence that Israel's leaders finally see the errors of their ways. Instead, Abbas returned with a flimsy Israeli undertaking to pursue an almost meaningless gesture. As a result, the Palestinian people received only confirmation that Olmert views their flexibility as weakness, their patience as gullibility, and their suffering as irrelevant. How much longer can this continue before they, in turn, conclude that negotiation with the Jewish state is a fool's errand that can only end in additional frustration and heartache?

Hamas holds the high cards?

I find Scheer almost always interesting and perspective but I really find it difficult to think that Hamas holds the high cards. The present drift towards civil war between Hamas and Fatah is absolutely disastrous for the Palestinians. It may have the virtue of showing that Fatah is willing to be a puppet of Israel and the US in order to gain a few crumbs for the Palestinians but for Scheer to think that Israel or the US would ever allow empowerment of the Palestinians is sheer fantasy.
Fatah is already moving to wipe out Hamas in the West Bank and it would not be surprising if Israel takes military action against Hamas in Gaza. The prospect is for more Palestinian losses. No doubt Hamas will try to strike Israel as well. There was a truce and no suicide bombings within Israel but that may be history as well if Hamas is attacked.

Hamas Holds the High Cards

Posted on Jun 19, 2007


By Robert Scheer

Forty years ago, I entered the Gaza Strip—soon after Israel had conquered that teeming caldron of humanity after defeating Egypt in the Six-Day War—to report on the Israelis’ bubbling optimism about their young nation’s future. “Come back in 10 years and you won’t recognize the place,” an Israeli general told me, spelling out visions of economic development and a grateful Arab population. Similar predictions were made for the West Bank, which had been administered by Jordan in a somewhat more humane yet still quite oppressive manner.

The optimism of the Israeli occupiers did not seem so far-fetched then, given the hardships the Palestinians had endured under their fellow Arab protectors and throughout the diaspora. The experience of the Palestinians was not unlike that of the Jews: They were needed but scorned for their talents. Both refugee groups were scarred by grinding oppression and each nurtured a thirst for nationhood fortified by a tribally based religiosity that secular leaders often found useful.

That is the story of Hamas, a creation of the Egyptian-based Muslim Brotherhood, a religious and political organization that flourished after Israel humbled Gamal Abdel Nasser, the last great Arab nationalist leader, with its devastating victory over Egypt. The Palestinian movement was then led by puppets of Nasser and was secular in focus. It remained so, after being invigorated by the late Yasser Arafat, who gave the Palestinians their first serious and independent political identification. But as Arafat wasted his credibility in futile jockeying with Israel (mostly while in exile), corruption came to dominate his movement.

By contrast, the religious zealots who later formed the Hamas organization were more focused on spiritual probity and tended far more closely to the needs of their impoverished brethren in Gaza and the West Bank. As with Hezbollah in Lebanon—and that other Iranian-backed Islamist movement, the Shiites who now control Iraq—the religious movements, both Shiite- and Sunni-based, cornered the market on purity of purpose as opposed to rank opportunism. That is precisely why these fiercely anti-Western movements have been able to turn the favorite fig leaf of U.S. neocolonialism, the slogans of democracy and elections, against the United States by winning popular elections.

While the American mass media tend to join the Bush administration in ignoring this unpleasant contradiction, the fact is that the people we brand as the enemy can make a strong claim to having won the election that our President Bush champions. What irony that the United States and the European Union, both of which cut off aid to the Palestinian government in 2006 when Hamas won the election, have now resumed aid to the PLO-dominated government that lost power through the vote.

This contradiction applies even more uncomfortably to Israel, which consistently demeaned the Palestinian movement when it was run by secularists. Israel only very reluctantly, and in the most limited of ways, was willing to risk the false security of occupied land for the possibility of peace. Israeli leaders of all parties drew the line at granting the Palestinians a real state with contiguous land and a significant presence in Jerusalem as it existed before the Six-Day War. Rarely mentioned is that some elements in the Israeli government initially supported the rise of Hamas as a desired alternative to the PLO and came too late to the recognition that Arafat, for all of his very serious failings, was their best alternative.

Now it is also too late for the remnants of the PLO to once again unilaterally assert a claim to lead the Palestinians. Sure, the United States, Israel and the EU can throw aid and tax dollars their way, but if the price is that the PLO assist in crushing Hamas, or even sit idly by while Israeli troops reoccupy Gaza, there will be chaos. The only hope is for the funders, including Israel (which has withheld the tax monies paid by the Palestinians from them), to recognize that the Palestinian people need to make their own history. At this point, that must include Hamas, which it is hoped will be moved, as was the PLO, to accept Israel’s right to exist within borders that permit a viable Palestinian state.

That lesson of empowerment must also be applied throughout the region, from Lebanon to Iraq and Iran, where election results subvert the ambitions of the foreigners. Elections are great if they give the conquerors the results they want, but it is in the nature of things that people will not use the ballot to legitimize their oppression for long. The democracy project, ballyhooed by President Bush, founders on its failure to allow the will of the voters to be heard when they dare vote against U.S. policy.

Ireland's Data Protection Commissioner investigating Twitter over data privacy concern.

Irish privacy regulators are launching an investigation into precisely how much data Twitter collects from, its URL-shortening system....