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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Israel's Press' Political Leukemia
Israel's Press' Political Leukemia

Saudi Arabia wants US to pressure Israel on peace in the Middle East

Saudi Arabia wants US to pressure Israel on peace in the Middle East

Despite a string of visits this month from leaders in the Middle East, most recently King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, peace in the region remains an unsolvable puzzle for the Obama administration.

By Howard LaFranchi, Staff writer / June 29, 2010

One week before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits President Obama, Saudi King Abdullah made a stop of his own at the White House. Among his messages: You must put more pressure on the Israelis, Mr. President, if your peace initiative for the Middle East is to come to fruition.

Mr. Obama, who had the king to lunch Tuesday, will not have been surprised by Abdullah’s position, as it follows the established Saudi view that US pressure on Israel is the key to Mideast peace.

But Obama’s string of Middle East visitors – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was at the White House June 9 – will have given the president a pretty good idea of what, if anything, is to be accomplished by pushing ahead on Middle East diplomacy in the coming months.

“The administration sees this as a string of meetings, concluding with next week’s visit by Prime Minister Netanyahu, that won’t just take a reading of the environment but will be able to help move the peace negotiations along,” says James Phillips, senior research fellow for Middle Eastern affairs at the Heritage Foundation in Washington.

But what Obama and his team are more likely to confront, Mr. Phillips says, are the stark differences that continue to make Mideast peace an unsolvable puzzle for the administration.
Impatience with the pace of negotiations

“It’s no secret that the Saudis have expressed their impatience with the pace of peace negotiations, and believe that the only way to change that is for the administration to put even more pressure on Israel,” he says.

Then there is Netanyahu, who is also impatient with the US, but for a different reason.

“The Israeli leader has held since the beginning of his government that Iran is the most urgent problem facing Israel and the international community,” Phillips says. “They [in the Israeli government] feel Obama has been slow to grasp just how urgent the threat is.”

In a brief photo opportunity with reporters, Obama said he and the king discussed a number of issues including Afghanistan. US officials have expressed concern that Saudi money continues to flow in support of the Taliban, and that issue will have been all the more sensitive given that the US and NATO forces have suffered their deadliest month of the war in June.

The US and Saudi Arabia are also on different pages when it comes to the issue of reconciliation talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, Phillips says.
Hamid Karzai and the Taliban

“The Saudis are trying to broker something between [Afghan President Hamid] Karzai and the Taliban,” he says, “while the US would prefer to move to serious negotiations only after some ‘progress,’ from our point of view, on the battlefield.”

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was also scheduled to meet separately after the Abdullah lunch with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al Faisal. Some Saudi experts speculated that the second meeting could be the venue for discussion of the Saudis’ bid to purchase a large number of advanced F-15 fighter jets.

The US has been slow to approve the fighter deal, but the Saudis are expected to make the case that Iran’s growing influence in the region makes the purchase increasingly urgent.

“Arms sales like these are always a delicate matter, because they bring up the region’s military balance and how such arms could potentially threaten Israel,” says Phillips. “But the Saudis can certainly make the case to Washington that Iran is a growing threat, so their argument seems to grow for getting such sophisticated planes.”

From The American Conservative Sinking Ship The attack on the Gaza relief flotilla jeopardizes Israel itself. John J. Mearsheimer

From The American Conservative

Sinking Ship

The attack on the Gaza relief flotilla jeopardizes Israel itself.

John J. Mearsheimer

Israel’s botched raid against the Gaza-bound humanitarian flotilla on May 31 is the latest sign that Israel is on a disastrous course that it seems incapable of reversing. The attack also highlights the extent to which Israel has become a strategic liability for the United States. This situation is likely to get worse over time, which will cause major problems for Americans who have a deep attachment to the Jewish state.

The bungled assault on the Mavi Marmara, the lead ship in the flotilla, shows once again that Israel is addicted to using military force yet unable to do so effectively. One would think that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) would improve over time from all the practice. Instead, it has become the gang that cannot shoot straight.

The IDF last scored a clear-cut victory in the Six Day War in 1967; the record since then is a litany of unsuccessful campaigns. The War of Attrition (1969-70) was at best a draw, and Israel fell victim to one of the great surprise attacks in military history in the October War of 1973. In 1982, the IDF invaded Lebanon and ended up in a protracted and bloody fight with Hezbollah. Eighteen years later, Israel conceded defeat and pulled out of the Lebanese quagmire. Israel tried to quell the First Intifada by force in the late 1980s, with Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin telling his troops to break the bones of the Palestinian demonstrators. But that strategy failed and Israel was forced to join the Oslo Peace Process instead, which was another failed endeavor.

The IDF has not become more competent in recent years. By almost all accounts—including the Israeli government’s own commission of inquiry—it performed abysmally in the 2006 Lebanon war. The IDF then launched a new campaign against the people of Gaza in December 2008, in part to “restore Israel’s deterrence” but also to weaken or topple Hamas. Although the mighty IDF was free to pummel Gaza at will, Hamas survived and Israel was widely condemned for the destruction and killing it wrought on Gaza’s civilian population. Indeed, the Goldstone Report, written under UN auspices, accused Israel of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity. Earlier this year, the Mossad murdered a Hamas leader in Dubai, but the assassins were seen on multiple security cameras and were found to have used forged passports from Australia and a handful of European countries. The result was an embarrassing diplomatic row, with Australia, Ireland, and Britain each expelling an Israeli diplomat.

Given this history, it is not surprising that the IDF mishandled the operation against the Gaza flotilla, despite having weeks to plan it. The assault forces that landed on the Mavi Marmara were unprepared for serious resistance and responded by shooting nine activists, some at point-blank range. None of the activists had their own guns. The bloody operation was condemned around the world—except in the United States, of course. Even within Israel, the IDF was roundly criticized for this latest failure.

These ill-conceived operations have harmful consequences for Israel. Failures leave adversaries intact and make Israeli leaders worry that their deterrent reputation is being undermined. To rectify that, the IDF is turned loose again, but the result is usually another misadventure, which gives Israel new incentives to do it again, and so on. This spiral logic, coupled with Israel’s intoxication with military force, helps explain why the Israeli press routinely carries articles predicting where Israel’s next war will be.

Israel’s recent debacles have also damaged its international reputation. Respondents to a 2010 worldwide opinion poll done for the BBC said that Israel, Iran, and Pakistan had the most negative influence in the world; even North Korea ranked better. More worrying for Israel is that its once close strategic relationship with Turkey has been badly damaged by the 2008-09 Gaza war and especially by the assault on the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish ship filled with Turkish nationals. But surely the most troubling development for Israel is the growing chorus of voices in the United States who say that Israel’s behavior is threatening American interests around the world, to include endangering its soldiers. If that sentiment grows, it could seriously harm Israel’s relationship with the United States.

Life as an Apartheid State

The flotilla tragedy highlights another way in which Israel is in deep trouble. Israel’s response makes it obvious that its leaders are not interested in allowing the Palestinians to have a viable state in Gaza and the West Bank, but instead are bent on creating a “Greater Israel” in which the Palestinians are confined to a handful of impoverished enclaves.

Israel insists that its blockade is solely intended to keep weapons out of Gaza. Hardly anyone would criticize Israel if this were true, but it is not. The real aim of the blockade is to punish the people of Gaza for supporting Hamas and resisting Israel’s efforts to maintain Gaza as a giant open-air prison. Of course, there was much evidence that this was the case before the debacle on the Mavi Marmara. When the blockade began in 2006, Dov Weisglass, a close aide to Prime Ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert, said, “The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.” And the Gaza onslaught 18 months ago was designed to punish the Gazans, not enforce a weapons embargo. The ships in the flotilla were transporting humanitarian aid, not weapons for Hamas, and Israel’s willingness to use deadly force to prevent a humanitarian aid convoy from reaching Gaza makes it abundantly clear that Israel wants to humiliate and subdue the Palestinians, not live side-by-side with them in separate states.

Collective punishment of the Palestinians in Gaza is unlikely to end anytime soon. Israel’s leaders have shown little interest in lifting the blockade or negotiating sincerely. The sad truth is that Israel has been brutalizing the Palestinians for so long that it is almost impossible to break the habit. It is hardly surprising that Jimmy Carter said last year, “the citizens of Palestine are treated more like animals than human beings.” They are, and they will be for the foreseeable future.

Consequently, there is not going to be a two-state solution. Instead, Gaza and the West Bank will become part of a Greater Israel, which will be an apartheid state bearing a marked resemblance to white-ruled South Africa. Israelis and their American supporters invariably bristle at this comparison, but that is their future if they create a Greater Israel while denying full political rights to an Arab population that will soon outnumber the Jewish population in the entirety of the land. In fact, two former Israeli prime ministers—Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak—have made this very point. Olmert went so far as to argue, “as soon as that happens, the state of Israel is finished.”

He’s right, because Israel will not be able to maintain itself as an apartheid state. Like racist South Africa, it will eventually evolve into a democratic bi-national state whose politics will be dominated by the more numerous Palestinians. But that process will take many years, and during that time, Israel will continue to oppress the Palestinians. Its actions will be seen and condemned by growing numbers of people and more and more governments around the world. Israel is unwittingly destroying its own future as a Jewish state, and doing so with tacit U.S. support.

America’s Albatross

The combination of Israel’s strategic incompetence and its gradual transformation into an apartheid state creates significant problems for the United States. There is growing recognition in both countries that their interests are diverging; indeed this perspective is even garnering attention inside the American Jewish community. Jewish Week, for example, recently published an article entitled “The Gaza Blockade: What Do You Do When U.S. and Israeli Interests Aren’t in Synch?” Leaders in both countries are now saying that Israeli policy toward the Palestinians is undermining U.S. security. Vice President Biden and Gen. David Petraeus, the head of Central Command, both made this point recently, and the head of the Mossad, Meir Dagan, told the Knesset in June, “Israel is gradually turning from an asset to the United States to a burden.”

It is easy to see why. Because the United States gives Israel so much support and U.S. politicians routinely laud the “special relationship” in the most lavish terms, people around the globe naturally associate the United States with Israel’s actions. Unfortunately, this makes huge numbers of people in the Arab and Islamic world furious with the United States for supporting Israel’s cruel treatment of the Palestinians. That anger in turn helps fuel terrorism against America. Remember that the 9/11 Commission Report, which describes Khalid Sheik Muhammad as the “principal architect of the 9/11 attacks,” concludes that his “animus toward the United States stemmed not from his experiences there as a student, but rather from his violent disagreement with U.S. foreign policy favoring Israel.” Osama bin Laden’s hostility toward the United States was fuelled in part by this same concern.

Popular anger toward the United States also threatens the rulers of Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, key U.S. allies who are frequently seen as America’s lackeys. The collapse of any of these regimes would be a big blow to the U.S. position in the region; however, Washington’s unyielding support for Israel makes these governments weaker, not stronger. More importantly, the rupture in Israel’s relationship with Turkey will surely damage America’s otherwise close relationship with Turkey, a NATO member and a key U.S. ally in Europe and the Middle East.

Finally, there is the danger that Israel might attack Iran’s nuclear facilities, which could have terrible consequences for the United States. The last thing America needs is another war with an Islamic country, especially one that could easily interfere in its ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. This is why the Pentagon opposes striking Iran, whether with Israeli or U.S. forces. But Netanyahu might do it anyway if he thinks it would be good for Israel, even if it were bad for the United States.

Dark Days Ahead for the Lobby

Israel’s troubled trajectory is also causing major headaches for its American supporters. First, there is the matter of choosing between Israel and the United States. This is sometimes referred to as the issue of dual loyalty, but that term is a misnomer. Americans are allowed to have dual citizenship—and in effect, dual loyalty—and this is no problem as long as the interests of the other country are in synch with America’s interests. For decades, Israel’s supporters have striven to shape public discourse in the United States so that most Americans believe the two countries’ interests are identical. That situation is changing, however. Not only is there now open talk about clashing interests, but knowledgeable people are openly asking whether Israel’s actions are detrimental to U.S. security.

The lobby has been scrambling to discredit this new discourse, either by reasserting the standard argument that Israel’s interests are synonymous with America’s or by claiming that Israel—to quote a recent statement by Mortimer Zuckerman, a key figure in the lobby—“has been an ally that has paid dividends exceeding its costs.” A more sophisticated approach, which is reflected in an AIPAC-sponsored letter that 337 congresspersons sent to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in March, acknowledges that there will be differences between the two countries, but argues that “such differences are best resolved quietly, in trust and confidence.” In other words, keep the differences behind closed doors and away from the American public. It is too late, however, to quell the public debate about whether Israel’s actions are damaging U.S. interests. In fact, it is likely to grow louder and more contentious with time.

This changing discourse creates a daunting problem for Israel’s supporters, because they will have to side either with Israel or the United States when the two countries’ interests clash. Thus far, most of the key individuals and institutions in the lobby have sided with Israel when there was a dispute. For example, President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu have had two big public fights over settlements. Both times the lobby sided with Netanyahu and helped him thwart Obama. It seems clear that individuals like Abraham Foxman, who heads the Anti-Defamation League, and organizations like AIPAC are primarily concerned about Israel’s interests, not America’s.

This situation is very dangerous for the lobby. The real problem is not dual loyalty but choosing between the two loyalties and ultimately putting the interests of Israel ahead of those of America. The lobby’s unstinting commitment to defending Israel, which sometimes means shortchanging U.S. interests, is likely to become more apparent to more Americans in the future, and that could lead to a wicked backlash against Israel’s supporters as well as Israel.

The lobby faces yet another challenge: defending an apartheid state in the liberal West is not going to be easy. Once it is widely recognized that the two-state solution is dead and Israel has become like white-ruled South Africa—and that day is not far off—support for Israel inside the American Jewish community is likely to diminish significantly. The main reason is that apartheid is a despicable political system that is fundamentally at odds with basic American values as well as core Jewish values. For sure there will be some Jews who will defend Israel no matter what kind of political system it has. But their numbers will shrink over time, in large part because survey data shows that younger American Jews feel less attachment to Israel than their elders, which makes them less inclined to defend Israel blindly.

The bottom line is that Israel will not be able to maintain itself as an apartheid state over the long term because it will not be able to depend on the American Jewish community to defend such a reprehensible political order.

Assisted Suicide

Israel is facing a bleak future, yet there is no reason to think that it will change course anytime soon. The political center of gravity in Israel has shifted sharply to the right and there is no sizable pro-peace political party or movement. Moreover, it remains firmly committed to the belief that what cannot be solved by force can be solved with greater force, and many Israelis view the Palestinians with contempt if not hatred. Neither the Palestinians nor any of Israel’s immediate neighbors are powerful enough to deter it, and the lobby will remain influential enough over the next decade to protect Israel from meaningful U.S. pressure.

Remarkably, the lobby is helping Israel commit national suicide while also doing serious damage to American security interests. Voices challenging this tragic situation have grown slightly more numerous in recent years, but the majority of political commentators and virtually all U.S. politicians seem blissfully ignorant of where this is headed, or unwilling to risk their careers by speaking out.

John J. Mearsheimer is a professor of political science at the University of Chicago and coauthor of The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy.

The American Conservative welcomes letters to the editor.
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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

If War Is Not the Answer… By Robert Haddick

Should Obama Guarantee Gulf Security?
Robert Haddick, The American
An explicit U.S. security guarantee protecting the Persian Gulf allies from Iran may look appealing, but it will be difficult to define, tough to credibly implement, and contain its own sizable risks and costs. more ››

How Saudi Arabia and U.S. Drifted Apart by Simon Henderson, FP

How Saudi Arabia and U.S. Drifted Apart
by Simon Henderson, FP

Simon Henderson, FP
Abdullah is trying to gain more room to maneuver in the Sunni-Shiite rivalry and between extremists and moderates within Sunni Islam.

The Rise of Political Islam in the West by Marc Lynch, Foreign Affairs

The Rise of Political Islam in the West
by Marc Lynch, Foreign Affairs

Marc Lynch, Foreign Affairs
What accommodations can be made for religious conviction without betraying core Enlightenment principles?

Failed States and Terrorism: Interesting Reading from Counterterrorism Blog by Douglas Farah

Failed States and Terrorism: Interesting Reading
from Counterterrorism Blog by Douglas Farah

23 Doomsayers Who Say We're Heading Toward Depression In 2011 from Clusterstock by Michael Snyder

23 Doomsayers Who Say We're Heading Toward Depression In 2011
from Clusterstock by Michael Snyder

Paul Krugman Leonard Lopate

Could the world economy be headed for a depression in 2011?

As inconceivable as that may seem to a lot of people, the truth is that top economists and governmental authorities all over the globe say that the economic warning signs are there and that we need to start paying attention to them. The two primary ingredients for a depression are debt and fear, and the reality is that we have both of them in abundance in the financial world today.
Meet The New Doomsayers

Juan Cole: Turkey Forbids Israeli Military Overflights

Juan Cole: Turkey Forbids Israeli Military Overflights

Turkey Forbids Israeli Military Overflights

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Sunday in Toronto in the wake of the G20 conference that Turkey will no longer routinely give Israeli military aircraft permission to fly in Turkish airspace. The announcement came as Turkey forbade an Israeli military airplane (taking officers on a visit to the sites of Nazi death camps for Jews in Poland) to fly over its territory. The Turkish press denies that the destination of the plane influenced the decision.

Future Israeli military overflight permissions will be granted on an ad hoc basis.

From the Guardian: ‘Israel’s Ynet news website reported that other military flights had also been quietly cancelled. “Turkey is continuing to downgrade its relations with Israel,” an unnamed official told Ynet. “This is a long-term process and not something that began just after the flotilla incident. We are very concerned.” ‘

Israel should be very concerned, since it is significantly more isolated in the Mediterranean than it has ever been in its history. And this isolation derives from Israeli policies, of illegal blockades of, and systematic land theft and displacement of occupied civilians under its control, along with aggressive wars on neighbors, which target infrastructure and civilians and are clearly intended to keep neighbors poor and backward.

I do not know if the Turkish air force has “identify friend or foe” codes. But it is possible that it does, and that it gives the code to regional military allies. Thus, US planes flying out of Incirlik air force base in Turkey to Iraq could be putting out IFF codes that reassure Turkish fighter jets on patrol that they are friendly. US aircraft certainly use this system to reassure each other. Erdogan’s announcement may mean that the Israeli air force used to have the Turkish IFF codes, but that they have now been changed and have not been shared with Tel Aviv. As a result, every overflight would have to be individually authorized or risk being suspected of being hostile and shot down.

The change in policy is significant because the Israeli air force in the past has flown over Turkey without permission for military purposes. Thus, when Israel bombed a Syrian facility it claimed was a budding nuclear reactor in October, 2007, its fighter jets flew over Turkish territory. Erdogan is said to have been surprised when it was reported to him that jettisoned Israeli fuel tanks from the raid had been found inside Turkey. But if the Israeli air force had Turkey’s IFF codes, they would not have needed prior permission for that overflight and would not have needed to worry about being mistaken for hostiles by the Turkish air force. And, Israeli officers could have been confident that the Turkish generals or “pashas” in Ankara would hardly complain very much about a potential nuclear reactor in Syria having been taken out. Turkey and Syria for decades had bad relations.

But now things have changed radically. Erdogan has a policy of pursuing good relations with immediate neighbors. He takes this policy so seriously that he has just removed Iran and Greece from Ankara’s “Red Book” or classified list of security threats. Erdogan has also made friends with Syrian president Bashar al-Asad. In fact, he offered Ankara’s good offices for indirect Israeli-Syrian talks that may have been going somewhere when the Israeli leadership suddenly brutally attacked Gaza in December-January 2008-2009, shocking and dismaying Erdogan and so angering Damascus that the talks collapsed, perhaps for the long term.

The political culture of the Israeli elite, which tends to treat allies as patsies, has left Erdogan scarred and grouchy. After the Israeli commando attack on the Turkish Mavi Marmara aid ship on May 31, which left 8 Turkish citizens and one American dead, Erdogan demanded an apology from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. He has received none. He demanded an international investigatory commission. Israel rejected that request. He wants an end to Israel’s blockade of Palestinian civilians in Gaza. The Israelis announced they would let in a third more trucks, but even with that change only a fourth of the goods would go into Gaza this year as went in before the blockade.

Erdogan appears to have spent a lot of time at the G20 meeting in Toronto showing other leaders, such as Dimitry Medvedev of Russia and Barack Obama, the forensics reports on the Israeli commandos’ killing of humanitarian workers on the Mavi Marmara. He pressed on Obama the need for an Israeli apology, and Erdogan says that Obama agreed with him, and pledged to convey the message to Netanyahu when they meet in Washington on July 7.

Erdogan has been repeatedly sandbagged and played by Israeli decision-makers, presumably on the theory that with Turkey’s candidacy for the EU going nowhere fast, and Turkey’s relations with the Arab world and Iran traditionally poor, Ankara had nowhere to go for friends but Tel Aviv and Washington.

What the Israeli politicians do not seem to have realized is that with the repeated election of the Justice and Development Party in Turkey and the consolidation of power in Erdogan’s hands, Ankara has a new and robust foreign and commercial policy with several planks.

Turkey’s candidacy for the European Union gives it excellent access to European markets even while it waits for a decision. It does $20 billion a year in business with Germany, $5 billion a year with Holland, etc. This access to Europe from the late 1990s has helped spur a Turkish economic miracle. (In some ways, it matters less if Turkey is admitted to Europe than if it just manages to remain a candidate for decades). Turkey has already undergone a demographic transition, so ever-increasing population growth no longer blunts gains in economic growth. The country, now 72 million, will likely level off at 90 million. Even as Turkey maintains and strengthens its European links, it has been since the late 1940s a member of NATO and its troops fight in Afghanistan.

But Europe (to which the Islamically tinged Justice and Development Party is especially committed) is only one wing of Turkey’s foreign policy. It has two others– the United States, and the Middle East. Turkish exports to Iran in 2009 amounted to $2 billion, up from only $320 million in 2002. Turkey does $3 billion a year in trade with Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, more than the $2.5 billion it does with Israel. And the total Turkish trade with the Arab world is now a whopping $30 billion per annum–12 times its trade volume with Israel. Some 20 percent of Turkey’s exports go to the Arab world (up from 12% in 2004), while 50% of its exports go to Europe. And Ankara’s flag is following its trade.

Some Western observers misunderstand Erdogan’s foreign and trade policies as increasingly oriented to the Middle East rather than to the West. That interpretation is incorrect. Erdogan does not want to substitute the Middle East for Europe. He wants to add the Middle East to Europe as spokes in Turkish diplomacy and commerce. A Turkey nearly as big as Germany, with a rapidly growing economy, which can offer itself as a bridge between Europe, the Middle East, and the US, could emerge as an indispensable country in the 21st century.

Israel is therefore not, as Tel Aviv appears to have earlier imagined, the only regional game in town for Turkey. It is a source of military technology and tourism and a way of cultivating good relations with Washington. But if Israel is going to keep embarrassing Erdogan with one SNAFU after another, it just isn’t that important and can be jettisoned.

And one dimension of Israel-Turkish military relations has just been jettisoned.

Afghanistan, Iran, and Petraeus' Real Challenge By Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett

Afghanistan, Iran, and Petraeus' Real Challenge
By Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett, from

Direct Link:

Maariv: MEPs warn Peres of gathering boycott momentum

Maariv: MEPs warn Peres of gathering boycott momentum

Didi Remez | June 29, 2010

[Teaser] Is the whole world against us?

[Headline] European Parliament: "Phenomenon of boycotts against Israel gaining momentum"

[Sub-headline] Members of the European lobby for Israel warn: The deterioration in the political climate is increasing boycotts of Israeli products, companies and businessmen; requested that Peres utilize his stature and appear before the European Parliament

David Lipkin, Maariv, June 28 2010 [page 4 of business section; Hebrew original here and at bottom of post]

The leaders of European Friends of Israel (EFI), the European lobby for Israel and its economy, warned yesterday of a deterioration in the political climate in Europe against Israel, and an increase in the phenomenon of boycotts of Israeli products and businesspeople throughout Europe. They noted that there was a growing phenomenon of European investment funds that were divesting from Israeli companies, for reasons defined as “business ethics.”

Ronny Bruckner, leader of the lobby, which includes members of Parliament in the European Union and senior European businesspeople, asked President Shimon Peres yesterday to use his unique international standing and appear before the European Parliament. Bruckner also asked the president to step up his activity vis-à-vis the EU institutions and to invest in smaller European states, which have recently joined the EU.

Bruckner noted that the significantly expanding Arab population in the large European countries might help Muslim bodies join radical coalitions and boycott products from Israel, not only those produced east of the Green Line. He said that Arab activists have already taken to harassing Israeli businessmen and that recently, companies that engage in business ties with Israeli companies have received threats.

Senior EFI officials told President Shimon Peres that there is an expanding trend whereby European investment funds declare they are pulling out their investments in Israeli companies, citing reasons such as "business ethics." There is fear, the officials warned, that the phenomenon will expand further.

EFI CEO Michelle Gorari told Asakim that the economic boycott against Israel is accelerating in Europe in view of the recent political developments. He believes that in view of the rising pressures, the boycott against Israeli exports might affect some 30% of Israel's exports to Europe. There is a dangerous trend that aims at imposing a total ban on the sale of Israeli products on certain European markets.

Gorari pointed out that the pro-Israeli lobby has managed to foil an emerging trend whereby the European Parliament intended not to ratify a new aviation agreement between Israel and the EU. After EFI made efforts to gain support for Israel, the agreement was approved by a majority of 465 against 65. They are currently considering whether it is the right time to ask the European Parliament to approve an agreement on the harmonization of standards between Israel and the EU because there is a fear that, given the current anti-Israeli atmosphere, it may be hard to attain a majority that would approve it.

Why Petraeus won't salvage this war By Gareth Porter

Why Petraeus won't salvage this war
By Gareth Porter, June 28, 2010

As Gen. David Petraeus prepares for his next command, his supporters are hoping he can rescue a failing war for the second time in just a few years. But both the dire state of the war effort in Afghanistan and his approach to taking command in Iraq in early 2007 suggest that Petraeus will not try to replicate an apparent -- and temporary -- success that he knows was at least in part the result of fortuitous circumstances in Iraq. Instead he will maneuver to avoid having to go down with what increasingly appears to be a failed counterinsurgency war.

Petraeus must be acutely aware that the war plan which he approved in 2009 has not worked. Early this month, he received Stanley A. McChrystal's last classified assessment of the war, reported in detail in The Independent Sunday. That assessment showed that no clear progress had been made since the U.S. offensive began in February and none was expected for the next six months.

Petraeus is not going to pledge in his confirmation hearings to achieve in 18 months what McChrystal has said cannot be achieved in the next six months. Pro-war Republicans, led by John McCain, are hoping that Petraeus will now insist that the July 2011 time frame be eliminated, creating an open-ended commitment to a high and perhaps even rising level of U.S. military presence in Afghanistan.

But Petraeus is unlikely to let himself get sucked into such an open-ended war, whether accompanied by a new surge of troops or not. What distinguishes his approach to the daunting challenge he faced in Iraq from those of commanders in other major U.S. wars is the cold-eyed realism with which he approached the question of whether or not his counterinsurgency strategy would work.

As the author of a Ph.D. dissertation on what the Army learned from the Vietnam War, Petraeus had always been extraordinarily sensitive to the political dangers to military leaders of being sent to fight a war that was unlikely to be won. And Petraeus had harbored deep doubts about the Iraq war from the beginning. That was the subtext of the remark, "Tell me how this ends," which as commander of the 101st Airborne Division he often repeated jokingly to a reporter in the spring of 2003.

In mid-2005, he told a retired Army officer privately that it was already too late for counterinsurgency to work in Iraq because the United States had lost the "critical mass" of the Sunni population to the insurgents.

What has been forgotten in the popular narrative of the Petraeus turnaround in Iraq is that he had insisted from the beginning on having a strategy for avoiding being tagged with responsibility if the surge -- and his own counterinsurgency strategy -- did not work.

At his confirmation hearing, Petraeus took the unparalleled step of telling senators, "Should I determine that the new strategy cannot succeed, I will provide such an assessment." And he went even further after arriving in Iraq. Petraeus told his staff he would give the strategy "one last try" for six months, but if it wasn't working by the time of his congressional testimony in September 2007, he would recommend getting out, according to knowledgeable sources.

As late as July and August 2007, as Petraeus's staff was beginning to work on his congressional testimony, they were still debating whether the data in the previous months really showed a trend that could be cited as the basis for such a claim. In the end, Petraeus was able to convince the news media and the political elite that the strategy was working. But the implication of his earlier understanding with the staff was that he had been fully prepared to pull the plug on the U.S. military effort in Iraq if he had concluded he couldn't make a convincing case that it was succeeding.

Petraeus can be expected to approach his new command in Afghanistan with a similar determination to limit his exposure to the danger of being identified with a losing strategy. Sources familiar with Petraeus's thinking believe he will carry out a complete review and evaluation of the existing strategy as soon as he takes command.

Rather than renounce the Obama July 2011 timeline for beginning the transfer of security responsibility to the Afghan government, Petraeus may wish to take advantage of that date as well as the full evaluation scheduled for December 2010. He could use those dates as the basis for a new variant of his early 2007 vow to determine whether the strategy he adopts is working and to convey his assessment to the president.

Meanwhile, he will certainly wish to begin the process of managing public expectations about progress by providing a more sobering analysis of the magnitude of the problems he will face in Afghanistan than has been heard publicly from McChrystal thus far.

One of the purposes of the reassessment of strategy will presumably be to identify objectives that need to modified or dropped because they cannot be achieved. Petraeus may abandon McChrystal's plan to expel the Taliban from key districts in Helmand and Kandahar provinces as a metric of success because it has proven to be beyond the capabilities of the coalition forces and the Afghan government.

Petraeus's realism should align him more closely with the Obama administration's approach than it did with that of George W. Bush on Iraq. With Bush, Petraeus had to manage a president who was always talking about "victory" over the insurgents, whereas Petraeus was thinking in terms of political accommodation, at least with the Sunnis. Both Obama and Petraeus now rule out "victory" over the Taliban, and Petraeus, like Obama, foresees the possibility of a settlement with the Taliban, with the involvement of the Pakistanis.

The coming months will test Petraeus's ability to navigate the treacherous politics of command of a war that can be managed only as a bloody stalemate at best. Salvaging the war could now be beyond his means, but the general may yet find a way to save his own reputation.

Gareth Porter is an investigative journalist and historian specializing in U.S. national security policy. His most recent book is Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam (University of California Press, 2006).

Monday, June 28, 2010

Full report: Gobs of oil from Gulf of Mexico spill make first landfall in Jackson County (with photo gallery)

Full report: Gobs of oil from Gulf of Mexico spill make first landfall in Jackson County (with photo gallery)

Answer To What Ended The Last Ice Age May Be Blowing In The Winds

Answer To What Ended The Last Ice Age May Be Blowing In The Winds
New York NY (SPX) Jun 28, 2010 -
Scientists still puzzle over how Earth emerged from its last ice age, an event that ushered in a warmer climate and the birth of human civilization. In the geological blink of an eye, ice sheets in the northern hemisphere began to collapse and warming spread quickly to the south. Most scientists say that the trigger, at least initially, was an orbital shift that caused more sunlight to fal ... more

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Shocking Indignities Widows Face by Shannon Donnelly

The Shocking Indignities Widows Face

by Shannon Donnelly

In Ghana, a widow must have sex with a stranger to “purify” herself after her husband’s deaths. In Nepal, widows are believed to be witches. Shannon Donnelly talks to Cherie Blair on the new movement for international widows’ rights.

Imagine waking up one morning to find you’ve lost not only your husband, but also your home, your ability to provide for your children, and your own dignity. You may have to partake in a “cleansing ritual” that includes having unprotected sex with strange men. You might be hunted down and beaten, or accused of witchcraft.

For thousands of women around the world, these nightmares become reality when their husband dies.

Click Below to View Our Gallery of Widows from Rwanda, Nairobi, and India

“In societies where women have difficulty being taken as equals to men, a widow will often lose her value from when she was a wife,” said Cherie Blair, human-rights activist, president of The Loomba Foundation, and wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. “If she loses that man’s protection, she returns to being of little or no value.”

Blair recalls meeting with a group of lawyers doing pro bono work in Nigeria, helping men who were dying of AIDS to write wills. “By doing that, the widows would then have a recognized right to the property in the will,” she told The Daily Beast. “The laws were there, but the people were too poor to assert their rights, so the pro bono work helped with that.”

Raising public awareness is also key. The Loomba Foundation, which launched in 1998 with the aim of helping widows in developing countries, released a study last week called “Invisible Forgotten Sufferers: The Plight of Widows Around the World.” The study was presented at the United Nations on June 23, a day the Loomba Foundation hopes the U.N. will declare International Widows Day.

Here are five shocking ways in which widows are exploited, abused, and discriminated against around the world:

Ghana: Widows subjected to brutal cleansing rituals, which can include sex with strangers

For widows who are members of certain ethnic groups in Ghana, such as the Ashanti, the days following a husband’s death are taken up with elaborate cleansing rituals meant to rid the widow of the spirit of the deceased. According to a study prepared for the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex in Brighton, U.K., activities range from bathing in cold water, sitting naked on reed mats, ritual scarring, head shaving, and even having sex with a designated individual. That man can be a brother-in-law or even the “first stranger met on the road.”

These practices continue despite a 1989 amendment to Ghana’s penal code, which criminalized acts of brutality against widows. “You can see the deep-seated tribal, cultural customs which don’t really fit in to the 21st century,” Blair says. “These practices belong to a society where we didn’t understand so much about medicine and why people die.”

Nepal: Widows hunted as witches

Once she becomes a widow, a Nepalese woman may be subject to the ingrained belief that she has become a bokshi, or witch, and is now imbued with dark powers. She faces discrimination ranging from suspicious glances from neighbors to violent beatings. So widespread is the discrimination against widows that the government of Nepal proposed offering incentive payments to single men who married widows and helped re-integrate them into society. According to the Loomba report, many traditional women marched “through Kathmandu with banners declaring, ‘We don’t want government dowries’ and ‘Don’t put a price on your mother.’” Nepal’s supreme court eventually blocked the proposal.

Afghanistan: Widows turned out onto the street

Due to the war in Afghanistan, there are more than 2 million widows in a country of just 26.6 million people. Afghan widows are often displaced from their homes by inlaws and forced to turn to begging to provide for themselves and their children.

by Shannon Donnelly Info
Shannon Donnelly

Shannon Donnelly is a video editor at The Daily Beast. Previously, she interned at Gawker and Overlook Press, edited the 2007 edition of Inside New York, and graduated from Columbia University. You can read more of her writing here.
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Bangladesh: Children of widows forced to drop out of school

When a woman in Bangladesh finds herself widowed, she often has to turn to her children for support—if she’s lucky enough to have any. According to the Loomba report, “Impoverishment and vulnerability of widows… appear to be the single greatest motivational force for women’s oft-stated preference of having a son.” This means that a woman faces pressure to have a large family from the outset of her marriage, in order to ensure her own survival should she outlive her husband. And should she become a widow while her children are relatively young, she may make the heartbreaking decision to pull her children out of school in order for them to start working to support the family. The cycle of poverty and poor education continues. “When the world says we need to do more to attack poverty, widows are a part of that,” Blair explained.

Kenya: Widows lose their home when they lose their husband, forced to have “cleansing” sex

As if the shock of losing a spouse was not devastating enough, many Kenyan widows also face losing their homes, livestock, and livelihoods. A study on violations of women’s property rights in Kenya conducted by Human Rights Watch found that “[m]any widows in Kenya are excluded from inheriting from their husbands. When men die, widows’ inlaws often evict them from their lands and homes and take other property, such as livestock and household goods.” She may, however, be allowed to remain in her home if she assents to being “inherited” by one of her dead husband’s male relatives. As in Ghana, she must also partake in a ritual cleaning, “which involves sex with a social outcast, usually without a condom,” a tradition that has helped HIV/AIDS maintain a devastating foothold in the region.

Take Action: If you’d like to join the fight for widows’ rights around the world, consider donating to the Loomba Foundation, Widows’ Right International, or the Bangladesh National Woman Lawyers' Association.

Shannon Donnelly is a video editor at The Daily Beast. Previously, she interned at Gawker and Overlook Press, edited the 2007 edition of Inside New York, and graduated from Columbia University. You can read more of her writing here.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

US Attorney General Launches Criminal, Civil Investigation Into BP Oil Spill from zero hedge by Tyler Durden

US Attorney General Launches Criminal, Civil Investigation Into BP Oil Spill from zero hedge by Tyler Durden

And here come the mutual fund liquidations. Will the US start involuntary bankruptcy proceedings against the oil giant next? Where is Steve Rattner to find some Chapter 7/11 loopholes dammit. In the meantime, we hope you are long BP CDS. Also, is it about that time for someone to ask a few questions of BP former Chairman Peter Denis Sutherland (until January 2010), who just happens to be a non-executive director of Goldman Sachs, which incidentally sold just under 5 million shares, or nearly 40% of their BP stake, in the quarter ended March 31?

Financial Reform: Wall Street Wins, Investors Lose Forbes - Jacob Zamansky

Financial Reform: Wall Street Wins, Investors Lose
Forbes - Jacob Zamansky -
If you want to know who got the upper hand when it comes to the financial reform bill, follow the money. Bank stocks are currently trading higher and financials are outperforming all other sectors.

A special report on debt Repent at leisure

A special report on debt
Repent at leisure
Borrowing has been the answer to all economic troubles in the past 25 years. Now debt itself has become the problem, says Philip Coggan

Financial Deform

Financial Deform

The Keynesian Dead End Spending our way to prosperity is going out of style.

The Keynesian Dead End
Spending our way to prosperity is going out of style.

Too Big to Fail Survives Again Colin Barr, Fortune

Too Big to Fail Survives Again
Colin Barr, Fortune

Zombie banks, take comfort: The zombie regulatory system lives on.The financial reform legislation hammered out Friday morning on Capitol Hill closes many of the loopholes that led to the last crisis. But it stops well short of breaking the bad habit that has fed outlandish risk-taking for almost three decades: too big to fail.How will they handle the next crisis?The reform bill does take strides toward a safer financial system. It will create a process for liquidating troubled financial firms, making another AIG (AIG) less likely. It will boost oversight and transparency in the derivatives...

Misnamed Financial Services “Reform” Bill Passes, Systemic Risk is Alive and Well

Misnamed Financial Services “Reform” Bill Passes, Systemic Risk is Alive and Well

Posted: 26 Jun 2010 01:29 AM PDT

I want the word “reform” back. Between health care “reform” and financial services “reform,” Obama, his operatives, and media cheerleaders are trying to depict both initiatives as being far more salutary and far-reaching than they are. This abuse of language is yet another case of the Obama Adminsitration using branding to cover up substantive shortcomings. In the short run it might fool quite a few people, just as BP’s efforts to position itself as an environmentally responsible company did.

Witness some of the headlines today that no doubt give Team Obama cheer: “Big banks face ‘jarring shake-up’ from new regulations” (MarketWatch); “U.S. Lawmakers Set Historic Finance Deal” (Wall Street Journal); “In Week of Tests, Obama Reasserts His Authority” and “In Deal, New Authority Over Wall Street” (New York Times).

But the market action said it all. On a flat trading day, financial firms shares rose 2.7% after the deal was announced. And the Financial Times (the only financial news purveyor whose reporters and columnists were savvy enough to recognize the credit bubble and indicate it was likely to end badly) gave a wonderfully understated diss:

If approved as expected, the legislation would mark the most dramatic change in financial rules since the 1999 repeal of the Depression-era separation of investment and commercial banking. It would pave the way for President Barack Obama to claim, after the recent healthcare reform, his second key legislative victory.

Yves here. This is simply arch. To appreciate the significance of the comparison to the 1999 Glass Steagall repeal, you first need to compare it to the PR in the US press, which touts the bill as the most sweeping reform since the Great Depression. The FT isn’t buying the hype. Moreover, the Glass Stegall repeal was even less significant than the headlines then or more recent commentary would suggest. Why? By 1999, Glass Steagall was so shot full of holes with all the regulatory variances that Glass Steagall was close to a dead letter. Banks had been obtaining variances since the 1980s. By the mid 1990s, securities firms were making bridge loans and the biggest banks were increasingly influential in derivatives, stock, and bond underwriting.

So why was Glass Steagall dismantled? Banks were still restricted to making no more than 25% of revenues in their securities operations. The main reason for the repeal appears to have been to allow the merger of Citigroup and Travelers (which owned securities firm Salomon Smith Barney) to proceed.

And note the wording of the second sentence: by commenting Obama’s “legislative victory,” the pink paper dares suggest that the most important outcome of the bill’s passage is in giving Obama another notch on his belt.

So what does the bill accomplish? It inconveniences banks around the margin while failing to reduce the odds of a recurrence of a major financial crisis.

The only two measures I see as genuine accomplishments, the Audit the Fed provisions, and the creation of a consumer financial product bureau, do not address systemic risks. And the consumer protection authority was substantially watered down. Recall a crucial provision, that banks be required to offer plain vanilla variants of products, was axed early on. In addition, the agency, initially envisioned as independent, will now be housed in the Fed, which has never taken any interest in consumers (witness its failure to enforce the Home Owners Equity Protection Act, a rule which would have limited subprime lending) and has a long standing hands-off posture towards its charges.

Most of the rest is mere window dressing. The Volcker Rule was substantially watered down. Banks can still own private equity and hedge funds so long as they do not exceed 3% of core capital. There is no justification, nada, for organizations enjoying state guarantees to engage in anything other than socially useful activities that cannot be readily provided by outside players. Nevertheless, Goldman may have to reduce its PE and hedge fund exposure by as much as $10 billion, and Morgan Stanley, $3 billion. While there are purported to be limits on proprietary trading, the latest state of play was to designate transactions with customers as not being prop trades, an absurd definition given the intent of the provision (I must confess I have not seen the final language, so any reader input here would be appreaciated).

From a systemic risk standpoint, the two most important things that needed to happen were greatly increased equity levels (this would need to take place gradually) and a reduction in the “tight coupling” of the major capital markets firms. Right now, the top dealer firms are part of a badly designed network, where if one node goes down, it can bring down the entire grid. Neither was tackled in a serious way.

The most important two products to address in term of the excessive interconnectedness of financial firms were repos and credit default swaps. The New York Fed has been soldiering along on repo, yet is unconvinced of the effectiveness of its changes (!); the Blanche Lincoln amendment got reworked into putting the riskiest derivatives, including CDS, into a separately capitalized operation. Since (as we have discussed at length) CDS are not economic if adequately margined/capitalized, this measure does almost nothing to defuse the CDS bomb (the same problem exists even if the CDS are cleared centrally, which means the clearing organization becomes a potential AIG, a mere concentrated point of failure. and Alea points out a paper that argues that Are We Building the Foundations for the Next Crisis Already? The Case of Central Clearing“>the central clearing organization could actually INCREASE counterparty risk).

We will address the resolution authority headfake separately, later this weekend. Suffice it to say that all the major firms have significant international operations, so you can’t design a new improved resolution regime from the US alone. Bankruptcy is an adjudicated process, subject to the national laws of host countries. Suffice it to say that I am told by someone in a position to know that none of the 30 to 40 lawyers in the world competent to advise on this matter were consulted on the legislation.

A sampling of comments on the bill. From Michael Hirsh of Newsweek, “Financial Reform Makes Biggest Banks Stronger“:

Dodd-Frank effectively anoints the existing banking elite. The bill makes it likely that they will be the future giants of banking as well. Legislators touted changes that would restrict proprietary trading by banks and force them to spin off their swaps desks into separately capitalized operations. But banks get to keep the biggest part of their derivatives business, which is dominated by interest-rate and foreign-exchange swaps. Some 80 to 90 percent of that business will remain within the banks, and J.P. Morgan, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Bank of America, and Morgan Stanley control more than 95 percent, or about $200 trillion worth of that market. These same banks may end up controlling or at least dominating the clearinghouses they are being pressed to trade on as well, since language proposed by Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., to limit their ownership stakes to 20 percent, was dropped in the final version of the bill, according to Lynch’s spokeswoman, Meaghan Maher. “No numerical limitations were set; regulators were given the ability to do so,” she said.

The bill leaves many other future decisions, for example on pay structure and incentives, to regulators as well. “The bottom line: this doesn’t fundamentally change the way the banking industry works,” says a former U.S. Treasury official who has followed the legislation closely but would give his judgment only on condition of anonymity. “The ironic thing is that the biggest banks that took the most money end up with the most beneficial position, and the regulators that failed to stop them in first place get even more power and discretion.”

From Marshall Auerback:

The whole approach to financial reform has failed to deal with the core problems with gave rise to the crisis in the first place. Credit default swaps, collaterised debt obligations, etc., need to be understood as key components of an integrated system, the so-called “shadow banking system”, which was at the epicenter of the crisis…..

As Jan Kregel has noted…“the liquidity crises in 1998 and 2008 produced, not a run on banks, but a collapse of security values and insolvency in the securitized structures, and the withdrawal of short-term funding from the shadow banks. The safety net created to respond to a run on bank deposits was totally inadequate to respond to a capital market liquidity crisis.”

The new “financial reform” bill merely reflects the model of a banking structure which was already largely gone by the time we abolished Glass-Steagall. The proposed bill fails to recognise that in a capital market-based credit system, the key player is not the bank that originates and holds the loan, but rather the dealer who makes liquid markets in the security into which the loan is bundled. In such a system, the focus of regulation should not be on the capitalization and liquidity of banks per se, but rather on the capitalization and liquidity of dealers….

Ideally, systemically risk products such as credit default swaps should be abolished, as they serve no public purpose. But this is impossible in the real world. Pandora’s Box has been opened and can’t be shut again.

The problem with today’s reform is that sellers of credit default swaps without an adequate capital cushion may be required to post collateral on an exchange, which raises the question, “How much collateral is enough?” AIG clearly didn’t have enough. Potentially, no private financial institution does…

We should also impose greater regulatory oversight on the products emerging from this capital based market system. There is no reason why the SEC could not rescind rule 3a-7, which has exempted securitised structures from registration and regulation under the Investment Companies Act. This rescission would functionally act like a Tobin tax insofar as the resulting higher regulatory thresholds would likely slow down the proliferation of new securitised products, as well as imposing a great fiduciary responsibility on the issuer.

From Bill Black:

The fundamental problem with the financial reform bill is that it would not have prevented the current crisis and it will not prevent future crises because it does not address the reason the world is suffering recurrent, intensifying crises. A witches’ brew of deregulation, desupervision, regulatory black holes and perverse executive and professional compensation has created an intensely criminogenic environment that produces epidemics of accounting control fraud that hyper-inflate financial bubbles and cause economic crises. The bill continues unlawful, unprincipled, and dangerous policy of allowing systemically dangerous institutions (SDIs) to play by special rules even when they are insolvent. Indeed, the bill makes a variety of accounting control fraud lawful. The financial industry, with Bernanke’s support, already got Congress to extort FASB to gimmick the accounting rules so that insolvent banks could hide their losses and continue to pay the executives (already made rich by destroying “their” firms — that’s the meaning of Akerlof & Romer’s classic article: “Looting: Bankruptcy for Profit”) massive bonuses. All of this is made possible by huge, off budget subsidies to the SDIs via the Fed and Fannie and Freddie.

Even the New York Times conceded, “Industry analysts predicted that banks would most likely adapt easily to the new regulatory framework and thrive. ” That proves the bill falls laughably short of its PR; it would take either a radical restructuring of the industry, or regulating banks like utilities, to reduce the risk of another major crisis.

But despite the hype, the public may not be so dumb after all. Bloomberg tells us: “Obama’s Legislative Accomplishments Fail to Bolster Popularity.” It appears at least some voters can discern the difference between mere optics and substance.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Switch to Petraeus Betrays Afghan Policy Crisis by Gareth Porter

Switch to Petraeus Betrays Afghan Policy Crisis

by Gareth Porter / June 24th, 2010 (4)

IPS — Despite President Barack Obama’s denial that his decision to fire Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal as commander in Afghanistan and replace him with Gen. David Petraeus signified any differences with McChrystal over war strategy, the decision obviously reflects a desire by Obama to find a way out of a deepening policy crisis in Afghanistan.

Although the ostensible reason was indiscreet comments by McChrystal and his aides reported in Rolling Stone, the switch from McChrystal to Petraeus was clearly the result of White House unhappiness with McChrystal’s handling of the war.

It had become evident in recent weeks that McChrystal’s strategy is …
(Full article …)

Tuna’s End

Tuna’s End

Chavez Pushes Venezuela Into Food War -- The Telegraph

Chavez Pushes Venezuela Into Food War -- The Telegraph

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez has pushed his country into a perilous food war that has seen prices rocket amid shortages and scandal over shipments left rotting at the docks.

Venezuelan bishops gave warning yesterday that the consequences of President Chavez's drive to control the distribution of food would be to jeopardise supplies to ordinary citizens.

Church leaders said the failure of the state-owned PDVAL, a subsidiary of the national oil company, to distribute food imports that rotted at the shores was "a sin that Heaven is crying over."

Read more ....

U.S Prepared Plans To Nuke North Korea In 1969 After Military Showdown -- Wire Update

U.S Prepared Plans To Nuke North Korea In 1969 After Military Showdown -- Wire Update

WASHINGTON, D.C. (BNO NEWS) -- The United States prepared plans to nuke North Korea in 1969 after a spy plane had been shot down, according to a declassified dossier released on Wednesday.

The dossier said that the U.S. developed contingency plans that included selected use of tactical nuclear weapons against Pyongyang’s military facilities and the possibility of a full-scale war.

Read more ....

G20: leaders assemble as divisions emerge on whether to cut or spend

G20: Leaders Assemble As Divisions Emerge On Whether To Cut Or Spend -- The Telegraph

The leaders of the world's biggest economies will assemble in Toronto this weekend for a G-20 summit, amid growing tensions on how best to head off a second global recession.

The G20 summit, which starts in the Canadian capital on Saturday, comes as the Obama administration insists that governments' policies must focus on bolstering the recovery, rather than immediately tackling deficits.

“We must demonstrate a commitment to reducing long-term deficits, but not at the price of short-term growth,” US Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner argued in an article in the Wall Street Journal. “Without growth now, deficits will rise further.”

Read more ....

Obama, Medvedev Say 'Reset' US-Russia Relations

Obama, Medvedev Say 'Reset'
US-Russia Relations

America Detached from War by Tom Engelhardt

America Detached from War by Tom Engelhardt

Failing strategy survives McChrystal

Failing strategy survives McChrystal

Obama's Afghan strategy remains plagued by problems

Obama's Afghan strategy remains plagued by problems

Obama Disavows July 2011 Afghan Drawdown Date Insists Date Just the 'Beginning of a Transition Phase' by Jason Ditz

Obama Disavows July 2011 Afghan Drawdown Date
Insists Date Just the 'Beginning of a Transition Phase'
by Jason Ditz, June 24, 2010

Obama Disavows July 2011 Afghan Drawdown Date Insists Date Just the 'Beginning of a Transition Phase'

Obama Disavows July 2011 Afghan Drawdown Date
Insists Date Just the 'Beginning of a Transition Phase'
by Jason Ditz, June 24, 2010

Obama Misses the Afghan Exit Ramp Ray McGovern: Sending Petraeus is too clever by half

Obama Misses the Afghan Exit Ramp

Ray McGovern: Sending Petraeus is too clever by half

Can Israel Make Peace With Syria? by Patrick Seale

Can Israel Make Peace With Syria? by Patrick Seale
The emergence of a new geostrategic map, unfavourable to Israel, is causing General Uri Saguy and other prominent Israelis to lobby for peace with Syria, even at the cost of returning the Golan.

America’s Moment of Truth in Afghanistan by Patrick Seale

America’s Moment of Truth in Afghanistan by Patrick Seale

It would appear that the United States has a choice between acknowledging defeat, pulling out, and suffering the inevitable political humiliation, or continuing to fight an unwinnable war and bleeding further. Is there a third option? Yes.

Think the Gulf Spill Is Bad? Wait Until the Next Disaster Robert Kiyosaki, Yahoo Finance

Think the Gulf Spill Is Bad? Wait Until the Next Disaster Robert Kiyosaki, Yahoo Finance

Biologist: Ocean pollution ‘threatening the human food supply’

Biologist: Ocean pollution ‘threatening the human food supply’ Raw Story

First Worldwide Estimate Of Investments In Combating Water Pollution

First Worldwide Estimate Of Investments In Combating Water Pollution

File image courtesy AFP.
by Staff Writers
Hanoi, Vietnam (SPX) Jun 25, 2010
An innovative market in water quality is rapidly emerging worldwide, as cash-strapped governments in countries as diverse as China, the United States, Brazil and Australia invest billions of public and private dollars in schemes that reward people who protect water resources, according to a new report that is the first to quantify payments for watershed services that could help avert a looming global water quality crisis.

Calling the water crisis a threat to humanity that exceeds global warming, the authors of the study released at the global Katoomba conference in Hanoi said that a number of regions of the globe seem to be responding to such frightening indicators as the steady proliferation of "dead zones" in waterways around the world.

America Detached from War Bush's Pilotless Dream, Smoking Drones, and Other Strange Tales from the Crypt by Tom Engelhardt

America Detached from War

Bush's Pilotless Dream, Smoking Drones, and Other Strange Tales from the Crypt

by Tom Engelhardt

Admittedly, before George W. Bush had his fever dream, the U.S. had already put its first unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drone surveillance planes in the skies over Kosovo in the late 1990s. By November 2001, it had armed them with missiles and was flying them over Afghanistan.

In November 2002, a Predator drone would loose a Hellfire missile on a car in Yemen, a country with which we weren't at war. Six suspected al-Qaeda members, including a suspect in the bombing of the destroyer the USS Cole would be turned into twisted metal and ash -- the first "targeted killings" of the American robotic era.

Just two months earlier, in September 2002, as the Bush administration was "introducing" its campaign to sell an invasion of Iraq to Congress and the American people, CIA Director George Tenet and Vice President Dick Cheney "trooped up to Capitol Hill" to brief four top Senate and House leaders on a hair-raising threat to the country. A "smoking gun" had been uncovered.

According to "new intelligence," Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had in his possession unmanned aerial vehicles advanced enough to be armed with biological and chemical weaponry. Worse yet, these were capable -- so the CIA director and vice president claimed -- of spraying those weapons of mass destruction over cities on the east coast of the United States. It was just the sort of evil plan you might have expected from a man regularly compared to Adolf Hitler in our media, and the news evidently made an impression in Congress.
Democratic Senator Bill Nelson of Florida, for example, said that he voted for the administration's resolution authorizing force in Iraq because "I was told not only that [Saddam had weapons of mass destruction] and that he had the means to deliver them through unmanned aerial vehicles, but that he had the capability of transporting those UAVs outside of Iraq and threatening the homeland here in America, specifically by putting them on ships off the eastern seaboard."

In a speech in October 2002 President Bush then offered a version of this apocalyptic nightmare to the American public. Of course, like Saddam's supposed ability to produce "mushroom clouds" over American cities, the Iraqi autocrat's advanced UAVs (along with the ships needed to position them off the U.S. coast) were a feverish fantasy of the Bush era and would soon enough be forgotten. Instead, in the years to come, it would be American pilotless drones that would repeatedly attack Iraqi urban areas with Hellfire missiles and bombs.

In those years, our drones would also strike repeatedly in Afghanistan, and especially in the tribal borderlands of Pakistan, where in an escalating "secret" or "covert" war, which has been no secret to anyone, multiple drone attacks often occur weekly. They are now considered so much the norm that, with humdrum headlines slapped on ("U.S. missile strike kills 12 in NW Pakistan"), they barely make it out of summary articles about war developments in the American press.
And yet those robotic planes, with their young "pilots" (as well as the camera operators and intelligence analysts who make up a drone "crew") sitting in front of consoles 7,000 miles away from where their missiles and bombs are landing, have become another kind of American fever dream. The drone is our latest wonder weapon and a bragging point in a set of wars where there has been little enough to brag about.

CIA director Leon Panetta has, for instance, called the Agency's drones flying over Pakistan "the only game in town" when it comes to destroying al-Qaeda; a typically anonymous U.S. official in a Washington Post report claims of drone missile attacks, "We're talking about precision unsurpassed in the history of warfare"; or as Gordon Johnson of the Pentagon's Joint Forces Command told author Peter Singer, speaking of the glories of drones: "They don't get hungry. They are not afraid. They don't forget their orders. They don't care if the guy next to them has been shot. Will they do a better job than humans? Yes."
Seven thousand of them, the vast majority surveillance varieties, are reportedly already being operated by the military, and that's before swarms of "mini-drones" come on line. Our American world is being redefined accordingly.

In February, Greg Jaffe of the Washington Post caught something of this process when he spent time with Colonel Eric Mathewson, perhaps the most experienced Air Force officer in drone operations and on the verge of retirement. Mathewson, reported Jaffe, was trying to come up with an appropriately new definition of battlefield "valor" -- a necessity for most combat award citations -- to fit our latest corps of pilots at their video consoles. "Valor to me is not risking your life," the colonel told the reporter. "Valor is doing what is right. Valor is about your motivations and the ends that you seek. It is doing what is right for the right reasons. That to me is valor."

Smoking Drones

These days, CIA and administration officials troop up to Capitol Hill to offer briefings to Congress on the miraculous value of pilotless drones: in disrupting al-Qaeda, destroying its leadership or driving it "deeper into hiding," and taking out key figures in the Taliban. Indeed, what started as a 24/7 assassination campaign against al-Qaeda's top leadership has already widened considerably. The "target set" has by now reportedly expanded to take in ever lower-level militants in the tribal borderlands. In other words, a drone assassination campaign is morphing into the first full-scale drone war (and, as in all wars from the air, civilians are dying in unknown numbers).

If the temperature is again rising in Washington when it comes to these weapons, this time it's a fever of enthusiasm for the spectacular future of drones (which the Air Force has plotted out to the year 2047) , of a time when single pilots should be able to handle multiple drones in operations in the skies over some embattled land, and of a far more distant moment when those drones should be able to handle themselves, flying, fighting, and making key decisions about just who to take out without a human being having to intervene.

When we possess such weaponry, it turns out, there's nothing unnerving or disturbing, apocalyptic or dystopian about it. Today, in the American homeland, not a single smoking drone is in sight.

Now it's the United States whose UAVs are ever more powerfully weaponized. It's the U.S. which is developing a 22-ton tail-less drone 20 times larger than a Predator that can fly at Mach 7 and (theoretically) land on the pitching deck of an aircraft carrier. It's the Pentagon which is planning to increase the funding of drone development by 700% over the next decade.

Admittedly, there is a modest counter-narrative to all this enthusiasm for our robotic prowess, "precision," and "valor." It involves legal types like Philip Alston, the United Nations special representative on extrajudicial executions. He recently issued a 29-page report criticizing Washington's "ever-expanding entitlement for itself to target individuals across the globe." Unless limits are put on such claims, and especially on the CIA's drone war over Pakistan, he suggests, soon enough a plethora of states will follow in America's footprints, attacking people in other lands "labeled as terrorists by one group or another."

Such mechanized, long-distance warfare, he also suggests, will breach what respect remains for the laws of war. "Because operators are based thousands of miles away from the battlefield," he wrote, "and undertake operations entirely through computer screens and remote audio-feed, there is a risk of developing a 'PlayStation' mentality to killing."

Similarly, the ACLU has filed a freedom of information lawsuit against the U.S. government, demanding that it "disclose the legal basis for its use of unmanned drones to conduct targeted killings overseas, as well as the ground rules regarding when, where, and against whom drone strikes can be authorized, and the number of civilian casualties they have caused."

But pay no mind to all this. The arguments may be legally compelling, but not in Washington, which has mounted a half-hearted claim of legitimate "self-defense" but senses that it's already well past the point where legalities matter. The die is cast, the money committed. The momentum for drone war and yet more drone war is overwhelming.

It's a done deal. Drone war is, and will be, us.

A Pilotless Military

If there are zeitgeist moments for products, movie stars, and even politicians, then such moments can exist for weaponry as well. The robotic drone is the Lady Gaga of this Pentagon moment.

It's a moment that could, of course, be presented as an apocalyptic nightmare in the style of the Terminator movies (with the U.S. as the soul-crushing Skynet), or as a remarkable tale of how "networking technology is expanding a homefront that is increasingly relevant to day-to-day warfare" (as Christopher Drew recently put it in the New York Times). It could be described as the arrival of a dystopian fantasy world of one-way slaughter verging on entertainment, or as the coming of a generation of homegrown video warriors who work "in camouflage uniforms, complete with combat boots, on open floors, with four computer monitors on each desk... and coffee and Red Bull help[ing] them get through the 12-hour shifts." It could be presented as the ultimate in cowardice -- the killing of people in a world you know nothing about from thousands of miles away -- or (as Col. Mathewson would prefer) a new form of valor.

The drones -- their use expanding exponentially, with ever newer generations on the drawing boards, and the planes even heading for "the homeland" -- could certainly be considered a demon spawn of modern warfare, or (as is generally the case in the U.S.) a remarkable example of American technological ingenuity, a problem-solver of the first order at a time when few American problems seem capable of solution. Thanks to our technological prowess, it's claimed that we can now kill them, wherever they may be lurking, at absolutely no cost to ourselves, other than the odd malfunctioning drone. Not that even all CIA operatives involved in the drone wars agree with that one. Some of them understand perfectly well that there's a price to be paid.

As it happens, the enthusiasm for drones is as much a fever dream as the one President Bush and his associates offered back in 2002, but it's also distinctly us. In fact, drone warfare fits the America of 2010 tighter than a glove. With its consoles, chat rooms, and "single shooter" death machines, it certainly fits the skills of a generation raised on the computer, Facebook, and video games. That our valorous warriors, their day of battle done, can increasingly leave war behind and head home to the barbecue (or, given American life, the foreclosure) also fits an American mood of the moment.

The Air Force "detachments" that "manage" the drone war from places like Creech Air Force Base in Nevada are "detached" from war in a way that even an artillery unit significantly behind the battle lines or an American pilot in an F-16 over Afghanistan (who could, at least, experience engine failure) isn't. If the drone presents the most extreme version thus far of the detachment of human beings from the battlefield (on only one side, of course) and so launches a basic redefinition of what war is all about, it also catches something important about the American way of war.

After all, while this country garrisons the world, invests its wealth in its military, and fights unending, unwinnable frontier wars and skirmishes, most Americans are remarkably detached from all this. If anything, since Vietnam when an increasingly rebellious citizens' army proved disastrous for Washington's global aims, such detachment has been the goal of American war-making.

As a start, with no draft and so no citizen's army, war and the toll it takes is now the professional business of a tiny percentage of Americans (and their families). It occurs thousands of miles away and, in the Bush years, also became a heavily privatized, for-profit activity. As Pratap Chatterjee reported recently, "[E]very US soldier deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq is matched by at least one civilian working for a private company. All told, about 239,451 contractors work for the Pentagon in battle zones around the world." And a majority of those contractors aren't even U.S. citizens.

If drones have entered our world as media celebrities, they have done so largely without debate among that detached populace. In a sense, our wars abroad could be thought of as the equivalent of so many drones. We send our troops off and then go home for dinner and put them out of mind. The question is: Have we redefined our detachment as a new version of citizenly valor (and covered it over by a constant drumbeat of "support for our troops")?
Under these circumstances, it's hardly surprising that a "pilotless" force should, in turn, develop the sort of contempt for civilians that can be seen in the recent flap over the derogatory comments of Afghan war commander General Stanley McChrystal and his aides about Obama administration officials.

The Globalization of Death

Maybe what we need is the return of George W. Bush's fever dream from the American oblivion in which it's now interred. He was beyond wrong, of course, when it came to Saddam Hussein and Iraqi drones, but he wasn't completely wrong about the dystopian Drone World to come. There are now reportedly more than 40 countries developing versions of those pilot-less planes. Earlier this year, the Iranians announced that they were starting up production lines for both armed and unarmed drones. Hezbollah used them against Israel in the 2006 summer war, years after Israel began pioneering their use in targeted killings of Palestinians.

Right now, in what still remains largely a post-Cold War arms race of one, the U.S. is racing to produce ever more advanced drones to fight our wars, with few competitors in sight. In the process, we're also obliterating classic ideas of national sovereignty, and of who can be killed by whom under what circumstances. In the process, we may not just be obliterating enemies, but creating them wherever our drones buzz overhead and our missiles strike.

We are also creating the (il)legal framework for future war on a frontier where we won't long be flying solo. And when the first Iranian, or Russian, or Chinese missile-armed drones start knocking off their chosen sets of "terrorists," we won't like it one bit. When the first "suicide drones" appear, we'll like it even less. And if drones with the ability to spray chemical or biological weapons finally do make the scene, we'll be truly unnerved.

In the 1990s, we were said to be in an era of "globalization" which was widely hailed as good news. Now, the U.S. and its detached populace are pioneering a new era of killing that respects no boundaries, relies on the self-definitions of whoever owns the nearest drone, and establishes planetary free-fire zones. It's a nasty combination, this globalization of death.
Copyright 2010 Tom Engelhardt

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Nuclear Iran Benjamin Kerstein, The New Ledger

Nuclear Iran
Benjamin Kerstein, The New Ledger
It is now all but certain that the American administration has more or less resigned itself to a nuclear Iran. At the very least, it appears to have decided to take no military action against the Iranian nuclear program, nor even to support or encourage – publicly or discreetly – the Iranian popular opposition to the Ahmadinejad regime. The Obama administration will likely continue to pursue its policy of promoting engagement, either out of cynicism or naiveté, while simultaneously busying itself with the diplomatic give and take of arranging...

Be Careful What You Wish For

Be Careful What You Wish For
from Home Page by John Mauldin
John Mauldin submits:

"Everyone" is upset with the level of fiscal deficits being run by nearly every developed country, and with much justification. The levels of fiscal deficits are unsustainable and threaten to bring many countries to the desperate situation that Greece now finds itself in. 'We must balance the budget' is the cry of fiscal conservatives. But there are unseen consequences in moving both too fast or too slow in the effort to get the deficits under control. Today we look at them as we explore what a fine mess we have gotten ourselves into.
GDP = C + I + G + (X-M)

We have discussed the above equation before, but let's look at it again from a different angle. Basically, the equation is another accounting identity. GDP (Gross Domestic Product) for a given country is the total of Consumption (personal and business) plus Investments plus Government spending plus exports minus imports.

Complete Story

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Who's Really to Blame for the Gulf? America's Worst Generation By STEVEN HIGGS

Who's Really to Blame for the Gulf?
America's Worst Generation


For we radical environmentalists, whose warnings and arguments have been ignored, maligned and ridiculed since the Reagan Revolution dawned three decades ago, the Gulf of Oil disaster evokes a wicked brew of emotions and attitudes.

On the one hand, we feel the pain and horror of the unfolding environmental disaster as acutely as those who occupy the bioregion. We radicals have spent our entire lives fighting to protect the wildlife and natural features of the Gulf and every other coast, shoreline, riverbed or stream bank, wherever they've been threatened, which is everywhere. Despite the ennui that comes from witnessing first-hand decades of unrelenting ecological degradation, we still feel the pinch every time a special place is lost.

We can't help but revel in the never-ending spew of vitriol and venom aimed at BP, one of the planet's most contemptible corporate polluters. We delight in watching the arrogance and hypocrisy of the drill-baby-drills and political pimps -- like Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, and U.S. Senators Mary Landrieu from Louisiana, John Cornin from Texas and Lamar Alexander from Tennessee -- exposed with such laser-clear light.

And seriously, who can't muster a little chuckle watching the nightly images of those who have built careers emasculating the federal government whining because the feds aren't there to save their asses? Democrats and Republicans, they need to burn-baby-burn at the polls every November until they are all gone. And then they should be prosecuted for crimes against democracy and the environment.

Naturally, we're not surprised that President Barack Obama again has been caught clueless. He did put Ken Salazar in charge of the Department of the Interior, with responsibility for regulating oil rigs like the Deepwater Horizon. Days before the platform exploded and the gushing and lying and despoliation commenced, the president declared deep-water drilling safe.

And he still wants to drill. He thinks nukes are clean energy, for god sake. The guy is clueless.

We do empathize with those whose lives and livelihoods have been destroyed, even if the Karma at work is elementary. (Lie with bugs, you're going to get bit, Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama.) Most of us became radical environmentalists because similar fates befell people or places we love.

But on the other hand, the blame game that consumes the mainstream media's attention is downright infuriating.

BP is no more responsible for the Deepwater Horizon explosion and leak than a 14-year-old kid is for skipping classes when her parents don't care. BP and other oil companies tap oil wells a mile below the sea's surface with inadequate disaster plans because they are allowed to. They're guilty. But they're not to blame.

Barack Obama inherited the government that Ronald Reagan envisioned when his revolution took root -- emasculated, ineffective, incapable of acting. He can't save the environment or the people in the Gulf. He bears no blame for it, no matter how dense he is.


If blame for this catastrophe must be assigned, the far-and-away largest chunk goes to the baby-boom generation.

The boomers came of age during the Great Society and were among the most educated and enlightened generations in history. They engaged politically in their youth and learned how to make democracy serve the best interests of its citizens. They opposed and eventually stopped an immoral war, helped drive the Civil Rights and Women's Rights agendas and ushered in eras of unprecedented creativity, freedom and expression.

They also understood Silent Spring and grasped the significance when the Cuyahoga River caught fire in Cleveland in 1969. Richard Nixon didn't sign the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act or the National Environmental Policy Act because he cared about the environment. He did so because the public, driven by the boomers' agenda, left him no political choice.

But when Ronald Reagan asked in 1980 if they were better off than they had been four years before, the boomers reacted as if he were swinging a bright, shiny object before their eyes, a la a Twilight Zone episode. They forgot where they had been, what they had learned, and what they stood for. They internalized the fundamental principle of Ronald Reagan, that selfishness and greed are laudable human values.

They turned off, tuned out and dropped off the face of the political planet.

They devolved from citizens to consumers and spent the next three decades gorging themselves on fossil fuels. Climate change be damned. More gas. More oil. More petroleum. They drove out of the cities, built bigger houses, bought bigger vehicles (an SUV for every kid!) and didn't give a damn about anything or anyone other than themselves.

Through their political detachment, they enabled the liars and thieves who have engineered as great a transfer of wealth from the many to the few as the world has ever witnessed. They turned blind eyes to the blatant plutocratic corruption that plagues the political system at every level. Enough of them voted for George W. Bush that Big Oil was able to steal two presidential elections and lay the framework for the Gulf of Oil disaster.

As pitifully as the truth about the environment has been presented to them by what passes for the "news" media in our age, Earth Day-raised boomers didn't have to put themselves out to get the facts. Driven by the hubris of human beings like BP's Tony Hayword and Texan John Cornin, their environment, indeed their own bodies, are soaked with poisons, the most dangerous of which are derived from oil. It ain’t quantum physics. It’ common sense.

The facts are now, and always have been, readily available for those boomers who cared enough to be informed. Hell, all they had to do was look at their children and grandchildren to realize something is wrong at the most elemental levels of life. As former New York Times environmental reporter Philip Shabecoff and his wife Alice detail in their book Poisoned for Profit, one in every three American children today has a chronic and usually incurable illness or condition -- a developmental disability like autism or ADHD, a birth defect like cleft palette, lead poisoning, asthma or cancer. If obesity is added to the list, it's almost half -- 45 percent.

Have the boomers really not noticed?

No, environmental reality couldn't have been more clear. But in their self-indulgent, Reaganite mindsets, the boomers ignored, maligned and ridiculed the truth. They punted. And four decades after Silent Spring and Cuyahoga, their children's bodies are brimming with pesticides, and the Gulf is on fire.

The boomers are to blame. Any honest book about them would have to be titled America's Worst Generation.

Steven Higgs is a Bloomington, Ind.-based freelance writer, who publishes The Bloomington Alternative and writes the "Autism and the Indiana Environment Blog." He is the author of Twenty Years of Crimes Against Democracy: A Grassroots History of the I-69/NAFTA Highway and can be reached at