Archives for January 2008

NEWS: The war toll

Iraq conflict has killed a million Iraqis: survey

More than one million Iraqis have died as a result of the conflict in their country since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, according to research conducted by one of Britain’s leading polling groups.

The survey, conducted by Opinion Research Business (ORB) with 2,414 adults in face-to-face interviews, found that 20 percent of people had had at least one death in their household as a result of the conflict, rather than natural causes. [complete article]

Soldier suicides at record level

Lt. Elizabeth Whiteside, a psychiatric outpatient at Walter Reed Army Medical Center who was waiting for the Army to decide whether to court-martial her for endangering another soldier and turning a gun on herself last year in Iraq, attempted to kill herself Monday evening. In so doing, the 25-year-old Army reservist joined a record number of soldiers who have committed or tried to commit suicide after serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. [complete article]

Battle concussions tied to stress disorder

About one in six combat troops returning from Iraq have suffered at least one concussion in the war, injuries that, while temporary, could heighten their risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder, researchers are reporting. [complete article]

U.S. commanders in Iraq favor pause in troop cuts

Senior U.S. military commanders here say they want to freeze troop reductions starting this summer for at least a month, making it more likely that the next administration will inherit as many troops in Iraq as there were before President Bush announced a “surge” of forces a year ago.

There are about 155,000 U.S. troops in Iraq now, with about 5,000 leaving every month; the proposed freeze would go into effect in July, when troops levels reach around 130,000. Although violence is dropping in Iraq, commanders say they want to halt withdrawals to assess whether they can control the situation with fewer troops. [complete article]

Bomb takes death toll of journalists in Iraq war to 126

IIraq confirmed its reputation as the most dangerous country in the world for journalists this week when a roadside bomb killed an Iraqi television cameraman, Alaa Abdul-Karim al-Fartoosi, the first journalist to be killed in Iraq this year and the 126th since the start of the war. [complete article]

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CAMPAIGN 08: Judgment trumps experience

Obama, Clinton and the war

It should mean a great deal to progressives that in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination Sen. Ted Kennedy favors Sen. Barack Obama over two other colleagues he has worked with in the Senate. No one in the history of that institution has been a more consistent and effective fighter than Kennedy for an enlightened agenda, be it civil rights and liberty, gender equality, labor and immigrant justice, environmental protection, educational opportunity or opposing military adventures.

Kennedy was a rare sane voice among the Democrats in strongly opposing the Iraq war, and it is no small tribute when he states: “We know the record of Barack Obama. There is the courage he showed when so many others were silent or simply went along. From the beginning, he opposed the war in Iraq. And let no one deny that truth.”

But that is precisely the truth that Sen. Hillary Clinton has shamelessly sought to obscure. Her supporters have accepted Clinton’s refusal to repudiate her vote to authorize the war, an ignominious moment she shares with other Democrats, including presidential candidate John Edwards, who at least has made a point of regretting it. It was a vote that has led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, 3,940 U.S. service members—five more on Monday—and a debt in the trillions of dollars that will prevent the funding of needed domestic programs that Clinton claims to support. And it doesn’t end with Iraq. Clinton has been equally hawkish toward Iran and, in a Margaret Thatcher-like moment, even attacked Obama for ruling out the use of nuclear weapons against Osama bin Laden. [complete article]

After mining deal, financier donated to Clinton

LLate on Sept. 6, 2005, a private plane carrying the Canadian mining financier Frank Giustra touched down in Almaty, a ruggedly picturesque city in southeast Kazakhstan. Several hundred miles to the west a fortune awaited: highly coveted deposits of uranium that could fuel nuclear reactors around the world. And Mr. Giustra was in hot pursuit of an exclusive deal to tap them.

Unlike more established competitors, Mr. Giustra was a newcomer to uranium mining in Kazakhstan, a former Soviet republic. But what his fledgling company lacked in experience, it made up for in connections. Accompanying Mr. Giustra on his luxuriously appointed MD-87 jet that day was a former president of the United States, Bill Clinton.

Upon landing on the first stop of a three-country philanthropic tour, the two men were whisked off to share a sumptuous midnight banquet with Kazakhstan’s president, Nursultan A. Nazarbayev, whose 19-year stranglehold on the country has all but quashed political dissent.

Mr. Nazarbayev walked away from the table with a propaganda coup, after Mr. Clinton expressed enthusiastic support for the Kazakh leader’s bid to head an international organization that monitors elections and supports democracy. Mr. Clinton’s public declaration undercut both American foreign policy and sharp criticism of Kazakhstan’s poor human rights record by, among others, Mr. Clinton’s wife, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York. [complete article]

Clinton remained silent as Wal-Mart fought unions

In six years as a member of the Wal-Mart board of directors, between 1986 and 1992, Hillary Clinton remained silent as the world’s largest retailer waged a major campaign against labor unions seeking to represent store workers.

Clinton has been endorsed for president by more than a dozen unions, according to her campaign Web site, which omits any reference to her role at Wal-Mart in its detailed biography of her.

Wal-Mart’s anti-union efforts were headed by one of Clinton’s fellow board members, John Tate, a Wal-Mart executive vice president who also served on the board with Clinton for four of her six years.

Tate was fond of repeating, as he did at a managers meeting in 2004 after his retirement, what he said was his favorite phrase, “Labor unions are nothing but blood-sucking parasites living off the productive labor of people who work for a living.” [complete article]

Obamania in action

Is endorsing Barack Obama the new cool? Not long ago, Hillary Rodham Clinton was the seemingly inevitable front-runner for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. Obama was the insurgent. He was pulling in young voters, independents and new voters, but he lacked the blessing of the party’s heavyweights.

That’s changed. Obama’s success in moving beyond the traditional party base — combined with serious Clinton fatigue — is leading many seasoned Democratic leaders to rethink their earlier assumptions. John Kerry, Patrick Leahy, Claire McCaskill and Tom Daschle, among others, have lined up behind Obama, and the last few days brought Obama a surge of new, high-profile endorsements from such luminaries as Ted Kennedy and Nobel laureate Toni Morrison.

His endorsers are right to see Obama as their party’s best hope for 2008. Though skeptics contend that Obama lacks “experience,” this concern makes sense only if you think you have to be a Washington insider to be qualified to run for president. Obama began his career as a community organizer and civil rights attorney in Chicago — relevant background for someone who will have to deal with tough economic and social justice issues as president. He was elected to the Illinois Senate in 1996 and the U.S. Senate in 2004; in all, he’s spent 11 years being directly accountable to voters (that’s four more than Clinton). [complete article]

Volcker joins list of Obama backers

Former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, the latest big name to endorse Sen. Barack Obama, could give the Illinois Democrat a boost by lending his gravitas in the financial world to a presidential candidate whose biggest hurdle is to convince voters he is experienced enough.

“After 30 years in government, serving under five Presidents of both parties and chairing two non-partisan commissions on the Public Service, I have been reluctant to engage in political campaigns. The time has come to overcome that reluctance,” Volcker, a Democrat, said in a statement today. “However, it is not the current turmoil in markets or the economic uncertainties that have impelled my decision. Rather, it is the breadth and depth of challenges that face our nation at home and abroad. Those challenges demand a new leadership and a fresh approach.” [complete article]

Obama’s $32 million haul

A $32 million month.

That’s how much Senator Barack Obama has raised so far in January, according to his campaign manager, David Plouffe, who announced the first fund-raising tally of 2008. The campaign attracted 170,000 new contributors during the month, he said.

“Obviously this contest could go on for some time in the primary.’’ Mr. Plouffe said, speaking to reporters on a conference call earlier this morning. “We think the strength of our financial position and the number of donors does speak to financial sustainability.” [complete article]

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PREVIEW: 9/11 Commission uncensored

The Commission: The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Investigation

In a revelation bound to cast a pall over the 9/11 Commission, Philip Shenon will report in a forthcoming book that the panel’s executive director, Philip Zelikow, engaged in “surreptitious” communications with presidential adviser Karl Rove and other Bush administration officials during the commission’s 20-month investigation into the 9/11 attacks.

Shenon, who led The New York Times’ coverage of the 9/11 panel, reveals the Zelikow-Rove connection in a new book entitled The Commission: The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Investigation, to be published next month by TWELVE books. The Commission is under an embargo until its February 5 publication, but Washington DeCoded managed to purchase a copy of the abridged audio version from a New York bookstore.

In what’s termed an “investigation of the investigation,” Shenon purports to tell the story of the commission from start to finish. The book’s critical revelations, however, revolve almost entirely around the figure of Philip Zelikow, a University of Virginia professor and director of the Miller Center of Public Affairs prior to his service as the commission’s executive director. Shenon delivers a blistering account of Zelikow’s role and leadership, and an implicit criticism of the commissioners for appointing Zelikow in the first place—and then allowing him to stay on after his myriad conflicts-of-interest were revealed under oath. [complete article]

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FEATURE: Barreling into recession

How oil burst the American bubble

The economic bubble that lifted the stock market to dizzying heights was sustained as much by cheap oil as by cheap (often fraudulent) mortgages. Likewise, the collapse of the bubble was caused as much by costly (often imported) oil as by record defaults on those improvident mortgages. Oil, in fact, has played a critical, if little commented upon, role in America’s current economic enfeeblement — and it will continue to drain the economy of wealth and vigor for years to come. [complete article]

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NEWS & OPINION: Winograd; Jerusalem; Palestinian talks

Olmert: His own shlemiel, or Bush’s?

While Israel’s Winograd Commission has certainly pulled no punches in excoriating the Israeli military and political leadership for their botched war in Lebanon last summer, there appears to be a massive lacuna in its conclusions. (I’m not even going to get into the question of cluster bombs and other military actions by Israel in that conflict that contravene international law.) Israel clearly went to war in haste without a considered plan, without weighing alternatives, without establishing clear objectives and without an exit strategy. That much Winograd was prepared to say bluntly. But what he doesn’t explain is why things played out in this way.

And here, I think, he’s avoiding the elephant in the room: the very clear sense, throughout the Lebanon misadventure, that Israel was coordinating its actions with Washington to an extent that the Bush Administration’s own decisions had a decisive impact on how Israel waged its campaign. Once Israel had launche its initial air raids, the U.S. quickly moved to define the objectives of the war in terms far more expansive than Israel had ever intended, using its diplomatic veto to block a ceasefire that the Israeli leadership had, in fact, been counting on when they began. I had previously written about how in order to truly understand the brutal botchup of Lebanon, the commission would have to probe the U.S. role in Israel’s decision making — the war was one in which I believe Israeli leaders ceded an unprecedented level of control over Israeli decisions to the United States. [complete article]

See also, Opposition leader Netanyahu: Olmert is incompetent, unfit to lead (Haaretz).

Jewish group to build 200 new housing units in East Jerusalem

The Yemin Yehuda non-profit association has begun building 200 housing units in the Shimon Hatzaddik compound, in the heart of East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarra neighborhood. In the process, the organization intends to demolish the homes of dozens of Palestinian families who live there.

This neighborhood is in a strategic location: If Yemin Yehuda completes its plan, it will cut the Old City off from the Palestinian neighborhoods in northern Jerusalem.

MK Benny Elon (National Union-National Religious Party), who supports building the new neighborhood, says it is designed to create a Jewish continuum surrounding the Old City, where there currently is a massive Palestinian majority. [complete article]

Islamic Jihad urges Hamas, Fatah to start dialogue

Islamic Jihad movement on Thursday urged Hamas and Fatah movement benefit from both being in Cairo and start a reconciliation dialogue.

“We must get out from the internal infighting and its results,” said Naffez Azzam, an Islamic Jihad leader, during a demonstration in front of the sealed-off Rafah crossing point in southern Gaza Strip. [complete article]

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NEWS: “NATO is not winning in Afghanistan”

Calls grow for shift in Afghan policy

The Bush administration faces increasing pressure to make a major policy course correction on Afghanistan, shifting the focus from Iraq to fight a resurgent terrorist threat and build up the faltering government in Kabul.

A Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing today is set to take up a string of new reports warning that the political and economic situations in Afghanistan are deteriorating amid growing strains between the United States and its NATO allies over the military mission there. [complete article]

Demise of al-Qaida’s ‘number three’

If Abu Laith al-Libi is indeed dead, then there is a certain inevitability to his sudden demise.

The Libyan militant has lived dangerously for nearly two decades, starting his career in militant groups in his homeland before turning to operations in Saudi Arabia in the mid-90s.

In 1999 or thereabouts Libi, believed to be aged in his 40s, surfaced in Afghanistan, operating as both a field commander and later a spokesman for al-Qaida. His most recent post was his most dangerous to date. [complete article]

Suicide bomber kills Afghan official

The deputy governor of Helmand Province and five others were killed by a suicide bomber during afternoon prayers in a mosque in the provincial capital, Afghan officials said. The Taliban claimed responsibility.

The deputy, Hajji Pir Mohammad, was dead on arrival at a hospital in the capital, Lashkar Gah, the duty doctor there said, and at least 21 injured people, including a 5-year-old boy, were treated.

The bomb went off just after 1 p.m. in a mosque near the governor’s office, the provincial police chief, Muhammad Hussain Andiwal, said. He confirmed that six people, including the deputy governor, were killed as they were praying. [complete article]

Sentenced to death: Afghan who dared to read about women’s rights

A young man, a student of journalism, is sentenced to death by an Islamic court for downloading a report from the internet. The sentence is then upheld by the country’s rulers. This is Afghanistan – not in Taliban times but six years after “liberation” and under the democratic rule of the West’s ally Hamid Karzai.

The fate of Sayed Pervez Kambaksh has led to domestic and international protests, and deepening concern about erosion of civil liberties in Afghanistan. He was accused of blasphemy after he downloaded a report from a Farsi website which stated that Muslim fundamentalists who claimed the Koran justified the oppression of women had misrepresented the views of the prophet Mohamed. [complete article]

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NEWS: Musharraf vs. Chaudhry

Ex-military men want Musharraf to hand judge power

A group of retired senior military officers said on Thursday President Pervez Musharraf should hand over power to the judge he sacked three months ago to ensure national elections are fair.

The backing for deposed Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry from old generals, air marshals, admirals and intelligence chiefs coincided with protests by lawyers in support of the judge and the independence of the judiciary. [complete article]

Pakistani justice breaks silence

Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, the former chief justice of Pakistan who was removed last year when President Pervez Musharraf imposed a state of emergency, has finally broken his silence.

A letter from Mr. Chaudhry to Western officials was circulated Wednesday. It lambasted Mr. Musharraf for quashing Pakistan’s independent judiciary and illegally detaining him and his family, and noted that the Supreme Court had not had a chance to rule on whether it was legal for Mr. Musharraf to run for re-election in December.

It was Mr. Chaudhry’s second public statement since the start of emergency rule on Nov. 3, when he was confined to his official residence. On Nov. 6, he made a telephone address to opposition lawyers in Islamabad, urging the nation to rise up for the restoration of the Constitution. Emergency rule was lifted Dec. 15. [complete article]

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OPINION & FEATURE: The looming threats

The global battle for food, oil and water

comingconflicts.jpg
Soccer crowds in England like to abuse match referees by chanting: “You don’t know what you’re doing.” If protesters had been able to get near the World Economic Forum in Davos last week, they could justifiably have aimed the same chant at the world leaders who assembled in the Alps.

These people are meant to be the “masters of the universe”: presidents, prime ministers, bankers, billionaires. If anybody can make sense of world events, it should be them. But the air of confusion in Davos was both palpable and alarming.

The meeting took place against a background of crashing stock markets, panicky interest-rate cuts and a massive bank fraud. The global financial system is now so complicated that nobody really knows how deep its problems run. This central “known unknown” means that all the subsequent big questions are much harder to answer. Will America face a serious recession? It all depends. How bad will the knock-on effects be for the rest of world? Search me. How should politicians and regulators react? Difficult to say. [complete article]

Population growth is a threat. But it pales against the greed of the rich

…if we accept the UN’s projection, the global population will grow by roughly 50% and then stop. This means it will become 50% harder to stop runaway climate change, 50% harder to feed the world, 50% harder to prevent the overuse of resources. But compare this rate of increase with the rate of economic growth.

Many economists predict that, occasional recessions notwithstanding, the global economy will grow by about 3% a year this century. Governments will do all they can to prove them right. A steady growth rate of 3% means a doubling of economic activity every 23 years. By 2100, in other words, global consumption will increase by about 1,600%. As the equations produced by Professor Roderick Smith of Imperial College have shown, this means that in the 21st century we will have used 16 times as many economic resources as human beings have consumed since we came down from the trees.

So economic growth this century could be 32 times as big an environmental issue as population growth. And if governments, banks and businesses have their way, it never stops. By 2115, the cumulative total rises to 3,200%, by 2138 to 6,400%. As resources are finite, this is of course impossible, but it is not hard to see that rising economic activity – not human numbers – is the immediate and overwhelming threat. [complete article]

The black box economy

The past year has been a harrowing one for the world’s financial markets, shaken by subprime crises, credit crunches, and other ills. Things have only gotten stranger in the past week, with stock prices swinging wildly in every major market – drastically down, then back up.
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Last week the Federal Reserve announced the biggest cut in overnight lending rates in more than two decades. Congress, not to be outdone, is slapping together a massive deficit spending package aimed at giving the economy an emergency booster shot.

Despite the anxiety, nobody is stockpiling canned goods just yet. The prevailing assumption in today’s economy is that recessions and bear markets come and go, and that things will work out in the end, much as they have since the Great Depression. That’s because there’s a collective confidence that the market is strong enough to correct itself, and that experts in charge of the financial system will understand how to mount a vigorous defense.

Should we be so confident this time? A handful of financial theorists and thinkers are now saying we shouldn’t. The drumbeat of bad news over the past year, they say, is only a symptom of something new and unsettling – a deeper change in the financial system that may leave regulators, and even Congress, powerless when they try to wield their usual tools. [complete article]

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OPINION: Terrorism, Iraq, and the facts on the ground

Normalizing air war from Guernica to Arab Jabour

For those who know something about the history of air power, which, since World War II, has been lodged at the heart of the American Way of War, that 100,000 figure [– the quantity of explosives dropped on Arab Jabour south of Baghdad last week –] might have rung a small bell.

On April 27, 1937, in the midst of the Spanish Civil War (a prelude to World War II), the planes of the German Condor Legion attacked the ancient Basque town of Guernica. They came in waves, first carpet bombing, then dropping thermite incendiaries. It was a market day and there may have been as many as 7,000-10,000 people, including refugees, in the town which was largely destroyed in the ensuing fire storm. More than 1,600 people may have died there (though some estimates are lower). The Germans reputedly dropped about 50 tons or 100,000 pounds of explosives on the town. In the seven decades between those two 100,000 figures lies a sad history of our age. [complete article]

The state of the (Iraqi) union

The George W Bush-sponsored Iraqi “surge” is now one year old. The US$11 billion-a-month (and counting) Iraqi/Afghan joint quagmire keeps adding to the US government’s staggering over $9 trillion debt (it was “only” $5.6 trillion when Bush took power in early 2001).

On the ground in Iraq, the state of the union – Bush’s legacy – translates into a completely shattered nation with up to 70% unemployment, a 70% inflation rate, less than six hours of electricity a day and virtually no reconstruction, although White House-connected multinationals have bagged more than $50 billion in competition-free contracts so far. The gleaming reconstruction success stories of course are the Vatican-sized US Embassy in Baghdad – the largest in the world – and the scores of US military bases.

Facts on the ground also attest the “surge” achieved no “political reconciliation” whatsoever in Iraq – regardless of a relentless US corporate media propaganda drive, fed by the Pentagon, to proclaim it a success. The new law to reverse de-Ba’athification – approved by a half-empty Parliament and immediately condemned by Sunni and secular parties as well as former Ba’athists themselves – will only exacerbate sectarian hatred. [complete article]

Al Qaeda loves Bush: Thanks for the free advertising

It shouldn’t come as a surprise at this point that the president uses al Qaeda as code. Last night, in his State of the Union address, he mentioned al Qaeda 10 times, terrorism 23, extremism eight, Osama bin Laden once. Sure we are fighting a war against terrorism, and al Qaeda is always a ready reminder of Sept. 11. But the president uses this code as much to describe our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and, in that, he purveys a brand of confusion and surrender.

First, confusion: Al Qaeda in Iraq, whatever it is, is just one of many organized groups fighting the United States and its military coalition, fighting the Iraqi government, and seeking to create enough chaos and insecurity to defeat both. Since the very beginning of the Iraq war, when Donald Rumsfeld dismissed those attacking U.S. troops as “dead enders” and Baathists, the American description of the enemy in Iraq has contained an element of self-deception: if the enemy were just Saddam recalcitrants, then we could convince ourselves that everyone else welcomed us and was on our side.

Since Iraq started going downhill, we have described those fighting against U.S. forces as Shia and Sunni extremists, Iranian-backed militias, foreign fighters, even criminals and opportunists. By the time Abu Musab al-Zarqawi emerged as an identifiable leader, al Qaeda had stuck as the most useful label. It didn’t always apply, and it unfortunately connoted command and control of the Iraqi insurgency against U.S. occupation from some mountain headquarters in Afghanistan or Pakistan, but U.S. spokesmen have become extremely careful never to say Iraqis attacked U.S. forces. [complete article]

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ANALYSIS: Iran stays one step ahead

Race for sanctions on Iran speeds up

The next Iran report by the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is due in early March, and even though Tehran has fully cooperated and there is no evidence of military diversion from its peaceful nuclear activities, the United Nations is about to impose severe new sanctions on Iran, deemed “punitive” by a US government spokesperson.

According to Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, the proposed third round of sanctions is really about “escaping answers to world public opinion” because the US and its allies “are worried about the agency report”. Mottaki has hinted at compromise and Iran’s willingness to show greater flexibility in nuclear negotiations, by calling on the US to “couch whatever it has to say in the Five plus One framework”. This refers to the US, Britain, France, Russia and China plus Germany, which have been debating Iran’s case. [complete article]

White House criticizes envoy over Iran

White House officials expressed anger on Tuesday about an appearance in which the United States ambassador to the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad, sat beside the Iranian foreign minister at a panel of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Saturday.

The United States does not have diplomatic relations with Iran, and the Bush administration has limited its official high-level dealings with Iran to discussions about Iraq, primarily in Baghdad. Administration officials said that Mr. Khalilzad’s appearance beside Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki in Davos at a panel on Iranian foreign policy surprised senior Bush administration officials, who became aware that Mr. Khalilzad had appeared with Mr. Mottaki only when a video of the discussion appeared on YouTube on Tuesday. [complete article]

A China base in Iran?

In the aftermath of President George W Bush’s recent tour of the Persian Gulf, coinciding with a similar trip by France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy, culminating in a deal with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for a small French base, Iran’s security calculus has changed. It has almost reached the point of Tehran considering the option of reciprocating the perceived excess Western intrusion into its vicinity by allowing a military base for China at one of Iran’s Persian Gulf ports or on one of its islands. [complete article]

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OPINION & INTERVIEW: Hamas takes the lead

Finally, a popular uprising

The fall of the Rafah wall was a fitting combination of planning and the precise reading of the social and political map by the Hamas government, mixed with a mass response to the dictates of the overlord, Israel.

Quite a few people in Rafah knew that “anonymous figures” had secretly been destablizing the foundations of the wall for several months, so that it would be possible to knock it down easily when the time came – but the secret didn’t leak. The hundreds of people who began leaving Palestinian Rafah right after the wall was breached did so despite the risk, and the precedent of the Egyptians shooting at those who infiltrate through the border.

The leadership and public of Gaza, as two elements of the occupied people, were partners in the courageous and necessary step of breaking the Israeli rules of the game. The breach of the wall is a clear manifestation of the conception and temperament of a popular resistance among the Palestinian people, which for various reasons, were dormant in recent years. [complete article]

The world according to Hamas

Foreign Policy: What is your opinion of the Annapolis peace process?

Khaled Meshaal: We were hoping there would be American seriousness in achieving peace in the region. But I regret to say that the behavior of the American administration does not reflect that there is seriousness. Even right after Annapolis, [Israeli Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert expanded the settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. The American reaction to that was very weak. Olmert is taking the same path that [former Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon took previously, which was defined by the “Four Nos”: no to Jerusalem; no to the right of return; no to the borders of 1967; and no to dismantling the settlements. This path will lead to neither peace nor security in the region, nor to a Palestinian state. [complete article]

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NEWS & ANALYSIS: The geopolitical turbulence centered in Pakistan

U.S. plays matchmaker to Pakistan, Israel

[A] geopolitical turbulence … is steadily enveloping the South Asian region. Much of the turbulence is being commonly attributed to the concerns of the international community over radical Islam and terrorism in the region or over the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons or of the specter of the Pakistani state withering away into anarchy under the sheer weight of its current political difficulties. But the factors underlying the volatility go deeper than that.

What is becoming apparent is that a series of maneuvers by regional powers is gradually building up in the coming period. Arguably, the heightened tensions around Pakistan are as much a symptom of these geopolitical maneuvers as of an intrinsic nature. Democracy deficit, political assassination, ruling elites, misgovernance, corruption, popular alienation, poverty and economic disparity, religious fanaticism – these are common to almost all countries of the South Asian region. Pakistan is certainly not an exception.

At the epicenter of the geopolitical turbulence in the region lies the rapidly expanding strategic partnership between the United States and India. The developing US-India strategic axis is triggering a large-scale realignment among regional powers, especially involving Pakistan.

As a leading commentator of the official Russian news agency put it recently, “Not without help from the great powers, India has gone so far ahead in the sphere of arms that it is pursuing its national interests from the Persian Gulf to the Malacca archipelago. Islamabad justifiably believes that the United States is ready to support India’s claims to the status of a world power in exchange for its efforts to deter China and Iran … [while] Pakistan still remains the main partner of the United States and Western Europe in the region’s anti-terrorist coalition.” [complete article]

U.S. homes in on militants in Pakistan

Another piece of the United States’ regional jigsaw is in place with the completion of a military base in Afghanistan’s Kunar province, just three kilometers from Bajaur Agency in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

Pakistani intelligence quarters have confirmed to Asia Times Online that the base, on a mountain top in Ghakhi Pass overlooking Pakistan, is now operational. (This correspondent visited the area last July and could clearly see construction underway. See A fight to the death on Pakistan’s border Asia Times Online, July 17, 2007.)

The new US base is expected to serve as the center of clandestine special forces’ operations in the border region. The George W Bush administration is itching to take more positive action – including inside Pakistan – against Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaeda militants increasingly active in the area and bolstering the insurgency in Afghanistan. [complete article]

Pakistani Taliban grows bolder, taking fight to doorstep of frontier city

Islamic militants known as the Pakistani Taliban have extended their reach across all seven of Pakistan’s frontier tribal regions and have infiltrated Peshawar, the provincial capital, heightening U.S. concerns that an insurrection may be broadening in the nuclear-armed nation.

Fighting over the weekend spilled into previously peaceful parts of the tribal belt that borders Afghanistan and intensified in South Waziristan, Bajour and Mohmand. In Bannu, southwest of Peshawar, gunmen fleeing police took dozens of schoolchildren hostage for several hours Monday before tribal elders brokered a deal offering them safe passage, state-run television reported.

“It’s worsening day by day,” said Safraz Khan, a political scientist at the University of Peshawar. “People feel vulnerable. People feel scared.” [complete article]

See also, 12 die in missile attack in Pakistan (WP), Shootout echoes across Pakistan (Asia Times), and Ashdown withdrawal leaves hole in Afghan effort (Reuters).

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FEATURE: Blackwater

Showdown in Blackwater’s backyard

Marshall Adame is a Democrat running for Congress in North Carolina’s 3rd District, a jurisdiction along the Tar Heel state’s low-lying eastern coast that is home to the U.S. Marine Corps’ Camp Lejeune, Air Station Cherry Point, and Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, as well as Blackwater Worldwide’s 7,000-acre corporate headquarters and training facility. Adame is an underdog in the congressional race, where he will likely face seven-term Republican incumbent Walter B. Jones—who brought the term “freedom fries” to Congress—in the general election. Jones has since become an opponent of the Iraq war, atoning for his vote to authorize the war by writing letters of condolence to the families of dead soldiers—a “mea culpa to my Lord,” he says. But the incumbent and his Republican party are not the only obstacles Adame will have to overcome if he hopes to take over the 3rd District’s congressional seat. He also faces tough opposition from Blackwater. [complete article]

Pioneering Blackwater protesters given secret trial and criminal conviction

Last week in Currituck County, N.C., Superior Court Judge Russell Duke presided over the final step in securing the first criminal conviction stemming from the deadly actions of Blackwater Worldwide, the Bush administration’s favorite mercenary company. Lest you think you missed some earth-shifting, breaking news, hold on a moment. The “criminals” in question were not the armed thugs who gunned down 17 Iraqi civilians and wounded more than 20 others in Baghdad’s Nisour Square last September. They were seven nonviolent activists who had the audacity to stage a demonstration at the gates of Blackwater’s 7,000-acre private military base in North Carolina to protest the actions of mercenaries acting with impunity — and apparent immunity — in their names and those of every American. [complete article]

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ANALYSIS & EDITOR’S COMMENT: Breaking down barriers

Border crisis bolsters Islamists

Egypt’s main Islamist party and other opposition groups are strengthening their appeal by using images of desperate Palestinians streaming out of the Gaza Strip to provoke wider protests against President Hosni Mubarak’s 26-year-old government.

Demonstrations in Cairo and throughout the country by the Muslim Brotherhood and other political groups ostensibly have been staged to declare Egyptian solidarity with the residents of Gaza. But they are also aimed at weakening Mubarak, whom the groups accuse of oppression and criticize for economic shortcomings and close ties to Washington.

It is political theater punctuated with dangerous rhetoric. Mubarak’s vast intelligence and security forces are attempting to prevent pro-Palestinian protests from erupting into sustained nationwide anti-government rallies. But the Muslim Brotherhood and Kifaya, Arabic for “Enough,” an umbrella opposition group of leftists and nationalists, are determined to make just that happen. The Muslim Brotherhood has sponsored 80 demonstrations since Wednesday, when hundreds of thousands of Gazans began pouring into Egypt through a breached border wall. [complete article]

Editor’s Comment — However Israel, Egypt, the United States, and Mahmoud Abbas wrestle with the issue of “restoring security” along the Gaza border, the political symbolism is inescapable: Those who tear down walls will always be seen as the champions of freedom and those who struggle to raise those barriers back up will appear threatened by freedom.

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OPINION: The false dichotomy of security versus privacy

What our top spy doesn’t get: Security and privacy aren’t opposites

We’ve been told we have to trade off security and privacy so often — in debates on security versus privacy, writing contests, polls, reasoned essays and political rhetoric — that most of us don’t even question the fundamental dichotomy.

But it’s a false one.

Security and privacy are not opposite ends of a seesaw; you don’t have to accept less of one to get more of the other. Think of a door lock, a burglar alarm and a tall fence. Think of guns, anti-counterfeiting measures on currency and that dumb liquid ban at airports. Security affects privacy only when it’s based on identity, and there are limitations to that sort of approach.

Since 9/11, two — or maybe three — things have potentially improved airline security: reinforcing the cockpit doors, passengers realizing they have to fight back and — possibly — sky marshals. Everything else — all the security measures that affect privacy — is just security theater and a waste of effort. [complete article]

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INTERVIEW: Sibel Edmonds

Sibel Edmonds: ‘Buckle up, there’s much more coming.’

In the last few weeks, London Times has run a series of articles about the so-called ‘Sibel Edmonds case’: (For sale: West’s deadly nuclear secrets,’ FBI denies file exposing nuclear secrets theft‘ and ‘Tip-off thwarted nuclear spy ring probe‘)

Former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds stumbled into a world of espionage, nuclear black market, narcotics trafficking, money laundering, and corruption at the highest levels of the US government.

I interviewed Sibel on Sunday regarding the current investigation and reporting by the Times, the failures of the US media, and last week’s decision by the Bush administration to legalize the sale of nuclear technology to Turkey, in an apparent effort to exonerate prior criminal activity by officials in his administration. [complete article]

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NEWS & OPINION: Signing statements

The fine print

With President Bush, you always have to read the footnotes.

Just before Monday night’s State of the Union speech, in which Mr. Bush extolled bipartisanship, railed against government excesses and promised to bring the troops home as soon as it’s safe to withdraw, the White House undermined all of those sentiments with the latest of the president’s infamous signing statements.

The signing statements are documents that earlier presidents generally used to trumpet their pleasure at signing a law, or to explain how it would be enforced. More than any of his predecessors, the current chief executive has used the pronouncements in a passive-aggressive way to undermine the power of Congress.

Over the last seven years, Mr. Bush has issued hundreds of these insidious documents declaring that he had no intention of obeying a law that he had just signed. This is not just constitutional theory. Remember the detainee treatment act, which Mr. Bush signed and then proceeded to ignore, as he told C.I.A. interrogators that they could go on mistreating detainees? [complete article]

Bush issues signing statement on defense act, waiving ban on permanent bases In Iraq

P President Bush yesterday signed the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act after initially rejecting Congress’s first version because it would have allegedly opened the Iraqi government to “expensive lawsuits.”

Even though he forced Congress to change its original bill, Bush’s signature yesterday came with a little-noticed signing statement, claiming that provisions in the law “could inhibit the President’s ability to carry out his constitutional obligations.” CQ reports on the provisions Bush plans to disregard:

One such provision sets up a commission to probe contracting fraud in Iraq and Afghanistan. Another expands protections for whistleblowers who work for government contractors. A third requires that U.S. intelligence agencies promptly respond to congressional requests for documents. And a fourth bars funding for permanent bases in Iraq and for any action that exercises U.S. control over Iraq’s oil money. [complete article]

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CAMPAIGN 08: Down to a dual duel

Much ado about not much

… in a political stunt worthy of the late Evel Knievel, the Clinton campaign decided to put on an ersatz victory party that, it hoped, would erase memories of Obama’s actual victory Saturday night in South Carolina’s Democratic primary. “Thank you, Florida Democrats!” Clinton shouted to the cheering throng. “I am thrilled to have this vote of confidence.”

It was a perfect reproduction of an actual victory speech, delivered at a perfectly ersatz celebration at a perfectly pretend location: a faux Italianate palace with lion sculptures, indoor fountains and a commanding view of Interstate 595. [complete article]

Obama campaigns in his grandfather’s hometown

When Senator Barack Obama arrived here Tuesday afternoon on the gusty plains of Kansas, the political stage was set for a homecoming, a moment to highlight a branch of his family tree that receives far less attention in a presidential campaign that has been rooted in biography.

“We’re among friends here,” Mr. Obama told an audience of nearly 2,000 people assembled in the gymnasium of a community college. “We’re family.”

Three days after winning the South Carolina primary, forging a coalition of black and white voters, Mr. Obama selected this old oil town where his maternal grandfather was reared to open a weeklong tour of states holding primaries and caucuses Feb. 5. Mr. Obama conceded that he faces the urgent challenge of introducing himself to those who have paid only passing notice to the presidential race. [complete article]

For Giuliani, a dizzying free-fall

Perhaps he was living an illusion all along.

Rudolph W. Giuliani’s campaign for the Republican nomination for president took impressive wing last year, as the former mayor wove the pain experienced by his city on Sept. 11, 2001, and his leadership that followed into national celebrity. Like a best-selling author, he basked in praise for his narrative and issued ominous and often-repeated warnings about the terrorist strike next time.

Voters seemed to embrace a man so comfortable wielding power, and his poll numbers edged higher to where he held a broad lead over his opponents last summer. Just three months ago, Anthony V. Carbonetti, Mr. Giuliani’s affable senior policy adviser, surveyed that field and told The New York Observer: “I don’t believe this can be taken from us. Now that I have that locked up, I can go do battle elsewhere.” [complete article]

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