Archives for December 2010

Stop Operation Cast Lead 2: the moral shock and awe of global silence

Richard Falk writes:

It is dismaying that during this dark anniversary period two years after the launch of the deadly attacks on the people of Gaza, code-named Operation Cast Lead by the Israelis, that there should be warnings of a new massive attack on the beleaguered people of Gaza. The influential Israeli journalist, Ron Ren-Yishai, writes on December 29, 2010, of the likely prospect of a new IDF major attack, quoting senior Israeli military officers as saying “It’s not a question of if, but rather of when,” a view that that is shared, according Ren-Yishai, by “government ministers, Knesset members and municipal heads in the Gaza region.” The bloody-minded Israeli Chief of Staff, Lt. General Gabi Ashkenazi reinforces this expectation by his recent assertion that “As long as Gilad Shalit is still in captivity, the mission is not complete.” He adds with unconscious irony, “We have not lost our right of self-defense.” More accurate would be the assertion, “We have not given up our right to wage aggressive war or to commit crimes against humanity.” And what of the more than 10,000 Palestinians, including children under the age of 10, being held in Israeli prisons throughout occupied Palestine.

Against this background, the escalation of violence along the Gaza/Israel border, should set off alarm bells around the world and at the United Nations. Israel in recent days has been launching severe air strikes against targets within the Gaza Strip, including near the civilian crowded refugee camp of Khan Younis, killing several Palestinians and wounding others. Supposedly, these attacks are in retaliation for nine mortar shells that fell on open territory, causing neither damage nor injury. Israel also had been using lethal force against children from Gaza, who were collecting gravel from the buffer zone for the repair of their homes. As usual, the Israeli security pretext lacks credibility as if ever there was an occasion for firing warning shots in the air, it was here, especially as the border has been essentially quiet in the last couple of years, and what occasional harmless rockets or mortar shells have been fired, has taken place in defiance of the Hamas effort to prevent providing Israel with any grounds for the use of force. Revealingly, in typical distortion, the Gaza situation is portrayed by Ashkenazi as presenting a pre-war scenario: “We will not allow a situation in which they fire rockets at our citizens and towns from ‘safe havens’ amid [their] civilians.” With Orwellian precision, the reality is quite the reverse: Israel from its safe haven continuously attacks with an intent to kill a defenseless, entrapped Gazan civilian population.

Perhaps, worse in some respects than this Israeli war-mongering, is the stunning silence of the governments of the world, and of the United Nations. World public opinion was briefly shocked by the spectacle of one-sided war that marked Operation Cast Lead as a massive crime against humanity, but it has taken no notice of this recent unspeakable escalation of threats and provocations seemingly designed to set the stage for a new Israeli attack on the hapless Gazan population. This silence in the face of the accumulating evidence that Israel plans to launch Operation Cast Lead 2 is a devastating form of criminal complicity at the highest governmental levels, especially on the part of countries that have been closely aligned with Israel, and also exhibits the moral bankruptcy of the United Nations System. We have witnessed the carnage of ‘preemptive war’ and ‘preventive war’ in Iraq, but we have yet to explore the moral and political imperatives of ‘preemptive peace’ and ‘preventive peace.’ How long must the peoples of the world wait?

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Will an energy-independent, nuclear-armed Jewish state care too much about its global image?

The Wall Street Journal reports:

Two years ago, Ratio Oil Exploration LP, an energy firm here, employed five people and was worth about half a million dollars.

Today it sits at the center of a gas bonanza that has investors, international oil companies, Israeli politicians and even Hezbollah, Israel’s sworn enemy, clamoring for a piece of the action.

Ratio’s market capitalization now approaches $1 billion. The rally at Ratio is thanks to the company’s 15% stake in a giant offshore gas field called Leviathan, operated by Houston-based Noble Energy Inc.

On Wednesday, the frenzy got fresh fuel: Noble confirmed its earlier estimates that the field contains 16 trillion cubic feet of gas—making it the world’s biggest deepwater gas find in a decade, with enough reserves to supply Israel’s gas needs for 100 years.

It’s still early days, and getting all that gas out of the seabed may be more difficult than it seems today. But Noble and its partners think the field could hold enough gas to transform Israel, a country precariously dependent on others for energy, into a net-energy exporter.

Such a transformation could potentially alter the geopolitical balance of the Mideast, giving Israel a new economic advantage over its enemies.

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Lebanon is staring into the abyss

Fawaz Gerges writes:

Once again, Lebanon is on the brink of major social and political upheaval. Rumours of an impending armed clash between Hezbollah and the pro-western governing coalition have spread like wildfire among the Lebanese people, who are hoarding food and arms in anticipation of the worst.

On the surface of it, the current crisis revolves around a United Nations tribunal set up to investigate the 2005 assassination of prime minister Rafik Hariri in 2005. An indictment from the tribunal is imminent; there is increasing evidence that the tribunal will accuse members of Hezbollah, the Shia-dominated resistance movement, as having played a central role in the assassination. If true, this could provide the spark that ignites the next confrontation.

Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, has repeatedly dismissed the tribunal as an “American-Israeli” tool intended to incite sectarian strife in Lebanon. He has warned that the looming indictment will be an act of war against his group. He has demanded that the Lebanese government – led by Saad Hariri, the son of the late prime minister – distance itself from the UN tribunal and renounce it before the indictment is released.

On a deeper level, the standoff reflects a broader institutional crisis. Lebanon’s institutions are dysfunctional and defective; they have failed dismally to mediate conflict among rival groups, as well as to integrate rising social forces into the political process. The Hariri tribunal is a case in point. Lebanon’s three major institutions, the presidency, the cabinet and the parliament, are paralysed, unable to solve the impending crisis.

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Never again? Elderly Palestinian women called ‘whores’ on Yad Vashem tour, while racism explodes across Israel

Max Blumenthal writes:

This week, a group of elderly Palestinian women were escorted to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance musuem to learn about the Jewish genocide in Europe. At the entrance of the museum, they were surrounded by a group of Jewish Israeli youth who recognized them as Arabs. “Sharmouta!” the young Israelis shouted at them again and again, using the Arabic slang term for whores, or sluts.

The Palestinians had been invited to attend a tour arranged by the Israeli Bereaved Families Forum, an organization founded by an Israeli whose son was killed in combat by Palestinians. They were joined by a group of Jewish Israeli women who, like them, had lost family members to violence related to the conflict. Presumably, both parties went on the tour in good faith, hoping to gain insight into the suffering of women on the other side of the conflict.

Unfortunately, the Palestinian members (who unlike the Israelis live under occupation and almost certainly had to obtain special permits just to go to Yad Vashem) learned an unusual lesson of the Holocaust: A society that places the Holocaust at the center of its historical narrative — that stops traffic for two minutes each year on the national holiday known as Yom Ha’Shoah — could also raise up a generation of little fascists goose-stepping into the future full of irrational hatred.

“In Palestinian culture, older women are most honored and they could not believe their ears,” said Sami Abu Awwad, a Palestinian coordinator of the tour. “We never talk like this to older women. The Palestinians, who were all grandmothers, were very shocked and offended.”

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What are the guardians of Israeli Jewish racial purity so afraid of?

Sayed Kashua makes fun of the Israelis who are afraid of their daughters being seduced by irresistible Arab men.

You know, until now I was certain that the role of preserving the honor of women and shackling them with male bonds was something you had designated for us Arabs. What has happened that you enlightened types no longer trust in your daughters’ ability to distinguish between good and bad? And why are you treating them like feckless, frivolous types whom Arab men can easily entice and lead astray?

There is nothing to be done: that’s how it’s always been. In the eyes of a racist majority, the inferior minority will always have a gilded phallus. He’s primitive, animal-like, closer to nature – and therefore necessarily more sexual. In your eyes, apparently, women can be beautiful, but will continue to be primitive, led by passion alone, and will be seduced by the animal’s caressing voice to taste the forbidden fruit. Never mind the daughters of Israel, who, according to our demonstrators and the bearers of our racial purity, are waiting in line to fall into the robust arms of Arabs.

What worries me is the Arab daughters, the unfortunate daughters of Palestine who according to the theory we are considering can only make do with the leftovers rejected by the daughters of Israel. In the end, there will be no choice, you know. True, it might be tough in the first years, what with the usual patriarchal restrictions and tribal structure, but gradually these barriers will be shattered on both sides. The sons of Israel who have been abandoned and the Arab daughters left to their own devices will have to cooperate for the sake of the continuity of the human race.

I feel sorry for them, those who will have to compromise on all kinds of unwanted commando fighters, rejected fighter pilots, established high-tech men, not to mention marketing vice presidents, development managers and intelligence personnel who will start to court the daughters of Palestine. It will start with spins around the Arab neighborhoods; then they will go to the movies in Tira, Taibeh and Kalansua; gradually they will take out subscriptions to the opera and the Cinematheque and will insist on shopping exclusively in the Arab malls. In short order they will also want to rent apartments and some will want to shop in the heart of Arab villages.

But we will want to preserve the character of the Arab communities. We will not let anyone reduce the density or improve the education system, and we will view every attempt to built industrial parks or hospitals as a blow to the delicate fabric we have woven for years. Many Arab communities will draw up charters setting forth conditions for Jews who want to live in them, and a major demand will be for every Jewish candidate to be an Arab.

Then our side will produce militants who will claim that the Jewish men are threatening the Arab womb and tainting the sacredness of our virginal women. A sheikhs’ letter will be written, we will demonstrate against young Jewish men who are pestering our girls, and some Jewish journalist who knows Arabic will write a cynical critique about it in one of the more liberal Arab newspapers. Many reader comments will be hurled against him. He will be accused of self-righteousness and unfairness because he is not willing to admit simple, true facts, namely that races must not be mixed, nations must not be mixed and divine laws must not be messed with.

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Why Netanyahu deserves to be man of the year

Dimi Reider writes:

Benjamin Netanyahu is not only one of the people who made 2010 what it was, but also one of the best prime ministers progressives ever had. To wit: The man has done more damage to the self destructive myth of Israeli exceptionalism than any leftist leader or thinker to date.

For years, progressives in the US tried to wean their country of its belief that Israel can do no wrong, and progressives in the rest of the world tried to persuade their leaders the US was too infatuated with its hysterical little ally ever to apply any of the pressure necessary to achieve progress on any front in the Middle East.

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‘Disappeared’ Pakistanis — innocent and guilty alike — have fallen into a legal black hole

Without a single reference to President Obama’s drone war in Pakistan, extrajudicial detention of prisoners at Guantanamo, the torture of suspected terrorists, CIA-run secret prisons, rendition, presidential authorization to assassinate US citizens, or the United States’ long history of supporting governments that use their power to suppress political dissent by making their opponents “disappear,” the New York Times reports:

The Obama administration is expressing alarm over reports that thousands of political separatists and captured Taliban insurgents have disappeared into the hands of Pakistan’s police and security forces, and that some may have been tortured or killed.

The issue came up in a State Department report to Congress last month that urged Pakistan to address this and other human rights abuses. It threatens to become the latest source of friction in the often tense relationship between the wartime allies.

The concern is over a steady stream of accounts from human rights groups that Pakistan’s security services have rounded up thousands of people over the past decade, mainly in Baluchistan, a vast and restive province far from the fight with the Taliban, and are holding them incommunicado without charges. Some American officials think that the Pakistanis have used the pretext of war to imprison members of the Baluch nationalist opposition that has fought for generations to separate from Pakistan. Some of the so-called disappeared are guerrillas; others are civilians.

“Hundreds of cases are pending in the courts and remain unresolved,” said the Congressionally mandated report that the State Department sent to Capitol Hill on Nov. 23. A Congressional official provided a copy of the eight-page, unclassified document to The New York Times.

Separately, the report also described concerns that the Pakistani military had killed unarmed members of the Taliban, rather than put them on trial.

Two months ago, the United States took the unusual step of refusing to train or equip about a half-dozen Pakistani Army units that are believed to have killed unarmed prisoners and civilians during recent offensives against the Taliban. The most recent State Department report contains some of the administration’s most pointed language about accusations of such so-called extrajudicial killings. “The Pakistani government has made limited progress in advancing human rights and continues to face human rights challenges,” the State Department report concluded. “There continue to be gross violations of human rights by Pakistani security forces.”

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Not just a friend: one Palestinian’s view of Israeli activist Jonathan Pollak

The Palestinian activist Ayed Morrar writes:

I know that power – with all the authority, physical comfort, and quality of life it brings – strongly pushes a person into a world of material possessions, and people and things that stimulate their senses. Gradually, they start to protect this material paradise with walls to defend it from threats and keep from it anything that may unsettle life inside. As the blessings in that paradise increase, the walls around it multiply to the same degree.

Only great willpower and moral strength can enable a person to get to know those that live outside these walls, engage with their concerns and wounds, and even struggle for them. As a person embellishes their life in their paradise, the human and moral effort required to live the struggles of others increases. As I began to recognize this truth as someone who lives outside the walls, my understanding and respect grew for those who have been able to break through the walls of their paradise, for those who leave it and come towards me in solidarity to live my concerns and wounds, as a people who live under the oppression of occupation, lacking freedom and justice.

On December 27, prominent Israeli activist Jonathan Pollak was sentenced to three months in an Israeli jail for protesting the occupation. Jonathan’s upcoming imprisonment highlights two little-known stories – the support of some Israeli activists for our growing movement of Palestinian-led unarmed civilian protests, and the Israeli government’s effort to crush our joint struggle against the Israeli occupation. Over the last eight years, Jonathan has participated in hundreds of Palestinian-led protests in the West Bank against Israel’s military occupation. Along with other Israelis and internationals, he participated in our successful protest campaign in my West Bank village of Budrus in 2003-2004, that pushed Israel to reroute its wall and saved our farmland.

Jonathan Pollak is a great man – as great as the material temptations that the paradise of his nation affords him, in which his skills as a graphic designer would allow him to live in safety and unimaginable affluence. He is as great as the human and moral effort he exerted to know the other, to understand them, and struggle on behalf of the other for their freedom. His greatness is also the more for its rarity. He may not be the only one who stands at the borders of his moral and humanistic principles, but he remains, along with his many colleagues, part of a small group in their society. Their unusual status increases the magnitude of their struggle for justice, freedom and true peace. [Continue reading.]

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Lieberman represents Israel

In recent months, Israel’s political leaders and Israel’s stateside supporters have been railing against the so-called delegitimization movement. It’s debatable whether such a movement exists but even to the extent that it does, the effect it has had in tarnishing Israel’s image is minuscule in comparison to Israel’s own unintentional delegitimization efforts.

The latest examples came this month in a new campaign to guard Jewish racial purity. A letter signed by the wives and daughters of prominent rabbis, urges Jewish women not to date or even work with Arab men. It was preceded by a letter signed by hundreds of rabbis calling on Jews not to rent apartments to Arabs. The letters are part of a “racist tidal wave” sweeping across Israel, says defense minister, Ehud Barak.

In this context, the American Jewish diaspora is becoming acutely uncomfortable. The more transparent Israeli racism becomes, the harder it is for Americans — Jewish or non-Jewish — to support Israel; the more obvious it is that Israel’s Jewish identity is being defended at the expense of its democratic identity.

Strange then, that the editors of the liberal The Forward, seem to imagine that getting rid of Avigdor Lieberman as foreign minister would significantly help Israel.

In an editorial, the paper says:

Lieberman’s tenure in such a prominent position has been dismissed as an embarrassing annoyance by most Diaspora leaders, a necessary burden to ensure that his Yisrael Beiteinu party remains in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition. Besides, the inner workings of Netanyahu’s government are arguably not our right to influence, no more than Israelis should have a say in who is U.S. Attorney General or mayor of New York.

But if Netanyahu persists in keeping Lieberman, both men should know this: The obligation we assume as Diaspora Jews to support Israel and combat delegitimization becomes much harder, more distasteful and less effective every time the foreign minister opens his mouth. It betrays our Judaic and civic values to stand by while such a man advocates for the transfer of Arab citizens of Israel, for a discriminatory loyalty oath, for an endless postponement of peace negotiations that are the only — the only — way to ensure that Israel remains Jewish and democratic.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz published an editorial December 28 excoriating the foreign minister, arguing that “Lieberman and his pronouncements only provide vindication to Israel’s adversaries.” For that reason, the paper declared, he must go.

And if Lieberman goes, Israel will change?

No doubt its liberal supporters would welcome a more respectable face such as could be provided by a Likud-Kadima coalition (which isn’t in the offing), but Lieberman is no different from Rabbi Meir Kahane who said, in reference to Israel’s Arab-hating population: “I say what they think.”

As more and more Israelis openly declare their unwillingness to live alongside Arabs, what appears to be changing is not that Israel is becoming more racist but that its underlying racism is being expressed more freely.

Kahane said: “I want Democracy for Jews but I don’t want Democracy for Arabs because otherwise there won’t be a Jewish State!” He was dubbed an extremist and an aberration, but the veil is now being lifted.

Who can be so naive as to imagine that an Israel without Lieberman as its foreign minister would become a more tolerant, democratic society? Or are these calls for his departure nothing more than an appeal for cosmetic changes necessary for making the indefensible, defensible?

Kahane had it right: Israel is a “democracy” for Jews, which is to say that it grants rights to Jews that it withholds from others, and as that unpalatable truth becomes increasingly evident to the whole world, the liberal Jewish diaspora will need to abandon the illusion that Israel can be a Jewish and democratic state. It can only be one or the other.

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Obama’s indiscriminate slaughter in Pakistan can only encourage new waves of militancy

Mehdi Hasan writes:

Speaking at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner in May, Barack Obama spotted teen pop band the Jonas Brothers in the audience. “Sasha and Malia are huge fans, but, boys, don’t get any ideas,” deadpanned the president, referring to his daughters. “Two words for you: predator drones. You will never see it coming.” The crowd laughed, Obama smiled, the dinner continued. Few questioned the wisdom of making such a tasteless joke; of the US commander-in-chief showing such casual disregard for the countless lives lost abroad through US drone attacks.

From the moment he stepped foot inside the White House, Obama set about expanding and escalating a covert CIA programme of “targeted killings” inside Pakistan, using Predator and Reaper drones armed with Hellfire missiles (who comes up with these names?) that had been started by the Bush administration in 2004. On 23 January 2009, just three days after being sworn in, Obama ordered his first set of air strikes inside Pakistan; one is said to have killed four Arab fighters linked to al-Qaida but the other hit the house of a pro-government tribal leader, killing him and four members of his family, including a five-year-old child. Obama’s own daughter, Sasha, was seven at the time.

But America’s Nobel-peace-prize-winning president did not look back. During his first nine months in office he authorised as many aerial attacks in Pakistan as George W Bush did in his final three years in the job. And this year has seen an unprecedented number of air strikes. Forget Mark Zuckerberg or the iPhone 4 – 2010 was the year of the drone. According to the New America Foundation thinktank in Washington DC, the number of US drone strikes in Pakistan more than doubled in 2010, to 115. That is an astonishing rate of around one bombing every three days inside a country with which the US is not at war.

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When Americans stop being killed in Iraq it stops being called a war

Just as the State Department defines “terrorism” in terms of threats to American lives and threats to America’s national security, the war in Iraq is ceasing to be a “war” because fewer and fewer Americans are dying — as though the only blood that supports life is American blood; as though life itself only truly qualifies as such when it carries the American brand.

From a US base near Khanaqin, the New York Times reports:

Somewhere else, miles away from a tiny desert outpost where American troops dozed in combat vehicles and brewed midnight pots of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, another Iraq was seething. Iraqi bureaucrats and soldiers were killed by bullets and bombs. Iraqi army patrols were rocked by explosions.

But for the Americans camped out at this remote checkpoint, keeping watch over Iraqi soldiers and passing traffic, it was another quiet night of a quieted war.

They ate ribs and watched a slasher movie. They lifted weights and talked about Christmases spent in Hawaii. They took turns watching the headlights of watermelon trucks and oil tankers glide across the horizon of one of Iraq’s most violent and ethnically divided regions, noting routine radio chatter and shift changes in a logbook.

“It’s boring,” said Sgt. Bradley Jackson, sprawled out in a swamp-green Stryker vehicle, as he monitored the road to Khanaqin, a disputed town claimed both by Iraq’s Arab and Kurdish populations. “And that’s the way we like it.”

By no means is the fighting in Iraq over. American forces remain the targets of snipers’ bullets, rocket attacks, mortar launches and roadside bombs. Some soldiers are still shooting and hunting insurgents. Others are still dying, joining the ranks of the roughly 4,400 troops who have been killed since the United States invaded in 2003.

But largely, the newly renamed mission, Operation New Dawn, is a twilight war for the troops still living in dusty camps and sprawling corrugated bases across the country.

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The struggle for East Jerusalem

Jesse Rosenfeld writes:

Half way down a hill, sandwiched between Jerusalem’s Hadassa hospital and Hebrew University, sits the compact and overcrowded occupied East Jerusalem village of Issawiya.

Before crossing the makeshift police checkpoint of concrete block obstacles at the edge of the University and entering the neighbourhood – which resembles more of a besieged West Bank refugee camp than a Jerusalem municipality – there is a clearly marked ‘Dead End’ street sign. On the main road leaving towards the hospital on the other side of the neighbourhood there is a wall of concrete cubes blocking any traffic, leaving just a narrow space for pedestrians to cross.

Although the Jewish dominated Hebrew University has expanded onto Issawiya’s land, the picture of Jerusalem from both places couldn’t be more different. While Israeli students attend classes oblivious to life beyond the ‘dead end’, Israeli security forces have orchestrated a campaign of regular night time arrest raids against Issawiya residents in an effort to halt growing popular resistance to segregation, home demolition and land confiscation.

The recent Israeli home demolitions, increasing the pressure on the already squeezed Palestinian community, have given rise to local youth organising ruckus street demonstrations, clashing with Israeli police and border guards at the neighbourhood checkpoints. Now the campaign has expanded and the youth of Issawiya have been joined by Israeli anti-occupation activists.

With Israel continuing to expand Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem, squeezing and displacing the Palestinian residents under the banner of an undivided Israeli capital (a claim rejected by most of the world), the Palestinian Authority has been powerless in defending the residents of their future capital. Meanwhile, despite murmurs of discontent from Washington and the international community, international diplomacy has proven just as ineffective in advocating for the rights of Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents.

Now, failed by national leadership and abandoned by an international community to the mercy of an Israeli government that is forcing them from sight in order to make way for Israeli control and settlement, Palestinian residents are taking it on themselves to defend their land, rights and presence. [Continue reading.]

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Helen Thomas: thrown to the wolves

Danny Schechter writes:

In 1960, I was fixated on emulating the courageous media personalities of the times, from Edward R. Murrow to a distinctive figure I came to admire at presidential press conferences – a wire service reporter named Helen Thomas.

In recent years, my faith in the power of dialogue in politics has been severely tested – as, no doubt has hers – in an age where diatribes and deliberate demonization chills debate and exchanges of opposing views.

Once you are labeled and stereotyped – especially if you are denounced as an anti-Semite – you are relegated to the fringes, pronounced a hater beyond redemption, and even beyond explanation.

As the legendary Helen Thomas soon found out.

The rise of a legend

As a member in good standing of an activist generation, I saw myself more as an outsider in contrast to Helen’s distinctive credentials as an insider, as a White House bureau chief and later as the dean of the White House Correspondents’ Association.

Yet, beneath her establishment credentials and status, she was always an outsider too – one of nine children born to a family of Lebanese immigrants in Winchester Kentucky, who despite their Middle East origins were Christians in the Greek Orthodox Church.

She became a woman who broke the glass ceiling in the clubby, mostly male, inside-the-beltway world of big egos and self-important media prima donnas.

Her origins were more modest. She grew up in an ethnic neighborhood in Detroit.

Helen received her bachelor’s degree from Wayne State University in 1942, the year I was born. Earlier this year, her alma mater, of which she had taken so much pride in her achievements, canceled the award in her name.

A fall from grace

The withdrawal of her name from the prominent award was a striking gesture of cowardice and submission to an incident blown out of proportion that instantly turned Helen from a ‘she-ro’ to a zero.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center put her on their top ten list of anti-Semites after angry remarks she made about Israel went viral and exploded into a major story.

President Barack Obama who cheerfully brought her a birthday cake, later labeled her remarks as “reprehensible”.

You would think that given all the vicious ad hominems, Godwins and putdowns directed at him, he would be more cautious tossing slurs at others.

But no, all politicians pander to deflect criticism whenever the wind of enmity blows their way.

Now it was Helen who was being compared to Hitler in the latest furor. [Continue reading.]

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My parents were executed under the unconstitutional Espionage Act — here’s why we must fight to protect Julian Assange

Robert Meeropol writes:

Rumors are swirling that the United States is preparing to indict Wikileaks leader Julian Assange for conspiring to violate the Espionage Act of 1917. The modern version of that act states among many, many other things that: “Whoever, for the purpose of obtaining information respecting the national defense with intent or reason to believe that the information is to be used to the injury of the United States” causes the disclosure or publication of this material, could be subject to massive criminal penalties. It also states that: “If two or more persons conspire to violate any of the foregoing provisions … each of the parties to such conspiracy shall be subject to the punishment provided for the offense which is the object of such conspiracy.” (18 U.S. Code, Chapter 37, Section 793.)

I view the Espionage Act of 1917 as a lifelong nemesis. My parents were charged, tried and ultimately executed after being indicted for Conspiracy to Commit Espionage under that act.

The 1917 Act has a notorious history. It originally served to squelch opposition to World War I. It criminalized criticism of the war effort, and sent hundreds of dissenters to jail just for voicing their opinions. It transformed dissent into treason.

Many who attacked the law noted that the framers of the Constitution had specifically limited what constituted treason by writing it into the Constituton: “Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort” (Article III, section 3). The framers felt this narrow definition was necessary to prevent treason from becoming what some called “the weapon of a political faction.” Furthermore, in their discussions at the Constitutional Convention they agreed that spoken opposition was protected by the First Amendment and could never be considered treason.

It appears obvious that the Espionage Act is unconstitutional because it does exactly what the Constitution prohibits. It is, in other words, an effort to make an end run around the Treason Clause of the Constitution. Not surprisingly, however, as we’ve seen in times of political stress, the Supreme Court upheld its validity in a 5-4 decision. Although later decisions seemed to criticize and limit its scope, the Espionage Act of 1917 has never been declared unconstitutional. To this day, with a few notable exceptions that include my parents’ case, it has been a dormant sword of Damocles, awaiting the right political moment and an authoritarian Supreme Court to spring to life and slash at dissenters.

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US-trained militias ready to join forces with the Taliban

The Associated Press reported earlier this week:

Tribal militias allied with the government helped block a Taliban advance in this corner of northwest Pakistan close to the Afghan border, but their success has come at a price: the empowerment of untrained, unaccountable private armies that could yet emerge as a threat of their own.

Tensions are emerging between authorities and the dozens of militias that they helped to create predominantly in and near the northwest tribal regions. Operating from fortress-like compounds with anti-aircraft guns on the roofs, the militiamen have made it clear that the state now owes them for their sacrifices. They show photos on their cell phones of Taliban they killed and point to the scrubland outside, with graves of relatives who died in the fight.

The leader of the largest militia near the town of Matani, a wealthy landowner named Dilawar Khan, warns that he will stop cooperating with police unless he gets more money and weapons from authorities. Speaking to The Associated Press, he adds what could be a veiled threat to join the militants.

“Time and time again, the Taliban have contacted us, urging us to change sides,” he said.

The New York Times now reports:

Rival militant organizations on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border have increasingly been teaming up in deadly raids, in what military and intelligence officials say is the insurgents’ latest attempt to regain the initiative after months of withering attacks from American and allied forces.

New intelligence assessments from the region assert that insurgent factions now are setting aside their historic rivalries to behave like “a syndicate,” joining forces in ways not seen before. After one recent attack on a remote base in eastern Afghanistan, a check of the dead insurgents found evidence that the fighters were from three different factions, military officials said.

In the past, these insurgent groups have been seen as sharing ideology and inspiration, but less often plans for specific missions.

Now the intelligence assessments offer evidence of a worrisome new trend in which extremist commanders and their insurgent organizations are coordinating attacks and even combining their foot soldiers into patchwork patrols sent to carry out specific raids.

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Mugabe doesn’t need an excuse for attacking Tsvangirai

Robert I. Rotberg writes:

President Robert Gabriel Mugabe is Zimbabwe’s curse. In his three decades in power, Mugabe has traded the country’s economic promise for withering decline. He’s turned what was once the breadbasket of the region into a deathtrap for its own citizens. He has crushed the opposition, cleared slums with bulldozers, ignored a devastating cholera outbreak, and chased millions of desperate migrants over the border into South Africa. His passing, when it comes, may seem like a blessing.

Yet when the ailing, 86-year-old Mugabe inevitably leaves office, by fair means or foul, more trouble is in store for the nation that he has singlehandedly destroyed. And hardly anyone is fully prepared for that game-changing moment — not Zimbabwe’s opposition; not neighboring South Africa; not Western embassies or regional multilateral organizations. No one has a workable contingency plan. And with everyone likely to be caught flat-footed by Mugabe’s demise, the president’s cronies are likely to attempt to seize power and install a regime as bad as or worse than the one left behind.

For now, Mugabe is keeping a tight grip on the Zimbabwean state. After losing a presidential election in 2008, he agreed — under heavy international pressure — to share power with the vote winner, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, and the two adversaries were forced into an unhappy marriage in 2009. Although Tsvangirai was made the prime minister, Mugabe continues to run the country according to his own whims. Defying the 2009 agreement, he appoints provincial governors, judges, ambassadors, an attorney general, a central bank governor, and military generals without so much as a nod in Tsvangirai’s direction. In fact, he ignores Tsvangirai most of the time, and blames the prime minister for Zimbabwe’s ongoing economic and social failings.

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WikiLeaks’ gift to Robert Mugabe

The political and media establishment’s assault on WikiLeaks has had the unfortunate effect of creating two camps — one for which WikiLeaks is a band of cyber-terrorists and the other in which WikiLeaks’ embattled status fosters a sense that all challenges are unwarranted.

At this point, I still believe that WikiLeaks’ actions pose a legitimate challenge to the cancerous growth of secrecy in the West’s nominal democracies. If however I was living under the oppressive rule of the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe, I don’t think I’d have a favorable view of Julian Assange and his cohorts. Indeed, in this instance, I’d say WikiLeaks fucked up — perhaps catastrophically.

Christopher R. Albon writes:

Last year, early on Christmas Eve morning, representatives from the U.S., United Kingdom, Netherlands, and the European Union arrived for a meeting with Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. Appointed prime minister earlier that year as part of a power-sharing agreement after the fraud- and violence-ridden 2008 presidential election, Tsvangirai and his political party, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), are considered Zimbabwe’s greatest hopes for unseating the country’s long-time de facto dictator Robert Mugabe and bringing democratic reforms to the country.

The topic of the meeting was the sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe by a collection of western countries, including the U.S. and E.U. Tsvangirai told the western officials that, while there had been some progress in the last year, Mugabe and his supporters were dragging their feet on delivering political reforms. To overcome this, he said that the sanctions on Zimbabwe “must be kept in place” to induce Mugabe into giving up some political power. The prime minister openly admitted the incongruity between his private support for the sanctions and his public statements in opposition. If his political adversaries knew Tsvangirai secretly supported the sanctions, deeply unpopular with Zimbabweans, they would have a powerful weapon to attack and discredit the democratic reformer.

Later that day, the U.S. embassy in Zimbabwe dutifully reported the details of the meeting to Washington in a confidential U.S. State Department diplomatic cable. And slightly less than one year later, WikiLeaks released it to the world.

In Zimbabwe’s The Standard, Nqaba Matshazi writes:

The recent WikiLeaks cable releases could have afforded President Robert Mugabe ammunition to call for elections next year, with his main argument that his coalition partner, Morgan Tsvangirai was in bed with the West.

For years now, Mugabe has claimed that Tsvangirai was a pliant tool for Britain and America and revelations that the Prime Minister called for the West to maintain sanctions against Zimbabwe will only strengthen the veteran leader’s resolve to hold elections.

The removal of sanctions is listed as one of the priority issues in the Global Political Agreement (GPA) and hawks in Mugabe’s Zanu PF party are already screaming treason and are using the cables as an excuse to call for the end of the inclusive government.

Political analysts last week told The Standard that the leaked cables were fitting well into Zanu PF’s agenda and they would use them to confront the government.

Trevor Maisiri said Zanu PF would now use the cables as an excuse to call for the end of the inclusive government charging that they were getting rid of imperialist influences in the government.

“Zanu PF will obviously see these leaks as a bonus to their already rubber-stamped position of early elections,” he said.

“What Zanu PF may then do is craft their message upon the urgency of having election so as to retire the MDC-T out of government and thereby ensure that there is a blockade of the USA influence in Zimbabwean affairs.”

South Africa’s Business Day reports:

Zimbabwean government’s threat to investigate treason charges against Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai over his confidential talks with US diplomats disclosed by WikiLeaks was Zanu (PF)’s opening salvo ahead of proposed elections next year, analysts said yesterday.

The South African government yesterday refused to speculate on how new treason charges, if instituted against Mr Tsvangirai, would affect President Jacob Zuma ’s mediation efforts.

Siphamandla Zondi, executive director at the Institute for Global Dialogue, said the WikiLeaks revelations would hurt Mr Tsvangirai’s political stature, and were likely to be exploited by President Robert Mugabe to discredit him and reinforce negative perceptions spread by Zanu (PF) that the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) was “the political surrogates and puppets” of western powers.

The attorney-general, Johannes Tomana, reportedly said he intended appointing a commission of five lawyers to examine whether recent disclosures amounted to a breach of the constitution.

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Former CIA chief: ‘I thank god every day for the continuity’ between Bush and Obama

On CNN on Sunday, former Bush officials lined up to praise President Obama:

Former Central Intelligence Agency Director Michael Hayden, a retired Air Force general, also argued that Obama’s approach has been, by and large, the same — regardless of campaign rhetoric.

“When one is in office, it’s, as the admiral has suggested, when one is in office, that responsibility weighs pretty heavily. And so we’ve seen a powerful consistency between two administrations trying to deal with this problem,” Hayden said. “Actually, I’ve seen it over two administrations, and I thank god every day for the continuity.”

“Regardless of which side of the political spectrum you come from or what your political views might be, these threats are very real and very serious. And we have to — have to deal with them in a very serious way,” [ former National Intelligence Director and retired Navy Vice Admiral Michael] McConnell added.

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