Saturday, January 17, 2009

Making American wars feasible, but interminable

At TomDispatch, Nick Turse provides a "lessons learned" synopsis of his visit to the biennial 26th Army Science Conference held in Orlando Florida.

The big-picture lesson seemed to be that current Army technology has made American wars feasible, but interminable. Heavy body armor has helped keep U.S. combat deaths down to a level acceptable to the American public; but, of course, the same bulky gear helps ensure that fast-moving insurgents, who already know the land well, live to fight another day. And, since the enemy is unlikely to be caught on foot, U.S. troops become ever more reliant on air or artillery strikes that are likely to kill civilians in rural Afghanistan and so recruit more insurgents. The scenario suggested is one that's already in operation: an endless cycle of American failure and foreign carnage enabled, implemented, and exacerbated by recent technological innovations.

Friday, January 16, 2009

What of the 11-4-2008 Israeli attacks on Gaza?

In a stunning exhibition of journalism, Gareth Porter writing for the Inter Press Service News Agency clarifies the sequence of events leading up to the renewal by Hamas of rocket fire into Israel and in so doing justifies the conclusions of such commentators as John Pilger, Elizabeth Molchaney, Avi Schlaim and Norman Finkelstein and Jeff Huber.

Porter writes:

Hamas brought rocket and mortar fire from Gaza to a virtual halt last summer and fall, as revealed by a report by the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center (ITIC) in Tel Aviv last month. ITIC is part of the Israel Intelligence Heritage & Commemoration Centre (IICC), an NGO which is close to the Israeli intelligence community.

In the first days after the ceasefire took effect, Islamic Jihad fired nine rockets and a few mortar rounds in retaliation for Israeli assassinations of their members in the West Bank. In August another eight rockets were fired by various groups, according to IDF data cited in the report. But it shows that only one rocket was launched from Gaza in September and one in October.

The report recalls that Hamas "tried to enforce the terms of the arrangement" on other Palestinian groups, taking "a number of steps against networks which violated the arrangement," including short-term detention and confiscating their weapons. It even found that Hamas had sought support in Gazan public opinion for its policy of maintaining the ceasefire.

On Nov. 4 -- just when the ceasefire was most effective -- the IDF carried out an attack against a house in Gaza in which six members of Hamas's military wing were killed, including two commanders, and several more were wounded. The IDF explanation for the operation was that it had received intelligence that a tunnel was being dug near the Israeli security fence for the purpose of abducting Israeli soldiers.

Hamas officials asserted, however, that the tunnel was being dug for defensive purposes, not to capture IDF personnel, according to Pastor, and one IDF official confirmed that fact to him.

After that Israeli attack, the ceasefire completely fell apart, as Hamas began openly firing rockets into Israel, the IDF continued to carry out military operations inside Gaza, and the border crossings were "closed most of the time", according to the ITIC account.

With the world's eyes riveted on the U.S. Presidential election results, and horrified at Hamas' overwhelmingly successful efforts to PREVENTING rockets from being launched into Israel, upholding the Hamas end of the July cease-fire agreement, (DESPITE Israel's refusal to cease the blockade of Gaza, which was part of the negotiated cease-fire agreement), IDF forces enter Gaza and kill members of Hamas based on questionable intelligence.

These acts of war provoked a retaliation, thus giving Israel its causus belli, which is proving quite popular amongst the Israeli citizens, at the present time. Israel then cynically argues that:

[T]he firing of 190 rockets over six weeks as the justification for its massive attack on Gaza.

Dream on, sweet dreamer

Nicholas Kristof makes some astonishing claims in his NYT column Where Sweatshops are a Dream:

Mr. Obama and the Democrats who favor labor standards in trade agreements mean well, for they intend to fight back at oppressive sweatshops abroad. But while it shocks Americans to hear it, the central challenge in the poorest countries is not that sweatshops exploit too many people, but that they don’t exploit enough.

"Conservatives" recite similar arguments in refutation of "liberal" denunciations of sweatshops. Kristoff's article continues:

Talk to these families in the dump, and a job in a sweatshop is a cherished dream, an escalator out of poverty, the kind of gauzy if probably unrealistic ambition that parents everywhere often have for their children.

“I’d love to get a job in a factory,” said Pim Srey Rath, a 19-year-old woman scavenging for plastic. “At least that work is in the shade. Here is where it’s hot.”

In her book NO LOGO: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies, author Naoimi Klein reports on export processing zones (EPZs), a world wide array of sweatshops. In Rosario, the Phillipines:

Windowless workshops made of cheap plastic and aluminum siding are crammed in next to each other, only feet apart. Racks of time cards bake in the sun, making sure the maximum amount of work is extracted from each worker, the maximum number of working hours extracted from each day. The streets in the zone are eerily empty, and open doors - the ventilation system for most factories - reveal lines of young women hunched in silence over clamoring machines.

...The zone is a tax-free economy, sealed off from the local government of both town and province - a miniature military state inside a democracy.

Klein provides some historical perspective:

Though it has plenty in common with ... other tax havens, the export process zone is really in a class of its own. Less holding tank than sovereign territory, the EPZ is an area where goods don't just pass through but are actually manufactured, an area, furthermore, where there are no import and export duties, and often no income or property taxes either. The idea that EPZs could help Third World economies first gained currency in 1964 when the United Nations Economic and Social council adopted a resolution endorsing the zones as a means of promoting trace and developing nations. The idea didn't really get off the ground, however, until the early eighties when India introduced a five-year tax break for companies manufacturing in its low-wage zones.

Since then, the free-trade-zone industry has exploded... In total, the International Labor Organization says that there are at least 850 EPZs in the world ... spread through seventy countries and employing roughly 27 million workers...

Here's what it's like for EPZ workers:

Regardless of where the EPZs are located, the workers' stories have a certain mesmerizing sameness: the workday is long - fourteen hours in Sri Lanka, twelve hours in Indonesia, sixteen in Southern China, twelve in the Philipines. The vast majority of the workers are women, always young, always working for contractors or subcontractors from Korea, Taiwan or Hong Kong. The contractors are usually filling orders for companies based in the U.S., Britain, Japan, Germany or Canada. The management is military-style, the supervisors often abusive, the wages below subsistence and the work low-skill and tedious. As an economic model, today's export process zones have more in common with fast-food franchises than sustainable developments, so removed are they from the countries that host them. These pockets of pure industry hide behind a cloak of transience: the contracts come and go with little notice' the workers are predominantly migrants, far from home and with little connection to the city of province where zones are located; the work itself is short-term, often not renewed.

Fear pervades the zones. The governments are afraid of losing their foreign factories' the factories are afraid of losing their brand-name buyers; and the workers are afraid of losing their unstable jobs...

The theory behind EPZs is that they will attract foreign investor, who, if all goes well, will decide to stay in the country, and the zones' segregated assembly lines will turn into lasting development: technology, transfers and domestic industries. To lure the swallows into this clever trap, the governments of poor countries offer tax breaks, lax regulations and the services of a military willing and able to crush labor unrest. To sweeten the pot further, they put their own people on the auction block, falling over each other to offer up the lowest minimum wage, allowing workers to be paid less than the real cost of living.

The rationale goes something like this: of course companies must pay taxes and strictly abide by national laws, but just in this one case, on this one specific piece of land, for just a little while, an exception will be made - for the cause of future prosperity. The EPZs, therefore, exist within a kind of legal and economic set of brackets, apart from the rest of their countries ... the local police and municipal government have no right even to cross the threshold. The layers of blockades serve a dual purpose: to keep the hordes away from the costly good being manufactured inside the zone, but also, and perhaps more important, to shield the country from what is going on inside the zone.

Because such sweet deals have been laid out to entice the swallows, the barriers around the zone serve to reinforce the idea that what is happening inside is only temporary, or is not really happening at all

Kristoff theorizes some more:

I’m glad that many Americans are repulsed by the idea of importing products made by barely paid, barely legal workers in dangerous factories. Yet sweatshops are only a symptom of poverty, not a cause, and banning them closes off one route out of poverty. At a time of tremendous economic distress and protectionist pressures, there’s a special danger that tighter labor standards will be used as an excuse to curb trade.

Yet Naomi Klein reaches a different conclusion:

It is one of the zones' many cruel ironies that every incentive the governments throw in to attract the multinationals only reinforces the sense that the companies are economic tourists rather than long-term investors. It's a classic vicious cycle: in an attempt to alleviate poverty, the governments offer more and more incentives; but then the EPZs must be cordoned off like leper colonies, and the more they are cordoned off, the more the factories appear to exist in a world entirely separate from the host country, and outside the zone the poverty only grows more desperate

Kristoff describes the Cambodian government's "interesting experiment" to work with factories to establish "decent labor standards and wages." Readers of his column are forced to guess at just what exactly decent labor standards (hours per day, overtime limits, days per week, perhaps) and decent wages are.

Cambodia has, in fact, pursued an interesting experiment by working with factories to establish decent labor standards and wages. It’s a worthwhile idea, but one result of paying above-market wages is that those in charge of hiring often demand bribes — sometimes a month’s salary — in exchange for a job. In addition, these standards add to production costs, so some factories have closed because of the global economic crisis and the difficulty of competing internationally.

Kristoff just really wants all of the global campaigners against sweatshops to just give the poorest countries of the world their best hope, and to stop all these oh so obviously successful global campaigns against sweatshops.

Among people who work in development, many strongly believe (but few dare say very loudly) that one of the best hopes for the poorest countries would be to build their manufacturing industries. But global campaigns against sweatshops make that less likely.

Kristoff's column might have been better if he had taken some time to interview some sweatshop workers, to find out truth there is to the dreams of 13-year-old Neuo Chanthou, that a factory (sweatshop) is better.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

U.S. unemployment considerably worse than reported

From Democracy Now! headline news of 12 January, 2009, we learn

Over 500,000 Lose Job in December; Official Unemployment Rate at 7.2%

The nation’s official unemployment rate has jumped to 7.2 percent as employers eliminated over 500,000 jobs in December. In all of 2008, 2.6 million people lost their jobs, the largest slump in employment since 1945. Economists estimate the actual unemployment rate is 13.5 percent if you include underemployed and discouraged workers, who have stopped looking for a job.

These unemployment figures track with the Shadow Government Statistics website

Chart of U.S. Unemployment

Graph provided Courtesy of

Please note that the ShadowStats estimate of unemployment is closer to 17.5%.

For the foreseeable future, things are only going to get worse, MUCH worse, on the unemployment front.

Back into the Middle East: Haven't we done enough?

Tragic ironies abound this piece Little Shop of Horrors written by Mark Perry at the Conflict Forum:

I once asked one of my Palestinian friends what he thought the United States should do to help the peoples of the Middle East. He was incredulous: “Haven’t you done enough?” In retrospect that pained reply seems the perfect answer to my presumption: I’m from America and I’m here to help.

Sadly, the self-congratulation attendant on Barack Obama’s election has seemingly revived this tradition of selfless altruism. As a former Clinton administration official told me several weeks ago: “We’re going back into the Middle East, but this time we’re going to get it right.” That it did not occur to this official that we aren’t exactly “out” of the Middle East is a testament to American optimism–and amnesia. “Really,” he added, our capacity for doing good is limitless."

U.S. military capacity for rendering destruction and killing citizens is limitless. As is our government's capacity for providing armaments and diplomatic cover to Israel that nation's massacre and slaughter of civilians. As is the failure of most political and media elites to see the blatant ignorance and hypocrisy of their statements or the palpable pap of their own spun propaganda.

That the new Obama administration will reengage in the Middle East is not in question. It will. But, in the wake of the failed “war on terrorism” (the definition of a “terrorist” has been broadened, apparently, to include anyone who’s not a Republican), the Bush administration’s dream of spreading democracy (so long as you are not Hamas or live in Pakistan) and the galactically stupid war in Iraq (whose purpose is yet to be determined), America will be focused more on–as one of my colleagues described it–”doing politics.”

... Americans now doubt that democracy can be “promoted” and have turned against the policies (and leaders) that, in the name of democracy, cost tens of thousands of Iraqi lives ... [A]ll of the region’s issues fade to insignificance, so long as the solutions to them remain in the hands of single party thugs, ruling cliques and family kleptocracies.

The single most important issue facing the region is whether that will continue.

Unfortunately (or blessedly), the people of the Middle East will not have Americans attempting to “help” them in their search for democracy. We’re leaving your shop, shattered china and all, because our shop is on fire. By the way, it was arson.

Monday, January 12, 2009

His abuses of power, arrogance and lack of attention

In the Chicago Tribune's Voice of the People Section, found on the editorial page, which used to be found at the back of the main section of the paper, but which now resides at the back of the business section of the paper, reader William Peterson of Elgin was almost permitted to ask an important question.

However, in publishing this letter, Tribune editors appear a bit off their game.

Why did it take so long?

The sad state of politics in Illinois is demonstrated by the fact that it took a federal prosecutor's arrest warrant to serve as the catalyst for the impeachment of the governor.

His abuses of power, arrogance and lack of attention to the interests of all the people of our state had been a continuing saga for the six-plus years he has been governor.

Where was the exercise of the legislative aut [sic]

Thank you, U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald, for doing the right thing when others failed to act.

Presumably Mr. Peterson got cut off attempting to ask:

Where was the exercise of the legislative authority?

The Trib's moving the Voice of the People from the main section to the business section - from section one to section two, seems subtlely significant, a demotion for the people's voice. Also, readers who never open the business section will never find what other readers care about. But then, readers who care enough about what other readers care about, or, heaven forbid, what Tribune editorial writers care about, are forced to open the business section. Perhaps this represents an elevation of the business section, its pages being opened perforce by readers previously uninterested; expanding the penetration of the business section?

Since imitation is the sincerest form flattery, one is tempted to send something like the following to the Tribune's Voice of the People, then sit in eager anticipation every morning, awaiting to see permit a voice saying this to speak:

Why did it take so long?

The sorry state of U.S. politics is demonstrated by simply noting that nothing done by the Bush administration was severe enough to serve as the catalyst for the impeachment of the President or the Vice President.

Their abuses of power, their arrogance, their overt corporate cronyism, their failure to equip U.S. soldiers fighting wars on two fronts with kevlar vests and steel reinforced transport vehicles, their failure to provide adequate health services to disabled soldiers returning from these wars, their failure to act while the city and poor people of New Orleans drowned, have been ongoing tragic sagas for the past eight years.

Where was the exercise of the legislative authority to impeach for their outright ineptness at governing and never-ending violations of U.S. and international law?

Thank you, U.S. House Representative Dennis Kucinich, journalist Dave Lindorff and Professor Barbara Olshansky, former U.S. Prosecuter Elizabeth de la Vega, consultant John Perkins, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Professor Mark Crispin Miller and Attorney Craig Leslie for your valiant efforts to show how to do the right thing while others constitutionally empowered to act have failed to do so.

Not self-defense but a war crime

Pursuant to Professor Juan Cole's suggestion:

This letter of attorneys and academics appeared in the Times of London on Sunday. I suggest that all bloggers who agree with it just reprint it so that it is everywhere in the blogosphere. It is a succinct and cogent refutation of the reigning right-Zionist talking points that have dominated American media reporting on this atrocity.

Here follows the entire article:

From The Sunday Times
January 11, 2009
Israel’s bombardment of Gaza is not self-defence – it’s a war crime

ISRAEL has sought to justify its military attacks on Gaza by stating that it amounts to an act of “self-defence” as recognised by Article 51, United Nations Charter. We categorically reject this contention.

The rocket attacks on Israel by Hamas deplorable as they are, do not, in terms of scale and effect amount to an armed attack entitling Israel to rely on self-defence. Under international law self-defence is an act of last resort and is subject to the customary rules of proportionality and necessity.

The killing of almost 800 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and more than 3,000 injuries, accompanied by the destruction of schools, mosques, houses, UN compounds and government buildings, which Israel has a responsibility to protect under the Fourth Geneva Convention, is not commensurate to the deaths caused by Hamas rocket fire.

For 18 months Israel had imposed an unlawful blockade on the coastal strip that brought Gazan society to the brink of collapse. In the three years after Israel’s redeployment from Gaza, 11 Israelis were killed by rocket fire. And yet in 2005-8, according to the UN, the Israeli army killed about 1,250 Palestinians in Gaza, including 222 children. Throughout this time the Gaza Strip remained occupied territory under international law because Israel maintained effective control over it.

Israel’s actions amount to aggression, not self-defence, not least because its assault on Gaza was unnecessary. Israel could have agreed to renew the truce with Hamas. Instead it killed 225 Palestinians on the first day of its attack. As things stand, its invasion and bombardment of Gaza amounts to collective punishment of Gaza’s 1.5m inhabitants contrary to international humanitarian and human rights law. In addition, the blockade of humanitarian relief, the destruction of civilian infrastructure, and preventing access to basic necessities such as food and fuel, are prima facie war crimes.

We condemn the firing of rockets by Hamas into Israel and suicide bombings which are also contrary to international humanitarian law and are war crimes. Israel has a right to take reasonable and proportionate means to protect its civilian population from such attacks. However, the manner and scale of its operations in Gaza amount to an act of aggression and is contrary to international law, notwithstanding the rocket attacks by Hamas.

Ian Brownlie QC, Blackstone Chambers

Mark Muller QC, Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales

Michael Mansfield QC and Joel Bennathan QC, Tooks Chambers

Sir Geoffrey Bindman, University College, London

Professor Richard Falk, Princeton University

Professor M Cherif Bassiouni, DePaul University, Chicago

Professor Christine Chinkin, LSE

Professor John B Quigley, Ohio State University

Professor Iain Scobbie and Victor Kattan, School of Oriental and African Studies

Professor Vera Gowlland-Debbas, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva

Professor Said Mahmoudi, Stockholm University

Professor Max du Plessis, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban

Professor Bill Bowring, Birkbeck College

Professor Joshua Castellino, Middlesex University

Professor Thomas Skouteris and Professor Michael Kagan, American University of Cairo

Professor Javaid Rehman, Brunel University

Daniel Machover, Chairman, Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights

Dr Phoebe Okawa, Queen Mary University

John Strawson, University of East London

Dr Nisrine Abiad, British Institute of International and Comparative Law

Dr Michael Kearney, University of York

Dr Shane Darcy, National University of Ireland, Galway

Dr Michelle Burgis, University of St Andrews

Dr Niaz Shah, University of Hull

Liz Davies, Chair, Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyer

Prof Michael Lynk, The University of Western Ontario

Steve Kamlish QC and Michael Topolski QC, Tooks Chambers

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Supporting our own brainwashing

At Counterpunch, Paul Craig Roberts a former columnist for the Wall Street Journal, Business Week, and Scripps Howard Newspapers says that to become reliably informed on national and foreign affairs, citizens need to invest their time and avoid traditional MSM. He offers as examples of honest reporting options such as English Language broadcast sources Iran's Press TV, Russia Today and Al Jazeera; Englsh language newspaper sources Asia Times and Haaretz. Per Roberts, of daily U.S. papers, only McClatchy offer consistently honest writing, while many of thealternative newspapers are very good.

Roberts describes how things have come to this state in a scathing denunciation of US print and TV media.

The American print and TV media have never been very good. These days they are horrible. If people intend to be informed, they must turn to foreign news broadcasts, to Internet sites, to foreign newspapers available on the Internet, or to alternative newspapers that are springing up in various cities. A person who sits in front of Murdoch’s Fox “News” or CNN or who reads the New York Times is simply being brainwashed with propaganda.

Before conservatives nod their heads in agreement, I’m not referring to “the liberal media.” I mean the propaganda that issues from the US government and the Israel Lobby.

Roberts then cites specific example of such propaganda.

It was neoconservative Bush regime propaganda fed to America through Judith Miller and the New York Times and through Murdoch’s Fox “News” ... that convinced Americans that getting rid of dangerous “weapons of mass destruction,” weapons that did not exist in Iraq, would be a cakewalk paid for by Iraqi oil revenues.

It is the same propagandistic American print and TV media that have rationalized Bush’s illegal invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan based on seven years of lies and deception.

It is the same media that today provids [sic] only Israeli propaganda as “coverage” of the Israeli war crimes in Gaza.


During the run up to wars and during wars, the American press has always been a propagandist for the government. The only exceptions occurred during the later phases of the Vietnam war and the Contra-Sandinista conflict in Central America. Karen de Young and some others tried to honestly cover the Contras and Sandinistas and were demonized by “patriots” taken in by the government’s lies.

Conservatives still blame the “liberal” media for losing the Vietnam war, when in fact all the media did was to provide some truthful reports that opened some American eyes.


Here's how the nail in the coffin where from whence resemblance to independent reporting would sometimes escape was hammered:

However, any resemblance to independent reporting disappeared from the American media when the Democratic regime of President Clinton allowed Murdoch and a small handful of moguls to concentrate the American media in a few corporate hands. That was the end of American reporting.

Journalists disappeared from media management and were replaced by corporate advertising executives with an eye not to offend any source of advertising revenue, and certainly not to offend the government, which controls the broadcast licenses that comprise the value of the mega-companies. Today reporters write the stories that their masters want to hear, or they are out. The function of editors is to make certain that no uncomfortable information reaches the public.

The function of the “mainstream media” is to sell products and to brainwash the audience for the government and interest groups. By subscribing to it, Americans support their own brainwashing.

Viewed from this perspective, the war waged on the Clintons can be seen as a hoisting by Bill's petard. He couldn't have seen it coming.