Monday, August 2, 2010

Obama’s Middle East Moment of Truth

His diplomatic moves are a good start. But does he have the will to challenge Israel?

Trying to figure out what Barack Obama intends to do in the Middle East is like trying to read the leaves in a cup of tea stirred by Jackson Pollock. For every signal Obama has given that he intends to break decisively with Bush’s failed approach to the Middle East, he has given another that indicates he plans to simply give the same policies a fresh coat of paint.

Obama took what many regarded as a backwards step even before assuming office by appointing Hillary Clinton, who supported the Iraq war and as senator toed the establishment line on Israel, as secretary of state. But then he gave his first presidential interview to the Arabic-language station al-Arabiya and announced that his administration would approach the Arab-Muslim world with a spirit of respect and willingness to listen. He said, “If countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fist, they will find an extended hand from us.” But then he named as his Iran advisor the right-leaning Dennis Ross, who signed a threatening Iran paper drafted by two hard-line neoconservatives, claimed, in a statement to Congress accompanying his renewal of sanctions against Iran, that the country posed “an extraordinary threat” to the U.S. and gave every indication that he would continue Bush’s failed carrots-and-sticks approach. Obama has ordered a top-to-bottom strategic review of U.S. policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan, but sent 17,000 more troops there and has continued to assassinate militants in Pakistan with missiles fired from Predator drones. He announced that he was winding down the Iraq war, but is doing so at a hyper-cautious pace.

Not surprisingly, Obama’s most contradictory messages concern the most important, and politically radioactive, issue of all: the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. His appointment of the respected negotiator George Mitchell as special envoy for the Middle East was taken as strong evidence that he was prepared to challenge Washington’s blank-check support for Israel. In a major break with the Bush administration’s refusal to deal with Hamas, Mitchell told Jewish leaders that a Palestinian unity government made up of the U.S.-backed Palestinian Authority and Hamas would be “a step forward” for peace. Similarly, after Britain announced that it would break with U.S. and European policy by beginning low-level contacts with Hezbollah, an anonymous State Department official told reporters that the U.S. might enjoy some benefits from the diplomatic rapprochement. “We are looking for a comprehensive approach” in the Middle East, the official said. For her part, Secretary of State Clinton, on her first trip to the Middle East, criticized Israeli house demolitions in East Jerusalem, albeit in feeble, Condoleezza Rice-like terms as “unhelpful,” and hinted that the Obama administration was prepared to challenge the ongoing expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. She also pledged $900 million in U.S. aid to rebuild Gaza after Israel’s devastating 22-day onslaught earlier this year.

All of these developments represent a significant change from Bush administration policies on Israel-Palestine. But the Obama administration’s right hand proceeded to undo what its left one had done.

Having sent signals that it might be prepared to break with Bush’s policy of excluding Hamas and Hezbollah, the Obama administration proceeded to exclude them. Secretary of State Clinton has continued the Bush administration policy of dealing only with Fatah, the dominant faction in the Palestinian Authority (PA) headed by Mahmoud Abbas. She ordered that U.S. funds for Gaza go only to the PA, not Hamas. And in direct contradiction of the cautious support for a British-Hezbollah thaw expressed by an anonymous Obama official, another anonymous official sharply criticized it.

The most glaring sign that Obama might continue the status quo on Israel was his failure to defend Charles Freeman. Obama’s director of national intelligence, Admiral Dennis Blair, had asked Freeman to head the National Intelligence Council, but the highly respected diplomat withdrew after he was heavily attacked by supporters of Israel, including neoconservative ideologues and politicians from both sides of the aisle, such as the Democratic New York senator Charles Schumer. “His statements against Israel were way over the top and severely out of step with the administration,” Schumer said. Obama’s refusal to stand up for Freeman indicates that he is unwilling to challenge Washington’s quasi-official, bipartisan policy of unswerving support for Israel, and raises serious questions about whether he will be prepared to confront the incoming right-wing Israeli government led by Benjamin Netanyahu. But if he fails to do so, all his diplomatic overtures in the region will only be so much hot air.

Obama has broken with Bush’s Middle East policy in one key area: He is talking to more players in the region. The most notable difference concerns Syria. Bush demonized Syria as a junior-varsity member of the Axis of Evil and refused to deal with it, but Obama is talking to Damascus and encouraging it to resume peace negotiations with Israel. His strategic purpose is to drive a wedge between it and its fellow hardline state Iran, thus weakening the militant rejectionist groups Hamas and Hezbollah and strengthening Fatah. This is a good idea as far as it goes, and it represents a qualified change from the Bush strategy of trying to line up the “moderate” states of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan against the “extremist” ones, Iran and Syria and their militant clients.

The problem, however, is that it is only a qualified change, because Obama is still refusing to deal with Iran and the militant groups, hoping they can be marginalized. But they cannot be marginalized unless the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolved. Obama can fiddle around the edges all he wants, make all the right noises, but unless he is willing to deal with the real problem, his Middle East policy will go nowhere.

His cautious and contradictory moves so far give the impression that Obama hopes that more diplomacy will somehow cause the chess pieces on the Middle East board to move in such a way that he will be able to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace without going head-to-head with Israel. But that hope is unrealistic.

Capitalizing on their fear of Iran, which his Iraq war greatly strengthened, Bush prodded the “moderate” Arab states to close ranks against the “extremists.” So far, Obama is following a similar path — with the only difference being that he has opened communication with Syria. But the “moderates,” their legitimacy badly damaged by Israel’s Gaza onslaught, never fully embraced that strategy, and they have now rejected it. They still distrust Iran, but they have come to realize that the only way to weaken it and its militant proxies is by addressing the root cause of extremism: the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. That’s why the Arab states have been engaged in furious diplomacy in the run-up to the upcoming Arab League summit in Qatar — including reaching out to Syria. The recent four-way meeting in Riyadh between King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, Syrian president Bashir Assad, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and Kuwaiti emir Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah ended with a pledge to speak with one voice on Israel-Palestine.

The fact that all the Arab states have adopted a uniform position on the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, demanding that it be resolved along the lines of the 2002 Arab Peace Plan, spells a death knell for Bush’s attempt to use the “moderate” regimes’ fear of their own Islamist radicals to sideline them on Israel-Palestine. And it puts the onus squarely on the U.S., and its client Israel, to take immediate and concrete steps towards a two-state solution.

Seen in this light, Israel’s Gaza war was a major strategic blunder. Not only did it achieve nothing militarily — the crude rockets it was ostensibly intended to stop continue to rain down, Hamas is more popular than ever, and Abbas is weaker — but it united the Arab states against it. The Saudis and Egyptians fear Iran and were enraged after Syria’s Assad derided them as “half-men” for failing to oppose Israel, but after Gaza they had no choice but to present a united front on Israel-Palestine. As Agence France-Presse reported on the recent Riyadh meeting, “[T]he Saudis see themselves as ‘delivering’ the Arabs to comprehensive peace talks, hoping to provoke the Obama administration to ‘deliver Israel’ — regardless of who is leading Israel’s government. Riyadh wants to maneuver Israel into ‘a put up or shut up’ situation, said one foreign analyst.”

U.S. hopes that Syria can somehow be persuaded to break with Iran are misguided. As Syrian analyst Marwan Kabalan told the National, “Syria believes it can have good ties with Iran and America, that it does not have to choose between one or the other.” The only way for America to undercut Iran, Kabalan said, was to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace. “The answer is the peace process, and not just a deal between Syria and Israel over the Golan,” he said. “If you want to undercut Iran, you don’t need to ask Syria to move away from Iran, you just need a fair peace. Peace will automatically mean that Hamas and Hizbollah are playing a more political role.”

As Kabalan’s comments suggest, neither Syria nor Iran is going to drop its support for the militant groups until there is a viable Palestinian state. Nor are Hamas and Hezbollah going to give up armed resistance until the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land ends. This leaves Obama no choice: If he wants to stabilize the Middle East, prop up the “moderate” regimes and disarm the militants, he has to pressure Israel to accept a two-state solution. America’s present policy, demanding that the rejectionist and radical Arab factions agree in advance to renounce violence and recognize Israel while not simultaneously demanding that Israel end the occupation and return to its 1967 borders, has not worked, will not work and is simply a recipe for a continued conflict. And time is not on Israel’s side.

But demanding that Israel take the steps necessary to make peace means a harsh face-off with the Netanyahu government. If the Gaza war moved the Arab states to the left, it moved Israel to the right. On Monday, it was announced that Avigdor Lieberman, a bigoted ultra-nationalist who ran an explicitly anti-Arab campaign, would be Netanyahu’s Foreign Minister — the equivalent of Obama naming George Lincoln Rockwell or David Duke to be his secretary of state. The stage is set for a major collision.

Obama’s cautious moves so far, and the lengths he went to before the election to assure right-wing American Jewish groups like AIPAC that he was staunchly pro-Israel, suggest that he wants to avoid that confrontation at all costs. A showdown with Israel will split the Democrats, threaten campaign donations and distract attention and resources from his domestic agenda. But unless he is content with the status quo, he has no choice. If he wants to stabilize the Middle East, deal justly with the Palestinians, reduce the threat of jihadist terrorism and ensure a secure future for Israel, he will have to seize the third rail of American politics.

The fact is that the U.S. desperately needs a game changer in the Middle East, and brokering an Israeli-Palestinian peace along the lines of the 2002 Saudi peace initiative or the 2003 Geneva Accord is the only game changer we have left.

Under Bush, the neoconservatives tried their own game changer, reversing the old mantra that the road to Tehran and Baghdad runs through Jerusalem. But it turned out conquering Baghdad did not open the way to an undivided, Israel-run Jerusalem. Israel’s enemies, contrary to neoconservative dreams, did not cry uncle. In fact, the rejectionists among them are more powerful than ever.

The new Middle Eastern diplomatic detente leaves Obama only one way forward. If he wants to succeed, he will have to make it clear to the far-right Israeli government that it must stop settlements, return to its 1967 borders and accept a viable, contiguous Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

If Obama dares to do this, he will find himself in a political storm like none he has ever seen. But there is reason to believe that Americans are starting to think about Israel and Palestine in a new way. Israel’s brutal attack on Gaza badly damaged its international standing: Only its most hard-line supporters defend that atrocity. Roger Cohen’s confession in the New York Times that “I have never previously been so shamed by Israel” expresses a widespread sentiment. Even the Israel lobby’s victory on Freeman may have been Pyrrhic. As IPS’s Jim Lobe, whose reporting on the neoconservatives and the Israel lobby stands above all others, pointed out in a piece he co-wrote with Daniel Luban, the Freeman affair forced the mainstream media to at last acknowledge the elephant in the room: that there is an Israel lobby, and that it wields enormous power. (When Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer published “The Israel Lobby” in 2007, they were widely accused of being anti-Semitic, scurrilous charges that have now mostly disappeared.) Unswerving support for Israel is still official America’s default position, but it is becoming more and more hollow as politicians and American Jews alike begin to question whether such “support” is in America’s, or even Israel’s, interest.

Obama also has some political cover. The Iraq Study Group report made it clear that significant parts of the American foreign-policy establishment reject Bush’s good-and-evil approach. Now, another blue-chip group of senior foreign policy officials, including Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski, have urged the U.S. to open a dialogue with Hamas.

Paradoxically, the huge gulf between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government could actually make it easier for Obama to broker a peace deal. As veteran analyst Henry Siegman, president of the U.S./Middle East Project, recently argued in Haaretz, center-left Israeli governments have never been willing to take the steps necessary to make peace: They have “used the peace process they champion as a cover for the continued expansion of settlements and the closing off of East Jerusalem to any future Palestinian entity.” But American presidents have been unwilling to challenge any Israeli government that pays lip service to the two-state solution, which means that such governments can stall forever. By contrast, Siegman notes, “a Netanyahu-led government with coalition partners like Avigdor Lieberman and other extreme right-wing parties that do not enjoy much popular support in the U.S. (or anywhere else for that matter) would allow President Barack Obama and his administration to advance [a peace] initiative.”

Finally, there is Obama himself. Elected to bring change, in the wake of a disastrous war whose intellectual architects were ardently pro-Israel, he has more of a mandate to change the imbalanced U.S. policy toward Israel and the Palestinians than any recent president.

So Obama has the power, and probably the wisdom, to change America’s misguided course in the Middle East. Whether he has the will, or the courage, is another question.


The Tragic Death of a Night Porter

…what possesses greater intrinsic value? Maintaining the mainstream version of the Holocaust at any cost, or the life of a single human being whose only offence was to engage in historical research in a quest for the truth?


The Tragic Death of a Night Porter


By JPBellinger

On June 11, 2010, a badly decomposed body was discovered wedged in between the seat of a parked vehicle in a shopping center located in Karolinka, Opole, in Poland. The cadaver was decomposed beyond recognition, and DNA tests turned out to be inconclusive in establishing the identity of the victim. However, papers and documents discovered inside the vehicle led police to conclude that the deceased individual was Dariusz Ratajczak, a professor of history who formerly taught at the University of Opole. He was 48 years old at the time of his death. Family members confirmed the fact that the decedent was indeed Dariusz Ratajczak. After being questioned, a number of witnesses told the police that the car had only recently been parked there. In fact, just prior to his demise, Ratajczak had been planning a business trip to Holland, where he had been hired to work as a translator.

In fact, Dariusz Ratajczak’s troubles began with the publication of his booklet, “Dangerous Topics,” in March, 1999. The treatise was self-published and limited to only 320 copies, but gave credence to the old maxim that the ‘pen is mightier than the sword. Ratajczak’s essay provoked a firestorm of criticism among his contemporaries. In the month following the book’s publication, a rather surprised Ratajczak was summoned to the editorial offices of the Gazeta Wyborcza, a leading Polish newspaper, where he was sneeringly told, “We’ll trample you into the ground for the little book, and the little sub-chapter on the Holocaust.”

True to their word, the editor of the newspaper proceeded to do just that. The Gazeta Wyborcza instituted a smear campaign of harassment and intimidation calculated to ruin the man’s life and livelihood – and it succeeded beyond their wildest expectations. Ratajczak was charged under Poland’s ‘Holocaust denial’ law, which had been passed by the legislature as a result of pressure from the Jewish lobby. Even though the court eventually dismissed the charges against him, the smears, lies and libels emanating from the media continued to dog him with the fanatical persistence of an Inspecteur Javert. Instigated by the media assault, others joined the chorus to expel Ratajczak from his teaching position.

The director of the Auschwitz Museum referred to him as a “Nazi,” and the spokesman for the Israeli embassy in Poland, Michael Sobelman, publicly expressed his “surprise” that “such a man works at a Polish university.” Unsurprisingly, the Simon Wiesenthal Center joined in the chorus, accusing Ratajczak of being an ‘anti-Semite,’ to which the Professor responded rather phlegmatically:

At present, the charge of anti-Semitism has become a sort of exceptionally brutal weapon, which the “Establishment” uses ruthlessly against independent thinking men (for the greater fun of it, also against Jews, such as Dr. Israel Shahak.) Write, in accordance with truth, about the almost racist character of the state of Israel, and you will be an anti-Semite. Point to Simon Wiesenthal, his errors of the past, or rub Mr. Adam Michnik his Gazeta Wyborcza up the wrong way, and you will be an anti-Semite. Write a few words of truth about all those Wiesels, Kosinskis, or a few anti-Polish Australian liars of Jewish extraction, and you will be an anti-Semite, of course… And so on, on, on. Sheer paranoia, or – and here we are going back to the source – an important element of political correctness.

Perplexed by the ferocity and persistence of the attacks launched against him, Ratajczak commented–

“What hurts me most is that I found myself in a group of historians who have been muzzled. After all, please see: from 45 years to now the number of Jews murdered in Auschwitz-Birkenau has dropped from six million to less than one million. It’s official data. Indeed, even if they had killed one man, that would be a tragedy. But how is it that some historians may legitimately question the numbers of the Holocaust, and others can not? How is it that some people can reduce the six million to less than a million and nothing bad is happening to them? How is it that some people are not allowed to examine this subject and even be wrong, while other historians are allowed all this?” [1]

Expelled from his teaching position at the University of Opole on charges of ‘denying the Holocaust,’ he was compelled to seek work as a menial laborer. Prior to dismissing him, Ratajczak suffered the indignity of being ordered by his superiors at the University to submit to psychiatric treatment for presuming to question any aspect of the holocaust. A colleague advised him that the only option available to him would be to move out of Opole and change his identity. The slander campaign became so unbearable that it alienated his spouse and destroyed his marriage, and the once celebrated professor was reduced to penury and destitution. Wherever he applied for work, prospective employers would receive telephone calls from ‘yellow’ journalists informing them that the applicant was a ‘holocaust denier,’ and that hiring him would be ‘bad for business.’ The hint alone sufficed to induce employers to subtly drop his application into the nearest wastebasket.

In the weeks preceding his death, Dariusz Ratajczak turned into a phantom of his former self, abandoned and shunned by family, friends, and former colleagues alike. The disturbing news of Ratajczak’s death shocked traditionalist and patriotic organizations in Poland, whose spokespersons lambasted Ratajczak’s detractors as people having the blood of an innocent man on their heads.

For them, Professor Ratajczak’s death prompts a serious moral dilemma: Is questioning the holocaust, or holocaust ‘denial’ of more intrinsic worth than the life of any human being?

In a moral sense, what possesses greater intrinsic value? Maintaining the mainstream version of the Holocaust at any cost, or the life of a single human being whose only offence was to engage in historical research in a quest for the truth? Disturbingly, there are those who would stop at nothing to silence any and all independent inquiries into the historical event known to historians as the Holocaust, a fact best illustrated by the response of those who supported the willful and malicious persecution of a man for exercising his God given right of intellectual freedom. Unfazed by the news of his death, Ratajczak’s detractors gloated over his demise, intractable in their cynical hatred for the man. One critic mockingly commented that he ‘lived off his wife and could not find a better job than a waiter and a night porter. He lied, and had mental health problems, and led a miserable life and had a miserable death.” As if lying, personal misfortune and mental health problems warrant a miserable death for anyone!

Moreover, the obvious point was deliberately overlooked: The man was once gainfully employed, and highly respected, and his ‘mental problems’ did not exist until the usual merchants of sleaze and smear sunk their hooks into him, but by resorting to this process of vilification, the victim is dehumanized and condemned, and the assassins are cheered and comforted.

The reader may catch a glimpse of Professor Ratajczak’s profound insights and spontaneous genius, as revealed during the course of an interview where he proffered an assessment of “politically correct” establishment historians:

It is they who, deliberately, convert history into a handmaid of current political interests of equally morally and intellectually cheap ruling elites. Finally, it is they who decide which fact or historical figure to make prominent, and about which to keep silent to the death. Of course, they do it from the angle of current political usefulness….

Everywhere half-truths, lies, propaganda. But it is not at all madness, but a method leading to the destruction of historical consciousness, to the cutting off from the truly Polish historical heritage, without which the nation cannot exist. A nation is, after all, past, present, and future generations. If we break the first element of the triad, the whole starts making no sense. And that is where the “creativity” of the politically correct correctors of history is leading.

If there is an uninvestigated historical fact, I investigate it, whether somebody likes it, or not. If there is a problem which requires at least reporting about, or expounding, I report about and expound it. Regardless of whether they accuse me, for instance, of breaking the law. Because of this, I am an easy target for attacks. Such is the lot of a man not caring about censorship (the communist one before, and the politically correct one today). Good God, I didn’t become a historian to write between lines. A historian has one basic role to perform. It is to reach the truth. In essence, truth is a historian’s only friend. A historian ought to know that truth has no hues; truth is always clear, and one.

Professor Ratajczak’s death was ruled a ‘suicide,’ but skeptical people, perhaps bearing in mind the recent arrest of a Mossad assassin operating in Poland, are asking how a person in an advanced staged of composition was able to drive to a public parking lot and park a car?

In the preface to his prescient treatise, “Dangerous Topics” Professor Ratajczak opined:

“Writing about Polish – Jewish relations is a risky activity. Especially for the Pole, who believes that these relations should be presented on the basis of truth. It’s easy then – paradoxically – to be exposed to charges of extreme nationalism, xenophobia and Anti-Semitism. The consequences are often sad: a social boycott (everyone has those friends they deserve), racial and publishing blacklisting. In the end-occupational death.”

Unfortunately, and certainly unforeseen by Professor Ratajczak, ‘occupational death’ transformed into physical extinction.

Prior to his unforgiveable transgression, Professor Ratajczak was feted as one of Poland’s most brilliant historians, and highly regarded by his students. He leaves behind a wife and two orphaned children. His funeral was held in secret, without notifying the public, and the results of a mandated autopsy are said to be forthcoming.

What may be said as his epitaph? Dariusz Ratajczak shall most likely be remembered as the victim of a cruel, relentless fate at the hands of cruel, relentless people who used his book, “Dangerous Themes, to drive the nail into his coffin. On the day Dariusz Ratajczak died, free speech in Poland died with him.

[1] Bibula pismo niezalezne,,dr-dariusz-Ratajczak jczak-nie-zyje


See also an interview with Dr. Ratajczak by Z. Koreywo with notes by Mark Matyszewski. Click on “Dariusz Ratajczak” on the left margin of the main page of to get to Part 1 of the interview, then on table of contents in upper right to read Parts 2 and 3.

An Entourage Surpassing the Queen's...

President Obama showed up at the G-20 summit in London with everything but the proverbial kitchen sink-although he did bring the White House chef and the kitchen staff.

The heads of government in London for the G-20 summit are discussing serious and weighty issues, which in time will be duly reported on, but right now the British press is entranced by the sheer size of President Obama's traveling entourage. And no wonder.

Obama arrived with 500 staff in tow, including 200 Secret Service agents a team of six doctors, the White House chef and kitchen staff with the President's own food and water.

And, according to the Evening Standard, he also came with "35 vehicles in all, four speech writers and 12 teleprompters." For sure, our president is not going to be at a loss for words.

The press duly reported on Air Force One and all its bells and whistles but also on the presence of the presidential helicopter, Marine One, and a fleet of identical decoys to ferry him from Stansted airport to central London.

Among all those vehicles is the presidential limousine, which one local paper mistakenly called Cadillac One, but is universally referred to as the Beast. The limo, reinforced with ceramic and titanium armor, carries a tear gas cannon, night vision devices and its own oxygen and is resistant to chemical and radiation attack. It is, marveled one reporter, a sort of mobile panic room. The Guardian called it "the ultimate in heavily armored transport."

The president is entitled to all the security, communications and support he feels necessary to do his job but surely, when we're trying to project a more restrained, humble image to the world, the president's huge retinue could be scaled back to something less than the triumphal march from "Aida."

And you
thought that we were in the depths of a deep recession/"dire crisis" that requires Americans of all walks of life to make sacrifices! Silly You!

Osama Is Under Your Bed

It's been a nervous week. Every night before bed, I've taken a broom handle and thrust it under my bed. Each time, I'm waiting for the "Oof!" Osama is under there, I just know it. If the President says it, it must be true, right? One of these nights, I'll bust that Osama in the ribs with my handle. Just you wait. I'm keeping my feet under the covers, though. You know, just in case.

It happens like clockwork these days: A significant piece of legislation comes before Congress that was ostensibly drafted to help defend the nation against terrorism. Line items within the legislation do away with previously sacrosanct personal freedoms outlined within the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Should said legislation pass, the power of the federal government to arrest and detain citizens without trial or access to attorney, to search private homes without warrant or notice, to tap telephone and computer communications, and to keep vital information secreted away from the eyes of the public, would be greatly enhanced.

In the days leading up to the mandated Congressional debate regarding said legislation, terror warnings suddenly bloom like nightshade. The White House or the FBI or the CIA, or all three in concert, ratchet up the national tension level with forecasts of doom and death and fire from unknown quarters. Said legislation passes without so much as leaving a wake in its path, nothing explodes, and everyone goes on with their lives in the belief that they just narrowly dodged a bullet. At the conclusion of the process, the foundations of American freedom have been redacted, edited, clipped and round-filed.

The PATRIOT Act was passed in such a fashion. When that bill came up, the entire country was collecting its mail with oven mitts on to avoid exposure to anthrax, despite the fact that Democratic Senators like Patrick Leahy and Tom Daschle were the intended targets of this assassination attempt. The media got its dose of the poison, ensuring that all publicly aired conversation regarding the legislation would be coated with a veneer of hysteria. All of us were going to get 'thraxed, and so let us pass this ruinously contra-constitutional legislation without even reading it. I'd bet some serious folding green that many of the Senators who voted the thing into existence a year ago still haven't read it.

Sometimes, this has happened when no legislation is pending. Sometimes, this happens when Mr. Bush and his pals feel they have too much light on them. When Time and Newsweek came out with blazing cover stories, and the headline "Bush Knew," when word got out that the administration had been warned specifically and in detail about terrorist plans to hijack airplanes and slam them into buildings, all of a sudden the threat siren began howling. They're going to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge! They're going to blow up the Statue of Liberty! Run for your lives!

Needless to say, those structures still stand. No one is talking about "Bush Knew" anymore, though.


Like clockwork this happens. Cut this phenomenon with Occam's Razor -- "all things being equal, the simplest explanation is usually the correct one" -- and the word 'coincidence' becomes hard to spit out.

It happened again last week.

Legislation to create a Department of Homeland Security has wended its way toward Congressional approval. If passed, this legislation would signal the largest reorganization of the federal government since the passage of the National Security Act in 1947. Line items within the legislation:
  • Eliminate vital aspects of the Freedom of Information Act, allowing the government and private corporate contractors to operate completely in secret and beyond citizen oversight;

  • Create something called a 'Total Information Awareness' program within the Defense Department. Conservative columnist and former Nixon aide William Safire summed up succinctly what this will do. "Every purchase you make with a credit card, every magazine subscription you buy and medical prescription you fill, every Web site you visit and e-mail you send or receive, every academic grade you receive, every bank deposit you make, every trip you book and every event you attend -- all these transactions and communications will go into what the Defense Department describes as 'a virtual, centralized grand database.' To this computerized dossier on your private life from commercial sources, add every piece of information that government has about you -- passport application, driver's license and bridge toll records, judicial and divorce records, complaints from nosy neighbors to the F.B.I., your lifetime paper trail plus the latest hidden camera surveillance."

  • Redefines the term 'Terrorism.' Before, 'Terrorism' involved explosions, murder, kidnapping and any activity that used violence to frighten civilians and change the manner in which a government functioned. Under the new legislation, the definition of 'Terrorism' is expanded. Now, 'Terrorism' is defined as an act that, "Is a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State or other subdivision of the United States," or "Appears to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population." Protests against the government or against a private contractor involved with the government are intended to 'coerce' the civilian population. Loitering is a criminal offense. If you do either of these from now on, you may consider yourself welcomed into the ranks of international terrorism. Seriously.

  • Deletes any possibility of an effective independent investigation into what went wrong on Sept. 11, thanks to the aforementioned FOIA restrictions.
One would think so profound a sea change in the essential rights and freedoms of the citizenry would be subject to intense Congressional debate, no? After all, it took Congress two years of discussion to nail down the specifics and the fine print of the National Security Act. This is important stuff here.

Like clockwork comes the klaxon CNN headline on Nov. 15: 'FBI Warns al Qaeda Planning "Spectacular" Attack.'

Spectacular, no less.

Like clockwork comes the voice of Osama, prophesying death and doom from beyond the grave. Wasn't he dead for a while? This fellow has made more comebacks than Elvis, and always in time to redirect the national dialogue away from discussing the ways and means of incredibly important legislation.

All 484 pages of the Homeland Security Department legislation passed through Congress and they will pass through the Senate, likely unread by a majority of those casting the votes. At some point, the teeth of this legislation will sink in, but it will be too late to do much of anything about it. If anyone tries, you can be sure of a new burst of incredibly dire warnings coming down from on high. Osama bin Laden is under your bed. He's alive again, and planning to eat your children. Head for the hills, and never mind your constitutional rights.

They will keep doing this until someone calls them on it, out loud and in public.

William Rivers Pitt is a teacher from Boston, MA. He is the author of two books, "War On Iraq" (with Scott Ritter) and "The Greatest Sedition is Silence," available in April 2003 from Pluto Press.

Solving the 800-year mystery of Pisa's Leaning Tower

All six donkeys were impeccably behaved. They'd been ridden into Pisa's main square, the Piazza dei Miracoli, last November by vexed vets from Pisa University and ceremoniously set down beneath its Leaning Tower. In protest at government cuts across Italian education, the profs duly gave an al fresco lecture on donkey anatomy to hundreds of bewildered tourists. Silvio Berlusconi's photo appeared on many a banner, beside the words 'The biggest ass of all'.

Such a display of faculty dissent would have been impossible a decade ago, when the area of piazza around the tower was completely cordoned off. It looked then more building site than World Heritage site and the howls of protest from local Pisans were far louder than a few braying donkeys.

From 1990 to 2001, the tower remained closed - many doubting it would ever reopen - as the International Committee for the Safeguard of the Leaning Tower strove to save it from collapse. Visitors to Pisa dropped off by 45 per cent.

'The street vendors were furious about lost trade and demanded the tower be reopened,' says John Burland, the only Brit on the 14-man committee. 'But it was close to toppling over. Without our intervention, any local storm or earth tremor could have finished it off.' Burland, 72, is emeritus professor of soil engineering at Imperial College London, his reverend-like humility belying the fact that he helped solve one of the most fascinating riddles in architectural history.

The committee stood down in 2001, but last year saw two intriguing postscripts to their work: first, the official announcement that the tower has been fully stabilised, its lean finally checked; and second, the publication of The Tower Restored, an intriguing 1,000-page account, co-authored by the whole committee, of every step they took to save the marble cylinder.

The original minutes of their meetings were never made public, prompting two decades' accusations of gross incompetence and dodgy deals, most memorably after September 1995 when their interventions left the tower on the very brink of collapse. This tome is the committee's comprehensive, if belated, reply. And it has stirred local feelings all over again.

Although now a quiet university town, back in its 12th-century pomp, fresh from naval victory over the Saracens of Sicily, Pisa was the pre-eminent maritime republic in Italy. To celebrate, the city elders built a cathedral, plus accompanying baptistery and belfry, on an open site in the city centre.

These early Romanesque masterpieces remain perhaps the finest trio of cathedral buildings on Earth, yet they could barely have been built in a less stable site - especially the 15,000-ton belfry (aka Leaning Tower) erected on just a 200sq m foundation.

Folly and genius went hand in hand, and visitors have been entranced ever since. Pisa lies on a thin layer of soft alluvial silt, above a thick layer of even softer marine clay. It's practically a bog and only long breaks during the period of construction (1173 to 1370) - which allowed the underlying earth to compact itself and gradually adapt to the belfry's weight - stopped it toppling over immediately.

The tower has tilted pretty much since day one and down the centuries proud Pisans have proclaimed only God was holding it up, out of love for their city. The name Piazza dei Miracoli seemed apt.

In the 19th century alone the tower crept southwards by a metre. Yet it wasn't until the collapse of the San Marco belfry in Venice in 1902 that the authorities were roused in Pisa. Investigations were held throughout the 20th century - 16 different committees were appointed, of which Burland's was the last - but nobody could work out what was causing the inclination. If the soil was uniformly unstable, why should the tower lean south rather than north?

Cue confusion, consternation and no end of wacky proposals, such as attaching helium balloons to the tower's top, to hold it up; or re-landscaping the piazza, so it sloped in the same direction as the belfry leans, giving an optical illusion of everything being upright.

Mussolini, meanwhile, thought a wonky tower was a wholly unfit symbol for Fascist Italy and tried to restore its verticality, by drilling holes through the floor and pouring 80 tons of concrete into the foundations. As in so many things, though, Il Duce failed, and the tower continued its steady lurch, reaching 4.7m off-centre in 1989, the year yet another medieval belfry fell, the Civic Tower of Pavia (near Milan), killing four bystanders.

Pavia's belfry was perfectly perpendicular, collapsing simply because of weakened, centuries-old masonry. It suddenly dawned on all in Pisa that their landmark could just as likely fall from structural failure as over-leaning. Indeed, the lean compounded stress on the first storey's south side, the masonry of which was already starting to crack.

Enough was finally enough. In 1990, the Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti closed the tower. 'It was a brave move,' Burland says, 'because of all the various parties concerned.' On a national level, two deadlocked government departments had been responsible for its safety, the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and the Ministry of Public Works, 'who could never agree upon a positive course of action'; more locally, it had been run on a day-to-day basis by the Opera della Primaziale Pisana (OPP), an obscure vestry board that dates back to the Middle Ages.

Sidelining these parties, Andreotti assembled an independent, multidisciplinary committee (featuring 14 experts, from the fields of structural engineering, art history and architecture, plus geotechnical engineers like Burland). Handing over a £25m budget, he told them to hammer out a way of saving the tower forthwith, no matter how many late-night espressos it took.

Burland had helped save Big Ben from collapse during the Jubilee Line extension of the early Nineties, but progress in Pisa was far less smooth.

'There were 14 egos at work and little common ground between people from such different disciplines,' says Burland. 'As opposed to rational, British-style discussion, meetings were emotional, with polemical speeches in Italian for hours on end. Often my translators struggled to keep up and I hadn't a clue what was going on.'

Broadly speaking, the structural engineers disagreed with the geotechnical engineers over whether the key lay in the tower itself or in the earth beneath it, while both were at odds with the art historians, who feared intervention of any kind and demanded the belfry's 'character and integrity' be observed. A permanent prop, for instance, was a definite no-no.

'It was a constant impasse. I often doubted we'd ever reach a resolution,' recalls Burland, one of only two non-Italians on the committee. The other, an American geotechnical engineer, died of a heart attack in 1996, partly brought on by the stresses of working in Pisa.

Members' day jobs meant they met only once every six weeks. And initially they couldn't even find a computer program that accepted a building tilting 4.7m could still be standing. What's worse, the committee had been forbidden by Andreotti from making their discussions public, meaning their inactivity was pounced upon by a growing band of critics, who were forever kept in the dark.

Action was finally taken in 1992 (bracing the first storey with steel tendons, to relieve strain on its vulnerable masonry) and in 1993 (stacking 600 tons of lead ingots on the piazza to the tower's north, to counterweight the lean). Yet both measures, especially the lead ingots, riled the aesthete Italian public, deforming as they did the slender tower's bella figura.

In response, in 1995, the committee opted for 10 underground steel anchors, to invisibly yank the tower northwards. Little did they know, though, this would bring the tower closer to collapse than ever before, in an episode now known as Black September.

'That was our darkest hour,' Burland shudders. The anchors were to hang, 40m deep, from tensioned cables connected to the tower's base. In view of Pisa's high water-table, the committee froze the underlying ground with liquid nitrogen before any anchors were installed, to protect their excavations from flooding. The only trouble is, water expands when it freezes, so the shallow frozen groundwater pushed right up beneath the tower and then - once the freezing had stopped and the anchors were in place - created gaps in the soil for the tower to settle into.

On the night of September 7 1995, the tower lurched southwards by more than it had done in the entire previous year. Burland was summoned for an emergency committee meeting, and Ladbrokes were offering 11-4 odds the tower wouldn't survive into the 21st century. 'We really were within days of losing it,' Burland says. The anchor plan was immediately abandoned and another 300 tons of lead ingots added.

The locals were up in arms, the Mayor of Pisa railing that a 'plumber with a toilet-jack' would have done a better job. Worse still, because they had to have their charter ratified every three months by the Italian parliament, Burland and co spent the end of 1995 and start of 1996, an election year, waiting for a new government to sanction them anew.

The lead eyesore remained, and several committee members' cars were pelted with Tuscan tomatoes. Meanwhile, Pisa's pre-eminent local historian, Piero Pierotti, cried foul. He maintains to this day that, up to Black September, measures were taken not chiefly to save the tower, but 'to give jobs at highly remunerative rates' to contractor cronies of certain Italian committee members.

The Tower Restored, however, offers a robust denial, the committee stressing they hit upon 1992's steel tendons, 1993's lead ingots and 1995's anchored cables as purely temporary measures to avert structural collapse, until they found a long-term solution.

Burland was convinced he had such a solution - a process called soil extraction - and ultimately he won over the rest of the committee. Akin to microsurgery, it entailed drilling out slivers of soil from beneath the northern side of the tower - away from the lean - and allowing gravity to coax the structure back upright. It had the advantage of not touching the tower itself, so keeping the art historians happy.

'The pressure was immense, a modern wonder of the world was at stake - but I never doubted the logic of soil extraction,' says Burland, cool as you like. As revealed in The Tower Restored, the procedure was actually pioneered in 1832 by Victorian engineer James Trubshaw on the leaning church-tower of St Chad's in Nantwich.

Work began in 1999, using delicate, Archimedes-screw drills. At the same time, technicians in a piazza-site trailer monitored data from 120 sensors set up inside and beneath the tower.

Burland now came into his own. He had details of the tower and earth's every movement faxed twice a day to his office in London (or to wherever he was on holiday - the prof remembers one frantic search for a fax machine while away with his wife in Syria). And after considerable number-crunching, he would advise how much drilling was necessary in the next 12 hours. By the time he called a successful halt, two years and 1,500 faxes later, 70 tons of soil had been removed and the tower had returned to its early 19th-century inclination.

'We could have removed more, but our aim was to make the tower safe with as little intervention as possible.' Soil extraction brought the tower back by 50 centimetres to four metres off-centre - an amount that reduced the tilt and the stress on the vulnerable first storey enough to be safe, yet also maintained the distinctive lean.

Work officially stopped on June 17 2001, the feast day of San Ranieri, Pisa's patron saint, greeted by a colourful parade of blaring trumpets and medieval costumes. The tower was due to reopen on September 12 but eventually did so in December; the original date deemed inauspicious just a day after the collapse of two other high-profile towers in New York.

'It's safe for another 200 years,' the outgoing committee proclaimed, confident it would take two centuries for the tower to creep back to its tilt of 1999. Even then, engineers could repeat soil extraction without too much trouble and cut the inclination again. Part of the committee's intention in writing The Tower Restored was to record their every action for posterity.

Yet, thanks to little-documented measures taken after the reopening, the tome shouldn't need heavy consultation. Where soil extraction delayed a collapse by centuries, but never actually halted the leaning, Burland later oversaw a permanent solution, too.

Via his data analysis, Burland unlocked the 800-year mystery as to why the tower leans south not north: namely, a fluctuating water-table on the upper layer of silt. By a quirk of local geography, Pisa's water-table rose higher on the tower's north side, often reaching within one foot in rainy season, and this gave the tower an annual ratchet southward.

Armed with this vital information, in 2003, Burland introduced a new drainage system beneath the piazza's north side, one that lowered and stabilised the water-table, so there's no kick in either direction. Problem solved.

The inclination continues to be monitored daily by the OPP and new figures reveal that the tower didn't move at all between 2003 and 2009. 'It's stopped leaning completely. After soil extraction and now the water-table stabilisation, the tower is safer than ever,' says Burland with a mixture of pride and relief.

The Pisans, though, are a hard people to please. Some accuse Burland et al of sterilising their tower - for, part of its old mystique had been the possibility it might collapse at any moment, the frisson that a voyeuristic visitor might witness such a fall. 'You can't please all of the people all of the time,' Burland shrugs.

He's fascinated now by architectural advances in the UAE, where developers are striving to surpass each other with ever-taller, and ever-tiltier, buildings. Last month, the gravity-defying Capital Gate tower in Abu Dhabi - a giant, computer-concocted web of steel diagrids, which leans four times as far as Pisa's belfry - entered the Guinness Book of Records as the world's most inclined building.

'It's amazing that the Tower of Pisa should remain so fashionable, even at 800 years old,' Burland smiles. Not bad for a building that was never meant to lean to begin with.

Flu jab linked to fits in under fives: officials

GPs have been told not to use a particular flu jab on 110,000 children under five after it was linked with a tenfold increase in fits, it can be revealed.

Flu jab linked to fits in under fives: officials
Children under five are only routinely vaccinated against seasonal flu if they are in designated 'risk groups' because they have chronic asthma Photo: ALAMY

Doctors should stock alternative vaccines for under fives who are due to have the seasonal flu vaccine this winter, a letter from the head of immunisation at the Department of Health has said.

The action is being taken as rate of convulsions caused by high fever among children in Australia given the jab was ten times higher than normal.

Up to one in 100 children given the jab, made in Australia by CSL and marketed in the UK by Pfizer, suffered febrile convulsions in the following hours and days.

It is not known what is causing the problem and no other flu vaccines have been linked to an increased risk of fits. Adults given the vaccine do not appear to have been affected.

Children under five are only routinely vaccinated against seasonal flu if they are in designated 'risk groups' because they have chronic asthma, have been admitted to hospital with a respiratory infection previously or have other long-term conditions which means they would be particularly badly affected if they caught flu.

Seasonal flu vaccines contain three strains which have been identified by the World Health Organisation as the most common in circulation that year. This year the vaccines contain the pandemic strain H1N1.

The letter to all GPs from Prof David Salisbury, said: "Epidemiological information from Australia indicates that there has been a higher than expected increase in febrile convulsions in children related to the use of Fluvax (manufactured by CSL).

"This is the same product that will be marketed in the UK by Pfizer as Enzira and generic influenza vaccine for the 2010/11 influenza vaccination season.

"Evidence from Australia suggests a rate of febrile convulsions of about one per 100 for children who were vaccinated with Fluvax. This increased risk appears to be a product specific reaction and evidence from Australia of vaccination with other products has so far not indicated a similar level of risk.

"It is important that children over six months of age who are in clinical risk groups receive influenza vaccination. Given the availability of other influenza vaccine products, you should avoid offering Enzira or CSL Biotherapies generic influenza vaccine marketed by Pfizer to children aged under five years."

He added that the medicines regulator will be monitoring the situation.

Febrile convulsions affect around one in 20 children and are normally caused by an infection. The body reacts to the high fever with the child losing consciousness and their legs and arms jerk. They may go pale or turn blue briefly and after a few minutes the shaking normally stops.

The attacks can be very frightening for parents and children are usually admitted to hospital after the first convulsion to establish the cause. Some children are particularly prone to them but they are not normally dangerous.

In Australia, which is in its winter, stopped vaccinating all children under five when the increased rate of convulsions was found. It has since restarted vaccinating with other products.

A spokesman for Pfizer said: "The cause of the unexpected increased frequency of febrile convulsions remains unknown and investigations continue. Pfizer and CSL are working closely with regulatory authorities, health agencies and distribution partners to determine the most appropriate way to provide influenza vaccine for the Northern Hemisphere 2010/2011 influenza season.

"While, Pfizer supports the current precautionary approach to the use of our influenza vaccine in children under five years of age, it should be noted that the vast majority of patients in the UK receiving the influenza vaccine are adults, and febrile convulsions are not seen in the adult population.

"In addition, there is no evidence that the vaccine poses any increased risks to other groups, including pregnant women and those aged over 65.

"Pfizer and CSL are committed to ensuring the quality and safety our products. Pfizer is in ongoing dialogue with the Department of Health to help ensure the successful implementation of the 2010/11 Flu immunisation programme."

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: "As part of the Australian flu vaccination programme, a number of children were given a brand of flu vaccine known as Enzira (Fluvax in Australia). A small proportion of these children, aged under 5, had fits after they had this vaccine.

"The vaccine is also marketed in the UK as CSL Biotherapies generic influenza vaccine. It contains three strains of the flu virus that experts predict are most likely to be around this winter including swine flu (H1N1).

"We are asking GPs in the UK to avoid offering this vaccine to the under 5s in the coming flu season, there are several other vaccines available that are suitable for this age group. There is currently no indication that the vaccine poses any increased risks to other groups.

"Having the flu jab remains the best protection against flu and we recommend that people get vaccinated when they’re offered it in the autumn."

Details of 100 million Facebook users published online

The personal details of 100 million Facebook users have been collected and published online in a downloadable file, meaning they will now be unable to make their publicly available information private.

However, Facebook downplayed the issue, saying that no private data had been compromised.

The information was posted by Ron Bowes, an online security consultant, on the Internet site Pirate Bay.

Bowes used code to scan the 500 million Facebook profiles for information not hidden by privacy settings. The resulting file, which allows people to perform searches of various different types, has been downloaded by several thousand people.

This means that if any of those on the list decide to change their privacy settings on Facebook, Bowes and those who have the file will still be able to access information that was public when it was compiled.

Bowes’ actions also mean people who had set their privacy settings so their names did not appear in Facebook’s search system can now be found if they were friends with anyone whose name was searchable.

'Scary privacy issue'
On his website,, Bowes said the results of his code were "spectacular," giving him 171 million names of which were 100 million unique.

Greenspan: Modest economic recovery 'in a pause'

WASHINGTON – Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan says he thinks the economy is having a modest recovery, but right now there's a "pause" in that recovery, so it feels like a "quasi-recession."

Greenspan says long-term unemployment is pulling the economy apart even though large banks are doing much better and large companies are in excellent shape.

Greenspan predicts that unemployment will remain where it is, hovering around 9.5 percent, for the rest of the year.

Cheering the comeback of the stock market, Greenspan tells NBC's "Meet the Press" that a rising stock market will do more to stimulate the economy than any of the remedies now being discussed.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan says he thinks the economy is having a modest recovery, but right now there's a "pause" in that recovery, so it feels like a "quasi-recession."

Greenspan says long-term unemployment is pulling the economy apart even though large banks are doing much better and large companies are in excellent shape.

Greenspan predicts that unemployment will remain where it is, hovering around 9.5 percent, for the rest of the year.

Cheering the comeback of the stock market, Greenspan tells NBC's "Meet the Press" that a rising stock market will do more to stimulate the economy than any of the remedies now being discussed.

Chelsea's Wedding: Let Let Them Eat Cake

It is not unusual for members of the diminishing upper middle class to drop $20,000 or $30,000 on a big wedding. But for celebrities this large sum wouldn't cover the wedding dress or the flowers.

When country music star Keith Urban married actress Nicole Kidman in 2006, their wedding cost $250,000. This large sum hardly counts as a celebrity wedding. When mega-millionaire real estate mogul Donald Trump married model Melania Knauss, the wedding bill was $1,000,000.

The marriages of Madonna and film director Guy Ritchie, Tiger Woods and Elin Nordegren, and Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones pushed up the cost of celebrity marriages to $1.5 million.

Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes upped the ante to $2,000,000.

Now comes the politicians's daughter as celebrity. According to news reports, Chelsea Clinton's wedding to investment banker Mark Mezvinsky on July 31 is costing papa Bill $3,000,000. According to the London Daily Mail, the total price tag will be about $5,000,000. The additional $2,000,000 apparently is being laid off on US Taxpayers as Secret Service costs for protecting former president Clinton and foreign heads of state, such as the presidents of France and Italy and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who are among the 500 invited guests along with Barbara Streisand, Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey, Ted Turner, and Clinton friend and donor Denise Rich, wife of the Clinton-pardoned felon.

Before we attend to the poor political judgment of such an extravagant affair during times of economic distress, let us wonder aloud where a poor boy who became governor of Arkansas and president of the United States got such a fortune that he can blow $3,000,000 on a wedding.

The American people did not take up a collection to reward him for his service to them.

Where did the money come from? Who was he really serving during his eight years in office?

How did Tony Blair and his wife, Cherrie, end up with an annual income of ten million pounds (approximately $15 million dollars) as soon as he left office? Who was Blair really serving?

These are not polite questions, and they are infrequently asked.

While Chelsea's wedding guests eat a $11,000 wedding cake and admire $250,000 floral displays, Lisa Roberts in Ohio is struggling to raise contributions for her food pantry in order to feed 3,000 local people, whose financial independence was destroyed by investment bankers, job offshoring, and unaffordable wars. The Americans dependent on Lisa Roberts' food pantry are living out of vans and cars. Those with a house roof still over their heads are packed in as many as 14 per household according to the Chillicothe Gazette in Ohio.

The Chilicothe Gazette reports that Lisa Roberts' food pantry has "had to cut back to half rations per person in order to have something for everyone who needed it."

Theresa DePugh stepped up to the challenge and had the starving Ohioans write messages on their food pantry paper plates to President Obama, who has just obtained another $33 billion to squander on a pointless war in Afghanistan that serves no purpose whatsoever except the enrichment of the military/security complex and its shareholders.

The Guardian (UK) reports that according to US government reports, one million American children go to bed hungry, while the Obama regime squanders hundreds of billions of dollars killing women and children in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

The Guardian's reporting relies on a US government report from the US Department of Agriculture, which concludes that 50 million people in the US--one in six of the population--were unable to afford to buy sufficient food to stay healthy in 2008.

US Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said that he expected the number of hungry Americans to worsen when the survey for 2010 is released.

Today in the American Superpower, one of every six Americans is living on food stamps.

The Great American Superpower, which is wasting trillions of dollars in pursuit of world hegemony, has 22% of its population unemployed and almost 17% of its population dependent on welfare in order to stay alive.

The world has not witnessed such total failure of government since the final days of the Roman Empire. A handful of American oligarchs are becoming mega-billionaires while the rest of the country goes down the drain.

And the American sheeple remain acquiescent.

Video of forced eviction in Paris suburb prompts shock

French politicians as well as advocates for immigrants and housing rights are reacting strongly to a video shot last week of police forcibly removing women and children of African descent from a makeshift tent housing camp in a poor Paris suburb.
By FRANCE 24 (text)

A video showing French police forcibly removing women and children from camps they had set up in a Parisian suburb has provoked reactions of shock at a time when the government is renewing an emphasis on issues of security.

The video was shot on July 21 by an observer from association Droit au Logement (Right to Housing) and then put online by French news site Mediapart and broadcast by US news channel CNN on Tuesday. By Friday afternoon, the video had been viewed nearly 300,000 times on French video-sharing site Dailymotion.

The footage shows women of African descent, some of them carrying children on their backs, trying to hold on to each other as police drag them from camps they had set up in La Courneuve, one of the roughest neighbourhoods on the outskirts of Paris. The women, some of whom are illegal residents of France, had set up tents near a soon-to-be-destroyed building from which they had been evicted.

Though the Right to Housing association has said it plans to file a complaint of “police brutality”, the police headquarters in Seine-Saint-Denis, the department where the incident occurred, denied the allegation. “State services confirm that this operation was carried out in relatively good conditions”, the statement read, despite acknowledging the “physical resistance” met by police.

‘Scary scenes’

The video shows a pregnant woman lying immobile on the ground for several minutes before being carried away by police. Another woman is pulled away by her feet while carrying a child on her back.

But the police headquarters denied intentional violence against the woman, instead pointing to her own responsibility by saying that she “lay down on her back despite the fact that she had a child attached to it, and she was kicking and resisting physically”.

But the images of French police using physical force on women and children of immigrant background have provoked reactions from associations and politicians alike. “These are scary scenes”, said Sokouana Gary, founder of SOW, an association that develops humanitarian projects abroad with young people from La Courneuve.

Meanwhile, Stéphane Troussel, the Socialist Counsellor for La Courneuve, saw the stamp of President Nicolas Sarkozy on the events. “Faced with his failure in the suburbs, it is tempting for Nicolas Sarkozy and his government to abandon working-class neighbourhoods or to try and rein them in through showy and highly publicised security operations”, Troussel said.

As Sarkozy has seen his favorability ratings slide, his administration has been working on intensified security measures, reviving a major theme of his successful presidential bid.

Banksters are Coming for Your Retirement Next

First, the banksters hoodwinked an angry public into bailing out their collateralized-debt obligations and derivative Ponzi scheme to the tune of what may turn out to be over $600 Trillion dollars. Derivatives are nothing more than bets on other bets, on other bets, that are all completely worthless. So, we can assume that the taxpayer will be victimized for at least that amount for derivatives alone. That’s about $2 million dollars for every man, woman, and child in America, or $100,000 for every person in the world.

They bet big with your investment money, got fat, then lost thousands of times more than everything real on Earth combined. Then, representatives of the people bailed them out (including bonuses) while they laughed all the way to their respective banks. Since government officials are doing their best to reject transparency, we can also only assume this number is much, much larger.

Sadly, their derivative Ponzi scheme is the least of the public’s current problems regarding the banks. The international banks’ economic hit men have successfully enslaved-by-debt everything from nations, entire industries, state and local governments (who will need their bailout soon), and nearly every person on the planet. Even if an individual doesn't have any bank financing or credit cards, they still pay the private Federal Reserve through inflation. As author of Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, John Perkins, would say: the time has come for the banks to collect their “pound of flesh” from average citizens by way of your pensions. For an enlightening explanation of how economic hit men enslave entire countries please watch the video below:

Today, the word “austerity” is becoming commonplace in European countries, and America may indeed be next on the chopping block. The IMF is pushing economically-weak European countries into austerity measures that target average citizens for debts their government owes to banks, including slashing and looting pension guarantees. Incidentally, the U.S. national debt, plus unfunded liabilities and personal and private debt, puts America in far worse shape than all European countries combined.

As we near the End Game, the banksters and their government accomplices are coming for the last of your wealth -- your retirement money. Recent headlines about the IMF “pressing the U.S.“ to reduce its debt is the first sign of things to come. They have already methodically gutted the assets of most public pension funds by knowingly investing those funds in toxic junk. In late 2009, Mark Brenner wrote an excellent article titled Pensions: The Next Casualty for Wall Street which gave a breakdown of the dismal state of pensions:
Nearly $4 trillion worth of retirement savings were wiped out in the first weeks of the 2008 financial freefall. Half of the drop was concentrated in traditional pension plans, also known as defined-benefit plans. While most workers in these plans haven’t had their monthly benefits cut, unlike the 46 million people riding the stock market with 401(k) defined-contribution plans, the storm clouds are gathering.

I can’t help but be reminded that warnings of this day went unheard. This George Carlin clip below sternly warned that the “owners of this country” will ultimately come for your retirement -- but, hey, who was listening to a comedian?

That’s right, the day is rapidly approaching where they’ll come for your retirement. Screw your guarantees you thought you worked your whole life for. Apparently, contractual law does not apply to the servant class. However, we all remember Hank Paulson and Tim Geithner arguing that the reason they must use taxpayer money to pay 100-cents-on-the-dollar for AIG’s rancid obligations was because it would be wrong to break contractual laws. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that they only respect contractual law when they are taking from the poor and giving to their elite partners in crime.

Army Says Mustard off Hawaii Must Stay

HONOLULU - Chemical weapons dumped in deep water five miles south of Pearl Harbor after World War II should remain at the site because moving them could pose more of a threat to people and the environment, the Army said Friday.

Records show the Army dumped 16,000 bombs at the site after the war; each of the bombs contained 73 pounds of the chemical agent mustard.

J.C. King, assistant for munitions and chemical matters at the Army, said in a statement that the Army is reviewing a University of Hawaii study released earlier this week on the dumped weapons. Margo Edwards, a senior research scientist at the university, said the study showed the munitions aren't a hazard, but that they're deteriorating and should continue to be monitored.

Edwards' team made 16 dives in submersible vehicles to depths of 2,000 feet over three years as part of the study, and she saw more than 2,000 munitions on the ocean floor.

The spots where the military has dumped chemical weapons off Hawaii are too deep to normally be reached by the public. They're also marked on nautical charts and ships do not trawl in these areas.

King said the military's Explosives Safety Board believes the safest approach to underwater munitions is to leave them in place and to educate the public about what they should do when they find a shell. However, the board believes weapons that pose an imminent and substantial danger should be removed.

King said studies like those conducted by the university help the Army better understand the effect munitions may have on the environment and what effect the ocean may have on the weapons.

The Army intends to expand the area studied off Hawaii, if funding is available. The Army also plans to determine, in coordination with the rest of the military, how it should monitor underwater weapons dumping sites over time, King said.

The military used the ocean as a dumping ground for munitions between 1919 and 1970.

© Copyright 2010 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

An Exercise in Folly: The Last Thing the U.S. needs Right Now is Another War

The U.S.-South Korean military exercises now taking place in the sea around South Korea may constitute a case of the United States playing with matches in a gunpowder factory. The gunpowder factory is East Asia. The sea is the Sea of Japan, which borders on North Korea, South Korea and Japan.

The exercise involves 20 ships, 8,000 U.S. troops and 200 aircraft. It originally was to include the Yellow Sea, which China considers its own military operations zone, but the United States backed off that.

The basic idea is to make a show of force to pressure the North Koreans to drop their nuclear weapons program and rejoin the suspended six-party talks, which include China, Japan, North Korea, Russia, South Korea and the United States. The talks are designed also to get North Korea to forgo nuclear weapons as part of a general normalization of relations with East Asia and the rest of the world.

The logic of pushing a country like North Korea toward negotiations by conducting nearby military exercises -- which include one of the largest aircraft carriers in the U.S. Navy, the nuclear-powered Abraham Lincoln -- is not entirely clear to me.

North Korea is in the throes of one of its worst economic crises in decades. A significant percentage of its population is reportedly in danger of starvation. It is engaging in what -- even for it -- are considered to be desperate measures, such as abruptly changing its currency.

On top of that, there is apparently -- I say, apparently, because it is always hard to tell what is going on in North Korea -- a succession process under way. The country's bizarre leader, Kim Jong Il, is reportedly in ill health and the shoats are tussling under the blanket in terms of who might emerge on top if he dies or is forced out of power. It could be the military, or it could be third son Kim Jong Un. Who knows?

But does it make sense to rattle Pyongyang's cage with a huge U.S.-South Korean military demonstration, the largest in 34 years, at just the moment when the convergence of economic, political and military forces in the country makes the North Koreans as nervous as a fly with someone with a swatter advancing on it? I don't see it.

The other North Korean alleged sin for which the military exercise is meant as retribution is the tragic sinking of the South Korean naval ship Cheonan, with a loss of 46, in March. The South Koreans claim the North Koreans did it, citing an investigation. The North Koreans deny responsibility.

The problem with the investigation is that it was carried out largely by the South Koreans, with Americans and allies looking over their shoulder. If the South Koreans had taken their time and used their improved relationship with the Chinese to pull them into the investigation, then its results would have had more credibility.

As it is, it is possible that the North Koreans really did do it, but there is some doubt about it. It is considered still possible that the Cheonan was sunk by an old mine floating around in the seas where it went down.

Then there are the Chinese. China has in recent years strengthened its Navy, consistent with its desire to broaden its global influence, particularly as a regional power in Southeast and East Asia. At the same time, its capacity in that regard is a tiny fraction of the capacity of the U.S. Navy.

The Chinese Navy's enhanced capabilities and ambitions do not mean that the seas near China have stopped being international waters, where U.S. warships have a clear right to go. But at the moment, U.S.-Chinese military communications and relations are not at their best and China has shielded North Korea in international forums when the United States and the West have taken aim at it.

In normal times, a U.S. military exercise near South Korea would be "coordinated" in back channels with the Chinese. Was it this time?

The United States did back off exercising in the Yellow Sea between the Koreas and China. There was considerable advance public talk of the exercises. Was that coordination? Or is there still danger of misunderstanding? We shall see.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's recent visit to South Korea, which included some fairly militant statements and a visit to the Korean War truce line, may have helped her politically but probably didn't help the rest of us much in terms of the U.S. posture in the world. Incidentally, the photos of her with a North Korean soldier peering at her through a window at Panmunjom were misleading. There are always North Korean soldiers there scowling at visitors. They watched me when I visited in 1999.

Finally, one has to think of the U.S. military aspect of what is going on. It is budget time for the Department of Defense. There will be a lot of pushing and pulling inside the Pentagon to see which service gets what on its wish-list and what cuts Defense Secretary Robert Gates and President Barack Obama may have in mind for the different services. The Navy has been a bit out of the game in both Iraq and Afghanistan, so one has to wonder about the Korean exercise in terms of attracting attention to its needs and desires at a strategic moment.

What is clear is that the United States doesn't need an incident or a war in East Asia. Our forces, except perhaps the Navy, are fully committed in Iraq and Afghanistan and have been so for years now. Domestic priorities -- resuscitating the economy, health care, infrastructure, education, Social Security, Medicare and the like -- call loudly. Our wars are being fought on credit in any case.

In terms of foreign policy, the United States should be concentrating instead on negotiating peace -- in the Middle East, in South Asia and in East Asia -- not sticking our fingers in North Korea's or China's eyes with big military exercises off their coasts.

Dan Simpson, a former U.S. ambassador, is a Post-Gazette associate editor (, 412 263-1976)

Global Research Articles by Dan Simpson

Debt is devouring Sovereign Nations. In the US, the Deficit is being Funded and Monetized by the Fed

While we wait, watch and listen, the Fed decides when the banks will be given the word to start lending to get the domestic economy back to neutral. Action is needed quickly because the world economy is quickly deteriorating, and the recovery is simply not happening, as the administration admits to a fiscal deficit of $1.4 trillion. That would be down from a deficit of $1.9 trillion in 2009. Our long-term estimate has been $1.6 to $2 trillion. Over the past 18 months and after joint expenditures by government and the Fed of $2.3 trillion, all the administration has to show for their efforts are five quarters of stimulus growth of about 3-1/2%, which is now ending. In addition, economies worldwide are slowing as well. At the same time the credit crisis continues as the Fed’s money machine funds banks and other financial institutions worldwide in a sea of perpetually degraded dollars. The only real mission for the Fed is to keep the financial sector afloat until the elitists are ready to finally pull the plug and bring about worldwide deflationary depression, as a trigger mechanism to force people’s of the world to accept world government. Most of the major banks of the world are insolvent and keeping them functioning is the Fed’s primary mission.

Debt is devouring sovereign nations, especially in Europe, the UK, Japan and the US. Over the past 20 years ideas and policies have been discussed on how to handle such debt. Austerity programs and cutbacks have begun in a number of countries, each using their own formulas. In the US on the table are Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, all of which run at a substantial deficit. In fact, they come close to consuming all government revenue. This is causing difficult problems because off budget items cannot be funded. They have to be funded via deficits, which are shrouded in secrecy. That is understandable as America’s wars have already cost taxpayers well over $1 trillion. These dollar denominated assets, when in fact secretly, are being funded by the privately owned Federal Reserve. The big secret of the past seven years is not a secret anymore. These are policies that are secret. If you ask the Fed specific questions all you get is that the answer is a state secret, it is classified. Of course, this is done to hide the Fed’s activities. The same is true of commissions appointed by the president under the cloak of executive orders. These are the bureaucrats that will formulate how spending will be cut and revenues will be enhanced. Their conclusions are then rubber stamped by a purchased Congress and Senate. This procedure bypasses all debate and allows progress in semi-secrecy.

The deficit is being funded and monetized by the Fed, but they won’t tell you that. Yes, foreigners buy debt, but so does the Fed.

Behind all this lurking in the shadows is the administration’s decision to allow low tax rates to elapse, which will increase taxes by some 15%. This change should be reverified after the next election. Recently Treasury Secretary Geithner said tax increases should be pursued.

Then we also expect that moves will begin to expose the administration’s program to tax or offer an exchange for retirement plans with government. Government would offer guaranteed annuity plans. This would be a method of securing assets immediately to offset deficits.

Whatever the administration wants to do they’ll have to do it before November’s election because of anti-incumbent sentiment, and anger over the financial reform bill and the medical reform bill. Now incumbents are under severe pressure. That has been complicated by a federal court decision to strip an Arizona law of its most important elements regarding illegal aliens. Democrats are going to bear a great deal of blame regarding this issue. Two surveys showed 90% and 94% of Americans agreed with the Arizona law regarding immigration. In addition, many solons are realizing that the accelerating deficit impedes government. Some Democrats and many republicans are sophisticated enough to see higher taxes could subdue the economy even further. If the Fed were to raise interest rates that would further put downward pressure on the economy. All these things leave few viable options. There is no question that the Fed is going to accommodate the economy, as we explained earlier, by cutting interest on banks deposits at the Fed and forcing banks’ to lend, which would invigorate the economy and raise employment. This is why the market rallied from 9800 to 10,500. Remember since Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke took office the government’s short term debt rose from $8.2 trillion to $13.3 trillion. We are sure you remember his 2002 speech as he described the Fed’s printing press abilities. All monetary expansion has been done is buy time – it has not in any way solved the underlying problems.

We wonder what the Fed will do with the trillions of dollars in toxic waste bonds held on its balance sheets? They’ll sell them and you will get billed for it. Don’t forget foreign exchange of foreign nations in dollars fell from 64.5% of assets to 59.5% of assets in just 1-1/2 years. Our friends are sellers, including China.

What Washington, the Fed and Wall Street have to understand is that you cannot borrow your way to wealth. There is an eventual law of diminishing returns. Present prosperity cannot be paid for by future production and services. The public senses this and their confidence continues to dissipate. Seventy percent believe there will be no recovery. They are angry and want to purge congress and the Senate of the criminals they previously elected. This is a reflection in part of unemployment of 22-3/8%, falling hours and wages and perpetual loss of purchasing power.

As we pointed out previously Europe and the UK and the US have chosen different paths to solve their debt, finance and economic problems. Europe has raised taxes and implemented austerity. The US so far has done neither and continues to believe that quantitative easy (QE) is the best hope of success. Heretofore it has been unsuccessful, but they keep on doing it anyway for lack of an acceptable alternative. The US is in double dip recession already. The question is can the Fed act fast enough to stave off deflationary depression? This is what Europe has done and they are about to find out much to their chagrin that they have a deflationary depression on their hands, and they have lost control. That should eventually knock the euro for a loop. The solvent members of the euro zone are going to find they have thrown good money after bad. Europe heads for depression and the US will soon follow. It is the intention to create $5 trillion in QE over the next two years to carry the US economy through the next election. There is just three months to elections. The race is on to convince the US electorate that America is ok. We do not believe that will be successful.

The Fed continues to buy toxic debt instruments. They admit to having purchased $1.3 trillion worth, but we believe that the figure is more like $1.8 bullion worth. The difference is parked offshore.

As Fed chairman Bernanke says unemployment is the most pressing challenge. The way to help that situation is to have banks lend to small- and middle-sized businesses that create 70% of the jobs.

As of now we have not emerged from our inflationary depression and we are not going too. We may have a period of grace due to QE but that will be transitory.

Housing is locked into a long-term depression. Can you imagine building 549,000 new homes with a 3-year overhang, when four months is normal? Eighty percent of the building industry is dead in spite of $8,000 credits and $1.25 trillion or $1.8 trillion in purchases of MBS and CDO bonds. Foreclosures hitting the market are endless with no relief in sight. Millions of homes are underwater and will probably stay that way for years to come.

46.2% of the unemployed have been out for 27 weeks or more. They cannot buy houses – that is double the worst ever recorded. The average worker has been out of work for 35.2 weeks. Real unemployment is 22-3/8%. The average workweek is 34.1 hours. You certainly cannot have recovery with these kind of numbers.

We ask how do you have a recovery under such circumstances? By the end of the year, in the absence of a quick QE injection we should see GDP growth in the minus column or close to it. All QE sights, except for more bank lending will focus again on banking and Wall Street making sure they do not collapse.

Economists tell us the apposite, but they are only correct 1/3rd of the time. It is obvious the economy is still in deep trouble. Payrolls have fallen, state and federal revenues are way off, state unemployment disbursements are up, as are the use of food stamps, welfare and Medicaid. All these problems and we have seen $2.3 to $2.5 trillion in stimulus and zero interest rates to boot. As the planning at the Fed figures out how the 3rd stimulus will be applied the Fed still won’t talk about an exit strategy, because they have none. Bernanke, like his predecessor Greenspan, doesn’t have any workable solutions. That is because he won’t purge the system and its malinvestment. That is why his only answer can be QE and monetary inflation. After the 2012 election it will be very obvious that the banking system will be unable to properly function. This has been a lonely vigil, but others are now coming to the same conclusion as we have. Mark Farber, Jim Willie, DavidRosenberg, Jim Grant and Ambrose Evans-Pritchard have all joined us in a chorus of warnings.

We have seen a continual fall in M3 at a 9.5% contraction rate. This reduction has been going on for over a year, as money stock declined by $300 billion. All we can say is this reduction allows the Fed lots of room to reincrease M3 again.

The Fed, Wall Street and the Treasury know current levels, which are receding, cannot be maintained without more massive infusion of money and credit. Problems are about to occur if quick action is not taken.

That is reflected in the statements of St. Louis Fed President James Bullard’s comments, or should we say trial balloons. The bottom line is monetize and inflate or die.

Bob Chapman is a frequent contributor to Global Research. Global Research Articles by Bob Chapman