Friday, November 28, 2008

Media Response to Venezuelan Elections

The Media Response to Venezuelan Elections - by Stephen Lendman

On November 23, Venezuela held regional and local elections for governors, mayors and other municipal offices. Over 5000 candidates contested in 603 races for 22 state governors, 328 mayors, 233 state legislative council members, 13 Caracas Metropolitan area council members, and seven others for the Alto Apure District Council.

As mandated under Article 56 of the Bolivarian Constitution: "All persons have the right to be registered (to vote) free of charge with the Civil Registry Office after birth, and to obtain public documents constituting evidence of the biological identity, in accordance with the law."

It's a constitutional mandate to let all Venezuelans vote. Once registered, none are purged from the rolls, obstructed, or prevented from having their vote count like so often happens in America. In Venezuela, democracy works.

In 2003, Hugo Chavez undertook a major successful initiative called Mision Itentidad (Mission Identity) to implement the law. Prior to it in 2000, 11 million Venezuelans were registered to vote. By September 2006, it was 16 million, and now it's 16.8 million in a country of 27 million people.

How the Process Works

The electoral process is administered by the National Electoral Council (CNE). Unlike America's privatized system, it's an independent body, separate from the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches of government or any private corporate interests. It's comprised of 11 members of the National Assembly and 10 representatives of civil society, none of whom are appointed by the President.
Elections are conducted using Smartmatic touchscreen electronic voting machines with verifiable paper ballot receipts. Voters can thus check to confirm their votes and their accuracy. The CNE then saves them as a permanent record to be used in case a recount is needed. It also requires voters to leave an electronic thumbprint to assure no one votes more than once.
The machines work as intended, and, after the 2006 election, the Carter Center said: based on its observations, Venezuela's "automated machines worked well and the voting results do reflect the will of the people." Further earlier independent studies verified the same thing, including ones carried out by vote-process experts at the University of California Berkeley, Johns Hopkins, Stanford and elsewhere.
In design, great care was taken to eliminate the possibility of tampering. It required a special technology that split the security codes into four parts. As a result, numerous voting security reports endorse the process they say makes Venezuelan machines the most advanced and accurate in the world.
On November 23, CNE president Tibisay Lucena said voters turned out in unprecedented numbers at 65.45%, the largest ever total for a regional election. The people spoke and registered a resounding, but not one-sided, victory for Hugo Chavez's United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) candidates - and sent a message. They affirmed the success of Bolivarianism and want it continued.

As the Venezuela Information Office reported, PSUV candidates won 77% of governorships (17 of 22), 81% of mayoral offices, 77% of all contests, and 58% of the popular vote - an impressive result by any standard anywhere in an election that 134 independent observers from 54 countries (from America, Europe, Asia, Africa and the 34-member country Organization of American States - OAS) judged open, free, fair, and efficient like all others under Chavez. OAS secretary general Jose Miguel Insulza called this one "peaceful and exemplary" and described it as a powerful expression of democratic maturity and the trust Venezuelans have in it under Chavez.

Other observer comments were as follows:

-- Colombia's CNE representative, Joaquin Vives, called Venezuela's electoral process "a pioneer in the world (and added) Many things dazzled us" about it, such as voters "great desire to construct democracy in Venezuela;"

-- Greek legislator Sofia Sakorafa called the process "one that expresses the will of the people and is characterized by a commitment to social and political inclusion;"

-- Costa Rica's Maria Elena Salazar said the election was "beautiful, participative, of which all Latin Americans should be proud;" and

-- Anthony Gonzales from America admired well-equipped and secured voting centers and that the election was held on a weekend to make it easier for working people.

Long-time Latin American expert James Petras commented on the significance of the victory:

-- few European, North or South American parties have as high a level of support as the PSUV; certainly none in the United States in particular where growing numbers of voters have little faith in a deeply corrupted process;

-- the PSUV is popular "in the context of several radical economic measures, including the nationalization of major cement, steel, financial and other private capitalist monopolies;" even so, business in Venezuela remains strong (though slowing) at a time of a global economic crisis;

-- the PSUV won in spite of declining oil prices; fluctuating around $50 a barrel, they're down about two-thirds from their peak price; even so, "the government maintained most of its funding for its social programs" and intends to continue doing it - in contrast to America where social programs have eroded for years and show no signs of revitalization under either party;

-- the electorate was selective in its voting choices - "rewarding candidates who performed adequately in providing government services and punishing those who ignored or were unresponsive to popular demands;"

-- most important: "the decisive (PSUV) victory provides the basis for confronting the deepening collapse of world capitalism with (impressive and workable) socialist measures;" compare them to the looting of the US Treasury to reward criminal bankers for their malfeasance and failures; the differences between both countries are dramatic and breathtaking - democratically impressive (though not perfect) in Venezuela compared to criminally corrupted under either party in America; no one dares mention this in the corporate media.

In the election's aftermath, Petras explained that "most Venezuelan firms are heavily indebted to the state and local banks." Chavez can ask them "to repay their debts or hand over the keys (and be able to bring) about a painless and eminently legal transition to socialism." It remains to be seen if he'll do it to advance his socialism of the 21st century - or perhaps remain defensive, proceed cautiously, and fail to take advantage of an important opportunity.

Responses from the Dominant Media

With some exceptions, it's been pretty much as expected - one-sided, distorted, inaccurate, and not at all reflecting the will of Venezuelans and their impressive support for Chavez and Bolivarianism.

For example, The New York Times in a November 25 editorial headlined: "Hugo Chavez's Choice." After he took office in February 1999, The Times kept up a steady attack against him in editorials and commentaries. Here it states: Hugo Chavez "is not feeling the love. Collapsing oil prices have sharply curtailed his ability to 'buy' public sympathies," and after Barack Obama's election he no longer has "a convenient foe."

Sunday's elections "showed just how fed up (Venezuelans) are with his government's 'authoritarianism and incompetence' by rejecting the president's allies in significant races." Even by Times standards, these comments are way over the top and mirror opposite of the facts.

The Times continues: "Mr. Chavez did pretty much everything he could to skew the elections. His government increased public spending by 60 percent in the last year." Of course, he's always used the nation's wealth for his people and not as handouts to the rich like in America.

"A government watchdog (also) disqualified many opposition candidates," but The Times omitted saying that the Venezuelan Supreme Court (YSJ) barred them because of corruption, misuse of public funds, and convictions of these offenses. The Times called them "bogus."

It then exaggerated Sunday's results, suggested Chavez's popular support is waning, referred to his "rejected (December) power-grabbing constitutional reform," and stated "Venezuelans don't want to give Mr. Chavez even more power. He should heed the message (and) accept democratic limits to his rule." Unstated was:

-- Chavez's popular support at over 60% compared to George Bush scoring lowest ever for a US president at around 20%;

-- the nation's impressive social democracy;

-- the kind few other nations have;

-- the type absent in America;

-- the kind Venezuelans never before had and cherish; and

-- are committed never to give up.

Simon Romero is The Times man in Caracas where his reporting is mediocre and inaccurate. His November 24 article was typical. It's headlined: "Chavez Supporters Suffer Defeat in State and Municipal Races" in which he refers to their "stinging defeat in several state and municipal races." Unnoticed were all the victories and how impressively they were won.

Instead Romero noted "festering discontent" and how "celebratory fireworks went off over parts of (Caracas) after the results were announced." Perhaps so but mostly for Chavez and his PSUV.

Romero preferred to quote Caracas opposition mayoral winner, Antonio Ledezma, saying "Those who should feel defeated are the criminals." An urban Caracas Petare carpenter as well being "tired of Chavez treating the entire country as if it were his military barracks."

Well into his article, Romero had to say that "Voting unfolded without reports of major irregularities" but ignored the fact that few at all occurred and they were minor. He also admitted that pro-Chavez candidates won 17 of 22 states but added sour grapes about some being small "in terms of population."

On the same day, Romero wrote another commentary headlined: "Once Considered Invincible, Chavez Takes a Blow" with as many inaccuracies as the above one. He referred to "many of (Chavez's) supporters desert(ing) areas where he was once thought invincible," but had to admit the results might not "slow his Socialist-inspired revolution or check his power." Why should it when most Venezuelans want it.

He repeated much from his other article, added a few inaccurate quotes (like it's a "myth" to believe "only Chavez can be a champion of the poor"), omitted the most important facts, but again admitted the obvious - that "Mr. Chavez remains by far the dominant and most popular figure in Venezuelan politics," and the election results showed it.

Even so, Romero downplayed his victory and said Chavez candidates won mostly in largely rural states. He quoted economist Luis Pedro Espana, director of the Economic and Social Research Institute at Venezuela's Andres Bello Catholic University, stating: "The more modern part of the country wants political change." What he means, but didn't say, is the more affluent part, now forced to share some of the nation's wealth with its least advantaged and most in need people - the great majority who support Chavez overwhelmingly.

On November 25, the Wall Street Journal was extremely hostile in two post-election articles - one on the results and another feature story headlined: "Chavez Lets Colombian Rebels Wield Power Inside Venezuela." It reeks of inaccuracies, uses Washington and the Colombian military as its sources, and claims that Chavez is providing a growing "safe haven" for FARC-EP and ELN "guerrillas."

Unreported was anything about Chavez's Colombian peace intervention and his successful efforts to arrange FARC-EP held hostage releases - in spite of Washington and Colombia's president Uribe conspiring to prevent it.

Journal writer Jose de Cordoba accused the Venezuelan military and police of "turning a blind eye to guerrilla activity, and at times cooperating in areas including the trafficking of arms and cocaine." This and other anti-Chavez agitprop show up often in Journal commentaries, but this time in far more detail compared to much less said about the election results.

That was in a page six article headlined: "Chavez Base Rebukes Him at Polls." Writer John Lyon referred to Chavez's "dual ambitions - to stay in power for life and wield outsize influence on the global stage." He added how "the very people that brought him to power" rebuked him: "the urban poor."

Like The Times, the article reeked with inaccuracies that are increasingly common on both the Journal's op-ed and news pages. Lyon suggests trouble for Chavez with his electoral "setbacks add(ing) to a list of growing problems that are likely to slow his swagger." For example, falling oil prices that may crimp his "checkbook diplomacy that has won him allies outside his borders...."

He also compared him to Fidel Castro, referred to his "foreign adventures....backfir(ing) amid the global financial crisis," and said his base is "dwindling" at a time it's impressively strong. He quoted opposition candidate Antonio Ledezma (as did Romero) saying "Now is the time for true change" by which he means ending Bolivarianism, its social democracy, returning power to the privileged oligarchs, and throwing most Venezuelans back into deep poverty. Lyon apparently approves and quotes a leading opposition newspaper, Tal Cual, headlining: "We hit him where it hurts." For the past 10 years, the Venezuelan people have had the last word.

The Washington Post was just as hostile in a November 25 editorial headlined "How to Beat Mr. Chavez" and his "Cuban-style socialist regime." It called him "Venezuela's strongman (and) caudillo" and over-hyped Sunday's results much the way the Journal and Times did it. It added that Chavez "shows no sign that he is listening to the country," and post-election said the voters' message was to "continue down the same road." Indeed it was and will be.

According to the Post, "the opposition now has an opportunity to show that it can offer a workable alternative to Mr. Chavez's policies." Unmentioned was that they had generations to "show" it, failed dismally, Venezuelans overwhelmingly reject them, and want no part of their kind of "change."

With its large anti-Castro population, Miami is a hotbed of anti-Chavismo, and the Miami Herald reflects it. Post-election, it headlined "Despite foes' gains, Hugo Chavez will try to get another term in Venezuela." It referred to state and local elections "slow(ing) his grand ambitions to yank Venezuela and Latin America to the left" but not enough to stop him according to unnamed analysts.

It suggested an upcoming "titanic battle" as Chavez is expected to hold a national plebiscite next year "that would allow him to campaign for an additional six-year presidential term in 2012." It quoted pollster Luis Vincente Leon of Datanalisis, who publicly called for Chavez's assassination, saying: "He wants to change the constitution to run again. There's no doubt about that," but again unsaid is what the people want. Chavez wants them to choose and like always will honor their will.

On November 23, the far right Washington Times headlined a John Thomson commentary on "Chavez's fraud game" and referred to "The kinds and extent of fraud already being applied by the Venezuelan government to crucial elections today." He called them "unprecedented (and) unmitigated electoral larceny (and) Venezuela's pilfer process starts well before the day the votes are cast and counted."

In an age of breathtaking anti-Chavez agitprop, this comment takes the cake or at least matches the worst of it. Thomson called the "fraud potential" on election day "staggering" and listed a menu of absurdities and rubbish ranging from "jumbled" voting lists to "rigged" voting machines, and "manipulation" of results.

It's much like Journal writer Mary O'Grady's agitprop - her latest on November 17 in a commentary headlined: "Dodd's Democrat Tightens His Grip." Dodd, of course, is Senator Chris Dodd, and her article is about Venezuela's election, the country's "numerous setbacks for democracy," and the chance Venezuelans have to "rid themselves of Mr. Chavez."

She refers to his "authoritarian powers....deteriorating living standards (and) the widespread assumption that the government will use tricks to win" on November 23. "Venezuelans saw this coming. From his earliest days as president in 1999, Mr. Chavez began working to destroy any checks on his power."

She attacked Chris Dodd for "throw(ing) a fit over Mr. Chavez's (48-hour) removal" in April 2002. "This self-styled Latin American expert (referred to) a US-backed coup and insisted that since Mr. Chavez (was) democratically elected in a fair vote" no one should question his legitimacy.

"Of course it wasn't a coup," according to O'Grady, as she questions the "circumstances (of his) political resurrection," again called him a "strongman," warned earlier about his budding "dictatorship," and now says her view about him is accurate.

"Political prisoners are rotting in Venezuelan jails without trials. Being identified as a political opponent of the revolution is a ticket to the end of the unemployment line. Private property has zero protection under the law and the economy's private sector has been all but destroyed....(and Chavez) has made it clear he will not accept defeat at the polls."

Breathtaking hardly describes this rant. It's mirror opposite the truth. Venezuela's social democracy is unimaginable in America, and one reason why O'Grady and others vilify it. It's also why they reported inaccurately on Sunday's election.

A Sane Voice in the Wilderness

On November 22, the London Independent published "Letters: In praise of Hugo Chavez." One confronted Latin American writer Phil Gunson's "bleak picture" of Venezuela in his article titled: "Tough-talking Chavez faces rising dissent." It was grossly inaccurate, mentioned the usual kinds of criticisms, and pretty much read like the US and Venezuelan corporate media agitprop.

The writer asked: If Gunson is right, "why are President Chavez's approval ratings at 58%, as he reports." He doesn't mention "how (his) government has delivered free healthcare to millions of people for the first time, eradicated illiteracy and used the country's best economic performance for decades to halve the poverty levels."

Suggesting that poll results may trigger a "violent reaction....turn(s) reality on its head. It was the Chavez government itself that was briefly the victim of an opposition-led military coup in 2002. In contrast, (his) government has showed a consistent commitment to democracy....Moreover, last week the respected Latinbarametro survey showed that Venezuela is now the country with the greatest support for democracy in Latin America and the region's second-most satisfied with the functioning of its democracy. Venezuela's combination of democracy and social progress under Chavez has inspired widespread support."

It's signed by Colin Burgon, MP, Chair, Labour Friends of Venezuela group of MPs, House of Commons. He adds more as well, and the Independent published it. It's unlike major US broadsheets that cover Chavez one way - with venomous inaccuracy and very rare exceptions that hardly draw notice.

The Venezuela Information Office reviewed the election in detail, and it's summarized below as follows:

-- for a regional election, voter turnout was unprecedented at over 65%;

-- independent observers judged the process open, free, fair and efficient and according to OAS secretary general Insulza "peaceful and exemplary;"

-- PSUV candidates won impressive victories, far exceeding the opposition;

-- pro-government candidates gained a large majority of offices throughout the country - for governors, mayors and other posts;

-- like for the past decade, most Venezuelans will continue to live under pro-Chavez regional and local leaders because they want them;

-- the PSUV scored important victories in strategic areas of the country, but not all of them;

-- pro-government candidates won by wide margins affirming Venezuelans faith in Bolivarianism;

-- although the metropolitan Caracas mayoralty went to the opposition, residents of the largest city municipality voted for the PSUV;

-- even in states won by the opposition, key municipalities went to the PSUV; and

-- Venezuela's Electoral Authority (CNE) handled the record voter turnout impressively.

The Wall Street Journal, New York Times and other publications falsely reported that a majority of the population is under opposition control. Official statistics show otherwise but were ignored.

Stephen Lendman is a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization. He lives in Chicago and can be reached at

Also visit his blog site at and listen to The Global Research News Hour on Mondays from 11AM - 1PM for cutting-edge discussions on world and national topics with distinguished guests. All programs are archived for easy listening.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Israel's Slow-Motion Genocide in Occupied Palestine

Israel's Slow-Motion Genocide in Occupied Palestine - by Stephen Lendman

Imagine life under these conditions:

Living in limbo under a foreign occupier. Having no self-determination, no right of return, and no power over your daily life. Being in constant fear, economically strangled, and collectively punished.

Having your free movement denied by enclosed population centers, closed borders, regular curfews, roadblocks, checkpoints, electric fences, and separation walls. Having your homes regularly demolished and land systematically stolen to build settlements for encroachers in violation of international law prohibiting an occupier from settling its population on conquered land.

Having your right to essential services denied - to emergency health care, education, employment, and enough food and clean water. Being forced into extreme poverty, having your crops destroyed, and being victimized by punitive taxes. Having no right for redress in the occupier's courts under laws only protecting the occupier.

Being regularly targeted by incursions and attacks on the ground and from the air. Being willfully harassed, ethnically cleansed, arrested, incarcerated, tortured, and slaughtered on any pretext, including for your right of self-defense. Having no rights on your own land in your own country for over six decades and counting. Vilified for being Muslims and called terrorists, Jihadists, crazed Arabs, and fundamentalist extremists. Victimized by a slow-motion genocide to destroy you.

According to Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, Israel has conducted state-sponsored genocide against the Palestinians for decades and intensively in Gaza. In a September 2006 Electronic Intifada article titled "Genocide in Gaza" he wrote:

"A genocide is taking place in Gaza....An average of eight Palestinians die daily in the Israeli attacks on the Strip. Most of them are children. Hundreds are maimed, wounded and paralyzed. (It's become) a daily business, now reported (only) in the internal pages of the local press, quite often in microscopic fonts. The chief culprits are the Israeli pilots who have a field day," like shooting fish in a barrel. Why not, they're only Muslims, so who'll notice or care.

International law expert Francis Boyle does and in March 1998 proposed that "the Provisional Government of (Palestine) and its President institute legal proceedings against Israel before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague for violating the" Genocide Convention. He stated that "Israel has indeed perpetrated the international crime of genocide against the Palestinian people (and the) lawsuit would....demonstrate that undeniable fact to the entire world."

Israel is a serial human rights international law abuser. The UN Human Rights Commission affirms that it violates nearly all 149 articles of the Fourth Geneva Convention that governs the treatment of civilians in war and under occupation and is guilty of grievous war crimes. The Commission also determined that as an occupying power Israel has committed crimes against humanity as defined under the 1945 Nuremberg Charter.

Geneva, Nuremberg and other international human rights laws guarantee what Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: that everyone "has the right to life, liberty and security of person." Article 6 (1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights also affirms it in saying that every "human being has the inherent right to life." Official Israeli policy is to deny it to Palestinians under occupation, especially Gazans under siege.

On November 5, it was egregiously tightened after Israel closed all commercial crossings and banned virtually all permissible items - previously severely restricted and in limited amounts.

On November 21, Haaretz reported that Karen AbuZayd, United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) commissioner-general said Gaza faces a humanitarian "catastrophe" if Israel maintains its blockade. She called the current closure the gravest since the early days of the Second Intifada eight years ago. "It's been closed for so much longer than ever before....and we have nothing in our warehouses....It will be a catastrophe if this persists, a disaster."

Out of Gaza's 1.5 million population, UNRWA provides vitally needed rations for 820,000 of its refugees, and the UN World Food Program aids another 200,000 people. They supply about 60% of daily needs, now effectively shut off and nearly exhausted - including food, medicines, fuel, and other basic essentials.

On November 17, 31 containers of foods and medicines were allowed in through Karm Abu Salem (Kerem Shalom) crossing, southeast of Rafah. It was closed, along with other border crossings, for the previous two weeks. These amounts are hugely deficient and amount to less than 10% of what entered Gaza before Israel's June 2007 imposed siege.

Also allowed in was 427,000 liters of fuel or barely enough to operate Gaza's power plant for a day. It's effectively shut down, and at least 30% of the population is without electricity and around 70% experiences lengthy power outages for days or weeks.

On November 20, AP reported that Israeli officials "stood by (their) decision to shut cargo crossings into the Gaza Strip, brushing off pleas to ease the blockade from United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon." Of course, the Strip has been mostly isolated since Israel's imposed siege 18 months ago that created a humanitarian crisis now intensified.

Why so was stated to the Jerusalem Post by senior IDF General Amos Gilad: Because "Hamas is committed to the destruction of the state....It (also) wants to take over the PLO." Unmentioned are the facts that refute this assertion. After Ismail Haniyeh became Hamas prime minister in 2006, he offered the Bush administration peace and a long-term truce in return for an end to Israel's (illegal) occupation. He was rebuffed the way he is from Israel for the same offer.

Again why so? Israel and Washington are allied in a joint enterprise and need enemies, aka "terrorists." While maintaining an illusory "peace process," none whatever exists nor is any effort made to address equity for the Palestinians. What matters is joint-control of the region. Israel as the local hegemon. America as part of its world empire and all vital resources in it, especially oil, of course.

In the 1980s, former prime minister Yitzhak Shamir admitted that Israel waged war against Lebanon in 1982 because there was "a terrible danger....not so much a military one as a political one." So a pretext was arranged the way it always is to invent threats and avoid resolution.

In January 2006, it was policy again after Hamas won a resounding democratic majority in the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC). As a result, they and the Palestinians paid dearly. Israel, America and the West ended all outside aid, imposed a crippling economic embargo and sanctions, and politically isolated the ruling Hamas government. An intensive crackdown followed that continues to this day - regular interventions, attacks, ruthless repression, and the imposition of a medieval siege on Gaza, now intensified.

On November 19, the Territory's largest flour mill shut down for a lack of wheat, and the UN suspended cash grants to 98,000 poor Gazans because of a shortage of Israeli currency.

The world community has been silent. Conditions continue to deteriorate, and Christian Aid is speaking out. It accused Israel of collective punishment in violation of international law. Under Fourth Geneva's Article 33:

"No protected person (under occupation) may be punished for an offense he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measure of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited (as well as) Reprisals against protected persons and their property."

Costa Dabbagh from the Near East Council of Churches (a Christian Aid partner) says "Simply letting food into Gaza is not enough," and precious little is arriving. Its people "are fed and kept alive without dignity and the international community should be blamed for it." It's "not acceptable to be waiting for food to come. (Gazans) want to live freely with Israel and other countries in peace. (They're) not against any individual or government (but) are against imprisonment."

They're also against starving, extreme deprivation, no effective outside aid, and no support from world or other Arab leaders in their behalf. At the moment, three of five mills have stopped operating, and the two others are about to for lack of wheat. Several bakeries are closed for lack of flour, fuel, cooking gas and electricity.

Of Gaza's 72 bakeries, 47 produce Syrian bread (the most popular kind); 29 of them stopped operating; eight others are at partial capacity; 10 bake Iraqi bread, and 15 others different varieties and pastries. None are in full operation, and all may have to close for lack of supplies and power. Gazans are being strangled and starved.

Health facilities are also in crisis and their patients endangered because of their limited ability to provide services. In addition, 45 vital medicines are embargoed and unavailable. Another unconscionable act.

Shifa Hospital is Gaza's largest and seriously hampered. Besides a lack of power, medicines and other supplies, its equipment needs repair and has no readily available spare parts. Its main generator is in disrepair. Its MRI machine can't operate without electricity. It's short on gas for disinfection and to prepare food for patients. Concern is growing that much other essential equipment may also stop working or have to shut down for lack of power.

Shifa's director, Hassan Khalaf, and the Red Cross describe the situation as critical. Lives are at risk. The intensive care unit can't operate. Electronic equipment in the newborn baby unit doesn't function, and the staff has to manually pump oxygen to all infants. In addition, stocks of about 160 essential medicines have run out and another 120 are running low. Shifa can't run very long under these conditions.

Nor can Gaza's other hospitals and all other operations in the Territory - an intolerable situation barely reported on in the dominant US media. Inverting the truth, they portray Israel heroically as a democratic island in a hostile Arab sea.

They won't explain that Israel is obligated to provide essentials under Fourth Geneva's Article 55. It states:

"To the fullest extent of the means available to it, the Occupying Power has the duty of ensuring the food and medical supplies of the population; it should, in particular, bring in the necessary foodstuffs, medical stores and other (essential) articles if the resources of the occupied territory are inadequate." Israel continues to violate this law and all others.

As Andrea Becker of the UK-based Medical Aid for Palestinians states: For Israelis, "international law was tossed aside long ago." The result for Gazans is "exhaustion gripping hold of (them) all. Survival leaves (them) little if no room for political engagement - and beyond exhaustion, anger and frustration are all that is left."

A Partial Border Reopening

On November 24, Haaretz reported that "Israel partially (opened) its border crossings with the Gaza Strip (today) to allow the transfer of humanitarian aid (after) all but completely (keeping them) shut for (the past) 19 days." Defense officials let in "44 trucks with basic goods....through Kerem Shalom crossings" in the South.

According to the Ma'an News Agency, another 200 truckloads of UN humanitarian aid and 25 more containing food will also be allowed through Kerem Shalom. This is helpful but woefully short of what the Strip needs regularly to care for its 1.5 million people, most of whom rely solely or mainly on outside aid.

Whether this additional aid will even arrive is now open to question, according to Haaretz (on November 25). It reported that Israel "closed its crossings with Gaza again," supposedly after two Qassam rockets were fired on Sunday, one on Monday, and another on Tuesday. Unmentioned are the regular and devastating IDF attacks against Palestinian civilians who have little more than crude weapons for self-defense and are no match against Israel's overpowering force.

According to Haaretz on November 26, some aid may be forthcoming and surprisingly from Libya. It "sent a ship carrying 3000 tons of humanitarian aid to Gaza" to break Israel's blockade. The International Middle East Media Center called on other Arab states to do the same - flout the blockade and send aid even with no assurance Israel will allow it in. It's been very effective preventing most everything so far and shows no signs of relenting.

A Shocking Red Cross Report

On November 15, the London Independent headlined an article titled; "Chronic malnutrition in Gaza blamed on Israel." Writer Donald Macintyre referred to a leaked Red Cross report he called "explosive."

It chronicled "the devastating effect of the siege that Israel imposed after Hamas (took control of Gaza) in June 2007 and notes that the dramatic fall in living standards triggered a shift in diet that will damage the long-term health of (Gaza's population). Alarming deficiencies (showed up) in iron, vitamin A and vitamin D."

The report goes on to say that "heavy restrictions on all major sectors of Gaza's economy, compounded by a cost of living increase of at least 40%, is causing progressive deterioration in food security for up to 70 per cent of (the) population. That in turn is forcing people to cut household expenditures down to survival levels."

Chronic malnutrition is rising steadily, and "micronutrient deficiencies are of great concern." Since 2007, the reported cited a switch to "low cost/high energy" cereals, sugar and oil and away from higher-cost animal products, fresh fruits and vegetables. This type diet assures long-term harmful consequences for people on it.

The Red Cross said that "the (18 month) embargo has had a devastating effect for a large proportion of households who have had to make major changes on the composition of their food basket." They now rely 80% on cereals, sugar and oil. In addition, people are selling assets, cutting back on clothing and children's education, scavenging for discarded items, and doing virtually anything to survive.

The report refers to economic disintegration and that prolonging the current situation risks permanently damaging households and their capacity to recover. The study was conducted from May to July 2008.

Mark Regev, spokesman for Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, had little response except to say that the people of Gaza were being "held hostage" to Hamas' "extremist and nihilist" ideology. In fact, Hamas wants peace, has repeatedly been conciliatory, and its founder, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, said earlier that armed struggle would cease "if the Zionists ended (their) occupation of Palestinian territories and stopped killing Palestinian women, children and innocent civilians."

That offer is repeatedly rejected. More recently, Hamas offered to maintain peace and recognize Israel in return for a Palestinian state inside pre-1967 borders, its Occupied Territories. That, as well, is a non-starter for Israel. It conflicts with its West Bank plan to colonize the Territory and ethnically cleanse its rightful inhabitants in violation of international law.

Israeli Clampdown on Human Rights Organizations and the Media

Over 20 human rights organizations sought entry to Gaza but were denied to prevent them from seeing and reporting on conditions on the ground. A delegation representing the Coordination Forum of The Association of International Development Agencies (AIDA) arrived at Erez Crossing with the required permit and were still prevented from entering.

International journalists are also banned. The AP head and Israeli Foreign Press Association chairman, Steven Gutkin, said journalists called and complained. In response, the association appealed to the government without success. "We consider it a serious problem for freedom of the press. We think that journalists have to be placed in a special category. A blanket ban on people going into Gaza should not apply to journalists," Gutkin explained.

"We are hoping that this is not the start of a policy of banning journalists from Gaza. We would like to point out that when times are tough, and when things heat up, it is important for journalists to be able to enter" and report on it.

A BBC media crew was also refused entry along with Conny Mus from Dutch television station RTL after being told he and his crew had permission.

Even Haaretz objected in a recent editorial titled: "Open Gaza to media coverage." It stated: "To serve their function sufficiently, representatives of the Israeli and international press must be in Gaza, just like in any other conflict region around the world. There is no way to cover (events there) without free access...."

Haaretz called on the Israel Press Council, journalist associations, editors, writers, and the public to "raise their voices in protest." It also asked the defense establishment "to immediately lift the media closure."

The Israeli press has been banned from entering Gaza for the past two years. Only Haaretz correspondent Amira Hass has been there. She then left and could only get back in by sea, and not easily or safely.

Orwell would appreciate how Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Peter Lerner responded: "There is no decision not to allow journalists in." The Israeli foreign ministry said no restrictive order was issued in spite of clear evidence it's being enforced.

Hostilities in Gazan Waters

The Israeli navy is also in action. It arrested three human rights activists: Darlene Wallach from America, Andrew Muncie from Britain, and Vittorio Arrigoni from Italy as they accompanied Gaza fishermen in waters nowhere near ones under Israeli control. The three were imprisoned, are on hunger strike in protest, and may face deportation or worse as Israeli justice is harsh and not forthcoming against opponents of its policies.

Under the Oslo Accords, Palestinians can fish as far out as 30 kilometers. Forty thousand fishermen and their dependents rely on their catch for their livelihoods and sustenance. Israel egregiously impedes them, and after Hamas took control of Gaza, it restricted fishing to within six kilometers of shore (in less productive shallow waters) and rigorously enforces it. Those exceeding the limit risk being shot or arrested and their boats confiscated or destroyed - another serious international law violation.

Saber Al-Hissie is one of them. He's been fishing in Gazan waters for 15 years, his father and grandfather before him. He spent half his life at sea, "but every day we face problems from Israeli gunboats," he explained. "They follow us, and then they start shooting at us because they want to force us to stop working."

Thousands of fishermen live in Gaza, mostly in and around Gaza City where the main harbor is located. Al-Hissie is one of them and describes the restrictions Israel imposes on him and others trying to earn a living from the sea.

"If we sail six miles out to sea, then maybe we will be safe. But if we go any further, the Israelis always harass us. They circle the boats, they shoot towards us, and recently they started using water cannon to attack us." He won't exceed the limit to protect his boat, but it's scared with bullet holes anyway.

He and others aren't safe wherever they fish. They're harassed and attacked daily. "Unless you see it for yourself, you cannot believe the situation we are facing," he explains. It decimated local fishing. Ten years ago, Gazan fishermen caught about 3000 tons a year. It's now less than 500 and another part of the Gaza siege, Israel's war on its people, and its ongoing slow-motion genocide. "We just want to fish and support our families," says Saber. "We are not committing any crimes, but they are."

End the Israeli Blockade and Stop the Genocide

On November 24, UN General Assembly president Miguel D'Escoto Brockmann said Israel's treatment of the Palestinians was like "the apartheid of an earlier era." His remarks were at an annual debate marking the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. He added: "We must not be afraid to call something what it is" since the UN passed the International Convention against the crime of apartheid.

Israel's response was familiar. Its UN ambassador, Gabriela Shalev, called Brockmann an "Israel hater." He's a 75-year old Catholic priest. If he were Jewish, she'd have accused him of being "self-hating."

On November 20, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem Pillay, called for an immediate end to Israel's blockade. In response, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) audaciously expressed shock at what it called a one-sided statement.

The High Commissioner's call came after mounting reports of human rights and humanitarian concerns. For its part, Israel claims its siege is a necessary response to mortar and rocket attacks on Israeli towns and military posts. They're little more than pin pricks and only occur in response to sustained and brutal Israeli attacks against Gazan civilians, including men, women and children - a long-standing practice for decades with overwhelming force against light arms and homemade weapons as well as children throwing rocks. It hardly justifies a medieval siege against 1.5 million people and the horrific fallout it causes. And for what?

For five months through November 3, Hamas and Israel were at peace as a result of an agreed on Egyptian-brockered hudna (or truce). On November 4 it ended when the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) entered Gaza (without cause) and killed six Hamas officers supposedly because of tunnels close to the Kisufim roadblock. Thereafter, and in spite of both sides calling for peace, IDF hostilities continued.

Israel is a serial aggressor. Hamas responds in self-defense (as do West Bank Palestinians). Reality is turned on its head. Lightly-armed Gazans are called terrorists, and the world's fourth most powerful military its victims.

In fact, Gazans are grievously harmed, impoverished, slaughtered and now starved. Israel claims it as a right. International law is a non-starter, and a state of war exists against innocent men, women and children with no world efforts made to stop it.

The Washington - Israeli axis believes strife, instability, and a "war on terror" can remake the Middle East and place it firmly under their control. No matter that it failed hugely in Iraq, the same in Afghanistan, and for over six decades in Occupied Palestine.

Today starving Gazans won't be silenced. They keep protesting, and according to Hamazah Mansur, head of the Jordanian-based Islamic Action Front's six-member parliamentary bloc: If conditions in the Territory worsens, "Arab rulers should expect an earthquake that would shake their countries and regimes." It's high time something shook them out of their silent complicity with decades of slow-motion genocide, now worse than ever in Gaza under siege.

Stephen Lendman is a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization. He lives in Chicago and can be reached at

Also visit his blog site at and listen to The Global Research News Hour on Mondays from 11AM - 1PM US Central time for cutting-edge discussions of world and national issues with distinguished guests. All programs are archived for easy listening.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Lurching Toward Gomorrah: More Signs of An Unstoppable Economic Meltdown

Lurching Toward Gomorrah: More Signs of An Unstoppable Economic Meltdown - by Stephen Lendman

Crisis denialists are still around but are slowly and grudgingly giving way to the reality that global capitalism is in serious crisis as recession lurches toward depression in a continuing downward spiral.

Nearly every new data release confirm it. On November 19, housing starts and permits hit record lows, according to the Commerce Department. At an annual 791,000 rate last month, they were the lowest they've been since number tracking began in 1959 and are down 4.5% from a revised 828,000 September reading.

Building permits were also worrisome at an annual 708,000 rate (down from 805,000 in September), breaking the previous 709,000 March 1975 low figure.

With supply way exceeding demand and prices in near free fall, no end of this is in sight for an industry perhaps facing its most challenging environment ever. The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)/Wells Fargo November housing market index shows why. It fell to a seasonally adjusted 9 reading - its lowest recorded level since the index first began in 1985 and below its October reading of 14. Any number below 50 indicates contraction.

In addition, the Mortgage Bankers Association's (MBA) weekly purchase loan index fell 12.6% in the week ending November 14. At 248.50, it's at its lowest loan applications level since December 2000. This signals weak future home demand at a time when it's woefully weak and declining.

There was more bad news on November 20 as well as weekly initial jobless claims keep rising. This time by a higher than expected 27,000 to 542,000 in the week ending November 15 - the highest level since July 1992. The four-week average is its highest since January 1983 as employment keeps deteriorating at an increasing pace.

It's no surprise that the October 28 and 29 Fed Open Market Committee minutes showed the sharpest meeting-to-meeting sentiment drop in memory, according to one of its former governors, Lyle Gramley. It now predicts that the economy will contract for a year or longer and "agreed that the downside risks to growth had increased." Back in August, the Fed left interest rates unchanged at 2%, foresaw continued but lower growth, and said: "Although downside risks to growth remain, the upside risks to inflation are also of significant concern to the Committee."

Currently, the Philadelphia Fed's survey predicts that GDP will shrink by 2.9% in Q 4, a sharp downgrade from its last 0.7% growth prediction. It added that the economy entered recession in April. It will last at least 14 months and will be one of the longest ones since the 1930s. Its latest survey of manufacturing conditions decreased from -37.5 in October to -39.3 currently. It's now at its lowest point since October 1990 and falling. Its employment index also fell to -25.2.

Another distressing sign is the growing number of unsold goods in Long Beach, one of the nation's most active commercial ports. On November 18, The New York Times called them "A Sea of Unwanted Imports" and a reflection of growing inventory levels - up 5.5% in September from a year earlier and rising.

Long Beach accounts for about 20% of the country's container imports. It's second only to Los Angeles, and its volume is down 10% from last year. It's "where imported products arrive and filter through the tributary of trucks, trains and retailers into the hands of consumers. But now, products are just sitting" and turning the port into a parking lot. Nearly all other major ports are in similar decline as the current crisis worsens.

Veteran Long Beach port workers say the slowdown is like nothing they've ever seen. It's affecting other businesses and workers, and it's got them all worried. US consumers, too, and in the words of one reflecting the many: "I'm saving money, paying bills (and) hunkering down." It shows in declining retail sales.

The Architecture Billings Index (ABI) indicates future construction activity. In October, it hit an all-time low since the survey began in 1995. It's at 36.2, down significantly from 41.4 in September. Any number below 50 indicates contraction. In addition, new project inquiries were at 39.9, another record low.

Many other indicators are as bleak and show the economy in free fall, taking most others down with it. Clearly the verdict is in. At the least, it's the worst economic crisis since the 1930s. At worst, it may be far greater that only the fullness of time will reveal.

Bellweather Canaries in the Coal Mine

Once a bellweather corporate icon and virtual proxy for the S & P 500, General Electric has fallen on hard times. In September 2000, its stock price traded at around $60 a share. On November 20, it fell to $12.84 for a net eight year loss of nearly 79%. Back in April, when the company badly missed its earnings target, the stock lost $47 billion in market value that day, and The Economist remarked that "This is not what investors expect from one of the few remaining triple-A rated companies, famed for hitting its targets." Analyst Bob Chapman believes only gold deserves that rating at a time when no asset class is safe. defines a AAA credit rating as follows:

"Bonds rated AAA are of the highest credit quality, with exceptionally strong protection for the timely repayment of principal and interest. Earnings are considered stable, the structure of (its) industry is strong, and the outlook for future profitability is favorable. There are few qualifying factors present which would detract from the performance of the entity, the strength of liquidity and coverage ratios (are) unquestioned and the entity has established a creditable track record of superior performance. Few entities (warrant) a AAA rating."

Why? Because of practices like these:

-- living excessively off credit;

-- an uncertainty of future earnings;

-- playing fast and loose with accounting policies;

-- lying to investors;

-- diluting the market with recapitalizations; and

-- having a history of these practices.

Government fiscal irresponsibility is no different than for businesses. As a result, America's credit worthiness is at risk.

In the late 1970s, 58 companies were rated AAA. In the 1990s, it was 22, and in 2001 nine.

Today, according to, GE is one of only six corporations rated AAA by S & P (along with ExxonMobil, J & J, Toyota, Berkshire Hathaway, and ADP) but it's status is clearly jeopardized in the view of some analysts. One puts it this way:

"The legendary American institution is in deep trouble. Its PR machine has been in constant spin mode as the company sinks deeper into despair." Its "AAA rating is not worth the paper it is written on. One look at GE's balance sheet will convince you....AAA companies do not need to take the desperate actions that GE has taken in the last few months."

The first signs of real trouble appeared in April when the company missed its target. "It is widely known that they are masters of 'legal' earnings manipulation," so it came as a shock. "Accounting rules allow for wide discretion in reserves and estimates. GE Capital has always been a black box within the larger company," and the management used this division "as its backstop for meeting earnings estimates." It failed, and it's slide has been precipitous enough for the company to need Warren Buffett to invest $3 billion as a psychological boost and have to pay him a 10% dividend and other incentives to get it.

"Credit default swaps (CDSs) protecting against GE Capital default now trade as if GE is a junk bond credit." And issuing $12 billion in new common stock (at $22.25 a share) was "an act of extreme desperation and brings into question whether GE has a lucid strategy."

Its divisions face problems across the board but especially GE Capital, its largest with three subdivisions - GE Commercial Finance, GE Money, and GE Consumer Finance. The company "is a bank disguised as an industrial conglomerate." In boom times, it did wonders for its profits. Today it's "a rocky path to destruction," and as GE goes, so goes the S & P 500 perhaps and the economy along with it.

Market analyst Robert Prechter calls GE a "bellweather for a global bear market," and when the August 1982 - January 2000 longest ever bull market ended, he said "GE is going to go way down (and it) probably heralds stormy weather ahead for the market as a whole; or should we say 'hole?' " Prechter maintains that view today as GE's valuation keeps falling at a time when it just secured government insurance for $139 billion of GE Capital debt. If the company was strong, it wouldn't need it. Getting it is a sign of real weakness.

A condition also affecting Citigroup that's teetering on the brink of failing. No longer the nation's largest bank, it, too, has fallen on hard times and its stock price reflects it. At $3.77 a share on November 20, it's down around 94% from its closing high and now trades at 15-year lows. Clearly the company is in very big trouble. So are other major banks. They're all effectively insolvent and are only kept operating with billions in government aid and plenty more if needed under Paulson's no banker left behind scheme. At least none anointed too big to fail.

Perhaps in Citi's case, it's too big to save. It has $2 trillion in assets, a $37 trillion (notional value) derivatives portfolio (including $3.6 trillion in credit default swaps), $202 billion in troubled residential mortgages, huge numbers of shaky auto loans, and unknown amounts of other dead weight that may in the end sink the company. One analyst calls Citi insolvent and says its problems are double those of AIG. It plans 52,000 job cuts (14% of its workforce) on top of 25,000 previously announced and more to come as the company furiously restructures to survive.

On November 21, the Wall Street Journal highlighted the company's plight in a feature article titled: "Citi Weighs Its Options, Including Firm's Sale." It cites company executives considering the possibility of auctioning off pieces of the bank or selling it entirely after its worst ever percentage one-day drop in valuation. The board of directors will meet to decide what's next and may do what was "unthinkable only weeks ago." They must also deal with growing rumors that Citi is on the verge of bankruptcy and that Washington plans a takeover, AIG-style.

For now at least, a stopgap plan was announced on Sunday (November 23) for Washington to provide Citi with another $20 billion infusion and will guarantee as much as $306 billion of its troubled assets. The bank must absorb its first $29 billion in losses and 10% of others beyond that. The Treasury will assume the next $5 billion, the FDIC the next $10 billion, and the Fed will take the rest up to the agreed on amount. This may provide some temporary relief, but given the extent of Citi's problems, it may in the end be short-lived.

Growing numbers of other companies face similar problems or may in the months ahead. The auto giants are already insolvent and a hair's breath from bankruptcy or even oblivion. Other companies fear a similar fate. It's reflected in their sinking stock prices and bond yields, especially the junk variety. As reported in the Financial Times:

"Average yields on US junk bonds have topped 20 per cent for the first time (over 50% for GM debt) amid rising concerns about a protracted recession and a wave of corporate defaults." It could have a "dramatic impact on economic activity" by making debt prohibitively expensive. These issuers comprise nearly half the corporate bond market, according to S & P. "The yield on the benchmark Merrill Lynch US High-Yield index hit 20.81" topping its previous 18.66 January 1991 reading.

Even worse, the risk premium spread over Treasuries is nearly double what it was then when the benchmark 10-year bond yielded over 8%. Today, it's ranging between around 3.0 - 4.0%. Moody's sees 14% of corporate bonds defaulting - an all-time high figure since it began keeping records, and it's likely the number will rise as the global crisis deepens and companies start falling like tenpins.

Maybe US Treasuries also according to analyst Martin Hennecke of Bridgewater Ltd, Hong Kong. He told clients that "The US might really have to look at a default on the bankruptcy reorganization of the present financial system," and a corresponding government one is very possible.

"In the United States, there is already a funding crisis, and they will have to sell a lot more bonds next year to fund the bailout packages that have already been signed off." He added that to solve or stem the current crisis, America will have to radically reduce spending across the board and recall all its troops from around the world. As for a stimulus package, "there is not much of an industry left to stimulate back to life," he believes. Others agree and see depression ahead - not whether but when it will arrive.

Then there's Asia with Bloomberg reporting (on November 19) that: "Asian stocks fell, extending a global rout, as Japan's exports declined the most in almost seven years (7.7% from a year earlier) and US consumer prices sank by a record" raising the specter of deflation. One analyst described it as "the end of the world as we know it" in the worst ever global slump he's seen and "no region (able) to help (others)."

AFP in Tokyo said "Japan (officially in recession) reported a rare trade deficit in October." Exclusive of the slow holiday-affected January period, "it was the first red figure in 26 years" and a sign of more trouble ahead. In America also with JP Morgan Chase predicting that the Fed will cut interest rates to zero by January, hold them there throughout 2009, and other central banks will cut as well. But hold the cheers.

So far, monetary policy has been ineffective and little more than pushing on a string in a liquidity trap climate. Further, perception is everything at a time confidence is at record lows and shows no signs of stabilizing.

Once nominal rates hit zero, "the Fed has run out of ammo" except for what innovative tools it may use - such as buying toxic debt more aggressively and transferring it to its balance sheet in unheard of and reckless new ways.

One analyst weighs in on this possibility as follows: It's a desperation-driven "course of action that is not working (and) not a sign of intelligence....If Fed funds at 1% (and huge liquidity injections aren't) inducing banks to extend credit, a further reduction....won't have any impact" either, so why do it and maybe makes things worse.

It's why analyst Tim Duy calls Fed policy "adrift" in a November 20 commentary. He cites "a distinct lack of leadership and believes Bernanke "has used up his bag of tricks" and doesn't know what to do next. He calls recent Fedspeak "littered with confusing statements that leave the true policy of the Federal Reserve in question." For example, on interest rates, whether to lower them further or stand pat, and more debate on the target rate is "nothing more than academic masturbation."

That rate is a non-issue, and "policy needs to take a different direction....One can only conclude that Fed officials do not understand their own policies. Policy is adrift. Be afraid; be very afraid....Bernanke cannot elucidate a coherent policy strategy to his organization because no such strategy exists. What does exist is a potpourri of policy responses that amounts to providing liquidity at all costs....Beyond this, the Fed is stuck in a netherworld of dual policy targets - not ready to admit the loss of the interest rate target, not ready to adopt a formal policy of quantitative easing."

"I think it is high time some real critical attention was placed on Bernanke. How complicit was (he) with designing and implementing a clearly failed policy?" And while "Fed officials publicly debate the intent of their own policies, investor confidence is collapsing. Bernanke needs to step forward and define policy. We need to pressure him into providing that leadership - or (have him) step aside for someone else to do it."

It's a sign of the times that another analyst describes this way: America's problems "are trickling down from the top and devastating (people) at every level. A vicious cancer has materialized and every segment of the economy is suffering. Americans increasingly have nowhere to turn as funds dry up and unemployment skyrockets."

According to The New York Times (on November 20), even New York's shoeshine business is suffering. In Grand Central Terminal alone, one operator of five stands now gets 100 customers a day compared to 700 in good times. It's a "s(h)ign" of the times.

The World According to Paul Volcker

At a November Lombard Street Research conference in London he said: "What this crisis reveals is a broken financial system like no other in my life. (He's 81.) Normal monetary policy is not able to get money flowing. The trouble is that, even with all this (intervention and) protection, the market is not moving again....I don't think anybody thinks we're going to get through this recession in a hurry." Leading up to this has been "leveraging in the economy beyond imagination, and nobody was saying we need to do something....Alan (Greenspan) was not a big regulator."

It's now payback time, and according to economist Paul Ashworth, business spending is in "meltdown." And the same is true for maxed out consumers.

Market Watch columnist Paul Farrell sees depression ahead in 2011 and lists 30 reasons why. Here's a sampling:

-- America may lose its AAA credit rating; it already exists in name only;

-- growing numbers of companies need bailouts;

-- "Treasury sneaks corporate tax credits into bailout giveaway, shifts costs to states;"

-- sinking state revenues and rising debts signal trouble;

-- "state, municipal, corporate pensions lost hundreds of billions on derivative swaps;"

-- "consumer debt way up, now at $2.5 trillion; next area for credit meltdowns;"

-- Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, AIG, the big banks and other companies are bleeding cash and want more taxpayer dollars;

-- bailout costs will be in the many trillions;

-- all asset classes are sinking and signal a global meltdown;

-- retailers are failing; "mall sales (are) in free fall;"

-- unemployment (is) skyrocketing; and

-- "government policy is dictated by 42,000 myopic, highly paid, greedy lobbyists" - exceeded only by Wall Street's level of greed and corruption.

Two Additional Shoes to Drop

The auto industry for one. They're so close to the edge that no amount of bailout may help, but consider the consequences of bankruptcy. The big three employ around 250,000 US workers and affect nearly three million others at suppliers, dealerships and other companies. Without this industry, unemployment will skyrocket to unimagined levels, and the economic fallout will be catastrophic - both at home and globally because these companies have foreign operations and America's problems resonate everywhere.

Alt.A loans are another issue, called by some "liar loans." Moody's recently warned about this less publicized part of the mortgage market, and they should. They've grown faster than subprime ones to borrowers with less than top credit.

Alt.A refers to people with A-rated credit who borrow with little or no verification of income, or so-called alternative documentation. They cut across all socio-economic lines, exist everywhere in the country, are in danger of imploding, and if it happens, they'll dwarf the subprime meltdown. Why so? Because they're higher-priced, higher-leveraged, and there are more of them.

In combination with so-called Jumbo Prime mortgages, over $1 trillion in residential mortgages are at risk - much of it on balance sheets of the nation's largest banks (including Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase and Bank of America) and another reason why their stock prices are plunging.

As of October, Alt.A delinquencies of at least 90 days averaged 20.3% for those originated in 2006. For 2007 ones, it's 17.5%. According to Moody's, prepayment rates are at historical lows (in the mid to high single digits) and are expected to remain depressed in light of credit tightness and declining home equity. Moody's stated:

"Given the lack of pool seasoning, cumulative losses have not yet risen as steeply as delinquencies. However, many pools are starting to show a sharp increase in the rate of loss realization. As the pace of liquidations has picked up, the performance data suggests worsening loss severities."

Moody's added that when Alt.A loans include an option adjustable-rate mortgage, delinquencies outpace pools without option-ARMS. The reason is because negative amortization results in weaker loan-to-values, and downgrades are certain to follow.

Corporate Director Resignations Increasing

It's another sign of the times and highlighted in the Wall Street Journal (November 21). The Journal states: "Departing board members cite too-frequent meetings and conference calls. (Thus) a small but growing number....are quitting or planning to quit corporate boards just when companies need them most."

They give the usual reasons, but not the more likely ones. Corporate directorships pay well for a limited amount of work - six-figure compensation, stock options, and various other benefits as well as gaining valuable interlocking relationships with other corporate officials.

So why give them up? Along with benefits comes liability at a time many companies are floundering. Growing numbers face potential insolvency, shareholder law suits, and other increasing downside uncertainties. Citing too little time is a smoke screen. Busy people are rarely too busy for things they feel are important. Avoiding unnecessary risk is one of them.

Gold - The Traditional Safe Haven in Troubled Times

On November 19, Market reported that "Retail investors sharply increased their demand for gold bars and coins in the past few months as they struggled to find a safe place for their money amid the financial crisis...."

On the same date, a World Gold Council press release stated:

"Dollar demand for gold reached an all-time quarterly record of US $32 billion in the third quarter of 2008 as investors around the world sought refuge from the global financial meltdown, and jewelry buyers returned to the market in droves on a lower gold price. This figure was 45% higher than the previous record in Q 2 2008. Tonnage demand was also 18% higher than a year earlier."

Record demand is showing up at retail and in exchange traded fund (ETF) inflows. They were also offset by "inferred investment" outflows by hedge fund liquidations to raise cash for redemptions.

James Burton, World Gold Council's chief executive officer stated:

"Gold's universal role as a store of value has shone through during this quarter helping (to) attract investors and consumers to all forms of gold ownership. Looking forward, given the uncertainty that surrounds the global economy, gold's safe haven appeal should continue," but so will the speculative side of the gold market.

Earlier in the year, spot gold reached $1000 an ounce. The price then briefly fell below $700, remained in the low to mid-$700 range (until on November 21 it spiked to $800), and reasons cited are that institutional investors are selling desired assets to meet margin calls on weaker ones. Perhaps so, but much more is going on as well.

Markets are heavily manipulated, and gold among others are targeted. For the precious metal, it's to hold down its price to make dollars more attractive at a time it should be soaring and likely will looking ahead with some forecasts of it reaching extremely high valuations.

Noted analyst Richard Russell of Dow Theory Letters has his view on gold and its price action. He believes "one way or another, gold is being manipulated by certain sources. What group would least want to see (it) heading higher? My answer is the Fed. (It's) exploding the money supply. This would ordinarily foment inflation. Surging gold is a red flag that the public understands. The Fed is doing everything it can to hide the fact that it is devaluing the dollar via its" explosion of the money supply.

Russell believes that gold is in a primary bull market. The longer its price is artificially depressed, the "greater the bull forces within gold will struggle to express themselves."

Even now, the New York Post reported (on November 18) that "Governments Can't Handle (the) Global Run on Gold people around the world are demanding so many of the valuable coins that government mints are having difficulty filling orders."

The US mint is allocating them to restrict supply. It increased its dealer price for a 10-ounce coin by 10% and one-ounce coins by 3%, and one dealer says that customers wanting 200 gold coins have to wait up to two weeks to get them. Six months ago they were available immediately. In addition, some dealers turn customers away, and those selling them demand a 10 - 15% premium over the Comex quoted price.

It hasn't curtailed demand and why not. Gold is a global thermometer that reflects monetary, political and economic stability as well as marketplace demand - for investment, jewelry, or as the ultimate hedge against uncertainty. When prices rise, it usually warns of trouble - geopolitical, inflation, deflation, the loss of confidence in fiat currency, or a possible looming depression so far not reflected in the metal's price, but watch out.

Gold's price may be resting for a time and is being artificially held down, but for how long. If conditions keep deteriorating and money creation remains too expansive, sooner or later gold may explode on the upside.

Petrodollar states may think so and are making large gold purchases. In November, Saudi investors bought $3.5 billion worth, reportedly as a safe haven at a time of crisis and falling oil prices. Reuters said that Iran is converting some of its $120 billion in foreign currency reserves to gold. Dubai dealers are running low on the metal as demand is high.

In China it hit 38.4 metric tons through September compared to 24 tons for all of 2007. Gold jewelry demand in China reached 241.6 tons through September compared to 302 tons in 2007 when jewelry demand grew by 26%. China is the world's second largest gold consumer.

On November 14, The Standard (based in Hong Kong) reported that "The mainland is seriously considering a plan to diversify more of its massive foreign-exchange reserves into gold (because of) fears about the long-term viability of parking most of (them) in US government bonds" at a time America's budget deficit and national debt are soaring.

Demand in India (the largest gold consuming market) is also growing (up 31% from Q 3 2007) at a time global gold mining production was 1133 tons in the first half of 2008 or 6% below the same 2007 period. Gold supply was down 9.7% over year-earlier levels due largely to significantly lower central bank sales. Those made under the Central Bank Gold Agreement (CBGA) totaled 357 tons in the year ending September 26 - the lowest annual figure since the first 1999 Agreement. Prices are falling, but Saudis and other Middle East investors are buying and for good reason.

World economic viability is sinking, and it's affecting oil prices. They've fallen around two-thirds from their all-time high, and producer states are worried. The Energy Information Agency projects that OPEC may earn $595 billion in 2009 - way down from its earlier $979 billion net 2008 revenues and lower that $671 in 2007.

So today's gold weakness and dollar strength may turn out to be a shorter-term phenomenon than many observers believe. The 10-year credit default swap (CDS) spread on US Treasuries provides a clue. The cost of insuring against a US government default is soaring, and it's happening to Britain and Germany as well. It's now many fold higher than in late summer, a cause for worry, and likely because markets are pricing in massive bailouts that may far exceed the current levels. In the US, it already hit $4.2 trillion, it's rising, and hinting at a possible future default or huge devaluation that's the same thing.

In this environment, gold may be the safest of all asset classes at a time none are safe, and no one can predict how bad things may get before they improve. What's likely, however, is that the road ahead will be painful, protracted, and unlike anything experienced before so all the old rules don't apply, and no one knows what, if anything, may work. This saga has a long way to run, and the path ahead is down.

Stephen Lendman is a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization. He lives in Chicago and can be reached at

Also visit his blog site at and listen to The Global Research News Hour on Mondays from 11AM - 1PM US Central time for cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on world and national topics. All programs are archived for easy listening.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Fate of Lakotahs Highlights America's Failed Native American Policies

Fate of Lakotahs Highlights America's Failed Native American Policies - by Stephen Lendman

On November 6, South Dakota's governor Michael Rounds declared a state of emergency as heavy snow blanketed the state and threatened all parts of it - including Native American reservations.

They, however, were excluded from his declaration. They'll get no badly needed help, and it's an all too familiar story for our nation's original inhabitants. They've been abused and slaughtered for over 500 years. At Mabila, Acoma Mesa, Conestoga, the Trail of Tears, Pamunkey, Mystic River, Yellow Creek, Sand Creek, Gnadenhutten, and Wooded Knee. At far too many other places as well at a cost of many millions of lives, now forgotten and erased from memory.

Worst still, our Native people continue to be systematically repressed and mistreated. They live in poverty and despair. They're mocked and demonized in films and society as drunks, beasts, primitives, savages, and people to be Americanized or warehoused on reservations and forgotten.

Their cultures are willfully denegrated. Their legacy is one of millions slaughtered, betrayal, treaties made and broken, stolen lands, rights denied, and welfare criminally ignored to this day.

The Lakotahs are one of many examples, and the Republic of Lakotah web site highlights their plight. It welcomes "all self-sufficient People who come with an open Heart, a Passion for Freedom and a Love for Grand Mother Earth."

In a commentary titled "Broken Promises & Laws," it describes a Broken People whose lands were stolen, buffalo massacred, people slaughtered, and who were herded onto reservations in violation of Treaties successive US governments signed and then abrogated.

The Treaty of 1851, for example, in which the government requested a right-of-way for a road through Lakotah lands to the newly-discovered Montana gold fields. It became known as the Bozeman Trail to be used only until all gold was removed. By the Civil War it was gone and the government reneged. Forts were erected on its right of way. Lakotahs demanded they be removed. The US refused, war ensued, and it ended with the Treaty of 1868.

It stated that "The government of the United States desires peace, and its honor is hereby pledged to keep it." It also re-affirmed all rights the Indians were granted under the 1851 Treaty. Those rights and all others were abrogated and denied.

Western North and South Dakota Lakotahs are one of seven Sioux tribes comprising the Great Sioux Nation and are best known by their redoubtable leaders - Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Red Cloud and Black Elk, among others. Names even young school children know but not their heroic feats and the great price they and their people paid.

Before the 1770s, Sioux held territories from Minnesota to the Rocky Mountains and from the Yellowstone to the Platte Rivers. Until the Treaty of 1868, they were the richest Native American nation of the northwestern plains, but years earlier their lives were irrevocably changed. Treaties were made and broken. Settlers, railroads, and mining interests took their lands and resources.

In 1874, General George Custer invaded the most sacred Lakotah territory, the Black Hills (Paha Sapa), and with him came gold seekers. An illegal occupation followed along with billions of dollars of stolen resources and great numbers of lives lost. All in the name of progress to colonize the continent's West. All at the expense of our Native peoples who lost everything as a result.

The earlier 1787 Northwest Ordinance was deceptive on its face. Supposedly to afford Indians "justice (and) humanity," it, in fact, expanded the nation to admit new states on stolen Native American lands. Wars followed. Broken promises and treaties as well in violation of Article 6 of the Constitution that states:

"This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land" - binding without qualification on the executive, legislature and judiciary.

The Sioux acted in good faith to avoid confrontation, but in vain. The executive, Congress, and judiciary denied them their lands, vital resources, and basic rights through a succession of repressive laws:

-- Homestead Acts - for settlers only that gave them title to 160 acres of "underdeveloped" land outside the original 13 colonies; 1.6 million in all got around 270 million acres, or 10% of all US land between 1862 - 1886;

-- Allotment Acts - various "act(s) to provide for the allotment of land in severalty to Indians on the various reservations and to extend the protection of the laws of the United States over the Indians, and for other purposes;" for example, the 1887 Dawes Act that distributed mostly unwanted and unviable land in Oklahoma; it was done by dividing reservations into privately-owned parcels to destroy Native cultures, impose western values, and achieve forced assimilation;

-- the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 to force citizenship on all Native Americans; the words of one spoke for many: "United States citizenship was just another way of absorbing us and destroying our customs and government; how could these Europeans come over and tell us we were citizens in our country; we had our citizenship;" it's "in our nations;" forcing their citizenship on us "was a violation of our sovereignty;"

-- the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act (aka the Wheeler-Howard Act or the Indian New Deal); it reversed Dawes provisions and created what Native Americans call the first Apartheid Act that still applies; the 1964 Bantu Development Act copied this law and institutionalized black and white separation in South Africa; the same practice exists now in Occupied Palestine, in US inner cities, and wherever else white supremicists want unwanted people kept out of their restricted spaces;

-- forced relocations continued during the 1950s and 1960s;

-- Supreme Court rulings against Native American religious practices; in City of Boerne v. Flores (June 1997), the Court ruled against the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act that prohibited the government from "substantially burdening" a believer's religious practices; the Court held that this act attempted to overturn its own First Amendment interpretation; in Employment Division v. Smith (April 1990), the Court ruled that Oregon could deny unemployment benefits to a person fired for violating a state prohibition on the use of peyote, even for a religious ritual; in other words, this and similar practices aren't protected under the First Amendment freedom of religion provision; and

-- Native Americans on reservations aren't entitled to the same constitutional rights (like free speech, religion, assembly, and due process, etc.) as other Americans even though they're legal citizens; non-Indian people when on reservations (so-called "tribal trust status lands") also relinquish these rights while there; in addition, "tribal sovereignty" benefits leaders alone, not their people, and tribal chiefs get their authority from the Interior Secretary and US-run Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).

"Tribal sovereignty" is a profound misnomer. It belies any sense that Indians on reservations are self-governing. They are not. There are no checks and balances, no separation of powers, no constitutional protections, and the US government owns the lands as federal territories - under "plenary power" in trust status. In 1978, the Supreme Court ruled that Indian tribal chiefs and councils (not US law) have full authority over their people, and these "governments" are empowered by Washington.

Indian tribes are beholden to the government for help and need permission for most everything they do. Their people on reservations remain warehoused, abused and forgotten. The notion of "sovereignty" is another indignity, a charade, and silent outrage against our proud original inhabitants. Out of sight and mind in tribal "homelands," no different than South Africa's former bantustans and equally oppressive.

The Republic of Lakotah Today - A Broken People the Result of Broken Promises and Broken Laws

To this day, Native Americans and the Lakotah people are victims of what Ward Churchill calls "A Little Matter of Genocide" that he explained in his book by that title. It's from American Indian Movement founder, Russell Means, who spoke of "a little matter of genocide right here at home" by which he meant a process still ongoing.

In 1944, jurist Raphael Lemkin first defined the term to mean:

"the destruction of a nation or of an ethnic group" that corresponds to other terms like "tyrannicide, homocide, infanticide, etc." Genocide "does not necessarily mean the....destruction of a nation, except when accomplished by mass killings....It is signify a coordinated plan (to destroy) the essential foundations of the life of national groups" with intent to eradicate or substantially weaken or harm them. "Genocidal plans involve the disintegration....of political and social institutions, culture, language, national feelings, religion....economic existence, personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and" human lives.

The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (adopted December 1948 and took effect in January 1951) defines genocide in legal terms as follows:

"any (acts like those Lemkin cited) committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, the national, ethnical, racial or religious group (by) killing (its) members; causing (them) serious bodily or mental harm; (or) deliberately inflicting (on them) conditions" that may destroy them in whole or in part.

Destroying peoples' cultures, preventing them from practicing their religion, speaking their language, and/or passing on their traditions to new generations are acts of genocide.

Nowhere does the Constitution let government abuse its people or deny them their rights. Nowhere does it authorize genocide, either in or outside the country, or permit the theft and occupation of their lands or any others.

Nowhere does it say "We the People" are the chosen few or that the minimum function of government is less than to insure the "general welfare" as stated in the Preamble and Article I, Section 8 as follows:

"The Congress shall have power to....provide for....(the) general welfare of the United States" - the so-called welfare clause for all its citizens.

Nowhere does it sanction rampant crime, unequal justice, political or corporate corruption, dishonest officials, raging social problems, the right to ignore the law, or to be able to slaughter and abuse its Native people. Nonetheless, it happens. Most egregiously to native Indians for over 500 years and counting.

Before early Europeans arrived, the Americas (North and South by expert estimates) were home to over 100 million indigenous peoples. From 1492 to 1892, US Census Bureau figures showed less than 250,000 survived. Or put another way - white Europeans committed the greatest ever genocide that was rivaled only, but not equaled, by the one against black Africans who were stolen into slavery for the "new world." Millions of them died during capture and the Middle Passage.

Our Native peoples in even greater numbers - victimized by ritual slaughter. By being hacked apart, buried alive, trampled under horses, hunted as game and fed to dogs, shot, beaten, stabbed, and even scalped for bounty or as trophies. They were also hung on meathooks like beef, thrown into the sea from ships (the way blacks were), worked to death as slaves, starved, frozen to death during forced marches and internments, and infected with deadly diseases. Our disturbing "civilization" that's untaught in American schools, and when it is Indians are the villains and the settlers their victims. History on its head the way Hollywood portrays it and still does.

Ward Churchill recounts otherwise about what he calls "the American holocaust" and compares it to the Jewish one under the Nazis. He explains that:

"Distinctions....between right, center, left and extreme left in the US are quite literally nonexistent on the question of genocide of indigenous peoples. From all four vantage points, the historical reality is simultaneously denied, justified, and in most cases celebrated (or just forgotten. But preposterous as these arguments are, all of them are) outstripped by a substantial component of zionism which contends not only that the American holocaust never happened, but that no 'true' genocide has ever occurred, other than the Holocaust suffered by the Jews" in Nazi Germany.

It's an all too familiar pattern of historical revisionism or denial to view one people's ordeal as important, preeminent or unique and another's as non-existent - depending, of course, on who suffered and who caused it. After WW II, Zionist Jews copyrighted Hitler's genocide, rebranded it "The Holocaust," framed it as a one-off event, and created the myth of unique Jewish suffering.

The Plight of the Lakotah People

The Republic of Lakotah web site recounts it from the first official political and diplomatic contacts "between Lakotah and the (US) government began in earnest after the United States (completed) the (so-called) Louisiana Purchase in 1803."

It refers to "fantasy" US history about the purported French sale of 530 million acres for a mere $15 million - part of which belonged to Lakotahs who weren't consulted or consented to the transaction. The first "peace and friendship" treaty followed in 1805. Like others later on, it was systematically ignored and violated as settlers invaded, encroached, and occupied Lakotah lands.

Throughout the 19th century, the US government "engaged in multiple military, legal and political deny Lakotah our right to freedom and self-determination." Even after the Supreme Court's 1883 Ex Parte Crow Dog decision, it persisted. The Court recognized Lakotah freedom and independence in ruling that tribes held exclusive jurisdiction over their internal affairs. It didn't matter as in 1885 Congress passed the Major Crimes Act to extend US jurisdiction into Lakotah territory, and more egregious actions followed.

One was the 1903 Supreme Court Lone Wolf v. Hitchcock decision that recognized near absolute plenary congressional power over Indian affairs, virtually exempt from judicial oversight. It was an outrageous ruling to let the government freely expropriate tribal lands and resources on the pretext of fulfilling its federal trust responsibilities. Quite simply, it empowered Washington and rendered Indians impotent over their own internal affairs, with no rights of any kind without Washington's permission.

This ruling was then used to violate hundreds of treaties between the government and indigenous peoples, including Lakotahs. As a result, the sacred Black Hills were stolen along with billions of dollars of resources from them. America was on the move. Lakotahs were in the way, so they were shoved aside through all the various ways described above.

Today, the Republic of Lakotah explains the "Genocidal Results of the Failed American Indian Policies of the United States" under the following headings:


-- Lahotah men have the world's lowest life expectancy at 44 years;

-- the Lakotah death rate is the highest in America;

-- the Lakotah infant mortality rate is three time the US average;

-- one-fourth of Lakotah children are fostered or adopted by non-Indian households - a willful Americanization policy to destroy their culture and existence;

-- Lakotahs have epidemic levels of disease and illness; and

-- teenage Lakotah suicide is 150% higher than the US national average.


-- median income is a shocking $2600 - $3500 a year;

-- 97% of Lakotahs live below the poverty line - unmatched anywhere in the world except by other indigenous peoples; and

-- most families can't afford heating oil, wood, propane or any way to heat homes.


-- it's at 80% or higher; and

-- government funding for job creation is lost through cronyism and corruption.


-- it's so inadequate that many elderly die each winter from hypothemia (freezing to death);

-- one-third of homes lack clean water and sewage;

-- 40% have no electricity;

-- 60% no telephone;

-- 60% are infected with potentially fatal black molds; and

-- an estimated 17 people on average live in each family home - many with only two or three rooms; some homes built for six to eight people have up to 30 living in them.

Drugs and Alcohol

-- drug addiction afflicts over half of Lakotah adults; two known meth-amphetamine labs are allowed to operate; and

-- alcoholism affects 90% of families.


-- the tuberculosis rate for Lakotahs is about 800% higher than the US national average;

-- cervical cancer is 500% higher;

-- diabetes 800% higher; and

-- the Federal Commodity Food Program provides sugar-rich foods that cause high rates of diabetes, heart disease, and other preventable illnesses and diseases.


-- the rate for Indian children is 40% higher than for whites;

-- 21% of South Dakotan prisoners are Indians yet they comprise 2% of the population;

-- Indians have the second largest state prison incarceration rate in the nation after blacks; and

-- most Indians live on reservations that are supposed to be self-governing - in principle, that is; around 2% of Indians live under state jurisdiction.

Threatened Culture

-- only 14% of Lakotahs speak their native language;

-- it's not being taught inter-generationally; the average age of fluent Lakotah speakers is 65; thus the language is endangered and on the verge of extinction; and

-- the Lakotah language is forbidden to be taught in US government schools - a further indignity inflicted on the people.

A Final Comment

In September 2007, the UN General Assembly adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It passed 143 - 4 with only Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the US voting "no." Eleven nations abstained.

This document enumerates the "collective rights of the world's 370 million native peoples, calls for the maintenance and strengthening of their cultural identities, and emphasizes their right to pursue development in keeping with their own needs and aspirations."

The Declaration affirms the right of native peoples "to the recognition, observance and enforcement of treaties concluded with States or their successors. It also prohibits discrimination against indigenous peoples and promotes their full and effective participation in all matters that concern them."

This document concluded 25 years of "contentious negotiations over the rights of native people to protect their lands and resources, and to maintain their unique cultures and traditions." In that and the above stated respects, it's historic and important.

Nonetheless, America has its own "traditions" over and above those of others it disdains and abuses - the poor, non-whites, the disadvantaged, labor, non-Jews and Christians, virtually everyone outside its white supremacists elites, and clearly its Native peoples from the earliest settlers to the present day.

Nothing's changed from then to now - Broken Promises, Broken Laws, Broken Treaties, and Broken Hope for a Broken People suffering hugely in the United States of America - out of sight and mind and not an issue for the dominant news media. Very much one for people who care.

Stephen Lendman is a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization. He lives in Chicago and can be reached at

Also visit his blog site at and listen to The Global Research News Hour on Mondays from 11AM - 1PM US Central time for cutting-edge discussions on world and national topics with distinguished guests. All programs are archived for easy listening.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Extrajudicial Assassinations As Official Israeli Policy

Extrajudicial Assassinations As Official Israeli Policy - by Stephen Lendman

Extra-judicial killings are indefensible, morally abhorrent, and illegal under international laws and norms. Article 23b of the 1907 Hague Regulations prohibits "assassination, proscription, or outlawry of an enemy, or putting a price upon an enemy's head, as well as offering a reward for any enemy 'dead or alive.' "

Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states that "Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person." UDHR also recognizes the "inherent dignity (and the) equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family."

So do "just war" principles that rule out gratuitous violence, assassinations, especially if premeditated, war against civilians, and so on, despite the difficulties of distinguishing between combatants, those who've laid down their arms, and the innocent in times of war - let alone dealing with "terrorism" or what one analyst calls the "twilight zone between war and peace." Others say it's justifiable resistance or "blowback" in response to state-sponsored violence and other crimes of war and against humanity.

In 1980, the Sixth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders condemned "the practice of killing and executing political opponents or suspected offenders carried out by armed forces, law enforcement or other governmental agencies or by paramilitary or political groups" acting with the support of official forces or agencies.

The General Assembly also acted in response to arbitrary executions and politically motivated killings. On December 15, 1980, it adopted resolution 35/172 in which it urged member states to abide by the provisions of Articles 6, 14 and 15 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights that cover the right to life and various safeguards guaranteeing fair and impartial judicial proceedings.

The first principle of the 1989 UN Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions states:

"Governments shall prohibit by law all extra-legal, arbitrary and summary executions and shall ensure that any such executions are recognized as offences under their criminal laws, and are punishable by appropriate penalties which take into account the seriousness of such offenses. Exceptional circumstances, including a state of war or threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency may not be invoked as a justification of such executions. (They) shall not be carried out under any circumstances including, but not limited to, situations of internal armed conflict, excessive or illegal use of force by a public official or other person acting in an official capacity or by a person acting at the instigation, or with the consent or acquiescence of such person, and situations in which deaths occur in custody. This prohibition shall prevail over decrees issued by governmental authority."

These articles and provisions apply to occupied civilian populations, and the Fourth Geneva Convention and its Article 3 affords ones (like the Palestinians) under foreign occupation special protection. It covers all actions related to "Violence to life and person, Murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture." In addition, "The passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court, affording all the judicial guarantees....recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples."

Its Article 32 states: "the High Contracting Parties specifically agree that each of them is prohibited from taking any measure of such a character as to cause the physical suffering or extermination of protected persons in their hands. This prohibition applies not only to murder, torture, corporal punishment, mutilation and medical or scientific experiments not necessitated by the medical treatment of a protected person, but also to any other measures of brutality whether applied by civilian or military agents."

Its Article 85 refers to "Grave Breaches" and defines them as "Acts committed willfully and causing death or serious injury to body or health....making the civilian population or individual civilians the object of attack (or)launching an indiscriminate attack affecting the civilian population or civilian objects...."

The 2002 International Criminal Court's Rome Statute also defines these grave violations as war crimes that include (in its Article 8):

-- "Grave" Geneva Convention breaches;

-- "Willing killing...."

-- "Intentionally launching an attack" knowing it will "cause incidental loss of life...."

-- "Killing or wounding" combatants who've laid down their arms;

-- extrajudicial killings; and

-- "Killing or wounding treacherously a combatant adversary...."

In 1982, the UN established the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. It was one of several mandates to address disappearances, torture, assassinations and many other human rights abuses and violations of international law.

Philip Alston currently holds the post to investigate extrajudicial killings, hold governments responsible for committing them, failing to prevent them, or for not responding when they're carried out by others. In May 2008, he issued the latest report of his "principle activities" in 2007 through the first three months of 2008. As of March 2008, he requested permission from 32 countries and Occupied Palestine to visit. In spite of "proceed(ing) with plans for a visit," Israel "so far failed to respond affirmatively." The Palestinian Authority (PA) "issued an invitation."

The US Position On Extrajudicial Killings

In 1976, President Gerald Ford signed Executive Order (EO) 11905 banning the practice against foreign leaders in peacetime and by implication against others. Yet Reagan's Defense Secretary, Caspar Weinberger, argued that only "murder by treacherous means" is forbidden so assassinations are acceptable as long as they're unrelated to "treachery."

George Bush then swept aside subtleties, reversed Ford's EO, and authorized the CIA to assassinate Osama bin Laden, his supporters, and publicly stated that bin Laden "was wanted, dead or alive." His Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, concurred and called killing "terrorists" an act of "self-defense."

In June 2008, Philip Alston visited the US. He met with federal and state officials, judges and civil society groups in New York, Washington, Alabama and Texas. He also conducted a fact-finding tour of US prison and detention facilities and presented his findings at a June 30 press conference. He sharply criticized the Bush administration, the country's flawed judicial system, and continued rule of law violations. He cited:

-- racism in the application of the death penalty;

-- the lack of transparency in Guantanamo prisoner deaths;

-- a lack of information about Iraq and Afghanistan civilian deaths; the unwillingness of Department of Defense officials and others to cooperate; his concern about serious human rights violations as well; and

-- the refusal of the US Justice Department to prosecute mercenary contractors (like Blackwater Worldwide) who commit unlawful killings. Or the US military.

Israeli Extrajudicial Killings

Throughout its history, Israel willfully and systematically committed premeditated extrajudicial killings of Palestinians and other Arabs as official state policy - carried out with explicit high-level political, judicial and military authorization and allegedly in "self-defense" against individuals threatening Israeli security. Government officials even admit that certain persons are targeted, and Dan Haluts, former Israeli Army Chief of Staff, once told the Washington Post (in August 2006) that "Targeted killing is the most important method in the fight against 'terrorism.' " In other words, premeditated murder is acceptable as long as it's properly classified.

In May 2007 on Israeli Army Radio, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, former Infrastructure Minister, defended the practice and said: "We decided to carry out more physical liquidation operations against (Palestinian) 'terrorists"....I think this will eliminate the damage caused to Israeli territory due to the launching of Palestinian rockets."

Almost never do Israeli government or military officials show evidence that targeted individuals acted violently or threatened Jewish citizens. Simply calling them "terrorists" is justification enough - to kill them extrajudicially, with no recourse to due process or respect for international law that bans the practice for any reason.

"My crime was to protest Israeli assassinations"

On January 5, 2007, the London Guardian headlined that comment in reporting on Jewish activist Tali Fahima's first interview following her release from Israeli incarceration. Sitting with her arms handcuffed to a chair's legs 16 hours a day, her captors said they wanted to teach her to be a "good Jew." She was imprisoned for 30 months for traveling to the West Bank, "meeting an enemy agent and translating a simple army document."

She explained and said her crimes were for refusing to work with Shin Bet (Israel's secret service), going to see the Palestinians, then protesting the Israeli assassinations policy. She was kept in isolation for nine months. Finally, at the urging of her lawyer, she struck a plea bargain for a shorter sentence, and ended up being "unbowed" by her experience. She learned how Sin Bet "terroriz(es)" people, both Palestinians and Jews. "About the nature of the government, how they do not want us to see what is going on in our name."

On August 8, 2004, she was arrested and placed under administrative detention in September. In December, she was charged with "assistance to the enemy at time of war." It was trumped up and false. In January 2005, the Tel Aviv district court ruled that she should be placed under house arrest during her trial. Jerusalem's high court overruled it on the grounds that she "identifie(d) with an ideological goal." In December 2005, she pled guilty under her plea bargain to meeting and aiding an enemy agent and entering Palestinian territory. In January 2006, she was released.

She felt compelled to make regular Jenin visits. Talk to hundreds of people, including Palestinian resisters, and for the first time heard their point of view and how hard things are under occupation. For showing compassion and disagreeing with Israeli policies, she was imprisoned for nearly 30 months on false charges. Not even Jews are safe from harsh state retribution against anyone showing defiance or daring to resist injustice.

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights Documentation of Israeli Targeted Assassinations

The (1995 established) Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) functions independently in Gaza and enjoys "Consultative Status" with the UN's Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). It's also an affiliate of the International Commission of Jurists-Geneva, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) in Paris, the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network in Copenhagen, the Arab Organization for Human Rights in Cairo, and the International Legal Assistance Corsortium (ILAC) in Stockholm.

Palestinian lawyers and human rights activists established it to:

-- "protect human rights and promote the rule of law;"

-- create, develop and promote a democratic culture in Palestinian society; and

-- work for Palestinian self-determination and independence "in accordance with international law and UN resolutions."

PCHR issues documents, fact sheets, and reports like its quarterly accounts of Israeli extrajudicial executions in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). Its latest one is from April through June, and a more comprehensive one covered August 2006 through its latest June 2008 data.

PCHR states: It's "investigated and documented these (killings) in depth (and) concluded that the IOF (Israeli Occupation Forces) have consistently acted with utter disregard for the lives of (mostly innocent) Palestinian civilians in the OPT, and that IOF have continued to carry out state sanctioned extra-judicial executions, (in violation of) international human rights the overwhelming majority of cases....suspects could have been arrested, but no efforts were made....and they were instead extra-judicially executed" - according to official state policy.

The Human Toll

Since the second Intifada's September 2000 inception through June 30, 2008, and excluding all other Palestinian killings, the IOF carried out 755 OPT executions. Victims included 521 extrajudicially targeted and 233 bystanders, including 71 children and 20 women. In Gaza, 405 were killed. Another 350 in the West Bank. The methods used included:

-- F-16, unmanned drone, and attack helicopter-launched air-to-surface missiles; tank shelling; missile launchers and gunboats;

-- Israeli military undercover units disguised as Palestinians; first established during the first (1987 - 1993) Intifada; they became more active during the second one; could easily have arrested suspects but instead killed them at short range; and

-- IOF targeted house ambushes in the West Bank.

Most often, civilians are attacked in their homes, vehicles, on streets and at workplaces. Sometimes entire families are killed, including children, women, the elderly, and infirm, and a July 2002 incident was typical. It targeted Salah Shehada, an Ezzedeen Al-Qassam Brigades (the Hamas armed wing) leader.

The IOF knew he was with his wife and children. That they lived in a densely populated residential area, and former Israeli Army Chief of Staff, Moshe Ya'alon, admitted that he knew Shehada's wife and daughter "were close to him during the implementation of the assassination....and there was no way out of conducting the operation despite their presence." An Israeli F-16 bombed his home, and completely destroyed it. Two neighboring ones also and damaged 32 others.

The toll was horrific - 77 injured civilians; 16 others killed, including Shehada, his wife, daughter, assistant, eight children, (one a two-month old baby), and two elderly men and two women. It was an indefensible criminal act of wanton murder.

In May 2007, an air-to-surface missile targeted the Al-Hayia family at his eastern Gaza meeting hall. It scored a direct hit. Killed were seven members of his family, another Palestinian and the object of the attack - Sameh Saleh Farawana, a Hamas activist. In addition, three others were wounded.

In July 2006, air-to-surface missiles destroyed Dr. Nabil Abdol Latif Abu Selmeya's home in Gaza City's Al-Sheikh Radwan district. He, his wife, and seven children were killed. In addition, 34 bystanders were injured, including 5 children and six women. At least 15 neighboring homes were also damaged in an operation Israelis said targeted Mohammed Al-Deif, Hamas' armed wing leader and apparently Israel's most wanted man.

In January 2008, an air-to-surface missile struck a civilian vehicle carrying three members of the Al-Yazji family killing Mohammed Al-Yazji, his five-year old son, and his 40-year old brother. Three bystanders were also injured. IOF sources later admitted the attack was in error and was meant for another vehicle carrying Palestinian resistance activists.

In August 2007, a Gaza operation near the Rafah International Crossing Point killed two civilians, injured 12 others and slightly wounded three targeted activists who escaped. Moments later, another vehicle was struck nearby killing the driver, a civilian bystander, and wounding 12 others, including a child.

In November 2006 in eastern Gaza, a vehicle was struck carrying Bassel Sha'aban Ubeid, an Ezzedeen Al-Qassam Brigades member. He and a colleague were killed. In addition, five Amen family members were injured, including two children.

Throughout the reporting period, there were many more killings in Gaza and the West Bank. In November 2006, four Jenin civilians. In February 2007, three others in Jenin. In March 2008, four Bethlehem civilians. Many others throughout the Territories in Ramallah, Nablus, Rafah, Khan Younis, Tul Karim, north, central and southern Gaza, and elsewhere - against activists, resisters, civilians, women and children for the crime of being Palestinians wanting self-determination, freedom, and respect for their rights under international law. For their part, Israelis, with world support and complicity, continue denying it to them repressively and illegally.

Extrajudicial Executions in the Latest Reporting Period - April - June 2008

During the period, the IOF conducted eight OPT assassinations killing a total of 16 people, including two civilian bystanders. Two operations were carried out in the West Bank. Six others in Gaza.

On April 14, an air-to-surface missile killed Ibrahim Mohanned Abu 'Olba, the National Resistance Brigades' (the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine's armed wing) leader in northern Gaza. Two civilians were also injured, including a 15-year old boy. In addition, a number of nearby houses were damaged.

On April 15, an air-to-surface missile killed Abdullah Mohammed al-Ghassain, an al-Quds Brigades' (the Islamic Jihad's armed wing) activist in northern Gaza. Three others were also injured.

On April 17, the IOF besieged a building in Qabatya village, southeast of Jenin in the northern West Bank. They opened fire at a civilian car, ordered people out of the building, and fired shells and demolished it with a bulldozer. Two dead Palestinians were found inside.

On April 20, an air-to-surface missile killed Nour al-Dibari in Gaza. A second missile targeted a number of Palestinians who just left a grocery shop. Its owner was seriously injured as well as his son. At least one other Palestinian was hurt as well.

On June 29, the IOF entered Tubas in the northern West Bank and set a cemetery ambush for a group of Palestinian children there throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at military vehicles. They opened fire and killed one 16-year old from multiple gunshots to the chest and abdomen.

PCHR "asserts that the Government of Israel continues to act recklessly, and with utter disregard for the human rights of the Palestinian people, including (their) right to life" and safety. Israel also fails "to meet its obligations under human rights law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention." An Israeli government representative wasn't available for comment.

Stephen Lendman is a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization. He lives in Chicago and can be reached at

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