Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Jay Howell






See more at Jay's blog.
Jay will have new work on display at the Together Gallery in Portland Oregon, August 26th - September 26th. Artwork from the show is available online at the Together Gallery Website.

John. Gilbert. "Jack". Layton.




The GAZA FREEDOM FLOTILLA and BREAKING the SIEGE ...

 Document  written by Mo'ein Manna for the
Al-Zaytouna Centre
 

Strategic Assessment 25: Freedom Flotilla and Breaking the Siege:
Implications and Possibilities

Scenarios

1. Lifting the Siege
2. Easing the siege
3. Opening Sea Lane


Summary

     It seems that the attempts at breaking the siege on GS, especially in the light of the attack on Freedom Flotilla, have started to embarrass the USA in addition to being a real pressure factor on Israel. This means that the future of the siege would be apparently linked to the pace of aid flotillas attempting at breaking the siege, the nature of the elite solidarity activists and their national identities.

     Based on this background, it is possible to say that the situation in GS is heading to either one of three scenarios:

 1- lifting the siege on the basis of the the Agreement on Movement and Access (AMA) of 2005.
 2- easing the siege according to the Israeli standards. The chances for this scenario are high, given the supportive stance of the US which calls for considering Israel as the only party entitled to decide on the proper way for protecting its security.
 3- opening sea lane on the basis of the European proposal to send ships to monitor vessels coming to the GS.

     The increase in the pace of ships that aim at breaking the siege is the main factor which renders the sea lane a fait accompli.


Attempts at Breaking the Siege

      Given the size of the losses incurred on the Gazans, dozens of road convoys moved simultaneously towards the Strip with in-kind medical and humanitarian aid. Organizers have not saved an effort to deliver their cargo to the besieged Gazans where some of them succeeded to get a permit to pass through the Rafah crossing while others failed to reach their destination. On the other hand, some convoys were kept waiting on the sidewalks of the crossing in the hotness of the Sinai desert under the pretext of finishing transactions and administrative procedures till the food in the cargoes rotted and medicine was spoiled.

      On another level, around ten ships and boats were sent to Gaza during three years from Europe, USA and the Arab countries. The Israeli forces prevented five of these ships from reaching their destination and even obstructed these attempts by force and by detaining the passengers for days before releasing them. 



      On the other hand, Israel allowed the other five ships to reach the Gazan shores while the solidarity activists could personally distribute the in-kind aid to the Gazans. It is worth of mention that the ships which Israel has allowed to reach Gaza had on board international activists, parliamentarians, former diplomats and prominent personalities. Apparently, Israel’s stance reflected its commitment to avoid stirring Western public opinion and embarrassing the governments of the countries from where these activists come.

      In late May 2010, Freedom Flotilla headed towards GS comprising six ships carrying around 630 solidarity activists with about 10 thousand tons of relief supplies and humanitarian assistance.

      The Israeli authorities threatened Freedom Flotilla and vowed to block its access to the GS by military force. Undeterred by the Israeli threats, the solidarity activists insisted on heading towards their destination; however, the Israeli forces overtook the ships and intercepted them in international waters; they further abseiled onto the deck and stormed Mavi Marmara, the flotilla’s largest passenger ship, using live ammunition, thus killing nine Turkish activists in cold blood.

      The massacre stirred international reaction, both on the official and public levels, denouncing the Israeli crime against civilians and calling on an independent international investigation that ends impunity for Israel’s crimes. On the other hand, there was a clear divergence in the stances of the Quartet where most of its members demanded ending the siege, whereas the Americans and the Israelis found themselves totally isolated on the international level. However, the global momentum was soon absorbed and weakened.
Turkey

      The stand of Justice and Development Party (AKP) government in dealing with the GS siege is based on two important points:

1. Seeking to play an effective, regional role through which it can resolve conflicts in the region, in order to maintain the security of neighboring countries including the security of Turkey itself.
2. Strong popular sympathy with the Gazans based on religious background common to the Palestinians and the Turkish people alike. This also affects the official position especially that AKP is a party which is rooted in Islam and pays explicit attention to the pulse of the street on the basis of elections.

     The above explains the size of the Turkish concern about Freedom Flotilla as an attempt to break the siege; it also explains the level of popular and official rage at the Israeli crime against the Turkish solidarity activists. In this context, PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan pursued an escalatory tone using harsh expressions where he described the Israeli practices as “barbaric.”

     Despite this atmosphere, the Turkish foreign policy pursued the following steps:

1. Calling on lifting the GS siege besides the determination to move forward in breaking the blockade and terminating it.
2. Stressing the need that Israel comply with the Turkish conditions particularly regarding apology, compensation and the agreement to establish an international investigation committee.
3. Maintaining communication with the forces which Washington has labeled as the axis of evil namely Iran, Syria, Hezbullah and Hamas.
4. Insisting on punishing Israel in case it did not respond to the Turkish conditions through decreasing diplomatic representation, the abolition of some conventions relating to military training, preventing Israeli military aircraft from using Turkish airspace, in addition to the deterioration in security cooperation and economic transactions.

     However, the Turkish actions were way less than anticipations and incongruous with the atmosphere of anger and the escalatory tone which accompanied it. Apparently, the Turks felt that they had a limited margin in moving against Israel and they did not want to upset the Americans and the West at this stage.

 


Israel

     The way the Israeli government dealt with Mavi Marmara and the developments which followed, was based on subsequent rejection of a Turkish role in the region and a determination to cling to the siege, albeit in a new form, till the achievement of its political goals. This might have been the vision which urged the Netanyahu government to pursue the following steps:

1. Committing the Marmara massacre and deliberately insulting the Turks through the demeaning actions and expressions used by the Israeli soldiers, such as treading on the Turkish activists in particular.
2. Release of all detainees: the Turks, Arabs and Muslims, and Westerners as a step to contain the aftermath of the massacre and its repercussions.
3. Unloading the ships of Freedom Flotilla in the port of Ashdod to imply Israel’s determination to not allow the access of any supplies directly into Gaza but rather through another channel.
4. Noncompliance with the Turkish demands such as apology, returning the vessels directly, paying compensation and the establishment of an international investigation committee. It seemed like the Netanyahu government wanted to maintain a certain level of “tension” with Erdogan’s government, as a step to stop the Turkish interference in the Palestinian cause.
5. Seeking to absorb the global state of anger prompted by the siege and the announcement of “easing” the siege by increasing the number of allowable items including ketchup, mayonnaise and shoelaces!! Netanyahu explained this step by saying that easing the siege is the best way to guarantee its continuity.
6. Israel, backed by the US, sought to prevent the take off of any aid ships aiming at breaking the siege especially from the Greek and Cypriot ports. These countries expressed willingness to cooperate as they do not seek to aggravate the relations with Israel or the US.

 


Egypt

      In the context of his efforts to contribute to defusing tension, the Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, declared his decision to indefinitely open the Rafah crossing to relief and humanitarian aid. Yet, the Egyptian government did not fully meet this declaration, as it prevented many convoys from reaching the GS although these convoys were organized based on Mubarak’s declaration.

      A number of Egyptian officials explained their country’s considerations regarding the permanent opening of Rafah crossing. They stressed the need for the presence of Palestinian presidency’s security forces and the European observers as an expression of Cairo’s determination to adhere to the Philadelphi Accord which restricts the Rafah crossing to the passage of individuals rather than goods.

 


The United States

      Initially, and as an attempt to absorb popular indignation, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stressed the need to change the status quo in the GS, while the presidential envoy George Mitchell called on easing the siege and turning life in GS back to normal. However, a few days after the massacre, in contrast to what the Obama administration has declared, the American stance started to change in accordance with the Israeli orientations, where President Obama himself said that Israel had the right to protect its security and choose the proper way to guarantee it.

      Later, the Obama administration called on the Palestinian presidency and on Israel to go back to the AMA of 2005 where this call allows America to achieve many goals, including:

1. Venting anger, calming the media blitz and delivering a misleading message to the public opinion to the effect that life in the GS was going back to its “former” status through the organization of movement at the crossings between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
2. Preventing Hamas and the Gaza-based government from investing the achievements of Freedom Flotilla on the media, public and political level.
3. Paving the way for Egypt, the Palestinian presidency, Israel and the European Union to play a role commensurate with the developments of the current scene.


The European Union

      At the beginning of the crisis, many European countries condemned the massacre and demanded lifting the siege and allowing the return to normal life in the GS. The European stance was different from the former European policy. However, this positive development did not last long but changed another time when decision–making capitals in the EU such as France, Germany, England and Spain which holds the EU presidency, adopted the orientations of the Obama administration. These countries showed willingness to return observers to the Rafah crossing after the return of security forces loyal to Salam Fayyad government. Then, they added a practical proposal which entailed sending warships that would monitor vessels coming to the GS and search them to prevent the “arrival of any military aid to Hamas” as a preemptive step that would help Israel avoid falling in trouble again.

 


Russia

     Moscow was not far from the Freedom Flotilla and Mavi Marmara incidents as it announced its condemnation for the massacre, stressing the need to end the siege imposed on the Gazans. It further urged the need to move forward on the Palestinian track and hold inter-Palestinian reconciliation. The Russian stance was characterized by high tone rejecting what was happening; nonetheless, just when the US disclosed its vision for ending the crisis, Russia joined the Quartet in its call for enhancement of the AMA of 2005 besides the need for European observers and security forces affiliated with Fayyad government.

 


The United Nations

     The UN Secretary–General Ban Ki Moon highly condemned the massacre and emphasized the need to lift the siege and return to normal life in the GS. However, the UN stand did not crystallize in practical action and it soon adapted to the status imposed by the Israelis. Indeed, the UN officials cited the need to open the crossings according to the conventions signed in this regard, with the participation of the European observers and the security forces affiliated with the Ramallah-based government.

 


Palestinian Authority Presidency

     The Palestinian presidency condemned the massacre and announced its rejection for the Netanyahu government’s ongoing siege on “our people in the GS.” However, the Palestinian Authority (PA) raised the issue of reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas considering it as the “doorway” to lifting the siege or easing it. This practically means that, according to the stance of the PA, lifting the siege is not possible without inter-Palestinian reconciliation under the terms of the Quartet, signing the Egyptian paper or Hamas abandoning public life and leaving the government in case it insisted on its political stances!

 


Hamas

     Hamas realizes that the economic siege on the GS was based on political background, where the Quartet wanted to break the will of the Palestinian people and overthrow Isma‘il Haniyyah’s government. Hamas is also aware that the Obama administration, in fact, exposes itself to embarrassment when it aligns itself with the Israeli stance and ignores the continuing siege, in addition to not supporting the establishment of the Palestinian state.

     Thus, it seems that Hamas has pursued two complementary approaches in its refusal for the siege or compliance with the conditions of lifting it:

1. Holding on to its political stances and clinging to resistance as an option; this has helped Hamas withstand the military campaigns on GS, especially the 2008/2009 attack.
2. Encouraging the attempts to break the siege and benefiting from them on the political, media and tactic levels. This approach started to yield its fruits through embarrassing Obama, besides demonizing Israel and isolating it on the international level through accusing it of racism and genocide.

     In this context, Haniyyah’s government insisted on the need for the presence of security forces affiliated with it at Rafah and Karam Abu Salem crossings, in addition to the forces affiliated with Fayyad government. Further, Hamas did not agree to return to the AMA of 2005 unless in the presence of a national unity government as security forces affiliated with the Palestinian presidency used to organize the crossings.


Scenarios

1. Lifting the Siege

     Lifting the siege is one of the possibilities, especially in the presence of many agreements signed by the Israelis on one hand and Egypt and the Palestinian presidency on the other hand. The chances for this scenario are enhanced by the differences between the various parties of the Quartet and the increased international demands calling for lifting the siege. In addition, the crossings have been opened and run, although not in a smooth and natural way, during the presence of Hamas in the 10th and 11th governments. The odds for this scenario might further increase in case campaigns aiming at breaking the siege proceeded and political and media pressure continued to target Israel. However, this scenario is weakened by the continued support of major countries for the Israeli demands besides the negative stand towards Hamas and its government in the GS, where these countries tend to ease the siege rather than end it.

2. Easing the siege

     Easing the siege is considered one of the demands agreed upon by the different parties. Yet differences rise due to the criteria according to which easing the siege would proceed. For example, the countries and forces involved in imposing the siege require that this mitigation not allow Hamas to claim the victory of steadfastness and resistance option. While the international community tends to identify prohibited material which could be a few dozens out of seven thousand kinds, the Israeli side tends to identify the allowed items, thus preventing the access of thousands of materials into the GS. Apparently, the Israeli side is so far capable of imposing its vision. The chances for this scenario are enhanced by the common American-European stance which gave Israel the right to determine the way to protect its security. Still, the chances for this scenario could fall in case sending aid ships to the GS continued successively at a more dynamic pace.

3. Opening Sea Lane

     This scenario is based on the idea of allowing goods through sea paralleled with a European observation and inspection mechanism. It is possible to consider the declaration by many EU countries of their willingness to send warships to be stationed off the GS coast as a practical proposal meant to facilitate the life of the Gazans. The odds for this scenario are enhanced by Israel’s inflexible stance towards such operations, which requires external intervention to ease the pressure on the Netanyahu government and take it out from inevitable trouble. This scenario needs constant efforts by the European campaign for breaking the siege as well as other organizations and movements seeking to break the siege, to guarantee the continuity of aid ships which would keep the Israeli stand in continuous trouble. In this case, it becomes possible to break the siege as a fait accompli where the Quartet finds itself obliged to deal with it in the light of the European proposal. Beyond that, the siege would continue according to the Israeli old-new criteria.

 


Proposals

1. Establishing a national unity government which forms the Palestinian mechanism for opening the crossings, especially that the crossings were opened during the period of this government.
2. The presence of security forces affiliated with the Palestinian presidency beside their brothers in GS, and ruling out any justifications for closing the crossings.
3. Increasing the efforts of the European campaign for breaking the siege as well as other organizations and movements seeking to break the siege. In addition, sending aid ships on a continuous basis to keep the Israeli stand in trouble and put the Quartet in the face of a fait accompli which would help break the blockade.
4. Supporting the Turkish stand which is working to break the siege and calling for declaring the sea route between Gaza and Antalya an Islamic passage, under the auspices of the UN, where Islamic forces monitor movement there.
5. Egypt should open the Rafah crossing completely and permanently, while enhancing the economic and commercial exchange between Egypt and the GS, and expanding the role of the crossing beyond passage of individuals.
6. Reviewing the AMA and considering new arrangements that put an end to the Israeli control of the crossings.
 

Al-Zaytouna Centre offers sincere thanks to Mo'ein Manna for writing the main document upon which this assessment was based. 


 The leading ship of the Freedom Flotilla


Related;International Law and the Israeli Flotilla attack

Monday, August 30, 2010

Sarcoptiform

See more of Sarcoptiform's art here.

McCarthyism' Rises in Israel


Analysis by Jerrold Kessel and Pierre Klochendler

Jerusalem, Aug 26, 2010 (IPS) - Rightwing Israeli groups financially supported by Jewish and fundamentalist Christian groups from abroad are on a campaign to undermine free thought in Israeli universities. Collaterally, a move is under way by right-wing parties in the Knesset, Israel's parliament, to limit the freedom of action of civil and human rights-minded NGOs.

Under the semblance of seeking "no more than balance", the right-wingers are pressuring hard for a clampdown on professors and lecturers who are deemed to have an "anti-Zionist tilt".

The first target was Tel Aviv University with the country's largest student body.

An organisation called the Institute for Zionist Strategies is demanding that the TA University president survey the reading material proposed by a number of sociology lecturers with a view to balancing them with other lecturers who hold stridently opposing views.

The Institute which alleges that most prominent Israeli universities have "a post-Zionist bias" in their sociology, history and political science departments defines post-Zionism in its own published documents as "the pretence to undermine the foundations of the Zionist ethos and an affinity with the radical leftist dream."

Another ultra-rightist group, Im Tirtzu, has taken the lead in a widespread campaign against the Ben-Gurion University based in Beersheba. It said in a letter to university President Prof. Rivka Karmi that if the "anti-Zionist tilt does not end", it will persuade donors, both in Israel and abroad, to stop contributing to the University.

The organisation gave the university one month to accede to its demands. If there is no satisfactory comeback, it would also advise students to boycott the university, the organisation said.

The chairman of Im Tirtzu, Ronen Shoval, said in his letter to Karmi that nine of 11 permanent political science faculty members were involved in "radical leftwing political activities" such as encouraging young Israelis not to serve in the Israeli army.

Karmi, however, is standing her ground -- for now, saying she would not respond: "As a matter of principle, I don't respond to threats or extortions, or in this case, of a witch hunt."

But, alarmed at the sudden assault and surge of such "McCarthyist pressure", as one university lecturer put it, the heads of Israel's seven leading universities did respond. In a joint statement, they urged "condemnation of this dangerous attempt to create a thought police.

"No Israeli university has to prove its staff's love of their homeland to any organisation, and certainly not to a political one that is trying to present a tendentious political position to advance its own public relations.

"As is proper in an enlightened democratic country," the statement continued, "Israeli academia is not a political body, and members of faculty are selected solely according to objective criteria of excellence in research and teaching."

What has disturbed many academics is the at least partial backing accorded by Israel's education minister Gideon Sa'ar to the right-wing campaign against academic staff. He took an especially harsh position earlier this year when there was a call for the dismissal of Prof. Neve Gordon, a department chairman at Ben Gurion University, who had urged a "social, economic and political boycott of Israel" to end the Occupation.

Yossi Sarid, a former education minister in the 'peace governments' of the '90s lambasted Sa'ar for jumping on the Im Tirzu bandwagon, and for giving succor to the advocates of "thought police".

"We should be aware of a disturbing trend," wrote Sarid in his column in the liberal Tel Aviv paper, Haaretz. "When Israeli academia is besmirched and slandered, it is liable to capitulate and include in its syllabus 'The Science of Occupation'." And, he continued, "Only unabashed rightists or unadulterated patriots will be allowed to teach such a course -- their supreme contribution to the glory of the State of Israel and its global legitimacy."

Tel Aviv University president, Prof. Joseph Klafter, asked whether academic freedom in Israel was under threat, said bluntly: "There have been some frightening attempts to harm academic freedom. I hope it is still possible to contain this phenomenon."

He added, "Anyone who criticises our universities for lacking concern about the values of Zionism does not understand that maintaining a pluralistic environment is the cornerstone of the Zionist and democratic vision on which the State was founded. Only through discourse is it possible to educate generations of citizens who are aware of such basic democratic and liberal values."

That would not seem to be the main purpose of right-wing legislators who are preparing a parallel campaign to clip the wings of liberal Israeli NGOs.

A bill that would require Israeli NGOs to report every donation they receive from foreign governments, or from any source mostly funded by a foreign government, has been approved for first reading by the Knesset's Constitution, Law and Justice Committee. The bill would subject NGOs that fail to report such donations to a NIS 30,000 (8,000 dollar) fine.

Coalition whip Zeev Elkin of the dominant Likud party explained that the new legislation is aimed at "preventing a recurrence of the Goldstone report, which is mostly based on material provided by Israeli organisations...financed by foreign states. NGOs often cooperate with foreign elements which use them to infiltrate messages or carry out acts that are opposed to basic national Israeli interests."

Some critics believe the new bill will not in fact be able to supervise NGOs and would be only a "bureaucratic nuisance", but left-wing parties, labeling the proposed legislation "McCarthyist", say it is clearly meant to intimidate NGOs whose positions are opposed to that of the right-wing coalition.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel is concerned that the bill would undermine the legitimate activity of NGOs based on their political positions: "Freedom of association is not subject to political horse-trading; it is the preserve of anyone who wants to organise to advance civil causes, whether a given party or political majority at any given time likes it or not," an ACRI spokesman said. (END
 

  
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Survey of Israeli Acts of Aggression Against Al-Aqsa Mosque Since 1967




08.10.1990: Zionists commit a massacre at Al-Aqsa Mosque, killing at least 17 Palestinians and injuring over 200:
_________________________

Twenty-six years have passed since Messianic Jews tried to and partially succeeded in burning-down Islam's third holiest sanctuary, the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque. The nefarious sacrilege was by no means, as the Israeli government then suggested, and isolated act committed by a deranged man who acted on his own. Quite the contrary, the morbid Israeli designs against the sacred Muslim Shrine show that diabolical feat was a deliberate collective act of aggression carried out with the unmistakable acquiescence of the Israeli political establishment and the active encouragement of much of the world's Jewry and their fundamentalist Christian allies.

The following is a list of the acts of aggression and desecration against Al-Aqsa Mosque since June 7,1967:

June 7, 1967: The occupation authorities confiscated the keys of the Western Gate known as Bab El-Magharba immediately after Israeli troops seized the town from the fleeing Jordanians.
June 9, 1967: The congregational Friday prayer was not held on orders from the occupation authorities. That was the first time the Juma'a prayer didn't take place since the liberation of Jerusalem from the hands of the Crusades in 1167 AD on October 19,1990, The Juma'a prayer was delayed for two hours because the the occupation authorities denied Muslim worshiper entry to the Haram compound.
June 21, 1969: An Australian-born terrorist, Denis Michael Rohan, entered the mosque and set the magnificent Nurrukin Zinki Mihrab on fire. The fire gutted the unique Mihrab, which has restored. The sacrilegious act against the mosque was condemned world-wide, but was praised by wide segments of world Jewry and Christian fundamentalists who view the creation of Israeli in Palestine as a fulfillment of Biblical prophecy and a precedence to the second advent of Jesus.
November 16, 1969: The Israeli occupation authorities seized the Fakhriyya Corner on the south-western side of the Haram Al-Sharif.
August 14, 1970: The Gershon Salmon group, and ultra-fanatic group dedicated to the so-called rebuilding of the Temple of Solomon of the site of Al-Aqsa Mosque after it is demolished, forcibly entered the premises of the Haram, but were repulsed by Muslims. The confrontation resulted in tens of worshiper being injure by Israeli troop gunfire.
April 19,1980: A group of Jewish Rabbis and sages held a semi-secret conference devoted to exploring ways and means "to liberate the Temple Mount from Muslim hands".
August 28, 1980: The Israeli occupation authorities dug a tunnel right underneath the Mosque.
March 30, 1982: Numerous leters were sent Muslim Waqf authorities urging them to abandon the Temple Mount and warning them of the dire consequence of their "usurpation of our Temple". The letters were written in Hebrew, English, French, Spanish and Polish.
May 20, 1982: Several Zionist organizations sent death threats to Waqf officials.
April 11, 1982: An Israeli soldier named Allen Goodman stormed the interior of the Mosque, spraying worshipers with bullets from his M-16 assault rifle, killing and wounding over 60 Palestinians.
March 26, 1983: The main entrance to the Jerusalem's Waqf department collapsed due to Israeli excavations underneath.
August 21, 1985: The Israeli police permitted Jewish extremists to hold prayers within the confines of the Haram premises.
August 4, 1986: A group of Rabbis issued final ruling allowing Jews to pray at the Haram Al-Sharif, and demanded the establishment of a Synagogue in the area.
May 12, 1988: Israeli soldiers opened fire on a peaceful Muslim march at the Haram, Killing and wounding about a hundred Palestinians.
August 8, 1990: The Israeli authorities committed a grisly massacre at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Killing 22 worshipers and injuring over 200. 
July 25, 1995, the Israeli High Court of Justice issued a ruling, allowing Jews to pray at the "Temple Mount". The decision sparked off widespread protests among Muslims.

___________________________


Note: List need to be updated


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Israel Isolates AL-AQSA


August 28 2010

Despite the opening of peace talks next week, Israel continues its silent war against Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam's third holiest shrine, writes Khaled Amayreh from the occupied city

Palestinian female Muslim worshippers sit in front of the Dome of the Rock Mosque during the second Friday prayers of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City

Consistent with the established Israeli policy of denying non-Jews free access to their respective places of worship in East Jerusalem, Israeli occupation authorities have placed stringent restrictions on the entry of Muslims into East Jerusalem.

Muslim males below the age of 50 and females below 45 have been turned back at Israeli checkpoints and roadblocks. The extreme measures infuriated Palestinian officials who denounced Israel for "religious intolerance" and an "assault on religious freedom".

"Israel presents itself to the world as a democracy. However, the truth is that Israel behaves like an authoritarian and racist country that practises religious discrimination and denies non-Jews basic religious freedom," said Mohamed Habbash, minister of waqf (Islamic endowment) in the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority (PA).

Habbash denounced Israeli justifications for denying hundreds of thousands of Palestinians access to Al-Aqsa Mosque, especially during the holy month of Ramadan, as racist and unacceptable. "Israel cries out to the seventh heaven whenever Jewish religious or human rights are impinged upon. However, the same Israeli state feels at ease violating the religious rights of Muslims to worship at Al-Aqsa Mosque.

"This is an Islamic site, it has been an Islamic site for close to 1,400 years, and so-called 'precautions' are only a pretext to keep as many Muslims as possible from accessing Al-Aqsa Mosque," Habbash added.

There are two main entry points through which "security safe" Palestinians are allowed to enter Jerusalem. The first is the Bethlehem terminal to the south; the second is the Qalandia checkpoint to the north. At both points of entry, thousands -- perhaps tens of thousands -- of Palestinians of all ages were seen trying, often desperately, to get to Jerusalem.

The trip is a formidable challenge. Most people set out shortly after dawn in order to get early to the checkpoint. Those looking "old enough" are allowed to proceed unhindered, even without submitting their identity cards for a security check. However, middle-aged and younger people have to go through a special corridor for a meticulous security check. Very often, people are turned back.

Those turned back are reminded that Jerusalem, the would-be capital of their would-be state, is still under Israeli occupation and that they cannot even freely access Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam's holiest shrines.

In Jerusalem itself, the city has morphed into a garrison town as thousands of Israeli soldiers and paramilitary police are deployed in the vicinity of Al-Aqsa. In addition, cameras are installed in every corner and alleyway, monitoring every movement, as a large blimp does the same from above.

Jerusalem is not what it used to be. Israeli occupation authorities have encouraged fundamentalist Jewish groups to seize several buildings surrounding Al-Aqsa Mosque. The quiet seizure of Arab homes and other buildings by Jewish fundamentalists has reinforced Muslim fears that Israel harbours evil designs on the Islamic sanctuary.

Indeed, Israel does not deny that its ultimate goal is to build a Jewish temple on "the former site" of the Islamic shrine. Muslims, both in Palestine and abroad, warn that the demolition of Al-Aqsa Mosque would spark untold violence, encompassing the entire region, and put paid to any semblance of peace efforts between Israel and the PA.

At the Al-Aqsa Mosque esplanade there were but a few non-Palestinian Muslims present on the second Friday of Ramadan. Earlier, a number of Muslim officials, including the new head of Al-Azhar, the prominent Sunni Islam academy in Cairo, called on Muslims to visit and pray at the Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem.

The call was also echoed by Habbash. But some do not agree. "I don't think it would be appropriate for our brothers from the Arab and larger Muslim worlds to come and pray in the shadow of Israeli guns. These people should come to Jerusalem as soldiers and fighters to liberate Jerusalem, not as disgraced pilgrims," said Ahmed Qawasmi, an Islamic cleric from the Hebron region.

Meanwhile, the imam of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Sheikh Mohamed Hussein, called on Palestinians to converge on the mosque "in the hundreds of thousands". "This is the way we demonstrate our commitment and bond to the First Qibla [direction to which Muslims turn during prayer] and the third holiest sanctuary."

On similar occasions two decades ago nearly half a million people would converge on Jerusalem for Friday's congregational prayers. (end)



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Evidence that Afghan leaders are on CIA payroll

By James Cogan August 30 2010
A series of leaks to the New York Times and the Washington Post over the past week has revealed that members of the Afghan government headed by President Hamid Karzai are paid agents and informers of the CIA.

The revelations began on August 25 when senior Times’ correspondents Dexter Filkins and Mark Mazzetti reported that a close aide of Karzai who is accused of corruption, Mohammed Zia Salehi, had been on the CIA payroll for “many years”. The information was provided by anonymous sources “in Kabul and Washington,” suggesting it came from high up within the US military or the Obama administration itself.

Two days later, the Washington Post cited other US sources alleging that the “CIA is making secret payments to multiple members of the Karzai administration”. The Post stated: “The CIA has continued the payments despite concerns that that it is backing corrupt officials and undermining efforts to wean Afghans’ dependence on secret sources of income and graft”.

Mohammed Zia Salehi, who is the chief of administration of the Afghan National Security Council, is at the centre of a controversy between Washington and Karzai. In July, he was arrested by a US-created anti-corruption investigation unit. Wiretaps allegedly documented him requesting a $US10,000 car for his son, as his price for stopping an investigation into a money transfer company, New Ansari.

President Karzai intervened, and within seven hours had the arrest overturned and Salehi released. Karzai has also blocked attempts to arrest senior executives of New Ansari.

Any investigation of the company is clearly opposed by a significant section of the Afghan establishment linked to Karzai’s administration. New Ansari is accused of transferring hundreds of millions of dollars in cash out of Afghanistan each year on behalf of warlords, government officials and drug traffickers.

A United Arab Emirates custom official said $1 billion in cash had arrived in that state last year alone.

The Times noted that “many Afghan officials maintain second homes” in Abu Dubai “and live in splendorous wealth”. Since 2001, the amount of money that has been plundered from the “international aid” sent to Afghanistan must run into the tens of billions. Large amounts also appear to have been simply handed over by the CIA in pay-offs and bribes.

On August 29, Karzai’s office denounced the allegations that the CIA has much of his government on its payroll, as “groundless allegations” that could “negatively impact the alliance against terrorism” and which “cast [a] slur on the reputation of the Afghan responsible executives”.

There are, however, no reasons to doubt that the claims are true. The CIA’s operations in Afghanistan date back to the late 1970s and 1980s, when it financed and armed Islamist groups that were fighting the Soviet military occupation of the country. Several years before the events of 9/11, CIA agents were back in Afghanistan, bribing various warlords to support a US invasion.

In 2001, Mohammed Zia Salehi was a spokesman for one of the most powerful and murderous of the anti-Taliban warlords, Abdul Rashid Dostum, who was openly taking money from the US government. CIA operatives worked with his militia during the invasion to crush Taliban forces in northern Afghanistan and took part in the cold-blooded murder of thousands of Taliban prisoners.Karzai was selected as president on the basis of his decades-long ties with US intelligence agencies. 

The US official with whom Karzai maintains the closest relations is the current CIA station chief, known only as “Spider”. The pair has been working together since before the 2001 invasion. One obvious question is the role that the CIA and the many Afghans on its payroll played in the blatant rigging of the 2009 presidential election, which returned Karzai to power.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the CIA station chief’s prominence and close relations with Karzai provoked opposition from the US embassy and the State Department, but they were overruled earlier in the year by Obama.

A possible motive for the latest leaks is to prompt a refashioning of the Afghan government, perhaps involving some high-profile trials of corrupt officials. Popular hatred and contempt for Karzai’s administration is increasingly blamed by the White House and the US military for the growing support for the Taliban-led resistance movement and soaring US and NATO casualties. 

Seven more American troops were killed over the weekend, pushing the 2010 American death toll to 308, just nine less than all of 2009.
Indicating the concerns in US political and military circles, the Institute for the Study of War stated in a recent report on the situation in the major southern city of Kandahar “that the population views government institutions as predatory and illegitimate, representing the interests of key power-brokers rather than the populace”.

Kandahar is essentially ruled by Karzai’s half-brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, who has been publicly accused of both presiding over a massive drug cartel and being on the CIA payroll. Karzai’s older brother, Mahmoud, who holds American citizenship, has become one of the richest men in the country, with Toyota dealerships and government-allocated contracts in the cement industry.

Any changes in the personnel of the Afghan government on the grounds of combating corruption, however, will not alter the puppet character of the regime. The rampant payoffs, bribery and outright theft flow inexorably from a colonialist foreign occupation that is hated and opposed by the majority of the Afghan people.

The CIA revelations underscore the cynical nature of the American propaganda used to justify the war since 2001. Venal individuals who take payments from a foreign occupying power and plunder the country have been portrayed as the representatives of a democratic future for Afghanistan. The Afghans who have resisted the occupation and fought for the liberation of the country have been labelled terrorists, killed in their tens of thousands and hunted down by 150,000 foreign troops.

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Obama to Escalate Slaughter in Yemen

By Bill Van Auke

August 28, 2010


With the opening of a new front in Yemen for the CIA’s drone “targeted killing” program, the Obama administration is steadily escalating the role played by both the covert agency and secretive US military Special Operations forces as a global Murder Incorporated.

“The White House, in an effort to turn up the heat against Al Qaida’s branch in Yemen, is considering adding the CIA’s armed Predator drones to the fight,” reported the Associated Press on Thursday, citing senior Washington officials.

“The US military’s Special Operation Forces and the CIA have been positioning surveillance equipment, drones and personnel in Yemen, Djibouti, Kenya and Ethiopia” in preparation for the stepped-up killing spree, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.

The Washington Post quoted intelligence officials as saying that the CIA now views Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula as a “more urgent” threat than the Qaeda organization in Pakistan.

Yemen, like Afghanistan and Iraq before it, is being targeted not to eradicate terrorism—the killing of civilians with cruise missiles and drone attacks will only produce more recruits for terrorist attacks—but because of its strategic location, bordering Saudi Arabia, the number-one oil exporter, and the vital Bab al-Mandab strait, through which three million barrels of oil pass daily.

“They’re not feeling the same kind of heat—not yet, anyway—as their friends in the tribal areas of Pakistan,” one official told Reuters Wednesday. “Everyone involved on our side understands that has to change.”

The “kind of heat” inflicted upon the population of Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas is well known. According to Pakistani officials quoted in the country’s media, at least 700 civilians were killed by drone attacks in 2009. According to an estimate by a Washington think tank sympathetic to the Obama administration, at least a third of those killed in drone attacks in Pakistan are civilians. This year, drone flights have increased ten-fold, with missile strikes increasing from one a week to at least one a day.

Even Pakistan’s devastating floods have not brought an end to these robotic assassinations. The latest reported attack came Monday in North Waziristan, leaving 20 dead, including four women and three children.

Now, in the name of combating terrorism, Washington is proposing to inflict this same kind of state terror on a desperately poor country that is already torn by regional, religious, ethnic and tribal conflicts. A secessionist movement in the south of Yemen, which had been a separate country until uniting with the north in 1990, has simmered for the last 16 years.

Supporters of the assassinated dissident Shi’a cleric Hussain Badr al-Din al-Huthi have battled the predominantly Sunni government for the past six years in the northern Sa’ada and Amran provinces.

And the entire population is mired in extreme poverty and deprivation, with fully one quarter of the 24 million Yemenis suffering chronic hunger and nearly half living on less than $2 a day. According to a 2008 World Bank report, fully 43 percent of children under five are malnourished.

To this already desperate situation, the Obama administration is proposing to contribute slaughter from the air by Hellfire missiles and assassination on the ground by special operations death squads.

The regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, having aligned itself with Washington, has utilized the US “global war on terror” as a justification for a brutal crackdown on all of its opponents.

“An extremely worrying trend has developed where the Yemeni authorities, under pressure from the USA and others to fight al-Qa’ida, and Saudi Arabia to deal with the Huthis, have been citing national security as a pretext to deal with opposition and stifle all criticism,” Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa program, said this week in releasing a new report from the human rights group documenting abuses in Yemen.

The Amnesty report provides harrowing details concerning the saturation bombing of residential areas, the gunning down of peaceful demonstrators, and the imprisonment, torture and disappearance of the government’s political opponents, including lawyers, journalists and human rights advocates.

The government of Yemen publicly rejected this week’s assessment from Washington, charging that it and the Western media “exaggerate the size of al-Qaeda and the danger that it poses to Yemen’s stability and security,” and insisting that “fighting terrorism in Yemen remains the responsibility of Yemeni security authorities.”

In reality, however, hundreds of US military and intelligence operatives are already deployed in Yemen, and the regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh has repeatedly given a green light for US attacks on Yemeni soil. The statement repudiating any US escalation was no doubt issued for domestic consumption. The American military attacks have provoked widespread outrage, while intensifying opposition to the Yemeni government.

A CIA drone war will add to the war crimes already committed by the US military in Yemen on Obama’s command. In the worst of these, at least 41 people, 21 of them children and 14 of them women, were slaughtered last December 17 when their homes in the southern district of Abyan were struck by US cruise missiles carrying cluster bombs—a weapon banned by international treaties.

Last June, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, Philip Alston, charged the US government with arrogating to itself “an ever-expanding entitlement for itself to target individuals across the globe” and a “strongly asserted but ill-defined license to kill without accountability.”

This “license to kill” has also been claimed in relation to US citizens. Among those targeted in Yemen is the American Islamic cleric Anwar al Awlaki. Last April, US officials revealed that the Obama administration had authorized the “targeted killing” of al-Awlaki, whose family is Yemeni. This marks the first time that a US government has admitted seeking the assassination of one of its own citizens.

Al-Awlaki’s family and civil liberties lawyers have attempted to secure a restraining order against this extra-judicial execution and gross abuse of power, insisting that if the New Mexico-born man is guilty of any crime, he should be charged and tried in a US court.

The Obama administration sought to stifle any lawsuit, however, claiming that because the government has deemed al-Awlaki a terrorist, it would be a criminal offense to seek a court order barring his assassination by the CIA or the US military. Earlier this month, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights were finally allowed to proceed with the action only after obtaining a special license from the US Treasury Department.

The Obama administration is escalating and spreading criminal wars abroad while continuing where Bush left off in erecting the scaffolding for a police state dictatorship at home. No section of the political establishment or the corporate media seriously opposes these measures, because they are driven by the interests of the financial aristocracy that both major parties and the government represent.

The preparations for a new war in Yemen must be taken as a serious warning to working people in the US. The unchecked growth of American militarism, coupled with the shredding of basic democratic rights and mounting attacks on jobs, wages and social conditions, threatens to unleash a catastrophe. No answer can be found within the present capitalist setup. 

Only the development of an independent and politically conscious movement of the working class fighting for socialism can provide an alternative.

World Socialist WebSite Via Global Research to PalestineFreeVoice
__________________________________________________
Editors note:

Israeli interests are behind many awful crimes against humanity; occupation, theft of land and nature resources, and the cynical waging of criminal war through out the entire world, the Palestinian territories, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, expanding into Yemen and Iran.

PalestineFreeVoice


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SETTLEMENT MUST STOP



August 29 2010

Direct negotiations might start, but Israel will continue on the ground to undermine peace, writes Khaled Amayreh in Ramallah

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal speaks during an open meeting with journalists about the Palestinian situation in Damascus

The announcement this week that the Palestinian Authority (PA) leadership has agreed to resume "direct talks" with Israel, virtually without any conditions, has generated a lot of consternation among the Palestinian people as well as within virtually all political groups.

A clearly embarrassed and frustrated PA has been struggling to justify and explain its decision that seems to have been taken under duress, as the Obama administration has been exerting pressure on a vulnerable leadership to refrain from placing "sticks in the wheels of the peace process".

PA officials and spokesperson have vehemently denied that the PA is capitulating to Israel. They have reaffirmed earlier positions that the PA is still committed to preserving Palestinian rights and that the creation of a viable and territorially contiguous Palestinian state remains the central target of peace negotiations.

But such pronouncements by the Ramallah leadership are not being taken seriously, neither by Israel itself nor by the bulk of Palestinian political forces, with the latter accusing the PA leadership of ignoring overwhelming public disapproval of talks with Israel under existing circumstances. And now the issue has placed Fatah -- the backbone of the PA -- on the defensive.

While PA spokesmen carefully avoided the press, because apparently they had nothing to say to defend the latest PA decision, some senior Fatah leaders, including President Mahmoud Abbas, have warned that they will boycott the upcoming talks if Israel fails to freeze settlement construction. Both Israel and Washington reject the precondition, with the US State Department officials arguing that all "contentious issues" will be discussed during the talks.

From the American vantage point, this means that an Israeli decision to terminate its partial settlement expansion freeze -- adopted several months ago and that is due to expire late September -- should not impede the commencement of talks. Earlier, Abbas warned in letters sent to Obama and other Quartet representatives that failing to maintain the partial construction freeze would bring talks to a grinding halt. "It is impossible to conduct negotiations alongside settlement construction," Abbas wrote.

The Americans, the broker, referee and judge of the "peace process", have not taken a final stand on the settlement freeze issue. Sources in Washington have suggested that the Obama administration might take a "middle stand" on the issue by allowing Israel to build in major settlements (those that would be annexed to Israel in the context of a possible final peace settlement), while the settlement freeze would continue to be observed in other small settlements east of the Separation Wall.

This formula is supported by some Israeli officials, such as Intelligence Minister Dan Meridor. However, hardcore rightwing ministers in the Israeli cabinet are opposed to the compromise on ideological grounds.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has reiterated his draconian conditions for the creation of a Palestinian state. Speaking during a government session this week, Netanyahu warned that there would be no peace agreement with the Palestinians unless the PA recognised Israel as a Jewish state. In the Israeli political and ideological lexicon, "Jewish state" means forgetting that Israel is a settler-colonial state and institutionalising discrimination against Palestinians that remain in Israel. It also invokes the possibility of "evicting" hundreds of thousands of non-Jewish Israeli citizens.

Netanyahu said there were three conditions without which no agreement with the Palestinians could be reached: meeting Israel's security needs; Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state; and Palestinian acknowledgement that the agreement that might be reached would constitute the end of the conflict. If Netanyahu insists on his conditions, which he has been reiterating at every occasion, it means that there can be no peace agreement with the Palestinians, irrespective of the intensity or sincerity of US efforts.

Some Israeli circles hope that the US will eventually force the weak PA leadership, using carrot-and-stick tactics, to surrender to the fait accompli and accept a dwarfed Palestinian "statelet" under virtual Israeli control. These circles have been encouraged by the "positive" modes of PA management of talks with Israel, especially since the arrival of the Likud-led government to power in Israel more than a year ago. The PA has consistently abandoned crucial preconditions for the resumption of talks with the Israeli government that critics argue shows that the PA leadership can give concessions to Israel if sufficiently pressured by Washington.

Hamas, which has been taking political advantage of what it deems "humiliating PA concessions" to Israel, has lashed out at the PA's leadership for "gambling with the national cause of the Palestinian people". "It is obvious to all those who have minds and eyes and senses that the Ramallah leadership can't be entrusted with the Palestinian cause. This bankrupt leadership seems to be more answerable to the Americans than it is to the Palestinian people," said Sami Abu Zuhri, a prominent Islamist spokesman based in the Gaza Strip.

Abu Zuhri castigated Fatah's "silence and betrayal of the national cause in favour of some immediate and other benefits". He added: "We in Hamas consider these talks as catastrophic whose main goal is the liquidation of the Palestinian cause."

Similarly, another Islamist party, the Hizbul Tahrir, or Liberation Party, lambasted the PA leadership for "hankering after a deformed state that has no sovereignty or authority over its borders, a state that would be controlled by Israel, a state whose raison d'être would be to brutalise and pacify the Palestinian people on Israel's behalf."

Given the clear American bias towards Israel, clearly malicious Israeli intent and insolence, as well as the inherent weakness of the Palestinian position, it is more than likely that the upcoming round of direct talks between Israel and the PA will lead nowhere. In the final analysis, the huge chasm between the two sides can't be bridged using the classical tools of international relations.

Furthermore, it is unlikely that Washington, with all its cumulative experience with things Middle Eastern doesn't realise the near impossibility of reaching a true historical solution to the conflict in Palestine-Israel. Perhaps Washington has come to think that an open-ended or interminable peace process is the solution.

For the Palestinians, this would mean Israel continuing to create facts on the ground while they continue negotiating and complaining. In a phrase, absurdum ad infinitum.

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PA ON THE EDGE, as opposition to talks with apartheid Israel widens...



August 28 2010 - 11:21 AM


By Khalid Amayreh

Security forces loyal to the Western-backed Palestinian Authority (PA) on Friday stormed the southern West Bank town of Dura, assaulting civilians and laying siege to two large Mosques.

The forces, which were riding brand-new vehicles "donated" by the United States, and carrying the official trademark of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) prevented people from accessing the Grand Mosque in town Center, before storming the mosque in order to prevent Sheikh Nayef Rajoub, a popular Islamic leader, from giving the traditional pre-sermon dars or homily.

Rajoub, a former Minister of Wakf and Islamic Affairs, is one of the most popular Islamic leaders in the West Bank. His popularity however, has been a source of anxiety to the Fatah-controlled government whose Wakf Minister, Muhammed al Habbash, last week issued an order barring Rajoub from preaching or giving Islamic lectures at the Mosques.

Rajoub rejected the order, calling it "incompatible with Islam."

According to eyewitnesses, the troops behaved provocatively, offending Muslim sensibilities. They entered the mosque with their boots on, which is considered offensive and nearly sacrilegious throughout the Muslim world.

Seeking to avert a more violent showdown, Rajoub moved to another mosque, the Mosque of al Mujahed, where he started preaching about the virtues of the Holy Month of Ramadan.

However, hundreds of PA troops, including many in plain-clothes, pursued the Sheikh to the Mujahed Mosque, causing a commotion.

Once again, the troops desecrated the mosque by entering it with their boots-on.  Another potentially violent showdown between the troops and the angry worshipers was narrowly averted when some local dignitaries convinced the Sheikh to stop preaching.

Eyewitnesses reported that heavily armed troops savagely beat worshipers, including one of Rajoub's brothers.

The storming of the town of Dura and assault on the mosques has infuriated local citizens who called PA troops "servants of Israel" and "Dayton soldiers."

"Even the Israeli soldiers wouldn’t behave like this. What happened today proves that the PA and Israel are two sides of the same coin," said Adib Sharah, a student.

One worshiper called the troops "Israeli collaborators who beat and persecute their own people on Israel's behalf."

Following the end of the congregational prayers, the PA security forces carried out a widespread campaign of arrest in the town and surrounding areas.

Local sources put the number of detainees at 40-50 people, mostly young Islamist activists who shielded Rajoub from attacks by the troops.

Speaking to the PIC Friday night, Rajoub lambasted the PA behavior as an "expression of moral and political bankruptcy."

"Instead of fighting the Israeli occupation and enabling Muslims to access the Aqsa Mosque, the PA is storming and desecrating mosques here in this town. And they are doing this to obtain a certificate of good conduct from the enemy."

He argued that no force on earth could prevent a Muslim scholar from communicating and preaching the message of Islam.

Rajoub, who has a Master Degree in Sharia, said the PA minister of Wakf, al Habbash, had no right to bar Ulema or Muslim scholars from carrying out their basic function.

During the 2006 elections, Rajoub received more votes than any other candidate in the Hebron District.

However, due to his popularity, the Israeli occupation authority targeted him with harsh persecution, throwing him in jail for nearly 50 months on concocted charges, such as supporting a militant organization.

He was released from Israeli detention only two months ago

Rajoub is still very popular which worries the PA which is trying to restrict his activities.

The latest events in Dura come amid accusations by Palestinian Islamic leaders that the PA is effectively fighting Islam in order to please Israel and the United States.

Some Palestinian and Arab experts are convinced that American and Israeli satisfaction with the PA depends largely on the extent to which the PA is willing to impose restrictions on Islamic activism in occupied Palestine.
 
On Wednesday, PA security forces violently thwarted a meeting in Ramallah organized by liberal and leftist intellectuals who were planning to hold a press conference to declare their opposition to what they view as a capitulation by the Ramallah leadership to American and Israeli dictates.

The violent repression of dissent, which has been stepped up in recent days and weeks, is being viewed as a bad omen by most Palestinians.

Palestinians are worried that the PA might resort to harsh tactics to impose an unpopular "peace deal" with Israel that would effectively liquidate the Palestinian cause by selling out or sacrificing  such paramount Palestinian rights as Jerusalem and the right of return for million of Palestinian refugees uprooted from their homes and villages in what is now Israel.

"Monetary Shock and Awe": The Fed Prepared to Launch Most Radical Intervention in History, Bernanke's "Nuclear Option"

August 28 2010

Mike Whitney

The equities markets are in disarray while the bond markets continue to surge. The avalanche of bad news has started to take its toll on investor sentiment. Barry Ritholtz's "The Big Picture" reports that the bears have taken the high-ground and bullishness has dropped to its lowest level since March ‘09 when the market did a quick about-face and began a year-long rally. 

Could it happen again? No one knows, but the mood has definitely darkened along with the data. There's no talk of green shoots any more, and even the deficit hawks have gone into hibernation. It feels like the calm before the storm, which is why all eyes were on Jackson Hole this morning where Fed chairman Ben Bernanke delivered his verdict on the state of the economy on Friday.

Wall Street was hoping the Fed would "go big" and promise another hefty dose of quantitative easing to push down long-term interest rates and jolt consumers out of their lethargy. But Bernanke provided few details choosing instead this vague commitment:

“The Committee is prepared to provide additional monetary accommodation through unconventional measures if it proves necessary, especially if the outlook were to deteriorate significantly."

Check. There's no doubt that Helicopter Ben would be in mid-flight right now tossing bundles of $100 bills into the jet-stream like confetti if he had the option. But Bernanke is fighting a rearguard action from inside the FOMC where a fractious group of rebels want to wait and see if the recent downturn is just a blip on the radar or something more serious, another tumble into recessionary hell.

This week, the markets were blindsided by two days of dismal housing news, grim durable goods orders, a slowdown in manufacturing, and modest gains in employment. 4 years later, and housing is still mired in a depression. When does it end? Households and consumers are buried under a mountain of debt; personal bankruptcies, delinquencies, defaults and foreclosures continue to mount while politicians threaten to tighten the purse-strings putting more pressure on families who can barley put food on the table let alone pay the mortgage.

Just months ago, 57 out of 57 economists surveyed predicted that the economy would avoid a double dip recession. Now they're not so sure. Stock market gains have been wiped out and the S&P 500 has dropped 14 percent from its high in April. All of the main economic indicators are testing new lows. The so-called "soft patch" is looking like another hard landing. The fear is palpable. On Thursday, the Dow slipped another 74 points by the end of the session. 

It could have been worse. The markets have been holding on by their fingernails hoping that Bernanke will bail them out. But it's going to take more than the usual promise of low interest rates for an "extended period" to boost enthusiasm. Wall Street is looking for the "big fix", a trillion dollar resumption of the Fed's bond purchasing program (QE) to pump up flaccid asset prices, electro-shock demand, and raise consumer inflation expectations. 

The big banks and the brokerage houses want Bernanke to rout the Cassandras and the gloomsters and pump some adrenalin into sluggish indexes. The Fed chairman promised to help.....but not just yet, which is why the markets continue to seesaw.

Bernanke takes the threat of deflation seriously. His earlier speeches laid out a deflation-fighting strategy that is so radical it would shock the public and Wall Street alike. Here's an excerpt from a speech he gave in 2002 which illustrates the Fed boss's willingness to move heaven and earth to fend off the scourge of pernicious deflation:

Ben Bernanke: “My thesis here is that cooperation between the monetary and fiscal authorities in Japan could help solve the problems that each policymaker faces on its own. Consider for example a tax cut for households and businesses that is explicitly coupled with incremental BOJ purchases of government debt – so that the tax cut is in effect financed by money creation. 

Moreover, assume that the Bank of Japan has made a commitment, by announcing a price-level target, to reflate the economy, so that much or all of the increase in the money stock is viewed as permanent.

Under this plan, the BOJ’s balance sheet is protected by the bond conversion program, and the government’s concerns about its outstanding stock of debt are mitigated because increases in its debt are purchased by the BOJ rather than sold to the private sector. 

Moreover, consumers and businesses should be willing to spend rather than save the bulk of their tax cut: They have extra cash on hand, but – because the BOJ purchased government debt in the amount of the tax cut – no current or future debt service burden has been created to imply increased future taxes.

Essentially, monetary and fiscal policies together have increased the nominal wealth of the household sector, which will increase nominal spending and hence prices....from a fiscal perspective, the policy would almost certainly be stabilizing, in the sense of reducing the debt-to-GDP ratio....

Potential roles for monetary-fiscal cooperation are not limited to BOJ support of tax cuts. BOJ purchases of government debt could also support spending programs, to facilitate industrial restructuring, for example. The BOJ’s purchases would mitigate the effect of the new spending on the burden of debt and future interest payments perceived by households, which should reduce the offset from decreased consumption. 

More generally, by replacing interest-bearing debt with money, BOJ purchases of government debt lower current deficits and interest burdens and thus the public’s expectations of future tax obligations." (Some Thoughts on Monetary Policy in Japan, Governor Ben S. Bernanke, The Federal Reserve Board Tokyo, Japan, May 31, 2003)

Yikes! This is monetization writ large. Anyone who thought Bernanke lacked cohones should reread this passage. The Fed chair is prepared to launch the most radical intervention in history, monetary Shock and Awe. But will the bewhiskered professor be able to persuade congress to follow his lead, after all, the fiscal component is critical to the program's success. 

They're two spokes on the same wheel. Here's how (I imagine) it would work: Congress passes emergency legislation to suspend the payroll tax for two years stuffing hundreds of billions instantly into the pockets of struggling consumers. 

The Fed makes up the difference by purchasing an equal amount of long-term Treasuries keeping the yields low while the economy resets, employment rises, asset prices balloon, and markets soar. As the economy accelerates, the dollar steadily loses ground triggering a sharp increase in exports and sparking a viscous trade war with foreign trading partners. 

Then......it's anyone's guess? Either Bernanke's "nuclear option" succeeds in resuscitating the comatose economy or foreign holders of dollars and dollar-backed assets dump their gargantuan trove of US loot in a pile and set it ablaze. It's all a roll of the dice.

Source Global Research



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Johnny Ryan - Prison Pit 2 Preview







A gallery of preview pages from Johnny Ryan's second volume of his amazing Prison Pit comic are on display in this Fantagraphics flick gallery. You can preorder Prison Pit Volume 2, shipping this September, from the Fantagraphics website here. If you're new to Prison Pit, I encourage you to pick up both volumes, which are available at a discount when purchased together here. If you enjoy Monster Brains, you're really going to love Prison Pit.

The first volume of Prison Pit was previously mentioned here.

Johnny Ryan's "The Miracle" one of my favorite strips of his.