Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Year-end data shows deeper slump in US

Year-end data shows deeper slump in US

By Barry Grey

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Data released Tuesday on US consumer confidence, home prices and holiday retail sales all point to an acceleration and deepening of what is broadly acknowledged to be the worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

The Conference Board, a private research group, released its monthly report on consumer confidence, showing that confidence in the US economy fell to an all-time low in December. The index of consumer confidence dropped to 38.0, compared to a 44.7 reading in November.

The December number was the lowest reading since records began in 1967. It was far worse than the 45.8 forecast by economists surveyed by Dow Jones. Economists had expected that the sharp fall in gasoline prices would boost consumers' spirits, but this relative break for consumers was overwhelmed by soaring layoffs and falling household wealth resulting from the ongoing collapse of house prices and downward pressure on wages, benefits and savings.

The present situation index, a separate gauge of consumers' assessment of current economic conditions, plummeted to 29.4 in December from 42.3 the previous month. Consumer expectations of economic conditions over the next six months also fell, to 43.8 in December from 46.2 in November.

Consumer Confidence

The further erosion of the index "reflects the rapid and steep deterioration of economic conditions that occurred in the fourth quarter of 2008," said Lynn Franco, director of the Conference Board Consumer Research Center. "The overall economic outlook remains quite dismal for the first half of 2009," the Conference Board's consumer survey said in a statement.

The report indicated that the most important factor in depressing consumer sentiment is soaring unemployment. In regard to the labor market, 42 percent said that jobs are "hard to get," compared with 37.1 percent in November. The share of those who considered jobs "plentiful" fell to 6.2 percent from 8.7 percent, while those expecting business conditions to worsen over the next six months increased to 32.8 percent from 28.3 percent.

Also on Tuesday, the Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller housing index for October was released, showing a record 18 percent decline in home prices compared to the same period last year. The report revealed that the fall in home prices is accelerating and hitting virtually all parts of the country.

Home Prices

The composite home price index for 20 major metropolitan areas fell 2.2 percent from September. The price drops, both on a year-over-year and month-to-month basis, were worse than forecast by economists.

Standard & Poor's said a separate composite index of 10 metropolitan areas dropped 2.1 percent in October from September, for a 19.1 percent year-over-year decline, also a record. That marked the 10-city index's 13th straight monthly report of a record decline.

The 20-city S&P/Case-Shiller index has posted losses for 27 months in a row.

"The bear market continues. Home prices are back to their March 2004 levels," said David M. Blitzer, chairman of S&P's index committee. He added that both composite indexes and 14 of the 20 metropolitan areas are reporting new record home price drops.

As of October, the 10-city index is down 25 percent from its mid-2006 peak and the 20-city is down 23 percent, Blitzer said.

The Case-Shiller data came a week after the government reported that sales of previously occupied homes plunged, dropping 8.6 percent in November, and the median price fell 13 percent, the largest drop since the government survey began in 1968. New home sales fell 2.9 percent in November, their fourth drop in a row.

The International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) reported Tuesday that the just-completed holiday sales season was the worst in four decades. "The 2008 recession, widespread discounting and adverse pre-holiday weather all coalesced to produce the weakest holiday season since at least 1970," said Michael P. Niemira, ICSC's chief economist and director of research.

The ICSC/Goldman Sachs Retail Chain Store Sales Index fell 1.5 percent in the week ending December 27 from the prior week and was down 1.8 percent for the year. The ICSC said it expects December comparable store sales to decline by at least 1 percent, with some sectors recording double-digit declines. It expects November and December sales to be down 1.5 percent to 2 percent, which would be the first decline since the ICSC began tracking holiday sales in 1969.

It is widely predicted that the dismal holiday period will be rapidly followed by a wave of retail store closings, layoffs and bankruptcies. Retail stores already cut more than 90,000 jobs in November, and several major companies, including Circuit City and Linens N' Things, declared bankruptcy or started liquidation.

Bloomberg News reported Tuesday: "US retailers face a wave of store closings, bankruptcies and takeovers starting next month as holiday sales are shaping up to be the worst in 40 years." It quoted Burt Flickinger, managing director of the retail industry consulting firm Strategic Resource Group, as saying, "You'll see department stores, specialty stores, discount stores, grocery stores, drugstores, major chains either multi-regionally or nationally go out."

The ICSC is forecasting that retailers will close 73,000 stores in the first half of 2009, following the closure of 148,000 stores in the course of 2008.

Irish banks bailed out as economy unravels

Irish banks bailed out as economy unravels

By Steve James

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Statements by finance ministers that banks are "well capitalised and meet the regulatory capital requirements" have come to mean that a country's banks are near insolvent, tax payers will be presented with an enormous bill to bail them out and workers will face major assaults on their jobs, wages and pensions.

So it is in Ireland. Already severely impacted by the global economic crisis, on December 16 Finance Minister Brian Lenihan, announced that up to €10 billion would be necessary to help recapitalise three of Ireland's banks.

Allied Irish Bank (AIB), Bank of Ireland and the Anglo Irish Bank have all suffered damaging losses. Indicating that a major banking collapse was imminent, Lenihan stated that these banks "are embedded in our economy in terms of their borrowing, in terms of their deposits that they're of systemic importance."

Lenihan initially hoped that cash for the banks could be raised on international markets, but by December 21 the government conceded that €5.5 billion of state finance would be made available. Some €2 billion worth of shares would be purchased in both Bank of Ireland and AIB, in return for 25 percent of voting rights in both companies. Anglo Irish, the weakest, would be effectively nationalised, with the government taking a 75 percent stake in the company for just €1.5 billion.

The move comes after the Irish government's dramatic offer, in early October, to guarantee all bank deposits to a potential cost of over €400 billion. Intended as a move to prop up the Irish banks and prevent large depositors taking flight, the decision sparked an initial flood of deposits into Irish banks before finance ministries worldwide responded with similar measures. Eleven weeks later and the banks are again on the brink, the promises of early October a distant memory.

The Anglo Irish Bank is effectively worthless. Founded in 1964, it claims on its website a "long established reputation, built on relationship management, service quality and professionalism." Its shares are currently worth between 15 and 25 cents. A year ago they were each worth around €16.50 with a peak of over €17. The bank, once worth €12.9 billion is now worth between €114 million and €189 million.

According to Credit Suisse, the bank needs up to €3 billion in immediate capital to re-assure investors alarmed over the extent of its exposure to bad debts. Other estimates are much higher. The bank's total loans amount to €73 billion.

A year ago, Anglo Irish directors were boasting that the bank had no exposure to toxic US mortgage securities. Its base rather, was in the Irish commercial market. But now the Irish property market has collapsed with prices down 10 percent over the year, and even the most optimistic forecasts do not expect a revival before 2010. Anglo Irish exposure to local property is unclear and the source of much speculation. Some figures suggest up to 80 percent of its loans are on commercial property in Britain and Ireland.

In addition to the collapsing balance sheets, confidence in Anglo Irish and other Irish banks has been undermined by revelations surrounding the activities of the Anglo Irish board. It has emerged that Sean Fitzpatrick, the bank's chairman, had personally taken out €87 million in loans from the bank and deposited the cash, temporarily, in Irish Nationwide. Total loans to directors amounted to €150 million, almost as much as the bank is currently worth. Fitzpatrick, along with fellow director Lars Bradshaw, and chief executive David Drumm, have been forced to resign. The practice appears to have been habitual since 2001.

The loans are currently under investigation by the Irish Institute of Chartered Accountants, while PIBA, the country's largest broking group, told the press that it was "not certain that the appalling practices at Anglo Irish were not illegal."

The Financial Regulator, Patrick Neary, a man whose position is also under threat, claimed that the practice was not illegal. However, the Sunday Business Post, Ireland's financial newspaper, aghast at the consequences for Ireland's financial reputation, fulminated in an editorial: "How on earth could it ever be appropriate for a bank chairman to have a loan of €87 million from his own institution? And how could other executives stand by as the transaction to move the loan off the bank's books and back onto them was performed every year."

The paper also noted that the board of Irish Nationwide must have been aware of the loans for years, while the regulator himself appears to have sat on the information for months. The implication is that Fitzpatrick's practices were common knowledge among the financial elite and unlikely to be unique. Fitzpatrick has been replaced by Donal O'Connor, chair of the Dublin Docklands Development Corporation.

AIB, Bank of Ireland and the entire sector are not in much better shape, although share prices recovered somewhat on news of the bailout, unlike Anglo Irish which fell even further. According to Bloomberg, the ISEF index of Irish financial shares has fallen 72 percent since the October deposit guarantee. The six leading finance institutions between them are estimated by the financial regulator to hold some €39 billion in speculative property loans.

For its part AIB, in addition to accepting government cash, is seeking to prop up its position. The group's Polish subsidiary, Bank Zachodni, which employs 10,000 workers in Poland, has implemented a pay and recruitment freeze. Standard and Poors, the credit rating agency, has downgraded its view of both banks, noting of the Bank of Ireland, established in 1793, that it faced "deteriorating asset quality."

In the 1990s and early 2000s the Irish economy, dubbed the Celtic Tiger, grew by as much as 10 percent annually based on US corporate investment directed towards production for European markets. When the investment boom slowed, the economy was maintained by the property boom. Ireland now faces the rapid collapse of both.

The same week as the banking bailout, Dell Computers announced that it intended to close its Irish based laptop production operation. Despite pleading from Deputy Prime Minister Mary Coughlan, Dell intends to cut up to 2,000 workers from its Limerick site as it relocates production to Eastern Europe or China. The company opened a factory in Poland in January 2008, while 43 percent of its global purchasing is from China, a proportion that is expected to increase. Flextronics, who manufacture computer components, immediately announced that 118 jobs would go from its Limerick operation. Banta Global Turnkey, which also supplies Dell, intends to shed 65 workers.

According to the Irish Development Agency, green field investment projects fell by 22 percent in 2007, following a 25 percent drop in 2006, before the impact of the deepening world recession. Another survey from the same organisation suggested that 45 percent of corporate chiefs, who had chosen to invest in Ireland, now regretted the decision. The survey cited high labour costs, poor transport and network infrastructure.

Currency fluctuations are also causing serious problems. According to the Irish Small and Medium Enterprise Association, (ISME) up to 95,000 jobs are in danger. The group's head of research, Jim Curran, noted that the collapse of the British pound against the euro (Ireland is in the euro-zone) was having devastating consequences for Irish based companies, often food and agriculture related, exporting to Britain. Curran told the Sunday Business Post "when the old Irish pound hit £1.10 against Sterling in 1992, it was deemed a national crisis by the government. Now we are approaching the equivalent on £1.25, which is a national disaster."

An ISME report noted that 45 percent of companies reported a fall in exports, against 28 percent reporting an increase. Some €16 billion of Irish exports are intended for Britain.

Both Curran and Liam Shanahan, of the Irish Exporters Association, demanded the bailouts extended to the banks to be made available to smaller businesses. Both demanded pay cuts for workers and railed bitterly against the terms of a recent national pay agreement, "Towards 2016 Social Partnership" which, they claim, offered workers 6.5 percent increases.

In fact, the draft agreement, drawn up before the financial crisis really erupted, nominally offered workers 6 percent over 21 months. The agreement, reached between employers, government and the trade unions, opened with a three month pay freeze in the private sector and an 11 month freeze in the public sector. Moreover, the agreement offers employers an, "inability to pay" escape clause from the wage increases, and makes clear that the increases must be locally negotiated. In any case, the agreement is voluntary and cannot be enforced on employers.

The deteriorating economy is producing panic amongst business commentators. Writing in Finfacts, Michael Hennigan complained, "With the death of the Celtic Tiger and a grim outlook for the year ahead and beyond, the country is in dire need of an effort that could be termed the moral equivalent of war."

Hennigan denounced the government, and "crony capitalism, laziness, short-term political self-interest and a political system that produces politicians who are simply incompetent to hold ministerial office." But his main target was public sector workers, who he complained "earn between 10 percent and 30 percent more than comparable counterparts in the private sector." He concluded by calling for the Green Party to "exercise the one power it has" and bring down the government to force a general election on tax and spending.

Beyond Bailouts: On the Politics of Education After Neoliberalism

Beyond Bailouts: On the Politics of Education After Neoliberalism

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As the financial meltdown reaches historic proportions, free-market fundamentalism, or neoliberalism as it is called in some quarters, is losing both its claim to legitimacy and its claims on democracy. Once upon a time a perceived bastion of liberal democracy, the social state is being recalled from exile, as the decades-long conservative campaign against the alleged abuses of "big government" - its euphemism for a form of governance that assumed a measure of responsibility for the education, health and general welfare of its citizens - has been widely discredited. Not only have the starving and drowning efforts of the Right been revealed in all their malicious cruelty, but government is about to have a Cinderella moment; it is about to become "cool," as Prince Charming-elect Barack Obama famously put it. The idea has enchanted many. The economist and recent Nobel laureate, Paul Krugman, has argued that the correct response to the current credit and financial crisis is to "greatly expand the role of government to rescue an ailing economy," with the proviso that all new government programs must be devoid of even a hint of corruption.(1) Bob Herbert has called for more government regulation to offset the dark cloud of impoverishment that resulted from the last thirty years of deregulation, privatization and tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans.(2) And there are others, sophisticated thinkers all, such as Dean Baker, David Korten, Naomi Klein and Joseph E. Stiglitz, who have traced the roots of the current financial crisis to the adaptation of neoliberal economic policy, which fostered a grim alignment among the state, corporate capital and transnational corporations. Even New York Times op-ed writer Thomas Friedman has found a way to live comfortably with the idea. He wants to retool the country's educational mainframe, teaching young people to be more creative in their efforts to build "the most productivity-enhancing infrastructure," - even as the stated goal unhappily recapitulates the neoliberal fantasy that unchecked growth cures all social ills.(3) And a contrite Alan Greenspan, erstwhile disciple of Ayn Rand, recently admitted before a Congressional committee that he may have made a mistake in assuming "that enlightened self-interest alone would prevent bankers, mortgage brokers, investment bankers and others from gaming the system for their own personal financial benefit."(4)

With the exception of Greenspan and Friedman, all of these economists and intellectuals have rejected a market fundamentalism that: dismantled the historically guaranteed social provisions provided - however partially and imperfectly - by the welfare state; defined consumerism and profit-making as the essence of democratic citizenship, and equated freedom with the unrestricted ability of markets to govern economic relations free of government regulation. In doing so, they have repudiated the neoliberal dystopian vision that there are no alternatives to a market-driven society, which adhered to the inviolability and inevitability of economic law. And they have condemned a market rationality that advanced private interests as it sold off public goods and services, that sought to invest only in corporate and private sectors as it starved the social. The neoliberal mantra that There Is No Alternative has been replaced by a new, equally insistent and increasingly pervasive call for reform and regulation. With the evils of a neoliberal "voodoo" economics exposed at long last, we can look forward to the dawn of a new democratic age.

Unfortunately, what so many writers and scholars have taken for granted in their thoughtful criticisms of neoliberalism and their calls for immediate economic reform is the presupposition that we have on hand and in stock generations of young people and adults who have somehow been schooled for the last several decades in an entirely different set of values and cultural attitudes, who do not equate the virtue of reason with an ethically truncated instrumental rationality, who know alternative sets of social relations that are irreducible to the rolls of buyer and seller, and who are not only intellectually prepared but morally committed to the staggering challenges that comprehensive reform requires. This is where the fairy tale ending to an era of obscene injustice careens headlong into reality. Missing from the roadmaps that lead us back out of Alice's rabbit hole, back out of a distorted world where reason and judgment don't apply, is precisely the necessity to understand the success of neoliberalism as a pervasive political and educational force, a pedagogy and form of governance that couples "forms of knowledge, strategies of power and technologies of self."(5) Neoliberalism not only transformed economic agendas throughout the overdeveloped world, it transformed politics, restructured social relations, produced an array of reality narratives (not unlike reality TV) and disciplinary measures that normalized its perverted view of citizenship, the state and the supremacy of market relations. In the concerted effort to reverse course, dare one not take account of the profound emotional appeal, let alone ideological hold, of neoliberalism on the American public? The success of a market ideology that has produced shocking levels of inequality and impoverishment and a market morality that has spawned rapacious greed and corruption should raise fundamental questions. How did market rule prove capable of enlisting in such a compelling way the consent of the vast majority of Americans, who cast themselves, no less, in the role of the "moral majority?" The refusal of such an analysis, framed nonetheless as a response, by many theorists (including many leftists) typically explains that working people "do not, under normal circumstances, care deeply about anything beyond the size of their paychecks."(6) But this is too quick, and far too inadequate. We argue that matters of popular consciousness, public sentiment and individual and social agency are far too important as part of a larger political and educational struggle not be taken seriously by those who advocate the long and difficult project of democratic reform.

Tragically, few intellectuals providing critical commentary on the financial and credit crisis offer any insights regarding how the educational force of the culture actually works pedagogically to reproduce neoliberal ideology, values, identifications and consent. How exactly is it possible to imagine a more just, more equitable transformation in government and economics without a simultaneous transformation in culture, consciousness, social identities and values? We are not implying a vulgar economism is at work in such commentaries in our new and sophisticated information age, but there is a tendency to undertheorize the important relationship between the production of neoliberal economics, popular consent, cultural politics and pedagogy. In doing so, the primacy of the force and influence of formal and informal educational sites, or the apparatuses of what we call public pedagogy, which have mediated the ever-shifting and dynamic modes of common sense for the past several decades remains invisible and so unchecked. Yet the formation of this common sense, which nonetheless served to legitimate the institutional arrangements of a rapacious capitalism, shifting class formations and colorblinding racial logics, has emerged alongside a number of significant and unsettling cultural transformations, to name a few of the most phenomenal: the now much-discussed culture of fear; the hyperindividualization and isolation of expanding consumer society; the ideology of privatization and the dissolution of social totality (and with visions of the good society); and the creation of the punishing state organized around the criminalization of social problems.(7) Indeed, the current focus on the rationality of exchange and exploitation does not capture the fate of those populations - refugees, jobless youth, the poor, immigrants, black and Latino communities - who came to exemplify all that was allegedly wrong with social safety nets that produced pathological forms of dependency, who were often the unwitting targets of the war on crime and the war on terror, as it played out on the domestic front. These, moreover, are populations increasingly rendered disposable not only because they exist outside any productive notion of what it means to be a citizen-consumer, but because of a decades-long racist campaign that invented cultural deficits and deficiencies raising the specter of contagion and threat. The questions we need to be asking ourselves extend beyond how we proceed with competent and effective economic reform. There is a neoliberal logic that extends beyond the economic. We must also consider how we dismantle the culture of fear, how we learn to think beyond the narrow dictates of instrumental rationalities, how we decriminialize certain identities, how we depathologize the concept of dependency and recognize it as our common fate, how we reclaim the public good, how we reconstitute, in short, a viable and sustainable democratic society.

Does it not seem odd, for example, that we bemoan the lack of a culture of service among young college graduates and at the same time seek to improve an educational system by implementing school policy that financially rewards students for scholastic achievement? Is it not a bit naive to assume that such policy can end in any other way than a "pay to play" mentality? We must surely reform our financial institutions and our economic philosophies more generally, but so too must we reform those institutions, professional competencies, and social identities altered by decades of neoliberal rule. And that will prove a most challenging endeavor. It will require that universities, news media, hospitals and clinics, schools and other institutions return critical and reflexive decision-making capacities to professors, journalists, doctors, nurses, teachers and others and away from accountants and middle managers. It means that the bottom line will not determine curricula or shape research agendas; it will not drive the news media, determine a course of medical treatment or fix the outcome of clinical trials. Once-trusted relations between doctors and patients, teachers and students, parents and children will no longer suffer the flatting out of their respective rolls to that of buyer and seller.

In spite of the crucial connection between various modes of domination and pedagogy, there is little input from progressive social theorists of what it might mean to theorize how education as a form of cultural politics actually constructs particular modes of address, identification, affective investments and social relations that produce consent and complicity with the ethos and practice of neoliberalism. Hence, while the current economic crisis has called into question the economic viability of neoliberal values and policies, it often does so by implying that neoliberal rationality can be explained through an economic optic alone, and consequently gives the relationship of politics, culture and inequality scant analysis. Neoliberal rationality is lived and legitimated in relation to the intertwining of culture, politics and meaning. Any viable challenge to the culture of neoliberalism as well as the current economic crisis it has generated must address not merely the diffuse operations of power throughout civil society and the globe, but also what it means to engage those diverse educational sites producing and legitimating neoliberal common sense, whether they be newspapers, advertising, the Internet, television or more recent spheres developed as part of the new information revolution. In addition, it is crucial to examine what role public intellectuals, think tanks, the media and universities actually play pedagogically in constructing and legitimating neoliberal world views, and how the latter works pedagogically in producing neoliberal subjects and securing consent.

Politics is not simply about the production and protection of economic formations; it is also about the production of individuals, desires, identifications, values and modes of understanding for inhabiting the ideological and institutional forms that make up a social order. At the very least, any attempt to both understand the current crisis and what it would mean to produce a new kind of subject willing to invest in and struggle for a democratic society needs to raise another set of questions in addition to those currently posed. For example: What educational challenges would have to be addressed in overcoming the deeply felt view in American culture that criticism is destructive, or for that matter a deeply rooted anti-intellectualism reinforced daily through various forms of public pedagogical address made available by talk radio and the televisual infotainment sectors?[7] How might we engage pedagogical practices that open up a culture of questioning that enables people to resist and reject neoliberal assumptions that decouples private woes from public considerations, reduces citizenship to consumerism and makes free-market ideology coterminous with democracy? What are the implications of theorizing education, pedagogy and the practice of learning as essential to social change and where might such interventions take place? How might it be possible to theorize the pedagogical importance of the new media and the new modes of political literacy and cultural production they employ, or to analyze the circuits of power, translation and distribution that make up neoliberalism's vast pedagogical apparatus - extending from talk radio and screen culture to the Internet and newspapers? At stake here is both recognizing the importance of the media as a site of public pedagogy and breaking the monopoly of information, which is a central pillar of neoliberal common sense. These are only some of the questions that would be central to any viable recognition of what it would mean to theorize education as a condition that enables both critique, understood as more than the struggle against incomprehension, and social responsibility as the foundation for forms of intervention that are oppositional and empowering. To imagine a simpler solution is to be sold on a fairy tale.

(1). Paul Krugman, "Barack Be Good," New York Times (December 26, 2008), p. A25.

(2). Bob Herbert, "Stop Being Stupid," New York Times (December 27, 2008), p. A19.

(3). Thomas L. Friedman, "Time to Reboot America," New York Times (December 24, 2008), p. A21.

(4). Deborah Jones Barrow, "Greenspan Shrugged? Did Any Rand Cause Our Financial Crisis?" WowOwow (October 24, 2008). Online: http://www.wowowow.com/post/greenspan-shrugged-did-ayn-rand-cause-our-financial-crisis-128286

(5).Thomas Lemke, "Foucault, Governmentality, and Critique," Paper presented at the Rethinking Marxism Conference, University of Amherst (MA), September 21-24, 2000, Online: http://www.thomaslemkeweb.de/publikationen/Foucault,%20Governmentality,%20and%20Critique%20IV-2.pdf

(6). Ellen Willis, "Escape from Freedom: What's the Matter with Tom Frank (and the Lefties who Love Him)?" Situations 1:2 (2006), p. 9.

(7). This issue is taken up in great detail in Henry A. Giroux, Youth in a Suspect Society: Democracy or Disposability? (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009).

List of Troubled Banks

List of Troubled Banks

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Ready to see where your bank stands?

A few days ago, a friend of mine called me to ask if I had any idea how to figure out which banks would be the next to fail. Some extensive googling revealed that while lists of troubled banks obviously exist, none of them seem to be readily available to the public. Why? Because the bankers do not want you to have this. Just watch the president of the American Bankers Association in this interview talk about how important it is to keep this private.

This is a list of all of the banks in the United States and the corresponding Texas Ratio for each one. Developed by Gerard Cassidy, the Texas ratio is a measure of a bank's credit troubles. Basically, the higher the ratio, the worse the situation is for that particular bank. Banks with a ratio of 100 and higher are in very serious danger of collapse, and banks with a ratio of 50 or higher are vulnerable.

This is the formula I used:
100 * ((Non-performing Assets - U.S guaranteed loans) + Other REO) / (Equity + Loss Reserves)

All of this information is available on the FDIC website, but it's extremely difficult to gather in a meaningful way. In fact, I don't think you'll find a list like this anywhere else on the internet.

Obama dismisses Bush Pentagon appointees By Sam Youngman Posted: 12/30/08 07:37 PM [ET] Despite keeping Defense Secretary Robert Gates in the Pe

Obama dismisses Bush Pentagon appointees

By Sam Youngman

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Despite keeping Defense Secretary Robert Gates in the Pentagon, President-elect Obama’s transition team informed 90 Bush appointees their services will not be needed after Inauguration Day.

Scott Gration, a senior official on Obama’s transition team, called and emailed several of President Bush’s Pentagon appointees about 10 days ago to inform them they were being dismissed.

Those calls and emails were followed up by an email from Jim O'Beirne, the special assistant to the secretary of defense for White House liaisons, who expressed exasperation that Gration informed the employees directly instead of letting O'Beirne's office know first.

"With regard to the process, I am unable to provide an explanation," O'Beirne wrote on Tuesday in the email, which was obtained by The Hill. "I played no part in it, and I will not speculate why matters were handled as they were."

A spokesman for the Pentagon said Gates was "absolutely satisfied" with the way the transition was handled.

Gates "is sensitive to the fact that a number of appointees will not be able to stay on after [Jan.] 20th," Defense Department spokesman Geoff Morrell said. He noted Gates did request many appointees stay on and the "Obama team was able to cooperate."

But O'Beirne made it clear in the email that in some cases of dismissal, he thinks the employee's politics played a role in their being let go.

O'Beirne said that Gates had "sought to keep virtually his entire team in place pending the availability of Obama replacements."

Out of roughly 250 political appointees, 90 were dismissed.

"Whatever negotiations occurred in pursuit of that goal, the Gration notifications evidently reflected the results of those efforts," O'Beirne wrote.

Traditionally political appointees resign at the end of a president’s term, leaving the new commander in chief to put his own team in place but with Gates staying in the top Pentagon job there was reason to believe many of his staff would also stay.

The Obama team noted that a majority of the political appointees will remain in place.

"Given that our nation is at war, we have asked several political appointees at the Department of Defense to stay in their jobs past January 20th to help ensure a smooth transition. We are grateful for the cooperation and professionalism of the men and women at the Department of Defense in support of our men and women in uniform," an Obama transition official said.

Bush has repeatedly stated that he wanted to see an orderly transition to ensure that the next president would hit the ground running at a time when the country is fighting two wars and weathering one of the most significant economic crises in modern times.

Until now, that process seemed to be going smoothly as a number of departments have reported efficient and even cordial working relationships between Bush appointees and transition officials. The O'Beirne email is the first sign of discontent.

In the email, O'Beirne tried to assure the soon-to-be displaced employees that the decisions were based on "policy change in the Obama administration" and not based on performance.

However, he said, if employees "harbor residual doubts" then they can "content yourself with the likelihood that it was your outstanding performance as a Bush appointee that drew the opposition's attention to you."

"In that regard, you may take justifiable satisfaction that you were among the first to be chosen," O'Beirne wrote.

Other reasons O'Beirne cited for employees' dismissal were "politics, matter of policy and availability of qualified replacements and the strength of the permanent career and uniformed staffs."

Morrell, a political appointee who is staying at the Pentagon, noted that while O'Beirne is usually the liaison for political appointees Gates chief of staff Robert Rangel has taken over that role. Rangel is also staying on.

"Jim has had to defer many of the things he could normally respond to," Morrell said as a possible explanation for the email.

Why I Am a Socialist By Chris Hedges

Why I Am a Socialist

By Chris Hedges

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The corporate forces that are looting the Treasury and have plunged us into a depression will not be contained by the two main political parties. The Democratic and Republican parties have become little more than squalid clubs of privilege and wealth, whores to money and corporate interests, hostage to a massive arms industry, and so adept at deception and self-delusion they no longer know truth from lies. We will either find our way out of this mess by embracing an uncompromising democratic socialism—one that will insist on massive government relief and work programs, the nationalization of electricity and gas companies, a universal, not-for-profit government health care program, the outlawing of hedge funds, a radical reduction of our bloated military budget and an end to imperial wars—or we will continue to be fleeced and impoverished by our bankrupt elite and shackled and chained by our surveillance state.

The free market and globalization, promised as the route to worldwide prosperity, have been exposed as a con game. But this does not mean our corporate masters will disappear. Totalitarianism, as George Orwell pointed out, is not so much an age of faith as an age of schizophrenia. “A society becomes totalitarian when its structure becomes flagrantly artificial,” Orwell wrote, “that is when its ruling class has lost its function but succeeds in clinging to power by force or fraud.” Force and fraud are all they have left. They will use both.

There is a political shift in Europe toward an open confrontation with the corporate state. Germany has seen a surge of support for Die Linke (The Left), a political grouping formed 18 months ago. It is co-led by the veteran socialist “Red” Oskar Lafontaine, who has built his career on attacking big business. Two-thirds of Germans in public opinion polls say they agree with all or some of Die Linke’s platform. The Socialist Party of the Netherlands is on the verge of overtaking the Labor Party as the main opposition party on the left. Greece, beset with street protests and violence by disaffected youths, has seen the rapid rise of the Coalition of the Radical Left. In Spain and Norway socialists are in power. Resurgence is not universal, especially in France and Britain, but the shifts toward socialism are significant.

Corporations have intruded into every facet of life. We eat corporate food. We buy corporate clothes. We drive corporate cars. We buy our vehicular fuel and our heating oil from corporations. We borrow from corporate banks. We invest our retirement savings with corporations. We are entertained, informed and branded by corporations. We work for corporations. The creation of a mercenary army, the privatization of public utilities and our disgusting for-profit health care system are all legacies of the corporate state. These corporations have no loyalty to America or the American worker. They are not tied to nation states. They are vampires.

“By now the [commercial] revolution has deprived the mass of consumers of any independent access to the staples of life: clothing, shelter, food, even water,” Wendell Berry wrote in “The Unsettling of America.” “Air remains the only necessity that the average user can still get for himself, and the revolution had imposed a heavy tax on that by way of pollution. Commercial conquest is far more thorough and final than military defeat.”

The corporation is designed to make money without regard to human life, the social good or impact on the environment. Corporate laws impose a legal duty on corporate executives to make as much money as possible for shareholders, although many have moved on to fleece shareholders as well. In the 2003 documentary film “The Corporation” the management guru Peter Drucker says: “If you find an executive who wants to take on social responsibilities, fire him. Fast.”

A corporation that attempts to engage in social responsibility, that tries to pay workers a decent wage with benefits, that invests its profits to protect the environment and limit pollution, that gives consumers fair deals, can be sued by shareholders. Robert Monks, the investment manager, says in the film: “The corporation is an externalizing machine, in the same way that a shark is a killing machine. There isn’t any question of malevolence or of will. The enterprise has within it, and the shark has within it, those characteristics that enable it to do that for which it was designed.” Ray Anderson, the CEO of Interface Corp., the world’s largest commercial carpet manufacturer, calls the corporation a “present day instrument of destruction” because of its compulsion to “externalize any cost that an unwary or uncaring public will allow it to externalize.”

“The notion that we can take and take and take and take, waste and waste, without consequences, is driving the biosphere to destruction,” Anderson says.

In short, the film, based on Joel Bakan’s book “The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power,” asserts that the corporation exhibits many of the traits found in people clinically defined as psychopaths.

Psychologist Dr. Robert Hare lists in the film psychopathic traits and ties them to the behavior of corporations:

  • callous unconcern for the feelings for others;
  • incapacity to maintain enduring relationships;
  • reckless disregard for the safety of others;
  • deceitfulness: repeated lying and conning others for profit;
  • incapacity to experience guilt;
  • failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behavior.

And yet, under the American legal system, corporations have the same legal rights as individuals. They give hundreds of millions of dollars to political candidates, fund the army of some 35,000 lobbyists in Washington and thousands more in state capitals to write corporate-friendly legislation, drain taxpayer funds and abolish government oversight. They saturate the airwaves, the Internet, newsprint and magazines with advertisements promoting their brands as the friendly face of the corporation. They have high-priced legal teams, millions of employees, skilled public relations firms and thousands of elected officials to ward off public intrusions into their affairs or halt messy lawsuits. They hold a near monopoly on all electronic and printed sources of information. A few media giants—AOL-Time Warner, General Electric, Viacom, Disney and Rupert Murdoch’s NewsGroup—control nearly everything we read, see and hear.

“Private capital tends to become concentrated in [a] few hands, partly because of competition among the capitalists, and partly because technological development and the increasing division of labor encourage the formation of larger units of production at the expense of the smaller ones,” Albert Einstein wrote in 1949 in the Monthly Review in explaining why he was a socialist. “The result of these developments is an oligarchy of private capital the enormous power of which cannot be effectively checked even by a democratically organized political society. This is true since the members of legislative bodies are selected by political parties, largely financed or otherwise influenced by private capitalists who, for all practical purposes, separate the electorate from the legislature. The consequence is that the representatives of the people do not in fact sufficiently protect the interests of the underprivileged sections of the population. Moreover, under existing conditions, private capitalists inevitably control, directly or indirectly, the main sources of information (press, radio, education). It is thus extremely difficult, and indeed in most cases quite impossible, for the individual citizen to come to objective conclusions and to make intelligent use of his political rights.”

Labor and left-wing activists, especially university students and well-heeled liberals, have failed to unite. This division, which is often based on social rather than economic differences, has long stymied concerted action against ruling elites. It has fractured the American left and rendered it impotent.

“Large sections of the middle class are being gradually proletarianized; but the important point is that they do not, at any rate not in the first generation, adopt a proletarian outlook,” Orwell wrote in 1937 during the last economic depression. “Here I am, for instance, with a bourgeois upbringing and a working-class income. Which class do I belong to? Economically I belong to the working class, but it is almost impossible for me to think of myself as anything but a member of the bourgeoisie. And supposing I had to take sides, whom should I side with, the upper class which is trying to squeeze me out of existence, or the working class whose manners are not my manners? It is probable that I, personally, in any important issue, would side with the working class. But what about the tens or hundreds of thousands of others who are in approximately the same position? And what about that far larger class, running into millions this time—the office-workers and black-coated employees of all kinds—whose traditions are less definite middle class but who would certainly not thank you if you called them proletarians? All of these people have the same interests and the same enemies as the working class. All are being robbed and bullied by the same system. Yet how many of them realize it? When the pinch came nearly all of them would side with their oppressors and against those who ought to be their allies. It is quite easy to imagine a working class crushed down to the worst depths of poverty and still remaining bitterly anti-working-class in sentiment; this being, of course, a ready-made Fascist party.”

Coalitions of environmental, anti-nuclear, anti-capitalist, sustainable-agriculture and anti-globalization forces have coalesced in Europe to form and support socialist parties. This has yet to happen in the United States. The left never rallied in significant numbers behind Cynthia McKinney or Ralph Nader. In picking the lesser of two evils, it threw its lot in with a Democratic Party that backs our imperial wars, empowers the national security state and does the bidding of corporations.

If Barack Obama does not end the flagrant theft of taxpayer funds by corporate slugs and the disgraceful abandonment of our working class, especially as foreclosures and unemployment mount, many in the country will turn in desperation to the far right embodied by groups such as Christian radicals. The failure by the left to offer a democratic socialist alternative will mean there will be, in the eyes of many embittered and struggling working- and middle-class Americans, no alternative but a perverted Christian fascism. The inability to articulate a viable socialism has been our gravest mistake. It will ensure, if this does not soon change, a ruthless totalitarian capitalism.

Israel continues to pound Gaza as troops mass on border

Israel continues to pound Gaza as troops mass on border

By Julie Hyland

Go To Original

Israeli jets continued to pound the Gaza Strip for a fourth day amidst threats of worse to come. As the death toll climbed, Israel's war crimes received barely any censure from Western and Arab leaders, and continued to have the more-or-less open approval of Washington.

The number killed in Operation Cast Lead has now surpassed 375. The United Nations says at least 62 of these are civilians, but this only covers women and children killed. No males above a certain age are included in the civilian death toll. Some 1,700 people have been wounded.

Israeli warplanes have dropped tons of bombs on government buildings and infrastructure over the last days in what Defence Minister Ehud Barak described as an "all-out war against Hamas." Brigadier-General Dan Harel, Israeli deputy chief of staff, said the objective was to erase Hamas.

"After this operation there will not be a single Hamas building left standing in Gaza, and we plan to change the rules of the game," he said.

"We are hitting not only terrorists and launchers, but also the whole Hamas government and all its wings. We are hitting government buildings, production factories, security wings and more."

An unnamed leading Israeli military official said, "There are many aspects of Hamas, and we are trying to hit the whole spectrum, because everything is connected and everything supports terrorism against Israel."

So far, Israel has admitted targeting the police academy, government ministries and a naval base on the beach and the marina. But, as Hamas is also responsible for administering any semblance of welfare provision that exists, nothing is off-target, including the University of Gaza, whose five-story science building was flattened on Monday morning, and a sports centre, as well as the homes of Hamas leaders and supporters.

Given that Hamas won the majority of seats in the June 2006 elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council, the population of Gaza in its entirety is considered a legitimate target by the Zionist regime.

Five sisters were amongst those killed on Monday as the mosque next door to their home was struck by Israeli bombs. Jawaher, 4, Dina, 8, Samar, 12, Ikram, 15, and Tahrir, 17, were killed in their beds when one of the walls of their small home collapsed during the strike.

An Italian member of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) offered this description: "Yesterday, I and three other members of the ISM passed the whole night in the al Awda hospital near Jabalia.... Around 11:30 p.m. a bomb fell about 800 metres from the hospital, with its shockwave sending fragments of glass wounding the wounded...an ambulance was wrecked in its place, they knocked down a mosque, fortunately empty at that hour. Unfortunately...the Israeli bomb also destroyed a building adjacent to the mosque. We saw them pull out of the ruins the little bodies of six sisters. Five are dead, one is in grave condition."

The Israeli military claimed that the mosque was a legitimate target because it was a "known gathering place" of Hamas supporters.

Another two sisters aged 11 and 4 were killed on Tuesday when an Israeli rocket struck their donkey cart in the northern town of Beit Hanun.

Richard Falk, the special rapporteur for human rights in the Palestinian territories, accused Israel of "shocking atrocities by using modern weaponry against a defenceless population—attacking a population that has been enduring a severe blockade for many months."

Food is in extremely short supply. UN food distribution was halted on December 18 due to border closures, despite some 80 percent of Gaza's 1.5 million people being dependent on food aid.

Cemeteries are said to be filling up so fast there is barely enough space for burials, while bodies pile up in hospitals, overwhelmed by the humanitarian catastrophe. Gaza's largest hospital Al Shifa had been placing corpses in ice-cream freezers when the morgue was full, but is unable to do so any longer due to electricity shortages caused by the bombardment.

Medicine and medical supplies have also run out due to the year-long siege imposed by Israel, and hospitals are treating only life-threatening cases.

On Tuesday, the Free Gaza Movement reported that its vessel, the Dignity, which it was using to transport medical supplies by sea to the besieged territory, was rammed and turned back by Israeli naval ships. The Dignity sustained heavy damage, the group reported, although no one was hurt. "When attacked, the Dignity was clearly in international waters, 90 miles off the coast of Gaza," a press release stated, describing Israel's actions as "wilful and criminal."

Israel's Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said, "The fact that the ship was carrying journalists, including a CNN crew that has already broadcasted live three times, proves that this was a provocation on the part of the media."

The administration's nervousness at the presence of journalists is conditioned by the scale of the devastation it has already wreaked, and the even worse atrocities it is preparing.

On Sunday, Israeli jets destroyed the offices of Al Aqsa Television. The assault, in which one person was injured, was condemned by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) as demonstrating "that when it comes to its own military and political agenda Israel is willing to abandon its responsibilities under international law."

Gaza has been declared off limits to journalists since the commencement of the bombing campaign. On Monday, this was extended into its border region with Israel. The ban has been denounced as unprecedented by the Foreign Press Association, which has sought to mount a legal challenge to the order.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert described the bombardment as just "the first of several stages" of military action, as Israeli troops continue to mass along the border with Gaza. Deputy Defence Minister Matan Vilnai warned that Israel was "ready for a prolonged conflict and for weeks of combat."

Spiegel Online cited an anonymous army spokeswoman, stating, "The ground forces are ready.... The option [of a ground operation] exists. It is possible that we will apply it but for the moment we are only hitting from the air and the sea."

Israel's decision to declare the area around Gaza a "closed military zone" was seen as an indication that a ground offensive could be imminent.

Israel claims that its actions are necessary in order to protect Israeli civilians in border areas from rocket and mortar fire by Hamas. But as David Morrison, from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, noted in the Irish Times, between the Israeli-Hamas ceasefire brokered in June and December 27, "no Israeli, civilian or military, was killed as a result of rocket or mortar fire from Gaza."

It was not until early November, when Israel broke the cease-fire that the largely ineffective mortar-fire resumed. On November 4, "while the world was watching the election of Barack Obama," Israel killed six Palestinians in Gaza, Morrison wrote. "As a result of this unprovoked assault by Israel, the ceasefire broke down—and rocket or mortar fire from Gaza started again."

These facts are well known to Western leaders and the Arab states who, while intoning their regret at the loss of innocent lives in Gaza, essentially portray Israel as the aggrieved party.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon complained of Israel's "excessive use of force," even as he parroted the claim that its actions were in self-defence.

The European Commission called for a truce, but even this mealy-mouthed appeal was brushed aside by Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, who stated that there "is no reason" why Israel "would accept a ceasefire at this stage."

Israel has been able to rely on the unconditional support of its Washington paymasters for its military onslaught. White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said, "The United States understands that Israel needs to take actions to defend itself."

Ehud Barak cited the remarks of Barack Obama during his June 2008 visit to the city of Sderot. Speaking of the mortar-fire aimed at the city from Gaza, Obama had stated, "Had anyone fired rockets against my home while my two daughters were sleeping I would have done everything to stop him and I assume the Israelis would do the same thing."

"That is what Obama said and that is what we are doing," Barak concluded.

More broadly, the Jerusalem Post December 30 reported on the success of Israel's international "media offensive." It cited former UN ambassador Dan Gillerman, who was drafted into the propaganda offensive by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni shortly before the current assault, stating approvingly that "at this moment Israel has no small measure of understanding and support, and even approval, from many countries."

"We haven't seen dramatic condemnations [from world leaders], only the expected and generic calls for calm and cease-fire," Gillerman stated. "Even in the UN I didn't see anyone happy to condemn us."

Tony Blair, appointed Middle East envoy with much fanfare in June 2007, is not expected to visit the area until next week for talks between Israeli and Palestinian officials—giving Israel even greater latitude for its offensive.

And it was reported that a planned "emergency Arab summit" on events in Gaza, scheduled for Qatar on Friday, might not be held. According to Middle East Online, the Arab League was to have agreed to the summit as a venue for discussions on the Israeli offensive during today's meeting of foreign ministers in Cairo. But this was still uncertain, because some countries such as Egypt are not in favour, it reported.

"Staging an Arab summit could be dangerous and subject to criticism, especially if it does not result in practical measures," Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit said.

A meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council yesterday issued a statement that made no reference to a proposal by Qatar for an emergency Arab summit.

Egypt has continued to maintain tight control over its borders with Gaza, preventing the beleaguered Palestinian population from finding refuge. Its complicity with Israel has meant that, alongside other Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia, it has become a target for protests.

Demonstrations were held yesterday outside Egyptian embassies and concerns in Yemen and Iran.

Demonstrations were also ongoing outside the Israeli embassy in London, where riot police have clashed with protesters over the last days and a number have been arrested, as well as in Berlin, Athens and Stockholm.

Clashes are also taking place within Israel. YNet News reported that hundreds of "Jewish and Arab students belonging to a leftist movement" at Haifa University staged a demonstration Monday, calling for an end to Operation Cast Lead.

"During the protests, an argument broke out between left-wing lecturers and IDF officers studying at the university, who were dressed in uniform and carrying their weapons," it reported, and there were angry confrontations with right-wing students.

Protests were also held at campuses on the Universities of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Israeli security forces were reported as having detained some 100 Arab residents in east Jerusalem following disturbances involving approximately 1,000 people in the area. In addition, 107 Arab teenagers were arrested in the northern district of Jerusalem, also for their alleged involvement in protests against Israel's actions.

The New York Times and Gaza: Justifying genocide

The New York Times and Gaza: Justifying genocide

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On the fourth day of the Israeli aerial blitz against the population of Gaza, the New York Times, the mouthpiece of US establishment liberalism, weighed in on the subject for the first time on its editorial pages.

In a lead editorial, the Times made its position clear in short order. "Israel must defend itself," it began. "And Hamas must bear responsibility for ending a six-month cease-fire this month with a barrage of rocket attacks into Israeli territory."

There is little to distinguish the "newspaper of record's" version of events from the mendacious account being peddled by the American media in general: the Palestinians are the aggressors and Israel the victim. Never mind the grim and unequal equation of the conflict: roughly 100 Palestinians killed for every Israeli.

The Times' potted explanation of the war, presented as though it were common knowledge and irrefutable fact, conveniently ignores that it was the Israeli military which broke the cease-fire with a provocative cross-border raid into the Gaza Strip in which six members of the Hamas security force were killed. The date of the raid was November 4, not by coincidence Election Day in America. The timing is an indication that the attack was a politically calculated provocation by the Israeli regime, which it held in abeyance until after the electoral contest in the US, its indispensable patron, had been concluded.

Press reports in Israel indicate that the attack on Gaza had been actively prepared for six months, with the Zionist regime agreeing to the cease-fire only to give its military the time it needed. One of the principal aims of the operation was to reestablish the credibility of Israel's military after the humiliating defeat it suffered in Lebanon two-and-a-half years ago and to thereby intimidate all others in the region.

The present military operation has been launched by Israel not as an act of self-defense but in pursuit of definite geopolitical aims and in response to its own internal political and social contradictions.

The Times editorial engages in a bit of hand-wringing over whether the slaughter in Gaza is good for Israel—not a word of sympathy for the dead and maimed Palestinian men, women and children—and issues a hypocritical appeal for the Israeli regime to "limit civilian casualties."

Passed over in silence is the brutal Israeli blockade which has left Gaza's population impoverished and hungry, without adequate food, medical supplies, electricity, potable water or other basic necessities of life. The cease-fire was supposed to alleviate these desperate conditions, but Israel merely tightened the noose around Gaza. Nor is there any mention of how 1.5 million people came to be trapped in these desperate conditions and on this narrow strip of land as a result 60 years of Israeli expulsions and occupations.

If the Times editorial is merely cynical, the opinion piece which the newspaper chose to publish on the opposite page of its Tuesday edition is colored by outright criminality.

The author is Benny Morris, a prominent Israeli historian, whose views were formerly identified with the Israeli left, but who in the past several years has swung decisively over to the extreme right.

"Why Israel Feels Threatened" is the title of Morris's piece, which provides a more lengthy and sophisticated justification of the slaughter in Gaza and a sinister warning of greater crimes still to come.

He presents a portrait of Israel surrounded by increasingly dangerous enemies, while confronted with dwindling support from its allies in the West. "To the east, Iran... to the north, the Lebanese fundamentalist organization Hezbollah... To the south, Israel faces the Islamist Hamas movement, which controls the Gaza Strip."

As a result of these "dire threats," Morris insists, "Israelis feel that the walls—and history—are closing in on their 60-year-old state."

Who is threatening whom? Israel is the one state in the world that recognizes no permanent boundaries. In the north, it has repeatedly invaded Lebanon, on the last occasion in July 2006, carrying out massive bombings of the country's south and Beirut's suburbs and killing thousands of civilians. In the east, it has imposed unbearable conditions of life on West Bank Palestinians, sealing them behind an apartheid wall and subjecting them to restrictions, roadblocks and repression. And in the south, it is now pounding Gaza's teeming neighborhoods with high explosives, while preparing for a ground invasion.

As for Iran, Morris spoke for the bullying state that he represents in an op-ed piece that the Times published in July, essentially threatening the Iranian people with nuclear annihilation. Urging a conventional bombing attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, Morris wrote then that the operation would result in "thousands of Iranian casualties and international humiliation" for Iran. He added that, if this attack failed to halt Iran's nuclear program, "The alternative is an Iran turned into a nuclear wasteland."

In his latest piece, Morris reserves what he perceives as the darkest threat for last: demography. The very existence of 1.3 million Arab citizens inside Israel's pre-1967 borders, he warns, "offers the recipe" for the "dissolution of the Jewish state."

These Arab-Israelis, he states, have become "radicalized" and are "embracing Palestinian national aims." Moreover, higher birthrates among Arab-Israelis, if the trend continues, mean that they would constitute the majority of Israel's citizens by as early as 2040. Within as little as five years, Arabs could become the majority within the borders of pre-1948 Palestine (including Israel, the West Bank and Gaza).

"Most Jews," Morris asserts, "see the Arab minority as a potential fifth column."

He concludes that the threats facing Israel are "difficult to counter" because of Israel's commitment to "Western democratic and liberal norms." He adds darkly that the sense of danger from these developments "has this past week led to one violent reaction. Given the new realities, it would not be surprising if more powerful explosions were to follow."

For the casual reader of the Times, this piece by Morris is clearly meant to inculcate a weary acceptance of still greater atrocities in the name of Israeli "self defense."

The politics of Benny Morris

But, as the Times is well aware, Morris is a fervent and public advocate of ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. For those more familiar with his political record, the genocidal conclusions that flow from his arguments are clear.

Morris first gained a name for himself as one of Israel's so-called "new historians," who in the 1980s exposed the founding myths of the Zionist state and provided documentary evidence that Israel was established only through the violent and forced expulsion of up to three-quarters of a million Palestinians from their land. This population of stateless refugees has now swelled to nearly 4 million.

While he was then considered a man of the left, beginning in 2000, with the onset of the second Intifada and the collapse of the Camp David "final status" talks, he turned sharply to the right. He upheld his earlier findings—and produced new ones showing that Israeli military forces were responsible for a deliberate campaign of massacres and rapes aimed at driving out the Palestinians—but then defended these crimes as necessary and justifiable.

In a January 2004 interview with Ha'aretz Magazine, Morris spelled out his position: "Under some circumstances expulsion is not a war crime. I don't think that the expulsions of 1948 were war crimes. You can't make an omelet without breaking eggs. You have to dirty your hands."

Morris went further, declaring that Israel's founder, David Ben-Gurion, "should have done a complete job" and "cleaned the whole country" of Arabs. As historical justification, he added, "Even the great American democracy could not have been created without the annihilation of the Indians."

"There are circumstances in history that justify ethnic cleansing," he continued. "I know that this term is completely negative in the discourse of the 21st century, but when the choice is between ethnic cleansing and genocide—the annihilation of your people—I prefer ethnic cleansing."

Morris was not merely offering his opinions on history. He insisted in his 2004 interview that under "other circumstances... which are likely to be realized in five or ten years," characterized by war and crisis, "acts of expulsion will be entirely reasonable. They may even be essential."

Elsewhere in the Ha'aretz interview, he described the Palestinian people as "a wild animal that has to be locked up in one way or another," and he concluded, "When the choice is between destroying or being destroyed, it's better to destroy."

This is the language of fascism. It offers a pseudo-intellectual justification of the policy known in Israel as "transfer"—that is, the forced expulsion of the remaining Arab population from Israeli territory, and potentially from the West Bank and Gaza as well. Initially championed by such fascistic elements as the late Meir Kahane, it has been increasingly embraced by Israel's main parties and leaders. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, a leading candidate for prime minister, expressed this policy somewhat delicately recently, declaring that as Israel's leader she would "approach the Palestinian residents of Israel ... and tell them: ‘Your national aspirations lie elsewhere.'"

The distinction that Morris makes between ethnic cleansing and genocide is a false one. One practice leads to the other. The Nazis' "final solution" initially called for forced emigration, the expulsion of Jews from Germany. Then came the death camps.

The Times' publication of Morris's column only underscores its own opportunistic and cynical attitude towards ethnic cleansing and genocide. Whether it opposes these practices or tacitly accepts them is entirely dependent on who is carrying them out and whose interests are served.

Thus, on Sunday it published a piece by its columnist Nicholas Kristof urging Obama to take military action against Sudan over what he described as genocide in Darfur. Similarly, the newspaper was a major proponent of US intervention in the former Yugoslavia in response to ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and charges of the same in Kosovo.

When opposing ethnic cleansing serves to further US consolidation of its control over oil-rich countries in Africa or to expand eastward the domination of NATO, it becomes a moral imperative. When it is practiced by US allies, it is quietly supported.

The slaughter in Gaza and the more horrific crimes being suggested by the likes of Morris are a telling indication of the political, social and moral blind alley reached by the nationalist project initiated under the banner of Zionism.

In 1938, Leon Trotsky stated that the "attempt to solve the Jewish question through the migration of Jews to Palestine" represented a "tragic mockery of the Jewish people." He issued a prescient warning that "The future development of military events may well transform Palestine into a bloody trap" and insisted that "the salvation of the Jewish people is bound up inseparably with the overthrow of the capitalist system."

NY Times urges Obama to stand up for labor

The Labor Agenda

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There is no doubt that President-elect Barack Obama has chosen a labor secretary who could be a transformative force in a long-neglected arena. The question is whether he will let her.

Hilda Solis, a United States representative from Southern California, is the daughter of immigrant parents with union jobs. She has been an unfailing advocate of workers’ rights during eight years in Congress and before that, in California politics.

Ms. Solis has been a leader on traditional workplace issues, like a higher minimum wage and an enhanced right to form unions. She also has helped to expand the labor agenda by sponsoring legislation to create jobs in green technology, and in her support for community health workers and immigration reform.

Her record in Congress dovetails with the mission of the Labor Department, to protect and further the rights and opportunities of working people. It also dovetails with many of the promises Mr. Obama made during the campaign, both in its specifics and in its focus on the needs of America’s working families.

The main issue is whether the Obama administration will assert a forceful labor agenda in the face of certain protests from business that now — during a recession — is not the time to move forward.

The first and biggest test of Mr. Obama’s commitment to labor, and to Ms. Solis, will be his decision on whether or not to push the Employee Free Choice Act in 2009. Corporate America is determined to derail the bill, which would make it easier than it has been for workers to form unions by requiring that employers recognize a union if a majority of employees at a workplace sign cards indicating they wish to organize.

Ms. Solis voted for the bill when it passed the House in 2007. Senate Republicans prevented the bill from coming to a vote that same year. Mr. Obama voted in favor of bringing the bill to the Senate floor and supported it during the campaign.

The measure is vital legislation and should not be postponed. Even modest increases in the share of the unionized labor force push wages upward, because nonunion workplaces must keep up with unionized ones that collectively bargain for increases. By giving employees a bigger say in compensation issues, unions also help to establish corporate norms, the absence of which has contributed to unjustifiable disparities between executive pay and rank-and-file pay.

The argument against unions — that they unduly burden employers with unreasonable demands — is one that corporate America makes in good times and bad, so the recession by itself is not an excuse to avoid pushing the bill next year. The real issue is whether enhanced unionizing would worsen the recession, and there is no evidence that it would.

There is a strong argument that the slack labor market of a recession actually makes unions all the more important. Without a united front, workers will have even less bargaining power in the recession than they had during the growth years of this decade, when they largely failed to get raises even as productivity and profits soared. If pay continues to lag, it will only prolong the downturn by inhibiting spending.

Another question clouding the labor agenda is whether Mr. Obama will give equal weight to worker concerns — from reforming health care to raising the minimum wage — while the financial crisis is still playing out. Most members of his economic team are veterans of the Clinton administration who tilt toward Wall Street. In the Clinton era, financial issues routinely trumped labor concerns. If Mr. Obama’s campaign promises are to be kept, that mindset cannot prevail again. Mr. Obama’s creation of a task force on middle-class issues, to be led by Vice President-elect Joseph Biden and including Ms. Solis and other high-ranking officials, is an encouraging sign that labor issues will not be given short shrift.

There are many nonlegislative issues on the agenda for Ms. Solis. Safety standards must be updated: in the last eight years, the Labor Department has issued only one new safety rule of its own accord; it issued a few others only after being compelled by Congress or the courts. Overtime rules that were weakened in 2004 need to be restored. To enforce labor standards, the Labor Department will need more staff and more money, both of which have been cut deeply by President Bush.

Only the president can give the new labor secretary the clout she will need to do well at a job that has been done so badly for so long, at such great cost to the quality of Americans’ lives.

In Pictures: Massacre of Gazan Children

In Pictures: Massacre of Gazan Children

bambino0.jpg

December 30, 2008

PNN -Israeli forces killed two girls in an air attack on Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip early Tuesday. Local sources report that a missile destroyed a house belonging to Talal Hamdan in Beit Hanoun today, killing his two daughters of 12 and 4 years old. A son is reported seriously injured. Yesterday Israeli forces killed four sisters and a four year old boy. Over 40 children have been killed since Saturday.



The bodies of two girls, aged four and 11, who were killed in an Israeli air strike in Beit Hanun in the northern Gaza Strip Strip December 30, 2008.



Palestinians carry the body of 4-year-old Lama Hamdan during her funeral in the town of Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip December 30, 2008.



Palestinians bury the body of 4-year-old Lama Hamdan at Beit Hanoun cemetery in the northern Gaza Strip December 30, 2008.



Palestinians mourn beside the bodies of three children in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip December 29, 2008.




Three Palestinian children from the Balosha family, of five who were all killed in the same Israeli missile strike, are seen in the morgue before their burial at Kamal Edwan hopsital in Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip, Monday, Dec. 29, 2008




Palestinian children from the Balosha family, who were all killed in the same Israeli missile strike, are seen in the morgue before their burial at Kamal Edwan hopsital in Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip, Monday, Dec. 29, 2008.




Palestinian women mourn over the bodies of three Palestinian children from the Balosha family, of five who were all killed in the same Israeli missile strike, in the morgue before their burial at Kamal Edwan hopsital in Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip, Monday, Dec. 29, 2008.




A Palestinian man buries the body of 4-year-old Dena Balosha at Beit Lahiya cemetery in the northern Gaza Strip December 29, 2008.




A Palestinian man carries the body of his 4-year-old daughter Dena Balosha during the funeral for her and her four sisters in Jabalya refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip December 29, 2008.




A Palestinian mourner shouts as he lifts the body of a child from the Balosha family, of which three children and two teenagers, were killed in an Israeli missile strike,durng their funeral in the Jebaliya refugee camp, northern Gaza Strip, Monday, Dec. 29, 2008.




A Palestinian man buries the body of 5-year-old Sodqi al-Absi in Rafah cemetery in the southern Gaza Strip December 29, 2008.




A Palestinian mourner carries the body of 4-year-old Dena Balosha, foreground, one of five members of the same family including three children and two teenagers who were killed in an Israeli missile strike, during their funeral in the Jebaliya refugee camp, in the northern Gaza Strip, Monday, Dec. 29, 2008




The father of Palestinian Dena Balosha, 4, left, one of five members of the same family including three children and two teenagers who were killed in an Israeli missile strike, carries her body during their funeral in the Jebaliya refugee camp, in the northern Gaza Strip, Monday, Dec. 29, 2008.




bedroom of 5 killed girls



Samera Baalusha (34) carries her surving child Mohamad (15 months) while she waits to see the body of her daughter Jawaher Baalusha (aged 4) during the funeral held for her and four of her sisters who were killed in an Israeli missile strike, on December 29, 2008 in the Jebaliya refugee camp, in the northern Gaza Strip

Palestinian mourners bury 8 children killed in Israeli air strikes



Dec 29 - Palestinian mourners on Monday (December 29) buried 8 children who were killed in Israeli air strikes on Gaza Strip.

In the northern Gaza town of Jabalya, hundreds took to the streets to attend a funeral procession for five girls of the same family who were killed in one Israeli strike.










In this image taken from APTN video, Palestinian men carry two injured children into hospital after Israeli aircraft struck Hamas security compounds across Gaza in Gaza City on Saturday Dec. 27, 2008.





A wounded Palestinian boy is carried by his father following an Israel air strike in Gaza December 28, 2008.





A Palestinian boy is carried to al-Shifa hospital following an Israel air strike in Gaza December 28, 2008





A Palestinian security force officer carries a wounded girl into the emergency room at Shifa hospital in Gaza City, Saturday, Dec. 27, 2008.






A Palestinian girl wounded in an Israeli missile strike is carried into the emergency area at Shifa hospital in Gaza City, Saturday, Dec. 27, 2008.





A Palestinian man carries his wounded child to the treatment room of Kamal Edwan hospital following an Israeli missile strike in Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip, Monday, Dec. 29, 2008.








A wounded Palestinian boy is carried by his father at a hospital in Gaza City following an Israeli air strike







Children Wounded - Image by Watan News Agency




Shifa hospital ICU: a six year old down’s syndrom with brain trauma




Children From Gaza - December 27, 2008



Children of Gaza - song on guitar


Live recording of Doc Jazz playing a (new!) song emanating from the grief not only over the war crimes committed by the thugs of the state of Israel against defenseless Palestinian children - but over the criminal silence with which this Holocaust is condoned ... Break the Silence!

Visit http://www.soundclick.com/docjazz for more songs by the Palestinian writer of songs of liberation.