Friday, January 9, 2009

The brutal face of Israel’s “total war” on Gaza

The brutal face of Israel’s “total war” on Gaza

By Bill Van Auken

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While Israel has sought to conceal the atrocities that it is carrying out against Gazas civilian population, reports of aid workers and testimony of survivors have provided a searing picture of the carnage unleashed by its military assault.

The Israeli government has barred the international media from entering the besieged Gaza Strip for good reason. It wants as much as possible to limit the images of the dead and maimed civilian men, women and children from reaching the outside world and to prevent the Palestinians trapped inside the blockaded territory from telling their stories.

Nonetheless, accounts of war crimes carried out by the Israeli military continue to come out of Gaza. One source is the testimony gathered by Israeli human rights groups, which have sought to telephone Gaza residents, with increasing difficulty as the bombardment has disrupted telecommunications throughout the territory.

BTselem, the Israeli group that monitors human rights in the occupied territory, spoke to 19-year-old Meysa a-Samuni, a young woman with an infant daughter, who witnessed the massacre of much of her family in the Zeitun neighborhood south of Gaza City. They were killed when Israeli troops shelled a house which they and others had been ordered to enter.

She told BTselem: On Sunday [4 January], around 9 a.m., soldiers came to the house of my father-in-law, Rashed a-Samuni, which is located next to a concrete engineering company. We were 14 people in the house, all of us from a-Samuni family: me, my husband, Tawfiq, 21, our infant, Jumana, nine months old, my father-in-law, Rashed, 41, my mother-in-law, Rabab, 38, and my husbands brothers, Musa, 19, Walid, 17, Halmi, 14, Zeineb, 12, Muhammad, 11, Shaban, 9, Issa, 7, Islam, 12, Israa, 2.

The soldiers came to the house on foot and knocked on the door. We opened and then, threatening us with weapons, they forced us to leave the house. They had bulletproof vests on and had automatic weapons. Their faces were painted black. We left the house. Walid ran from another door of the house, but the soldiers caught him.

The soldiers led us by foot to the house of my father-in-laws brother, Talal Halmi a-Samuni, 50, about 20 meters away. In the house were already about 20 people, and together we were 35. The soldiers left us, apparently to search my father-in-laws house.

About an hour later, the soldiers came back and ordered us to go with them to the house of Wail a-Samuni, 40. His house is a kind of concrete warehouse, about 200 square meters big, about 20 meters from Talals house, where we were. We reached Wails house at 11:00 a.m. There were already 35 people there, so now we were about 70 in total. We stayed there until the next morning. We didnt have food or drink.

Around six oclock in the morning [Monday, 5 January], it was quiet in the area. One of the men in the family, Adnan a-Samuni, 20, said that he wanted to go and bring his uncle and family so they could be with us. My father-in law and his nephew, Salah Talal a-Samuni, 30, and his cousin Muhammad Ibrahim a-Samuni, 27, were standing at the door of the house and planned on going together to bring them. The moment they left the house, a missile or shell hit them. Muhammad was killed on the spot and the others were injured from the shrapnel. My husband went over to them to help, and then a shell or missile was fired onto the roof of the warehouse. Based on the intensity of the strike, I think it was a missile from an F-16.

When the missile stuck, I lay down with my daughter under me. Everything filled up with smoke and dust, and I heard screams and crying. After the smoke and dust cleared a bit, I looked around and saw 20-30 people who were dead, and about 20 who were wounded. Some were severely wounded and some lightly.

The persons killed around me were my husband, who was hit in the back, my father-in-law, who was hit in the head and whose brain was on the floor, my mother-in-law Rabab, my father-in-laws brother Talal, and his wife Rhama Muhammad a-Samuni, 45, Talals sons wife, Maha Muhammad a-Samuni, 19, and her son, Muhammad Hamli a-Samuni, five months, whose whole brain was outside his body. Razqa Muhammad a-Samuni, 50, Hanan Khamis a-Samuni, 30, and Hamdi Majid a-Samuni, 22.

My husbands brother, Musa, and I were lightly injured. Musa was injured in the shoulder and my left hand was injured. My daughter was injured in the left hand. Her thumb, second finger, and third finger had been cut off. I took a kerchief and wrapped her hand to stop the bleeding. The wounded who lay on the floor cried for help and couldnt move. The small children and my husbands grandmother, Shifaa a-Samuni, 70, were crying.

About 15 minutes after the second strike, Musa said that it would be better to escape and go to the house of his uncle, Assad a-Samuni, about 20 meters away. We ran and knocked on the gate, but nobody answered. Musa jumped over the gate and opening it and we went inside. We were me, my daughter, Musa, and his little sisters Islam, five, and Isra, two. There were 40-50 soldiers in the house, and more people were gathered in one of the rooms. There were about 30 people, 7-10 of them men. The men were blindfolded.

One of the soldiers came to me and gave me and my daughter first-aid. He bandaged our hands and checked our pulse. Then the soldiers tied Musa and blindfolded him.

The soldiers told us that they would release us and leave only Musa and his uncle ’Emad in case Hamas came. I understood that they intended to use them as human shields. They ordered us to leave the house, and we walked along the street about 400-500 meters until we found an ambulance, which took me and my daughter to a-Shifa Hospital. The others from my family continued to walk in the street. Later, some of them also arrived at the hospital.

As far as I know, the dead and wounded who were under the ruins are still there. I didnt see that any of them had been brought to the hospital.

In another testimony gathered by BTselem, Abdallah Tawfiq Hamdan Kashku, a 44-year-old policeman with four children living in Gaza City, recounted:

My family lives in a three-storey house in al-Zeitun, Gaza City. On Sunday [28 December], around 7 p.m., I was sitting with nine members of my family around a bonfire in the yard. It was cold, and we didnt have electricity to heat the house. I turned on the generator to turn on the light. Then we heard the sound of planes in the sky. I heard a buzz and within a few seconds, I found myself under the rubble. I didnt know what happened to me or to my family. I began to cry for help. The smoke was thick. I couldnt see any of my family, who had been sitting with me a few moments earlier.

It took a few moments before I realized the house had collapsed because of the bomb. Neighbors rushed to pull us from the rubble. People took my family to the hospital, some by car and some by ambulance. I was taken to al-Shifa Hospital where the doctors treated me. I was slightly wounded in the leg. I asked my relatives and the doctors where the rest of my family was. They told me my wife had a broken pelvis and that the others had suffered light wounds but that they hadnt found my little daughter, Ibtihal. I felt horrible, worrying so much about her.

Early the next morning, my brothers went home to look for Ibtihal. They looked under the ruins and found her body in the kitchen on the second floor.

Our house was in a quiet area. I dont think there are military targets in the area. We dont have relatives or neighbors who are wanted. I am still in shock. In a few minutes, the life of my family was turned completely upside down.

Yusef ’Abd al-Karim Barakeh Abu Hajaj, a resident of Juhar a-Dik, an agricultural area in the center of the Gaza Strip, described a January 4 attack on his home where 15 members of his family were staying:

Around 7 a.m., an Israeli tank fired at our house. We decided to leave, and went to our neighbor, Hussein al-Aydi. A little while later, we heard that the army told people to leave the houses in the area, and we decided to go to another place. We left together with the neighbors family. Together, we were 25 persons.

When we went outside, we held up white cloth, so the soldiers would know we were civilians. We were afraid they would shoot us, but we walked anyway, having no alternative. Women and small children were in our group. When we got to a point opposite the tanks, they opened fire at us. My mother was hit and fell down. Then my sister Majda was hit in the back. Both were killed. We ran back, toward Hussein al-Ayadis house. Mother and Majda remained lying on the ground.

We immediately called the Red Crescent and the Red Cross to ask them to remove the bodies. Because of the shelling, nobody could get there. The next day, we realized we had to leave the area, and we fled.

Now Im living in the school in Nuseirat. We didnt manage to coordinate removal of the bodies of Mother and Majda, and they are apparently still outside. We dont know when we can move them. It is very crowded in the school, so some of my family went to stay in other places.

Hussein al-’Ayadi, 60, also from Juhar a-Dik, spoke to B’Tselem on January 7:

“My house is made of concrete, which is why my brothers came to live with me when the fighting began,” he said.

“Saturday night [3 January], there was lots of tank fire and aerial bombing, and we all went into the main room, which is more secure. A shell fell on the roof of the house, tearing a hole into the ceiling and injuring a few of us lightly. We all went to the ground floor and then a tank fired another shell, which hit the house, injuring eight people in my family: Nur Hussein al-’Ayadi, 16, Wa’ed Adnan al-’Ayadi, 13, Raghda Adnan, 17, Hind Adnan, 14, Walid Adnan, 6, Kamela Hashem al-’Ayadi , 80, Doha Hassan al-’Ayadi, 80, and Doa’a Farid al-’Ayadi , 18. All were lightly injured.

“With the house damaged, we are now hiding in a small room in the yard. We have been in contact with all kinds of people in an attempt to get the army to let us take out the injured without getting fired at, but without success. The Red Cross told us that the army claims that nobody is trapped in our area, and is not willing to let them enter.

“We called Physicians for Human Rights and contacted Knesset members. Lots of people are trying to help us, but nothing has happened so far.

“We are eating what remained in the house and vegetation from the yard, which we cook, but we are a large number of people, and the food is beginning to run out.”

And the Reuters news agency carried the tragic account given by Dr. Awni Al-Jaru, a surgeon at the Shifa Hospital, Gazas largest medical facility, whose house in the Tuffah neighborhood of north Gaza was fired on by an Israeli tank Thursday.

I was sitting inside the room when there was a boom and I ran out to the hall and saw my son Abdel-Rahim. I asked him where was his mother and brother Youssef.

I found my wife Albina cut in two parts and my son Youssef completely blown apart. I could only recognize him from his teeth, said the doctor.

Dr. Jarus wife was Ukrainian-born and could have left Gaza with other foreign-born residents before Israel unleashed its full fury against Gaza, but she refused to go. Their son Youssef was 18 months old.

Senate Democrats endorse Israeli war crimes

Senate Democrats endorse Israeli war crimes

By Bill Van Auken

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As evidence of Israeli war crimes mounted and amid signs that the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) are launching a new and even bloodier phase of the two-week war against the embattled people of Gaza, the Democratic leadership of the US Senate Thursday led the passage of a bipartisan resolution endorsing Israel’s actions. The resolution passed by a unanimous voice vote.

The resolution begins by “recognizing the right of Israel to defend itself against attacks from Gaza and reaffirming the United States’ strong support for Israel in its battle with Hamas.”

The preamble of the document contains 12 paragraphs vilifying Hamas as a “terrorist” organization and blaming it entirely for the ongoing war in Gaza. It includes one brief mention of the “humanitarian situation in Gaza,” but quickly adds that Israel has “facilitated humanitarian aid.”

It goes on to declare “vigorous support and unwavering commitment to the welfare, security and survival of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state with secure borders” and to recognize Israel’s “right to act in self-defense to protect its citizens against acts of terrorism.”

It then demands that Hamas halt all rocket attacks, renounce violence, recognize Israel and accept all previous Palestinian-Israeli agreements.

That Israel should curtail its blitzkrieg against the people of Gaza, which has claimed the lives of nearly 800 men, women and children and left over 3,200 others wounded, is not even remotely suggested by the Senate resolution.

Speaking before the vote, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Democrat from Nevada) declared, “When we pass this resolution, the United States Senate will strengthen our historic bond with the state of Israel, by reaffirming Israel’s inalienable right to defend against attacks from Gaza.”

Reid invited his Senate colleagues to “imagine that happening here in the United States. Rockets and mortars coming from Toronto in Canada into Buffalo, New York. How would we as a country react?”

While the absurd analogy must have proved unsettling for Canadians, one might just as well imagine how the population of New York state would react if Canada invaded, seized their homes and land and herded them all into Buffalo, subjecting them and their children to military occupation, near starvation and continuous armed attacks.

Chiming in his agreement, the resolution’s co-sponsor, Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, added, “The Israelis … are responding exactly the same way we would.” Indeed, it is no accident that the Israeli media have described the military onslaught against Gaza as “shock and awe.”

Under conditions in which masses of people all over the world are expressing shock and revulsion over the one-sided slaughter that the Zionist military machine has unleashed against the virtually defenseless population of Gaza, this resolution is an obscenity.

It is another telling piece of evidence that the Democratic Party and its elected officials represent not the sentiments or wishes of the American people, but rather those of a narrow ruling elite that is committed to advancing its aims through militarism and is utterly indifferent to the fate of the working class, the poor and the oppressed in Palestine, the US or any other country.

While president-elect Barack Obama has maintained a discreet silence on Washington’s policy toward the bloodbath in Gaza since it began nearly two weeks ago, the resolution backed by his former Democratic colleagues in the US Senate speaks eloquently for him.

There is no question that an Obama administration will maintain US imperialism’s backing for Israeli aggression and repression of the Palestinian people and will continue funneling the over $3 billion in annual military aid that provides the Israeli Defense Forces with the weaponry now being used to massacre innocent civilians.

In another indication that in this crucial foreign policy arena the former candidate of “change” will carry out a policy of essential continuity with that of his predecessor, it was announced Thursday that former US diplomat Dennis Ross has been tapped to serve as the Obama administration’s “ambassador at large” and chief adviser on the Middle East.

The announcement came first from Ross’s present employer, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), a pro-Israeli think tank that he joined after leaving the State Department in 2001. WINEP was founded by Martin Indyk, a research director for the American Israeli Political Action Committee who was later appointed US ambassador to Israel.

Ross also became a foreign affairs analyst for Fox News and a supporter of the Project for the New American Century’s campaign for a US war against Iraq in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks. He later joined the steering committee of the I. Lewis Libby Defense Fund, organized to support the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney who was convicted in connection with the leaking of CIA agent Valerie Plame’s name in retaliation for her husband’s exposure of the Bush administration’s phony case for the Iraq war.

While Ross was a leading figure in US-brokered talks between Israel and the Palestinians, all of the so-called peace initiatives that he helped push through quickly failed. According to one Arab negotiator quoted in a book on these negotiations, “The perception always was that Dennis started from the Israeli bottom line, that he listened to what Israel wanted and then tried to sell it to the Arabs… He was never looked at … as a trusted world figure or as an honest broker.”

Ross’s role was essentially that of Israel’s attorney, justifying its every violation of previous agreements while demonizing Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat as wholly responsible for the breakdown of the Camp David negotiations.

Speaking at a synagogue in Maryland earlier this week, Ross took the same line as the Bush administration on the ongoing war against Gaza, declaring that the US should support a cease-fire only if it guarantees that Hamas “can’t rebuild.” The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, a New York-based news agency which reported the speech, wrote that Ross added that “Israel left Lebanon and Gaza, and in both instances, ‘things got a whole lot worse’—which doesn’t provide much confidence about a withdrawal from the West Bank.”

Assured of continued backing from both the current and the incoming US administrations, the Israeli government is intensifying its criminal war against the people of Gaza.

The United Nations agency responsible for providing food and other basic necessities to the vast bulk of Gaza’s population announced Thursday that it is suspending operations in the Israeli-occupied territory because of what it described as the “deliberate targeting” of its aid workers, which made it impossible to guarantee their lives and safety.

The action, which threatens to deepen what is already a humanitarian catastrophe, came after Israeli tanks shelled a UN convoy, killing two Palestinian forklift drivers and wounding two other aid workers. They were in trucks headed to the Erez crossing with Israel to pick up food and other humanitarian supplies during what the Israelis had claimed was a three-hour suspension of firing meant to facilitate such distributions.

“They were coordinating their movements with the Israelis, as they always do, only to find themselves being fired at from the ground troops,” John Ging, the head of United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in Gaza, told the news agency Al Jazeera.

In another incident, a UNRWA driver was shot to death by Israeli troops near the Kerem Shalom border crossing at the northern end of the Gaza Strip.

Israeli forces also fired on a convoy of three UN vehicles during a Thursday mission to recover the body of another aid worker killed in a previous attack.

UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said that the series of deaths made it impossible to resume operations until “the Israeli army can guarantee the safety and security of UN personnel. Gunness charged Israel with “deliberately targeting” aid workers, stressing that all of the locations of UN facilities and movements by its personnel are communicated to the Israeli military.

This development follows the IDF’s shelling Tuesday of the UN’s school in the Jabalya refugee camp, which killed 45 people in one of the worst atrocities since the Israeli attacks began.

UN officials have stressed that Israel’s so-called “humanitarian corridor,” opened three hours a day between relentless bombardments and killings, is wholly inadequate to distribute food to any significant portion of Gaza’s population.

The attacks on UN personnel represent only one manifestation of a criminal policy of “total war” against Gaza’s population.

One unintentional byproduct of the three-hour suspensions of Israeli bombardments is that they have served to further expose the atrocities perpetrated in the two-week operation as bodies are dug from the rubble and wounded survivors are retrieved from their homes.

In one of the most appalling incidents, the International Red Cross in Geneva reported that on Wednesday its aid workers discovered four starving children lying next to their dead mothers in a house in the Zaytuon neighborhood south of Gaza City. The Red Cross had been trying since Saturday to send ambulances into the area, but only received permission from the Israeli military on Wednesday. The delay was a death sentence for many wounded civilians in the area.

Medical crews from the Red Cross and the Palestinian Red Crescent reported finding 12 corpses lying on mattresses in the house together with the children and their murdered mothers. The children were so weak from hunger that they were unable to stand.

The medical teams were compelled to evacuate surviving wounded on donkey carts because the Israeli military would not allow ambulances into the area. The Israeli troops threatened to fire on the ambulance teams if they did not leave, but the medical workers refused to stop their work until they were actually shot at.

The Red Cross issued a rare denunciation of Israeli actions, calling them unacceptable and charging the Israeli government with having “failed to meet its obligation under international humanitarian law to care for and evacuate the wounded.” In other words, it accused the Israeli regime of having carried out a war crime.

“This is a shocking incident,” said Pierre Wettach, the Red Cross’s head of delegation for Israel and the Palestinian territories. “The Israeli military must have been aware of the situation but did not assist the wounded. Neither did they make it possible for us or the Palestine Red Crescent to assist the wounded.”

The Geneva Conventions specify that warring parties must ensure “all possible measures to search for and collect the wounded and sick” and stipulates that the wounded “shall not willfully be left without medical assistance and care.”

Meanwhile, according to press reports, the Israeli cabinet has already voted to move ahead with a “third phase” of the operation, sending Israeli troops into the densely populated streets and alleys of Gaza City and other urban areas. “The next phase is inevitable,” one senior Israeli official told Time magazine.

Masters In Distortion Of The Truth

Masters In Distortion Of The Truth

By Yvonne Ridley

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The media coverage of the war in Gaza by Western television companies is largely unfair and biased because of a refusal to show viewers the real images of the victims.

One of the reasons for this is Israel’s decision not to allow the Western media in to Gaza.

In addition to this outrageous censorship by a so-called democracy, we get the usual arguments that most of the images shown by the Arab media are too shocking to show the viewing public in the West.

Admittedly, the horrific clip sent to me of a child’s head lying detached, among debris in Gaza did make me gasp.

But this is war and this is real and if the Western media did show these sort of images may be the general public would wake up to the full horrors of what happens when bombs are dropped on civilian populat ions.

The re is no such reticence in the Arab media which is why more people with satellites are switching on to television from the Middle East to watch the unfolding genocide in Gaza.

And one rising media star is the fledgling Press TV, broadcast from Iran, and recently introduced to the Sky platform 515. It is fast becoming the first station of choice for the viewing public - especially the english-speaking across Europe - who simply want the truth, no matter who shocking or unpalatable it may be.

There are around half a dozen Palestinian journalists on the ground with Press TV crews revealing the full horrors of the war as it unfolds. I am amazed by their dedication and courage and I salute each and every one of them ... some are my personal friends.

Yes, I do present a show for the station, but I have also worked as a journalist for more than three decades covering conflicts and their aftermaths from The Falklands, first and second Gulf wars, the Irish Troubles, as well as Palestine, Afghanistan and Iraq for a variety of print and electronic media.

And one thing common in each conflict is the constant battle by journalists and war correspondents to get to the truth of the matter, but the battle to tell the truth is becoming more and more difficult despite the amazing technology now available.

People in powerful places who do terrible things do not want the truth to get out, which is why journalists are finding themselves banned20or censored more and more.

You see the truth is a very strong and influential weapon which can be used against those people.

Sadly when it is twisted and manipulated it can wreak even more havoc.

The Israeli war machine is masterful in its complete distortion of the truth which is why the state continues to go unpunished for its failure to adhere to the Geneva convention concerning the collective punishment of the citizens of Gaza.

Israeli tacti cs are cruel, malicious and demonstrate that its leaders are not interested in the peace process or a Palestinian State.

They are creating the ideal breeding ground for extremism, sabotaging peace efforts and squandering the good will they have been given.

Five years ago, the Bush administration lied about weapons of mass destruction ... it was a lie eagerly repeated by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair to fool the media into supporting an illegal, immoral invasion of Iraq.

And it worked.

To their eternal shame, most of the western media fell in line and swallowed the lie - with the exception of a few journalists most have kept quiet about this collective cock up. The New York Times did issue a front page apology later, but the damage had been done and public perception was difficult to change.

Sadly, many of the same news organisations and the same journalists have learned nothing from that shameful period. At the beginning of this war, Israel trotted out only the flimsy excuse of the Hamas rockets as justification for unleashing its brand of Shock and Awe in Gaza.

Hamas rockets have killed just over 20 Israelis since 2001 whereas Israel’s war on Gaza has killed more than 700 including more than 200 children in the last 13 days. The seriously maimed and injured is running in to thousands as I write.

But the ‘Hamas rocket’ excuse went unchallenged in the West, although to its full credit the Israeli media revealed days later that Operation Cast Lead wa s a long-planned campaign six months in the making aimed at crushing democratically elected Hamas.

Yes, I admit the rockets do exist but they are nothing more than metal barrels of junk fuelled by fertiliser. As one colleague remarked they’re mere slingshots compared to the shells, million dollar missiles and bunker-busting bombs used by Israel.

Some argue the Qassam rockets are used out of desperation, I personally think they’re more of a two-fingered gesture from a people who have suffered a brutal, medieval siege at the hands of Israel for years.

Despite its amazing war machine, and its state-of-the-art-technology these little rockets rarely show up on any military radars. The Israelis don’t know about them until they9 9ve landed and that’s what hacks them off.

Yet Israeli leaders and their supporters continue to present absurd propaganda about Hamas rockets which are far less sophisticated than anything the IRA ever used in mainland Britain during the height of The Troubles. Mind you, the IRA was funded and backed by US dollars whereas the Hamas military wing has no such generous donors.

I don’t recall the British Government ordering cruise missiles to be launched on Belfast in retaliation for the misery and suffering of IRA bombing campaigns in London, Manchester, Birmingham and other places. I can’t ever recall Apache Attack Helicopters hover ing outside the Sinn Fein offices in the Falls Road or targetted assassinations of IRA leaders.

Most journalists with an ounce of investigation skills would realise that the Hamas Rocket excuse is a sham.

But it continues to be used as an excuse for unleashing what has been described by various people, including Jewish peace activists, as a holocaust and genocide.
Millions across the world have demonstrated - anger and anarchy on the streets has been witness across all continents but the only ones who look away are the Western leaders and the servile media.

The gaggle of belly-dancing Middle Eastern leaders are largely a disgrace and are about as much use as the increasingly toothless United Nations, but there is a backlash coming and it’s coming from ordinary citizens across the world.

People power, the sort of power which inspired the Iranian and Cuban revolutions, the toppling of brutal dictators like Romania’s Nicolae Ceausescu and the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, is emerging.

The Western media can either catch up with the agenda instead of trying to follow the Zionist agenda by continuing to peddle big lies. The viewing piblic have largely lost trust in the mainstream media, especially in the wake of Iraq.

Quite simply, the public has become cynical and jaded and can not be lied to any more. if the mainstream media is to regain any credibility journalists need to challenge israeli and Western leaders.

The truth is a powerful weapon and it is true that...

ISRAEL targets civilians - more than two thirds of the dead are women and children. So why allow Tzipi Livni to say: “Gaza Strip being controlled by Hamas, and the price is being paid by Israeli children and Palestinian children, but the blame is and the address is Hamas.” This is a clear lie. What Israeli children have been killed? The only dead children are in Gaza.

HAMAS is a political organisation which has a military wing and not the other way around. It was democratically elected by the people who were sick of the previous corrupt politicians who let them down.

ISRAEL broke the ceasefire on November 4 2008 - a fact finally acknowledged on CNN nearly two months later in a discussion show although the BBC, Fox and other western media have yet to mention this.

HAMAS does not use civilians as human shields - again, where is the evidence? Israel needs to put up or shut up, but the media never demands to see the evidence.
ISRAEL says it cares about civilians and warns them in advance of the bombing raids in their area - well so did the IRA but I don’t remember anyone congratulating them on their humanitarian actions.

And beware of the latest lie about to hit the media about Hamas commander Mahmoud Zahar who, according to the Zionist propaganda said Jewish children across the world are targets. A guest columnist in The Guardian quoted Zahar as saying: “The Zionists have legitimised the killing of their children by killing our children. They have legitimised the killing of their people all over the world by killing our people."

This is not what he said. Unfortunately the Arabic translation was incorrect and those who should know better have failed to check the original speech against the transcript.

The damage has now been done and it remains to see if an apology or correction will follow.

As Sir Winston Churchill said: “A lie is halfway round the world before the truth has a chance to get its boots on.”

Red Cross Finds Starving Children with 12 Corpses in Gaza 'House of Horrors'

Red Cross Finds Starving Children with 12 Corpses in Gaza 'House of Horrors'

People look at bodies of Palestinians killed in an Israeli air strike in Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip January 8, 2009. In the Gaza Strip, Israeli aircraft bombed targets across the Hamas

The ICRC believes there are more wounded sheltering in the ruins of shelled houses in Gaza and has demanded that the Israeli military provide access for a search

By Martin Fletcher, in Jerusalem

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The International Committee of the Red Cross has accused the Israeli military of "unacceptable" conduct and breaching international humanitarian law after discovering four emaciated children living next to the corpses of their mothers and other adults in bomb-shattered houses in Gaza City.

The ICRC said that it had spent four days seeking Israeli guarantees of safe passage so that it could gain access to the houses in the badly damaged Zaytun neighbourhood of the city. It was finally allowed to send in a rescue team and four Palestine Red Crescent Society ambulances yesterday afternoon and said today that what they found was shocking.

In one house they discovered four small children, alive but too weak to stand, next to the bodies of their dead mothers. In all their were 12 dead bodies lying on mattresses.

In another house they found 15 survivors of the Israeli bombardment, several of them wounded, and in a third, three corpses. At that point they were ordered to leave by Israeli soldiers manning a post some 80 metres away, but they refused to do so.

The children and the wounded had to be taken to the ambulances by donkey cart because earth walls erected by the Israeli army made it impossible to bring the vehicles close enough to the houses. In all, the rescue team removed 18 wounded and 12 others who were extremely exhausted. It took away two corpses and plans to return to fetch 13 more tomorrow.

The ICRC said that it believed there were more wounded sheltering in the ruins of other houses in the same neighbourhood, and in an unusually robust public statement issued by the organisation's Geneva headquarters it demanded that the Israeli military grant it immediate access to search for them.

"This is a shocking incident," Pierre Wettach, the ICRC's head of delegation for Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, said. "The Israeli military must have been aware of the situation but did not assist the wounded. Neither did they make it possible for us or the Palestine Red Crescent to assist the wounded."

The ICRC accused the Israeli military of failing to meet its obligation under international humanitarian law to care for and remove the wounded, and called the delay in allowing rescue services access unacceptable.

The ICRC's charges were another setback for the Israeli military. On Tuesday it killed more than 40 people in a bomb attack on a UN school in the Gaza Strip that it claimed was being used by a Hamas mortar team, and international aid organisations say that its 13-day offensive is creating a humanitarian catastrophe among Gaza's 1.5 million residents.

The Israel Defence Forces did not respond directly to the charges, but issued a statement that it was battling a terrorist organisation — Hamas — that was deliberately using Palestinian civilians as human shields.

It said the IDF was working closely with international aid organisations during the fighting so that civilians could receive assistance, and continued: "The IDF in no way intentionally targets civilians and has demonstrated its willingness to abort operations to save civilian lives and to risk injury in order to assist innocent civilians.

Any serious allegations made against the IDF's conduct will need to be investigated properly, once such a complaint is received formally, within the constraints of the current military operation."

US Senate supports Israel's Gaza incursion

US Senate supports Israel's Gaza incursion

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The U.S. Senate voiced strong support on Thursday for Israel's battle against Hamas militants in Gaza, while urging a ceasefire that would prevent Hamas from launching any more rockets into Israel.

The chamber agreed on a voice vote to the non-binding resolution co-sponsored by Democratic and Republican party leaders in the chamber.

"When we pass this resolution, the United States Senate will strengthen our historic bond with the state of Israel, by reaffirming Israel's inalienable right to defend against attacks from Gaza, as well as our support for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said before the vote.

Noting that Israel was bent on halting Hamas rocket fire into its southern towns, Reid said: "I ask any of my colleagues to imagine that happening here in the United States. Rockets and mortars coming from Toronto in Canada, into Buffalo New York. How would we as a country react?"

Co-sponsor and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican said before the vote: "The Israelis ... are responding exactly the same way we would."

The House was expected to pass a similar resolution.

The Senate resolution encourages President George W. Bush "to work actively to support a durable, enforceable and sustainable ceasefire in Gaza as soon as possible that prevents Hamas from retaining or rebuilding the capability to launch rockets or mortars against Israel," Reid said.

It also expresses an "unwavering" commitment to Israel's welfare and recognizes its right to act in self defense to protect citizens against acts of terrorism, he said. "It allows for the long-term improvement of daily living conditions of the ordinary people of Gaza," he said.

Palestinians faced even grimmer conditions in Gaza on Thursday after a U.N. aid agency halted work, saying its staff was at risk from Israeli forces after two drivers were killed.

The reported Palestinian death toll in the 13-day-old conflict topped 700. At least 11 Israelis have been killed, eight of them soldiers, including four hit by "friendly fire."

Israel to continue offensive despite UN resolution

Israel to continue offensive despite UN resolution

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Israeli jets and helicopters bombarded Gaza Friday and Hamas responded with a barrage of rockets, as Israel's government said it will press forward with its offensive despite a U.N. resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire.

One Israeli airstrike killed two Hamas militants and another unidentified man, while another flattened a five-story building in northern Gaza, killing at least seven people, including an infant, Hamas security officials said. By midday, 19 Palestinians had been killed.

In all, Israeli aircraft struck more than 30 targets before dawn, and constant explosions continued after first light. Friday's deaths in Gaza pushed the Palestinian death toll to more than 760 in the two-week-old conflict, with at least half of them civilians, according to Gaza health officials. Thirteen Israelis have died.

In Israel's first official response to the U.N. Security Council resolution, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office said Israel "has never agreed to let an external body decide its right to protect the security of its citizens."

The military "will continue acting to protect Israeli citizens and will carry out the missions it was given," the statement read. The rockets fell in Israel on Friday "only prove that the U.N.'s decision is not practical and will not be kept in practice by the Palestinian murder organizations."

Israel launched its assault on Dec. 27 in an attempt to halt years of rocket fire from the Hamas-controlled territory.

Despite the devastating offensive, Hamas continued to bombard residents of southern Israel. Rockets hit Friday morning across southern Israel, including in and around Beersheba and Ashkelon, which — like other cities within rocket range of Gaza — have largely been paralyzed since the fighting began.

The U.N. Security Council resolution was approved Thursday night by a 14-0 vote, with the United States abstaining. The resolution "stresses the urgency of and calls for an immediate, durable and fully respected cease-fire, leading to the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza."

Israel and Hamas were not parties to the council vote and it is now up to them to stop the fighting. But a Hamas spokesman said the Islamic militant group "is not interested" in the cease-fire because it was not consulted and the resolution did not meet its minimum demands.

Israel called up thousands of reserve troops earlier in the week, and they are now ready for action.

The Security Council action came hours after a U.N. agency suspended food deliveries to Gaza, and the Red Cross accused Israel of blocking medical assistance after forces fired on aid workers. It also followed concerns of a wider conflict after militants in Lebanon fired rockets into northern Israel early Thursday, though the border has been quiet since.

The United States abstained from the Security Council vote even though it helped hammer out the resolution's text along with Arab nations that have ties to Hamas and the Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied territories.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the U.S. "fully supports" the resolution but abstained "to see the outcomes of the Egyptian mediation" with Israel and Hamas, also aimed at achieving a cease-fire.

The resolution expresses "grave concern" at the escalating violence and the deepening humanitarian crisis in Gaza and emphasizes the need to open all border crossings and achieve a lasting solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

It also calls on U.N. member states "to intensify efforts to provide arrangements and guarantees in Gaza in order to sustain a durable cease-fire and calm, including to prevent illicit trafficking in arms and ammunition and to ensure the sustained reopening" of border crossings.

In addition, the resolution "condemns all violence and hostilities directed against civilians" and calls for "unimpeded humanitarian access to Gaza."

Osama Hamdan, a Hamas envoy to Lebanon, told the al-Arabiya satellite channel that the group "is not interested in it because it does not meet the demands of the movement."

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the U.N. failed to consider the interests of the Palestinian people. "This resolution doesn't mean that the war is over," he told the al-Jazeera satellite television network. "We call on the Palestinian fighters to mobilize and be ready to face the offensive, and we urge the Arab masses to carry on with their angry protests."

Following the resolution, Egypt was expected to take the lead in persuading Israel and Hamas to accept it. Israeli representatives returned home from talks in Cairo Thursday, and Hamas was due to send political leaders to the Egyptian capital on Saturday.

Israel's government says any cease-fire must guarantee an end to rocket fire and arms smuggling into Gaza. During a six-month cease-fire that ended with the current operation, Hamas is thought to have used tunnels under the Egypt-Gaza border to smuggle in the medium-range rockets it is now using to hit deeper than ever inside Israel.

Hamas has said it won't accept any agreement that does not include the full opening Gaza's blockaded border crossings. Israel is unlikely to agree to that demand, as it would allow Hamas to strengthen its hold on the territory which it violently seized in June 2007.

With Israeli troops now in control of many of the open areas used by militants to launch rockets, gunman have continued shooting from inside populated neighborhoods.

The conflict has left hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza increasingly desperate for food, water, fuel and medical assistance, and the situation was expected to worsen as humanitarian efforts fall victim to the fighting.

One of the dead Thursday was a Ukrainian woman, the first foreigner to die in the fighting, according to Gaza Health Ministry official Dr. Moaiya Hassanain. He said the woman was married to a Palestinian doctor who trained in Ukraine and returned with her to Gaza. Her 2-year-old son was also killed in the tank shelling east of Gaza City, he said.

Details are emerging of other incidents in which civilians were killed. A U.N. agency said Israeli troops evacuated Palestinian civilians to a house in Gaza City on Jan. 4, then shelled the building 24 hours later, killing 30 people.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs report was based on eyewitness testimony. It added details to an incident previously reported by The Associated Press and an Israeli human rights group.

The U.N. agency said 110 people were in the house. The 30 people reported killed is a far higher figure than in other accounts.

The Israeli military had no comment on the report Friday.

The West Bank saw its biggest protests so far Friday, as thousands took to the streets following prayers to express their anger at the Israeli offensive. In Ramallah, scuffles broke out between supporters of Hamas and the rival Fatah faction.

Democrats strike early with labor rights bills

Democrats strike early with labor rights bills

Congressional Democrats are wasting no time in promoting labor rights issues they argue have been thwarted during eight years of the Bush administration.

Two pay discrimination bills on the House floor Friday could be among the first that labor-friendly Barack Obama signs into law when he becomes president later this month.

"It is of the highest priority to us," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in explaining why the House is taking up the bills in the first week of the new session.

Last year, President George W. Bush threatened to veto both the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which would overturn a 2007 Supreme Court decision making it more difficult to sue over past pay discrimination, and the Paycheck Fairness Act, which closes loopholes allowing employers to get around the 1963 law requiring equal pay for equal work.

In contrast, Obama took time off from his campaign last April to speak on the Senate floor in favor of the Ledbetter bill. The House passed both bills in the last session of Congress, but the Senate last year fell three votes short of stopping a GOP-led filibuster on the Ledbetter bill. It did not debate the Paycheck Fairness Act.

The Senate, now with a fortified Democratic majority, plans to take up the Ledbetter bill next week. No date has been set for considering the second measure.

Votes on the two labor rights measures could be the opening salvo before Congress moves to a far more controversial bill that both unions and business groups see as fundamentally shifting the balance of power in labor efforts to organize workplaces.

The Employee Free Choice Act would take away the right of employers to demand secret-ballot elections by workers before unions could be recognized. Business groups, preparing to spend millions to lobby against it, say it is an affront to democratic principles. Unions say companies have used secret ballots to intimidate pro-union workers and that the bill could help reverse the downward trend in union membership.

Lily Ledbetter was a supervisor at a Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. plant in Gadsden Ala. She sued the company over pay discrimination when she learned, shortly before retiring after a 19-year career there, that she earned less than any male supervisor. A jury ruled in her favor, but the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 vote, threw out her complaint, saying she had failed to sue within the 180-day deadline after a discriminatory pay decision was made.

"This ruling just doesn't make sense in the real world," Ledbetter said in a telephone news conference Thursday. "In a lot of places you could get fired for asking your co-workers how much they are making."

The bill the House is considering would clarify that each paycheck resulting from discrimination would constitute a new violation, extending the 180-day statute of limitations.

"The Supreme Court's decision allows employers to get away with pay discrimination so long as they can keep it hidden for a sufficient period of time, and that's just unacceptable," said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee.

Critics said the bill would allow people to file discrimination suits against employers for decades-old actions. But the liberal Alliance for Justice said the Supreme Court decision had already seriously impacted worker rights: it said that since the 2007 ruling federal and other courts had cited Ledbetter in 347 cases involving pay discrimination and other issues such as fair housing and the availability of sports programs for women.

The Paycheck Fairness Act seeks to close loopholes in the 1963 Equal Pay Act by making clear that victims of gender-based discrimination can sue for compensatory and punitive damages. It also puts the burden on employers to prove that any disparities in wages are job-related and not sex-based, and bars employers from retaliating against workers who discuss or disclose salary information with their co-workers.

Randel Johnson, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's vice president on labor issues, said his group would oppose the measure, saying it was a "giveaway to the trial lawyers" and would "make it difficult for an employer to defend any kind of pay disparity."

But Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., who first introduced the legislation 12 years ago, said that, with women still earning only 78 cents for every dollar men earn in the same job, Congress has to strengthen the law. "It is our moment to fight for economic freedom," she said. "To do anything less would be to shortchange women and their families everywhere."


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Citigroup Reaches Deal With Lawmakers on Home Loans

Citigroup Reaches Deal With Lawmakers on Home Loans

By Renae Merle and Lori Montgomery

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Citigroup, one of the nation's largest lenders, yesterday agreed to abandon its long-standing opposition to a plan to let bankruptcy judges modify the terms of mortgages, a move that could help millions of distressed borrowers stay in their homes, Senate Democratic leaders said yesterday.

The startling turnaround reflects the changed political and economic realities of the nation's deepening recession. Citigroup's approval puts pressure on other lenders, potentially opening a new and more aggressive chapter in the government's foreclosure-prevention effort by giving some of the most troubled borrowers leverage to force lenders to forgive debt.

Democratic lawmakers praised the agreement as a breakthrough and pledged to add the measure to the economic stimulus package moving through Congress.

Although the support of the banking industry would not guarantee passage, they said, it would go a long way toward breaking down opposition among Republicans and moderate Democrats who torpedoed the idea in the Senate last year. And lawmakers have yet to win the support of the Mortgage Bankers Association, a large lobbying group that has previously helped defeat the change.

"I want to commend Citigroup," said Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat. "They showed real leadership on this, the first major financial institution to step forward and say, 'We understand this is a crisis in America.' The current efforts, as good as they may be, have not resulted in a dramatic change or reduction in the number of foreclosures."

Since 2007, Durbin has pressed legislation that would allow a bankruptcy judge to change the terms of a loan by reducing its interest rate, extending its length, or lowering the principal or loan balance, known as cramdown provisions. Currently, judges are allowed to modify the terms of a mortgage for a second or vacation home but not a primary residence.

Industry officials fought off the legislation, but the political calculations have changed. President-elect Barack Obama has said he supports the change, Democrats have a larger majority in Congress, and banks that have accepted federal aid are facing pressure to do more to help homeowners. Citigroup, for example, received about $45 billion in government assistance last year.

Also, the foreclosure crisis has worsened in the past year, and industry and government efforts to keep people in their homes have had little impact. If the legislation passes, it could secure the kind of concessions the government has not been able to get from the industry through various voluntary foreclosure-prevention efforts.

"This legislation would represent an important step forward," Vikram S. Pandit, Citigroup's chief executive, said yesterday in a letter to lawmakers. "Given today's exceptional economic environment, we support its swift passage."

Citigroup's involvement in negotiations was reported earlier this week by the Wall Street Journal.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the breakthrough came last week, when Lewis B. Kaden, a Citigroup vice chairman, called him.

Citigroup's primary request, lawmakers said, was that only existing mortgage-holders would have access to the bankruptcy courts, not those who take out loans in the future. The bank also asked for provisions that would require homeowners to contact their lender at least 10 days before filing for bankruptcy and that would not permit a judge to void the mortgage debt for minor violations of the Truth in Lending Act, a consumer-protection law.

Durbin called those requests "eminently reasonable." He said House leaders have also endorsed the changes, though some have done so with reluctance.

"I think it should apply to all mortgages for all time," said Rep. Brad Miller (D-N.C.), who joined the senators at the news conference. But in the face of the mounting foreclosure crisis, Miller said, "we have to do what's possible."

The Mortgage Bankers Association said in a statement that it remains opposed. "We were surprised by the suddenness of the announcement and are still evaluating the proposed deal, but we believe there remain a number of crucial issues that need to be addressed," the statement said.

The legislation should be limited to subprime loans, the group said, and expire after a predetermined period. "This legislation would have a significant effect on the mortgage markets, and we believe it ought to be subject to the normal legislative process, including hearings."

Troubled homeowners not in bankruptcy could benefit more than those in the process, supporters of the measure said. Lenders are more likely to attempt aggressive modifications when they can still control the terms, rather than allow a judge to set the limits. "Right now, the biggest impediment to meaningful foreclosure prevention is the lack of willingness of investors to make significant modifications," said John Taylor, president of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, a consumer advocacy group. Changing the way bankruptcy judges handle primary residences "would force people to the table to hopefully come up with meaningful modifications."

The lending industry has argued that allowing bankruptcy judges to change the terms of these mortgages would raise costs for all home buyers. But Schumer said yesterday that by limiting the agreement to current mortgages, it would not affect future interest rates. And the financial and housing industries began to acquiesce in recent weeks, starting with the National Association of Home Builders. Its president, Jerry Howard, said last week that the economic crisis is so severe that "every possible solution must be on the table."

The group is open to cramdowns but is still reviewing the details of the agreement negotiated by Citigroup, an NAHB spokesman said.

Schumer said Citigroup's support for the measure has since spurred "most of the major banks" to call his office, "wanting to hop on board."

The Difficulty of Being an Informed American

The Difficulty of Being an Informed American

By Paul Craig Roberts

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

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

It was neoconservative Bush regime propaganda fed to America through Judith Miller and the New York Times and through Murdoch’s Fox “News” that convinced Americans that they were in danger from a small secular Arab country half way around the globe called Iraq. It was the American media that convinced Americans that getting rid of dangerous “weapons of mass destruction,” weapons that did not exist in Iraq, would be a cakewalk paid for by Iraqi oil revenues.

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

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

It was the New York Times that spiked for one year the leaked information from the National Security Agency that the Bush regime, in violation of US law, was illegally spying on Americans without warrants. The “liberal” New York Times agreed to suppress the story so that Bush would not face reelection under the cloud of his outlaw behavior.

Conservatives think the Washington Post is “liberal media” despite the fact that the editorial and commentary pages are controlled by neocons and their sympathizers.

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

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

When the truth cuts against the position of the US government, conservatives see it as “liberal.”

When propaganda supports the government’s lies, conservatives see it as “patriotic.”

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

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

The public is slowly catching on, and the print media is slowly dying. The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Los Angeles Times are all on the ropes to one extent or the other.

Americans are still subjected to Fox “News” and CNN propaganda piped into airport waiting rooms, doctors’ offices, and exercise centers. It is very much the situation that George Orwell describes in 1984.

People ask me where they can get reliable information. I tell them that their goal cannot be reached without their commitment of time.

People who have access to television services that provide English language foreign broadcasts, such as Iran’s Press TV, Russia Today, or Al Jazeera, can get get news and insights from those parts of the world demonized by the US media.

The BBC World Service still reports facts while covering itself by providing the views of the US, UK, and Israeli governments.

Both the Asia Times and Israeli newspapers, such as Haaretz can be read online in English. There are other such newspapers, and all of them provide information that Americans will never see in their own media. Any American newspaper that was as truthful about the Israeli government as Haaretz would be closed down.

The only US print media with which I am familiar in which some honest reporting can be found on a regular basis is the McClatchy papers.

Americans addicted to print media must turn to alternative newspapers, which tend to be weekly or bi-weekly. However, the news and commentary provided are often superb.

I have made no study of alternative newspapers and know very few. The Rock Creek Free Press ( ) is terrific. After reading one issue, you will waste no more time on the “mainstream media.” The Rock Creek Free Press is likely to rescue even the dullest mind from its brainwashed state.

Other alternative newspapers, such as The Liberty Voice ( ),lift your spirit as well as inform.

Alternative newspapers are often the children of people motivated by a sense of justice and the love of truth. Such people have become an endangered species in the American “mainstream media.” The free press Americans have today is online and in the alternative media.

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

Should the Torturers Go on Trial?

Should the Torturers Go on Trial?

Obama Urges Delay In Digital TV Switch

Obama Urges Delay In Digital TV Switch

Converter Program Out of Funding

By Kim Hart

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The push to postpone the nation's switch to digital television next month got a boost yesterday when a top aide to President-elect Barack Obama sent a letter to key members of Congress urging a delay, saying there is "insufficient support" for the problems consumers will experience during the shut-off of analog signals.

The request comes 41 days before the nation's full-powered television stations are scheduled to permanently shut off the traditional analog signals they have used for more than half a century and switch to all-digital broadcasts. Analog television sets that rely on "rabbit ear" or rooftop antennas to receive broadcasts will not work unless they are upgraded with a converter box. Federal officials said this week that the billion-dollar program to distribute $40 coupons to defray the cost of the boxes has run out of money and that the 1.1 million consumers already on the waiting list might not receive them in time for the Feb. 17 transition.

Projections suggest that the number of consumers on the waiting list to get a coupon could climb to 5 million by early February, increasing by hundreds of thousands every day, the Obama transition team said.

"With coupons unavailable, support and education insufficient, and the most vulnerable Americans exposed, I urge you to consider a change to the legislatively-mandated analog cutoff date," John Podesta, co-chair of the Obama-Biden Presidential Transition Team, wrote in the letter to leaders of the Senate and House commerce committees.

Preparations for the switch to digital television have been rocky. Lawmakers and consumer advocates worry that television watchers -- particularly low-income, rural and elderly Americans who rely most heavily on over-the-air signals -- will lose access to their main source of news, emergency notifications and entertainment.

Television industry analysts at Nielsen Co. estimated that as of December, 6.8 percent of the 114 million U.S. households with televisions were not ready for the transition. Another 10 percent had at least one television set that was not ready. Consumers who have digital television sets, or who subscribe to cable or satellite service, will not lose programming.

The economic downturn has exacerbated the situation, industry analysts say. Many consumers are opting to buy an inexpensive converter box to work with their existing television sets instead of upgrading to new digital televisions. Others are choosing to try free, over-the-air signals as they cut cable and satellite service from their monthly budgets.

Congress is trying to add emergency funds to the coupon program to make sure consumers who need a voucher receive one in time for the transition. A coupon is not needed to purchase a converter box. But with boxes costing $50 to $80, Congress allocated $1.34 billion to provide $40 coupons to help offset the price. A spike in coupon demand in December caused the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, an arm of the Commerce Department that runs the program, to hit the funding limit earlier than expected.

The coupons expire after 90 days. Under the rules set by Congress, the NTIA cannot commit more than $1.34 billion at any time for the coupons, so people on the waiting list cannot receive coupons until already-issued vouchers expire. Congress could waive that rule to allow the NTIA to issue new coupons without waiting for unredeemed ones to expire.

Obama's transition team said it supported waiving that rule but that broader action to push back the transition date is also needed. Obama's proposed economic stimulus package will include additional funds to support the digital conversion process, the transition team said.

"Moving the transition date entails significant logistical challenges," said Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., chairman of the House subcommittee on telecommunications and the Internet. "However, the prospect of leaving millions of consumers in the dark requires Congress to immediately consider the feasibility of the president-elect's proposal."

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Tex., ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee, said it was too early to call for a delay and that Congress should instead find a solution to the coupon shortage.

Delaying the transition would further confuse consumers, said Gary Shapiro, president of the Consumer Electronics Association. "Moving the date would require starting a massive education effort from scratch," he said.

The National Association of Broadcasters will continue its consumer education plan, in which it has invested more than $1 billion, "to make this transition work," said spokesman Dennis Wharton.

Some networks, including ABC, support the delay. "We certainly think it makes more sense for people to be on their roofs fiddling with their antennas in June rather than February," said Preston Padden, executive vice president of government affairs for Walt Disney Co., which owns ABC.

"I initially thought the digital transition would turn into a TV version of Y2K, but now it's looking more like Hurricane Katrina," said David Waterman, a telecommunications professor at Indiana University. "I think they're underestimating the impact this transition will have on people."