Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Afghan Ant Hole: The New US-NATO Offensive will Run into Trouble

The Afghan Ant Hole: The New US-NATO Offensive will Run into Trouble

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NATO plans for Afghanistan this year are shaping up nicely: negotiate with the Taliban, but at the same time kill them in Kandahar and Kunduz.

A joint operation involving several thousand troops was launched in Kandahar last week, the second one this year after Operation Mushtarak in Helmand province. Kandahar has been the bailiwick of 2,500 contingent of Canadian troops who have suffered heavy losses in this mountainous home of the Taliban. It is ruled by a Canadian national, Governor Tooryalai Wesa, a close friend of President Hamid Karzai’s brother Ahmed Wali Karzai, chairman of the Kandahar provincial council, infamous for his involvement in the drug trade.

Already, there are strong indications from Marja, that the new offensive will run into trouble. The Taliban claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing there two weeks ago that killed 35. Though Marja now has one coalition soldier or policeman for every eight residents, after dark the city is like “the kingdom of the Taliban”, said a tribal elder in Marja. “The government and international forces cannot defend anyone even one kilometre from their bases.”

The new governor of Marja, Haji Abdul Zahir, like Wesa, a foreign national (German) parachuted in by the occupation forces, said the militants post “night letters” at mosques and on utility poles and hold meetings in randomly selected homes, demanding that residents turn over the names of collaborators. The Taliban “still have a lot of sympathy among the people.” Zahir has no idea how many Taliban are still in Marja. “It’s like an ant hole. When you look into an ant hole, who knows how many ants there are?”

Marja district MP Walid Jan Sabir scoffed at Zahir’s denial that the Taliban were beheading collaborators. “He is not from the area and he is only staying in his office, so he doesn’t know what is happening.” He predicts the situation will deteriorate and return to “chaos” as “the Taliban and Marja residents all have beards and turbans so it’s impossible to distinguish them.”

Will these campaigns in Marja, Kandahar and Kunduz subdue the Taliban and bring them to the negotiating table, the newly professed strategy of the occupiers? It should not be forgotten that Karzai himself was a member of the Taliban government from 1995-98, before Unicol hired him as an insider to try to clinch an oil pipeline deal. His effortless transition to US protege suggests he was probably already on the US payroll, along with his less reputable colleague Osama bin Laden. Though Karzai sees negotiations as the only way out, comments by other ex-Taliban officials who have cast their lot with the occupiers, however reluctantly, are not encouraging.

The leading coopted Taliban, Abdul Salam Zaeef, holds no hope whatsoever. Zaeef was the Taliban’s minister of transportation until he became ambassador to Pakistan. His post-911 news conferences, where he condemned the attacks, insisted Osama bin Laden was not responsible, and offered to send him to a third country for trial, are now the stuff of legend. Despite his diplomatic immunity, he was arrested, held at Bagram and Guantanamo, and, according to his hot-off-the-Columbia-University-press My Life with the Taliban, tortured.

He was released in 2005 and returned to Afghanistan, where he was installed in an upscale home around the corner from ex-Taliban foreign minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil and lives more-or-less under house arrest. In 2007 he called for a unity government and negotiations with the Taliban, no doubt at the prompting of his beleaguered former comrade-in-arms Karzai. However, in a recent interview, he gave no hope for the reconciliation process, as the US is “a monster” that is “selfish, reckless and cruel”, and the “reintegration process will further strengthen the Taliban.”

Hakim Mujahed, a former Taliban ambassador to the United Nations, reconciled with Karzai several years ago, and is currently the head of a Taliban splinter group Jamiat-i-Khuddamul Furqan, which still has not been incorporated into the US-controlled Afghan political process. He told the US-funded Radio Free Afghanistan that reconciling with the Taliban through a traditional Loya Jirga will not work “as long as the foreign powers – the United States and Britain in particular – don’t agree with this. The first important thing is to lift the sanctions on the leaders of the armed opposition. They are blacklisted and multimillion-dollar rewards are offered for them.” He wants Saudi Arabia to mediate. Clearly with Zaeef in mind, he argues that if a Taliban were to attend a Loya Jirga, “he might get captured the next day and end up in Guantanamo Bay. Our president has no authority to even release somebody from Bagram.”

Mulla Salam defected to the government three years ago in Helmand and was made district administrator of his native Musa Qala district as a reward. He sees the British occupation as a blatant act of revenge for their defeats in Afghanistan in the 19th century and regrets his decision, like Mujahed calling Karzai a powerless president. “We are still slaves. Foreign advisers are sitting in the offices.” He complains that no Afghan minister can even visit Helmand without the permission of British military commanders. The British troops “haven’t served our people and have yet to build schools or mosques in Musa Qala.” Poor Salam’s days are numbered as he has barely survived several assassination attempts. There will be no “reconciliation” for the likes of him.

Then there is Abdul Ghani Baradar – second in command only to Taliban leader Mohammed Omar – whose recent capture in Karachi was hailed by the US as a sign that Pakistan was getting serious at last. His arrest appears to have backfired big time. Not only has Pakistan refused to extradict him, but Karzai is apparently furious over the capture, as he was supposedly negotiating with Baradar to split the Taliban and coopt moderates.

Former UN special representative to Afghanistan Kai Eide, who stepped down this month (in disgust?), asserted last week that the arrest was a huge mistake, stopping a secret ongoing channel of communications with the UN, and revealed that he had been holding talks with senior Taliban figures for the past year in Dubai and other locations. He suggested Pakistan was deliberately trying to undermine the negotiations, as it ultimately wants to control the political landscape in Afghanistan, however rocky and dangerous for its own stability. “I don’t believe these people were arrested by coincidence. The [Pakistanis] must have known who they were, what kind of role they were playing,” adding it would now take a long time before there was enough confidence between both sides to really move forward.

“I see no evidence to support that theory,” immediately harrumphed US envoy to AfPak Richard Holbrooke, insisting that the US had no involvement in any of Eide’s talks, and knew of them only in a “general way”. In line with the Washington line, he heaped praise on Pakistan for the capture. At the same time, he welcomed “reconciliation of all Afghans”, whatever that could possibly mean. Of course, Pakistan protests its innocence, understandably preferring the American version of events. It just happens to have presented Washington with a multi-billion dollar bill for its selfless battle in the “war on terror”. Publically at least, Karzai is all smiles, calling (ominously?) Pakistan a “twin” during a visit to Islamabad last week.

A bizarre theory about the capture promoted by McChrystal is that Baradar, deemed more pragmatic than other top Taliban leaders, was “detained” to split him from fellow insurgents. McChrystal said recently that it was plausible that Baradar’s arrest followed an internal purge among Taliban leaders, that Omar himself, angry about Baradar’s negotiations with Karzai or the UN or whoever, squealed on him and tipped off Pakistani intelligence officials. But both McChrystal and Holbrooke are so out-of-touch with reality that we can probably safely assume that the opposite of what they say about anything.

During his trip to Afghanistan last week, Defence Secretary Robert Gates – the guy who in fact calls the shots – made the real US policy clear. He said it was premature to expect senior members of the Taliban to reconcile with the government, that until the insurgents believe they can’t win the war, they won’t come to the table. Said Heritage Institute researcher Lisa Curtis ghoulishly, “The military surge should be given time to bear fruit.”

The purpose of undermining the feeble attempts by Karzai or Pakistan or the UN or Bob’s-your-uncle to undermine the resistance is hard to fathom, considering that negotiations are now part of US policy. At the pompous London conference on Afghanistan in January, US advisers even came up with the very American idea of simply bribing them with a cool half billion greenbacks, a strategy that Russian officials (tongue-in-cheek?) also have urged on the Americans.

A key US protege in the Pakistan military with close contacts with the Taliban in Pakistan, Colonel Imam, said the idea of paying members of the Taliban to change sides would not work and only bogus figures would come forward. “It is shameful for a superpower to bribe.” He seconds Zaeef’s conclusion that negotiations, like Lisa’s strategy of mass murder, are fruitless. The Taliban cannot be defeated and they will not be weakened by the recent capture of even senior commanders such as Baradar.

“The movement is so devolved that commanders on the ground make most of their own decisions and can raise money and arrange for weapons supplies themselves. The Taliban cannot be forced out, you cannot subjugate them,” he said. “But they can tire the Americans.” Obama is “doing what you should never do in military strategy, reinforcing the error. They will have more convoys, more planes, more supply convoys, and the insurgents will have a bigger target. The insurgents are very happy.” Of all the thousands of men he trained, he said, religious students like Mullah Omar were the most “formidable” opponents because of their commitment.

Hamid Gul, a former director of the Pakistani intelligence service, says the insurgents want three things from the US before talks could begin – a clearer timetable on the withdrawal of troops, an end to labelling them terrorists, and the release of all Taliban militants imprisoned in Pakistan and Afghanistan. What could be more obvious?

So Mr Obama, even if you ignore your own loyal opposition in Congress, where a motion to withdraw immediately garnered both Democratic and Republican support 10 March, even if you ignore the thousands of loyal Americans who marched on the anniversary of the invasion of Iraq 20 March, calling for the same, please listen to these voices of reason.

Nevada budget cuts worsen the social crisis

Nevada budget cuts worsen the social crisis

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With the economy of the state of Nevada in freefall, Republican Governor Jim Gibbons and the Democratic-controlled legislature are placing the burden of the crisis firmly on the backs of the working class. Nevada already suffers the highest foreclosure rate in the country and the second-highest rate of unemployment, second only to Michigan.

On March 1, a special session of the Senate and the House of Representatives reached an agreement that reduced the $6.9 billion 2010-11 budget by 22 percent, or $887 million.

K-12 education is to lose $116 million, a 6.9 percent decrease, with a similar percentage being taken from higher education. State government offices are to go on a four-day, 40-hour week, closing on Fridays to save energy costs. The balance is to come from state reserve funds, federal funds the state expects will be approved, higher charges for the use of state parks and museums and increased fees for mining companies.

Nevada is the world’s second largest producer of gold, after South Africa, and produces more than three-quarters of the gold in the United States.

Some members of the legislature had wanted the leisure and entertainment industry to pay an additional $32 million in fees, but casino owners flatly rejected any increase in the taxes they pay, which account for nearly one-third of state revenues.

Prior to the latest round of budget cuts, Nevada was already spending the least per resident of all states in the country, according to data from the US Census Bureau. When the budget was drawn up last year, the state faced a $2 billion shortfall—30 percent of the general fund. Gibbons recommended 6 percent pay cuts for state workers and teachers, a $500 million cut from higher education (36 percent) and a $220 million tax increase from the hotel room tax in the major urban centers. The legislature rejected Gibbons’s plan but imposed 12 furlough days on state workers (a 4.5 to 11 percent cut in salaries and benefits) and a 4 percent cut in teachers’ salaries, while slashing higher education by 12.5 percent.

The additional cuts this year are expected to result in larger class sizes in schools and major erosion of the state’s universities. Immediately after the budget deal was announced, the University of Nevada, Reno, announced the loss of 75 faculty members by fall this year and the elimination of more than a dozen degree programs. Students will no longer be able to major or minor in a foreign language, with the exception of Spanish, and the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources is to close. Further cuts will be announced in the coming months.

According to UNR president Milton Glick, the cuts will be permanent. He told the UNR Nevada Sagebrush, “Recovering (from years of cuts) is not restoring these programs. If you say you’re going to do this and restore them later, that’s not honest.”

Both the governor and the legislature agree that the cuts administered so far are just the beginning. Next year the budget shortfall is expected to top $3 billion.

In the past, states like Nevada benefited from the steady influx of Americans to the West, and immigration from Latin America also stimulated the economy. The real estate bubble gave cities like Las Vegas one of the highest growth rates in the country.

In the last two years, however, cities with the fastest growth have experienced the steepest declines. Las Vegas had the nation’s highest rate of home foreclosures last year and home values there have fallen 56 percent since their 2006 peak, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller Single Family Home Price Index. In January last year, there were 13,338 homeless people in and around Las Vegas, up 17 percent in two years.

Las Vegas is heavily dependent on discretionary spending, but now people are traveling less and spending less. Last November, a report by the Pew Center on the States said Nevada’s economy shares many of the weaknesses that have devastated the economy in California—high foreclosure and unemployment rates along with dwindling tax revenues. The report, “Beyond California: States in Peril,” named Nevada as one of nine states that ranked “most like California” when comparing economic and political factors. University of Nevada political scientist Eric Herzik is quoted in the report as saying, “Nevada is a state built on easy money. There isn’t any easy money right now.”

Herzik is referring to the decline in gaming revenues, which fell for the 22 consecutive months before the report was published.

When the economic crisis hit in 2008, Nevada saw the worst economic decline of any state, according to the Rockefeller Institute, a policy research organization at the State University of New York in Albany.

Between December 2008 and December 2009, unemployment rose from 8.4 percent to 13 percent. This represents a significant decrease in the number of jobs in the state, variously estimated as between 6.4 and 9.5 percent. According to the Retail Association of Nevada, Nevadans have lost $25.4 billion in income since the start of the economic crisis two years ago, an average of $9,800 for each of the state’s 2.6 million residents.

And worse is to come. The Nevada Department of Employment Training and Rehabilitation predicts an almost 6 percent decline in jobs (65,079) this year over 2009, with a further 2 percent decline in 2011 (23,788).

Construction jobs, which fell 29 percent last year over 2008, are projected to drop another 21 percent this year and 20 percent in 2011.

According to the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation, during the deepest recession before this one, which lasted 18 months in the 1980s, the worst year-over-year jobs losses were 4.5 percent. On average, Nevada employment expanded by 76 percent in every decade after the 1940s, yet the jobs base between December 1999 and December 2009 grew by just 15 percent.

The leisure and hospitality industry has destroyed 44,100 jobs so far in the economic collapse, second only to construction. International Gaming Technology, a designer of gaming machines and the largest manufacturer in northern Nevada, laid off 700 workers in late 2008 and early 2009.

In November of 2009, the total revenue for Nevada casinos was $873.2 million. That is almost $40 million higher than the $836.8 million in November of 2008, but MGM Mirage spokesperson Alan Feldman told the Las Vegas Sun in February, “Having now been hit by the worst recession in American history and the worst downturn in gaming revenues in Nevada history, we can simply no longer afford to bear the overwhelming share of the burden for running the state.”

MGM Mirage, which lost $1.15 billion in the fourth quarter of 2008 and $855 million for all of 2008, operates and owns all or part of 19 casinos in Nevada, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, Illinois and Macau, the gambling enclave off the coast of southeast China. The casino company made $1.58 billion in 2007.

The devastation wrought by the economic crisis could bring in its wake far-reaching political changes. The visit by President Barack Obama to Nevada in February expressed the nervousness of the political establishment. He appeared with Nevada senator and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, 70, who was first elected to the Senate in 1986 and who faces re-election in November. Obama won Nevada from the Republicans in 2008, but the economic crisis is expected to strongly affect the Senate races in the state.

According to Bloomberg.com, Reid was considered by the Obama administration to be an instrumental influence in pushing through his health care overhaul. However, as Stacy Fisher, an associate political science professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, commented to Bloomberg.com, “The problem for Harry Reid is he is the voice, and really the face, of the Democratic Party.” She added that concerns about the economy are “amplified in Nevada” because the state has “seen the brunt of the recession.”

California: NUMMI auto workers railroaded into severance package

California: NUMMI auto workers railroaded into severance package

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After nearly a year of abuse and manipulation at the hands of General Motors, Toyota and the United Auto Workers union, workers at the New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc. (NUMMI) plant in Fremont, California have approved a severance package. The vote came on March 17, just days before the plant is scheduled to close, and with virtually no advance notice.

The NUMMI plant was a partnership between Toyota and General Motors, before GM pulled out last year. It is the last auto production plant on the West Coast, and employs 4,600 workers. An estimated 50,000 workers will lose their jobs as a consequence of the plant closure, including those working at the many suppliers and local businesses throughout the region.

One day after the vote, the UAW announced that 90 percent of the workers voted in favor of the package. However, the union’s headquarters in Detroit would not say how many members voted or release details of the severance agreement, according to the Associated Press.

Assuming that the count is correct, the vote of the workers is a massive declaration of no confidence in the UAW, which worked consciously to ensure the closure of the plant. The terms of the agreement are a pittance. While there is immense opposition among auto workers, which exploded at several union meetings in the run-up to the vote, workers have no reason to believe that the UAW would come back with anything better if it were voted down.

Indeed, for the UAW, the package’s approval seemed to be a foregone conclusion. It issued an official statement the day of the vote that declared that the package had already been approved. “The workers don’t have much of a choice,” said Javier Contreras, chairman of the UAW’s bargaining committee.

Although the severance package was approved, the details are still somewhat unclear for a number of reasons. Plans for a vote on the package were reported in the media only one day before it was actually held, and the UAW itself made no statement until the actual day of voting.

This was done deliberately by the UAW to push through the vote and prevent organized opposition from developing. In the public statement, Sergio Santos, president of UAW Local 2244, shed crocodile tears over one condition of the package: that the UAW cannot speak about it, which he called a violation of the First Amendment. NUMMI spokesman Lance Tomasu, however, said, “NUMMI did not issue a gag order…. In fact, the union negotiated and proposed specific language for that provision of the agreement.”

Besides a few short, voluntary informational meetings on the day of voting, NUMMI workers were given no explanation of what exactly they would be agreeing to.

The shotgun vote and silence of union officials caused considerable confusion in the press and among workers. However, many sources agree that most workers would be eligible to receive the minimum severance package of $21,175—not enough to cover the mortgage on an average home or even average rent for a year in Fremont, California, or the surrounding area.

While workers who have been at the plant for more than 15 years are said to receive more than the minimum, those workers who were disabled on the job will not receive more than $21,175, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

Bobby Dell, a NUMMI worker for over 20 years, spoke to the WSWS about the severance package and the voting process. “The UAW had promised details about a severance package for several weeks and set a deadline for Sunday, March 14. We didn’t hear anything, and then all of a sudden on Tuesday [March 16] they said we were going to vote on the package the next day. We were not given any written information, and nobody explained the package to us. All I know is that, we can’t take any action for one year after the plant closes down, no grievances, nothing.”

“As soon as NUMMI found a loophole to screw people, that’s just what they did,” said NUMMI worker Sal Gomez of Oakland to the Mercury News regarding the treatment of disabled workers. “The whole situation is even worse than I had expected,” said David Martin, another injured NUMMI worker.

Moreover, the Mercury News reported that only 3,700 of NUMMI’s reportedly 4,600 workers would receive any payment at all, leaving temporary, non-union and workers at NUMMI suppliers and their families with nothing.

In the same vein, thousands of workers at 23 NUMMI supply firms have nothing to depend on outside the possibility that they may become eligible for the Federal Trade Adjustment Assistance program. This would give them a modest extension on the time period they are eligible to receive meager unemployment benefits and a health insurance tax credit.

There is some discrepancy in the press over who is actually responsible for the severance package—Toyota as a whole or just the NUMMI facility. If NUMMI is to pay these severance packages, and goes bankrupt in the meantime, this could leave workers with even less. A recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the federal agency that guarantees pensions says NUMMI is liable for $292 million in benefit payments but has only $161 million in assets. One condition on the severance package was that workers would not receive a dime until one month after the plant closes.

General Motors paid nothing to the workers when it quit the plant in August of last year. GM’s clean getaway was largely facilitated by the UAW, which is a principal shareholder in GM.

The manner in which the vote was carried out and the quality of the severance package jammed down the throats of the workers is typical of the UAW. The plant closure was announced last summer. The union made no attempt to mobilize the nearly 5,000 workers at the plant, the tens of thousands at plant suppliers or any other section of the working class to prevent its closure.

The union did absolutely nothing about the plant closure until late February, after tensions between the UAW and its members reached a boiling point. Only then—less than a month before the plant was slated for closure—did the union hold a nationalist rally to channel workers’ anger in an anti-Japanese direction through a boycott campaign.

In this chauvinist charade, the UAW was dutifully aided by the leaders of nearly every major union in the United States, including Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, and Art Pulaski, head of the California Federation of Labor. They were joined by a host of politicians from the Democratic Party, including California State Treasurer Bill Lockyer.

UAW Chairman Javier Contreras’s behavior before and after the rally personifies the real attitude of the UAW before its dwindling membership: weeks prior to the rally Contreras was caught on YouTube yelling obscenities at workers gathered to discuss the plant closure. After the rally, he was taped calling the police on members who merely wanted to record his statements.

The experience at NUMMI once again demonstrates the absolute bankruptcy of the UAW, which functions as an auxiliary arm of the corporations and the government in enforcing concessions and smothering all opposition from workers. These are not working class organizations, but organizations of highly paid functionaries with a direct interest in increasing the exploitation of their membership. Any struggle by workers must be based on a break with the UAW and the construction of independent rank-and-file committees.

The plight of the NUMMI workers is not an isolated incident, but rather one component in an all-out assault on the working class. As the new representative of finance capital, the Obama administration has spearheaded the drive to impose savage cuts on the working population’s access to education, health care and decent paying jobs.

Auto workers have been particularly targeted. GM’s decision to leave NUMMI was part of bankruptcy proceedings overseen by Obama, during which dozens of plants were shut, and workers were forced to accept massive concessions in pay and benefits.

Activist group ACORN collapses following witch-hunt

Activist group ACORN collapses following witch-hunt

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The announcement March 22 that the liberal community activist group ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) will disband and cease operations is the outcome of a protracted right-wing assault. While ACORN had been targeted by the extreme right for years, the attacks against the group assumed a more aggressive and organized character since the 2008 presidential election.

ACORN has said it will now implement a plan to close its “remaining state affiliates and field offices by April 1” and that it will work to “resolve all outstanding debts, obligations and other issues.” The decision comes just two days after reports emerged claiming the organization was nearly bankrupt.

With federal funding no longer available, and private donations dwindling due to the ongoing smear campaign against it, ACORN had reached a state of crisis, losing half of its 30 state chapters in the past six months. The two largest state chapters, New York and California, split with ACORN to form their own independent groups.

A March 20 statement by ACORN CEO Bertha Lewis, said her organization had “faced a series of well-orchestrated, relentless, well-funded right-wing attacks that are unprecedented since the McCarthy era.” She added, “Our effective work empowering African American and low-income voters made us a target.”

ACORN was formed in 1970 and grew into a network of community activist groups that organized around a number of social issues including the demand for a living wage, a fight against predatory lending and home foreclosures, the reform of the public education system and voter registration drives among minorities and low-income citizens. At its peak, ACORN claimed 400,000 members and had chapters in 100 US cities, with others in Canada, Mexico, Argentina and Peru.

Since 2003, ACORN had registered 3 million voters. Some 1.3 million of these were registered during the 2007-08 presidential campaign period, a fact that incurred the wrath of Republican Party officials who feared the overwhelming majority of these new voters would support Democratic candidates.

With criticism of the group mounting, it was revealed in 2008 that ACORN was the subject of an FBI investigation into voter fraud. Allegations were made that the organization was turning in false voter registration forms. However, only a handful of false forms, among the millions of legitimate ones submitted by the organization, were ever discovered. This did nothing to stop ultra-right figures from pursuing a hysterical witch-hunt against the group.

Among the more outrageous attacks on the organization came during a 2008 presidential debate when Republican candidate John McCain warned that ACORN was “on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy.” In reality, a Congressional Research Service report revealed in December 2009 that “there were no instances of individuals who were allegedly registered to vote improperly by ACORN or its employees and who were reported ‘attempting to vote at the polls.’”

In 2009, ACORN was the victim of a now infamous frame-up perpetrated by conservative activist James O’Keefe and his accomplice Hanna Giles who went to ACORN offices posing as a pimp and prostitute seeking advice on how best to carry out their illegal activities and avoid paying taxes. Heavily edited video footage taken with a hidden camera during one meeting, in which it appeared that ACORN workers were advising the two undercover “investigators” on getting away with their crimes, was broadcast for days on the cable news channels. All of the allegations were treated as fact and O’Keefe’s credibility went unchallenged for a significant period of time.

The exoneration of ACORN in these matters did not receive the same wall-to-wall coverage. On March 1, 2010 the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office cleared the organization of any of the supposed criminal activity said to be found on the O’Keefe tapes. After investigating the allegations made by O’Keefe, District Attorney Charles Hynes released a statement saying, “On Sept. 15, 2009, my office began an investigation into possible criminality on the part of three ACORN employees ... That investigation is now concluded and no criminality has been found.”

The New York Daily News reported on the DA’s findings, writing, “While the video by James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles seemed to show three ACORN workers advising a prostitute how to hide ill-gotten gains, the unedited version was not as clear, according to a law enforcement source.” The Daily News source is quoted as saying, “They edited the tape to meet their agenda.”

O’Keefe was later arrested in January 2010, along with three others disguised as telephone repairmen, after allegedly attempting to tamper with the phone system at the New Orleans offices of Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu.

Following the O’Keefe tape scandal, the US Congress moved in September 2009, in a bipartisan vote of 345 to 75, to prevent ACORN from receiving any further federal funding. Congressman Darrell Issa, the Ranking Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, denounced the group as a “criminal conspiracy” and claimed they had “engaged in systemic fraud.”

The Congressional vote was later ruled unconstitutional by Nina Gershon, United States district judge for the Eastern District of New York. Gershon wrote in her decision that ACORN had “been singled out by Congress for punishment that directly and immediately affects their ability to continue to obtain federal funding, in the absence of any judicial, or even administrative, process adjudicating guilt.”

Playing an especially rotten role in the witch-hunt against ACORN was the Democratic Party. The Democrats benefited greatly from the organization’s voter registration activities and maintained close relations with ACORN for years. During the 2008 primaries, the Obama campaign itself donated more than $800,000 to an ACORN affiliate to aid in voter registration drives.

When the media frenzy surrounding the scandals manufactured by right-wing activists made a partnership with ACORN problematic politically, the Democrats turned against it. Barack Obama, the one-time donor to the organization, called for the group to be investigated in an appearance on national television. In Congress, the Democrats stood side by side with the Republicans in punishing the group. No attempt was made to expose the fundamentally reactionary and anti-democratic character of the assault. While the Republican right may have begun the attack on ACORN, it took Obama and the Democratic Party to finish them off.

Japanese economy plagued by defl ation and debt

Japanese economy plagued by deflation and debt

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The most recent economic statistics appear to show Japan is shaking off the worst effects of the global economic crisis, with employment, exports and GDP all showing positive growth. But these headline figures say nothing about the economic issues most critical for Japan, namely, chronic deflation and public debt. It is the resolution of those problems—or attempts to resolve them—that foreshadow a far-reaching assault on the living standards of the working class.

Statistics from Japan’s Cabinet Office indicate price-adjusted GDP growth during the October–December 2009 quarter of 0.9 percent, equating to an annualised growth rate of 3.8 percent. The official unemployment rate fell in January for the first time in a year, down 0.3 percent to 4.9 percent. Meanwhile, the value of Japanese exports rose 41 percent in the 12 months to January, the biggest annual rise in 30 years.

Analysts generally reacted positively. “The message is that the cyclical recovery is quite powerful,” according to Richard Jerram, chief economist at Macquarie Securities in Tokyo. Akiyoshi Takumori from Sumitomo Mitsui Asset Management Co told Bloomberg: “These figures confirm the economy is recovering, led by solid overseas demand. Although the level is still low, the recovery will fuel production and make companies more comfortable with increasing investment.”

Cabinet Office parliamentary secretary, Keisuke Tsumura, was more careful, declaring that “concerns about a double-dip recession have receded slightly”. Finance Minister Naoto Kan told the media that the final 2009 GDP figures demonstrated that “broader trends in the economy have taken a step forward”. Agence France Presse quoted high level officials as saying that despite the appearance of “green shoots” in February, the economy remained in a “tight spot”.

The Japanese government is in fact acutely aware that despite the new GDP and export figures, deep-seated economic problems remain. Firstly, the latest statistics are obviously calculated from a very low base. The Japanese economy shrank by 5.2 percent across 2009. The new figures only look lively by comparison.

Secondly, last-quarter’s record-making export figures are in part the result of the adrenalin shot delivered by global emergency budgetary measures, including bailouts. “Fiscal stimulus programs that boosted auto exports in 2009 have now expired in China, the US and EU economies. The boost from inventory adjustment abroad is also beginning to wane,” according to Nikhilesh Bhattacharya, an economist with Moody’s. “This should result in slower growth in exports, which would be reflective of the weak growth now being seen in advanced economies across the globe.”

Moreover, a closer look at the GDP numbers points to deeper problems. Japan’s annualised 3.8 percent growth rate is not only a projected GDP figure, but is a projection calculated using a price deflator, that is, a number that represents the adjustment of the raw GDP figure for price changes. A positive deflator represents an adjustment for inflation. A negative deflator means that prices have been falling.

In the fourth quarter of 2009, when Japanese productivity growth turned positive for the first time since the onset of recession, the price deflator fell 2.8 percent, the most rapid deflation on record. In other words, the headline GDP figure is largely explained by price falls. This trend towards speedy deflation is reflected in other statistics. Prices in February 2010 were 1.2 percent lower than they had been a year earlier, equating to the largest fall in Japan’s core price index for 17 years.

Persistent deflation has been the primary direct cause of low growth and rising unemployment since the bursting of Japan’s share market and property bubbles in the early 1990s. The latest bout of deflation continues a long-established state of affairs. Nevertheless, recent price declines are significant because they occur despite the application of massive government stimulus in 2009, and the Bank of Japan’s “all-stops” monetary policy, that is, zero interest rates coupled with massive injections of liquidity.

The return of aggressive deflation signals to the Japanese ruling class that it is impotent to address debt levels. Not only do price falls mean stagnant growth and declining tax revenues (revenues collapsed in 2009) but deflation signals the need for more stimulus down the track. However, the economy is already overloaded with huge debts—the product of previous failed stimulus packages.

This bleak picture is reflected in market attitudes. The explosion in global public debt over 18 months and the threat of sovereign default across the eurozone have focused bond markets on the question of what level of debt is safe. The markets are increasingly taking the view that Japan’s debt, which will rise to an estimated 250 percent of GDP by 2014, is at the outer limits. In January, the ratings agency Standard & Poors changed its outlook on Japan’s AA rating from stable to negative. In February, Moody’s expressed concern about Japan’s debt levels and warned that it would downgrade Japan’s rating from Aa3 to Aa2 unless the government made significant cuts to its budget bottom line.

The debate now taking place among leading economists is over how, if at all, the Japanese ruling class can avoid a further alarming deterioration of the debt situation.

According to Harvard economist Kenneth Rogoff, “although hardly in crisis (yet), Japan’s fiscal situation [public debt is 200 percent of GDP] grows more alarming by the day. Until now, the government has been able to finance its vast debts locally, despite paying paltry interest rates even on longer-term borrowings. Remarkably, Japanese savers soak up some 95 percent of their government’s debt… [But] as the population ages and shrinks, more people will retire and start selling those government bonds that they are now lapping up.” Rogoff concludes by warning that “at some point, Japan will face its own Greek tragedy as the market charges sharply higher interest rates.”

Not all Japan observers are fearful. According to London’s Financial Times, Japan’s debt crisis is “mythical”. The paper’s Peter Tasker writes that “there is no magic debt-to-GDP ratio that leads inexorably to a crisis. The eurozone’s sinners got into trouble with far lower ratios—sub-50 percent in Spain’s case—than Japan. What matters is the financeability of any given level of debt, which in turn depends on the availability of savings and the preferences of the savers.”

But these more sanguine assessments are not based on a long-term view. The high relative rate of Japanese savings was an important contributor to the country’s impressive growth rates up until the early 1990s. The same savings rate has been the chief source of the debt that government has taken on since 1990 to combat the effects of deflation. But the Japanese savings rate, 15 percent of GDP in 1990, is today little more than 2 percent (the US rate is about 4 percent).

Moreover, the rapid aging of Japan’s population means that more money is being removed from pension funds than is being invested. In 2009, Japan’s $US1.5 trillion state pension fund (the world’s largest) became a net seller of government bonds. In other words, Japan’s cheap pool of domestic savings is evaporating. The Japanese government—which now devotes 20 percent of budget to debt servicing costs—will be forced to go with increasing frequency to a volatile and already debt-soaked global bond market.

Even those steps can only be temporary. According to Akito Fukunaga, a Tokyo-based fixed income strategist with Credit Suisse, “Japan will keep on selling more bonds this year and the next, but that won’t work in three or five years. If you ask me what Japan can resort to after that, the answer is not much.” Indeed, the only options left to the Japanese ruling class are measures that risk social dislocation on an unprecedented scale—either massive cuts to the Japanese public sector or the orchestration of a dramatic reinflation via, say, intervention into currency markets. Each option involves the Japanese working class footing the bill for current and future debts.

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s Democrat government, which was elected last August, has already begun to impose new burdens on working people. Earlier this month it announced it was discussing plans to create a new “two-tier” pension system funded by increases in consumption tax (currently at 5 percent). The lower tier will be a minimum guaranteed provision, but with rising unemployment, increasing numbers of workers will end up on this minimum scheme. Although large-scale public sector cuts are off the agenda at least until after critical upper house elections in July, the stage is set for further dramatic reductions to living standards.

US and Pakistan hold "strategic dialogue," but frictions persist

US and Pakistan hold “strategic dialogue,” but frictions persist

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The US and Pakistan are holding their first ever ministerial-level “strategic dialogue.”

Yesterday at the formal opening of the Washington talks, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton claimed that they constitute a “new day” in US-Pakistani relations. “For the past year,” said Clinton, “the Obama administration has shown in our words and deeds a different approach and attitude toward Pakistan.”

In reality, the “dialogue” constitutes a continuation and deepening of the decades’ long patron-client relationship between US imperialism and the venal Pakistani bourgeoisie—a relationship that has seen Pakistan’s bloated military-intelligence apparatus serve as a tool of US interests in Central, South and West Asia and Washington promote Pakistan’s armed forces as the country’s premier institution.

The enduring character of the US-Pakistan relationship is exemplified by the leading role that General Ashfaq Kiyani, the current head of Pakistan’s armed forces, is playing in the talks. Although the Pakistani delegation is officially led by Foreign Minster Shah Mehmood Qureshi, even the New York Times had to concede that Kiyani “has driven the agenda for the talks” and “will be the dominant Pakistani participant.”

Prior to Wednesday’s opening of the “strategic dialogue,” Pakistan’s Chief of Armed Services held talks with the head of the US military’s Central Command, General David Petraeus, the head of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, and US Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Last week, Kiyani convened a meeting of the secretaries of the various Pakistani government departments involved in this week’s talks, including the secretaries for finance, foreign affairs, energy, education, and transport, and did so apparently without even bothering to consult President Asif Ali Zardari or Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.

Under the Pakistan People’s Party-led civilian government, as previously under the US-backed dictator General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan is providing critical logistical support to the US war in Afghanistan. Indeed over the past year, Islamabad has dramatically increased its involvement in what Washington has renamed the AfPak War.

Eleven months ago, when Zardari and other top Pakistani officials visited Washington, they came under intense pressure from the Obama administration to “do more” to choke off support for the Taliban and other anti-US insurgents in Afghanistan from the predominantly Pashtun-speaking areas of north-west Pakistan.

Subsequently, Islamabad mounted massive military offensives in South Waziristan and the Swat Valley region of the North West Frontier Province. These offensives uprooted more than 2 million people from their homes and resulted in heavy civilian casualties as the Pakistani military used carpet bombing and indiscriminate shelling to suppress Taliban-aligned militias.

The US, meanwhile, stepped up its campaign of predator drone strikes, dramatically increasing their frequency and extending them beyond the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Hundreds of civilian have been killed in these strikes, which are mounted in flagrant violation of Pakistani sovereignty.

While popular support for the social and political program of the Taliban and Taliban-aligned militias is limited outside of Pakistan’s impoverished tribal areas, there is intense hostility toward Washington among the Pakistani people because of its wars of aggression in Iraq and Afghanistan and its role in sustaining a succession of right wing military dictatorships in Islamabad.

In her opening remarks at yesterday’s talks, Clinton conceded, that the US and Pakistan “have had our misunderstanding and disagreements in the past,” adding that “there are sure to be more disagreements in the future, as there are between any friends, or frankly, any family members.”

Clinton’ counterpart, Qureshi urged Washington to play a “constructive” role in resolving Pakistan’s six decades old dispute with India over Kashmir and to provide Islamabad “non-discriminatory” access to energy.

The latter was a reference to Pakistan’s oft-repeated demand that the US grant it a civilian nuclear deal along the lines of that Washington concluded with India in 2008. Under the Indo-US nuclear accord, India—like Pakistan a non-signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and a country that developed nuclear weapons in defiance of the regulatory regimes fashioned by the permanent UN Security Council members—has gained the right to purchase foreign-made civilian nuclear technology, enabling it to press ahead with plans to dramatically expand nuclear power generation and, even more importantly, concentrate its indigenous nuclear program on the development of nuclear weaponry.

Both Qureshi’s requests will undoubtedly illicit hollows of outrage from India, Pakistan’s arch rival.

Pakistan’s foreign minister signaled that Islamabad is also looking for arms, increased economic assistance, especially in meeting the country’s water- and power-shortages, and greater access to US markets for Pakistani products.

“Pakistan,” said Qureshi, “is committed to doing its part to facilitate the world community’s effort for peace and stability in Afghanistan. We hope the world community will be equally responsive to our legitimate concerns and help advance our common interests.”

Prior to his arrival in Washington, Qureshi had spoken much more bluntly. On March 18, he told a media briefing about the forthcoming talks, “We have already done too much … Pakistan has done its bit, we have delivered; now it’s your (the US) turn. Start delivering.”

Returning to the same theme later in the press conference Qureshi declared, “We have been talking a lot. The time has come to walk the talk.”

The Obama administration has made much of the fact that last year it secured Congressional approval of legislation providing Pakistan with $1.5 billion in annual economic assistance for the next five years. But this amounts to less than $10 per Pakistani per year.

The Pakistani elite resents the extent to which the US is seeking to control the distribution of this aid money, as well as the increased oversight it is insisting on in respect to the dispersal of money from the Afghan War Coalition Support Fund. According to Islamabad, Washington is currently $1.5 billion in arrears on the payments it makes to the Pakistani military for expenses occurred in assisting the US occupation of Afghanistan.

In recent weeks, top Obama administration and Pentagon officials have gone out of their way to laud the Pakistani military’s and government’s support for the US war in Afghanistan. They claim that there is a new level of cooperation between the Pentagon and the Pakistani military and that this indicates a shift in the latter’s attitude toward the Taliban. (The Taliban originally took power in Afghanistan under Pakistani patronage and Islamabad has been loathe to sever all ties with it for fear that India will consolidate its influence over Kabul at Pakistan’s expense.)

In testimony before Congress yesterday, Gates and Mullen termed Pakistan’s military campaign against Taliban-aligned groups in Pakistan “exceptional.” Earlier Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke had dismissed claims, including from the UN’s former top representative in Afghanistan, Kai Eide, that Pakistan’s recent arrest of Afghan Taliban leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, was aimed at closing off a back-door channel of negotiations between Kabul and the Taliban, so as to ensure that Islamabad plays a major role in any Afghan “peace settlement.” Speaking last week, Holbrooke said the US was “extremely gratified that the Pakistani Government has apprehended the number two person in the Taliban.”

US officials now claim to have a greater appreciation of Pakistan’s claims to a strategic stake in Afghanistan. The commander of the US Central Command General Petraeus recently said that Pakistan “has an interest [in Afghanistan] that is somewhat different than ours, and that is their strategic depth … [T]heir strategic depth is and always has been for a country that’s very narrow and has its historic enemy to its east (i.e. India).”

In what also constitutes a shift, Secretary of State Clinton now says that the US is willing to consider Pakistan’s request for a civilian nuclear deal akin to that granted India. Until now, Washington has always briskly rebuffed Pakistan’s calls for such a deal, insisting that the Indo-US nuclear accord is unique.

But as Clinton added, agreeing to talk about something is a far cry from agreeing to it.

The crisis-ridden Pakistani elite is trying to leverage its role in the Afghan war to win concessions from its US paymasters. But, the flights of rhetoric notwithstanding, the Obama administration will be driven by the economic crisis and the imperatives of its geo-political strategy to continue to drive a hard bargain with Islamabad.

For years, Pakistani officials have been seeking access to advanced US military equipment, including missile-launching drones and advanced helicopters. But Washington has spurned their appeals. In advance of the opening of this week’s strategic dialogue, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell cautioned reporters, “I would not look … for there to be some great announcement about any hard items that are being produced as the result of the conversations.”

The US-Pakistani strategic dialogue is only adding to apprehensions in India that Washington is sacrificing its interests in pursuit of closer ties with Islamabad. From the opposition benches and the Indian press there are all manner of voices complaining that the Obama administration has downgraded Indo-US ties (in contrast with the Bush administration which actively courted India as a counterweight to China). In particular, they fear that India, which has lavished aid on Kabul, will be denied a significant role in any future political settlement in Afghanistan. They also complain that while the US has prevailed on Islamabad to crack down on Taliban-aligned elements it has not shown any such resolve in pressing Pakistan to end its support for the insurgency in Indian-held Kashmir.

In an attempt to push back against Islamabad and disrupt US-Pakistani ties, New Delhi has mounted a vigorous campaign to label Pakistan the epicenter of world terrorism and issued veiled threats of a cross-border strike in the event of a further terrorist attack inside India.

The US’s aggressive foreign policy has added a new explosive dimension to the historic Indo-Pakistani rivalry. Holbrooke was forced to concede this when he recently summed up what he called the “American policy dilemma” in South Asia. “Both in New Delhi and Islamabad, people come up to us and say, ‘Oh you’re pro-the other country, you’re favoring one country over the other’.”

Obama signs anti-abortion executive order

Obama signs anti-abortion executive order

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Barack Obama signed an executive order on Wednesday that upholds severe restrictions on the legal right to abortion. The event sealed a deal reached by the president and House Democratic leaders with a group of anti-abortion Democrats who had threatened to vote against the Obama health care plan.

The signing ceremony, closed to the news media, was the culmination of a series of concessions to these anti-abortion forces throughout the year-long congressional debate on the health care overhaul. In attendance to witness the event was Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan, the leader of the anti-abortion group, along with 12 of his similarly minded colleagues.

The signing of the order and its reactionary content demonstrate not only the shameless pandering of the White House to this right-wing anti-abortion bloc, but also the regressive character of the health care plan as a whole. The legislation—hailed as a landmark social reform—will have the effect of denying large numbers of working class and poor women access to abortion.

Rep. Stupak is the co-author of an amendment included in the version of health care legislation passed by the US House last November. The amendment prohibits the use of federal funds “to pay for any abortion or to cover any part of the costs of any health plan that includes coverage of abortion,” except in cases of rape, incest or danger to the life of the mother.

The Stupak-Pitts amendment was interpreted to mean that abortions not included in the exceptions would not be covered in the “public option” proposed in the House bill or in any of the private plans included in the insurance “exchange.” Critics charged that women whose insurance policies currently cover the procedure could lose that coverage.

After Senate Democrats lost a seat to the Republicans in January’s special election in Massachusetts, they no longer had the votes to avoid a Republican filibuster blocking the health care bill. Obama and Democratic House leaders then moved to approve the legislation by a process called reconciliation, which required the House to approve the Senate bill by a majority vote, followed by a simple majority vote in the Senate.

The Senate version of the health care bill, passed last Christmas Eve, contained similarly restrictive language barring the use of federal funds for abortions—not, however, as stringent as Stupak and his cohorts would have liked.

In the wrangling leading up to Sunday night’s vote, they threatened to vote against the legislation, at one point demanding a separate vote on additional anti-abortion restrictions. They finally agreed to vote for the bill if Obama agreed to sign an anti-abortion executive order they drafted in collaboration with White House officials.

The presidential order stipulates that the health care legislation signed into law by Obama on Tuesday and all of its provisions and mechanisms enforce existing laws barring the use of federal funds for abortions.

The presidential order states: “[I]t is necessary to establish an adequate enforcement mechanism to ensure that federal funds are not used for abortion services (except in cases of rape or incest, or when the life of the woman would be endangered) consistent with a longstanding federal statutory restriction that is commonly known as the Hyde Amendment.”

The Hyde Amendment, passed by the House in 1976 and named for its chief sponsor, Rep. Henry Hyde, Republican of Illinois, bars federal funds allocated to the Department of Health and Human Services to be used for abortions. It was passed in the wake of the 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade legalizing the right to abortion.

The amendment is not a permanent law, but a “rider” that has been reauthorized for the past 33 years and attached to annual appropriations bills. Its primary effect has been to block poor women from obtaining abortion services under the Medicaid program. Obama’s executive order states that the health care legislation “maintains the current Hyde Amendment restrictions governing abortion policy and extends those restrictions to the newly-created health insurance exchanges.”

The order also states that the legislation “prohibit[s] discrimination against health care facilities and health care providers because of an unwillingness to provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions.”

According to the presidential order, numerous government agencies—including the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM)—“have a role in ensuring that these restrictions are enforced.”

The order confirms stipulations in the Senate legislation that ban tax credits and federal subsidies for people required, under the new law, to purchase private insurance from being used to pay for abortion services (except in cases of rape, incest or threat to the life of the mother). The order also provides for the auditing of provisions in the bill that call for segregating funds that cover abortions in private insurance plans to be sold on exchanges.

This means that all those who buy a policy that covers abortions—not only those receiving tax credits—will have to separate their monthly premium payment into two parts: one small part ($1 minimum) to cover the plan’s projected costs for covering abortions, and a second, much larger part for the remainder of the premium.

This mechanism will have the likely effect of discouraging insurers from offering plans that cover abortions. The executive order calls for the secretary of HHS and the director of OMB to audit and enforce this complex set-up.

In practice, virtually all insurance plans available to working class and poor people will, as a result of the health care bill and Obama’s executive order, exclude coverage for abortions.

The presidential order also confirms that funds allocated to Obama’s new Community Health Center Fund established under HHS will not be used for abortions. Anti-abortion Democrats had objected that the Senate bill did not specifically state that the Hyde Amendment restrictions would apply to these funds.

President Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California—both professed defenders of abortion rights—worked assiduously to reach an agreement with Stupak and his supporters to get the majority vote in the House to pass the health care legislation.

This assault on a vital democratic right puts the lie to the longstanding argument of liberal and middle class “left” organizations that it is necessary to vote for the Democrats because a Republican president will appoint anti-abortion judges and Supreme Court justices who will weaken or eliminate abortion rights.

The biggest blow to women’s access to abortions is being carried out by a Democratic White House and a Congress with large Democratic majorities in both chambers. It is, moreover, contrived to impact low-income and working class women and exclude affluent women, who will have no problem obtaining access to the procedure.

Many supposedly “left” promoters of Obama’s health care bill have cynically dismissed the attack on abortion rights. In column published March 18 in the Nation, Katha Pollitt wrote, “If health care reform becomes law, you can thank pro-choicers. In the end, forced to decide between sacrificing abortion coverage and voting down coverage of everything else for 30 million people, abortion-rights supporters took the hit.”

The likes of Pollitt did not take a “hit” by abandoning the defense of abortion rights in support of a health care bill that slashes hundreds of billions of dollars from Medicare and encourages the rationing of care along class lines. They helped Obama impose the “hit” on the democratic rights of millions of working class women.

Netanyahu defies Washington on settlements

Netanyahu defies Washington on settlements

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There was no report on the meeting Tuesday between US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Neither was an official handshake staged, let alone a press conference.

It was not until Wednesday that a terse statement was released by the White House, explaining that there remain disagreements with Israel and that the US was seeking “clarification” of plans to build homes in occupied East Jerusalem. The White House confirmed that the meeting with Obama was interrupted after 90 minutes at Netanyahu’s request, so he could consult with officials—indicating that some form of demand had been made of him.

Netanyahu delayed his departure for Israel in order to meet the US Middle East peace envoy, George Mitchell. But it is clear that he has again rebuffed demands that Israel end settlement construction.

The talks came following two weeks of public disagreements between Washington and Tel Aviv, following the March 9 announcement that Israel will build 1,600 new apartments in the Ramat Shlomo area of mainly Arab East Jerusalem, which was annexed from Jordan in 1967 and which the Palestinians claim as the capital of a future state.

The move threatens to worsen already explosive conflicts on the West Bank. The rededication of a synagogue in Jerusalem’s Old City was denounced by the Palestinians as part of an effort to destroy the Al Aqsa Mosque and rebuild the Jewish Temple Mount.

Hundreds of Palestinian protesters have fought with Israeli forces, and areas of the West Bank have been declared “closed military zones.” Hamas declared a “day of rage” over Al Aqsa on March 16, while Fatah’s military wing, the Al Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade, demanded that the Palestinian Authority allow it to resume the armed struggle against “attempts to judaise Jerusalem.” Students in Egypt also staged protests.

The Ramat Shlomo announcement was provocative, timed to coincide with US Vice-President Joseph Biden’s visit to discuss a resumption of peace talks with Israeli President Shimon Peres. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and Obama’s senior adviser David Axelrod accused Israel of “insulting” the United States.

In the run-up to the Obama-Netanyahu meeting, however, it was Washington that made the most strenuous efforts to restore normal relations, while Netanyahu insisted that no compromise was possible on settlement construction. Before he met with Obama, Netanyahu spoke to Clinton privately, a nd both attended the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in Washington on Monday.

Clinton urged Israel to freeze settlement construction, engage in substantive talks with the Palestinians, withdraw its forces from the West Bank, and release some Palestinian prisoners. Netanyahu again rejected a settlement freeze.

But speaking before AIPAC, Clinton denied that US-Israeli relations were in crisis, stressing the “close, unshakeable bond” between the two states and America’s “rock solid, unwavering, enduring” support for Israel’s national security.

Netanyahu welcomed Clinton’s “warm remarks,” but declared that “Jerusalem is not a settlement. It is our capital.” He would continue to follow an Israeli policy that had been consistent ever since the 1967 Six Day War, knowing that Israel would continue to enjoy US support, “from one president to the next, from one Congress to the next.”

Sections of the international press claimed that Obama was finally preparing to curb Israel and even toying with the idea of bringing down Netanyahu’s unstable coalition and engineering its replacement by a Kadima-led coalition. In the Guardian, Jonathan Freedland noted, “The last time the US put such a serious squeeze on Israel was nearly 20 years ago, when the first George Bush threatened to withhold $10 billion in loan guarantees to Israel if settlement building did not stop. That led eventually to the removal of the stubborn Yitzhak Shamir as prime minister and his replacement by the peace-seeking Yitzhak Rabin.”

But the arguments used to back up such claims—centring on Washington’s desire to preserve and strengthen its interests in the Middle East—also militate against such a head-on confrontation with Israel.

Since its establishment, and particularly following its victory over Egypt, Syria and Jordan in 1967, Israel has functioned as both a regional power and America’s key Middle East ally. It receives massive economic, military and diplomatic support from the US, without which it could not survive. But whereas its interests generally coincide with those of Washington—in combating threats to America’s interests either from the Arab states or, more importantly, the Arab masses—they are not identical. At times this makes for fraught relations.

The source of recent tensions lies in America’s striving to restore its influence in the Middle East in the aftermath of the Iraq invasion and, in particular, its efforts to build a coalition of Arab states—including Egypt and Saudi Arabia—supportive of its drive to curb Iran.

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of the US Central Command, stated bluntly that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict posed a threat to US interests, fomenting “anti-American sentiment” and aiding Al Qaeda. Insufficient progress towards a comprehensive Middle East peace “presented distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests,” he said.

However, maintaining close relations with Israel remains a key component of America’s Middle East strategy. The Obama administration is angry that Netanyahu’s unrestrained settlement construction has undermined its efforts to repair the damage done by the Bush administration and present the US as an honest broker in the Israel-Palestine conflict. But in the recent past, it was the US that backed down when Israel refused to toe the line.

Last September, the Obama administration demanded that Israel halt all settlement construction in the West Bank and Netanyahu refused. The US accepted Netanyahu’s spurious pledge to “limit” settlement construction, with Clinton famously praising this as an “unprecedented” concession.

Washington’s generally placatory stance towards Israel is not merely an external question. Israel enjoys substantial political support within American ruling circles. Netanyahu and Likud, moreover, have close ties with the Republicans. Obama and the Democrats fear being branded by the political opposition as insufficiently supportive of Israel.

Israel’s hard-line stance towards the Palestinians, Lebanon, Syria and Iran finds its echo in Congress amongst both Republicans and Democrats. Following his appearance at AIPAC, Netanyahu addressed Congress. He received a bipartisan vote of confidence, with Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declaring, “In Congress we speak with one voice on the subject of Israel.’’

At this point, the Obama administration is focusing its efforts on seeking ever-more stringent sanctions against Iran, while offering “comprehensive diplomatic contacts and dialogue.” Should this fail, however, a military strike against Tehran is possible and Israel would necessarily be involved.

Scotland’s Sunday Herald last weekend reported that the US was moving 387 bunker-buster bombs to Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean in preparation for such an attack on Iran. Dan Plesch, director of the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy (CISD) at the University of London, described US plans as “gearing up totally for the destruction of Iran” by hitting “10,000 targets in Iran in a few hours.”

Netanyahu stressed the threat from Iran throughout his Washington visit, telling AIPAC that Israel expected the international community to deal decisively with Tehran and prevent it from obtaining nuclear weapons. The Sunday Times also reported Netanyahu’s intention to ask the US to provide Israel with the bunker-buster bombs required by Israel to attack Iran’s underground nuclear-enrichment installations.

The Middle East is being destabilised not only as a result of Netanyahu’s offensive against the Palestinians in pursuit of a “Greater Israel.” More fundamentally, Israel’s actions are exposing the falsity of America’s claim to be a friend of the Palestinians and highlighting the reality of Washington’s predatory designs on Iran and the entire region.

This is creating the conditions for an explosion of anger amongst the Arab masses that will not be confined to the West Bank and Gaza.

How to Make the Media Pay As Much Attention to the Giant Anti-War Movement As They Do the Tea Parties

How to Make the Media Pay As Much Attention to the Giant Anti-War Movement As They Do the Tea Parties

This post was written as part of GreenChange blog action day. Learn more here.

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The anti-war movement seems to be at a crossroads these days. The rapid contraction of anti-war activism after George W. Bush left office caused many skeptics, including activists themselves, to wonder if most of the protesters had been more anti-Bush than anti-war. However, there are signs that the ranks of Americans who are determined to protest the evils of war, no matter which party controls the White House, is growing.

A December rally in Washington DC against the escalation of the Afghanistan War, which featured an impressive lineup of speakers including Chris Hedges, Cynthia McKinney, Dennis Kucinich, Mike Gravel, and Ralph Nader, nevertheless attracted only a small number of supporters – probably less than 1000. The recent March 20th anti-war march in Washington DC attracted between 2500 and 10000 supporters. That’s still a far cry from the hundreds of thousands who would march during the Bush regime, but it may be a sign that the movement is recovering from its post-election inaction.

I remember hearing from people familiar with United For Peace & Justice (UFPJ), a nationwide umbrella group for anti-war organizations, that UFPJ leaders opted not to put their organizing muscle behind the March 20 protest. I’m out of the country and out of the loop, so I can’t confirm if that’s true. If it is true, I think it’s a big mistake for a self-described anti-war organization to downplay an anti-war protest. If anti-war group leaders view President Obama as more receptive to their message, that’s all the more reason for them to put pressure on him to do the right thing.

Ross Levin has a great post on how the 3/20 anti-war march in DC, which he attended and reported from, got significantly less media coverage than a significantly smaller Tea Party rally against healthcare reform across town.

It’s an open secret that the “grassroots” Tea Party movement is actually an astroturf operation, promoted by establishment media pundits like Rick Sanchez and Glenn Beck and funded by establishment political operatives like Dick Armey. Yet the mainstream media coverage treats the Tea Party protests like a genuine grassroots conservative uprising. My question is: can anti-war organizers convert this state of affairs into greater publicity for their movement?

Just the fact that anti-war rallies attract more people than tea parties won’t get them more coverage, but maybe if anti-war organizers made the “we’re bigger than the tea party” challenge integral to their actions, and communicated it to both the mainstream and independent media (as well as creating their own media), it would get more press and attract more attention from the general public.

Another idea (just throwing it out there): an “An-TEA-War PARTY protest”, in which anti-war protesters would mimic tea partiers by standing on the Capitol steps and screaming anti-war slogans at passing members of Congress. By holding signs saying “An-TEA-War PARTY”, these protesters could attract the Tea-Party-loving press.

Another idea: antiwar protesters could have simply marched past the tea party protest, in an attempt to highlight the media’s bias in giving greater coverage to a smaller protest. Intrepid protesters could even join the Tea Partiers and wave their anti-war signs for the cameras. Such tactics would probably require nonviolence training, since some tea partiers could get physical and it would not be good if the anti-war protesters retaliated.

One more demonstration idea: I’ve often thought it would be interesting if someone organized a march in the style of a 1930s labor rally. Everyone would wear suits or dresses, and carry black-and-white signs and banners with simple lettering and straightforward messages. To my mind, a protest like that could attract media attention and get people talking.

In case I’ve offended anyone who thinks the tea parties are cool, there is an encouraging initiative from Voters For Peace to broaden the anti-war movement to include folks who don’t usually show up for anti-war events. Here’s Sam Smith’s take on the effort:

“Last Saturday I spent eight hours with three dozen other people in a basement conference room of a Washington hotel engaged in an extraordinary exercise of mind and hope.

The topic was, by itself, depressingly familiar: building an anti-war coalition. What made it so strikingly different was the nature of those at the table. They included progressives, conservatives, traditional liberals and libertarians. Some reached back to the Reagan years or to 1960s activism, some – including an SDS leader from the University of Maryland and several Young Americans for Liberty – were still in college.”

I’ve read the foreign policy chapter of Ron Paul’s book, and I felt that he was right on the money about many things, like ending US wars in the Middle East, closing US military bases in other countries, and cutting off military aid to foreign governments like Israel and Egypt. In the same coalition-building vein, we can only benefit by more often invoking the anti-militarism words of people who conservatives revere, like Dwight Eisenhower and George Washington. I’ll add some choice quotations below.

Another great thing about Voters For Peace is that it’s involved in both grassroots activism and legislative pressure campaigns. To be effective, the anti-war movement must get serious about pressuring politicians. Pressuring politicians requires setting specific goals that they can be held accountable to. For the anti-war movement, that means war funding, since Congress can end the occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan only by refusing to fund them.

The most effective pressure tactic would be organizing a nationwide voter pledge not to vote for any politician who votes for war funding. If you want a politician to pay attention, tell them they won’t get your vote if they don’t meet your conditions. The Democratic majority has voted solidly to continue the wars, but make them feel that their majority is at risk if they fail to end the wars, and that’s how you get real action.

In many districts, instead of voting for a pro-war incumbent in the general election, you can vote for a Green, anti-war Libertarian, or other independent. The anti-war movement needs to show politicians that only anti-war candidates will earn our votes from now on.

What are your thoughts?

QUOTATION TIME!

“Our detached and distant situation invites and enables us to pursue a different course. If we remain one people under an efficient government. the period is not far off when we may defy material injury from external annoyance; when we may take such an attitude as will cause the neutrality we may at any time resolve upon to be scrupulously respected; when belligerent nations, under the impossibility of making acquisitions upon us, will not lightly hazard the giving us provocation; when we may choose peace or war, as our interest, guided by justice, shall counsel.

Why forego the advantages of so peculiar a situation? Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground? Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor or caprice? ”

-George Washington

“He who is the author of a war lets loose the whole contagion of hell and opens a vein that bleeds a nation to death. ”

-Thomas Paine

“Believing that the happiness of mankind is best promoted by the useful pursuits of peace, that on these alone a stable prosperity can be founded, that the evils of war are great in their endurance, and have a long reckoning for ages to come, I have used my best endeavors to keep our country uncommitted in the troubles which afflict Europe, and which assail us on every side.”

-Thomas Jefferson

“Of all the enemies of public liberty, war is perhaps the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. ”

-James Madison

“Allow the president to invade a neighboring nation, whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to do so whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such a purpose – and you allow him to make war at pleasure. ”

-Abraham Lincoln

“The best way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend… Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them?”

-Abraham Lincoln

” In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together. ”

-Dwight Eisenhower

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. ”

-Dwight Eisenhower

Rotarix rotavirus vaccine contaminated with pig virus, officials say

Rotarix rotavirus vaccine contaminated, officials say

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Federal health authorities recommended Monday that doctors suspend using Rotarix, one of two vaccines licensed in the United States against rotavirus, saying the vaccine is contaminated with material from a pig virus.

"There is no evidence at this time that this material poses a safety risk," Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg told reporters in a conference call.

Rotarix, made by GlaxoSmithKline, was approved by the FDA in 2008. The contaminant material is DNA from porcine circovirus 1, a virus from pigs that is not known to cause disease in humans or animals, Hamburg said.

About 1 million children in the United States and about 30 million worldwide have gotten Rotarix vaccine, she said.

Rotavirus disease kills more than 500,000 infants around the world each year, primarily in low- and middle-income countries, she said. Before rotavirus vaccine became available, the disease was blamed for more than 50,000 hospitalizations and several dozen deaths per year in the United States, she said.

The FDA learned about the contamination after an academic research team using a novel technique to look for viruses in a range of vaccines found the material in GlaxoSmithKline's product and told the company, Hamburg said. The drug maker confirmed its presence in both the cell bank and the seed from which the vaccine is derived, suggesting its presence from the early stages of vaccine development, she said. The FDA then confirmed the drug maker's findings.

GlaxoSmithKline emphasized Monday that the pig virus is not known to cause illness in humans, saying "it is found in everyday meat products and is frequently eaten with no resulting disease or illness."

"No safety issue has been identified by external agencies or GSK," Thomas Breuer, the drug maker's chief medical officer, said in a written statement. "GSK is committed to patient safety and to the highest manufacturing standards for all our vaccines and medicines. We are already working closely and discussing this finding with regulatory agencies around the world."

Another vaccine, RotaTeq, is made by Merck and was approved in 2006. There is no evidence that the Merck product is affected, Hamburg said. Both vaccines are given by mouth to infants to prevent rotavirus disease, which is marked by severe diarrhea and dehydration.

Asked whether Merck would be able to meet the nation's demand, Merck spokeswoman Pam Eisele said, "Obviously, we will work with the ... FDA to evaluate supply needs."

In the next four to six weeks, the drug agency will convene an advisory committee to make recommendations and seek input on the use of new techniques for identifying viruses in vaccine, Hamburg said.

"We're not pulling it from the market, we're just suspending its use during this period while we're collecting more information," she said. "It should not be in this vaccine product and we want to understand how it got there. It's not an easy call and we spent many long hours debating the pros and cons but, because we have an alternative product and because the background rates of this disease are not so severe in this country, we felt that the judicious thing to do was to take a pause, to really ask the critical questions about what this material was doing in the vaccine, how it got there."

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, said "a substantial amount" of the DNA was found in the vaccine. But, he stressed, "there is no evidence that it causes any disease. ... There is no evidence that it ever does anything."

The research group that discovered the contamination has asked not to be identified pending its paper's publication in a scientific journal, Hamburg said.

Anyone who has already received a dose of Rotarix should switch to the Merck product for the next two doses, Hamburg said. Preliminary testing of the Merck product has found no evidence of the porcine circovirus 1 DNA, she said. Doctors should be able to tell parents which of the two products their children received, she said.

Hamburg stressed that the suspension applies only to the United States. Public health officials in countries where the incidence of rotavirus is more severe may decide that the benefits of continuing to use the vaccine outweigh any concerns raised by the contamination, she said. "Such a decision would be very understandable," she added.

A similar virus, porcine circovirus 2, also does not cause disease in humans, but it does cause disease in its pig host, Hamburg said.

Steny Hoyer: Members are at risk

Steny Hoyer: Members are at risk

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House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer is warning that some of his Democratic colleagues are being threatened with violence when they go back to their districts — and he wants Republicans to stand up and condemn the threats.

The Maryland Democrat said more than 10 House Democrats have reported incidents of threats or other forms of harassment about their support of the highly divisive health insurance overhaul vote. Hoyer emphasized that he didn’t have a specific number of threats and that was just an estimate.

TheFederal Bureau of Investigation, Capitol Police and sergeant at arms briefed Democrats behind closed doors today about the incidents of violence — the most high profile of which have been toward Democratic Reps. Thomas Perriello of Virginia, Steve Driehaus of Ohio and Louise Slaughter of New York.

Hoyer hinted that Republicans should do more to condemn these threats of violence.

“I would hope that we would join together jointly and make it very clear that none of us condone this kind of activity,” Hoyer told reporters. “And when we see it, we speak out strongly in opposition to it. And I would hope that we would do that going forward.”

Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), the majority whip, said Democrats and Republicans should continue to speak out on these threats. “Silence gives consent,” Clyburn said.

But Minority Leader John Boehner already has condemned threats of violence — and sought to explain why people are so angry.

“I know many Americans are angry over this health care bill, and that Washington Democrats just aren’t listening,” Boehner said. “But, as I’ve said, violence and threats are unacceptable. That’s not the American way. We need to take that anger and channel it into positive change. Call your congressman, go out and register people to vote, go volunteer on a political campaign, make your voice heard — but let's do it the right way."

A Republican aide also pointed out that over the years Republican members of Congress received their fair share of death threats during volatile times. Newt Gingrich after the 1994 Republican revolution and the late Henry Hyde during the Clinton impeachment in 1998 both received numerous death threats. And just last month, Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) received death threats after his filibuster of unemployment benefits, according to a report in Roll Call.

Hoyer said steps are being taken to protect members of Congress. Most lawmakers do not have formal security protection, but if any member feels threatened, they will be getting “attention from the proper authorities.”

On Wednesday, the FBI began a preliminary investigation into fuel lines cut at the Virginia home of Perriello’s brother, whose address was posted online — the poster thought it was the lawmaker’s address.

Halliburton drops high court appeal in rape case

Halliburton drops high court appeal in rape case

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Halliburton Co. and KBR have withdrawn an appeal asking the Supreme Court to block the trial of a former military contractor from Texas who says she was raped by co-workers in Iraq.

Halliburton confirmed today that the appeal was withdrawn, but wouldn’t elaborate.

Jamie Leigh Jones says she was raped while working for KBR in Baghdad in 2005. She later sued KBR and Halliburton, which split in 2007.

Halliburton and KBR had argued that Jones’ case should be settled in arbitration as required by her contract. A lower court ruled it could go to trial, which is set for May 2011.

The Associated Press usually doesn’t name people alleging sexual assault, but Jones’ identity has been broadcast in media reports and on her own Web site.


Clone wars: Mossad's London chief expelled over forged passports

Clone wars: Mossad's London chief expelled over forged passports

New details are revealed showing how Israeli security services stole British citizens' identities. Foreign Office advises travellers to Israel that they risk having their passports cloned

Britain has expelled Mossad's most senior official in London after concluding there was compelling evidence that UK passports used by a hit squad in Dubai were cloned by Israel. The Independent has learnt that the documents were cloned at Ben Gurion airport, and officials then made follow-up calls to check surreptitiously that the travel plans of those whose identities had been stolen would not interfere with the assassination.

"Such misuse of British passports is intolerable," the Foreign Secretary David Miliband told Parliament. "The fact that this was done by a country which is a friend, with significant diplomatic, cultural, business and personal ties to the UK, only adds insult to injury." In an unusual move last night, the Foreign Office also updated its travel advice for Israel, warning would-be visitors of the perils of passport cloning. "We recommend that you only hand your passport over to third parties including Israeli officials when absolutely necessary," the travel bulletin said.

In Israel, the official response to London's action was notably terse. "The relationship between Britain and Israel is mutually important," the foreign ministry said. "We therefore regret the British decision." But in other quarters there was undisguised fury. "I think [the] British are behaving hypocritically and I don't want to offend dogs on this issue, since some dogs are utterly loyal. [But] Who are they to judge us on the war on terror?" said Aryeh Eldad of Israel's National Religious Party.

The row marked another chapter of friction between Israel and its Western allies. Relations with Washington were reported to be at a 35-year low, following the Israeli government's announcement of 1,600 new homes in East Jerusalem while US Vice-President Joe Biden was visiting. The fact that yesterday's meeting at the White House between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama was held behind closed doors was interpreted as another sign that tempers have not fully calmed.

While Mr Miliband refused to divulge the name and job title of the diplomat who was given his marching orders, it is believed to be the Mossad head of station in London. Dubai authorities have already accused Mossad of being behind the assassination in a luxury hotel of Hamas commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in January. With the diplomatic expulsion yesterday, Britain has effectively made the same accusation.

The results of the investigation by the UK's Serious and Organised Crime Agency (Soca) remained under wraps last night, but The Independent understands that the passports of 12 people were cloned after they were taken away from their owners at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv for up to 30 minutes, so that "immigration officials" could carry out "checks".

It is also believed that subsequently, some of the passport holders received telephone calls in the weeks before the Dubai assassination, from officials purportedly seeking to arrange appointments to discuss immigration issues. The officials went on to ask them about upcoming travel plans and when they would not be available.

All but one of the victims have now been issued with biometric passports, which are a safeguard against cloning. The final individual will receive his in the next week.

The Foreign Secretary told the House of Commons that forgeries were of a "high quality". "Given that this was a very sophisticated operation, the Government judges it is highly likely that the forgeries were made by a state intelligence service," he said. "Taking this together with other inquiries, and the link with Israel established by Soca, we have concluded that there are compelling reasons to believe that Israel was responsible for the misuse of the British passports."

Diplomats were quick to note the reference to "other inquiries" - fuelling speculation that the UK had other intelligence-based information about the episode. According to diplomatic sources US officials were told of the decision to carry out the expulsion and had no objection to the strong British stance, a reflection, it is believed, of Washington's exasperation with the Netanyahu government over the East Jerusalem settlements.

Mr Miliband had been due to attend a ceremony at the Israeli embassy yesterday evening, but he pulled out in what was widely perceived as another sign of British displeasure.

But the UK has desisted from taking more wide-ranging punitive steps. In 1987, after the arrest in Hull of a Palestinian working for Mossad and acting as an agent provocateur, Margaret Thatcher demanded that all Mossad operations in the UK should stop.

And it was clear last night that Israel was not planning a retaliatory expulsion of a British diplomat - despite calls from Knesset member Mr Eldad, to do so. Tzahi Hanegbi, the chairman of the Knesset's influential Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee, and a member of opposition leader Tzipi Livni's Kadima Party said: "I believe that Israel's abstaining from giving any kind of response at the height of the Dubai crisis was right. Now that the height of the crisis is behind us, it is certainly all the more logical to refrain from making matters worse."

Mr Miliband stressed that Britain would "continue to work closely with Israel on a range of issues, notably the Iranian nuclear threat" but added "that co-operation must be based on transparency and trust".

He said he had demanded, and received, an assurance from Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli Foreign Minister, that Israel would never again use British passports for clandestine operations. However, William Hague, the shadow Foreign Secretary, pointed out that a previous Israeli foreign minister, Shimon Peres, had given a similar undertaking after an Israeli embassy diplomatic pouch was found in a German telephone callbox with fake British passports. "It would seem those assurances have not been upheld," said Mr Hague.

The Dubai hit-squad also used fake German, French, Irish and Australian passports. Mr Miliband said he had spoken in the past 24 hours with the foreign ministers of those countries.

Timeline: Dubai murder case

January 19 Mahmoud al-Mabhouh is assassinated in Dubai. The suspects fly out within hours.

January 20 Hotel staff find Mabhouh's body. Hamas says he died of a sudden illness.

January 29 Mabhouh is buried near Damascus. A senior Hamas official accuses Israel of involvement in his death. Dubai police say Mossad involvement is possible.

February 15 Dubai police announce that they are seeking 11 people with European passports, and provide CCTV footage and passport photos of the suspects.

February 16-17 Original passport holders deny involvement and say their identities have been stolen. Israeli foreign minister says there is no proof of Mossad involvement. Gordon Brown promises a full investigation of the misuse of British passports.

February 18 Britain and Ireland summon Israeli ambassadors. Dubai's chief says for the first time that he is almost certain Israel was behind the killing.

February 22 As Avigdor Lieberman meets with European Union foreign ministers in Brussels, the EU condemns fraudulent use of passports.

February 24 15 more suspects identified by Dubai police, bringing total to 26.

February 27 SOCA investigators arrive in Tel Aviv to interview victims of identity theft.

March 9 27th suspect identified.

March 23 David Miliband announces Israeli diplomat will be expelled over use of forged passports.