Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Writing cheques for Gaza is easy. Politics is the tricky bit

It is time to question Europe's historic role of financing the failure of policies laid down in Israel and the US
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Chris Patten
The Guardian, Tuesday 27 January 2009
Article history
Shortly after I became a European commissioner in 1999 I visited Gaza and the West Bank to see how the European commission, under strong international pressure, could speed up disbursement of development assistance. I recall in particular visits to Gaza airport, subsequently ploughed up by the Israeli army, and to a general hospital. I visited the morgue that was under construction. It must have been badly overloaded in recent years.
After the second intifada began in the autumn of 2000, Israel stopped the transfer of tax receipts owed to the Palestinian Authority. In the following summer the commission began payment of direct budgetary assistance to the authority. There were tough conditions, overseen by international financial institutions. The infrastructure built by European money on the West Bank and in Gaza was systematically trashed by the Israeli Defence Forces in 2002. They were responding to horrific suicide bombings in Israel. Anything that might be seen to provide the sinews of government was destroyed - including the land registry, courts and police stations. This did not obviously advance the prospect of a two-state solution.
Throughout the period when budgetary support was provided, the European commission was accused by some Israeli lobby groups of bankrolling terrorism and corruption. We just about achieved our aim and managed to keep the Palestinian Authority afloat - even to reform it. As the responsible commissioner, I was privately encouraged by senior US state department officials to continue the support, and was never asked by Israeli officials to stop it. Europe was in effect fulfilling its now historic role of financing the terrible failure of policies laid down not in Brussels, but in Tel Aviv and Washington. Doubtless Europe is getting ready to do the same again.
From 2000 to 2008, European commission funding to Palestine totalled nearly €3bn. In the last couple of years, about half the funding went to Gaza, for example in fuel for the power plant and help for impoverished families. Over the last 10 years about €50m has been spent in Gaza on physical infrastructure work, part of a much larger sum committed but not spent. To all these figures should be added the development assistance paid for directly by member states.
After the recent assault on Gaza, the collecting tin is once again being passed round. Leaving to one side the controversy over the BBC's lamentable failure to air the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal, on a state and European level we should be generous in giving humanitarian relief. But it is worth questioning the point of further development assistance in the absence of political progress. With no political movement, and with a ban on any contact at all with Hamas, Tony Blair's purported role as Palestine's George Marshall - bringing peace through development - has been totally irrelevant. Forgive the question, but isn't this the same Tony Blair who rightly used to talk to Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness in the pursuit of peace; the same Tony Blair who released terrorist murderers from prison in the same cause? If Europe is to write more cheques, surely we should insist on some political movement.
The first step would be to respond positively to the call from Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, for the formation of a unity government. There was one after Hamas won a majority of seats in the 2006 parliamentary elections. After active diplomatic efforts by Saudi Arabia, Hamas and Fatah were locked into an uneasy truce which was split asunder in part by the US and European refusal to deal with Hamas. Presumably any unity government formed today would require another Fatah-Hamas deal, brokered by Arab governments. But would the world then deal with the government that emerged? Without Hamas, how would any peace deal be sold to the Palestinians? The diplomatic trick is not how to justify the isolation of Hamas but how to ease them out of their isolation, to get them to endorse a permanent ceasefire, and to release captive Corporal Shalit.
Progress also requires recognition of the way that all the dots join up in the Middle East. Iran, Syria, Lebanon and Hezbollah will all be part of any hopeful way forward. Washington needs to talk to Iran and to engage Syria. It should also encourage the diplomacy of Turkey and Qatar, which have become increasingly helpful in recent months.
So much of the focus in the Middle East is on process. We should go back and look at the content of a deal to produce lasting peace and security for Israel and a viable Palestinian state. There will be no resolution while there are so many Israeli settlements on the West Bank. Will the Obama administration say that loud and clear to Israeli politicians?
Before Europe does the easy bit - even in these financially straitened times - and writes more cheques, we should at least ask ourselves what exactly we are buying with our money. It would be a real breakthrough if the answer was peace.
• Chris Patten, a former Conservative party chairman and European commissioner for external relations, is chancellor of the University of Oxford

Pressure on Jack Straw over 'secret' inquests and mercy killing

The Bar, MPs and civil liberties groups warns that Justice Secretary's plans may have 'serious detrimental effects'
Frances Gibb, Legal Editor
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Jack Straw faces mounting opposition over plans for "secret" inquests, tougher sentencing powers and reforms to the law on mercy-killing that come before MPs today.
Leaders of the legal profession, MPs and civil liberties groups are warning that the Justice Secretary's wide-ranging Coroners and Justice Bill could have "dangerous" and "serious detrimental effects" on the justice system.
The Bar says that proposed powers on a sentencing council, for instance, will fetter judges' discretion to tailor sentences to the crime. Plans to reform coroners' inquests will undermine the importance of the coroner's jury, they say.
In briefing paper to MPs the Bar Council also says that the Bill contains "far-reaching changes to existing legislation which have not been given sufficient thought."
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Desmond Browne, QC, the Bar Council chairman, said: "The Bill as currently drafted could have serious detrimental effects on our justice system."
Peter Lodder, QC, the chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, added that any legislation had to be robust and serve the public interest. "We are concerned that the Bill as it stands contains a number of measures which do not achieve this," he said.
The Bar leaders are calling first for the proposed reforms on assisted suicide to be dropped from the bill. The Bill aims to make clear that assisting a suicide via the internet is a crime. But the Bar Council says it is opposed to any reform of the law on assisted suicide or mercy killing without "extensive consultation." It warns that "it is wrong, in principle, to amend this sensitive area of the law without extensive consultation, and dangerous to do so for fear of unintended consequences."
It welcomes the next tranche of proposed reform, to the laws on murder. But it backs recent comments by Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, the senior law lord, over proposals to stop sexual infidelity being a reason to invoke the defence of provocation. Husbands and wives could both taunt their spouses with sexual infidelity and use it as a "weapon of torture", the Bar Council says, and part of bullying which "so often forms the worst of mental cruelty." But under the present proposals, a defence lawyer may argue that that the dead husband or wife was flaunting infidelity - and this provoked the spouse to attack - but juries will have to disregard admissions of infidelity.
A third area of concern is the revived proposals to allow inquests to be held in private. The Bar says that these proposals are "virtually unchanged" since they came before Parliament last year in the Counter-Terrorism Bill.
It says that it a power is needed, enabling a HIgh Court judge to be appointed to sit as a coroner and hold part or all of an inquest in private on national security grounds, then the decision on whether to hold a private inquest should be for the High Court judge himself, it says.
The Bill also reduces the number of jurors from between 7-11 to 6-9. The jury is the "foundation for public confidence" in sensitive inquests and should be retained at the larger size to prevent any possibility of bias, the Bar says.
It also criticises the Bill for failing to address the lack of public funding for bereaved families and other interested parties at inquests, which at present is only granted in "exceptional" circumstances.
Finally, it welcomes proposals for a sentencing council but warns that judges' discretion will be fettered if they are made to follow the guidelines, as proposed, rather than take account of them.
The Justice Committee of MPs has also expressed concerns about the Bill.
A report just published says that it raises expectations for a reformed national coroners' service, including a charter for the bereaved, which may not be met with new funds. As a result, inequalities in the service will continue to exist, it says.
MPs also warn that the revived proposals for "secret" inquests have not received any consultation and will merit "close and careful scrutiny". The Government must be prepared to withdraw the measures if it cannot justify them as proportionate and compatible with the Human Rights Act.

Common sense has no place on the Brown-Darling Titanic

As the economic ship goes down, all lifeboats are for bankers, however hopeless they might be. Let the steelworkers sink
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Simon Jenkins
The Guardian, Wednesday 28 January 2009
Article history
The British government will do anything, absolutely anything, to avoid boosting demand in the recession. Yesterday's frantic rescue package for the car industry will boost profits (or reduce losses) but not sell a single extra car. As for the steelworkers of Llanwern, on whom such sales depend, the policy can only be to retrain them as hedge fund managers. Billions in subsidy is now rescuing hedge fund managers, nothing to rescue steel.
Ever since Alistair Darling hired a posse of City bankers to advise him on recession, they have recommended that he give money unconditionally to banks. As the Titanic sinks, they cry that he cannot let bankers drown. They are our friends. Let steelworkers sink, but keep the boats for the bankers.
I wonder what advice Darling would have received if he had ennobled a dozen steelworkers and asked them to sit in the Treasury. He might protest that they would merely tell him to save the steel industry. But at least steelworkers would have gone out and spent. Bankers have hightailed it to Monaco.
Since nobody has a clue as to what is happening to the economy, we might as well return to first principles. The Llanwern worker makes steel mostly for three consumer industries: cars, white goods and buildings. His job depends not on the viability of some distant bank, but on the public buying his product.
The only sensible way to keep this man in work is to ensure that the public keeps buying. All else is smoke and mirrors. Beg people to buy, lend them to spend, give them vouchers, cash, anything to keep them in the marketplace for goods and services. All else is delay and a waste of effort.
The Brown-Darling policy is archaeo-Thatcherism. It is to regard the steelworker as a residuum of an economic downturn. The government has decided to aid not Corus, but Corus's bank. It has hurled money at banks in the vague hope that some might stick to Corus and thus to its workers. Without demand this is pointless. No bank lends to a bankrupt foundry.
What the banks are doing instead is using the money for something they regard as worthwhile, covering the debts outstanding on their balance sheets. Some of these are from poor home-owners, recklessly induced to buy by Gordon Brown and Yvette Cooper. But most were run up during the wildest speculative bubble known to economics, the buying and selling of financial derivatives. Dutch tulip futures were at least about tulips. Today's debts are a pyramid of promissory notes at the base of which lies next to nothing, the so-called toxic paper.
This pyramid of bankruptcy should have been collapsed long before anyone collapsed Llanwern. The regulators could have dismantled it after the rescue of the first casualty, Northern Rock, in 2007, but they were asleep. They (or their US brethren) might have done so again by rescuing Lehman Brothers and thus underpinning credit last summer.
When the system unravelled in September the only sensible path was to acknowledge that the banks were bankrupt. Retail banks owe their proclaimed special status - their access to Treasury funds - to their ability to lend, to their credit. Without that credit, and unable to lend, they are a waste of space. Sir Fred Goodwin's RBS is now no more entitled to taxpayer subsidy than a used-car dealer on the North Circular.
When trucks loaded with Darling's loot arrived at the Square Mile, the banks should have been properly nationalised. Depositors' balances should have been protected to keep the cash machines working. Bank shares, assets and liabilities would have gone into administration and managers would have become government agents, lending guaranteed loans to businesses on public credit. This is now being done, but three months too late to save hundreds of thousands of jobs.
Instead some £85bn of public money, the biggest state gusher in peacetime, has vanished into relieving the debts of private financiers. But inevitably not enough. This has brought down the lending banks and dried up credit. Recession has duly ensued. There is no mystery here. It is in the textbooks.
On the outbreak of the Great War, the City of London pleaded to be left to continue normal business with Germany, lest its worldwide credit be damaged. The chancellor, Lloyd George, said that Britain was at war and the City would do as it was told. Every interest rate and every loan was put under state direction. Banks were ordered to buy government stock and lend money according to a state capital issues committee. "We are Treasury-ridden," they howled. But they obeyed and the war was won.
The story of this saga by the City historian David Kynaston tells of the utter selfishness of bankers and the confident command of Lloyd George. Faith in him, even in the City, became so total that, when he mooted moving to 10 Downing Street, the governor of the Bank of England interrupted the great man shaving and burst into tears.
Such loyalty is inconceivable today. Stupefying amounts of taxpayers' money have been given to banks, and with no conditions attached. It has been nationalisation without responsibility, nationalisation as charity.
If local councillors had behaved like Darling and Brown, they would have been arrested and surcharged. They have given favours to their friends. They are the Shirley Porters of New Labour. The latest gimmick is to lend money to car companies to innovate and "be green". How it is green to carpet the countryside with thousands of unsold cars is not explained.
The Germans are doing the right thing. They are issuing vouchers to people to spend on German-made cars. The money goes straight from the consumer to the producer, thus keeping the dealer, the factory and the steelworker in business. None of it sticks to a bank. The same could be done across the economic piece.
There is no other way of keeping in business the 2,500 laid-off Corus workers of south Wales, the 2,500 Philips electronics workers, the shopkeepers, drivers, waiters and hairdressers, on all of whose incomes recovery depends. Only revived demand will do that.
Instead Darling and Brown (with full Tory support) are systematically depressing the economy. This is not a matter of left or right, socialism or markets, free trade or protectionism. It is common sense versus stupidity. Stupidity is winning.

Who are Hamas?

Hamas takes its name from the Arabic initials for the Islamic Resistance Movement.
Branded a terrorist organisation by Israel, the US and the EU, it is seen by its supporters as a legitimate fighting force defending Palestinians from a brutal military occupation.
It is the largest Palestinian militant Islamist organisation, formed in 1987 at the beginning of the first intifada, or Palestinian uprising against Israel's occupation in the West Bank and Gaza.
The group's short-term aim has been to drive Israeli forces from the occupied territories. To achieve this it has launched attacks on Israeli troops and settlers in the Palestinian territories and against civilians in Israel.

Profile: Mahmoud Zahhar
Profile: Ismail HaniyaIt also has a long-term aim of establishing an Islamic state on all of historic Palestine - most of which has been contained within Israel's borders since its creation in 1948.
For years the organisation was divided into two main spheres of operation:
social programmes like building schools, hospitals and religious institutions
militant operations carried out by Hamas' underground Iss al-Din Qassam Brigades.
But it became increasingly involved in Palestinian factional politics, both in the occupied territories and with a political branch in exile.
One of its leaders-in-exile, Khalid Meshaal, was the target of a bungled Israeli assassination attempt in Jordan in 1997.
King Hussein was outraged by Israel's action and was only placated when Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu released Hamas's jailed spiritual leader and founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.
While King Hussein tolerated Hamas's presence, his successor King Abdullah II had the group's headquarters closed down and senior figures expelled to Qatar.
Hamas has remained outside the main Palestinian political structure of the PLO, but it took part in - and won - Palestinian Authority (PA) legislative elections in the occupied territories in 2006.
Veto power
Hamas came to prominence after the first intifada as the main Palestinian opponent of the Oslo accords - the US-sponsored peace process that oversaw the gradual and partial removal of Israel's occupation in return for Palestinian guarantees to protect Israeli security.
Despite numerous Israeli operations against it and clampdowns by Yasser Arafat's Palestinian National Authority, Hamas found it had an effective power of veto over the process by launching suicide attacks.
In February and March 1996, it carried out several suicide bus bombings, killing nearly 60 Israelis, in retaliation for the assassination in December 1995 of Hamas bomb maker Yahya Ayyash.
The bombings were widely blamed for turning Israelis off the peace process and bringing about the election of right-winger Mr Netanyahu who was a staunch opponent of the Oslo accords.
In the post-Oslo world, most particularly following the failure of US President Bill Clinton's Camp David summit in the summer of 2000 and the second intifada which followed shortly thereafter, Hamas gained power and influence as Israel steadily destroyed the infrastructure of the Palestinian Authority.
In towns and refugee camps besieged by the Israeli army, Hamas organised clinics and schools which served Palestinians who felt entirely let down by the corrupt and inefficient Palestinian Authority dominated by its secularist rival, Fatah.
The armed struggle
Many Palestinians cheered the wave of Hamas suicide attacks (and those of fellow militants Islamic Jihad and the secular al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade) in the first years of the intifada.

Obituary: Ahmed YassinThey saw "martyrdom" operations as the best way to avenge their own losses and counter Israel's unchecked settlement building in the West Bank.
After the death of Fatah leader Yasser Arafat in 2004, the Palestinian Authority was taken over by Mahmoud Abbas, a vocal opponent of attacks on Israel.
He viewed Hamas rocket fire, the militants' weapon of choice in recent years, as counterproductive, inflicting little damage on Israel but provoking a harsh response by the Israeli military.
When Hamas scored a landslide victory in the Palestinian Authority legislative elections in 2006, the stage was set for a bitter power struggle with Fatah.
Hamas resisted all efforts to get it to sign up to previous agreements with Israel, as well as to recognise Israel's legitimacy and to give up the armed struggle.
It has remained steadfast to its pledge never to sign up to a permanent ceasefire while Israel occupies Palestinian territory and its troops are responsible for the deaths of Palestinians.
It did, however, offer a 10-year truce in return for a complete Israeli withdrawal from territories occupied in 1967: the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.
But it has not relinquished its assertion that Palestinian refugees from 1948 should be allowed to return to homes in what has become Israel - a move that threatens Israel's very existence as a Jewish state.
Over the years Hamas has lost many members in Israeli assassinations and security sweeps.
The paraplegic and visually impaired Sheikh Yassin was killed in a missile attack on 22 March 2004.

Israel has paid a price for Hamas' dislike of the peace processKhaled Meshaal, now based in Syria, became the group's overall leader. Abdul Aziz al-Rantissi emerged as Hamas leader in Gaza before he too was assassinated six weeks later on 17 April.
Other prominent Hamas officials killed by the Israelis include Ismail Abu Shanab, in August 2003, and Izz al-Din Qassam Brigades leader Salah Shehada, in July 2002.
Shehada's successor, Muhammad Deif - whom Israel blames for the 1996 bombings - has escaped several attempts on his life.
More moderate political figures also emerged as significant players within the movement.
One of them was Ismail Haniya, a former aide to Sheikh Yassin, who was appointed to a "collective leadership" in the occupied territories along with the more hardline Mahmoud Zahhar and Said al-Siyam.
Facing the electorate
Hamas's decision to stand in PA legislative council elections in 2006 was a major departure for the movement and had a profound impact on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Election campaigns were a new departure for Hamas leadersTop figures said the move reflected Hamas's importance in the Palestinian sphere and the need for it to address failing political structures beset by corruption, inefficiency and lost credibility.
It did not, they insisted, imply any acceptance of a two-state solution to the conflict, although Hamas opposition to the Oslo accords had kept it out of previous elections.
Aside from its much-vaunted incorruptibility, Hamas campaigned forcefully on its claim that Israel's withdrawal from Gaza in the summer of 2005 was a victory for its commitment to armed conflict with the Israelis.
But if Hamas leaders thought its parliamentary victory would bestow greater credibility on them in the eyes of the international community - or if they thought in any way that they would be given any more leeway - they were mistaken.
The new government was subjected to tough economic and diplomatic sanctions by Israel and its allies in the West.
Skirmishes in Gaza with the Fatah-dominated PA security forces escalated to all-out war, in which the well-armed and better-disciplined Qassam Brigades eventually ousted their rivals in May 2007.
Hamas security control made Gaza a more calm and orderly place than it had been for months. But Israel tightened its blockade on the Strip and - despite a multilateral ceasefire in June 2008 - rocket fire and Israeli raids continued to provide provocations for more violence by each side.
And on the diplomatic level, the Palestinians faced their biggest set-back for decades.
With Hamas in charge of Gaza and the pro-Fatah PA operating in the West Bank - and neither side engaging properly with the other - the aspiration of an independent Palestinian seemed further away than ever.

Monday, 26 January 2009

Liberal Fascism by Jonah Goldberg/The Assault on Liberty by Dominic Raab

The Sunday Times review by Dominic Lawson
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I have never seen the F-word used so liberally in a book. According to Jonah Goldberg, presidents Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D Roosevelt, John FKennedy and Lyndon Johnson were all fascists. He says that Hillary Clinton is a fascist, too - although, we are assured by the author, she represents the "maternal side" of fascism: an adjective that perhaps will offend the feminist new secretary of state even more than being described as fascist.
The phrase Goldberg uses of all of them is "liberal fascist". This is something that could make sense only to a reader familiar with the language of American political discourse. For reasons that are mysterious, that country persists in using "liberal" to mean "left-wing". Once you understand that, the book's title seems less absurd.
After all, Benito Mussolini, credited with the invention of fascism as a mass political movement, was originally a man of the left; having disowned the socialism of his youth, most of Il Duce's views remained compatible with what we would normally describe as a left-wing agenda. His fascist programme included universal suffrage (Italian women hadn't got the vote before Mussolini), repeal of the titles of the nobility, a minimum wage, secularisation of education, the abolition of ecclesiastical privileges and a highly progressive tax on capital.
In that context it is not so surprising that there was much mutual admiration between FD Roosevelt and Mussolini - and indeed the New Dealers openly borrowed from the Italian fascist dictator's ideas. Goldberg's point (which he makes so often that one sometimes wonders if he is paid by the word) is that fascism does not necessarily have to include racism, still less the propensity to exterminate Jews. His definition of fascism is, broadly, the impulse that seeks to impose uniformity of thought or action throughout all society, making even the personal political.
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It's a PC World by Edward Stourton
On his account, political correctness is an example of fascism in action. It's certainly true that PC is an invention of the left. However, although the harridans of PC can make life unpleasant for those (such as members of the British royal family) who dare to use "inappropriate language" in the public forum, it's not the case that children are expected to inform on parents who utter "incorrect thoughts" in the home. To this extent, it is simply frivolous to compare it with the thoughtpolicing methods employed in the 1930s, whether in Germany or, indeed, in the Soviet Union.
Goldberg's assault on the green movement is a better attempt at linking 1930s fascism with a modern political trend usually associated with the left. He is not, of course, the first, or even the 21st, writer to note that Hitler was a passionate environmentalist, obsessed with imposing "organic" foods on the German population; but I hadn't realised that Himmler, the architect of the extermination of the Jews, had denounced the killing of animals for sport, asking: "How can you find pleasure in shooting...poor creatures... innocent, defenceless and unsuspecting? It's really pure murder."
It is obviously ludicrous to argue that, as modern animal-rights campaigners share Hitler's and Himmler's views, they are, therefore, "Nazi"; there is, however, a sinister strain of political intolerance in the green movement that Goldberg is right to seize on: note, for example, the way in which it is now habitual for greens to refer to those who dispute the significance of man-made climate change as "deniers", as if they are psychiatric cases, like the lunatics who say the Holocaust never happened.
Goldberg's main targets are much closer to the political mainstream. In particular, he lasers in on the "third way", the phrase used so lovingly by politicians such as Tony Blair in this country (although modern British politics are absent from this book). It turns out that the term was patented by the fascists of the 1930s, to indicate that they were forging a path that was neither pure socialism nor pure capitalism, but a synthesis of the best of both. This, most conveniently, meant that you did not require other parties, because they had been made ideologically redundant. Hence, in new Labour's 1997 election manifesto, Blair declared that his reinvented party was "nothing less than the political arm of the British people as a whole". I found this at the time profoundly creepy, although it fitted well with the former prime minister's "big tent" - a similar overt attempt to hoover up all opposition into one big party, representing the National Will.
Dominic Raab's The Assault on Liberty is as useful a guide as you could want to the consequences to a judicial system of a prolonged absence of proper parliamentary oversight or opposition. The author, a former Foreign Office legal adviser and chief of staff to successive shadow home secretaries, points out that new Labour's infatuation with creating thousands of new criminal offences, often passed into law without debate, has given us a penal system that is both overreaching and incompetent. As Raab says: "A latent Marxist contempt for liberty" (new Labour is full of former communists), "an electoral strategy of triangulation, a fixation with the 24-hour news cycle and a large parliamentary majority combined to create the conditions for an unprecedented assault on British liberty." Thank goodness for the House of Lords - the sort of politically independent, inherently conservative institution that would have been abolished as a first step by a proper fascist.
Liberal Fascism by Jonah GoldbergPenguin £9.99 pp496The Assault on Liberty by Dominic Raab Fourth Estate £8.99 pp304

Israel/Occupied Palestinian Territories: Israel's use of white phosphorus against Gaza civilians "clear and undeniable"

19 January 2009
Amnesty International delegates visiting the Gaza Strip found indisputable evidence of widespread use of white phosphorus in densely populated residential areas in Gaza City and in the north.
"Yesterday, we saw streets and alleyways littered with evidence of the use of white phosphorus, including still burning wedges and the remnants of the shells and canisters fired by the Israeli army," said Christopher Cobb-Smith, a weapons expert who is in Gaza as part of a four-person Amnesty International fact-finding team.
"White phosphorus is a weapon intended to provide a smokescreen for troop movements on the battlefield," said Cobb-Smith. "It is highly incendiary, air burst and its spread effect is such that it that should never be used on civilian areas".
"Such extensive use of this weapon in Gaza's densely populated residential neighbourhoods is inherently indiscriminate. Its repeated use in this manner, despite evidence of its indiscriminate effects and its toll on civilians, is a war crime," said Donatella Rovera, Amnesty's researcher on Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
White phosphorus wedges are scattered all around residential buildings and many were still burning on Sunday, further endangering the residents and their property; streets and alleys are full of children playing, drawn to the detritus of war and often unaware of the danger.
"Artillery is an area weapon; not good for pinpoint targeting. The fact that these munitions, which are usually used as ground burst, were fired as air bursts increases the likely size of the danger area," said Chris Cobb-Smith.
Each 155mm artillery shell bursts deploying 116 wedges impregnated with white phosphorus which ignite on contact with oxygen and can scatter, depending on the height at which it is burst (and wind conditions), over an area at least the size of a football pitch. In addition to the indiscriminate effect of air-bursting such a weapon, firing such shells as artillery exacerbates the likelihood that civilians will be affected.
Amnesty International delegates found both burning white phosphorous wedges and their carrier shells (which delivered them) in and around houses and buildings. Some of these heavy steel 155mm shells have caused extensive damage to residential properties.
Among the places worst affected by the use of white phosphorus was the UNRWA compound in Gaza City, where Israeli forces fired three white phosphorus shells on 15 January. The white phosphorus landed next to some fuel trucks and caused a large fire which destroyed tons of humanitarian aid. Prior to this strike the compound had already been hit an hour earlier and the Israeli authorities had been informed by UNRWA officials and had given assurance that no further strikes would be launched on the compound.
In another incident on the same day a white phosphorus shell landed in the al-Quds hospital in Gaza City also causing a fire which forced hospital staff to evacuate the patients.
White phosphorus landing on skin can burn deep through muscle and into the bone, continuing to burn unless deprived of oxygen.
BackgroundSeparate unilateral ceasefires announced by Israel and by Hamas with effect from 18 January were not respected by either side. Israeli forces remained stationed in several areas of the Gaza Strip and on the morning of 18 January missiles fired by Israeli forces killed 11-year-old Angham Rif'at al-Masri and injured her mother east of Beit Hanoun in the north of the Gaza Strip. At the same time Palestinian armed groups fired several rockets into towns and villages in southern Israel, lightly wounding three Israeli civilians.

Is the U.K. an Iceland 2?


Nouriel Roubini Jan 23, 2009
I am in London for a few days and I was recently interviewed by BBC News TV and Radio about the state of the U.S., U.K. and global economy (links to these interviews are below in this piece). While in London I was repeatedly asked by media and financial sector folks whether the UK was an Iceland 2, i.e. whether it would end up having an insolvent government and country. The statements this week the by famed investor Jim Rogers - that the UK was essentially kaput and that investors should dump UK assets and the pound sterling - were widely reported here in the UK and caused a stir at the time when the economy was officially declared in a recession, when the pound is falling, when most UK banks look as insolvent as their US counterparts and when some people are starting to wonder whether the UK may need to go and beg the IMF for a bailout. Indeed most UK banks will be formally or informally nationalized with a significant fiscal cost of their bailout at the time when the fiscal deficit will surge because of a severe recession.
So what is the risk that the UK will be Iceland 2? Let us discuss next this issue in more detail:
In many ways the UK looks more like the US than Iceland: a housing and mortgage boom that got out of control; excessive borrowing (mortgage debt, credit cards, auto loans, etc.) and low savings by households; a large and rising current account deficit driven by the consumption boom (and private savings fall) and the real estate investment boom; an overvalued exchange rate; an over-bloated financial system that took excessive risks; a light-touch regulation and supervision system that failed to control the financial excesses; and now an ugly financial and economic crisis as the housing and credit boom turns into a bust. This will be the worst financial crisis and recession in the UK in the last few decades.
Iceland had the same macro and financial imbalances as the US and the UK but the Icelandic banks were both too big to fail and too big to be saved as their losses were much larger than the government capacity to bail them out. Thus, in Iceland you have a solvency crisis for the banks, for the government and for the country too leading to a currency crisis, systemic banking crisis and near sovereign debt crisis.
The US has also a busted banking system and an insolvent household sector (or part of it) but so far the sovereign has the willingness and ability to socialize such private losses via a vast increase in public debt.
This week in the UK investors started to worry that the UK government looks more like the Iceland one than the US: having banks that are too big to be saved given the fiscal/financial resources of the country.
But in principle the UK looks more like the US: the public debt to GDP is relatively low (in the 40s % range) and thus the sovereign should be able to absorb fiscal bailout costs and additional fiscal stimulus costs that may eventually increase that debt ratio by as high as 20% of GDP. Note that during WWII the UK public debt to GDP ratio peaked well above 150% and the UK government remained solvent.
But while even a huge fiscal bill of a bailout of the economy and of financial markets is in principle sustainable the UK government may soon face problems of financeability – rather than long-term solvency - of such larger deficits. Suppose investors worry about such solvency and start dumping pounds at an even faster rate, then: some government debt auctions may fail, spreads on UK government bonds may start rising sharply, the government may be eventually downgraded by the rating agencies, the expected capital losses from a pound depreciation may lead foreign investors to shun UK government bonds because of worries about losses from a weaker pound, and this vicious circle may eventually lead to a sharp increase in the cost of financing the large fiscal deficits and fiscal bailout costs and a sharp reduction in the willingness of domestic and foreign investors to finance such deficits.
Then, even if technically the UK government is solvent, near insolvency may be triggered by a financeability problem, i.e. the unwillingness of investors to increase their holdings of UK government debt and their failure to roll over debt coming to maturity. So an illiquidity crisis may eventually trigger a near insolvency crisis.
The problem is aggravated by the fact that most UK banks are not only near insolvent but they also have a significant amount of foreign currency liabilities whose real value is increased by the ongoing real depreciation of the British pound. It is true that those liabilities are in part matched by foreign currency assets (given the financial intermediation role that UK banks play). But some of those assets are not liquid and some of those assets have lost their market value because of the slaughter in global equity and credit markets.
So one cannot totally rule out the risk of a run on the cross-border uninsured liabilities of the banking system. And short of a credible government guarantee of all deposits/liabilities of the UK banking system one could not totally rule out the risk of a cross-border run on such liabilities. A run on domestic currency deposits can be managed by the Bank of England lender of last resort provision of pound liquidity; but a run on foreign currency liabilities of banks (well beyond their foreign currency liquid assets) could not be similarly resolved given the limited foreign currency reserves of the Bank of England and given the fact that the pound is less of an international reserve currency than the US dollar is.
Thus, the UK government faces massive risks: only a coherent and credible economic and financial rescue program can prevent a more severe financial crisis. The IMF would not even have enough resources to save the UK if a banking or sovereign liquidity/financing crisis occurs. The UK can rely on increased dollar liquidity from swap lines with the Fed to cover the rollover risk of UK banks and allowed them to match US dollar liabilities with US dollar liquidity. But the scale of such swap lines (effectively the US Fed playing the part of the IMF's international lender of last resort) would have to be massively increased if a rollover crisis on UK cross-border liabilities were to occur.
So, at best, the UK faces an economic and financial crisis that will be as bad as the US one: a severe and protracted recession that could last two years with very weak growth recovery once it is over; a near insolvent financial system, most of which will be formally or informally nationalized; a large fiscal costs of budget deficits surging because of the recession and the bailout of financial institutions; a weakening currency that may risk a hard landing if the crisis is not properly managed. A more dramatic run on the cross-border liabilities of banks, a run on the government debt and a hard landing of the pound can be prevented by coherent and forceful policy action.
A credible and consistent economic plan requires: very easy and unorthodox monetary policy (zero policy rates, quantitative easing and other unorthodox programs to thaw money markets and credit markets); a fiscal stimulus package that combines near-term easing with commitment to fiscal discipline over the medium terms; a coherent plan to clean up the financial system (triage between solvent and insolvent banks; takeover and workout of insolvent ones; recapitalization and clean-up of solvent ones with separation of good and bad asset and conversion of unsecured bank debt into equity to reduce the fiscal costs of the bailout); a plan to reduce the debt burden of the part of the household sector that is insolvent; a plan to stop a free fall of the housing market and of home prices including foreclosure forbearance.
This is the same set of policy challenges that the US faces. A coherent plan can ensure that the outcome is closer to the US (a still nasty and protracted economic and financial crisis, but one short of insolvency) rather than outright insolvency of the entire banking system, of the government and of the country as in the case of Iceland.
Here is my interview with BBC News's TV Stephanie Flanders
Warning of 'severe and protracted' recession
A professor of economics at the Stern School of Business at New York University has warned of ''a severe and protracted recession'' in the UK.
Gross domestic product in Britain fell by 1.5% in the last three months of 2008 after a 0.6% drop in the previous quarter.
Professor Nouriel Roubini told the BBC's Stephanie Flanders there were difficult times ahead.
Here is another clip of the interview with BBC News TV
Nouriel Roubini on recession Stephanie Flanders talks to New York University professor Nouriel Roubini on BBC World News
Here is the BBC Radio interview
The UK is expected to receive its worst output figures since 1990 later - and official confirmation the country is in a recession. Nouriel Roubini, professor of economics at the Stern School of Business at New York University, discusses fears about the fate of the economy.

If the state can't save us, we need a licence to print our own money

It bypasses greedy banks. It recharges local economies. It's time to think seriously about an alternative currency
Comments (20)

George Monbiot
The Guardian, Tuesday 20 January 2009
Article history
In Russell Hoban's novel Riddley Walker, the descendants of nuclear holocaust survivors seek amid the rubble the key to recovering their lost civilisation. They end up believing that the answer is to re-invent the atom bomb. I was reminded of this when I read the government's new plans to save us from the credit crunch. It intends - at gobsmacking public expense - to persuade the banks to start lending again, at levels similar to those of 2007. Isn't this what caused the problem in the first place? Are insane levels of lending really the solution to a crisis caused by insane levels of lending?
Yes, I know that without money there's no business, and without business there are no jobs. I also know that most of the money in circulation is issued, through fractional reserve banking, in the form of debt. This means that you can't solve one problem (a lack of money) without causing another (a mountain of debt). There must be a better way than this.
This isn't my subject and I am venturing way beyond my pay grade. But I want to introduce you to another way of negotiating a credit crunch, which requires no moral hazard, no hair of the dog and no public spending. I'm relying, in explaining it, on the former currency trader and central banker Bernard Lietaer.
In his book The Future of Money, Lietaer points out - as the government did yesterday - that in situations like ours everything grinds to a halt for want of money. But he also explains that there is no reason why this money should take the form of sterling or be issued by the banks. Money consists only of "an agreement within a community to use something as a medium of exchange". The medium of exchange could be anything, as long as everyone who uses it trusts that everyone else will recognise its value. During the Great Depression, businesses in the United States issued rabbit tails, seashells and wooden discs as currency, as well as all manner of papers and metal tokens. In 1971, Jaime Lerner, the mayor of Curitiba in Brazil, kick-started the economy of the city and solved two major social problems by issuing currency in the form of bus tokens. People earned them by picking and sorting litter: thus cleaning the streets and acquiring the means to commute to work. Schemes like this helped Curitiba become one of the most prosperous cities in Brazil.
But the projects that have proved most effective were those inspired by the German economist Silvio Gessell, who became finance minister in Gustav Landauer's doomed Bavarian republic. He proposed that communities seeking to rescue themselves from economic collapse should issue their own currency. To discourage people from hoarding it, they should impose a fee (called demurrage), which has the same effect as negative interest. The back of each banknote would contain 12 boxes. For the note to remain valid, the owner had to buy a stamp every month and stick it in one of the boxes. It would be withdrawn from circulation after a year. Money of this kind is called stamp scrip: a privately issued currency that becomes less valuable the longer you hold on to it.
One of the first places to experiment with this scheme was the small German town of Schwanenkirchen. In 1923, hyperinflation had caused a credit crunch of a different kind. A Dr Hebecker, owner of a coalmine in Schwanenkirchen, told his workers that if they wouldn't accept the coal-backed stamp scrip he had invented - the Wara - he would have to close the mine. He promised to exchange it, in the first instance, for food. The scheme immediately took off. It saved both the mine and the town. It was soon adopted by 2,000 corporations across Germany. But in 1931, under pressure from the central bank, the ministry of finance closed the project down, with catastrophic consequences for the communities that had come to depend on it. Lietaer points out that the only remaining option for the German economy was ruthless centralised economic planning. Would Hitler have come to power if the Wara and similar schemes had been allowed to survive?
The Austrian town of Wörgl also tried out Gessell's idea, in 1932. Like most communities in Europe at the time, it suffered from mass unemployment and a shortage of money for public works. Instead of spending the town's meagre funds on new works, the mayor put them on deposit as a guarantee for the stamp scrip he issued. By paying workers in the new currency, he paved the streets, restored the water system and built a bridge, new houses and a ski jump. Because they would soon lose their value, Wörgl's own schillings circulated much faster than the official money, with the result that each unit of currency generated 12 to 14 times more employment. Scores of other towns sought to copy the scheme, at which point - in 1933 - the central bank stamped it out. Wörgl's workers were thrown out of work again.
Similar projects took off at the same time in dozens of countries. Almost all of them were closed down (just one, Switzerland's WIR system, still exists) as the central banks panicked about losing their monopoly over the control of money. Roosevelt prohibited complementary currencies by executive decree, though they might have offered a faster, cheaper and more effective means of pulling the US out of the Depression than his New Deal.
No one is suggesting that we replace official currencies with local scrip: this is a complementary system, not an alternative. Nor does Lietaer propose this as a solution to all economic ills. But even before you consider how it could be improved through modern information technology, several features of Gessell's system grab your attention. We need not wait for the government or the central bank to save us: we can set this system up ourselves. It costs taxpayers nothing. It bypasses the greedy banks. It recharges local economies and gives local businesses an advantage over multinationals. It can be tailored to the needs of the community. It does not require - as Eddie George, the former governor of the Bank of England, insisted - that one part of the country be squeezed so that another can prosper.
Perhaps most importantly, a demurrage system reverses the ecological problem of discount rates. If you have to pay to keep your money, the later you receive your income, the more valuable it will be. So it makes economic sense, under this system, to invest long term. As resources in the ground are a better store of value than money in the bank, the system encourages their conservation.
I make no claim to expertise. I'm not qualified to identify the flaws in this scheme, nor am I confident that I have made the best case for it. All I ask is that, if you haven't come across it before, you don't dismiss it before learning more. As we confront the failure of the government's first bailout and the astonishing costs of the second, isn't it time we considered the alternatives?

Mood of sobriety and self-recrimination at Davos

By Gillian Tett in London
Published: January 25 2009 19:17 Last updated: January 25 2009 19:17
In recent years, Goldman Sachs has been renowned for hosting one of the hottest parties during the World Economic Forum's glittering annual meeting in Davos. No longer.
This year, in a nod to the new mood of sobriety and self-recrimination, the US broker has quietly cancelled its party and sharply reduced its delegation to the event, which starts on Wednesday.
In depth: Davos 2009 - Jan-25
Crisis yields strongest turnout for summit - Jan-25
It is far from alone. John Thain was due to host a high-profile breakfast meeting on Friday in Davos – until he was unceremoniously ousted from his post at Merrill Lynch on Thursday, in the latest casualty of the financial crisis.
Lehman Brothers, which used to send a formidable delegation to the snowy resort, has also disappeared. Vikram Pandit, the embattled chief executive of Citigroup, has withdrawn this year. So has Howard Stringer, the CEO of Sony, the media and electronics group.
Such banking drop-outs are by no means universal. Jamie Dimon, head of JPMorgan Chase, remains confident and will host a party in Davos's iconic "Piano Bar". Barclays appears eager to press ahead with a glittering dinner in a mountain-top restaurant, despite its slumping share price.
However, the overall numbers are actually up this year – apparently because many business leaders and policy-makers are frantically searching for ways to exit the current mess and are keen to find ways to shape the new agenda, at a time when so much of the geopolitical order is in flux.
Moreover, as the Davos organisers are keen to stress, others are replacing the banking no-shows. More than 2,500 attendees are registered this year, more than ever before, including 1,400 business leaders. There are also 41 heads of state and government, almost double the previous record, including Gordon Brown, the UK prime minister, and Angela Merkel, Germany's chancellor.
Some observers attribute that to companies having drawn up their travel plans before the economic slump hit. One senior financier admitted that his company might withdraw next year, though it would turn up this week. "The event has become such a production that we question the value of attending. It's violently expensive," he said.
Davos enthusiasts, though, insist that the current crisis has left many business leaders desperately searching for new intellectual compasses at a time when the boundaries between state and business are being redrawn. "This meeting promises to be one of the most important events in the Forum's history," enthused Klaus Schwab, head of the WEF.
Some business leaders and policy-makers also hope to use the gathering to extend their influence. Wen Jiabao, the Chinese premier, will be one high-profile attendee this year. So is Vladimir Putin, his Russian counterpart.
Nevertheless, the debates may be tough. In recent years the proceedings have propagated the idea that a cocktail of innovation, globalisation and free-market capitalism could deliver a better world. The financial crisis, though, has shattered confidence in those ideals.
Many of the Davos attendees appear determined to fight back. "We've had a globalised economy and markets over the past few years and that's been brought into question given the financial crisis. But there is no turning back," wrote Duncan Niederauer, CEO of NYSE Euronext on the Davos website. Michael L Ducker, president, international at FedEx said: "History warns us that raising trade barriers during times of economic anxiety will only fuel further domestic and international economic decline."
Yet, the uncomfortable fact remains that some of those who will be in Davos this week are widely blamed for having created the current crisis – not least because they so notably failed to predict it. Two years ago, during the peak of the credit boom in January 2007, the mood at Davos was so exuberant that private-equity players were lauded as the new stars. Even last January, optimism was high that the financial crisis was short-lived. And this year's event has already delivered one small embarrassment.
The organisers have billed this week's meeting as "Shaping the Post-Crisis World", since they assumed until recently that the turmoil would be over by now. "It's a bit unfortunate, but maybe it is good to be positive," one official at the WEF observed last week. It is a sentiment that many at the Swiss resort might like to share.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Robert Fisk's World: Wherever I go, I hear the same tired Middle East comparisons

It all depends where you live. That was the geography of Israel's propaganda, designed to demonstrate that we softies – we little baby-coddling liberals living in our secure Western homes – don't realise the horror of 12 (now 20) Israeli deaths in 10 years and thousands of rockets and the unimaginable trauma and stress of living near Gaza. Forget the 600 Palestinian dead; travelling on both sides of the Atlantic these past couple of weeks has been an instructive – not to say weirdly repetitive – experience.
Here's how it goes. I was in Toronto when I opened the right-wing National Post and found Lorne Gunter trying to explain to readers what it felt like to come under Palestinian rocket attack. "Suppose you lived in the Toronto suburb of Don Mills," writes Gunter, "and people from the suburb of Scarborough – about 10 kilometres away – were firing as many as 100 rockets a day into your yard, your kid's school, the strip mall down the street and your dentist's office..."
Getting the message? It just so happens, of course, that the people of Scarborough are underprivileged, often new immigrants – many from Afghanistan – while the people of Don Mills are largely middle class with a fair number of Muslims. Nothing like digging a knife into Canada's multicultural society to show how Israel is all too justified in smashing back at the Palestinians.
Now a trip down Montreal way and a glance at the French-language newspaper La Presse two days later. And sure enough, there's an article signed by 16 pro-Israeli writers, economists and academics who are trying to explain what it feels like to come under Palestinian rocket attack. "Imagine for a moment that the children of Longueuil live day and night in terror, that businesses, shops, hospitals, schools are the targets of terrorists located in Brossard." Longueuil, it should be added, is a community of blacks and Muslim immigrants, Afghans, Iranians. But who are the "terrorists" in Brossard?
Two days later and I am in Dublin. I open The Irish Times to find a letter from the local Israeli ambassador, trying to explain to the people of the Irish Republic what it feels like to come under Palestinian rocket attack. Know what's coming? Of course you do. "What would you do," Zion Evrony asks readers, "if Dublin were subjected to a bombardment of 8,000 rockets and mortars..." And so it goes on and on and on. Needless to say, I'm waiting for the same writers to ask how we'd feel if we lived in Don Mills or Brossard or Dublin and came under sustained attack from supersonic aircraft and Merkava tanks and thousands of troops whose shells and bombs tore 40 women and children to pieces outside a school, shredded whole families in their beds and who, after nearly a week, had killed almost 200 civilians out of 600 fatalities.
In Ireland, my favourite journalistic justification for this bloodbath came from my old mate Kevin Myers. "The death toll from Gaza is, of course, shocking, dreadful, unspeakable," he mourned. "Though it does not compare with the death toll amongst Israelis if Hamas had its way." Get it? The massacre in Gaza is justified because Hamas would have done the same if they could, even though they didn't do it because they couldn't. It took Fintan O'Toole, The Irish Times's resident philosopher-in-chief, to speak the unspeakable. "When does the mandate of victimhood expire?" he asked. "At what point does the Nazi genocide of Europe's Jews cease to excuse the state of Israel from the demands of international law and of common humanity?"
I had an interesting time giving the Tip O'Neill peace lecture in Derry when one of the audience asked, as did a member of the Trinity College Dublin Historical Society a day later, whether the Northern Ireland Good Friday peace agreement – or, indeed, any aspect of the recent Irish conflict – contained lessons for the Middle East. I suggested that local peace agreements didn't travel well and that the idea advanced by John Hume (my host in Derry) – that it was all about compromise – didn't work since the Israeli seizure of Arab land in the West Bank had more in common with the 17th-century Irish Catholic dispossession than sectarianism in Belfast.
What I do suspect, however, is that the split and near civil war between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority has a lot in common with the division between the Irish Free State and anti-treaty forces that led to the 1922-3 Irish civil war; that Hamas's refusal to recognise Israel – and the enemies of Michael Collins who refused to recognise the Anglo-Irish Treaty and the border with Northern Ireland – are tragedies that have a lot in common, Israel now playing the role of Britain, urging the pro-treaty men (Mahmoud Abbas) to destroy the anti-treaty men (Hamas).
I ended the week in one of those BBC World Service discussions in which a guy from The Jerusalem Post, a man from al-Jazeera, a British academic and Fisk danced the usual steps around the catastrophe in Gaza. The moment I mentioned that 600 Palestinian dead for 20 Israeli dead around Gaza in 10 years was grotesque, pro-Israeli listeners condemned me for suggesting (which I did not) that only 20 Israelis had been killed in all of Israel in 10 years. Of course, hundreds of Israelis outside Gaza have died in that time – but so have thousands of Palestinians.
My favourite moment came when I pointed out that journalists should be on the side of those who suffer. If we were reporting the 18th-century slave trade, I said, we wouldn't give equal time to the slave ship captain in our dispatches. If we were reporting the liberation of a Nazi concentration camp, we wouldn't give equal time to the SS spokesman. At which point a journalist from the Jewish Telegraph in Prague responded that "the IDF are not Hitler". Of course not. But who said they were?

Gaza is dying

As the awful Gaza death toll passes 1000, our Ceasefire Now petition is being delivered worldwide through ads, phone calls, and meetings with world leaders. We urgently need to reach 1 million signatures this week, act now:
Sign Ceasefire Petition, see our US ads! Gaza is dying -- the battle is advancing into cities packed with 1.5 million terrified civilians lacking food, medicine or water. President Bush undermined Thursday's United Nations ceasefire resolution, over 1000 people are dead, the UN headquarters and Gaza's main hospital are burning: there is nowhere safe. The borders remain closed -- journalists can't get in, and desperate civilians can't get out. But the global movement to end this war is building -- our petition is at 430,000 signatures and rising, it has been delivered to top leaders at the EU, UN and Arab League, our US members are flooding their representatives with phone calls, and Avaaz members worldwide have donated over $120,000 to an ad campaign in key newspapers. The pressure is working -- so we're ratcheting it up with hard-hitting US ads pressing Barack Obama personally for an immediate change of tack, face-to-face petition deliveries to European leaders this week to get them to act, and working with Palestinians and Israelis to plan bold actions on the ground. But every one of these actions becomes stronger as more of us join the campaign. We need to reach 1 million signatures this week -- sign the petition now and let's forward this email to all our friends and family: for a ceasefire are finally being heard in the Israeli cabinet and media, Hamas is signalling it could accept a deal including Turkish forces and EU monitors, but the sides are too far apart to end this themselves.[3] That’s why action by world powers is critical to break the deadlock -- and global citizens’ voices can make all the difference if we raise an unstoppable voice calling on incoming President Obama, the EU and Arab and Muslim states to guarantee a fair and lasting ceasefire. This week we are lobbying European and Muslim states for a more effective international initiative to end the violence, protect civilians on all sides and make normal life possible again in Gaza, while reaching out to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon who is in the Middle East working for a deal (we met him last year to deliver our food crisis campaign). Meanwhile we’re challenging contacts on both sides to think creatively and accept a fair, internationally-overseen agreement.We've already run member-funded ads in the influential Washington Post and Roll Call, the US Congress newspaper -- on the day of his inauguration this coming Tuesday, we will press Barack Obama to abandon Bush’s failed policies and act immediately to end this war, using his own words alongside hard facts to make the case in ads, US media debates and directly lobbying his team. It's amazing what we can do when hundreds of thousands of us come together arond the world -- and if we raise our efforts to another level this week, we could help to finally end the Gaza horror. Follow the link below to take the first step by signing the petition, then spread the word so others can do the same: hope and determination, Paul, Graziela, Alice, Ricken, Luis, Brett, Ben, Iain, Paula, Veronique, Milena and the whole Avaaz team P.S. For a report on some of Avaaz's other campaigns so far, see: Sources: 1. "White House behind US volte-face on ceasefire call":"Israeli PM Ehud Olmert claims to be able to order Bush around": Washington Post: Israelis Push to Edge of Gaza City: Haaretz, "Olmert ignoring calls from Barak, Livni for immediate Gaza truce": Voice - Sderot and Gaza residents calling for a ceasefire: Hamas acceptance of a Turkish force, first reported in the Arabic Al-Hayat newspaper, see:"Gaza bloodshed continues despite UN calls for ceasefire", 9 January 2009:"Reigniting Violence: How Do Ceasefires End?" (6 January 2009) is a statistical analysis by an MIT professor, based on Israel's own data for rocket fire (which it shows stopped for four months) and on which side struck first. It provides useful factual background for how the Israel-Hamas truce effectively collapsed in November well before it expired (facts poorly reflected in some news reporting): Crisis Group's Ending the War in Gaza report (5 January 2009): This Rasmussen Reports poll from the US is of interest: Only 31% of Democrats support offensive, most prefer a diplomatic solution:"Gaza: outlines of an endgame", Ghassan Khatib (6 January 2009) Post: "Israel must get out of Gaza now", 8 January 2009: "Hamas seeks truce but says lifting siege a must" (5 January 2009) The US Army War College has just released a substantial report supporting the view that Hamas can and must be brought into negotiations and is capable of sustaining a long-term truce, or even peace with Israel. Linked via: The inside story of the civil strife between Fatah and Hamas and the Bush administration's involvement in this debacle is best-told in The Gaza Bombshell, an investigative article published in the leading US magazine Vanity Fair in April 2008: -----------------------------------------------------------ABOUT AVAAZ is an independent, not-for-profit global campaigning organization that works to ensure that the views and values of the world's people inform global decision-making. (Avaaz means "voice" in many languages.) Avaaz receives no money from governments or corporations, and is staffed by a global team based in Ottawa, London, Rio de Janeiro, New York, Buenos Aires, and Geneva. Call us at: +1 888 922 8229 or +55 21 2509 0368 Click here to learn more about our largest campaigns. Don't forget to check out our Facebook and Myspace and Bebo pages!You are getting this message because you signed "Stand with the Burmese Protesters" on 2007-10-04 using the email address To ensure that Avaaz messages reach your inbox, please add to your address book. To change your email address, language settings, or other personal information,, or simply go here to unsubscribe.To contact Avaaz, please do not reply to this email. Instead, write to You can also call us at +1-888-922-8229 (US) or +55 21 2509 0368 (Brazil) If you have technical problems, please go to

Indiscriminate slaughter from the air is a barbarism that must be abolished

From Vietnam and Iraq to Gaza today, history testifies that aerial bombing is an ineffective, intolerable military tactic
Comments (71)

Simon Jenkins
The Guardian, Friday 16 January 2009
Article history
A Palestinian woman is standing in her kitchen when she hears a deafening bang. Rushing to her living room she sees her family in pieces, spread across floors, walls and ceiling. The horror is total and meaningless. Nobody meant it to happen, so what was its cause?
The tragedy in Gaza surely marks the time when the world declares air-launched bombs and long-distance shells to be illegal under the 1983 Geneva convention. They should be on a par with chemical munitions, white phosphorous, cluster bombs and delayed-action land mines. They pose a threat to non-combatants that should be intolerable even in the miserable context of war.
I can accept Israeli claims that they are not intentionally targeting civilians in Gaza - or the United Nations base set on fire yesterday. But the failure of their chosen armaments had the same effect. The civilian death toll is now put at 673, mostly women and children.
It is barely conceivable that the most accurate weapon of war, an infantryman, would deliberately enter a house and massacre unarmed women and children as they have their dinner. As a result, mercifully few do. When such cold-blooded murder is committed, from the 1968 My Lai killings in Vietnam to those now coming to light in Iraq, we are appalled, and inquiries, trials and disciplinary procedures follow.
Those killing from the air need have no sight of the carnage they unleash. They are placed at both a geographical and a moral distance, with a licence allowed no soldier on the ground. Whether they are dispatching free-fall bombs or GPS-guided missiles, tank shells or predator drones, Hamas's Qassam rockets or improvised explosive devices, they know they often miss their targets, but they launder any carnage as "collateral damage" and leave politicians to handle the backlash. The soldier shrugs and walks away, with no obligation to humanity beyond the occasional apology and a reference to the other side being just as bad.
If gas, landmines, chemical weapons and cluster munitions are now banned - a ban broadly obeyed by most civilised armies - why not aerial bombardment? Instead, bombing is becoming ever more prevalent. It precedes any operation, as a sort of overture, and eagerly takes part in each tactical twist. Counter-insurgency war, in Iraq and Afghanistan, has seen western armies take heavy casualties. But such is the political aversion to them that Israeli, American and British ground forces operate under strict "force protection" rules to minimise losses.
This has led to the reckless use of stand-off munitions, as regularly reported by embedded correspondents. Rather than employ infantry to clear an apparently hostile settlement, commanders call in air strikes and pound it to rubble. The Israelis have responded to the Hamas bombardment of their towns with a far heavier bombardment of Gaza. Both endanger civilians to a degree that cannot be other than criminal. That human shield tactics may be involved is no excuse: the law does not permit the killing of innocents in the hope of reaching the guilty.
The bombing of urban infrastructure is an act of terror, meant to weaken the resistance of victims and cause them to surrender. This was the case with the west's bombing of Belgrade in 1999 and Baghdad in 2003, the latter under the openly terrorist rubric of "shock and awe". Neither achieved the ambition proclaimed by the champions of air power, Bomber Harris's promise "to win the war from the air".
In an extraordinary article on these pages yesterday, David Miliband declared the title "war on terror" to be "misleading and mistaken". It apparently "gave the impression of a unified, transnational enemy, embodied in the figure of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida". In reality terrorism was a disparate phenomenon, often internal to state politics. Besides, wrote the foreign secretary: "Terrorists succeed when they force countries to respond with violence and repression."
Miliband is right. But those who have been saying this since 9/11 wonder what has caused this sudden conversion. Did Miliband protest when Tony Blair reportedly pleaded with George Bush to be the first to bomb Kabul in 2001? Is this the same Miliband who sat silent as a member of the government that supported "shock and awe"? Is he now pleading with the Americans to stop using weapons against the Pashtun - such as aerial assassination - that exacerbate both war and terror?
The truth is that the war Miliband is still waging against militant Islam has been conducted largely by weapons of terror, namely bombs and long-distance artillery shells. They have killed untold thousands of non-combatants since the "war" began in 2001 - a violence far more devastating than the Israelis have inflicted on Gaza - destroying unimaginable numbers of homes.
In his book Shock of the Old, the science historian David Edgerton cites the bomber as the most overrated of all weapons of war. Glamorous, noisy, ostensibly sophisticated and easily marketed to "techno-dazzled" generals, it has proved an ineffective killing machine. Its use against the perpetrators of terror is a classic of soldiers fighting the last war but one.
In Vietnam, Serbia, Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan, those deploying bomber power constantly promised more than they could deliver, as they did before D-day. As Correlli Barnett has remarked, as in Vietnam and Kosovo so now in Gaza, the airman's bombast, that he could terrify the enemy into surrender, must be rectified by troops on the ground. Time and again the bomber has been outgunned by the AK-47.
No weapon fired at a distance can be sure of its target. As Colin Powell once said, the phrase "tactical surgical strike" had him racing for the protection of his bunker. All the electronics in the world seem unable to prevent constant friendly fire deaths. Meanwhile, the dominance of air forces in procurement battles has left Britain's land army woefully under-equipped.
In modern asymmetric warfare inaccurate munitions are worse than useless, they are a gift to enemy propaganda. In the present Gaza turkey shoot, the Israelis cannot have intended to hit the UN, knowing the impact it would have on world opinion. But once embarked on the campaign they clearly cannot discipline themselves.
In Afghanistan the American commander, David Petraeus, is said to regard his own side's bombing of villages and wedding parties as utterly counterproductive. Yet once forces are deployed, with ground and air in partnership, they seem beyond all command and control. They illustrate Liddell Hart's comment on military technology, that "the progress of weapons has outstripped the minds of those who wield them".
If Israel fails to win its political objectives in Gaza, it will in part be because of its massively destructive attempt to terrify the Palestinians into surrender from the air. Every errant missile explodes on the television screens of the world.
In the complex politics of war, these weapons are like torture. They numb moral sensibility and do harm beyond all justification of victory. They should be abolished. If we wish to kill other people for whatever reason, we should use only weapons that kill the right ones.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

international clearing union to deal with surpluses and deficits

Poor old Lord Keynes. The world's press has spent the past week blackening his name. Not intentionally: most of the dunderheads reporting the G20 summit that took place over the weekend really do believe that he proposed and founded the International Monetary Fund. It's one of those stories that passes unchecked from one journalist to another.The truth is more interesting. At the UN's Bretton Woods conference in 1944, John Maynard Keynes put forward a much better idea. After it was thrown out, Geoffrey Crowther - then the editor of the Economist magazine - warned that "Lord Keynes was right ... the world will bitterly regret the fact that his arguments were rejected." But the world does not regret it, for almost everyone - the Economist included - has forgotten what he proposed.One of the reasons for financial crises is the imbalance of trade between nations. Countries accumulate debt partly as a result of sustaining a trade deficit. They can easily become trapped in a vicious spiral: the bigger their debt, the harder it is to generate a trade surplus. International debt wrecks people's development, trashes the environment and threatens the global system with periodic crises.As Keynes recognised, there is not much the debtor nations can do. Only the countries that maintain a trade surplus have real agency, so it is they who must be obliged to change their policies. His solution was an ingenious system for persuading the creditor nations to spend their surplus money back into the economies of the debtor nations.He proposed a global bank, which he called the International Clearing Union. The bank would issue its own currency - the bancor - which was exchangeable with national currencies at fixed rates of exchange. The bancor would become the unit of account between nations, which means it would be used to measure a country's trade deficit or trade surplus.Every country would have an overdraft facility in its bancor account at the International Clearing Union, equivalent to half the average value of its trade over a five-year period. To make the system work, the members of the union would need a powerful incentive to clear their bancor accounts by the end of the year: to end up with neither a trade deficit nor a trade surplus. But what would the incentive be?Keynes proposed that any country racking up a large trade deficit (equating to more than half of its bancor overdraft allowance) would be charged interest on its account. It would also be obliged to reduce the value of its currency and to prevent the export of capital. But - and this was the key to his system - he insisted that the nations with a trade surplus would be subject to similar pressures. Any country with a bancor credit balance that was more than half the size of its overdraft facility would be charged interest, at a rate of 10%. It would also be obliged to increase the value of its currency and to permit the export of capital. If, by the end of the year, its credit balance exceeded the total value of its permitted overdraft, the surplus would be confiscated. The nations with a surplus would have a powerful incentive to get rid of it. In doing so, they would automatically clear other nations' deficits.When Keynes began to explain his idea, in papers published in 1942 and 1943, it detonated in the minds of all who read it. The British economist Lionel Robbins reported that "it would be difficult to exaggerate the electrifying effect on thought throughout the whole relevant apparatus of government ... nothing so imaginative and so ambitious had ever been discussed". Economists all over the world saw that Keynes had cracked it. As the Allies prepared for the Bretton Woods conference, Britain adopted Keynes's solution as its official negotiating position.But there was one country - at the time the world's biggest creditor - in which his proposal was less welcome. The head of the American delegation at Bretton Woods, Harry Dexter White, responded to Keynes's idea thus: "We have been perfectly adamant on that point. We have taken the position of absolutely no." Instead he proposed an International Stabilisation Fund, which would place the entire burden of maintaining the balance of trade on the deficit nations. It would impose no limits on the surplus that successful exporters could accumulate. He also suggested an International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which would provide capital for economic reconstruction after the war. White, backed by the financial clout of the US treasury, prevailed. The International Stabilisation Fund became the International Monetary Fund. The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development remains the principal lending arm of the World Bank.The consequences, especially for the poorest indebted countries, have been catastrophic. Acting on behalf of the rich, imposing conditions that no free country would tolerate, the IMF has bled them dry. As Joseph Stiglitz has shown, the fund compounds existing economic crises and creates crises where none existed before. It has destabilised exchange rates, exacerbated balance of payments problems, forced countries into debt and recession, wrecked public services and destroyed the jobs and incomes of tens of millions of people.The countries the fund instructs must place the control of inflation ahead of other economic objectives; immediately remove their barriers to trade and the flow of capital; liberalise their banking systems; reduce government spending on everything except debt repayments; and privatise the assets which can be sold to foreign investors. These happen to be the policies which best suit predatory financial speculators. They have exacerbated almost every crisis the IMF has attempted to solve.You might imagine that the US, which since 1944 has turned from the world's biggest creditor to the world's biggest debtor, would have cause to regret the position it took at Bretton Woods. But Harry Dexter White ensured that the US could never lose. He awarded it special veto powers over any major decision made by the IMF or the World Bank, which means that it will never be subject to the fund's unwelcome demands. The IMF insists that the foreign exchange reserves maintained by other nations are held in the form of dollars. This is one of the reasons why the US economy doesn't collapse, no matter how much debt it accumulates.On Saturday the G20 leaders admitted that "the Bretton Woods institutions must be comprehensively reformed". But the only concrete suggestions they made were that the IMF should be given more money and that poorer nations "should have greater voice and representation". We've already seen what this means: a tiny increase in their voting power, which does nothing to challenge the rich countries' control of the fund, let alone the US veto.Is this the best they can do? No. As the global financial crisis deepens, the rich nations will be forced to recognise that their problems cannot be solved by tinkering with a system that is constitutionally destined to fail. But to understand why the world economy keeps running into trouble, they first need to understand what was lost in 1944.

This is indeed a class war, and the campaign against the Aga starts here

Climate change allows the richest on earth to trash the lives of the poorest, no matter how Furedi's cult spins it
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George Monbiot
The Guardian, Tuesday 13 January 2009
Article history
It would be stupid to claim that environmentalism is never informed by class. Compare, for example, the campaign against patio heaters with the campaign against Agas. Patio heaters are a powerful symbol: heating the atmosphere is not a side-effect, it's their purpose. But to match the fuel consumption of an Aga, a large domestic patio heater would have to run continuously at maximum output for three months a year. Patio heaters burn liquefied petroleum gas, while most Agas use oil, electricity or coal, which produce more CO2. A large Aga running on coal turns out nine tonnes of carbon dioxide per year: five and a half times the total CO2 production of the average UK home. To match that, the patio heater would have to burn for nine months.
So where is the campaign against Agas? There isn't one. I've lost count of the number of aspirational middle-class greens I know who own one of these monsters and believe that they are somehow compatible (perhaps because they look good in a country kitchen) with a green lifestyle. The campaign against Agas - which starts here - will divide rich greens down the middle.
But it is even more stupid to dismiss all environmentalism as a middle-class whim. It's the poor who live beside polluting factories, whose lives are wrecked by opencast mining, who can't afford to move away from motorways or flood zones. They are hit first and worst by climate change. Those who claim that all environmentalists are middle or upper class ignore the tens of millions of peasants and labourers who have mobilised on green issues in south Asia, Africa and Latin America. They indulge a transparent sophistry: some greens are aristocrats; all green issues are therefore the preserve of toffs.
Nowhere is this class-branding more evidently wrong than in the debate over flying. This week the government is expected to announce that a third runway will be built at Heathrow. MPs, airline bosses and rightwing newspapers have been trying to soften us up by insisting that this is happening for the benefit of the poor. Those trying to stop new runways are toffs preventing working-class people from having fun.
The group that has worked hardest to portray the issue this way is the weird cult that arose from the Revolutionary Communist party. This Trotskyist splinter, whose chief theorist is the sociology professor Frank Furedi, has spent the last 30 years moving ever further to the right. The magazine it founded in 1988, Living Marxism (later called LM), celebrated power and demanded total market freedom. It campaigned against bans on tobacco advertising, child pornography and the ownership of handguns. It denied that genocide had taken place in Rwanda, or ethnic cleansing in Bosnia. It provided a platform for writers from the hard-right Institute for Economic Affairs and Centre for the Defence of Free Enterprise. Frank Furedi started writing for the Centre for Policy Studies, which was founded by Keith Joseph and Margaret Thatcher. He and the LM writer Tony Gilland wrote to the supermarket chains, offering - for £7,500 - to educate "consumers about complex scientific issues".
LM closed in 2000, and was replaced by the web magazine Spiked. Edited by Brendan O'Neill, it concentrates on denying the existence of social and environmental problems, and attacking protest movements with a hatred so intense and disproportionate that it must contain an element of self-disgust.
O'Neill, who still describes himself as a Marxist and blogs for the Guardian, calls environmentalism a "death cult" run by "fear-mongering, snobbish, isolationist puritans". The "anti-flying squad" is "illiberal, irrational, parochial, narrow-minded and backward". Plane Stupid's recent protest at Stansted, he says, was motivated by "unabashed, undiluted, unattractive class hatred".
If you understand and accept what climate science is saying, you need no further explanation for protests against airport expansion. But if, like Brendan and his fellow travellers, you refuse to accept that man-made climate change is real, you must show that the campaign to curb it is the result of an irrational impulse. The impulse they choose, because it's an easy stereotype and it suits their prolier-than-thou posturing, is the urge to preserve the wonders of the world for the upper classes. "Cheap flights," O'Neill claims, "has become code for lowlife scum, an issue through which you can attack the 'underclass', the working class and the nouveau riche with impunity."
The connection seems obvious, doesn't it? More cheap flights must be of greatest benefit to the poor. A campaign against airport expansion must therefore be an attack on working-class aspirations. It might be obvious, but it's wrong.
The Sustainable Development Commission collated the figures on passengers using airports in the United Kingdom between 1987 and 2004. During this period, total passenger numbers more than doubled and the price of flights collapsed. The number of people in the lowest two socio-economic categories (D and E) who flew rose, but their proportion fell, from 10% of passengers in 1987 to 8% in 2004. By 2004, there were over five times as many passengers in classes A and B than in classes D and E.
Today, the Civil Aviation Authority's surveys show, the average gross household income of leisure passengers using Heathrow is £59,000 (the national average is £34,660); the average individual income of the airport's business passengers (36% of its traffic) is £83,000. The wealthiest 18% of the population buy 54% of all tickets, the poorest 18% buy 5%.
O'Neill champions Ryanair, Britain's biggest low-cost carrier, as the hero of the working classes. So where would you expect this airline to place most of its advertising? I have the estimated figures for its spending on newspaper ads in 2007. They show that it placed nothing in the Sun, the News of the World, the Mirror, the Star or the Express, but 52% of its press spending went to the Daily Telegraph. Ryanair knows who its main customers are: second-home owners and people who take foreign holidays several times a year.
Who, in the age of the one-penny ticket, is being prevented from flying? It's not because they can't afford the flights that the poor fly less than the rich; it's because they can't afford the second homes in Tuscany, the skiing holidays at Klosters or the scuba diving in the Bahamas. British people already fly twice as much as citizens of the United States, and one fifth of the world's flights use the UK's airports. If people here don't travel, it's not because of a shortage of runways.
At the core of the campaign against a third Heathrow runway are the blue-collar workers and working-class mums of the village of Sipson, whose homes are due to be flattened so that the rich can fly more. If wealthy people don't like living under a flight path, they can move; the poor just have to lump it. Through climate breakdown, the richest people on earth trash the lives of the poorest.
Yes, this is a class war; and Brendan O'Neill and his fellow travellers have sided with the toffs. These Marxist proletarian firebrands are defending the class they profess to hate. Bosses of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your planes.