Thursday, August 28, 2008

Police continue repressive tactics in Denver

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By Tom Eley

In the two days since Denver police—acting at the direction of U.S. Secret Service—attacked and jailed nearly 100 peaceful protesters outside the Democratic National Convention, the virtual militarization of Denver has continued. In total, over 130 protesters have now been imprisoned.

As late as Tuesday afternoon, fifteen hours after the arrests, about 60 protesters were still being held at a makeshift detention center, sarcastically called “Gitmo on the Platte” by protesters, as well as in a downtown city jail. By Wednesday most of those detained had been released after posting a $500 bond. The protesters were processed in specially-created kangaroo courts dubbed “DNC Courts.”

The WSWS spoke with Brian Vincente, a lawyer for the People’s Law Project, which is representing many of the protesters. Vincente said that lawyers were denied access to prisoners at the detention center. Then city officials attempted to process many of those arrested in the middle of the night.

Vincente said that the city has been preparing the special court system for over one year, but “instead of creating something streamlined and smooth, they came up with this night court to slam people through.” Vincente has represented people mistakenly arrested by police, including school teachers who were on their way to work.

Police arrests and provocations continue. On Wednesday afternoon, the coordinating center for the protest group Unconventional Denver was raided and equipment used to make banners was seized. Riot police pulled up in an armored personnel carrier, entered the building and arrested two.

On Tuesday, police struck a Code Pink antiwar protester, Alicia Forest, in the face with a baton.

A Kansas pastor and religious extremist, Ruben Israel, and a small group of supporters had begun a confrontation with anti-war protesters, taunting them. A Recreate ’68 organizer, Carlo Garcia, approached police to request that they remove the pastor, as Recreate ’68 had a permit to use the public park where the confrontation took place, and Israel’s organization, Bible Believers, did not. Instead, police arrested Garcia.

In a scene captured on video and posted on YouTube, Forest can be seen approaching the police to ask for an explanation. The officer responds by striking her with his truncheon and saying “back it up, bitch.” Moments later, as she is being interviewed, Forest is grabbed suddenly by her arm and apprehended by several police. (See

Right wing counter-demonstrators, far fewer in number, have targeted and harassed the anti-war protesters. The right wing protesters have faced less repression from the police, and in some cases, such as the police assault on Forest, have received de facto police protection.

However, thirteen anti-abortion zealots of Operation Rescue, including its founder Randall Terry, were arrested on Monday for blocking a security gate at the Pepsi Center—though it is difficult to imagine that the anti-war protesters would have been allowed to get so close. Elsewhere, an anti-immigrant rally of the fascistic Minutemen organization drew only about a dozen participants. The small gathering was addressed by the ultra-reactionary politicians Tom Tancredo, Bob Barr and Alan Keyes.

As of today, no major Democratic figure has called for a lessening of the level of police repression in Denver, or for the release of those protesters who are still imprisoned. One delegate to the convention, Syracuse Democrat Alfonso Davis, confessed to being surprised by the magnitude of the police presence. “This is not my first Democrat National Convention,” he said, but “I’ve never seen this type of law enforcement presence. This is, I would say, a little intrusive.”

Police preparations are underway in St. Paul and Minneapolis for next week’s Republican National Convention, which promises to draw more protesters. According to the National Lawyers Guild, three videographers from New York City had their equipment confiscated by members of the Minneapolis Police Department on Tuesday morning. The videographers had planned to record police interaction with protesters during the RNC. Meanwhile, the Associated Press has reported that a makeshift prison encampment has been created out of a parking area in a police complex in St. Paul.

US warning to court in alleged torture case

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By Duncan Campbell

The US state department yesterday warned that disclosure of secret information in the case of a British resident said to have been tortured before he was sent to Guantánamo Bay would cause "serious and lasting damage" to security relations between the countries.

Stephen Mathias, a legal adviser to the department, also claimed that the "national security of the UK" would be affected by disclosure of the details of the detention and interrogation of Binyam Mohamed, 30, who is accused of conspiring with al-Qaida.

Lawyers for the Ethiopian national have been arguing in the high court that they should have access to details of his interrogation from the time he was detained in 2002 until he was taken to Guantánamo Bay - where he is still held - in 2004. Mohamed claims that he was tortured by, among other methods, having his penis cut with a razor blade.

In an email to the Foreign Office, which was read out to the court, Mathias said disclosure would cause "serious and lasting damage to the US-UK intelligence-sharing relationship and thus the national security of the UK".

Ben Jaffey, for Mohamed, told the court that the US had said 44 documents would be made available to the "convening authority" in the US which will decide on Mohamed's prosecution but not to his legal representatives, Lieutenant Colonel Yvonne Bradley and Clive Stafford-Smith, of Reprieve, although both had been security-cleared in the US.

Jaffey said there was "no movement on the central question - where was Mr Mohamed between 2002 and 2004?" Tim Eicke, for the government, said the US had made concessions by making documents available to the convening authority.

After hearing from both sides in open court, the judges retired to hear further arguments in private. No decision was made last night but a ruling is expected tomorrow.

Mohamed, a UK resident, was initially held in Pakistan in 2002 and was later secretly rendered to Morocco, where he claimed that he was tortured and had his penis lacerated while further threats were made. He was then flown by the US authorities to Afghanistan, where he claims he was subjected to further ill-treatment and interrogation. In September 2004, he was taken to Guantánamo Bay. He claims that all his confessions were a result of torture. He faces the death penalty.

Last week, in the initial hearing of the case, the high court found that MI5 had participated in the unlawful interrogation of Mohamed. One MI5 officer was so concerned about incriminating himself that he initially declined to answer questions from the judges, even in private.

Although the judges said that "no adverse conclusions" should be drawn by the plea against self-incrimination, it was disclosed that the officer, Witness B, was questioned about alleged war crimes, including torture.

David Miliband, the foreign secretary, has provided the US with documents about the case. He has declined to release further evidence, arguing that disclosure would harm the intelligence relationship with the US.

Not the Same as Being Equal

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By Ann Jones

Women in Afghanistan

Born in Afghanistan but raised in the United States, like many in the worldwide Afghan Diaspora, Manizha Naderi is devoted to helping her homeland. For years she worked with Women for Afghan Women, a New York based organization serving Afghan women wherever they may be. Last fall, she returned to Kabul, the capital, to try to create a Family Guidance Center. Its goal was to rescue women -- and their families -- from homemade violence. It’s tough work. After three decades of almost constant warfare, most citizens are programmed to answer the slightest challenge with violence. In Afghanistan it’s the default response.

Manizha Naderi has been sizing up the problem in the capital and last week she sent me a copy of her report. A key passage went like this:

"During the past year, a rash of reports on the situation of women in Afghanistan has been issued by Afghan governmental agencies and by foreign and local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that claim a particular interest in women’s rights or in Afghanistan or both. More reports are in the offing. What has sparked them is the dire situation of women in the country, the systematic violations of their human rights, and the failure of concerned parties to achieve significant improvements by providing women with legal protections rooted in a capable, honest, and stable judiciary system, education and employment opportunities, safety from violence, much of it savage, and protection from hidebound customs originating in the conviction that women are the property of men."

I’d hoped for better news. Instead, her report brought back so many things I’d seen for myself during the last five years spent, off and on, in her country.


Last year in Herat, as I was walking with an Afghan colleague to a meeting on women’s rights, I spotted an ice cream vendor in the hot, dusty street. I rushed ahead and returned with two cones of lemony ice. I held one out to my friend. "Forgive me," she said. "I can’t." She was wearing a burqa.

It was a stupid mistake. I’d been in Afghanistan a long time, in the company every day of women encased from head to toe in pleated polyester body bags. Occasionally I put one on myself, just to get the feel of being stifled in the sweaty sack, blind behind the mesh eye mask. I’d watched women trip on their burqas and fall. I’d watched women collide with cars they couldn’t see. I knew a woman badly burned when her burqa caught fire. I knew another who suffered a near-fatal skull fracture when her burqa snagged in a taxi door and slammed her to the pavement as the vehicle sped away. But I’d never before noted this fact: it is not possible for a woman wearing a burqa to eat an ice cream cone.

We gave the cones away to passing children and laughed about it, but to me it was the saddest thing.


Ever since the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001, George W. Bush has boasted of "liberating" Afghan women from the Taliban and the burqa. His wife Laura, after a publicity junket to Afghanistan in 2005, appeared on Jay Leno’s show to say that she hadn’t seen a single woman wearing a burqa.

But these are the sorts of wildly optimistic self-delusions that have made Bush notorious. His wife, whose visit to Afghanistan lasted almost six hours, spent much of that time at the American air base and none of it in the Afghan streets where most women, to this day, go about in big blue bags.

It’s true that after the fall of the Taliban lots of women in the capital went back to work in schools, hospitals, and government ministries, while others found better paying jobs with international humanitarian agencies. In 2005, thanks to a quota system imposed by the international community, women took 27% of the seats in the lower house of the new parliament, a greater percentage than women enjoy in most Western legislatures, including our own. Yet these hopeful developments are misleading.

The fact is that the "liberation" of Afghan women is mostly theoretical. The Afghan Constitution adopted in 2004 declares that "The Citizens of Afghanistan -- whether man or woman -- have equal Rights and Duties before the Law." But what law? The judicial system -- ultra-conservative, inadequate, incompetent, and notoriously corrupt -- usually bases decisions on idiosyncratic interpretations of Islamic Sharia, tribal customary codes, or simple bribery. And legal "scholars" instruct women that having "equal Rights and Duties" is not the same as being equal to men.

Post-Taliban Afghanistan, under President Hamid Karzai, also ratified key international agreements on human rights: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Treaty of Civil and Political Rights, and CEDAW: the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Like the Constitution, these essential documents provide a foundation for realizing the human rights of women.

But building on that paper foundation -- amid poverty, illiteracy, misogyny, and ongoing warfare -- is something else again.

That’s why, for the great majority of Afghan women, life has scarcely changed at all. That’s why even an educated and informed leader like my colleague, on her way to a UN agency to work on women’s rights, is still unable to eat an ice cream cone.


For most Afghan women the burqa is the least of their problems.

Afghanistan is just about the poorest country in the world. Only Burkina Faso and Niger sometimes get worse ratings. After nearly three decades of warfare and another of drought, millions of Afghans are without safe water or sanitation or electricity, even in the capital city. Millions are without adequate food and nutrition. Millions have access only to the most rudimentary health care, or none at all.

Diseases such as TB and polio, long eradicated in most of the world, flourish here. They hit women and children hard. One in four children dies before the age of five, mostly from preventable illnesses such as cholera and diarrhea. Half of all women of childbearing age who die do so in childbirth, giving Afghanistan one of the highest maternal death rates in the world. Average life expectancy hovers around 42 years.

Notice that we’re still talking women’s rights here: the fundamental economic and social rights that belong to all human beings.

There are other grim statistics. About 85% of Afghan women are illiterate. About 95% are routinely subjected to violence in the home. And the home is where most Afghan women in rural areas, and many in cities, are still customarily confined. Public space and public life belong almost exclusively to men. President Karzai heads the country while his wife, a qualified gynecologist with needed skills, stays at home.

These facts are well known. During more than five years of Western occupation, they haven’t changed.

Afghan women and girls are, by custom and practice, the property of men. They may be traded and sold like any commodity. Although Afghan law sets the minimum marriageable age for girls at sixteen, girls as young as eight or nine are commonly sold into marriage. Women doctors in Kabul maternity hospitals describe terrible life-threatening "wedding night" injuries that husbands inflict on child brides. In the countryside, far from medical help, such girls die.

Under the tribal code of the Pashtuns, the dominant ethnic group, men customarily hand over women and girls -- surplus sisters or widows, daughters or nieces -- to other men to make amends for some offense or to pay off some indebtedness, often to a drug lord. To Pashtuns the trade-off is a means of maintaining "justice" and social harmony, but international human rights observers define what happens to the women and girls used in such "conflict resolution" as "slavery."

Given the rigid confinement of women, a surprising number try to escape. But any woman on her own outside the home is assumed to be guilty of the crime of "zina" -- engaging in sexual activity. That’s why "running away" is itself a crime. One crime presupposes the other.

When she is caught, as most runaways are, she may be taken to jail for an indefinite term or returned to her husband or father or brothers who may then murder her to restore the family honor.

The same thing happens to a rape victim, force being no excuse for sexual contact -- unless she is married to the man who raped her. In that case, she can be raped as often as he likes.

In Kabul, where women and girls move about more freely, many are snatched by traffickers and sold into sexual slavery. The traffickers are seldom pursued or punished because once a girl is abducted she is as good as dead anyway, even to loving parents bound by the code of honor. The weeping mother of a kidnapped teenage girl once told me, "I pray she does not come back because my husband will have to kill her."

Many a girl kills herself. To escape beatings or sexual abuse or forced marriage. To escape prison or honor killing, if she’s been seduced or raped or falsely accused. To escape life, if she’s been forbidden to marry the man she would choose for herself.

Suicide also brings dishonor, so families cover it up. Only when city girls try to kill themselves by setting themselves on fire do their cases become known, for if they do not die at once, they may be taken to hospital. In 2003, scores of cases of self-immolation were reported in the city of Herat; the following year, as many were recorded in Kabul. Although such incidents are notoriously underreported, during the past year 150 cases were noted in western Afghanistan, 197 in Herat, and at least 34 in the south.

The customary codes and traditional practices that made life unbearable for these burned girls predate the Taliban, and they remain in force today, side by side with the new constitution and international documents that speak of women’s rights.

Tune in to a Kabul television station and you’ll see evidence that Afghan women are poised at a particularly schizophrenic moment in their history. Watching televised parliamentary sessions, you’ll see women who not only sit side by side with men -- a dangerous, generally forbidden proximity -- but actually rise to argue with them. Yet who can forget poor murdered Shaima, the lively, youthful presenter of a popular TV chat show for young people? Her father and brother killed her, or so men and women say approvingly, because they found her job shameful. Mullahs and public officials issue edicts from time to time condemning women on television, or television itself.


Many people believe the key to improving life for women, and all Afghans, is education, particularly because so many among Afghanistan’s educated elite left the country during its decades of wars. So the international community invests in education projects -- building schools, printing textbooks, teaching teachers, organizing literacy classes for women -- and the Bush administration in particular boasts that five million children now go to school.

But that’s fewer than half the kids of school age, and less than a third of the girls. The highest enrollments are in cities – 85% of children in Kabul -- while, in the Pashtun south, enrollments drop below 20% overall and near zero for girls. More than half the students enrolled in school live in Kabul and its environs, yet even there an estimated 60,000 children are not in school, but in the streets, working as vendors, trash-pickers, beggars, or thieves.

None of this is new. For a century, Afghan rulers -- from kings to communists -- have tried to unveil women and advance education. In the 1970s and 1980s, many women in the capital went about freely, without veils. They worked in offices, schools, hospitals. They went to university and became doctors, nurses, teachers, judges, engineers. They drove their own cars. They wore Western fashions and traveled abroad. But when Kabul’s communists called for universal education throughout the country, provincial conservatives opposed to educating women rebelled.

Afghan women of the Kabul elite haven’t yet caught up to where they were thirty-five years ago. But once again ultra-conservatives are up in arms. This time it’s the Taliban, back in force throughout the southern half of the country. Among their tactics: blowing up or burning schools (150 in 2005, 198 in 2006) and murdering teachers, especially women who teach girls. UNICEF estimates that in four southern provinces more than half the schools -- 380 out of 748 -- no longer provide any education at all. Last September the Taliban shot down the middle-aged woman who headed the provincial office for women’s affairs in Kandahar. A few brave colleagues went back to the office in body armor, knowing it would not save them. Now, in the southern provinces -- more than half the country -- women and girls stay home.

I blame George W. Bush, the "liberator" who looked the other way. In 2001, the United States military claimed responsibility for these provinces, the heart of Taliban country; but diverted to adventures in the oilfields of Iraq, it failed for five years to provide the security international humanitarians needed to do the promised work of reconstruction. Afghans grew discouraged. Last summer, when the U.S. handed the job to NATO, British and Canadian "peacekeepers" walked right into war with the resurgent Taliban. By year’s end, more than 4,000 Afghans were dead -- Taliban, "suspected" insurgents, and civilians. Speaking recently of dead women and children -- trapped between U.S. bombers and NATO troops on the one hand and Taliban forces backed (unofficially) by Pakistan on the other -- President Karzai began to weep.

It’s winter in Afghanistan now. No time to make war. But come spring, the Taliban promise a new offensive to throw out Karzai and foreign invaders. The British commander of NATO forces has already warned: "We could actually fail here."

He also advised a British reporter that Westerners shouldn’t even mention women’s rights when more important things are at stake. As if security is not a woman’s right. And peace.

Come spring, Afghan women could lose it all.

The Financial Times and the “Self-Confessed Mastermind of 9/11”

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By James Petras

In recent days there is mounting evidence of the advance of totalitarianism in the political and media mainstream. The entire Western world, led by the United States, has embraced a Georgian regime, which invaded South Ossetia totally demolishing its capital city of 50,000 residents, assassinated 1500 men, women and children and dozens of Russian peace keepers. The US has mobilized a naval and air armada off the Iranian coast, prepared to annihilate a country of 70 million people. The New York Times published an essay by a prominent Israeli historian, which advocates the nuclear incineration of Iran. All the major mass media have mounted a systematic propaganda campaign against China, supporting each and every terrorist and separatist group, and whipping up public opinion in favor of launching a New Cold War. There is little doubt that this new wave of imperial aggression and bellicose rhetoric is meant to deflect domestic discontent and distract public opinion from the deepening economic crises.

The Financial Times (FT), once the liberal, enlightened voice of the financial elite (in contrast to the aggressively neo-conservative Wall Street Journal) has yielded to the totalitarian-militarist temptation. The feature article of the weekend supplement of August 16/17, 2008 – “The Face of 9/11” – embraces the forced confession of a 9/11 suspect elicited through 5 years of hideous torture in the confines of secret prisons. To make their case, the FT published a half-page blow-up photo first circulated by former CIA director George Tenet, which presents a bound, disheveled, dazed, hairy ape-like prisoner. The text of the writer, one Demetri Sevastopulo, admits as much: The FT owns up to being a propaganda vehicle for a CIA program to discredit the suspect while he stands trial based on confessions obtained through torture.

From beginning to end, the article categorically states that the principle defendant, Khalet Sheikh Mohammed, is the “self-confessed mastermind of the September 11 attacks on the US.” The first half of the article is full of trivia, designed to provide a human-interest feel to the courtroom and the proceedings – a bizarre mixture discussing Khaled’s nose to the size of the courtroom.

The central point of departure for the FT’s conviction of the suspect is Khaled’s confession, his ‘desire for martyrdom’, his assumption of his own defense and his reciting the Koran. The crucial piece of the Government’s case is Khaled’s confession. All the other ‘evidence’ was circumstantial, hearsay and based on inferences derived from Khaled’s attendance at overseas meetings.

The FT’s principle source of information, an anonymous informant “familiar with the CIA interrogation program” states categorically two crucial facts: (1) How little the CIA had known about him before his arrest (my emphasis) and (2) that Khaled held out longer than the others.

In other words, the CIA’s only real evidence was extracted by torture (the CIA admitted to ‘water boarding’ – an infamous torture technique inducing near death from drowning). The fact that Khaled repeatedly denied the accusations and that he only confessed after 5 years of torture in secret prisons renders the entire prosecution a case study in totalitarian jurisprudence. Having been subjected to unspeakable torture by US judicial investigators, facing accusations based on a confession extracted through torture, it is no wonder that Khaled refused a court appointed military lawyer – a lawyer who is part of a system of secret prisons, torture and ‘show trials’. Rather than portray Khaled as a fanatic seeking martyrdom for rejecting a lawyer, we must recognize that he is completely in his right mind to at least preserve the limited space and time allocated to him to state his beliefs and to relate his willingness to die for those beliefs. Confessions extracted from torture, have no validity in any court, especially after 5 years of solitary confinement. What the FT calls “the super terrorist” based on his stated “desire for martyrdom” is the admission of an individual who has suffered beyond human endurance and looks to death to end his horrible sub-human existence.

The FT’s embrace of the CIA and military’s coerced evidence and therefore their use of torture, puts them squarely in the camp of the totalitarian state. The right-turn of the FT mirrors the European turn toward US military confrontation with Russia, and the military build-up in Poland, the Czech Republic, Kosovo, Iraq and Georgia. The FT by legitimizing torture has opened the door to making totalitarian judicial practices, arbitrary arrests, secret prisons, prolonged solitary confinement, torture, show trials and cover-up feature stories part of normal Western political life. Genteel British fascism is no less ugly than its blustery US version.

James Petras’ latest book: Zionism, Militarism and the Decline of US Power, (Clarity Press 2008).

Is Iraq a Sovereign and Independent Colony?

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By Jacob G. Hornberger

One cannot help but be amused over the negotiations taking place between President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki over how long U.S. troops will be permitted to stay in Iraq and whether occupation troops will be subject to Iraqi law in the interim.

My question is: Why is this something that even needs to be negotiated? I thought that Iraq was now a sovereign and independent country. Isn’t that what President Bush and U.S. officials have been telling us ever since U.S. troops invaded and occupied Iraq some six years ago?

Well, if Iraq really is a sovereign and independent country, then why does it have to negotiate anything with the United States, including an exit date for U.S. troops and how criminal offenses committed by U.S. troops in Iraq are going to be handled? Why can’t Iraq simply tell the U.S. government when it is going to leave Iraq and how the actions of its troops are going to be handled as long as they are in Iraq? As a sovereign and independent country, why does Iraq need consent or approval from the U.S. government for how things operate within Iraq? Does the U.S. government need the consent and approval of foreign regimes before taking actions here within the United States?

The negotiations between President Bush and Iraq belie the truth: President Bush and U.S. officials consider Iraq to be a conquered nation and a colony now with the U.S. Empire. That’s why the new U.S. Embassy is slated to be the largest of its kind in the world—the size of Vatican City. It’s also why Bush’s forces have been building permanent military bases during their occupation of the country.

Bush’s problem, however, is that Iraqi officials don’t consider themselves to be a vassal nation within the U.S. Empire. In fact, as we here at FFF have been pointing out for years, the Bush invasion, with the aid of clever political maneuvering by Islamic radical Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, succeeded in installing a radical Islamic regime into power in Iraq. Such a regime, which has even aligned itself with Bush’s arch-enemy Iran, isn’t likely to accede to Bush’s wish for a permanent U.S. occupation of Iraq, especially given that Iraqi officials know that Bush will soon find himself without political power clearing brush at his ranch in Crawford, Texas.

Mr. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

World Poverty 'More Widespread'

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By Steve Schifferes

The World Bank has warned that world poverty is much greater than previously thought.

It has revised its previous estimate and now says that 1.4 billion people live in poverty, based on a new poverty line of $1.25 per day.

This is substantially more than its earlier estimate of 985 million people living in poverty in 2004.

The Bank has also revised upwards the number it said were poor in 1981, from 1.5 billion to 1.9 billion.

The new estimates suggest that poverty is both more persistent, and has fallen less sharply, than previously thought.

However, given the increase in world population, the poverty rate has still fallen from 50% to 25% over the past 25 years.

"This is pretty grim analysis coming from the World Bank," said Elizabeth Stuart, senior policy adviser at Oxfam.

"The urgency to act has never been greater, especially in sub-Saharan Africa where half the population of the continent lives in extreme poverty, a figure that hasn't changed for over 25 years."

Regional differences

The new figures confirm that Africa has been the least successful region of the world in reducing poverty.

The number of poor people in Africa doubled between 1981 and 2005 from 200 million to 380 million, and the depth of poverty is greater as well, with the average poor person living on just 70 cents per day.

The poverty rate is unchanged at 50% since 1981.

But in absolute numbers, it is South Asia which has the most poor people, with 595 million, of which 455 million live in India.

The poverty rate, however, has fallen from 60% to 40%.

China has been most successful in reducing poverty, with the numbers falling by more than 600 million, from 835 million in 1981 to 207 million in 2005.

The poverty rate in China has plummeted from 85% to 15.9%, with the biggest part of that drop coming in the past 15 years, when China opened up to Western investment and its coastal regions boomed.

In fact, in absolute terms, China accounts for nearly all the world's reduction in poverty. In percentage terms, world poverty excluding China fell from 40% to 30% over the past 25 years.

Millennium goals

The new figures still suggest that the world will reach its millennium development goal of halving the 1990 level of poverty by 2015, according to World Bank chief economist Justin Lin.

"Poverty has fallen by about 1% per year since 1981," he said.

"However the sobering news that poverty is more pervasive than we thought means we must redouble our efforts."

Oxfam, however, warns that another 100 million people may be forced into poverty by rising food prices, as well as the additional 400 million identified in the new report.

The Bank's findings come as the OECD has reported that many rich countries have cut back on their foreign aid budgets, with little sign that the pledge made at the G8 summit at Gleneagles in 2005 to double aid to Africa by 2010 is being met.

The World Bank's new poverty line of $1.25 per day in 2005 is equivalent to its $1 per day poverty line introduced in 1981 after adjustment for inflation. The new estimates are based on 675 household surveys for 116 countries, based on 1.2 million interviews. The data has also been revised on the basis of new data on inflation and prices from the 2005 ICP survey of world prices, which showed that the cost of living in developing countries was higher than previously thought. It does not take into account the recent increases in fuel and food prices.

Iran Could Reap Benefits of U.S.-Russian Tensions

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By Jim Lobe

Iran could emerge as a big winner, at least in the short term, from the rapidly escalating tensions between the United States and Russia over Moscow's intervention in Georgia, according to analysts here.

Whatever waning chances remained of a U.S. military attack on Iran before President George W. Bush leaves office next January have all but vanished, given the still-uncertain outcome of the Georgia crisis, according to most of these observers.

Similarly, the likelihood that Moscow will cooperate with U.S. and European efforts to impose additional sanctions on Tehran through the U.N. Security Council, where Russia holds a veto, for not complying with the Council's demands to halt its uranium enrichment programme has been sharply reduced.

Not only has Washington's confrontation with its old superpower rival displaced Tehran at the top of the administration's and U.S. media foreign policy agenda, but Tehran's geo-political leverage -- both as a potential partner for the West in containing Russia and as a potential ally of Moscow's in warding off western pressure -- has also risen sharply as an incidental result of the crisis.

"When the U.S. invaded Iraq, it didn't do so to improve Iran's power position in the region, but that was the result," noted Gary Sick, an Iran expert at Columbia University who served on the National Security Council staff of former Presidents Ford, Carter, and Reagan. "That wasn't the purpose of the Russian invasion of Georgia either, but it, too, may be the result."

So far, Tehran's response to the Georgia crisis has been measured. Despite calls by some right-wing voices to side with Moscow, according to Farideh Farhi, an Iran expert at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars here, the government, including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has expressed disapproval of the Russian action, particularly its recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia.

"The reason is on grounds of principle -- if Iran is going to start supporting the secession of territories that are unhappy with the central government, then Iran itself has some similar issues with ethnic dissatisfaction," Farhi, who also teaches at the University of Hawaii, told IPS.

In addition, she said, most of Tehran's foreign policy establishment "don't view Russia as a reliable partner. They understand that Russia may support Iran on the nuclear file depending on its own security or policy interests, but Russia has also been quite clever in using Iran as a bargaining chip in terms of its relationship with the United States."

"The Iranians are being very clever here; they're not likely to rush to Russia's defence unless Russia comes to them and ask for their help, and then they can ask for something in return," Farhi added.

The latter may include anything from the accelerated completion of the long-delayed Bushehr nuclear plant, to providing advanced anti-aircraft systems (something that Tehran's ally Syria has already asked Moscow to provide in the wake of Damascus' public support for the Russian intervention), to full membership in the Sino-Russian-sponsored Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), a defence group that is coincidentally holding its annual summit in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, this week.

Teheran's leverage is not just confined to its status, along with Turkey's, as the most powerful nation in a strategically critical neighbourhood inhabited by relatively weak U.S.-backed buffer states like Georgia. During the Cold War and until the 1979 Revolution, after all, Iran served as Washington's most important bulwark against Soviet influence in the Gulf.

It also derives from its being a major oil and gas producer that could also play a much more important role as a transshipment point for Central Asian and Caspian energy resources bound for Europe, whose growing dependence on Russia for its energy supplies looks more risky than ever. This is particularly so in the wake of Moscow's demonstration that it can easily reach -- and disrupt, if it wishes -- the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline, the only pipeline that transports oil from the Caspian to the West without transiting either Russia or Iran.

"Oil and gas companies now must factor in a new level of uncertainty," according to Jay Stanley at Kent Moors, an expert on energy finance who writes for 'Caspian Investor'. "...Georgia is now unstable and that increases the risk of transporting hydrocarbons across it."

"If the BTC and Georgia won't be a reliable source of energy, then Iran will absolutely step up to the plate," according to Prof. William Beeman, an Iran expert at the University of Minnesota. "'You want gas? We'll sell you gas' will likely be their position," he added, noting that Switzerland signed a 25-year, 42-billion-dollar gas supply and pipeline deal with Tehran last March over strong U.S. objections. "I think the Swiss are a very good bellwether for the rest of Europe on this."

While Iran has alienated some major European energy companies -- most recently France's Total -- by demanding tough terms, it might "see the present crisis as an opportunity to go back to European colleagues and say, 'Let's take another look at this,"' said Sick. "It gives them some more leverage by going to the West and saying 'You're shooting yourselves in the foot here. When are you going to come to your senses?"'

That argument naturally becomes more compelling as tensions between Russia and the West continue to escalate and could affect internal Bush cabinet-level deliberations on whether to act on a State Department recommendation to seek Iranian approval for opening an interests section in Tehran. Such a move, at the present juncture, would likely be seen as a major move on geo-strategic chessboard. Despite reports earlier this month that Bush had approved the recommendation, the issue appears to be unresolved.

Still, some experts say Iran's advantage could be short-lived. With a Russian veto over new Iran sanctions all but assured, Washington could decide to drop the U.N. route and try to impose a "coalition-of-the-willing" sanctions regime with its allies, according to Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC).

Michael Klare, author of "Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet: The New Geopolitics of Energy", told IPS he believes that Russia's unilateral resort to military action against Georgia may actually embolden Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, the leader of the administration's hawks who travels next week to Georgia and Azerbaijan.

"The question is whether Bush and Cheney will feel empowered to behave in a more belligerent fashion or not," he said.

Israel Pushes Ahead with Settlement Expansion

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By Mel Frykberg

Israel has published tenders for the construction of 1,761 illegal housing units for Israeli settlers in occupied east Jerusalem alone, according to the Israeli rights group Peace Now.

The expansion plans come despite promises by the Israeli government at last year's peace summit at Annapolis, Maryland (in the U.S.) to freeze all settlement growth.

"Once again this government has shown that its words and commitments are meaningless, and they have no intention of keeping to their word," says Peace Now.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has stressed repeatedly that settlement construction or expansion in the West Bank is contrary to international law and Israel's commitments under the 'road map' peace process.

The road map was a series of peace-building measures proposed by U.S. President George W. Bush in 2002 and subsequently developed by the diplomatic Quartet of the European Union, the United Nations, Russia and the United States.

Ban Ki-moon further urged Israel to freeze all settlement activity and to dismantle outposts erected since March of 2001.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, normally a diehard supporter of Israel, also expressed her concern about the settlement building during her last visit to Israel several months ago.

"It's important to have an atmosphere of confidence and trust," Rice said following talks she held with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah. "The United States believes that the (settlement) actions and the announcements that are taking place are indeed having a negative effect on the atmosphere for negotiation."

The new construction should not be allowed to shape future Israeli-Palestinian borders, which remain under negotiation, Rice said. "The United States will not let these activities have any effect on final status negotiations, including final borders."

The Geneva Conventions specifically forbid the transfer of a civilian population into occupied territory.

But even as Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was meeting with Abbas in Jerusalem last week in an endeavour to further the peace process, plans for further settlement construction were already under way.

At the beginning of the month, prior to Peace Now's statement, the Israel Lands Authority published tenders for the construction of 130 new housing units in Har Homa, East Jerusalem.

The Har Homa neighbourhood and all east Jerusalem settlements were built on land Israel occupied in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Israel subsequently incorporated the areas into Jerusalem's boundaries in a move not recognised internationally.

In addition to the public announcement of the tenders, there are currently 500 houses already under construction in Har Homa, and 240 in the settlement of Maaleh Adumim in East Jerusalem.

At the same time as the Har Homa tenders were being published, Israeli officials also called for bids from construction companies to build more than 300 apartments in the West Bank settlement of Beitar Illit near Bethlehem, and about 20 minutes drive from Jerusalem.

This came on top of Olmert's approval at the beginning of the year to build 750 new houses in the Givat Zeev settlement northwest of Jerusalem, and 100 in the Ariel settlement in the northern West Bank.

There are approximately 430,000 Israeli settlers residing illegally in the West Bank.

According to Israeli advocacy group B'Tselem, Israel has established 135 settlements in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) that have been recognised by the Interior Ministry. Additionally, dozens of outposts of varying size have been established.

Sixteen settlements were established in the Gaza Strip and subsequently dismantled in 2005 during the implementation of the 'disengagement plan'.

Land expropriation from Palestinian farmers for the building and enlargement of Israeli settlements has caused undue hardship and economic suffering for Palestinians, and some have initiated acts of civil disobedience in a bid to retain the pieces of agricultural land that have not been confiscated.

The villagers of Bil'in and Ni'ilin near Ramallah in the central West Bank, together with international activists and Israeli sympathisers, have staged weekly protests that have resulted in a number of deaths, arrests and injuries. The most infamous incident was the blindfolding, handcuffing and shooting of Ni'ilin resident Ashraf Abu Rahma.

The villagers of Ni'ilin have been protesting land expropriation which has seen the size of their village reduced from 5,700 hectares of land in 1948 to 3,300 hectares in 1967, to the present approximate of 1,000 hectares.

Ni'ilin olives farmer Bahjat Mesleh told IPS he had lost about 75 dunams (10 dunums is one hectare) of land to make way for the building of the separation barrier which divides Israel from the West Bank.

"This has cost me about 25,000 dollars, and I am more fortunate than other farmers as I've been able to continue supporting my family by working as a teacher. Not all farmers have been able to continue a livelihood," said Mesleh.

According to B'Tselem, "Israel has stolen thousands of dunams of land from the Palestinians. Israel forbids Palestinians to enter and use these lands, and uses the settlements to justify numerous violations of Palestinian rights, such as the right to housing, to earn a living, and freedom of movement.

"The settlers, on the other hand, benefit from all rights given to citizens of Israel who live inside the Green Line, and in some instances, even additional rights."

The principal tool used to take control of land is to declare it state land. This process began in 1979, and is based on a manipulative implementation of the Ottoman Lands Law of 1858, which applied in the area at the time of occupation.

Other methods employed by Israel to take control of land include seizure for military needs, declaration of land as "abandoned assets", and the expropriation of land for public needs.

Militarism and a Uni-polar World

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By Lenora Foerstel

The Trilateral Commission was founded in 1973 by David Rockefeller as an off-shoot of the Council of Foreign Relations (CFR). David Rockefeller was chairman of the CFR in 1970 and subsequently became the founding chairman of the Trilateral Commission. Soon the membership of the Commission had grown to 300 members, including prominent political figures like Zbigniew Brzezinski. Most members of the Trilateral Commission are bankers, media moguls, or corporate CEOs, primarily from North America, Europe and Japan, while all members of the CFR are U.S. Citizens.

The Commission seeks to extend its influence abroad and is careful to avoid the scrutiny of congressional investigations. The CFR on the other hand, focuses on the control of American media.

When American media discuss globalism, they rarely mention that the Trilateral Commission sets most global economic goals, primary among them being the creation of a one-world system of trade. It is basically a form of fascism in which global corporations and their elite CEOs determine the policies and direction of world governments. The creation of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank after World War II was intended to encourage Third World countries to borrow money from wealthy nations, so long as they agreed to the imposition of a wide range of “structural adjustment policies.” Any nation borrowing money from either organization would not be allowed to nationalize its natural resources and would be unable to prevent foreign corporations from buying or controlling those resources.

Shortly before World War II, Hjalmer Schacht, a German banker, toured the United States soliciting American corporate support for Hitler’s new fascist state. U.S. corporations not only agreed to support Germany against the socialist economic system of the Soviet Union, but also declared their opposition to the strong labor movement arising in the United States and Europe.

General Motors was prominent among the corporations that supported the Nazi government, investing $20 million in industries owned or controlled by Herman Goering and other Nazi officials. Other US multinational corporations that profited from and supported Hitler’s industrial war machine included General Electric, Standard Oil, Texaco, International Harvester, ITT and IBM. Today, Standard Oil of New York is unabashed in honoring its chemical cartel that manufactured Zyklon-B, the poison gas used by the Nazi gas chambers. (1)

Among the eminent business leaders backing these multinational corporations were the Rockefellers and Prescott Bush, father of George Bush and grandfather of George W. Bush. Prescott Bush worked with his father-in-law, George Herbert Walker, in the family firm Union Banking Corporation to raise $50 million for the Nazi government by selling German bonds to American investors from 1924 to 1930.

Even though the United States helped to defeat Nazi Germany in World War II, many of the powerful elite families continued to support Hitler’s fascist ideology after the war. John Rockefeller III was an uncritical believer in the doctrine of Thomas Robert Malthus, who claimed that population always increased at a geometric rate while food supply increased at the slower arithmetic rate. Malthus therefore concluded that population growth had to be rigidly controlled. Today, his theory is widely criticized for failing to take into account the vast technological advances in agriculture and food production.

Rockefeller also accepted Hitler’s concept of an Aryan race, leading him to propose population control on the poor and people of color, whom he believed were producing children of inferior intelligence. In an effort to support such views, the Rockefeller family became involved with Eugenics, a fascist doctrine that advocated breeding a superior race by eliminating the mentally ill, physically handicapped, and racially inferior.

During the 1920’s, anthropologist Franz Boaz helped to combat racial prejudice more than any of his contemporaries. Following in his steps was his young protégé, Margaret Mead, who went on to establish that nurture, not nature, was the primary determinant of human health and mental development. Their work showed that Eugenics was based on ideology, not science. The legitimate science of genetics emerged from the ashes of Eugenics, but even today, many geneticists are members of Eugenics societies.

Despite the demise of Eugenics, the theory of over-population remains a common political argument. It has been suggested by Henry Kissinger, a stout member of the Trilateral Commission, that countries that do not control their population should suffer sanctions and the human misery that accompanies them.

The US Congress has supported these early population concepts introduced by Rockefeller’s Foundation. In March 1970, Congress set up a “Commission on Population Growth and the American Future.” The commission included representatives from USAID, the State Department, and the Department of Agriculture, but CIA and Pentagon officials drew up the agenda. “Their objectives were not to assist developing countries, but as promoted by the Trilateral Commission, to curb world population with a view to serving US strategic and national security interests,” notes author Michel Chossudovsky.(2)

In 2007, more than 100 million tons of grain were used to make ethanol, which contributed to high global food prices and subsequent hunger and starvation. During this same year, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization stated that there had been a record grain harvest, suggesting that there is enough food in the world to feed everyone. Indeed, over the last twenty years, food production has risen steadily at over two percent a year, while the rate of population growth has dropped to 1.4 percent a year. Access to food should be viewed as a fundamental human right, but corporations regard it only as a commodity to be sold for profit. No amount of technological progress or increase in food production can overcome corporate greed. The corporations ignore basic human needs, seeking to control world resources by encouraging the US government to build more and more military bases around the world. Presently, the US has 1000 such bases.

Under the Clinton administration, Yugoslavia was dismembered in order to advance American interests. In particular, the former Serbian province of Kosovo was occupied by U.S. troops in order to build Camp Bondsteel, among the largest military bases ever created by the United States. It will double as Kosovo’s largest prison, where prisoners can be held indefinitely without charges and without defense attorneys.(3)

Another major reason for building Camp Bondsteel was to provide protection for an oil pipeline to be built to the Caspian Sea. The Caspian holds some 50 billion gallons of oil, tempting foreign intervention in the Balkans. In an attempt to control Caspian oil, NATO and US troops have been sent to the Georgia.

As Latin America asserts its independence from the odious Monroe Doctrine, its progressive leaders face increasing American pressure and overt threats. These new leaders no longer rely on the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank. Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic have become members of the Bolivian Alternative for Latin America. This organization emphasizes local energy development and has become the bank of the South. This bank will not operate as a profit driven institution, but as a financial organization that will consider the economic needs of each borrower country.

In an effort to break up this new political organization in Latin America, the US has provided six billion dollars to Alvaro Uribe, President of Columbia, with the understanding that a US military base would follow. The base would be placed in La Guay, a region spanning Northeast Columbia and Northwest Venezuela, a clear threat to the Chavez government in Venezuela.

As in the Caucasus and Latin America, Africa is faced with American military expansion through AFRICOM. AFRICOM is the acronym for the US military command post planned for Sub-Sahara Africa. As pointed out by the members of the National Conference of Black Lawyers (NCBL), AFRICOM will infringe on the rights of African states and will violate international law that protects the sovereignty of nations. African leaders are well aware that AFRICOM is intended to exploit Africa’s national resources.

It has become increasingly clear that the US military has been stretched thin, with insufficient forces to fight simultaneous wars and maintain the vast military bases it is establishing around the world. Responding to this problem, Donald Rumsfeld, former Secretary of Defense, and Vice President Dick Cheney have turned to private military forces. Blackwater, a well-paid mercenary army, has become the world’s most powerful private military corporation. Troops for Blackwater are recruited from countries like the Philippines, Nepal, Columbia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras, Panama, Peru, and Chili. Some 60 former commandos have been recruited from the remnants of the army of former Chilean dictator Augusta Pinochet. They now serve as part of Blackwater’s fighting forces. Other mercenary armies available to the highest bidder include Amo Group, Eunyo, Hart Security, and the Military Professional Resources Incorporated (MPRI). (4)

In early August 1995, under former President Clinton, the MPRI mercenaries were sent to Croatia to train and assist the Croatian military in expelling ethnic Serbs from their villages in the Krajina, an area in Croatia.

American military bases are proliferating around the world like mushrooms. Among the more recent are the bases in Romania, Poland, Bulgaria, Pakistan, India, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Morocco, Tunis, Algeria, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates.(5) New bases are presently under construction in Eurasia along the borders of Russia and in areas close to China. The earlier Clinton Doctrine proclaimed that the United States has the unilateral right to use military force to protect markets and resources. Author Michael Swank says the Clinton Doctrine is taken for granted today. He explains, “With markets and resources we have a right to make sure that we control them, which is logical on the principle that we own the world anyway so of course we have that right.” (6)

Dr. Sheldon Wolin, emeritus professor of politics at Princeton University, states that under George Bush the United States has finally achieved an official ideology of imperial expansion comparable to that of Nazi Germany.(7)

The US policy of dividing up countries like Yugoslavia has caused concern in the Middle East, Russia and China. Today, Russia is well aware that the US and NATO hope to divide Russia into three regions, as described in Zbigniew Bryzinski’s book, The Grand Chessboard: Western Russia would be integrated into Europe; Siberia would be separated from Russia; and the Asian republics would be given independence. Both Russia and China are concerned about the relentless expansion of NATO toward their borders.

The military bases spread out over the world have done very little to aid the growth of markets for the US. Taxpayer money funds not only America’s military bases, but the corporations that run them. The current economic depression and the steadily growing public debt, now exceeding nine trillion dollars, has harmed the US social infrastructure in areas like public education and health care. It has also caused the US to lose its competitiveness in manufacturing products to meet civilian needs. Simultaneously, the US has lost international markets to China, India, Russia, and some EU countries.

On June 15, 2001, China, Russia and four of their central Asian neighbors, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, established the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a new regional group pursuing security and cooperation. The SCO is gaining influence internationally as more and more nations seek to join the group. Mongolia, Pakistan, Iran and India hold observer status, and nations as diverse as Bangladesh, Belarus, Nepal and the Philippines have expressed interest in affiliating with the SCO. (8)

Yevgeny Primakov, head of Russian trade and industry, has declared that the global economy no longer has a single undisputed leader. Russia and China, under the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, have worked to create a multi-polar world.

In May, 2008, Russia hosted the first meeting of BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China), bringing together four nations that are home to forty percent of humanity and representing the fastest growing emerging economies in the world. BRIC is being built on the foundation of a successful trilateral collaboration known as RIC (Russia, India and China).

Anthony Ling, managing director of Goldman Sachs International, noting the rising power of the four BRIC countries, characterizes them as “the new economic tigers.” The US is now lagging behind them in terms of the percentage of energy companys world wide. (9)

The new economic power exercised by BRIC and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization has created a new balance in world politics. The SCO has fostered economic and investment cooperation, including joint projects in the fuel and energy sectors, agriculture, and other spheres. The nations within the SCO have established relations with international bodies, including the United Nations, the European Union, the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN), and the Islamic Conference.

In October, 2007, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), consisting of the presidents of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhatan, Ky7rgistan, Russia, and Tajikistan signed an agreement with the SCO to broaden cooperation on issues of security, crime, and drug trafficking. The major purpose of this agreement was to reaffirm that all participating states will be protected from the foreign threats. “Signatories would not be able to join other military alliances or other groups of states, while aggression against one signatory would be perceived as an aggression against all.”(10) The CSTO, an observer organization of the United Nations, offered aid and assistance in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, but NATO refused, indicating that they would rely instead on an expanded military presence. (11)

Russia and China feel that their union with SCO, CSTO and BRIC proves that a uni-polar world is out of date, and that a multi-polar world, based on cooperation and mutual support rather than competition and intimidation, will become the world’s standard.


Michael Zezima, Saving Private Power, The Hidden History of the "Good" War. New York: Soft Skill Press, 2000.

Michel Chossudovsky, “The Global Crisis: Food, Water, Fuel. Three Fundamental Necessities of Life in Jeopardy,” June 5, 2008.

Chalmers Johnson, “The Empire of Bases: The Spoils of War,” excerpted from the book, The Sorrow of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy and the End of Republic. New York: Henry Holt, 2004.

Jeremy Scahill, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. New York: Nation Books, 2007.

Chalmers Johnson, The Sorrow of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy and the End of Republic. New York: Henry Holt, 2004.

Michael Shank, “Chomsky: Poorer Countries Find a Way to Escape U.S. Dominance,” Foreign Policy Focus, February 12, 2008. www.alternet/org/story/76657

Chalmers Johnson, “Inverted Totalitarianism: A New Way of Understanding How the U.S. Is Controlled,” May 19, 2008.

“Shanghai Cooperation Organization Becoming Major World Force,” China Internet Information Center, June 18, 2008.

“New Economic Tigers: Brazil, Russia, India and China Overtake the U.S. in Dominating Global Energy and Industry New Study Shows,” Associated Press, June 25, 2007.

“Collective Security Treaty Organization,” Wikipedia Free Encyclopedia.
“Afghanistan: NATO Rejects CSTO Offer, Persists in World Drive,” Voice of Russia, June 26, 2008.

Power struggle rages in Pakistan

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By Mian Ridge

Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari – the two leaders of the ruling coalition that split Monday – will battle for influence in next week's presidential election.

Hopes for much-needed political stability in Pakistan have crumbled along with its ruling coalition. Following Nawaz Sharif's exit from the government Monday, the political stage looks set to be dominated by a power struggle, which will draw attention away from antimilitant efforts and a faltering economy.

Only a week after it celebrated the resignation of former president Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's fractious coalition broke when former prime minister Mr. Sharif, leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), stormed out on the Pakistan People's Party (PPP). He blames his former coalition partner for repeatedly reneging on its promise to reinstate 60 judges suspended by Mr. Musharraf last year.

Sharif was also angered by an announcement that Asif Ali Zardari, chairman of the PPP and widower of its former leader, Benazir Bhutto, would stand for president. The coalition partners had agreed to back a nonpartisan candidate until the presidents' powers were constitutionally pared down.

Observers had hoped Mr. Zardari and Sharif, who represent different constituencies, would counterbalance each other. But Zardari looks set to grab as much power as he can while Sharif will seek to undermine him in opposition.

In the 1990s, Sharif and the PPP, under Ms. Bhutto, were bitter rivals and alternated terms in power. Many Pakistanis dread a return to the rancor and chaos of those days, which resulted, in 1999, in Musharraf's bloodless coup.

The split is unlikely to prompt early elections because the PPP, which holds the most seats in parliament, but not a majority, should be able to attract the support of smaller parties.

Instead, the rivalry between the two men is likely to be played out in presidential elections, scheduled for Sept. 6. In response to Zardari's nomination, Sharif has named his party's candidate: Saeed-uz-Zaman Siddiqui, a former chief justice.

Political pundits will also be keeping a close watch on the Punjab, Pakistan's biggest and most politically influential province. The PML-N has ruled the Punjab with the PPP, but without its support, it may be reduced to a minority.

Sharif will thus be looking to rally support, particularly among members of the PML-Quaid-e-Azam (PML-Q), which splintered from the PML-N after Sharif was ousted in 1999 and then backed Musharraf. The PML-Q knows its best bet in the national elections lies with Sharif, who remains the most popular politician.

Sharif is also likely to seek and score political points from Zardari's refusal to reinstate the judges, a position that has caused anger and disappointment throughout Pakistan. Talat Hussain, a political commentator and leading journalist, says the PPP could demonstrate that it would lead a stable government by immediately restoring the judges, "but Mr. Zardari has shown himself unwilling to do that."

Zardari, who is likely to win the presidency next week, is believed to oppose the return of the judges because he fears they will repeal an amnesty on corruption charges granted him last year. The former businessman has served more than eight years in prison on corruption and other criminal charges, but without being convicted.

Concerns about Zardari's likely presidency extend beyond corruption charges. "Zardari is a very unpredictable guy," says Mr. Hussain, referring to the fact that Zardari apologized to Sharif on state television Monday night and asked him to rejoin the government. "What kind of politics is he playing? That kind of inconsistency will be very bad for Pakistan."

The United States, however, is believed to be more comfortable with the prospect of working with Zardari than with Sharif, who is remembered as a difficult prime minister during the 1990s. A conservative Muslim with even more conservative followers, Sharif has said that he is intent on quashing militancy but would like to lower the profile of US involvement in the war on terror.

Zardari, by comparison, has adopted a hawkish tone in recent days, arguing that the Pakistani Taliban should be banned. Analysts say that regardless of his political battle with Sharif, Zardari will have to demonstrate convincingly that he is taking control of Pakistan's fight against terrorism if he is to enjoy any credence as president.

Men's threat to kill Obama is downplayed

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By Nicholas Riccardi

Federal authorities say the pair's rants while on a methamphetamine binge do not meet the legal standard for filing charges, despite their possession of rifles and sniper scopes.

Federal authorities Tuesday downplayed what they said were threats made by a pair of men arrested here over the weekend possessing rifles, sniper scopes and an alleged desire to kill Barack Obama.

Shawn Robert Adolf, 33, and Tharin Robert Gartrell, 28, face federal weapons charges, as does an associate, Nathan Johnson, 32.

U.S. Atty. Troy Eid said that during a methamphetamine binge, Adolf and Gartrell had expressed strongly racist views and spoken about killing the presumed Democratic presidential nominee.

Eid said the talk did not meet the legal standard to file charges for threatening a presidential candidate.

"The law recognizes a difference between a true threat -- that's one that can be carried out -- and the reported racist rants of drug abusers," Eid said at a news conference.

There have been low-grade fears for months about possible threats on the life of Obama, who will become the first black major-party presidential nominee when he accepts the Democratic Party's nomination Thursday night.

Obama received Secret Service protection shortly after he announced his campaign in 2007, a recognition of the risks he faces.

Eid acknowledged that many questions had not been answered, including why the men had high-powered weapons, body armor, two-way radios, wigs and camouflage gear. It was also unclear why they decided to base themselves in a suburban Hyatt hotel where they believed -- erroneously -- Obama was staying.

"We are just going to continue to investigate this," Eid said.

In a jailhouse interview with a Denver television station, Johnson said he did not know whether Adolf and Gartrell would have taken action.

"I don't want to say yes, but I don't want to say no," he said.

It began Sunday morning when police in suburban Aurora spotted Gartrell driving a rental truck erratically. When they pulled him over, they found a small amount of meth, two rifles and other gear, court records said.

Gartrell led police first to Johnson, who was arrested with small quantities of meth at the Hyatt in southern Denver, authorities said, then to Gartrell's cousin Adolf, who was at a hotel in the small city of Glendale. When police knocked on Adolf's door, he jumped from his sixth-floor window in an attempt to escape, authorities said.

A woman who said she had been partying with the three men at the Hyatt told investigators that Adolf and Gartrell had made racist comments about Obama. She said they "could not believe how close he was to becoming president," a federal affidavit said.

Johnson told investigators that Adolf had previously talked about killing Obama should the Illinois senator be elected, and that he believed the two men were in Denver to kill Obama, the affidavit said.

Gartrell and Adolf were on probation for drug and other charges, authorities said.

Police repress protesters at Democratic National Convention

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By Tom Eley

On Monday, police in riot gear used pepper spray, truncheons and rubber bullets on a peaceful demonstration of about 300 protesters about one mile from the Democratic National Convention in Denver. Around 100 demonstrators were arrested, charged with resisting a lawful order to disperse and obstruction of streets or public passageways.

At about 7 p.m. Monday, riot police fired pepper spray and pepper balls, which are delivered by guns, against the protesters, who had attempted to carry out a protest outside of the police-designated “free speech zone.” The free speech zone is a small area in a parking lot near the Pepsi Center, surrounded by two layers of steel fence and concrete barriers and topped by razor wire.

The confrontation began on a sidewalk near Denver’s Civic Center. SWAT police forced protesters backward, where a second phalanx of police was waiting, blocking their retreat. The police then completely surrounded the protesters, while reinforcements, including two armored vehicles, arrived. The protesters were held in this position for 90 minutes.

Twenty-one year old Joey Kenzie, a recent community college graduate, was among those surrounded by the riot police. “I’m a little in shock,” she told the Denver Post. “At one point we didn’t know what we were going to do, we were going to get arrested or maced. I haven’t been able to vote for a president yet, but this was an epiphany. My freedom of speech was suppressed.”

From among those pinned by the police, a protester was heard shouting, “This is not America. This is what a police state looks like. You’re worried about Beijing? This is repression.”

The Denver Police Department claims that the “crowd that had gathered near Civic Center Park refused requests to disperse and suddenly rushed a police safety line about 7:15 p.m.,” and that protesters were “carrying rocks and other items that could be used to threaten public safety.”

A legal observer for the People’s Law Project and the National Lawyers Guild disputed the police account. He observed no rocks or other projectiles in the hands of the protesters, and noted that they were complying with police orders to “move back” when the police fired pepper spray into the crowd. No order to disperse was given, and when protesters attempted to leave of their own accord, the police blocked their route.

Footage of the protest and the police intervention can be viewed on YouTube.

Police interned the arrested protesters at a makeshift prison composed of wire cages reminiscent of the US detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Denver has set up special “DNC” kangaroo courts to process the arrested protesters. However, it was not until nearly midnight on Monday that the first five protesters were arraigned—without attorneys—at the court dubbed “DNC 2.” Four of the five protesters were brought into the court tied together in twos, and they were compelled to enter pleas before the judge, Doris Burd, still linked together. The judge offered the prisoners the choice of entering a plea agreement with the city attorney, or pleading either guilty or innocent on the spot. Burd levied a $500 bond on the two protesters who pleaded not guilty.

Two men who had been arraigned and pleaded guilty—one of whom claimed to have been only a bystander—were interviewed in the courtroom by a reporter for the Rocky Mountain News. However, when the reporter tried to write their names down, a sheriff’s deputy ripped the reporter’s notebook out of his hands, removing the page with his notes, and threatened to remove him from the court. “You are never to speak to prisoners,” the deputy said.

The arrested protesters have been effectively denied legal representation. On Monday, attorneys for the People’s Law Project received requests for legal representation, but they did not know where the prisoners were located or when they would appear in court.

The police and security build-up in the lead-up to the DNC vividly demonstrates the precarious state of basic democratic rights in the US. Because the Department of Homeland Security has declared the nominating conventions “national security events”—a hazy legal status created by executive order under President Bill Clinton—the police of Denver have been transformed into a de facto military force and placed under the direction of the executive branch of the federal government.

The size of this police force has been doubled by the infusion of cops from surrounding areas, while numerous federal and state agencies have been mobilized to assist with security, including the Secret Service, which directs security operations, the National Guard, the Coast Guard, the US Customs and Border Protection agency, the Transportation Security Administration, the North American Aerospace Defense Command and the Pentagon’s Northern Command.

The level of security would suggest that DNC was a colonial administration meeting in hostile territory, rather then the nominating convention of a mass political party in a functioning democracy.

Moreover, the magnitude and ferocity of the security operation is completely out of proportion to the size and nature of the protests, which have been rather small and self-consciously peaceful. Sunday’s protest included about 3,000 people, while the protest attacked by police on Monday included no more than 300.

The militarization of Denver and the police repression of basic civil rights, which no leading Democratic Party politician has denounced, is the hysterical response of a political system that can allow no political expression outside of the narrowest official channels. It is meant to serve as a warning to those who would attempt to challenge the status quo, and also as a trial run for the sort of repression the ruling elite intends to mete out to the working class in the coming period.

US forces to transfer control of Anbar to Iraqis

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US forces will hand over control of Anbar province to Iraqi troops in the coming days, military officials said Wednesday, touting improved security in the region.

"We believe the province could turn over to Iraqi control in just a few days," Marine General James Conway said.

"The change in the Al-Anbar province is real and perceptible," Conway said of the majority-Sunni region, which is Iraq's largest province.

"Anbar remains a dangerous place, but the ever growing ability of the Iraqi security forces continues to move us closer to seeing Iraqi control of the province," the general said.

He expressed the hope that the handover of the Anbar province to Iraqi control will allow the Pentagon to redeploy troops elsewhere.

"More US forces are needed in Afghanistan," he said. "However, in order to do more in Afghanistan, our Marines have got to see relief elsewhere."

"They are doing a very good job of this nation-building business," in Anbar, but "25,000 Marines in the province are probably being in excess of the need, especially after Iraqi provincial control assumes responsibilities for security," Conway added.

"It's our view that if there is a stiffer fight going someplace else, in a much more expeditionary environment where the Marine air-ground task force really seems to have a true and enduring value, then that's where we need to be," he said about Afghanistan.

The once-restive Anbar province in western Iraq is home to former flashpoint cities of Ramadi and Fallujah, where deadly clashes between insurgents and US forces often roiled after the 2003 invasion to oust Saddam Hussein.

Unrest began to taper off in late 2006 as tribal leaders joined with US forces to help oust Al-Qaeda nests in their midst.

The drop in violence comes amid growing pressure to beef up the US troop presence in Afghanistan, where the level of violence is higher.

About 145,000 US soldiers are currently on the ground in Iraq, but those numbers could decrease in coming months.

General David Petraeus, the top US commander in Iraq, has said he will decide in the coming days or weeks whether to continue withdrawing troops from Iraq, and at what pace.

Meanwhile, violence continued elsewhere in Iraq. Most recently, a suicide bomber thwarted a security check at a police recruiting center in Jalawla, 150 kilometers (90 miles) north of Baghdad Tuesday, killing himself and at least 25 others, police said.

Jalawla is in Diyala province, considered to be one of the most dangerous in Iraq, and sees regular attacks by Al-Qaeda-linked groups targeting "Awakening" units of Sunni former jihadists who now are cooperating with the American military.

Wednesday's announcement of the impending handover of Anbar was seen in the United States as a political boon to the administration of President George W. Bush and his hopeful Republican successor in November's election, John McCain.

Success in Iraq was likely to be a major theme when the Republicans next week hold their convention to nominate McCain as the party's candidate for the White House.

Democrat Barack Obama, who has demanded an end to the war and a rapid pullback of US combat troops, could suffer politically if vehement anti-war sentiment diminishes, pundits say.

This week, Iraqi officials said Washington and Baghdad have agreed there will be no foreign forces in Iraq after 2011, setting a timeline for a US withdrawal from the war-torn country.

Under the 27-point deal, all American combat troops will be withdrawn by 2011 and from Iraqi cities by next June, negotiator Mohammed al-Haj Hammoud told AFP in Baghdad.

The White House has stressed that there is no final accord with Baghdad on the controversial troop withdrawal issue.

"These discussions continue, as we have not yet finalised an agreement," spokesman Tony Fratto said on Monday.

Double Standards on Russia-Kosovo

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By J. Victor Marshall

In much of that U.S. coverage, however, there was little or no reference to the recent parallel case -- when Bush hailed Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia, a long-time Russian ally. In this guest essay, J. Victor Marshall of the Independent Institute examines this double standard:

In Russia even more than in America, “Kosovo” rhymes with “I told you so.”

Many Americans don’t realize that the former Serbian province of Kosovo, which broke away in 1999 after US-led NATO forces bombed Serbia for 78 days, helped set the stage for the recent conflict between Russia and neighboring Georgia.

But Russian leaders, who like most leaders care intensely about what happens at their borders (Georgia) and to their longtime allies (Serbia), warned earlier this year that support for Kosovo’s independence would set a precedent that could trigger separatist conflicts in places like Georgia.

It was a warning that Washington and several of its European allies foolishly, even recklessly, failed to heed.

In negotiations over the final status of Kosovo, which had been under United Nations jurisdiction since 1999, Serbia promised the province autonomy but not independence.

While many observers questioned Kosovo’s readiness for independence, given corruption in its civil administration and the murderous campaign of ethnic cleansing waged by Albanian nationalists against Serbs in their midst, Kosovo unilaterally declared its independence on Feb. 17, 2008.

Although Kosovo’s move arguably violated UN Security Council Resolution 1244, which recognized Serbia’s ultimate sovereignty, many NATO countries including the United States sided with Kosovo.

“The Kosovars are now independent,” declared President Bush.

Humiliated by NATO’s military intervention in 1999, Russia now chafed at the political intervention of NATO countries in favor of Kosovo’s secession, which Russian President Vladimir Putin condemned as “immoral and illegal.”

Russian leaders warned that unilateral recognition of Kosovo’s independence would open a “Pandora’s box” by appearing to support similar claims by other separatist movements in some 200 regions of the world.

The Russian Foreign Ministry declared, “Those who are considering supporting separatism should understand what dangerous consequences their actions threaten to have for world order, international stability and the authority of the U.N. Security Council's decisions that took decades to build.”

Outside of NATO, many countries sided with Russia’s statement of principles. Surprisingly, one of the most outspoken was Russia’s hostile southern neighbor, Georgia. And the reason wasn’t hard for experts to fathom.

As Richard Weitz at the Hudson Institute noted at the time, Russia could seize upon Kosovo as a precedent for fomenting separatist movements in the former Soviet republics, including South Ossetia’s drive for independence from Georgia in the Caucasus.

Jonathan Eyal, director of international security studies at the Royal United Services Institute, warned similarly, “if the Kosovo precedent is used, the Russians can also recognise ethnic Russian enclaves in places such as Georgia or Moldova. What's good for Kosovo is good for other places as well.”

Their unheeded warnings have just come to pass, at the expense of thousands of dead and wounded.

Just as NATO justified its intervention in 1999 as a humanitarian defense of Kosovo’s ethnic Albanians against Serbian atrocities, so Russia said it came to the defense of South Ossetia, which suffered terrible atrocities at Georgian hands in the early 1990s, after Georgian troops shelled its capital earlier this month.

In addition to Kosovo, Russia can justify its intervention on behalf of South Ossetia by pointing to any number of other precedents set by the United States: the Bush administration’s doctrine of preemption, its invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, its silence in the face of Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, and many more.

What difference do all these precedents and broken principles make?

By selectively turning principles into propagandist slogans for scoring points, the United States no longer occupies the political high ground. Washington’s lectures sound like hectoring, not sincere admonitions that could sway international public opinion and restrain Russian actions.

In short, by squandering its moral authority, the United States has unilaterally disarmed itself of “soft power” that was once one of our greatest weapons. And Kosovo was one of the fields upon which the United States laid down its moral arms.

Bush's Deal With Iraq: A Time Bomb Set to Explode

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By Steve Weissman

Back in January, the Bush administration proposed a Status of Forces Agreement to govern relations between American troops and the Iraqis after the UN mandate expires in December 2008. Both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton accused the White House of trying to tie the hands of a future American president and many Democrats in Congress voiced the same concern. Even at the time, any agreement had to be less than a binding treaty, which would have required confirmation by an impossible two-thirds vote of the US Senate.

Now, at the end of August, the Bush administration is still trying to cobble together a much-reduced memo of understanding with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who is doing much of his negotiating through public statements. Even if he finally agrees to Washington's terms, the deal would still be far from done. The Iraqi Parliament would still have to approve it, and the followers of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr have already taken to the streets to express their opposition to what they've heard so far. In their view, the current understanding would turn Iraq into a US colony.

In any case, the next US president will feel free to work out with the Iraqis what to do about American troops and contract employees. Obama continues to believe American "combat troops" could withdraw "responsibly" by the end of 2010, while McCain has suggested they could leave "victoriously" by January 2013.

Iraqi and American officials have already revealed some of the latest terms, which remain full of slippery definitions. Depending on unspecified security milestones, all American troops would withdraw from Iraqi cities by June 30, 2009, while the new date for the removal of "combat forces" has now shifted from the previously leaked December 2010 to December 2011. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice calls all this an "aspirational timetable," not to be confused with setting a date for withdrawal, which President Bush and his political avatar John McCain have repeatedly condemned as a first step toward surrender.

Al-Maliki, on the other hand, wants Iraqis to believe any deal will call for the removal of ALL foreign troops, which hardly seems likely. The Bush administration is not at all ready to pull out completely, and al-Maliki himself still relies on American troops and other support to keep his government in power. So, the big questions remain unanswered: How many US military advisers, trainers and other "non-combat" troops would stay in Iraq after "withdrawal?" And how many bases, permanent or otherwise, would remain in American hands?

In early June, Patrick Cockburn reported in Britain's Independent that the Bush administration was demanding 50 military bases, along with control of Iraqi airspace and legal immunity for American personnel. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani condemned the demands as a violation of Iraqi sovereignty, and negotiations continued. Still, I suspect that the coming agreement - if it ever comes - could leave in Iraq as many as 30,000 to 50,000 American troops and contract employees. Bases would remain under US control, perhaps with "legal ownership" nominally held by Iraq. And the Americans would continue to have access to more than enough air power to kill untold numbers of Iraqis.

In the small print, US troops would likely remain under American jurisdiction, perhaps with the fig leaf of a joint US-Iraqi committee to oversee any judicial proceedings. And, in the name of fighting terrorists, the remaining US forces - all "non-combat" by definition - would have some cosmetic restrictions on their right to arrest Iraqi citizens or launch military campaigns without consultation.

Cut through the spin, and this would be nothing more than a downsized occupation disguised as withdrawal, which few Iraqis or others in the Middle East would long accept. At best, Mr. Bush's big deal would be a time bomb set to explode.

Democratic and Republican American policy-makers have greatly underestimated Arab outrage, both religious and nationalistic, against anything that smacks of the return of Western colonialism. Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Hezbollah, and other Islamic radicals have consistently won support on "the Arab street" by opposing the presence of American and allied militaries in Islamic countries. Hopefully, we will never shape our foreign or domestic policies by what radical jihadists demand. But, unless we're suicidal, we had better learn to respond to what millions of their potential supporters want.

Iraq, like Vietnam, is a conflict where political realities on the ground will trump America's overwhelming military force. Consider "the surge," which Bush and McCain both see as a success. In military terms, they're right - if we define the term to include ethnic cleansing and the US military alliance with Sunni tribal leaders, a ploy that began well before any escalation of troops. In political terms, the surge failed. Iraqi leaders used the increased presence of American troops to avoid making compromises with their rivals, and now al-Maliki's Shia-led government is attacking our Sunni allies. No wonder Gen. David Petraeus, who led the surge, sees any gains as fragile.

A deal to leave thousands of armed Americans in Iraq will similarly fail, no matter how many military victories those "non-combat" forces win. And any attempt to disguise their presence with wordplay will only add to Iraqi anger, accelerating America's political defeat - and that of our Iraqi collaborators.