Saturday, January 3, 2009

Israel Is Conducting A Genocide Operation In Gaza

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By Lee Rogers

The Israeli Defense Forces are currently in the process of conducting an operation of genocide against the Palestinian people. For months, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict has largely been kept out of the news as the Palestinians have honored a cease fire agreement since this past June. Despite minor incidents of violence, this agreement remained in place until November 4th, 2008 when the Israelis launched an airstrike in Gaza resulting in several Palestinian injuries and deaths. The Palestinians responded to this act of Israeli aggression with rocket fire and mortar attacks. This has resulted in the Israelis conducting a large scale military campaign in Gaza which we are seeing unfold before us right now. In fact, ground forces are now confirmed to be entering Gaza. This operation has resulted in the death of hundreds of civilians including women and children. According to an eyewitness account published in the London Guardian the Israelis have destroyed homes, a police station, ambulances, a fire station and even a medicine store. With all of this in mind, it is quite clear that this operation is not about Israeli security, but instead about conducting a campaign of indiscriminate death and destruction in Gaza.

First off there are many misconceptions and lies being spread in the corporate controlled media about why all of this is taking place. The Palestinians are constantly demonized as bloodthirsty terrorists that specifically target civilians. This on its face is ridiculous when the weaponry that the Palestinians have at their disposal is not very accurate but serves as their only methods of defense that they have against Israeli attacks. Furthermore, the Israeli military has killed many more Palestinian civilians through their superior military might. With this in mind, the real terrorists are the ones controlling the Israeli military by ordering bombings that have killed many more innocent Palestinians in comparison to the Israeli civilians who have been killed by the Palestinians.

It is also important to note that Gaza is one of the most densely populated regions in the world. The Israeli government says that they are not targeting civilians but are instead only going after military targets. This is one of the most densely populated regions in the entire world and any bombing of such areas regardless of the justification is criminal. This also makes the claims that Palestinian militants are hiding behind civilians an incredibly ridiculous assertion. It is such a densely populated region that there is no way to make a distinction. Besides, the Palestinians don’t even have a real military.

Hamas the political organization that controls Gaza is labeled as a terrorist organization by the West. Even though they have a militant wing, they are a political organization first and
were actually elected by the Palestinian people. Despite the fact that they represent the democratically elected government of the Palestinian people in Gaza, the Israelis simply label them as a terrorist organization and use it as justification to destroy infrastructure which is critical to the well-being of the Palestinian people.

The Israelis have also maintained a blockade of Gaza allowing only few humanitarian supplies to enter. A good recent example of this can be seen with a recent humanitarian shipment meant for the Palestinian people with former U.S. Representative Cynthia McKinney on board that was rammed and not allowed through by the Israeli military. The Palestinians are literally kept in a prison grid by the Israeli military.

The world has been outraged by the actions of the Israeli government.
Thousands of people around the world are protesting this criminal invasion of Gaza. The people at the highest levels of the Israeli government should be put on trials for war crimes considering the reports of hundreds of civilian deaths in the region. It is no wonder why the Israeli forces will not allow any foreign media to enter the Gaza region. By doing this, they can assure that as little information about their war crimes is revealed to the world.

Much like the 2006 invasion of Lebanon by the Israeli military, this appears to be the same type of operation. It has very little to do with Israeli security and more to do with continuing a long standing policy of genocide employed by this fascist regime. In 2006, the dubious excuse of two kidnapped Israeli soldiers was used to engage in a 33-day war of blood sacrifice and death. This operation in Gaza appears to be much along the same lines as the 2006 invasion of Lebanon and should be condemned.

It is disgraceful that George W. Bush supports this as a legitimate military operation and even more disgraceful that Barack Obama is hiding in a resort playing golf refusing comment on this very serious situation. This is indeed a deplorable situation, especially considering that U.S. taxpayer money is being used to fund the Israeli military to conduct these sorts of operations. Israel is a bastard fascist state that should not be supported in any way by the U.S.. The USS Liberty incident which involved the bombing of a U.S. Navy vessel by the Israeli military in the 1960s is proof positive of this. To hell with the Zionist war criminals and the state of Israel. These people should be dressed up in orange jump suits and put on trial much like the Nazis were during the Nuremberg trials.

Making "Duck Soup" Out of 2009

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By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

As 2008 ends and this New Year begins, with all its fledgling promise despite turmoil and crisis, it’s also that time when the media offers its lists of ten best or worst this and that of the previous year, an exercise that simultaneously entertains and infuriates.

Forced at knifepoint to make such lists, at least ours would be a little different. One would be favorite headlines of the year from The Onion, the hilarious weekly that doesn’t bill itself as "America’s finest news source" for nothing. If you can read it without laughing, you probably have been paying too much attention to your 401(k).

Some of the ones we liked best:

$700 billion bailout celebrated with lavish $800 billion executive party.

GM covered with giant tarp until it has money to work on cars again.

American Airlines now charging fees to non-passengers.

China recalls everything.

Housing crisis vindicates guy who still lives with parents.

Factual error found on internet.

Of course, the problem The Onion’s editors have is that reality too often resembles parody. Take the story of Chip Saltsman, the guy campaigning to be chairman of the Republican National Committee by promoting himself with a CD featuring a song called, "Barack, the Magic Negro." That ditty, you’ll recall, was made famous on Rush Limbaugh’s minstrel show, as sung by an Al Sharpton impersonator. Even The Onion couldn’t come up with that one.

Or the claim by Gov. Rod Blagojevich that those wiretaps actually reveal how hard he’s been working for the people of Illinois. And the circus that ensued when he tried to appoint Roland Burris, a veteran Illinois politician, to Barack Obama’s Senate seat - the one the governor allegedly was ready to sell just weeks ago to the highest bidder - and Senate Democrats said, "No."

No? From members of Congress for whom pay-for-play is as casual a game as Tic-Tac-Toe? Look at New York’s Sen. Charles Schumer, chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. According to The New York Times, the week after he attended a breakfast of financial high rollers and promised them that Democrats would make sure their $700 billion bailout got through Congress, those same fat cats sent $135,000 in campaign contributions.

Or New York Congressman Charlie Rangel, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, who reversed himself on a tax break for a business called Nabors Industries the same month that company donated $100,000 to a City College school for public service named after - all together now, class - Charlie Rangel.

Life imitates satire - and vice versa. Which brings us to our other unusual list. The best movies of ... 1933.

Naturally, the original "King Kong" is on our list. So are "The Invisible Man" and "42nd Street." But our number one choice: The Marx Brothers’ "Duck Soup."

Why? Because as we enter this final month of the Bush years, the parallels are remarkable. Sometimes it feels as if we live not only in the United States, but also in the side-splitting state of Freedonia, the imaginary country in which "Duck Soup" takes place. In 1933, a time much like now of calamity, fraud and peril, the Great Depression gripped America. Franklin D. Roosevelt had just become president and declared a New Deal, while in Germany, Adolph Hitler was named chancellor, the beginning of the Third Reich.

As all of this was taking place, the Marx Brothers - there were four of them then; Groucho, Chico, Harpo and Zeppo - shot "Duck Soup," a comedy that almost inadvertently transcended slapstick, becoming a trenchant send-up of power and vanity and the disastrous consequences of both.

Freedonia is bankrupt and asking for a bailout - sound familiar? The wealthy Mrs. Teasdale, played by the redoubtable Margaret Dumont, says the only way she’ll come up with the money is if the country appoints as its new leader Rufus T. Firefly - played by Groucho, as only a true clown can play a charlatan. He sings, "The last man nearly ruined this place, he didn’t know what to do with it. If you think this country’s bad off now, just wait ’til I get through with it."

Cabinet meetings are run with a decorum worthy of contemporary Washington. (Finance Minister: "Here is the Treasury Department’s report, sir. I hope you’ll find it clear." Groucho: "Why, a four-year-old child could understand this report. Run out and find me a four-year-old child, I can’t make head or tail of it.")

Freedonia’s Axis of Evil includes neighboring nation Sylvania, and Groucho/Rufus Firefly handles diplomacy with all the tact of a neo-conservative. In anticipation of a meeting with his rival’s ambassador, he says he will offer his hand in friendship. But suppose the ambassador doesn’t do the same? "A fine thing that will be," says Firefly. "I hold out my hand and he refuses to accept it. That will add a lot to my prestige, won’t it? Me the head of a country, snubbed by a foreign ambassador! Who does he think he is? ... Why the cheap, ball-pushing swine, he’ll never get away with it, I tell you! He’ll never get away with it!"

Before you know it, the two countries are at war for no good reason, the rabble-roused, flag-waving public buying in as if taking directions from cable news.

"Duck Soup" is now seen as one of the great antiwar comedies of all time, right up there with Charlie Chaplin’s "The Great Dictator" and Stanley Kubrick’s "Dr. Strangelove" (written with Terry Southern and Peter George).

Back in 1933, the world situation was grave and it was hard to hear the laughter over the sounds of civilization collapsing. Our chuckles today compete with the sound of renewed violence in the Middle East, melting glaciers sliding into the sea and champagne glasses shattering on the gold bricks of Wall Street.

Our situation may not be as desperate as the one that faced the first audiences of "Duck Soup," who found in darkened theaters some relief from the grim world outside. Our current woes, nonetheless, are real, which maybe is why a little humor is the best antidote. As Beaumarchais, that 18th century playwright who doubled as a politician, said, "I quickly laugh at everything for fear of having to cry." This, from a man who managed to survive the French Revolution. So Happy New Year - but keep your fingers crossed.

Israel lets Palestinians flee; UN warns of crisis

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Israel allowed several hundred Palestinians with foreign passports to flee Gaza on Friday, even as its warplanes bombed a mosque it said was used to store weapons and destroyed homes of more than a dozen Hamas operatives.

The evacuees told of crippling shortages of water, electricity and medicine, echoing a U.N. warning of a deepening humanitarian crisis in the besieged Gaza Strip in the seven-day-old Israeli campaign. The U.N. estimates at least a quarter of the 400 Palestinians killed by Israeli airstrikes on Hamas militants were civilians.

Jawaher Hajji, a 14-year-old U.S. citizen who was allowed to cross into Israel, said her uncle was one of them — killed while trying to pick up some medicine for her cancer-stricken father. She said her father later died of his illness.

"They are supposed to destroy just the Hamas, but people in their homes are dying too," Hajji, who has relatives in Virginia, said at the Erez border crossing between Gaza and Israel.

President George W. Bush on Friday branded the Hamas rocket attacks an "act of terror," while Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice accused Hamas' leaders of holding the people of Gaza hostage.

"The Hamas has used Gaza as a launching pad for rockets against Israeli cities, and has contributed deeply to a very bad daily life for the Palestinian people in Gaza and to a humanitarian situation that we have all been trying to address," she said.

International calls for a cease-fire have been growing, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy is expected in the region next week.

Bush said no peace deal would be acceptable without monitoring to halt the flow of smuggled weapons to terrorist groups.

"The United States is leading diplomatic efforts to achieve a meaningful cease-fire that is fully respected," Bush said Friday in his weekly radio address, released a day early. "Another one-way cease-fire that leads to rocket attacks on Israel is not acceptable. And promises from Hamas will not suffice — there must be monitoring mechanisms in place to help ensure that smuggling of weapons to terrorist groups in Gaza comes to an end."

Israel has targeted Hamas leaders in the past but halted the practice during a six-month truce that expired last month. Most of Hamas' leaders went into hiding at the start of the Israeli offensive on Dec. 27.

Israeli troops in bases in southern Israel are awaiting orders to invade Gaza.

Exiled Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, speaking in Syria, warned that any ground assault would lead Israel to "a black destiny of dead and wounded."

However, he said Hamas was "ready to cooperate with any effort leading to an end to the Israeli offensive against Gaza, lifting the seige and opening all crossings."

Israel appears to be open to the intense diplomatic efforts by Arab and European leaders, saying it would consider stopping its punishing aerial assaults if international monitors were brought in to track compliance with any truce with Hamas.

Israel began its campaign to try to halt weeks of intensifying Palestinian rocket fire from Gaza. The offensive has dealt a heavy blow to Hamas but has not stopped the rockets, which continue to strike deeper and deeper into Israel. Three Israeli civilians and one soldier have been killed in the rocket attacks.

More than 30 rockets were fired into southern Israel on Friday, slightly injuring four. Sirens warning Israelis to take cover when military radar picks up an incoming rocket have helped reduce casualties in recent days.

Israeli TV showed video of a table set for the traditional Sabbath meal covered with shrapnel and broken glass.

After destroying Hamas' security compounds early in the operation, Israel has turned its attention to the group's leadership. Israeli warplanes on Friday hit about 20 houses believed to belong to Hamas militants and members of other armed groups, Palestinians said.

Israel also bombed a mosque it said was used to store weapons. The mosque was known as a Hamas stronghold and was identified with Nizar Rayan, the Hamas militant leader killed Thursday when Israel dropped a one-ton bomb on his home. Rayan, 49, ranked among Hamas' top five decision-makers. The explosion killed 20 people, including all four of Rayan's wives and 11 of his children.

Israel's military said the bombing of Rayan's house triggered secondary explosions from the weapons stockpile there.

Fear of Israeli attacks led to sparse turnout at Friday's communal prayers at mosques throughout Gaza. Still, thousands attended a memorial service for Rayan, with throngs praying over the rubble of his home and the nearby destroyed mosque.

An imam delivered his sermon over a car loudspeaker as the bodies of Rayan and other family members were covered in green Hamas flags. Explosions from Israeli airstrikes and the sound of warplanes could be heard.

Following the prayers, mourners marched with the bodies, with many people reaching out to touch and kiss them.

"The Palestinian resistance will not forget and will not forgive," said Hamas lawmaker Mushir Masri. "The resistance's response will be very painful."

Israel also destroyed homes of more than a dozen Hamas operatives. Most appeared to be empty, but one man was killed in a strike in the Jebaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza.

Fourteen other Palestinians died Friday — killed in airstrikes or dying of wounds from earlier violence, officials said. Among them were two teenagers as well as three children — two brothers and their cousin — who were playing in southern Gaza, according to Health Ministry official Dr. Moaiya Hassanain.

Maxwell Gaylard, U.N. humanitarian coordinator for the Palestinians Territories, said 2,000 people have been wounded in the past week and a "significant number" of the dead were women and children. "There is a critical emergency right now in the Gaza Strip," he said.

The U.N. World Food Program began distributing bread in Gaza to Palestinian families. It said there had been a drastic deterioration in living conditions, with shortages of food, cooking gas and fuel, as well as frequent power cuts.

Israel denies there is a humanitarian crisis in Gaza and has increased its shipments of goods into Gaza. It says it has confined its attacks to militants while trying to prevent civilian casualties.

The military has called some houses ahead of time to warn inhabitants of an impending attack. In some cases, aircraft also fired sound bombs to warn away civilians before flattening the homes with their missiles, Palestinians and Israeli defense officials said.

Israeli planes also dropped leaflets east of Gaza giving a confidential phone number and e-mail address for people to report locations of rocket squads. Residents appeared to ignore the leaflets.

In all, Israel allowed 270 Palestinians to cross the border from Gaza to flee the fighting. The evacuees all held foreign passports, and were expected to join their families in the U.S., Russia, Turkey, Norway, Belarus, Kazakhstan and elsewhere.

Nashwa Hajji, Jawaher's 13-year-old younger sister, said her family left their home following Israeli warnings, but others refused. "People said, 'We don't want to go. We will die where we are,'" she said.

The Hajji family was notified Thursday by the U.S. consulate that it was being evacuated. After crossing Erez, they and others boarded buses taking them to Amman, Jordan. Hajji said she, her mother and five siblings would fly to Virginia from there.

The State Department said it had assisted 27 U.S. citizens and members of their immediate families to leave Gaza on Friday and make their way to Jordan and stood ready to help others. Department officials said earlier this week they were aware of roughly 30 Americans in Gaza but that there could be others.

Many of the evacuees were foreign-born women married to Palestinians and their children. Spouses who did not hold foreign citizenship were not allowed out.

"I feel happy and sad," said Caroline Katba, 15, A Russian citizen. "Happy, because I am going to Russia, and sad, because my father is left behind."

Investor group to purchase IndyMac for $13.9 billion

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By Alan Zibel

A seven-member group of investors has agreed to buy the remnants of failed lender IndyMac Bank, a symbol of the housing boom and bust, for $13.9 billion, federal regulators said yesterday.

IndyMac, which specialized in loans made with little down payment or proof of assets, was seized by the government in July after a run on the bank as the U.S. housing market collapsed.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. said a holding company led by Steven Mnuchin, co-chief executive of private equity firm Dune Capital Management, agreed to buy IndyMac in a deal reached Wednesday and expected to close by early next month.

The investors have formed a partnership, called IMB Management Holdings LP, that includes Dell Inc. founder Michael Dell's investment firm, MSD Capital.

Once the deal closes, the investment group would pour $1.3 billion in new capital into IndyMac and continue to operate the Pasadena, Calif-based bank, the FDIC says.

"We have assembled a group of experienced private investors in financial services to acquire the former IndyMac and operate it under new management with extensive banking experience," Mnuchin said in a statement. "We will inject significant private capital into IndyMac so that it can once again effectively serve its customers and communities."

Other investors in the partnership include five private equity firms or hedge funds: J.C. Flowers & Co.; Stone Point Capital; Paulson & Co.; a fund controlled by billionaire George Soros' Fund Management; and a fund controlled by Silar Advisors LP.

IndyMac has 33 bank branches in Southern California with about $6.5 billion in deposits, about half the company's total at the time of its failure. Other IndyMac assets include a $157.7 billion loan servicing business, which collects mortgages and distributes them to investors, and a reverse-mortgage company, known as Financial Freedom.

As part of the deal, the FDIC agreed to assume losses on a portion of IndyMac's loans. The new investors would shoulder the first 20 percent of the bank's loan losses, with the FDIC taking on the majority of any losses thereafter. The FDIC used a similar loss-sharing agreement when Downey Savings and Loan Association failed in November.

In return, the IndyMac investors agreed to continue a closely watched home-loan modification program launched by FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair in August that has completed about 8,500 loan modifications so far.

The investors have received preliminary clearance from the federal Office of Thrift Supervision to run the bank as a federal savings association. A decision is expected in the coming weeks.

Thrifts have been the most troubled regulated institutions during the financial crisis and among the most spectacular failures. By law, they must have at least 65 percent of their lending in mortgages and other consumer loans — making them particularly vulnerable to the housing downturn.

FDIC officials noted that private equity firms have bought up failed institutions before. In the early 1990s, two failed banks — Bank of New England and CrossLand Federal Savings Bank — were sold to private equity firms.

Dune Capital was founded in 2004 by former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. partners Mnuchin and Daniel Niedich.

Flowers, who launched, then dropped, a bid to buy student lender Sallie Mae last year, also is a former Goldman Sachs partner. Paulson & Co. made billions in profits in recent years by betting on the failure of risky home loans.

The IndyMac deal comes as regulators have eased restrictions on such purchases. Previously, private-equity firms could not hold more than a 24.9 percent stake in a bank without becoming a bank-holding company.

The failure of IndyMac, which had $32 billion in assets, was the second-largest last year, trailing only the September failure of Washington Mutual Inc. Losses to the FDIC's bank insurance fund are expected to range between $8.5 billion and $9.4 billion.

The Seattle-based thrift was the biggest bank to collapse in U.S. history, with around $307 billion in assets. Washington Mutual was acquired by JPMorgan Chase & Co. for $1.9 billion.

A total of 25 U.S. bank failures in 2008 compare with three for all of 2007 and are far more than in the previous five years combined. Many more banks are expected to sink this year.

Economy may slow even more in 2009

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By Ellen Simon

Signs grew that the economy could turn even weaker in 2009, as an index of December manufacturing activity sank to its lowest point in 28 years. Every corner of the sector was down, from bakeries to cigarette-makers to aluminum smelters.

The Institute for Supply Management, a trade group of purchasing executives, said yesterday its manufacturing index fell to 32.4 in December, a greater-than-expected decline from November's reading of 36.2. Wall Street economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters had expected the reading to fall to 35.5.

Components of the index hit historic lows. New orders fell to their lowest level on records going back to 1948. Prices fell as the number of respondents saying they had paid more in December than in November sank to its lowest monthly reading since 1949.

A reading below 50 for the overall index indicates contraction. The index, based on a survey of the institute's members, has fallen steadily for the past five months as the economy deteriorated.

December's reading is the lowest since June 1980, when the economy was near the end of a six-month recession.

If December's rate of manufacturing activity were to persist for 2009, the nation's gross domestic product would show a 2.7 percent contraction, said Norbert Ore, chairman of the group's business survey committee. GDP, the broadest measure of economic activity, decreased at an annual rate of 0.5 percent in the third quarter of 2008, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

"An increasingly constrained consumer, deepening woes for the housing sector, and a desire to pare inventories will all continue to weigh heavily on domestic demand," said Joshua Shapiro, chief U.S. economist at MFR Inc., an economics consulting firm in New York. "Overall U.S. manufacturing output, which has been shrinking since late 2007 and losing momentum at a more rapid rate recently, is likely to be even weaker in coming quarters."

Only three recessions in the history of the index have showed weaker manufacturing readings, said John Ryding, of RDQ Economics. Those recessions were in 1948 to 1949, 1973 to 1975 and 1980.

The U.S. weakness is part of a worldwide slowdown. China's manufacturing sector, which accounts for 43 percent of the economy, contracted for a fifth straight month in December. Singapore said its economy shrank in the fourth quarter, and South Korea said its exports fell 17.4 percent in December. With European manufacturing indexes also dropping, "the case for a massive global fiscal stimulus continues to grow," Ryding said.

Investors shrugged off the grim report on the new year's first day of trading, eager to start fresh after the losses of 2008. Stocks closed higher, with the Dow Jones industrial average up 258.30 to 9,034.69. Broader indexes were also higher.

As the economy sputters through a recession that began in December 2007, no industry is proving resistant. No sector reported overall growth in December. Also, none reported growth in new orders, production, employment or prices, as businesses from tobacco to coal products to foodmakers saw declines.

Declining prices, coming after the summer's soaring market for commodities, have sent manufacturers — especially in chemicals and metals — reeling.

Century Aluminum last month cut production at a West Virginia plant and said that it might have to cease production at the plant entirely unless it cuts costs and prices stabilize. LyondellBasell Industries, the third-largest independent chemical company in the world, said Wednesday that while several lenders had allowed it to postpone $160 million in loan payments, a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing might still be an option.

The summer's commodity bubble was devastating for many food processors. Pilgrim's Pride Corp., the nation's largest chicken producer, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Dec. 1.

With the overall unemployment rate at 6.7 percent in November, the highest in 15 years, manufacturing continues to be one of the hardest hit sectors.

The sector lost 85,000 jobs between October and November, according to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. More losses are expected in coming months as demand continues to be weak.

The purchasing managers' employment index showed its lowest reading since 1982 as manufacturers across industries continue to cut jobs.

Western Digital Corp., which makes computer hard drives, said in December it plans to cut 2,500 jobs. The drugmaker Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. said in December it would cut 800 jobs by the end of 2008.

Automotive supplier Visteon Corp. said yesterday it will shift more than 2,000 workers to a four-day week and cut their pay by 20 percent as auto sales continue to founder. General Motors Corp. on Wednesday received the first tranche of $9.4 billion in low-cost loans from the U.S. Treasury, part of a package designed to keep ailing automakers in business.

The Iraq War Is Now Illegal

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By Bruce Ackerman and Oona Hathaway

The Bush administration's infatuation with presidential power has finally pushed the country over a constitutional precipice. As of New Year's Day, ongoing combat in Iraq is illegal under US law.

In authorizing an invasion in 2002, Congress did not give President Bush a blank check. It explicitly limited the use of force to two purposes: to “defend the national security of the US from the threat posed by Iraq” and “enforce all relevant UN Security Council resolutions.”

Five years after the fall of Saddam Hussein, the government of Iraq no longer poses a threat. Our continuing intervention has been based on the second clause of Congress' grant of war-making power. Coalition troops have been acting under a series of Security Council resolutions authorizing the continuing occupation of Iraq. But this year, Bush allowed the UN mandate to expire on December 31 without requesting a renewal. At precisely one second after midnight, Congress' authorization of the war expired along with this mandate.

Bush is trying to fill the legal vacuum with the new Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) he signed with the Iraqis. But the president's agreement is unconstitutional, since it lacks the approval of Congress. Bush even refused to allow Congress access to the terms of the deal. By contrast, Prime Minister al-Maliki followed his constitution and submitted the agreement for parliamentary approval. While the Iraqi parliament debated its terms, leading members of Congress were obliged to obtain unofficial English translations of texts published by the Arab press.

Bush defends his extraordinary conduct by claiming that it is traditional for commanders in chief to negotiate status of forces agreements without congressional consent. But the Iraqi agreement goes far beyond anything in the traditional SOFAs concluded with close to 100 countries since World War II.

Indeed, it goes far beyond any sensible interpretation of the president's power as commander in chief. For example, the SOFA creates a joint US-Iraq committee and gives it, not the president, broad control over the use of American combat troops. It thereby asserts the authority to restrict President Obama's powers as commander in chief throughout most of his first term in office. But under the Constitution, no president can unilaterally limit his successor's authority over the military.

This defective agreement cannot serve as a valid substitute for the congressional authorization that Bush so casually allowed to expire on December 31. It is up to Congress to authorize continuing military action. Gaining the consent of a foreign power simply isn't enough.

The question is how Obama should respond to the legal catastrophe that Bush has left as his Iraqi legacy. It's easy to eliminate one option. Whatever the original infirmities of Bush's agreement, Obama should not repudiate it. Now that Maliki has won approval from his parliament, the agreement has become the basis for the next phase of Iraqi politics. It also contains withdrawal timetables that are compatible with Obama's goals: all combat troops out of Iraq's cities by July; all troops out of Iraq by the end of 2011. As a consequence, Obama may be tempted to accept the agreement that Bush has left behind, and proceed without correcting its obvious constitutional deficiencies.

But this would be a tragic mistake. We are living in an age of small wars—some are blunders, but some will be necessary. The challenge is to sustain their democratic legitimacy by keeping them under congressional control. If Obama goes along with the Bush agreement, he will make this impossible. Future presidents will cite the Iraqi accord as a precedent whenever they choose to convert Congress' authorization of a limited war into an open-ended conflict.

There is a better way ahead. President Obama should submit the Bush-Maliki agreement to Congress on January 20 and urge its speedy approval. This request is likely to win broad bipartisan support. Rapid congressional ratification will not only fill the legal vacuum threatening the constitutional integrity of our military operations in Iraq. Together with the closing of Guantanamo, it will show that Obama is serious about reining in the worst presidentialist abuses of the Bush years.

Members of the incoming administration have already taken steps in the right direction. Both Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton and Vice President-elect Joseph Biden took the lead as senators in protesting Bush's unilateralism in the conduct of the Iraqi negotiations. And Obama has made clear that he appreciates the role of checks and balances in our constitutional scheme. Now is the time to reverse the precipitous slide toward the imperial presidency.

Did You Know 200,000 Vets Are Sleeping on the Streets?

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By Aaron Glantz

Roy Lee Brantley shivers in the cold December morning as he waits in line for food outside the Ark of Refuge mission, which sits amid warehouses and artists lofts a stone’s throw from the skyscrapers of downtown San Francisco.

Brantley’s beard is long, white and unkempt. The African-American man’s skin wrinkled beyond his 62 years. He lives in squalor in a dingy residential hotel room with the bathroom down the hall. In some ways, his current situation marks an improvement. "I’ve slept in parks," he says, "and on the sidewalk. Now at least I have a room."

Like the hundreds of others in line for food, Brantley has worn the military uniform. Most, like Brantley, carry their service IDs and red, white and blue cards from the Department of Veterans Affairs in their wallets or around their necks. In 1967, he deployed to Vietnam with the 1st Cavalry Division of the U.S. Army. By the time he left the military five years later, Brantley had attained the rank of sergeant and been decorated for his valor and for the wounds he sustained in combat.

"I risked my life for this democracy and got a Bronze Star," he says. "I shed blood for this country and got the Purple Heart after a mortar blast sent shrapnel into my face and leg. But when I came back home from Vietnam I was having problems. I tried to hurt my wife because she was Filipino. Every time I looked at her I thought I was in Vietnam again. So we broke up."

In 1973, Brantley filed a disability claim with the federal government for mental wounds sustained in combat overseas. Over the years, the Department of Veterans Affairs has denied his claim five separate times. "You go over there and risk your life for America and your mind’s all messed up, America should take care of you, right," he says, knowing that for him and the other veterans in line for free food that promise has not been kept.

On any given night 200,000 U.S. veterans sleep homeless on the streets of America. One out of every four people -- and one out of every three men -- sleeping in a car, in front of a shop door, or under a freeway overpass has worn a military uniform. Some like Brantley have been on the streets for years. Others are young and women returning home wounded from Iraq and Afghanistan, quickly slipping through the cracks.

For each of these homeless veterans, America’s promise to "Support the Troops" ended the moment he or she took off the uniform and tried to make the difficult transition to civilian life. There, they encountered a hostile and cumbersome bureaucracy set up by the Department of Veterans Affairs. In a best-case scenario, a wounded veteran must wait six months to hear back from the VA. Those who appeal a denial have to wait an average of four and a half years for their answer. In the six months leading up to March 31st of this year, nearly 1,500 veterans died waiting to learn if their disability claims would be approved by the government.

There are patriotic Americans trying to solve this problem. Last month, two veterans’ organizations, Vietnam Veterans of America and Veterans of Modern Warfare, filed suit in federal court demanding the government decide disability claims brought by wounded soldiers within three months. Predictably, however, the VA is trying to block the effort. On December 17, their lawyers convinced Reggie Walton, a judge appointed by President Bush, who ruled that imposing a quicker deadline for payment of benefits was a task for Congress and the president-not the courts.

President-elect Barack Obama has the power to end this national disgrace. He has the power to ensure to streamline the VA bureaucracy so it helps rather than fights those who have been wounded in the line of duty. He can ensure that this latest generation of returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan does not receive the bum rap the Vietnam generation got. Let 2008 be the last year thousands of homeless veterans stand in line for free food during the holiday season. Let it be the last year hundreds of thousands sleep homeless on the street.

America's Hidden Role in Hamas's Rise to Power

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By Stephen Zunes

The United States bears much of the blame for the ongoing bloodshed in the Gaza Strip and nearby parts of Israel. Indeed, were it not for misguided Israeli and American policies, Hamas would not be in control of the territory in the first place.

Israel initially encouraged the rise of the Palestinian Islamist movement as a counter to the Palestine Liberation Organization, the secular coalition composed of Fatah and various leftist and other nationalist movements. Beginning in the early 1980s, with generous funding from the U.S.-backed family dictatorship in Saudi Arabia, the antecedents of Hamas began to emerge through the establishment of schools, health care clinics, social service organizations and other entities that stressed an ultraconservative interpretation of Islam, which up to that point had not been very common among the Palestinian population. The hope was that if people spent more time praying in mosques, they would be less prone to enlist in left-wing nationalist movements challenging the Israeli occupation.

While supporters of the secular PLO were denied their own media or right to hold political gatherings, the Israeli occupation authorities allowed radical Islamic groups to hold rallies, publish uncensored newspapers and even have their own radio station. For example, in the occupied Palestinian city of Gaza in 1981, Israeli soldiers -- who had shown no hesitation in brutally suppressing peaceful pro-PLO demonstrations -- stood by when a group of Islamic extremists attacked and burned a PLO-affiliated health clinic in Gaza for offering family-planning services for women.

Hamas, an acronym for Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya (Islamic Resistance Movement), was founded in 1987 by Sheik Ahmed Yassin, who had been freed from prison when Israel conquered the Gaza Strip 20 years earlier. Israel’s priorities in suppressing Palestinian dissent during this period were revealing: In 1988, Israel forcibly exiled Palestinian activist Mubarak Awad, a Christian pacifist who advocated the use of Gandhian-style resistance to the Israeli occupation and Israeli-Palestinian peace, while allowing Yassin to circulate anti-Jewish hate literature and publicly call for the destruction of Israel by force of arms.

American policy was not much different: Up until 1993, U.S. officials in the consular office in Jerusalem met periodically with Hamas leaders, while they were barred from meeting with anyone from the PLO, including leading moderates within the coalition. This policy continued despite the fact that the PLO had renounced terrorism and unilaterally recognized Israel as far back as 1988.

One of the early major boosts for Hamas came when the Israeli government expelled more than 400 Palestinian Muslims in late 1992. While most of the exiles were associated with Hamas-affiliated social service agencies, very few had been accused of any violent crimes. Since such expulsions are a direct contravention to international law, the U.N. Security Council unanimously condemned the action and called for their immediate return. The incoming Clinton administration, however, blocked the United Nations from enforcing its resolution and falsely claimed that an Israeli offer to eventually allow some of exiles back constituted a fulfillment of the U.N. mandate. The result of the Israeli and American actions was that the exiles became heroes and martyrs, and the credibility of Hamas in the eyes of the Palestinians grew enormously -- and so did its political strength.

Still, at the time of the Oslo Agreement between Israel and the PLO in 1993, polls showed that Hamas had the support of only 15 percent of the Palestinian community. Support for Hamas grew, however, as promises of a viable Palestinian state faded as Israel continued to expand its colonization drive on the West Bank without apparent U.S. objections, doubling the amount of settlers over the next dozen years. The rule of Fatah leader and Palestinian Authority President Yassir Arafat and his cronies proved to be corrupt and inept, while Hamas leaders were seen to be more honest and in keeping with the needs of ordinary Palestinians. In early 2001, Israel cut off all substantive negotiations with the Palestinians, and a devastating U.S.-backed Israeli offensive the following year destroyed much of the Palestinian Authority’s infrastructure, making prospects for peace and statehood even more remote. Israeli closures and blockades sank the Palestinian economy into a serious depression, and Hamas-run social services became all the more important for ordinary Palestinians.

Seeing how Fatah’s 1993 decision to end the armed struggle and rely on a U.S.-led peace process had resulted in increased suffering, Hamas’ popularity grew well beyond its hard-line fundamentalist base and its use of terrorism against Israel -- despite being immoral, illegal and counterproductive -- seemed to express the sense of anger and impotence of wide segments of the Palestinian population. Meanwhile -- in a policy defended by the Bush administration and Democratic leaders in Congress -- Israel’s use of death squads resulted in the deaths of Yassin and scores of other Hamas leaders, turning them into martyrs in the eyes of many Palestinians and increasing Hamas’ support still further.

Hamas Comes to Power

With the Bush administration insisting that the Palestinians stage free and fair elections after the death of Arafat in 2004, Fatah leaders hoped that coaxing Hamas into the electoral process would help weaken its more radical elements. Despite U.S. objections, the Palestinian parliamentary elections went ahead in January 2006 with Hamas’ participation. They were monitored closely by international observers and were universally recognized as free and fair. With reformist and leftist parties divided into a half-dozen competing slates, Hamas was seen by many Palestinians disgusted with the status quo as the only viable alternative to the corrupt Fatah incumbents, and with Israel refusing to engage in substantive peace negotiations with Abbas’ Fatah-led government, they figured there was little to lose in electing Hamas. In addition, factionalism within the ruling party led a number of districts to have competing Fatah candidates. As a result, even though Hamas only received 44 percent of the vote, it captured a majority of parliament and the right to select the prime minister and form a new government.

Ironically, the position of prime minister did not exist under the original constitution of the Palestinian Authority, but was added in March 2003 at the insistence of the United States, which desired a counterweight to President Arafat. As a result, while the elections allowed Abbas to remain as president, he was forced to share power with Ismail Haniya, the Hamas prime minister.

Despite claiming support for free elections, the United States tried from the outset to undermine the Hamas government. It was largely due to U.S. pressure that Abbas refused Hamas’ initial invitation to form a national unity government that would include Fatah and from which some of the more hard-line Hamas leaders would have presumably been marginalized. The Bush administration pressured the Canadians, Europeans and others in the international community to impose stiff sanctions on the Palestine Authority, although a limited amount of aid continued to flow to government offices controlled by Abbas.

Once one of the more-prosperous regions in the Arab world, decades of Israeli occupation had resulted in the destruction of much of the indigenous Palestinian economy, making the Palestinian Authority dependent on foreign aid to provide basic functions for its people. The impact of these sanctions, therefore, was devastating. The Iranian regime rushed in to partially fulfill the void, providing millions of dollars to run basic services and giving the Islamic republic -- which until then had not been allied with Hamas and had not been a major player in Palestinian politics -- unprecedented leverage.

Meanwhile, record unemployment led angry and hungry young men to become easy recruits for Hamas militants. One leading Fatah official noted how, "For many people, this was the only way to make money." Some Palestinian police, unpaid by their bankrupt government, clandestinely joined the Hamas militia as a second job, creating a dual loyalty.

The demands imposed at the insistence of the Bush administration and Congress on the Palestinian Authority in order to lift the sanctions appeared to have been designed to be rejected and were widely interpreted as a pretext for punishing the Palestinian population for voting the wrong way. For example, the United States demanded that the Hamas-led government unilaterally recognize the right of the state of Israel to exist, even though Israel has never recognized the right of the Palestinians to have a viable state on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, or anywhere else. Other demands included an end of attacks on civilians in Israel while not demanding that Israel likewise end its attacks on civilian areas in the Gaza Strip. They also demanded that the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority accept all previously negotiated agreements, even as Israel continued to violate key components of the Wye River Agreement and other negotiated deals with the Palestinians.

While Hamas honored a unilateral cease-fire regarding suicide bombings in Israel, border clashes and rocket attacks into Israel continued. Israel, meanwhile, with the support of the Bush administration, engaged in devastating air strikes against crowded urban neighborhoods, resulting in hundreds of civilian casualties. Congress also went on record defending the Israeli assaults -- which were widely condemned in the international community as excessive and in violation of international humanitarian law -- as legitimate acts of self-defense.

A Siege, Not a Withdrawal

The myth perpetuated by both the Bush administration and congressional leaders of both parties was that Israel’s 2005 dismantling of its illegal settlements in the Gaza Strip and the withdrawal of military units that supported them constituted effective freedom for the Palestinians of the territory. American political leaders from President George W. Bush to House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., have repeatedly praised Israel for its belated compliance with a series of U.N. Security Council resolutions calling for its withdrawal of these illegal settlements (despite Israel’s ongoing violations of these same resolutions by maintaining and expanding illegal settlements in the West Bank and Golan Heights).

In reality, however, the Gaza Strip has remained effectively under siege. Even prior to the Hamas victory in the Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006, the Israeli government not only severely restricted -- as is its right -- entry from the Gaza Strip into Israel, but also controlled passage through the border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, as well. Israel also refused to allow the Palestinians to open their airport or seaport. This not only led to periodic shortages of basic necessities imported through Egypt, but resulted in the widespread wasting of perishable exports -- such as fruits, vegetables and cut flowers -- vital to the territory’s economy. Furthermore, Gaza residents were cut off from family members and compatriots in the West Bank and elsewhere in what many have referred to as the world’s largest open-air prison.

In retaliation, Hamas and allied militias began launching rocket attacks into civilian areas of Israel. Israel responded by bombing, shelling and periodic incursions in civilian areas in the Gaza Strip, which, by the time of the 2006 cease-fire, had killed over 200 civilians, including scores of children. Bush administration officials, echoed by congressional leaders of both parties, justifiably condemned the rocket attacks by Hamas-allied units into civilian areas of Israel (which at that time had resulted in scores of injuries but only one death), but defended Israel’s far more devastating attacks against civilian targets in the Gaza Strip. This created a reaction that strengthened Hamas’ support in the territory even more.

The Gaza Strip’s population consists primarily of refugees from Israel’s ethnic cleansing of most of Palestine almost 60 years ago and their descendents, most of whom have had no gainful employment since Israel sealed the border from most day laborers in the late 1980s. Crowded into only 140 square miles and subjected to extreme violence and poverty, it is not surprising that many would become susceptible to extremist politics, such as those of the Islamist Hamas movement. Nor is it surprising that under such conditions, people with guns would turn on each other.

Undermining the Unity Government

When factional fighting between armed Fatah and Hamas groups broke out in early 2007, Saudi officials negotiated a power-sharing agreement between the two leading Palestinian political movements. U.S. officials, however, unsuccessfully encouraged Abbas to renounce the agreement and dismiss the entire government. Indeed, ever since the election of a Hamas parliamentary majority, the Bush administration began pressuring Fatah to stage a coup and abolish parliament.

The national unity government put key ministries in the hands of Fatah members and independent technocrats and removed some of the more hard-line Hamas leaders and, while falling well short of Western demands, Hamas did indicate an unprecedented willingness to engage with Israel, accept a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and negotiate a long-term cease-fire with Israel. For the first time, this could have allowed Israel and the United States the opportunity to bring into peace talks a national unity government representing virtually all the factions and parties active in Palestinian politics on the basis of the Arab League peace initiative for a two-state solution and U.N. Security Council Resolution 242. However, both the Israeli and American governments refused.

Instead, the Bush administration decided to escalate the conflict by ordering Israel to ship large quantities or weapons to armed Fatah groups to enable them to fight Hamas and stage a coup. Israeli military leaders initially resisted the idea, fearing that much of these arms would end up in the hands of Hamas, but -- as Israeli journalist Uri Avnery put it -- "our government obeyed American orders, as usual.” That Fatah was being supplied with weapons from Israel while Hamas was fighting the Israelis led many Palestinians -- even those who don’t share Hamas’ extremist ideology -- to see Fatah as collaborators and Hamas as liberation fighters. This was a major factor leading Hamas to launch what it saw as a preventive war or a countercoup by overrunning the offices of the Fatah militias in June 2007 and, just as the Israelis feared, many of these newly supplied weapons have indeed ended up in the hands of Hamas militants. Hamas has ruled the Gaza Strip ever since.

The United States also threw its support to Mohammed Dahlan, the notorious Fatah security chief in Gaza, who -- despite being labeled by American officials as "moderate" and "pragmatic" -- oversaw the detention, torture and execution of Hamas activists and others, leading to widespread popular outrage against Fatah and its supporters.

Alvaro de Soto, former U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, stated in his confidential final report leaked to the press a few weeks before the Hamas takeover that "the Americans clearly encouraged a confrontation between Fatah and Hamas" and "worked to isolate and damage Hamas and build up Fatah with recognition and weaponry." De Soto also recalled how in the midst of Egyptian efforts to arrange a cease-fire following a flare-up in factional fighting earlier this year, a U.S. official told him that "I like this violence … it means that other Palestinians are resisting Hamas."

Weakening Palestinian Moderates

For moderate forces to overcome extremist forces, the moderates must be able to provide their population with what they most need: in this case, the end of Israel’s siege of the Gaza Strip and its occupation and colonizing of the remaining Palestinian territories. However, Israeli policies -- backed by the Bush administration and Congress -- seem calculated to make this impossible. The noted Israeli policy analyst Gershon Baskin observed, in an article in the Jerusalem Post just prior to Hamas’ electoral victory, how "Israel ’s unilateralism and determination not to negotiate and engage President Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority has strengthened the claims of Hamas and weakened Abbas and his authority, which was already severely crippled by … Israeli actions that demolished the infrastructures of Palestinian Authority governing bodies and institutions."

Bush and an overwhelming bipartisan majority in Congress have also thrown their support to the Israeli government’s unilateral disengagement policy that, while withdrawing Israeli settlements from the Gaza Strip, has expanded them in the occupied West Bank as part of an effort to illegally annex large swaths of Palestinian territory. In addition, neither Congress nor the Bush administration has pushed the Israelis to engage in serious peace negotiations with the Palestinians, which have been suspended for over six years, despite calls by Abbas and the international community that they resume. Given that Fatah’s emphasis on negotiations has failed to stop Israel’s occupation and colonization of large parts of the West Bank, it’s not surprising that Hamas’ claim that the U.S.-managed peace process is working against Palestinian interests has resonance, even among Palestinians who recognize that terrorism by Hamas’ armed wing is both morally reprehensible and has hurt the nationalist cause.

Following Hamas’ armed takeover of Gaza, the highly respected Israeli journalist Roni Shaked, writing in the June 15 issue of Yediot Ahronoth, noted that "The U.S. and Israel had a decisive contribution to this failure." Despite claims by Israel and the United States that they wanted to strengthen Abbas, "in practice, zero was done for this to happen. The meetings with him turned into an Israeli political tool, and Olmert’s kisses and backslapping turned Abbas into a collaborator and a source of jokes on the Palestinian street."

De Soto’s report to the U.N. Secretary-General, in which he referred to Hamas’ stance toward Israel as "abominable," also noted that "Israeli policies seemed perversely designed to encourage the continued action by Palestinian militants." Regarding the U.S.-instigated international sanctions against the Palestinian Authority, the former Peruvian diplomat also observed that "the steps taken by the international community with the presumed purpose of bringing about a Palestinian entity that will live in peace with its neighbor Israel have had precisely the opposite effect."

Some Israeli commentators saw this strategy as deliberate. Avnery noted, "Our government has worked for year to destroy Fatah, in order to avoid the need to negotiate an agreement that would inevitably lead to the withdrawal form the occupied territories and the settlements there." Similarly, M.J. Rosenberg of the Israel Policy Center observed, "the fact is that Israeli (and American) right-wingers are rooting for the Palestinian extremists" since "supplanting ... Fatah with Islamic fundamentalists would prevent a situation under which Israel would be forced to negotiate with moderates.” The problem, Avnery wrote at that time, is that "now, when it seems that this aim has been achieved, they have no idea what to do about the Hamas victory."

Since then, the Israeli strategy has been to increase the blockade on the Gaza Strip, regardless of the disastrous humanitarian consequences, and more recently to launch devastating attacks that have killed hundreds of people, as many as one-quarter of whom have been civilians. The Bush administration and leaders of both parties in Congress have defended Israeli policies on the grounds that the extremist Hamas governs the territory.

Yet no one seems willing to acknowledge the role the United States had in making it possible for Hamas to come to power in Gaza in the first place.

Israel continues Gaza assault

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A senior commander of the armed wing of Hamas has been killed in continuing Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip.

Abu Zakaria al-Jamal, a senior figure in Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades died of his wounds on Saturday after Israeli jets bombed his house overnight.

His death came as Israel kept up its deadly assault on Gaza for the eighth straight day. Hamas vowed to defeat the Israeli army if it invaded the territory.

"If you commit the stupidity of launching a ground offensive then a black destiny awaits you," Khaled Meshaal, the political leader of Hamas, said in a speech.

"You will soon find out that Gaza is the wrath of God," he said.

The warning came as Israeli soldiers, tanks and armoured personnel carriers massed along Gaza's border, preparing for what many speculated could be a possible ground offensive.

Death and destruction

Medical officials say at least 437 people have died in Gaza and 2,250 have been injured since Israel's aerial bombardment began last week.

Four Israelis have been killed in the same period by Palestinian rockets, including longer-range weapons that have hit the port of Ashdod and the desert town of Beer-sheva.

On Saturday, Israel's military said nine more rockets have been fired over the border.

Palestinians also reported more Israeli air strikes across the Gaza Strip. A school was among the targets bombed by the Israelis.

Israeli jets have fired more than 700 missiles into Gaza since the assault began last week.

Blame game

Meshaal, speaking from the Syrian capital of Damascus on Friday, said Palestinians in Gaza were ready for any land offensive made by the Israelis.

"This battle was imposed on us and we are confident we will achieve victory because we have made our preparations.

"Our position is clear. We will not give in. Our resolve cannot be broken," he said.

"Our demand is also clear. The war must end, the siege lifted, and crossing points open without restriction."

But George Bush, the US president, in his first public comments on the hostilities, said Hamas had "instigated" Israel's war on Gaza, referring to the rocket attacks on Israel's southern towns.

"There must be monitoring mechanisms in place to help ensure that smuggling of weapons to terrorist groups in Gaza comes to an end," he said in remarks prepared for his weekly Saturday radio address.

Talking to Al Jazeera, Osama Hamdan, a senior Hamas official in Beirut, said that the party to be blamed for the present situation is Israel, not Hamas.

"It's clear now that Israelis are blocking all the political solutions. The main question is supposed to be what will be the right end for this? And the clear answer is ending the occupation."


Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, begins a two-day four-nation tour of the Middle East on Monday, hoping to rally key players behind an initiative for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Sarkozy will visit Egypt and Syria before travelling to Jerusalem on Monday for talks with Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, and to the West Bank to show support for Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president.

Abbas and several Arab foreign ministers are flying to New York over the weekend to urge the UN Security Council to adopt an Arab draft resolution that would condemn Israel and demand a halt to its bombing campaign in Gaza.

The US has said the draft is "unacceptable" and "unbalanced", because it makes no mention of halting the Hamas rocketing of southern Israel which led to the Israeli offensive.

Most of the 1.5 million people in the densely populated enclave have no means of sheltering from the raids, and humanitarian groups say supplies of food and fuel are running dangerously low.

Hospitals have reported shortages of even the most basic medicines and say they have no more capacity to deal with the growing numbers of casualties.

Karen Abu Zayed, the commissioner for the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in Gaza, said that in eight years of working in Gaza the need for aid had "never been so acute".

"I am appalled and saddened when I see the suffering around me," she said, adding UNRWA has made an emergency appeal for $34m to help the Gaza population.

Hasan Khalaf, Gaza's assistant deputy health minister, described the ongoing assault on Gaza as "an Israeli massacre".

US and global manufacturing collapsing

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By Joe Kishore

Manufacturing in the US is collapsing, with a key index falling to its lowest level in 20 years on Friday. Other figures released yesterday show a downturn in production throughout the world.

The Institute for Supply Management reported that its key index, the Purchasing Managers Index (PMI), fell to 32.4 in December from 36.2 in November. Economists had expected a much slower decline to 35.4. It is the lowest reading of the index since June 1980. A figure below 50 indicates contraction in manufacturing.

US Manufacturing, 1998-2008

Norton Ore, chair of the ISM Manufacturing Business Survey Committee, reported, "The decline covers the full breadth of manufacturing industries, as none of the industries in the sector report growth at this time. New orders have contracted for 13 consecutive months, and are at the lowest level on record going back to January 1948." Prices also fell the most since 1949.

The institute’s production index, a component of the PMI, fell to 25.5 from 31.5, and its employment index fell to 29.9 from 34.2. Most components of the overall PMI index have been declining at an accelerating rate over the last several months.

These figures herald a period of continued hemorrhaging of employment in manufacturing, which shed over 600,000 jobs in 2008.

Separate figures show similar trends in other countries. An index for Europe derived from a survey of purchasing managers by Markit Economics fell from 35.6 in November to 33.9 in December, the lowest level since the index was begun in 1998. The new orders index fell to 26.4 from 28.8 in November.

Figures released last month showed that industrial output in France, Italy, Sweden and Greece fell in October, including a 7.2 percent fall in France. These figures are sure to be worse in November and December.

Germany is also in sharp decline. Last month Casten Brzeski, Europe economist for ING bank, said that the fourth quarter will "very likely make history as the worst collapse of the German industry ever." German GDP contracted by 0.5 percent in the third quarter, and likely contracted by much more in the fourth.

Meanwhile, the China Purchasing Managers Index rose slightly to 41.2, from a record low of 40.9 in November. However, the figure is still far below 50, signaling continued contraction in Chinese manufacturing as exports collapse.

Chinese businesses are responding to the economic crisis through mass layoffs. According to CLSA, which calculated the index, "Chinese manufacturers reduced the size of their workforces at the fastest rate recorded by the series to date." The employment index has fallen for five straight months.

A Purchasing Managers Index for Russia fell to 33.8, 6 points below its reading in November. According to Bloomberg, "That is lower than at any time during the 1998 economic collapse, when the government dropped its support for the ruble and defaulted on $40 billion of domestic debt."

The Russian economy is in a state of freefall, due in part to the rapid decline of commodity prices in the second half of last year. The Russian stock index RTS fell 72 percent in 2008, and the central government is rapidly using up the country’s foreign currency reserves. Russian industrial output contracted by 8.7 percent in November, the largest fall in 10 years.

The manufacturing index figures open 2009 with a sign of what is to come: a global economic slump on a scale not seen since the 1930s.

US blocks cease-fire, gives Israel carte blanche to continue killing in Gaza

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By Barry Grey

As the Israeli devastation of Gaza enters its second week and signs point to an imminent ground invasion of the densely populated and impoverished Palestinian territory, the US government is working to block diplomatic initiatives for a cease-fire in order to give Israel a free hand to intensify its assault on the defenseless population.

While Israeli planes, warships and missiles continued to level civilian buildings, mosques and homes, and thousands of Israeli troops with tanks, artillery and armored vehicles awaited the order to enter the Palestinian enclave, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice appeared outside the White House Friday morning following a briefing on the Gaza crisis with President George W. Bush. In a terse statement, Rice once again placed the blame for the Israeli aggression on Hamas and underscored Washington's support for Israel's rejection of cease-fire proposals from France, the European Union and a number of Arab governments.

"We are working toward a cease-fire that would not allow a reestablishment of the status quo ante where Hamas can continue to launch rockets out of Gaza.... [W]e need a cease-fire that is durable and sustainable," Rice said. By placing such conditions on any cessation of Israeli attacks, Rice effectively ruled out an early truce in a one-sided war that has already claimed the lives of at least 430 Palestinians and injured another 2,200.

The mantra of a "durable and sustainable" cease-fire echoes almost verbatim the line adopted by Rice and the Bush administration to oppose a cease-fire during the 33-day Israeli assault on Lebanon in the summer of 2006. In the midst of that conflict, while Israeli planes and troops were devastating large parts of southern Lebanon and Beirut in an unsuccessful attempt to wipe out the nationalist-Islamist Hezbollah movement, Rice publicly urged Israel to reject demands for a cease-fire and called the Israeli assault "the birth pangs of a new Middle East."

Her appearance Friday once against highlighted US complicity in an Israeli war crime against the Arab masses. In rejecting the "status quo ante," Rice made no mention of the 18-month Israeli blockade of Gaza, which has brought the region's economy to a halt and produced a humanitarian disaster.

Neither Rice nor the Israelis have spelled out precisely what they mean by an end to the status quo ante, but the logic of their position is either "regime change"—the toppling of the popularly elected Hamas government in Gaza—or the massacre of a large portion of the civilian population.

As she left for talks in Paris earlier this week, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni hinted as much, telling Israel Radio that her government would not agree to a cease-fire at this point and would continue with its military operation. "This is not a short battle and it is not a single battle, and we have long-range goals," Livni said.

Rice's statement amounts to a green light for an intensification of the slaughter in Gaza in the form of an Israeli ground assault. On Friday, Israel allowed several hundred people in Gaza holding foreign passports to leave the besieged territory. The Israeli government also evacuated a hospital near the border with Gaza, suggesting that the regime anticipates an increase in casualties. These are ominous signs of a move by Israeli troops and tanks into the territory and a dramatic escalation of the killing.

In another indication of military escalation, Israel announced that it was sealing off the West Bank for two days. That move coincided with protests by thousands of Palestinians across the West Bank in solidarity with Gaza.

Friday's demonstrations were in response to a call from Hamas for a "day of wrath" following the previous day's Israeli bombing of the home of Hamas leader Nizar Rayan. An Israeli war plane dropped a one-ton bomb on the apartment complex where Rayan lived in the Jabalya refugee camp north of Gaza City, killing Rayan and at least 20 other people, including his four wives and 11 of his children, ages 2 to 19. The bomb also badly damaged neighboring buildings.

The murder of Rayan signaled a revival of the Israeli policy of "targeted assassinations," aimed at exterminating the top Hamas leadership. On Friday, Israeli bombs and missiles leveled the homes of other Hamas officials. The Washington Post reported Friday that Israeli military spokeswoman Maj. Avital Leibovich indicated that "other Hamas leaders were also marked men. ‘We have defined legitimate targets as any Hamas-affiliated target,' she said."

The West Bank protesters directed their anger not only against Israel and the US, but also against Arab governments and the leadership of the Palestinian Authority, who have either openly or tacitly joined with the US and Israel in blaming the war on Hamas and refused to take any serious action to oppose the assault on Gaza.

Thousands gathered in Ramallah, while in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem, youth threw stones at security forces, who fired rubber bullets and tear gas.

Egypt's Islamist opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, said 300 anti-Israel protesters had been surrounded by security forces outside a mosque in central Cairo, and that many others had been detained. There were also reports that riot police used batons to beat protesters in Cairo and the town of El-Arish in Northern Sinai.

Demonstrators also took to the streets of the Indonesian capital Jakarta and the Australian city of Sydney, as well as cities in Kenya and Iran.

Riot police fired tear gas at hundreds of Jordanian protesters trying to march on the Israeli embassy in the capital, Amman.

In Gaza itself, thousands of Palestinians marched in a funeral procession for Rayan, while Israeli jets buzzed menacingly overhead.

The death toll in Gaza continued to rise, as Israeli jets and ships pounded tunnels, refugee camps and houses. There were at least 30 new air strikes on Friday, including one that leveled a mosque in the Jabaliya camp. Israeli claims that it is seeking to avoid civilian casualties are completely cynical.

As the Associated Press reported: "With some 1.4 million Gazans crammed into a sliver of land 25 miles long and just 3 to 7 miles wide, military targets and civilians tend to exist side by side." The AP continued: [T]he broad range of Israel's targets—police compounds, fire stations, homes of militants, Hamas-run mosques and university buildings—means most shelling is occurring in residential areas."

As the bombing continues, the proportion of civilian casualties as compared to police and Hamas security personnel is rising. According to one report on Friday, of 31 additional deaths, 25 were civilians. In one air raid in southern Gaza, three brothers aged 7 to 10 were killed.

The efforts of Israel to terrorize the civilian population were indicated in a January 1 report by the New York Times, which wrote: "Tens of thousands of Gazans have received recorded phone calls from the Israeli Army warning them that their houses have been marked as targets because they harbored either militants or weapons facilities like rocket workshops. Noncombatants were urged to clear out. Hundreds of thousands of leaflets gave the same message."

Precisely where the residents of marked houses are to go in the besieged and surrounded territory, the Israeli military does not say.

The air war is already the bloodiest conflict in Gaza since Israel seized the territory in 1967. But the killing and destruction in the first week of the attack could be a mere prelude to something far more horrific. There are powerful elements in the Israeli military and political establishment that are itching for something akin to genocide.

This was indicated, according to Friday's Financial Times, by an analysis for Israel's Institute for National Strategic Studies presented on Wednesday. The author, Shlomo Brom, a former head of the armed forces' strategic planning unit, warned: "As is common in these situations, Israel's primary problem is finding an exit strategy.... The main risk is that, partly due to the success of the initial military moves, Israel will get caught up in the view that it is necessary to eliminate physically the rocket fire capabilities of Hamas."

In fact, the largely ineffectual homemade rockets fired from Gaza, provoked by Israeli's brutal blockage of the territory, serve as a pretext for a war driven by the political and geo-strategic interests of both Israel and the US. For its part, the Israeli ruling elite is determined to overcome the damage to its image of military invincibility resulting from its failure to destroy Hezbollah in the 2006 Lebanon War, and to create the conditions for permanently crushing Palestinian resistance to decades of colonial-style occupation. Its military violence is at the same time driven by growing social tensions within Israel itself.

For the US, aggression by its main political and military ally in the Middle East is seen as a means of advancing the hegemonic aims of American imperialism against such obstacles as Iran and Syria in the oil-rich and strategically crucial region.