Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Happy Camps

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Are Republicans Blackmailing Obama?

http://www.tdbimg.com/image/header_blogsstories.gif?v=6.38
by Scott Horton
 

If the president releases the Bush torture memos, Republicans are promising to "go nuclear" and filibuster his legal appointments. Scott Horton reports on a serious threat to Obama's transparency.

Senate Republicans are now privately threatening to derail the confirmation of key Obama administration nominees for top legal positions by linking the votes to suppressing critical torture memos from the Bush era. A reliable Justice Department source advises me that Senate Republicans are planning to "go nuclear" over the nominations of Dawn Johnsen as chief of the Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice and Yale Law School Dean Harold Koh as State Department legal counsel if the torture documents are made public. The source says these threats are the principal reason for the Obama administration's abrupt pullback last week from a commitment to release some of the documents. A Republican Senate source confirms the strategy. It now appears that Republicans are seeking an Obama commitment to safeguard the Bush administration's darkest secrets in exchange for letting these nominations go forward.

Not a single Republican indicated an intention to vote for Dawn Johnsen, while Senator John Cornyn of Texas was described as "gunning for her," specifically noting publication of the torture memos.

Barack Obama entered Washington with a promise of transparency. One of his first acts was a presidential directive requiring that the Freedom of Information Act, a near dead letter during the Bush years, was to be enforced according to its terms. He specifically criticized the Bush administration's practice of preparing secret memos that determined legal policy and promised to review and publish them after taking office.

But in the past week, questions about Obama's commitment to transparency have mounted. On April 2, the Justice Department was expected to make public a set of four memoranda prepared by the Office of Legal Counsel, long sought by the American Civil Liberties Union and other advocacy organizations in a pending FOIA litigation. The memos, authored by then-administration officials and now University of California law professor John Yoo, federal appellate judge Jay Bybee and former Justice Department lawyer Stephen Bradbury, apparently grant authority for the brutal treatment of prisoners, including waterboarding, isolated confinement in coffin-like containers, and "head smacking." The stakes over release of the papers are increasingly high. Yoo and Bybee are both targets of a criminal investigation in a Spanish court probing the torture of five Spanish citizens formerly held in Guantánamo; also named in the Spanish case are former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and three other Bush lawyers. Legal observers in Spain consider the Bush administration lawyers at serious risk of indictment, and the memos, once released, could be entered as evidence in connection with their prosecution. Unlike the torture memos that are already public, these memos directly approve specific torture techniques and therefore present a far graver problem for their authors.

The release of the memos that the Senate Republicans want to suppress was cleared by Attorney General Eric Holder and White House counsel Greg Craig, and then was stopped when "all hell broke loose" inside the Obama administration, according to an article by Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff. Newsweek attributes internal opposition to disclosure of the Bush-era torture memos to White House counterterrorism adviser and former CIA official John O. Brennan, who has raised arguments that exposure of the memoranda would run afoul of policies protecting the secrecy of agency techniques and has also argued that the memos would embarrass nations like Morocco, Jordan, Pakistan, Tunisia and Egypt, which have cooperated closely with the CIA in its extraordinary renditions program. Few informed independent observers, however, find much to credit in the Brennan objections because the techniques are now well-known, as is the role of the cooperating foreign intelligence services—any references to which would in any event likely be redacted before the memoranda are released. Moreover, the argument that the confidence of those engaged in torture—serious criminal conduct under international and domestic law—should be kept because they would be "embarrassed" if it were to come out borders on comic.

http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2009-04-05/are-republicans-blackmailing-obama/full/

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Transition Towns – A Sustainable Solution to the Economic Crisis

 
by Barbara Peterson
 

Transition

 

Whether you believe in Global Warming or not, one thing that I believe we can all get behind and support is independence on a local level.

 

Some towns in Europe and even the U.S. are creating local communities that support local food, business, energy, labor, supplies, and even local currency. These are known as Transition Towns. If you want to get a good overview of what this movement is, please read the description HERE, and view the following short video.

 

 

Michael Lusk from Sweden contacted me the other day. He is a member of a "core group of seven people who are working to establish transition culture locally." I asked him if he could tell me a little about this "transition culture" that he is working on, and he has this to say:

 

The transition idea began around five years ago in Ireland and England as a community-based response to peak oil and climate change. Its leading text is permaculture designer Rob Hopkins' book The Transition Handbook.

 

The transition movement is a large-scale self-organizing social experiment whose participants bring a great diversity of interrelated concerns revolving around local resilience. There are indications that restoring local food security is becoming the movement's primary short-term goal. Local monetary systems are also very important both as a practical measure promoting economic stability and as a means of restoring sovereign power to the people.

 

The transition movement is growing quickly and is already well established in the US: http://transitionus.ning.com/.  

 

Here in Järna, Sweden, we've got a core group of seven people who are working to establish transition culture locally. We want to become as effective as the Totnes group, the original transition town in county Devon, England. One of our group's members, Peter Hagerrot, is visiting Rob's group in Totnes right now. He's arranged to give an interview on Swedish National Radio and contribute an article to Sweden's Nature when he returns. 

 

Järna is the main centre of anthroposophy in Sweden, with many biodynamic farms, Waldorf schools and alternative medicine practitioners. Present and proposed regulation at transnational level is threatening all these activities that define our town's culture. Swedish national regulations implementing Codex Alimentarius are being used to threaten with closure our local clinic offering anthroposophical medical treatment. Swedish national regulations implementing EU-educational standards are being used to exclude important elements of the Waldorf curriculum. Experience in Europe – not to mention the Americas – makes it abundantly clear that proposed GMO "trials" will disastrously impact biodynamic farming.

 

Our initiative is the first transition initiative in Sweden – although we're linking with several organizations, which have been doing aspects of transition work here for many years and also Greenpeace Sweden, which is leading the fight against GMOs in our country. Our group met for the first time around two months ago. The initiative is still in the consciousness-raising stage. That's why we're on the lookout for public speakers right now. We don't have a page at transitionnetwork.org yet – for the moment you just have to mail us individually.

 

Lokalisera dig! = Localize Yourself!

Michael Lusk

 

So, whether the motivation behind these communities is to address climate change, peak oil, to be able to eat healthy, non-GMO food in the middle of a depression, or to just plain get away from big government and scale down to a local level, the foundation is good. We need to combat rampant globalization with localization. This means taking responsibility for changing our lives drastically for the good. The more localized we are, the more resilient we become when the bottom completely drops out of the economy. If we are not dependent on getting our food from another country, or even 1000 miles away, we will eat when the trucks stop running. If we look to the neighbor's kids to do the chores that we cannot do ourselves, and pay him/her with a form of local currency that can be cashed in for tomatoes at the local food stand, or for Sterling like the Totnes Pounds, we are sustainable. We become resilient. We will survive. 

 

http://survivingthemiddleclasscrash.wordpress.com/2009/03/30/transition-towns-%E2%80%93-a-sustainable-solution-to-the-economic-crisis/

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White House Replaces ‘War on Terror' With Symbol

Acquires Cryptic Icon From Funk Rocker Prince
 
by Andy Borowitz

The White House today announced today that it would no longer use the phrase "war on terror" and would instead replace it with a cryptic symbol once used by the funk rocker known as Prince.

The new symbol made its first appearance today at a White House press conference in which spokesman Robert Gibbs answered a question about the war on terror by holding up a picture of the newly acquired icon.

Mr. Gibbs said that the White House had decided to replace the phrase with the symbol after determining that its first-choice euphemism, "overseas contingency operations," was too much of a mouthful.

"In the years that Prince used the symbol, it was totally confusing and no one knew what it meant," he said.  "It should work perfectly for us."

To acquire the rights to the symbol, however, the White House had to outbid an unlikely suitor, the insurance giant AIG.

The embattled company, which recently stripped its corporate headquarters of its logo in the hopes of throwing protesters off its scent, had intended to replace it with the mysterious icon coveted by the White House.
It was hoping to rebrand itself as "The Insurance Giant Formerly Known as AIG," a company spokesman said.
 
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The dark side of Dubai

Dubai was meant to be a Middle-Eastern Shangri-La, a glittering monument to Arab enterprise and western capitalism. But as hard times arrive in the city state that rose from the desert sands, an uglier story is emerging. Johann Hari reports

 
The wide, smiling face of Sheikh Mohammed – the absolute ruler of Dubai – beams down on his creation. His image is displayed on every other building, sandwiched between the more familiar corporate rictuses of Ronald McDonald and Colonel Sanders. This man has sold Dubai to the world as the city of One Thousand and One Arabian Lights, a Shangri-La in the Middle East insulated from the dust-storms blasting across the region. He dominates the Manhattan-manqué skyline, beaming out from row after row of glass pyramids and hotels smelted into the shape of piles of golden coins. And there he stands on the tallest building in the world – a skinny spike, jabbing farther into the sky than any other human construction in history.

But something has flickered in Sheikh Mohammed's smile. The ubiquitous cranes have paused on the skyline, as if stuck in time. There are countless buildings half-finished, seemingly abandoned. In the swankiest new constructions – like the vast Atlantis hotel, a giant pink castle built in 1,000 days for $1.5bn on its own artificial island – where rainwater is leaking from the ceilings and the tiles are falling off the roof. This Neverland was built on the Never-Never – and now the cracks are beginning to show. Suddenly it looks less like Manhattan in the sun than Iceland in the desert.

Once the manic burst of building has stopped and the whirlwind has slowed, the secrets of Dubai are slowly seeping out. This is a city built from nothing in just a few wild decades on credit and ecocide, suppression and slavery. Dubai is a living metal metaphor for the neo-liberal globalised world that may be crashing – at last – into history.

I. An Adult Disneyland

Karen Andrews can't speak. Every time she starts to tell her story, she puts her head down and crumples. She is slim and angular and has the faded radiance of the once-rich, even though her clothes are as creased as her forehead. I find her in the car park of one of Dubai's finest international hotels, where she is living, in her Range Rover. She has been sleeping here for months, thanks to the kindness of the Bangladeshi car park attendants who don't have the heart to move her on. This is not where she thought her Dubai dream would end.

Her story comes out in stutters, over four hours. At times, her old voice – witty and warm – breaks through. Karen came here from Canada when her husband was offered a job in the senior division of a famous multinational. "When he said Dubai, I said – if you want me to wear black and quit booze, baby, you've got the wrong girl. But he asked me to give it a chance. And I loved him."

All her worries melted when she touched down in Dubai in 2005. "It was an adult Disneyland, where Sheikh Mohammed is the mouse," she says. "Life was fantastic. You had these amazing big apartments, you had a whole army of your own staff, you pay no taxes at all. It seemed like everyone was a CEO. We were partying the whole time."

Her husband, Daniel, bought two properties. "We were drunk on Dubai," she says. But for the first time in his life, he was beginning to mismanage their finances. "We're not talking huge sums, but he was getting confused. It was so unlike Daniel, I was surprised. We got into a little bit of debt." After a year, she found out why: Daniel was diagnosed with a brain tumour.

One doctor told him he had a year to live; another said it was benign and he'd be okay. But the debts were growing. "Before I came here, I didn't know anything about Dubai law. I assumed if all these big companies come here, it must be pretty like Canada's or any other liberal democracy's," she says. Nobody told her there is no concept of bankruptcy. If you get into debt and you can't pay, you go to prison.

"When we realised that, I sat Daniel down and told him: listen, we need to get out of here. He knew he was guaranteed a pay-off when he resigned, so we said – right, let's take the pay-off, clear the debt, and go." So Daniel resigned – but he was given a lower pay-off than his contract suggested. The debt remained. As soon as you quit your job in Dubai, your employer has to inform your bank. If you have any outstanding debts that aren't covered by your savings, then all your accounts are frozen, and you are forbidden to leave the country.

"Suddenly our cards stopped working. We had nothing. We were thrown out of our apartment." Karen can't speak about what happened next for a long time; she is shaking.

Daniel was arrested and taken away on the day of their eviction. It was six days before she could talk to him. "He told me he was put in a cell with another debtor, a Sri Lankan guy who was only 27, who said he couldn't face the shame to his family. Daniel woke up and the boy had swallowed razor-blades. He banged for help, but nobody came, and the boy died in front of him."

Karen managed to beg from her friends for a few weeks, "but it was so humiliating. I've never lived like this. I worked in the fashion industry. I had my own shops. I've never..." She peters out.

Daniel was sentenced to six months' imprisonment at a trial he couldn't understand. It was in Arabic, and there was no translation. "Now I'm here illegally, too," Karen says I've got no money, nothing. I have to last nine months until he's out, somehow." Looking away, almost paralysed with embarrassment, she asks if I could buy her a meal.

She is not alone. All over the city, there are maxed-out expats sleeping secretly in the sand-dunes or the airport or in their cars.

"The thing you have to understand about Dubai is – nothing is what it seems," Karen says at last. "Nothing. This isn't a city, it's a con-job. They lure you in telling you it's one thing – a modern kind of place – but beneath the surface it's a medieval dictatorship."

http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/johann-hari/the-dark-side-of-dubai-1664368.html

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Piracy, Pickets and Peter Bart

Unrest on the studio, union and trade fronts

By Nikki Finke

Over the past week, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the fourth in the Marvel/20th Century Fox franchise, was illegally pirated onto the Web and downloaded millions of times from file-sharing Web sites. "It's been like Whac-A-Mole," a studio exec tells me. "Every time we get it removed from one site, it pops up on another."

Fox is describing it as one of the worst piracy scandals it can recall, since it involves a major studio and a major summer blockbuster. The studio is understandably in a panic. With the film opening on May 1, if those viewers don't go to a theater to see it, this leak could cause incalculable damage to the box office. Moviegoers may still head for theaters, because the stolen work print is an incomplete early version missing many of its special effects, edited scenes and finished sound and music.

Now the FBI is investigating the crime. Fox forensically marks its content so it can identify sources that make it available or download it. The studio promises that the source of the initial leak and any subsequent postings will be prosecuted "to the fullest extent of the law." Indeed, in the past, the courts have handed down significant criminal sentences for such acts. One postproduction house in Australia was initially suspected, and a facility in Dallas was raided, but so far no arrests have been made.

Coincidentally, this came just days before U.S. Congressman Howard Berman, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, held a field hearing in Van Nuys on April 6 to assess the financial impact of global intellectual-property piracy. On April 30, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative is scheduled to release its annual report on intellectual-property policies and practices in other countries. Last year's report placed nine major offenders on the USTR's Priority Watch List, including China, Russia, Thailand and Argentina. A RAND study released earlier this month alleges that organized crime is increasingly active in film piracy. Just one problem — that study was funded by the MPAA, the trade association for the Hollywood studios.

Meanwhile, the Web piracy has created a lot of buzz around the pic, both positive and negative. The Internet is filled with fanboy comments about whether Wolverine is any good.

One of those who reviewed the purloined print was Fox News entertainment gossip columnist Roger Friedman. Now he's out of a job. The longtime "Fox 411" freelancer wrote on April 3 what his bosses felt was a blatant promotion of piracy, posting about finding "the whole Top 10 [of movies now in theaters], plus TV shows, commercials, videos, everything, all streaming away. It took really less than seconds to start playing it all right onto my computer. I could have downloaded all of it, but really, who has the time or the room? Later tonight I may finally catch up with Paul Rudd in I Love You, Man. It's so much easier than going out in the rain!"

I broke the story about News Corp.'s response, which was swift and severe. First, Roger Ailes, who oversees Fox News, deleted the offending post after he was contacted by 20th Century Fox. Then Ailes fired Friedman as a freelance Fox News entertainment writer. "He promoted piracy. He basically suggested that viewing a stolen film is okay, which is absolutely intolerable. So we fired him," a source told me Saturday. "Fox News acted promptly on all fronts."

http://www.laweekly.com/2009-04-09/news/piracy-pickets-and-peter-bart?src=newsletter

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AP sends itself a cease-and-desist letter

 
A.P. Exec Doesn't Know It Has A YouTube Channel: Threatens Affiliate For Embedding Videos
 
by Erick Schonfeld
 

Here is another great moment in A.P. history. In its quest to become the RIAA of the newspaper industry, the A.P.'s executives and lawyers are beginning to match their counterparts in the music industry for cluelessness. A country radio station in Tennessee, WTNQ-FM, received a cease-and-desist letter from an A.P. vice president of affiliate relations for posting videos from the A.P.'s official Youtube channel on its Website.

You cannot make this stuff up. Forget for a moment that WTNQ is itself an A.P. affiliate and that the A.P. shouldn't be harassing its own members. Apparently, nobody told the A.P. executive that the august news organization even has a YouTube channel which the A.P. itself controls, and that someone at the A.P. decided that it is probably a good idea to turn on the video embedding function on so that its videos can spread virally across the Web, along with the ads in the videos.

Frank Strovel, an employee at the radio station who tried to talk some sense into the A.P. executive Twittered yesterday:

I was on the phone arguing w/ AP today. We were embedding their YouTube vids on our station's site. We're an AP affiliate.

And then added:

They asked us to taken them down. I asked, "Why do you have a YouTube page w/ embed codes for websites?" Still… they said NO.

The story was picked up by the Knoxville News, and then by a local video producer Christian Grantham, who captured the following Skype interview with Strovel in the video below (which is not an A.P. video, so I am going to embed it). Strovel notes that the A.P. accused the station of "stealing their licensed content." He sounds flumoxed, as he should be. This back and forth during the interview says it all:

  • Strovel: And we're an A.P. affiliate for crying out loud! I stumped him on that one. . . . What is really shocking is that they were shocked that they've got a YouTube channel that people are embedding on their Websites. He seemed shocked by that. 'Oh, I am going to have to look into that" is what he told me.

    Grantham: What an idiot!

    Strovel: I know, I know.

    Strovel had to pull down all the videos from his Website.

  • http://www.techcrunch.com/2009/04/08/ap-exec-doesnt-know-it-has-a-youtube-channel-threatens-affiliate-for-embedding-videos/

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    Disability Access Activists Gather to Protest Kindle DRM

    by Tim Jones

    Yesterday, hundreds of people gathered in front of the headquarters of The Authors Guild in New York City to protest the removal of text-to-speech capabilities in Amazon's new Kindle 2 ebook device.

    You may remember a few months ago, when The Authors Guild claimed (falsely) that the text-to-speech feature violated copyright law, and forced Amazon to disable it.

    Now, the people who would have benefited most from the new feature — the blind, and others with reading disabilities — have made it clear that they're not going to stand for it.

    Gizmodo's John Mahoney was there and has excellent coverage. He writes:

    Everything was of course peaceful and contained right in front of the Authors Guild's seventh floor offices on 32nd street on Manhattan's east side. They had a pretty fantastic march ring set up, with many folks leading those who could not see at all in the ring, and sighted people whose job was to tell the marchers when to turn. Several seeing eye dogs joined in expressing their distaste.

    Manon Ress of Knowledge Ecology International also attended and blogged the protest:

    It is not that easy for 300 plus people (even with super smart dogs) and kids in tow to walk in a long circle for two hours holding big signs... These people were tough. It was an honor to walk with them.

    In a statement, The Authors Guild called the protest "unfortunate and unnecessary," and declared, "We will not surrender our members' economic rights to Amazon or anyone else." They offered a novel solution to the problem: Amazon could maintain a registry of verified blind and disabled people, who would be granted special permission to use the text-to-speech feature.

    The suggestion is of course ridiculous. Contrary to The Authors Guild's claims, the text-to-speech feature does not violate copyright law and does not pose any competitive threat to writers. The feature should be enabled for all Kindle customers, not just those with disabilities. The Authors Guild rightly laments "how difficult the road ahead is for the already fragile economics of authorship" — but this is exactly why it was nonsensical of them to force Amazon to adopt a system that has made it more difficult for blind and disabled customers to legally purchase and read authors' works.

    http://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2009/04/protest-kindle-drm

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    Hemp Could Be Key To Zero-carbon Houses

     
    The Renewable House is a timber frame house with hemp-lime walls.

    Hemp, a plant from the cannabis family, could be used to build carbon-neutral homes of the future to help combat climate change and boost the rural economy, say researchers at the University of Bath.

    A consortium, led by the BRE Centre for Innovative Construction Materials based at the University, has embarked on a unique housing project to develop the use of hemp-lime construction materials in the UK.

    Hemp-lime is a lightweight composite building material made of fibres from the fast growing plant, bound together using a lime-based adhesive. The hemp plant stores carbon during its growth and this, combined with the low carbon footprint of lime and its very efficient insulating properties, gives the material a 'better than zero carbon' footprint.

    Professor Pete Walker, Director of the BRE Centre for Innovative Construction Materials, explained: "We will be looking at the feasibility of using hemp-lime in place of traditional materials, so that they can be used widely in the building industry.

    "We will be measuring the properties of lime-hemp materials, such as their strength and durability, as well as the energy efficiency of buildings made of these materials.

    "Using renewable crops to make building materials makes real sense - it only takes an area the size of a rugby pitch four months to grow enough hemp to build a typical three bedroom house.

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/04/090408074401.htm

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    Marijuana and driving

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    Fundamentally Flawed: Militant Religion and Modern Atrocity

    by Chris Floyd
     
    The fighters gather to celebrate their victory in a recent campaign against the enemy infidels. Singers are called in to raise an anthem in praise of the warriors.

    Suddenly, there is outrage, consternation. Dozens of the fighters get up and stalk out of the celebration, along with their commanders. They are all deeply insulted, their religious faith has been assaulted, they have been exposed to a filthy evil which they cannot, will not, abide:

    Some of the singers are.... women.

    Just another day in a Taliban encampment? another example of the virulent woman-hatred and primitive fanaticism of Islamofascist zealots? Of course not. These were Israeli soldiers and officers, who fled the celebration because of "their belief that halakha, or Jewish religious law, prohibits them from hearing a woman sing," Haaretz reports.

    The Paratroop Brigade had come together in Haifa to mark its service in the glorious triumph of "Operation Cast Lead" -- Israel's all-out military assault on the densely populated Gaza strip, which killed hundreds of innocent civilians, many of them deliberately, as revealed by reams of testimony now emerging from Israeli soldiers themselves. But the program featured the brief appearance of a few women among a group of singers -- a gross insult to God Almighty that triggered the righteous walkout.

    Although the action was a breach of military discipline, Israel's military rabbinate fully supports the soldiers' manly refusal to hear the siren songs of the demonic, she-hag Liliths, and "urged commanders to show sensitivity in such situations and either to excuse religious soldiers in advance from attending any portion of a ceremony that poses a problem or to simply not feature female singers at such programs."

    Or better yet, why not put the harpies in a burqa and be done with it? Oh wait: a growing movement of extremists in Israel is already doing that: see here and here. The veilers are part of the haredim, an expansive, belligerent sect of extremists seeking to impose their, well, primitive fanaticism on Israel's secular society. The haredim have even banned broadcasts of the songs of a young male singer -- a yeshiva student -- because his voice sounds "too feminine," as Shmarya Rosenberg reports. (For more on how Israel's ever-more powerful religious extremists treat women, see this at Rosenberg's FailedMessiah.com site.)

    Oddly enough, the sluts who sought to tempt the pure-hearted he-men in Haifa were themselves members of the Paratroop Brigade. In this regard, at least, the military rabbinate shows admirable modernity: it is OK for women to carry guns and kill people -- but for God's sake, don't let them sing where someone with a penis can hear them! This would be highly displeasing to the Creator of the entire universe, you see.
     
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    Swimming in it

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    Syria Calling

    The Obama Administration's chance to engage in a Middle East peace.

    by Seymour M. Hersh

    Iran is a crucial factor motivating renewed Israeli-Syrian negotiations.When the Israelis' controversial twenty-two-day military campaign in Gaza ended, on January 18th, it also seemed to end the promising peace talks between Israel and Syria. The two countries had been engaged for almost a year in negotiations through intermediaries in Istanbul. Many complicated technical matters had been resolved, and there were agreements in principle on the normalization of diplomatic relations. The consensus, as an ambassador now serving in Tel Aviv put it, was that the two sides had been "a lot closer than you might think."

    At an Arab summit in Qatar in mid-January, however, Bashar Assad, the President of Syria, angrily declared that Israel's bombing of Gaza and the resulting civilian deaths showed that the Israelis spoke only "the language of blood." He called on the Arab world to boycott Israel, close any Israeli embassies in the region, and sever all "direct or indirect ties with Israel." Syria, Assad said, had ended its talks over the Golan Heights.

    Nonetheless, a few days after the Israeli ceasefire in Gaza, Assad said in an e-mail to me that although Israel was "doing everything possible to undermine the prospects for peace," he was still very interested in closing the deal. "We have to wait a little while to see how things will evolve and how the situation will change," Assad said. "We still believe that we need to conclude a serious dialogue to lead us to peace."

    American and foreign government officials, intelligence officers, diplomats, and politicians said in interviews that renewed Israeli-Syrian negotiations over the Golan Heights are now highly likely, despite Gaza and the elections in Israel in February, which left the Likud Party leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, at the head of a coalition that includes both the far right and Labor. Those talks would depend largely on America's willingness to act as the mediator, a role that could offer Barack Obama his first—and perhaps best—chance for engagement in the Middle East peace process.

    A senior Syrian official explained that Israel's failure to unseat Hamas from power in Gaza, despite the scale of the war, gave Assad enough political room to continue the negotiations without losing credibility in the Arab world. Assad also has the support of Arab leaders who are invested in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani,* the ruler of Qatar, said last month when I saw him in Doha that Assad must take any reasonable steps he can to keep the talks going. "Syria is eager to engage with the West," he said, "an eagerness that was never perceived by the Bush White House. Anything is possible, as long as peace is being pursued."

    http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/04/06/090406fa_fact_hersh

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    Newsweek's unintentionally revealed, central truth

    In his just-released cover story on Paul Krugman's status as Obama critic, Newsweek's Evan Thomas includes these observations:

    By definition, establishments believe in propping up the existing order. Members of the ruling class have a vested interest in keeping things pretty much the way they are.  Safeguarding the status quo, protecting traditional institutions, can be healthy and useful, stabilizing and reassuring.

    Thomas then acknowledges what is glaringly obvious not only about himself but also most of his media-star colleagues:  "If you are of the establishment persuasion (and I am) . . ."

    One day in the near future, Thomas should have a luncheon or perhaps a nice Sunday brunch at his home, invite over all of his journalist friends who work in the media divisions of our largest corporations, and they should spend 15 minutes or so assembling these sentences together, and then examine what these facts mean for the actual role played by establishment journalists, the functions they fulfill, whose interests they serve, and the vast, vast disparities between (a) those answers and (b) the pretenses about their profession and themselves which they continue, ludicrously, to maintain.  To make the discussion less strenuous on the guests' brains, Thomas, as a good host, could provide visual illustrations such as this and this.

    Also, in the name of consumer protection, television news shows and the largest newspapers ought to place that above-excerpted paragraph by Thomas as a warning at the top of every product they produce.

    http://www.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/2009/03/29/newsweek/

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