Aletho News


Heckling Israeli ambassador at UCI was right

By Taher Herzallah | OC Register | March 5, 2010

Today, our American civil rights movement is praised worldwide for its humanism, righteousness, and courage. But, it was not always this way.

The same leaders we now hold in high esteem were once labeled as rabble-rousers for their principled and unpopular stands. It is no surprise then, that those who stand today against one of the greatest injustices of our time are similarly labeled. I am in a worldwide movement advocating for the indigenous Palestinian population and opposing the apartheid policies of Israel. The United Nations has condemned Israeli actions with more resolutions than any other nation.

Article Tab : states-michael-ambassador
A protester is escorted out by UCI police after he disrupted the speech by Michael Oren, Ambassador of Israel to the United States.
Leonard Ortiz / The Orange County Register

I know the pain of Israel’s brutal military tactics firsthand. Three members of my immediate family were killed in Gaza last year during “Operation Cast Lead,” in which more than 1,400 Palestinians were killed and more than 5,300 wounded.

Since then, Israel has launched a massive propaganda campaign to transform its image from a war machine to a victimized democracy. Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren, represents the face of this campaign. During his recent appearance at UC Irvine, I took a stand against Oren and the brutal state he represents. I spoke out well within the bounds of my right to free speech and in the peaceful, nonviolent manner adopted by the likes of Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Since that day, I, along with the other protestors, have been dubbed by the media as the “Irvine 11.”

Today, there are those who see my actions as beyond the exercise of free speech. They reason that regardless of the content of Oren’s speech, it was unacceptable to interrupt him. Since he was an invited guest, he should have been granted respectful silence. I know and agree that not all speech is protected and acknowledge that the First Amendment can be restricted according to time, place, and manner. But UCI’s, and now UC Riverside’s, threats to suspend or even expel us for our actions are unfounded and inconsistent not only with the incident in question, but also with the long American history of protesting public and controversial figures.

During a commencement speech given by President Obama last year at the University of Notre Dame, a group of 10 protestors stood up and chanted, “Abortion is abomination!” After the talk, Obama said, “That’s part of the American tradition we are proud of. And that’s hard too, standing in the midst of people who disagree with you and letting your voice be heard.” The president, a former professor of constitutional law, conceded their speech was protected.

Time and again, hecklers and protestors have been afforded their full First Amendment right of freedom of speech, including at UCI. I cherish this American tradition and am consequently troubled that I am not afforded the same protections as students elsewhere voicing their dissent. Today, I face criminal and university disciplinary action. I suspect that I am being punished because of strict limits on pro-Palestinian speech.

Yet despite the disproportionate ramifications, I stand by my protest. The Palestinian narrative has never been afforded the same exposure or legitimacy as Israel’s, either at UCI or across the nation. I sought to amplify the voices of dissent. Realistically, my action generated far more attention than any question could have to Israel’s 43 years of occupation, ever-expanding illegal Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and Israel’s cruel killing and destruction in Gaza just last year.

I note that the free speech rights that Oren’s proponents point to are not available to Palestinians living under Israeli rule. Palestinians cannot hold a simple press conference in occupied East Jerusalem to address Israel’s subjugation without the very real risk of arrest. Israel’s military has bombed and closed Palestinian schools for many years, killing, maiming, and imprisoning thousands of Palestinian students along the way. It is little wonder, then, that I seized the rare opportunity presented by Oren’s visit to make known my vigorous protest against Israeli suppression of Palestinian rights, freedom, and educational aspirations.

We would not be where we are today as a country if people who were politically marginalized had not stood up for their rights. As a student and human rights activist, I expect that our universities will allow space for all points of view, including my nonviolent and heartfelt protestations against Oren’s whitewashing of Israel’s serious human rights abuses against Palestinians.

March 5, 2010 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Solidarity and Activism | 6 Comments

Suppressing Evidence, David Miliband and UK Complicity in Torture

By Sarah Gillespie | March 5, 2010

Last Saturday I went to see Polly Nash and Andy Worthington’s harrowing documentary ‘Outside the Law, Tales from Guantánamo’ at London’s BFI.

The film knits together narratives so heart-wrenching I half wish I had not heard them. Yet the camaraderie between the detainees and occasional humorous anecdotes, such as Binyam Mohammed’s false confession that he tried to induce nuclear fission on April 1st, provide a glimpse into the wit, courage and normalcy of the men we are encouraged to perceive as monsters.

Nash and Worthington’s film also explores the legal and pragmatic implications of our transatlantic free-fall into ethical bankruptcy. It asks how we might navigate our way out of a situation that doesn’t legally exist. The answer is: with great difficulty. With lawyers like Clive Stafford-Smith working tirelessly to defend people who have not been accused of a crime and have no evidence against them to refute, the courtroom has become the domain in which we watch the dream of European multiculturalism imploding. Here we see UK Muslims struggle to exert Enlightenment-based Common Law against a so-called civilized, liberal government who would apparently prefer the Magna Carta had never been written. (1)

Two weeks ago the Foreign Secretary David Miliband lost his long legal battle to suppress a section (known as paragraph 168) from a court decree revealing that MI5 officers were involved in the torture of ex terror suspect and British resident, Binyam Mohamed. Up until now the testimonies of released British Residents Omar Deghayes, Mozzam Begg and Binyam Mohamed have not been fully absorbed by the British public. This is despite the fact Omar Deghayes entered Cuba with two eyes but came home with one. Many news consumers prefer to maintain that detainee accounts of asphyxiation, physical torment, sexual and religious abuse, were either deserved, fabricated or necessary. Others can not contemplate that a nation proudly branding itself on civil liberties, tolerance and ‘fair play’ could willfully throw us back into the medieval barbarism of the Norman Conquests. Yet, as Miliband’s credibility crumbles in the light of his failed cover-up, so the plausibility of Binyam Mohammed’s testimony gains ground. The tide is changing.

Recently Court of Appeal also stated that it withstood ‘unprecedented bullying’ from the Foreign and Home Secretary to withdraw 168 from its ruling. However, Miliband’s plee was overturned by independent judges and we now know the report stated that British treatment of Binyam Mohammed was “at the very least cruel, inhuman, and degrading”. David Miliband dismissed the testimony of this particular British resident, whose torments included having razzor blades applied to his penis, as ‘ludicrous lies.’

The independent judge apparently dissagrees with our delightful foreign secretary. He warns that the integrity our government is now under serious dispute and suggests that Miliband has an undisclosed agenda.

“Not only is there an obvious reason for distrusting any UK Government assurance, based on SyS (secret services)  advice and information, because of previous “form”, but the Foreign Office and the SyS have an interest in the suppression of such information.”

Shaker Aamer, the Witness from Battersea.

Perhaps the most disturbing and crucial aspect of ‘Tales from Guantánamo is that it spotlights the continuing illegal incarceration of South Londoner, Shaker Aamer. All British residents have been discharged from Guantánamo. Yet despite being officially cleared for release in 2008, Aamer remains impounded in a 6 foot by 8 foot cell, tortured, humiliated and, according to reports, force fed through a pipe routed to his stomach via his nose. At 8 stone, he has lost over half his body weight. His wife, the mother of their 4 children continues to live in London where she has been treated for a succession of nervous break downs since her husband was seized.

There is no justification offered as to why this Aamer has been singled out. No evidence has transpired to counter his claim that he was in Afghanstan in 2002 to help construct schools as part of his religious duty of zakat. It is believed that Aamer’s conspicuous eloquence, linguistic talents and charisma identified him within the gates of Guantánamo, as a exceptional case. He orchestrated collective hunger strikes, translated fluently between Arabic and English and inspired his fellow inmates to demand their rights. He was treated by detainees as a holy man, a leader. He was punished accordingly.

Speculation surrounding Aamer’s continued detention pivots on the numerous ‘suicides’ he is alleged to have seen, the severity of the torture he has endured and his claims that it was, in part, executed on the behest of British agents. It is widely believed that should Binyam Mohammed’s case progress, Shaker Aamer would be a leading witness against British authorities, cementing evidence that could transfer the label of ‘criminal’ from the defendant to the accuser: namely Whitehall. Back in November last year the Independent’s law editor Robert Verkaik predicted Aamer’s release would be detrimental to the reputation of the UK government.

“The case is potentially more damaging to Britain than that of former Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohamed because British agents are accused of being present during Mr Aamer’s alleged torture. In one allegation an MI5 agent is said to have been present when Mr Aamer’s US interrogators banged his head against a wall.”

As calls for a full judicial inquiry gather pace, we may well ask why on earth Miliband persists in attempting to thwart evidence in this degrading farce we call Justice. His CV so far for defending the interests of Britain abroad, is not great. Since he took the job he gave Britain’s blessing to Israel’s massacre in Operation Cast Lead (2), he maintained Britain abstain from voting against the Goldstone Report, he intervened in Polish domestic politics slandering a popular MEP as an ‘anti-Semite’ and he has stood limply in the wings giving lip service to the Mossad’s use of British passports in their assaination last month. Worryingly, it seems the concerns of British sovereignty do not feature high on Miliband’s list of priorities. If they did we could expect that, instead of pushing for a re-write of the law to enable war criminal Tzipi Livni tio visit the UK without charge,  Miliband might consider adhering to the law that has protected our rights for the last 800 years – and allow Shaker Aamer to come home.

(1) Magna Carta Libertatum (the Great Charter of Freedoms) is and English legal charter, orriginally issued in 1215. Among other things it explicity supported what became the writ of habious corpus, allowing appeal against unlawful imprisonment.

(2) Less than a month before Israel launched its assault on Gaza Miliband visited the Israeli town of Sderot. He said “Israel should, above all, seek to protect its own citizens. It’s very important that counties like mine and others show solidarity with the people of Sderot…. Israeli people need to know that the British people know of Sderot, and we know of the tragedy they are facing, and we stand with them.”

To write to David Miliband requesting the safe return of  Shaker Aamer click here.

To find out where you can see ‘Outside the Law, Tales from Guantánamo’ click here.

March 5, 2010 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Subjugation - Torture | Comments Off on Suppressing Evidence, David Miliband and UK Complicity in Torture

CRU’s Phil Jones delivers false statement in parliament enquiry

Swedes call out Jones on data availability


Stockholm March 5, 2010

Climate scientist delivers false statement in parliament enquiry

It has come to our attention, that last Monday (March 1), Dr. Phil Jones, head of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia (CRU), in a hearing with the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee made a statement in regards to the alleged non-availability for disclosure of Swedish climate data.

Dr. Jones asserted that the weather services of several countries, including Sweden, Canada and Poland, had refused to allow their data to be released, to explain his reluctance to comply with Freedom of Information requests.

This statement is false and misleading in regards to the Swedish data.

All Swedish climate data are available in the public domain. As is demonstrated in the attached correspondence between SMHI (Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute), the UK Met Office and Dr. Jones (the last correspondence dated yesterday March 4), this has been clearly explained to Dr. Jones. What is also clear is that SMHI is reluctant to be connected to data that has undergone “processing” by the East Anglia research unit.

Göran Ahlgren, secretary general
Kungsgatan 82
12 27 Stockholm, Sweden


They included attached PDF files. which I have uploaded to WUWT below. Click for PDF files:




March 5, 2010 Posted by | Deception | 2 Comments

The Irony of Iowa’s Ethanol Exemption

Even Iowans Don’t Want to Put It in Their Tanks

By Robert Bryce | March 5, 2010

Oh the irony. This morning, the Des Moines Register is reporting on the death of a piece of legislation known as SF 2359. The bill would have required that all gasoline sold in Iowa contain at least 10% ethanol. But Iowa legislators couldn’t garner enough political support for the bill.

You read it right. Iowa, the biggest ethanol-producing state in the US, doesn’t have a requirement that forces consumers to buy ethanol-blended gasoline. The result: only about 73% of the gasoline sold in the state contains ethanol. And according to a story written by Dan Piller, a reporter at the Des Moines Register, the Iowa legislature couldn’t pass SF 2359 because it was “opposed by a coalition that included fuel retailers and marketers and truckers.”

Iowa has about 3.3 billion gallons of ethanol production capacity, that’s more than twice the capacity of the next-biggest producer, Nebraska. Iowa’s ethanol industry and farm lobby plays an outsized role in US politics. Every four years, presidential candidates must make the haj to Iowa and bow down before the ethanol industry while  proclaiming their loving support for corn ethanol. The 2008 election provided hard proof of the importance of the Iowa ethanol industry. Both Hillary Clinton and John McCain – avid critics of ethanol before they began their campaigns for the White House – became ethanol evangelists when they started visiting Iowa.

For decades, US taxpayers and consumers have been paying for the subsidies and mandates that are designed solely for the benefit of the corn ethanol scammers, but Iowans have not shared equally in the pain. About 28 states and the District of Columbia have mandates on ethanol-blended gasoline. And earlier this year, top Iowa legislators believed they would be able to add Iowa’s name to that list. Jack Kibbie, a Democrat from Emmetsburg, who serves as the president of the Iowa Senate had a wonderful quote in Wallaces Farmer:

We hear from critics here in Iowa that a mandatory blend of E10 won’t work, that it will mess up engines on motorboats and lawnmowers…Baloney. With all the lakes and boats they have in Minnesota, many more than in Iowa, they’re doing just fine with their E10 mandate. Remember, this bill we want to pass, Senate File 2359, calls for a 10% blend of ethanol in gasoline for highway use for motor vehicles. It has provisions to provide non-ethanol gasoline for antique vehicles, motorboats, lawnmowers and other small engines.

But earlier this week, Kibbie was forced to admit that his bill was dead. And his explanation was revealing: “People don’t like mandates,” he said, “and of course the petroleum marketers didn’t like it.” So Kibbie and his fellow Democrats decided not to subject the bill to a full debate before the Iowa legislature.

At the very same time that the ethanol lobby is pushing the Obama administration to break the “blend wall,” which prohibits gasoline retailers from selling fuel containing more than 10% ethanol, the Iowa legislature can’t even pass a measure that would require Iowans to buy gasoline containing 10% ethanol. Indeed, the ethanol industry wants federal regulators to allow fuel retailers to sell gasoline that has been adulterated with up to 15% ethanol. And they need that regulatory relief because fat federal subsidies led to too much investment in ethanol production capacity. According to Ethanol Producer Magazine, 19 ethanol plants with a capacity of 884 million gallons per year are now sitting idle. And another 7 plants with 484 million gallons of production capacity are under construction. Meanwhile about 192 plants are operating with total capacity of 12.7 billion gallons per year.

The punchline here is obvious: Iowa, a state that has about 25% of all the ethanol production capacity in the US, doesn’t require its citizens to buy ethanol-blended gasoline. And the Iowa legislature can’t pass a bill to change that because, as Kibbie said, “people don’t like mandates.”

Oh the irony.

Robert Bryce’s fourth book, Power Hungry: The Myths of “Green” Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future, will be published in April.

March 5, 2010 Posted by | Corruption, Malthusian Ideology, Phony Scarcity | 1 Comment

Russia opens war crimes case against Georgia

By Olga Masalkova | Russia today | March 4, 2010

Russia has charged Georgia with genocide and the mass murders of Russian citizens in South Ossetia during the 2008 military conflict, while new criminal charges are pending.

The Investigative Committee of Russia’s Prosecutor’s Office says it has obtained new evidence that proves Georgia’s guilt in yet more crimes in the course of the August 2008 conflict and has initiated a new court case.

“A criminal case has been opened… on crimes described in Criminal Code articles dealing with the use of banned warfare means and methods, the use of mercenaries, and attack on individuals and institutions that fall under international protection,” says Vladimir Markin, a spokesman for the Investigative Committee.

Markin said the Investigative Committee has also collected evidence of premeditated murders, the abduction of civilians, and the use of “unsubstantiated violence in relation to prisoners of war and illegally detained civilians.”

Georgia’s alleged use of cluster bombs, as well 500-kilogram bombs against civilians in South Ossetia were also mentioned. These weapons have been banned by international conventions.

Russian investigators say, they have evidence that the Georgian military waged attacks on Russian peacekeepers and institutions, which by law are under international protection due to their status.

“The meticulous work carried out by investigative agencies has uncovered and documented numerous violations of international humanitarian law, as well as universally recognized human rights and freedoms, by the Georgian military in relation to South Ossetian civilians and Russian peacekeepers,” Markin continued.

Furthermore, the investigation has proven the participation of mercenaries from the Ukrainian nationalistic organization UNA-UNSO working on the side of Georgia.

“The mercenaries were recruited, financed, and provided with other material support by Georgian Interior Ministry officials,” Markin said.

International Investigation

Meanwhile, Georgia is planning to sue Russia in international courts in an attempt to collect $40 billion dollars as compensation for damages that Georgia alleges it has sustained from Russia since 1990 in the territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

At the same time, Georgian politicians admit this is a political move that aims at getting the international community to blame Russia for the conflict. Indeed, immediately following the 5-day conflict, on August 12, 2008, Georgia submitted a petition to the UN’s International Court in The Hague to initiate hearings against Russia.

Russia objected to the charges, citing the groundlessness of Georgia’s allegations and saying that the International Court does not have the jurisdiction to examine Georgia’s suit.

Meanwhile, in September last year, an independent international fact-finding mission backed by the EU issued a report stating that Georgia was the aggressor in the conflict and started the war in South Ossetia and accused Georgia of violating international laws by using force.

Read the full Report of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Conflict in Georgia: Volume I; Volume II; Volume III

Russia has also asked the International Criminal Court in The Hague to investigate this matter further and to punish Georgia. Meanwhile, Tbilisi says it welcomes the ICC’s decision to investigate the 2008 military conflict, saying it is willing to provide all necessary materials required for the court.

Earlier, the head of the Russian Investigations Committee, Aleksander Bastrykin, criticized the Russian Foreign Ministry of insufficient legal action against the Georgian leadership and military during the conflict.

“From my point of view, our Foreign Ministry is not active enough in this sphere,” Bastrykin said in November while answering questions from the members of the Federation Council Committee on Legal and Judicial issues.

He said that only seven requests regarding “the criminal actions of the Georgian military” were filed at the European Court of Human Rights, which he believed was insufficient.

“With the materials of our criminal case only, we should not be defendants, but plaintiffs and take a more active stance,” concluded Bastrykin.

The Russian Investigative Committee states that 162 civilians and 67 Russian soldiers were killed and 255 people wounded during the five-day war in South Ossetia in August 2008. More than 33,000 South Ossetians were forced to leave their homes as a result of the conflict.

March 5, 2010 Posted by | War Crimes | Comments Off on Russia opens war crimes case against Georgia

US to share domestic civil aviation information with Israel

Palestine Information Center | March 5, 2010

WASHINGTON — US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano and Israeli Transport and Road Safety Minister Israel Katz on Tuesday announced a new agreement to enhance information sharing about civil aviation security incidents.

“The real-time exchange of information with our international partners is critical to our efforts to enhance overall global aviation security,” said Napolitano. “This agreement will allow the United States and Israel to better coordinate on, and respond to potential aviation security incidents to strengthen our mutual safety.”

Katz said the new agreement will “further improve the effectiveness of the cooperation between the respective civil aviation security authorities.”

Human rights groups are concerned that such an agreement will give the Israeli occupation a wealth of information about passengers traveling by air, including Arab and Palestinian persons.

Just over a month ago, Israeli mossad agents used European passports to get in Dubai and assassinate a Palestinian resistance leader.

March 5, 2010 Posted by | Full Spectrum Dominance | Comments Off on US to share domestic civil aviation information with Israel

Israeli forces raid Al-Aqsa compound

Ma’an – 05/03/2010

Jerusalem – Dozens of Palestinians were injured as Israeli forces entered East Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque compound following the weekly Friday prayers, firing tear gas, rubber-coated bullets and stun grenades.

At least 15 Israeli police officers were also injured by rocks thrown by Palestinians, Israeli news reports said. Some 200 police officers appeared on the scene, clashing with worshipers in the Haram Ash-Sharif, or noble sanctuary, which houses the mosque.

Forces were seen striking Palestinians with batons, injuring a number of elderly worshipers, and closed off gates into the Old City even before clashes erupted, preventing some worshipers from reaching the site.

The number of injuries amount to more than 60, among them a woman who sustained injuries after being shot with a bullet in the eye, while others sustained injuries to the feet, chest and hands when attacked with rubber-coated bullets.

Israeli forces were also seen preventing crews of Palestine Red Crescent medics from reaching and treating those who were injured.

Clashes erupted between Palestinian teenagers and Israeli forces at several gates leading into the Old City, most prominently at the Mughrabi Gate leading to the mosque, as well as the Huta Gate and the yard of the mosque compound itself.

The compound is the third holiest site in Islam, believed to be the location where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven and returned. The site is the holiest for Jews, who believe it to be the site of the Second Temple, destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, and is referred to by Jews and Israelis as the Temple Mount.

The compound is a frequent site of clashes, as tensions run high in the Old City over Israeli excavations and rumors of settlers amassing at the site. Seven Palestinians were detained as clashes erupted last Sunday, with Israeli forces storming the site with discord reported throughout the Old City of occupied East Jerusalem.

Israeli police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said at the time that “tourists entered the Temple Mount and were attacked by 20 masked Palestinians, throwing stones. Police immediately responded to disperse them.”

Rosenfeld said police did not enter the Al-Aqsa Mosque, but surrounded the compound. He added that “1,000 tourist visits continue” in the area.

Over 200 Israeli soldiers and police surrounded the mosque, using loudspeakers calling on worshipers to evacuate the site, Ma’an’s correspondent said. Palestinians responded by using the loudspeakers in the mosque, used to call Muslims to prayer, to urge Palestinians to head to the city.

At the beginning of the week, extremist groups called on sympathizers to gather at the Buraq square, known to Israelis as the Wailing Wall, and march on the Al-Aqsa compound. Palestinians spent the night in the mosque to prevent their entry, it was reported.

In response, national and religious leaders in Jerusalem and in Israel urged Palestinians to prevent the anticipated take-over by amassing at the mosque to prevent the entry of extremists.

Disturbances at the mosque are a central reason for the escalation of tensions between the two sides, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) said Monday in a public condemnation of a prior breach of the holy compound.

While Israeli reports of the incident placed blame for Sunday’s clashes squarely on Palestinians, PCHR investigations affirmed eyewitness accounts and local news coverage contending that hundreds of Israeli settlers and their supporters, escorted by Israeli security forces, had entered the mosque compound, sparking clashes.

PCHR condmened the breach in the “strongest possible terms,” and further slammed the “use of excessive force” by Israeli forces against Palestinian civilians who had gathered inside the mosque or attempted to prevent “the provocative entry of settlers into the mosque.”

In its condemnation, the organization noted heightened concerns over Israeli control of traditionally Palestinian holy sites, following the declaration by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the previous Sunday, of sites within the West Bank as “Israeli heritage” locations. The move sparked fears that Israeli forces would further limit Palestinian access to the landmarks.

“PCHR strongly condemns all disruptive measures taken by [Israeli forces] in East Jerusalem … [and] calls upon the international community to immediately intervene to force Israel, the occupying power, to stop such measures.”

March 5, 2010 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation | 2 Comments

Obama to close International Labor Comparisons office

By Alec MacGillis | Washington Post | March 3, 2010

Like a scorekeeper for the world, a tiny unit within the Bureau of Labor Statistics tracks globalization’s winners and losers, and the results are not always pretty for the United States. Manufacturing jobs here, for example, have fallen faster since 1979 than in Canada, Germany or Japan. Compensation for those jobs dropped here in 2008 but jumped in South Korea and Australia.

Soon, however, Americans may be spared the demoralization in these numbers: The White House wants to shutter the unit that produces them.

President Obama’s budget would eliminate the International Labor Comparisons office and transfer its 16 economists to expand the bureau’s work tracking inflation and occupational trends. The White House says the cut, estimated to save $2 million, is one of many difficult decisions the president was forced to make to control spending.

“This budget had to make some tough choices and prioritize the nation’s most pressing needs during a challenging economic and fiscal climate,” said Office of Management and Budget spokesman Tom Gavin. But the proposed cut has triggered an outcry from an eclectic group of academics, business leaders and union officials — a reminder that, in the sprawl of the federal government, some seemingly obscure offices have built a loyal following around their discrete missions.

The defenders argue that, given the need to succeed in a global economy, it makes little sense to shut down the office that measures how the country stacks up. There are other sources of foreign data, such as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the International Labor Organization, but none does as much as the BLS unit to vet and adjust numbers for apple-to-apple comparisons on productivity, unemployment and wage levels, supporters say.

“If you were going to cut this five years after they implemented it 50 years ago, that would be one thing — who cared then about what’s going on in Asia?” said Georgetown University economist Robert Bednarzik, who spent 10 years at the BLS and has started a petition drive to save the unit. “But they’ve picked the worst possible time to try and get rid of it — when we’re all in this together.”

The International Labor Comparisons office dates to the 1960s, when President John F. Kennedy demanded to know whether Western European countries, which were reporting remarkably low unemployment rates, were using a different standard of accounting. The office later expanded to include Asia’s emerging economies.

The biggest challenge was China, where reliable statistics are particularly hard to come by. But in 2004, the office contracted with Judith Banister, a former Census Bureau demographer then living in Beijing, who dug up statistical books in local bookstores that helped produce solid data on the Chinese economy. The unit added Brazil to the mix, and in the near future it plans to release its first reports on India.

Banister, a freelance researcher, said U.S. manufacturers need to know what they are up against overseas — and, in some cases, whether to move work offshore.

Skeptics of free-trade policies criticize the closure for other reasons — the unit’s data, they argue, show just how harsh globalization is for the American worker, a reality that may be inconvenient for an administration generally more trade-oriented than the populist rhetoric of Obama’s campaign suggested. They question if the unit is being closed solely for the budget savings, noting that $2 million is a relative pittance, less than 1 percent of the BLS budget.

“The type of documentation [the unit] is putting out could be detrimental to their efforts” on trade, said John Russo of the Center for Working-Class Studies at Youngstown State University.

Gavin, the OMB spokesman, denied that motivation, saying the closure “wasn’t a reflection of the quality of the work or a reflection of its usefulness so much as a reflection of priorities.”

The budget proposal says the unit’s statistics are “not widely used.” But supporters point out that the unit’s Web site got 1.5 million page views in 2009 — about 4,000 a day.

Congress could yet decide to retain the program. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), for one, is concerned about the closure, said his spokeswoman Meghan Dubyak. “He plans on working with the administration and [congressional] leadership to ensure that we still have data to address offshoring and competitiveness issues,” she said.

Meanwhile, the unit’s close-knit group of workers is waiting to learn their fate. Its director, Connie Sorrentino, who has worked in the unit since the 1960s, said her colleagues were “devastated” when they heard the news but have since been heartened by their supporters.

“What helps us keep our chins up are the people who don’t want to see it go under,” she said. “You find out who your friends are when you’re on the chopping block. Though that’s a heck of a way to do a customer survey.”

March 5, 2010 Posted by | Deception, Economics, Progressive Hypocrite | Comments Off on Obama to close International Labor Comparisons office