Aletho News


Ecuador: Correa Confirms Interest in Joining Mercosur

By Emily Tarbuck | The Argentina Independent | February 21, 2013

With Rafael Correa emerging victorious for a third and final term in Sunday’s presidential elections, the leader of the Alianza País party spoke to Argentine newspaper Página 12 about Ecuador becoming part of the Mercosur agreement, their relationship with Argentina, and same-sex marriage. During the interview, he also announced that his party obtained “97 or 98 seats” in the National Assembly, though the final results of the recount are yet to be announced by the National Electoral Council.

In the interview, Correa first discussed the strengthening of ties with Argentina by “further deepening the bilateral relationship” through trade, and agreed with President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s condemnation of the “total surrender of our countries at the hands of transnational corporations”. Correa went on to say however that the relationship between the two countries is more than commercial because “with Argentina we have the same political vision”.

Throughout the interview Correa expressed his hope to join Mercosur, and when asked if the dollarisation of Ecuador would hinder the incorporation into the agreement, Correa agreed that it is “an obstacle for any integration process and trade liberalisation”. However, he insisted that “we are very interested in joining Mercosur… and they are very interested in integrating Ecuador”.

Speaking of the impending expiration of the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication act (ATPDEA), Correa said, “Andean countries have a responsibility [to join these agreements] because they are the biggest producers of drugs! But the US say nothing of the responsibility they have for consuming them.” He went on to say that this agreement is “a new form of pressure for countries that do not behave according to the mentality of the US”, and that “if [the act is] extended, fine, if not, we will know how to succeed.”

As the interview progressed, Correa was questioned on the topic of same-sex marriage, in which he responded that, “the Constitution says that marriage is an institution between people of a different sex”. Correa said that although “we promote many rights and the non-discrimination of any person for any reason… the Constitution clearly says that marriage is between a man and a woman.”

Finally, when asked if the continuation of his government would mean a less restrictive abortion law, Correa said that, “personally I will not promote any law that goes beyond the two cases that are already covered in the current legislation, in the case of a violation of a woman with intellectual disabilities and in the case of rape, when a child is violated.”

You can read the interview in full here.

February 21, 2013 Posted by | Economics | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Israel to drill for oil in Syria’s Golan

Al-Akhbar | February 21, 2013

Israel has awarded its first license to drill for oil on the occupied Golan Heights to a US energy company, industry sources said on Thursday.

Israel captured the Golan from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it in a move not recognized internationally. The strategic plateau has been extensively settled by Israelis and is the site of a major wind turbine project.

Energy sector sources said that after Israel decided last year to allow oil and gas exploration on the Golan, Genie Energy was awarded a license to drill. The New Jersey-based company still needs further work permits for drilling to commence, a process that could take years.

Genie did not immediately return calls for comment.

The company’s Strategic Advisory Board includes a number of high-profile pro-Israel political and business leaders: US Vice President Dick Cheney, media mogul Rupert Murdoch, and British banking tycoon Lord Jacob Rothschild.

The strategic advisory board “advises management on strategic, financial, operational and public policy matters.”

The Golan’s status has been at the heart of past Israeli-Syrian peace talks, with Damascus demanding its full return. With a two-year-old Syrian revolt now threatening President Bashar al-Assad’s rule, Israel has dug in on the Golan.

Last Thursday, financial news site TheMarker reported that US-Israeli consortium developing the Tamar natural gas field off Palestine’s Mediterranean coast is in talks to sell gas to Jordanian companies.

The Tamar prospect, whose estimated reserves of 274 bcm made it one of the largest discoveries of the past decades, is expected to begin production in the next few months.

Jordan, like Israel, was dealt a wave of attacks on pipelines from Egypt. But Egypt still supplies Jordan with gas while it halted supply to Israel last year.

Egypt’s pipeline with Israel was attacked over 13 times since a popular revolt toppled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in
January 2011.

(Reuters, Al-Akhbar)

February 21, 2013 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation | , , , , | 1 Comment

Samer Issawi sentenced to 8 months in prison

Ma’an – 21/02/2013

203770_345x230BETHLEHEM – An Israeli court on Thursday sentenced hunger-striker Samer Issawi to eight months in prison, but he has yet to face a military committee which could imprison him for 20 years.

Issawi has been on hunger strike for 204 days.

The magistrates court in Jerusalem sentenced Issawi for leaving Jerusalem, in violation of the terms of his amnesty granted in an Oct. 2011 prisoner exchange deal.

The sentence includes time served since Issawi’s re-arrest in July 2012, and will conclude on March 6, but Issawi also faces a possible sentence under an Israeli military order which allows a special military committee to cancel prisoners’ amnesty.

The committee could use secret evidence to sentence Issawi to serve 20 years, the remainder of his previous sentence.

Issawi was freed in an Oct. 2011 prisoner swap for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Israel has subsequently re-arrested at least 14 prisoners since the deal.

Ahead of Thursday’s verdict, Israeli forces clashed with hundreds of Palestinians protesting near Ramallah on Thursday in solidarity with long-term hunger strikers like Issawi.

A Ma’an reporter said 29 protesters were injured by rubber-coated bullets and dozens more suffered tear gas inhalation.

Prisoners minister Issa Qaraqe and Fatah central committee member Mahmoud al-Aloul joined the rally, near Israel’s Ofer prison in the central West Bank.

An Israeli military spokeswoman said soldiers used “riot dispersal means” against Palestinians who hurled rocks at forces.

Protests have been held across the West Bank and in Gaza in support of Issawi, who has been on hunger strike for 204 days, and Tareq Qaadan and Jaafar Azzidine who have refused food for 86 days.

Also Thursday, the Ahmed Abu Rish Brigades on Thursday threatened to fire rockets at Israel if any jailed hunger striker is harmed.

“We will continue to work with rockets and we will not stand by idly. Military operations will be implemented to achieve the rights of prisoners and to free them,” brigades member Abu Ali al-Qawkabi said in a statement.

Al-Qawkabi called on Palestinian leaders in Ramallah to reject any negotiations with Israel and urged the Gaza government to refuse a truce until the detainees’ demands are met.

Islamic Jihad meanwhile has said a truce with Israel could unravel if any hunger striker dies.

On Tuesday, the Palestinian Authority called on the international community to step up efforts to protect and release prisoner like Issawi in Israeli detention facilities.

The cabinet also called on the World Health Organization to move forward on plans made last year to form a fact-finding committee to investigate the conditions in Israeli jails, specifically negligence.

February 21, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Solidarity and Activism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

IMF Ignores Proven Alternatives With Recommendations to Honduras

By Arthur Phillips | CEPR Americas Blog | February 21, 2013

On Friday, February 15, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) announced that it had concluded its most recent Article IV consultation with Honduras. The Fund’s recommendations varied little from those it has offered many other countries in recent years: cut public spending, reduce deficits, reform pensions and depress wages.

The IMF regularly conducts Article IV consultations with almost all of its member countries—with Argentina, which since 2006 has refused to take part in the process, being one notable exception. The official reviews are a way for the Fund to present its analysis of each country’s economic prospects and to advocate for a set of reforms. While it is difficult to precisely assess the influence of the consultations, it has been noted that in many cases the recommended policies have been adopted against popular public opinion. And in countries that end up borrowing from the fund, these policies are often preconditions for receiving future IMF loans.

The Fund’s recommendations on Honduras diverged little from the policies it is pushing in many other countries. Below is a selection from the IMF’s brief (347-word, to be exact) Executive Board Assessment of its most recent consultation with Honduras:

Directors . . . underscored the need to tighten macroeconomic policies and press ahead with structural reforms . . .. [They] welcomed the planned reduction of the budget deficit in 2013, and urged early adoption of the measures needed to ensure this outcome and avoid further central bank borrowing or accumulation of domestic payments arrears. They called for sustained medium-term fiscal consolidation . . . [and] supported plans to restrain the public sector wage bill . . . and emphasized the importance of reducing energy subsidies . . .. Directors concurred that monetary policy should be tightened . . . [and] regarded plans to reform state-owned enterprises as critical to strengthen the fiscal position and support growth, and encouraged timely implementation . . . and welcomed the ongoing reform of public pension funds.

It is difficult to overlook how much this assessment resembles the Fund’s recommendations to European countries struggling to emerge from the global recession. CEPR co-director Mark Weisbrot and Senior Research Associate Helene Jorgensen recently released a paper analyzing 67 Article IV consultations for European member countries between 2008 and 2012, in which the authors found that the lending body was pushing a “one-size-fits-all” approach that often included pro-cyclical policy recommendations. In the paper Weisbrot and Jorgensen summarized their findings, in part, as follows:

This content analysis finds a consistent pattern of policy recommendations, which indicates (1) a macroeconomic policy that focuses on reducing spending and shrinking the size of government, in many cases regardless of whether this is appropriate or necessary, or may even exacerbate an economic downturn; and (2) a focus on other policy issues that would tend to reduce social protections for broad sectors of the population (including public pensions, health care, and employment protections), reduce labor’s share of national income, and possibly increase poverty, social exclusion, and economic and social inequality as a result.

Given the consistency of the Fund’s advice, one might think there are no alternatives to such prescriptions. But a look at Ecuador’s economy definitively tells us otherwise.

As detailed in a new paper by CEPR’s Weisbrot, Jake Johnston and Stephan Lefebvre (and noted recently on The Americas Blog), since Rafael Correa was sworn in as president in 2007, Ecuador’s government has taken an unorthodox approach to shoring up its macroeconomic standing. From bringing the Central Bank under the control of the executive branch, to taxing capital flight, to defaulting on illegitimate foreign debt, and launching new regulations on the financial industry, the Correa government repeatedly took steps that are antithetical to the IMF’s perspective and advice. The results? A reduction in unemployment to its lowest point on record, a 27% decline in poverty from its 2006 level, and an increase in government revenue from 26 to 40% of GDP over the same period, all in the context of greatly expanded spending on infrastructure, health, and education. The Ecuadorian example should be enough evidence that the IMF’s singular prescriptions are not the only option—in fact, they may be far worse than other “unconventional” approaches.

In the case of Honduras, it is perhaps worth noting that the IMF had a rocky response to the June 28, 2009, military coup that deposed Honduras’ democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya.

Exactly two months after Zelaya’s illegal ouster, which led most foreign governments and international lenders to freeze aid to Honduras, the IMF announced that it would extend $150.1 million in loans to the Central American country’s illegitimate government. Another $13.8 million was released just a week later. Yet on September 6, perhaps partly in response to criticism, the IMF released a statement saying the de facto government could not use the money “until a decision on whether the Fund deals with this regime or the government of Honduras.” That decision was finally made on September 24, when the IMF ordered that the funds would only be made available to the deposed president.

Despite the clumsiness of this decision and the mixed messages it sent the coup-government in Tegucigalpa, it marked an improvement over the Fund’s response to the 2002 coup that temporarily overthrew Venezuela’s socialist president Hugo Chavez. One day after the coup, a spokesman stated that the lending body stood “ready to assist the new administration in whatever manner they find suitable.”

February 21, 2013 Posted by | Economics, Timeless or most popular | , , , , | Leave a comment

An Argument in Defense of Haredim Jews and Against Secular Zionist Militarism

By James Petras :: 02.20.2013

Israel is heading towards a profound internal crisis: a Jew on Jew confrontation, which, however, has major implications for its relations with Palestinians, as well as its Middle East neighbors. The conflict is between the highly militarized Zionist state and the Haredim religious movement over a number of issues, including recent proposals by Netanyahu to end the religious exemption of Haradi youth from serving in Israel’s colonial armed forces.

Haredim and the Zionist Colonial State

Even before the forcible imposition (‘founding’) of the Israeli state, the Haredim were opposed to Zionism. Today the vast majority of Haredim in Israel remain staunchly opposed to the Zionist state for religious, ethical and political reasons. Haredim religious teaching claims that the Jewish people are bound by three oaths (1) not to settle in Israel by using force (2) not to war with other nations and (3) not to act as if the nations of the world would persecute Israel. Haredim were in opposition to Israel’s violent ethnic cleaning of over 850,000 Palestinians in the course of establishing the Israeli State and continues to oppose Israel’s settlers’ violently dispossession of Palestinians. Unlike other so-called “ultra-Orthodox” sects, who support Israeli colonialism and bless the military, Haredim believe that Israeli militarism corrupts the spirit and that Zionists have converted Jews from worshipers of the Torah to rabid ethnocentric upholders of a militarist State. For the Haredim, State worship especially the waving of the Israeli flag in the houses of worship, is a sacrilege comparable to the renegade Jews condemned by Moses for worshiping the Golden Calf.

The majority of Haredim boycott elections, organize their own schools (Yeshivas), encourage students to deepen their religious studies, emphasize community and family values (of a oppressive patriarchal sort) with numerous children and strongly reject the State’s attempt to conscript Haredim youth into their colonial occupation army, the so-called Israeli Defense (sic) Force (IDF). All the major Zionist political parties and the ruling colonial regime demonize the Haredim, claiming they are shirking their military responsibilities. Via the mass media and public pronouncements they incite Israeli hatred toward the Haredim: a study in 2006 claimed that over a third of Israeli Jews considered the Haredim the most hated group in Israel.

The Haredim, on the other hand, have reason to fear and loath the secular militarist Zionist state and politicians. After World War II in the Zionist controlled camps for Jewish refugee children in Teheran, the Jewish Agency imposed Zionist ideology and militarist anti-religious policies to cut Haredim children from their spiritual roots. According to one Haredim report many groups of Jewish youth from Poland, mostly survivors of the Holocaust and Soviet Russia, were subjected to “unimaginable mental and physical cruelty with one goal in mind: obliteration of Judaism”. Given the Israeli drive today to harness a corrupted form of Judaism to colonial militarism, the Haredim have every reason to believe that the conscription of its youth will be accompanied by cruel, systematic Zionist brainwashing to ensure they make “good”, brutal occupation soldiers.

Haredim versus Israeli State Values

The Haredim fervently believe and practice in the Biblical teaching, “Be fruitful and multiply”. They have large families and the median age of Haredim is 16 years. Their peaceful message to militarist Zionists could be “make babies not bombs”.

Some Haredim leaders have met with Palestinian and Iranian leaders and in line with their religious doctrine have declared their support for peaceful resolution of conflicts and have denounced Israel’s aggressive military posture.

Haredim are intensely religious and discuss and debate the readings of some of the great religious scholars: their message to the Zionists is read Maimonides’ ethical treatises not Netanyahu’s bellicose, blood curdling rants.

Haredim live and study largely in the confines of their cohesive communities. They send their sons to the yeshivas to study religious doctrine not to the West Bank to kill Palestinians. They call on their children to serve G-d not the IDF. They seek truth in the Torah not in conquest via the Preventive War Doctrines espoused by prestigious Israeli and overseas Zionist academic militarists.

Haredim focus on building a better life within their community; they reject the efforts of the Zionist state to entice them into joining self-styled “Jewish” settlers engaged in vicious land grabs in the West Bank, in the name of “contributing to society (sic)”. Haredim’s ‘introverted way of life’ is seen as a prophylactic alternative to the crass militarism, money laundering, financial speculation, body parts enterprises and real estate swindles rife among the elite Jews in Israel and among sectors of overseas Zionists engaged in procuring multi-billion dollar tribute from the US Treasury.

Haredim believe, with exemplary evidence, that conscripting their youth into the Israeli colonial army would destroy their moral values, as they would be forced to grope Arab women at checkpoints, break the legs of stone throwing Palestinian children, defend lawless self-styled “Jewish” settlers scribbling obscene graffiti in mosques and churches … not to speak of the ill effects of what secular Israeli Jews call a “modern education”, full of historical fabrications about the origins of Israel, scientific readings on high tech war-making and “advanced” economic doctrines proclaiming the sacred role of the free market,and justifying the 60% poverty rate among Haredim as “self-induced”:

No, the Haredim demand that the Israeli Jewish elite stop trying to conscript their youth into the Army and practicing employment discrimination, which triples the unemployment rate among Haredim.

The Coming ‘Civil War’: Zionist State versus the Haredim

The elected leader Yair Lapid of newly formed Yesh Atid Party, dubbed a “centrist” by the New York Times and a ‘moderate’ by the leading ideologues of the Zionist “lobby”, ran on a platform of forcibly ending the Haredim exemption from conscription into colonial military service. Yair Lapid, in the run-up to joining a new Netanyahu coalition regime, has launched a vicious attack on Haredim. Lapid premises his agreement to joining Netanyahu’s war machine on forcibly confronting the Haredim leadership. Yair Lapid taps the class and secular resentments of Israel’s upwardly mobile youth who bitterly complain of having to serve in the army and delaying their money-making opportunities while the poor, semi-literate “blacks” (derogatory term for the clothing of Haredim) engage in “worthless studies” of the Torah. Lapid, using the same perverted logic as Netanyahu, claims that “Ten percent of the population cannot threaten 90 percent with civil war” (Financial Times, 2/14/13, p. 6.). The executioner (Lapid) accuses the victim (Haredim) of the violence he is about to commit. Yesh Atid, the “centrist party” (sic), has allied with Naftali Bennett’s neo-fascist Jewish Home Party (pushing for the annexation of all of Palestine) in support of smashing Haredim’s opposition to conscription. They hold veto power over the next cabinet. This rabid secular military assault has provoked the opposition and unity of other Zionist-religious parties. The Shahs and United Torah Judaism have taken up the defense of the Haredim.

Lines are being drawn far beyond a Haredim-Zionist State confrontation.

The Larger Meaning of the Haredim-Zionist Conflict

The Haredim hostility to the secular Zionist state is in part based on its opposition to military conscription thus calling into question Israeli militarism, in general, and specifically its policy of colonial occupation and regional aggression. While some Haredim may oppose conscription for religious reasons and seek exemption solely for its own youth, objectively, the effect is to undermine Israel’s violation of Palestinian rights and to call into question the entire apartheid system. By speaking to spiritual values, they deny the legitimacy of the idea of a Jewish police state based on force, violence, torture and disappearance of political prisoners. In their questioning of the institutional configuration upholding Jewish supremacy and Israel as the homeland of the Chosen People, they strike a powerful blow at the ideological underpinnings of the overseas activity of the Zionist power configuration. Their animosity to the fusion of Jewish chauvinism and religious rituals and the tribal deification of the Israeli state is counter-posed to their embrace of Moses Ten Commandments.

The Haredim study the teaching of the renowned Judaic philosophy Maimonides and abhor Zionist militaristic strategists like Walzer, Dershowitz, Kagan, Feith, Netanyahu, etc. who preach colonial “just war” doctrines. Representing 10% of the Israeli population and a far greater percentage of military age youth, the Haredim are in a position to sharply limit the scope of future Zionist wars. If they succeed in blocking conscription, they would provide a lasting contribution to making the world in general, and the Middle East in particular, a more secure and peaceful place to live.

Facing the prospect of a loss of future cannon fodder to sustain its colonial ventures, and in their frenzied attacks on the Haredim, the Israeli-Zionist elite have incited the majority of Israeli Jews to demonize them as ‘backward’, illiterate, freeloaders and to blame the religious curriculum for their growing and current 60% rate of poverty and high unemployment. Israel’s war machine needs fresh recruits to maintain its imperial quest for a Greater Israel. Demographics – with families exceeding five children –indicate the Haredim are likely to double their percentage of the Israeli population over the next two decades. Faced with the facts in the womb, the colonial expansionist imperative drives all the leading Zionist parties to end Haredim’s exemptions. In response Haredim leaders threaten to engage in massive civil disobedience if the Zionists impose conscription, rightly seeing conscription of its youth as an assault on its most profoundly held spiritual and family values and as an opening wedge in destroying community solidarity and reciprocal relations.

The Haredim share a common plight with Israel’s Arab population: both face increasing police harassment, discrimination, religious persecution and rising levels of poverty. A Haredim-Arab alliance would unite 30% of the population against a common secular militarist and plutocratic enemy. Farfetched as it seems on the subjective level, there are objective historical and structural processes which are driving the two groups together.

It is one of the great ironies of history that the world’s modern secular anti-imperialist movements should find their most consequential allies among Israel’s most traditional and deeply religious movement.

February 21, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Militarism, Timeless or most popular | | 8 Comments

Prison Sentences for Black Men Are 20% Longer Than Those for White Men for Same Crimes

By Noel Brinkerhoff | AllGov | February 20, 2013

Federal judges have handed down longer prison sentences for black men than for white men—for the same or similar crimes committed— since 2005, when a court ruling gave judges more discretion in deciding jail times for convicted criminals.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission revealed in a new report that the sentences of black men were on average 19.5% longer than the sentences of white men from December 2007 to September 2011.

The commission did not mention racism as a factor in sentencing decisions, but did write that judges “make sentencing decisions based on many legitimate considerations that are not or cannot be measured.”

To address the disparity, commissioners recommended that federal judges give sentencing guidelines more weight. They also said appeals courts should more carefully examine sentences that fall beyond the guidelines.

Eight years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a 1984 law requiring federal judges to impose sentences within the range of the federal sentencing guidelines, which are set by the commission.

Critics of the new report say that the commission focused on the tail end of the criminal justice process, to the exclusion of earlier stages when bias can occur, such as at the time of arrest or plea being entered. Considering such data could have altered the study’s results, they claim.

February 21, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism | , , , | 14 Comments