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Russia on Eastern Ukraine shooting: Kiev must fulfill Geneva de-escalation pledge

RT | April 20, 2014

The Russian Foreign Ministry expressed outrage over the deadly gun battle on Saturday night in the protester-held city of Slavyansk in eastern Ukraine. It said Kiev must deliver on its commitment to de-escalate the violence.

Russia, Ukraine, the US and the EU agreed this week in Geneva on a roadmap to calm tension down in protest-gripped eastern Ukraine. The agreement includes disarmaming paramilitary groups on both sides of the conflict.

Yet on Saturday night an apparent raid by a Right Sector radical paramilitary unit ended with up to 6 people killed in Slavyansk, a city in Ukraine’s Donetsk region controlled by anti-Kiev protesters.

Moscow condemned the violence on Sunday and said it indicates Kiev’s unwillingness to implement the Geneva agreement.

“The Russian side is outraged with the provocation, which indicates that Kiev is unwilling to put in check and disarm nationalists and extremists,” the ministry said in a statement.

The ministry added that Moscow “insists on the strict implementation by the Ukrainian side of its commitments to de-escalate the situation in southeastern Ukraine.”

The Geneva document agreed on Thursday after marathon negotiations is aimed at defusing the Ukrainian political crisis. In addition to disarming paramilitary groups, it provides for an amnesty for protesters not involved in violent crimes and preparation of constitutional reform to provide greater autonomy for Ukrainian regions.

April 20, 2014 Posted by | Video | , | Leave a comment

Israeli forces storm Aqsa compound, dozens injured and detained

Israeli-Forces-firing-tear-gas-al-aqsa
File Photo
Ma’an – 20/04/2014

JERUSALEM – Dozens of Palestinian worshipers were wounded and dozens were detained after clashes broke in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on Sunday morning with Israeli forces who had stormed the courtyards firing stun grenades and rubber-coated bullets.

The raid comes amid frequent clashes in recent days after right-wing Jewish groups urged Jews to flock to the compound — which they believe is the site of a former Jewish temple — and conduct Passover rituals inside.

Director of Al-Aqsa Mosque Omar Kiswani told Ma’an that more than 400 police officers stormed the courtyard of the Al-Aqsa Mosque through the Moroccan Gate and the Chain Gate escorting Ultra-Orthodox Jews other Jewish visitors into the compound.

Israeli forces, Kiswani said, “besieged” worshipers in the southern mosque “attacking them with clubs and pepper spray,” after clashes broke out with Palestinian worshipers in the compound.

Dozens of Palestinians sustained injuries during the assault, while several others suffered from excessive tear gas inhalation. Twenty five young men were reportedly detained by Israeli forces.

Kiswani said that Likud member of Knesset Moshe Feiglin had also entered the compound during the raid, accompanied by special security units. Feiglin has visited the site frequently in recent months, and he has vocally supported the extension of Israeli sovereignty over the compound.

Earlier on Sunday morning, clashes erupted outside the Lions’ Gate (Bab al-Asbat) and Gate of Remission (Bab al-Hutta) of the Al-Aqsa compound when Israeli police denied hundreds of worshippers access to the compound.

Witnesses said that Israeli officers had denied all Palestinian residents of Jerusalem under the age of 60 access to the compound, including students who attend schools inside. Men and women were also attacked with clubs and pepper spray, witnesses said.

Israeli forces detained a young man after he was beaten brutally.

Israeli police spokesman said in a statement that police had detained 16 Palestinian “rioters,” adding that they were all detained “as they threw stones/blocks at officers at the scene this morning.”

He also said that two police officers lightly injured in the clashes, which broke out after the Palestinians threw stones as “tourists visited.”

About 100 Muslim worshipers have decided to stay inside the compound day and night throughout Passover after right-wing Jewish organizations called for Jewish worshipers to enter the area en masse for religious festivities.

Because of the sensitive nature of the Al-Aqsa compound, Israel maintains a compromise with the Islamic trust that controls it to not allow non-Muslim prayers in the area. Israeli forces regularly escort Jewish visitors to the site, leading to tension with Palestinian worshipers.

The compound, which sits just above the Western Wall plaza, houses both the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa mosque and is the third holiest site in Islam.

It is also venerated as Judaism’s most holy place as it sits where Jews believe the First and Second Temples once stood. The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.

Al-Aqsa is located in East Jerusalem, a part of the internationally recognized Palestinian territories that have been occupied by the Israeli military since 1967.

April 20, 2014 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation, Subjugation - Torture | , , , | 4 Comments

UN envoy slams Israel’s ‘unacceptable’ police handling of ‘Holy Fire’ ritual in Jerusalem

RT | April 20, 2014

Israeli police reportedly blocked a top UN diplomat, alongside other diplomats and Palestinians, entrance to a pre-Easter Holy Fire ceremony at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, which Israeli authorities called a ‘micro-incident.’

Robert Serry, the UN special envoy for Middle East peace, said he and Palestinian Christians were making their way to attend the ‘Holy Fire’ ceremony at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the site where Christians believe Jesus was crucified and buried before rising from the dead.

Despite earlier promises of unrestricted access to the church, Israeli police refused to let the group of worshipers pass, saying they had orders to that effect.

Serry said he, along with Italian, Norwegian and Dutch diplomats, were forced to wait for up to 30 minutes, crushed by the excited crowd against a barricade, while Israeli officers ignored his request to speak with a superior, according to Reuters.

“A precarious standoff ensued ending in an angry crowd pushing their way through,” Serry said, lashing out at “unacceptable behavior from the Israeli security authorities.”

“It became really dangerous because there was a big crowd and I was pushed against a metal fence the police put up there, the crowd tried to push really hard,” the diplomat said, adding they might have been trampled had police not finally let them pass.

Serry in a statement called on “all parties to respect the right of religious freedom, granting access to holy sites for worshipers of all faiths and refraining from provocations, not least during religious holidays.”

The incident comes as the Holy City, which is of religious importance to Christians, Jews and Muslims alike, prepares Pope Francis’s Holy Land visit next month.

Israel dismissed the UN diplomat’s complaint, calling it an attempt to exaggerate a “micro-incident” while crediting police with maintaining order as crowds of worshipers descended on the city.

Later on Saturday, Israel’s Foreign Affairs Ministry dismissed Serry’s account as “an odd communique on a non-event.”

“Christian dignitaries of the highest level have this evening thanked the Jerusalem Police Department for its efficient service, which has enabled the Holy Day’s celebrations to take place without any hindrance,” the ministry said.

“Had any harm come to the pilgrims due to uncontrolled crowd movements, Mr. Serry would have been prompt to cast responsibility on the same police which he now condemns for doing its job properly,” the Israeli statement added.

Meanwhile, Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Jerusalem in May, an event that may be overshadowed by a breakdown in US-brokered peace talks between Israeli and Palestinians, who face an April-29 deadline to resolve their differences.

April 20, 2014 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation | , , , , , | 1 Comment

An Eyewitness to the Syrian Rebellion: Father Frans in His Own Words

By John Rosenthal | The BRICS Post | April 19, 2014

The Syrian Civil War has devastated entire cities and towns as fighting between the rebels and Syrian Army spreads from neighborhood to neighborhood [Xinhua]
An examination of texts published by Father Frans van der Lugt in 2011 and 2012 shows that the late Dutch Jesuit priest had a dim view of the Syrian rebellion, which he held to be the work of a violent minority, and favored a process of political reform in Syria to be implemented by the current government under President Bashar Al-Assad.

Father Frans was murdered under still unclarified circumstances in the embattled Syrian city of Homs earlier this month.

Opposition sources have blamed the Syrian government for his death. But it is widely believed that Father Frans was killed by hard-line Islamist members of one of the rebel factions that have taken control of his Bustan al-Diwan neighborhood in Homs.

The texts of Father Frans, who had lived in Syria since 1966, provide an eyewitness account of the origins of the anti-Assad rebellion and the gradual hardening of the front between opposing rebel and government forces in Homs.

In many respects, the Father’s observations contrast sharply with what has become the standard view of the rebellion in Western media.

Perhaps most notably, whereas the rebellion is typically held to have been sparked by the violent repression of peaceful protests, according to Father Frans, the “protest movement” contained an armed and violent element “from the start” and the violent opposition quickly gained the ascendancy over the peaceful opposition.

Thus, in a letter published in January 2012 on the Dutch-Flemish Mediawerkgroep Syrië website, Father Frans wrote:

From the start, the protest movements were not purely peaceful. From the start I saw armed demonstrators marching along in the protests, who began to shoot at the police first. Very often the violence of the security forces has been a reaction to the brutal violence of the armed rebels.

In the same letter, Father Frans insisted that what was occurring in Syria could not be described as a “popular uprising,” since the majority of Syrians do not support the opposition and “certainly not” its armed component.

Already in September 2011, Father Frans had made similar observations in a guest post on a Belgian blog, going so far as to accuse armed opposition groups of blaming the regime for their own acts of violence.

Having noted the splintering of the opposition among Islamists, “liberals and democrats”, communists and so on, Father Frans continued:

Moreover, from the start there has been the problem of the armed groups, which are also part of the opposition….The opposition of the street is much stronger than any other opposition. And this opposition is armed and frequently employs brutality and violence, only in order then to blame the government. Many representatives of the government [regeringsmensen – Father Frans might also be referring to supporters of the government] have been tortured and shot dead by them.

“Personally,” Father Frans concluded, “I expect little good to come from the opposition, which, moreover, has been instigated and paid by foreign interests.”

Favoring political reform

Faced with a choice between an opposition as so described and the current Syrian government, Father Frans clearly favored a process of political reform undertaken by the latter and not the “regime change” that has been favored by the West.

“Personally,” he wrote in September 2011, “I think this government has to stay, despite all difficulties, and proceed along the path of reforms.”

In his January 2012 letter, he outlined a similar course of action, noting that the current government is “perhaps more democratic than possible replacements.”

In particular, he regarded the current regime as the best guarantee against the spread of sectarian violence in Syria.

Whereas Western press reports have emphasized his efforts to promote understanding among Christians and Muslims, Father Frans identified the main sectarian fault-line in Syria as that running between two Muslim communities: Sunnis, who make up the majority of the population, and the Alawite minority, which is not only associated with the current regime but whose members are regarded as apostates by radical Sunni currents.

In January 2012, Father Frans warned that the Syrian army was the only thing standing in the way of a full-fledged civil war between Sunnis and Alawites in Homs.

In the same letter, he noted that most Christian leaders in Syria support Assad, “because they are convinced that they would be worse off with another solution.”

In his critical observations on the Syrian crisis, Father Frans did not spare the Western media, which he accused of distortion and bias.

In September 2011 he wrote that he was disturbed by Western coverage of the Syrian crisis because there was “never a good word” published about the current government.

He said that Western media blamed the Syrian government “for things that it had not done”. He went on:

Our experience with the government has not been so negative. In my case, they always helped my projects and supported my idea of being of service to Sunnis and Alawites. They wanted an ever greater separation of church and state and were enthusiastic about projects that were non-denominational.

According to the Dutch daily de Volkskrant, the help provided by the Syrian government to Father Frans included a grant of over 100 acres of land for the Father’s agricultural projects.

Lords and masters

Ironically, by March 2012, Father Frans found himself living under siege by the forces of the very Syrian government he supported. In the meanwhile, rebel forces, which had briefly taken control of Bustan al-Diwan in September 2011, were back again and this time they were there for the long-term.

Now, as Father Frans noted in an eyewitness report for the Flemish monthly Streven, the rebel forces were “much better organized” and “called themselves ‘the Free Syrian Army.’”

“They had an abundance of food,” he continued, “and they also distributed it to poor people. They are financially and militarily supported by foreign interests.”

“For now,” Father Frans concluded, referring to both the Bustan al-Diwan and Hamidiyeh neighborhoods of Homs, “the Free [Syrian] Army is lord and master of our Christian neighborhoods….”

In late March, Father Frans’s own car was destroyed by a missile or mortar fired into Bustan al-Diwan by the Syrian army. “The army was aiming for a restaurant not far from us where the FSA has its headquarters,” he explained to the Swiss Catholic new agency APIC.

“There is a Greek Orthodox church right next door, which was also damaged.”

Father Frans told APIC that ninety percent of the Christian population of Homs had already fled the city, because of the fighting.

“They were not chased out by the Sunni militias,” Father Frans took care to add, “This needs to be emphasized! The Syrian army was first driven from the neighborhood by the FSA and now it’s the FSA that is being bombed.”

In his contribution to Streven, Father Frans wrote about the futility of the army’s bombing campaign and its disastrous effects upon the remaining Christian population:

… [T]he only result is that many Christian homes and also churches… have been bombed and partially or wholly destroyed, while the soldiers of the Free [Syrian] Army remain unharmed. The latter hide in the cellars of the Christian homes to protect themselves from the bombing.

Nonetheless, Father Frans remained clear about where he believed the ultimate responsibility for the disaster lay. “There is no excusing the fact,” he wrote, “that the Free Syrian Army has taken the Christian neighborhoods in order to use them as a battlefield for combating the government army.”

But not even the experience of siege and bombardment by government forces could shake Father Frans’s conviction that distorted, one-sided coverage of the Syrian crisis in the media was itself a major obstacle to peace.

Reflecting on the way forward in the conclusion to his contribution to Streven, Father Frans warned:

In the first place, it has to be said that it is very difficult to provide a nuanced and objective account of what is happening. Many journalists fall into describing matters in black and white. For them, good and evil are not interwoven, but are clearly separated. They demonize the one side and glorify the other. Thus, for example, it is not true that our [the Syrian] government has only bad sides and the opposition only good ones. But because the US, Europe and certain Arab countries support the opposition, they endeavor, whether consciously or unconsciously, to idealize it as much as possible, without engaging in any careful analysis of the real situation. Certain interests are obscuring our view of the real situation and contaminating the description of it.

The author of this article John Rosenthal is a European-based journalist and political analyst who writes on European politics and transatlantic issues. His articles have appeared in such publications as Al-Monitor, World Affairs, The Wall Street Journal Europe, Les Temps Modernes, and Die Weltwoche. He is the author of the recent book The Jihadist Plot: The Untold Story of Al-Qaeda and the Libyan Rebellion. You can follow his work at www.trans-int.com or on Facebook

April 20, 2014 Posted by | Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Timeless or most popular | 1 Comment

Profit from Crisis

Why capitalists do not want recovery, and what that means for America

By Jonathan Nitzan and Shimshon Bichler | Frontline | April 16, 2014

Can it be true that capitalists prefer crisis over growth? On the face of it, the idea sounds silly. According to Economics 101, everyone loves growth, especially capitalists. Profit and growth go hand in hand. When capitalists profit, real investment rises and the economy thrives, and when the economy booms the profits of capitalists soar. Growth is the very lifeline of capitalists.

Or is it?

What motivates capitalists?

The answer depends on what motivates capitalists. Conventional economic theories tell us that capitalists are hedonic creatures. Like all other economic “agents” – from busy managers and hectic workers to active criminals and idle welfare recipients – their ultimate goal is maximum utility. In order for them to achieve this goal, they need to maximize their profit and interest; and this income – like any other income – depends on economic growth. Conclusion: utility-seeking capitalists have every reason to love booms and hate crises.

But, then, are capitalists really motivated by utility? Is it realistic to believe that large American corporations are guided by the hedonic pleasure of their owners – or do we need a different starting point altogether?

So try this: in our day and age, the key goal of leading capitalists and corporations is not absolute utility but relative power. Their real purpose is not to maximize hedonic pleasure, but to “beat the average.” Their ultimate aim is not to consume more goods and services (although that happens too), but to increase their power over others. And the key measure of this power is their distributive share of income and assets.

Note that capitalists have no choice in this matter. “Beating the average” is not a subjective preference but a rigid rule, dictated and enforced by the conflictual nature of the system. Capitalism pits capitalists against other groups in society – as well as against each other. And in this multifaceted struggle for greater power, the yardstick is always relative. Capitalists – and the corporations they operate through – are compelled and conditioned to accumulate differentially; to augment not their personal utility but their relative earnings. Whether they are private owners like Warren Buffet or institutional investors like Bill Gross, they all seek not to perform but to out-perform – and outperformance means re-distribution. Capitalists who beat the average redistribute income and assets in their favor; this redistribution raises their share of the total; and a larger share of the total means greater power stacked against others. In the final analysis, capitalists accumulate not hedonic pleasure but differential power.

Now, if you look at capitalists through the lens of relative power, the notion that they should love growth and yearn for recovery is no longer self-evident. In fact, the very opposite seems to be the case. For any group to increase its relative power in society, that group must be able to strategically sabotage others in that society. This rule derives from the very logic of power relations. It means that capitalists, seeking to augment their income-share-read-power, have to threaten or undermine the rest of society. And one of the key weapons they use in this power struggle –sometimes consciously, though usually by default – is unemployment.

Joblessness affects redistribution

Unemployment affects distribution mainly through the impact it has on relative prices and wages. If higher unemployment causes the ratio of price to unit wage cost to decline, capitalists will fall behind in the redistributional struggle, and this retreat is sure to make them eager for recovery. But if the opposite turns out to be the case – that is, if higher unemployment helps raise the price/wage cost ratio – capitalists would have good reason to love crisis and indulge in stagnation.

In principle, both scenarios are possible. But as Figure 1 shows, in America the second prevails: unemployment redistributes income systematically in favor of capitalists. The chart contrasts the share of pretax profit and net interest in domestic income on the one hand with the rate of unemployment on the other (both series are smoothed as 5-year moving averages). Note that the unemployment rate is lagged three years, meaning that every observation shows the situation prevailing three years earlier.

image001

This chart does not sit well with received wisdom. Mainstream economics tells us that the two series should be inversely correlated; that the capitalist income share should rise in the boom when unemployment falls and decline in the bust when unemployment rises. But that is not the case in the United States. In this country, the correlation is positive, not negative. The share of capitalists moves counter-cyclically: it rises in downturns and falls in booms – exactly the opposite of what economic convention would have us believe. The math is straightforward: for every 1% rise in unemployment, capitalists can expect their income share three years later to jump by 0.8%. Needless to say, this equation is very bad news for most Americans – precisely because it is such good news for the country’s capitalists.

Remarkably, the positive correlation shown in Figure 1 holds not only over the short-term business cycle, but also in the long term. During the booming 1940s, when unemployment was very low, capitalists appropriated a relatively small share of domestic income. But as the boom fizzled, growth decelerated and stagnation started to creep in, the share of capital began to trend upward. The peak power of capital, measured by its overall income share, was recorded in the early 1990s, when unemployment was at post-war highs. The neoliberal globalization that followed brought lower unemployment and a smaller capital share, but not for long. In the late 2000s, the trend reversed again, with unemployment soaring and the distributive share of capital rising in tandem. Looking forward, capitalists have reason to remain crisis-happy: with the rate of unemployment again approaching post-war highs, their income share has more room to rise in the years ahead.

The power of capitalists can also be examined from the viewpoint of the infamous Top 1%. Most commentators stress the “social” and “political” problems created by the disproportional wealth of this group, but this emphasis puts the world on its head. Redistribution is not an unfortunate side-effect of growth and stagnation, but the main force driving them.

Figure 2 shows the century-long relationship between the income share of the Top 1% and the annual growth rate of U.S. employment (with both series smoothed as 10-year moving averages). And as the chart makes clear, the distributional gains of this group have been boosted not by growth, but by stagnation. The overall relationship is clearly negative. When stagnation sets in and employment growth decelerates, the income share of the Top 1% actually rises – and vice versa during a long-term boom.

image002

Historically, this negative relationship can be divided into three distinct periods, indicated by the dashed, freely drawn line going through the employment growth series. The first period, from the turn of the twentieth century till the 1930s, is the so-called Gilded Age. Income inequality is rising and employment growth is plummeting.

The second period, from the Great Depression till the early 1980s, is marked by the Keynesian welfare-warfare state. Higher taxation and public spending make distribution more equal, while employment growth accelerates. Note the massive acceleration of employment growth during the Second World War and its subsequent deceleration brought by post-war demobilization. Obviously these dramatic movements were unrelated to income inequality, but they did not alter the series’ overall upward trend.

The third period, from the early 1980s to the present, is marked by neoliberalism. In this period, monetarism assumes the commanding heights, inequality soars and employment growth plummets. The current rate of employment growth hovers around zero while the Top 1% appropriates 20 per cent of all income – similar to the numbers recorded during Great Depression.

So what do these facts mean for America?

First, they make the fault-lines obvious. The old slogan “what’s good for GM is good for America” now rings hollow. Capitalists seek not utility through consumption but more power through redistribution. And they achieve their goal not by raising investment and fueling growth, but by allowing unemployment to rise and jobs to become scarce. Clearly, we are not “all in the same boat.” There is a distributional struggle for power, and this struggle is not a mere “sociological” issue. It is the center of our political economy, and we need a new theoretical framework to understand it.

Second, macroeconomic policy, whether old or new, cannot offset the aggregate consequences of this distributional struggle. Not by a long shot. Till the late 1970s, the budget deficit was small, yet America boomed. And why? Because progressive taxation, transfer payments and social programs made the distribution of income less unequal. By the early 1980s, this relationship inverted. Although the budget deficit ballooned and interest rates fell, economic growth decelerated. New methods of upward redistribution have caused the share of the Top 1% to zoom, making stagnation the new norm.

Third, and finally, Washington can no longer hide behind the bush. On the one hand, the concentration of America’s income and assets, having been boosted by large post-crisis bailouts and massive quantitative easing, is now at record levels. On the other hand, long-term unemployment remains at post-war highs while job growth is at a standstill. Eventually, this situation will be reversed. The only question is whether it will be reversed through a new policy trajectory or through the calamity of systemic crisis.

Jonathan Nitzan teaches political economy at York University in Canada. Shimshon Bichler teaches political economy at colleges and universities in Israel. All of their publications are available for free on The Bichler & Nitzan Archives.

April 20, 2014 Posted by | Deception, Economics | | Leave a comment