A New Newswrap…

May 28, 2009

And here’s a newswrap for Thursday afternoon (or morning, depending on your location). Lots of wonderful things happening as ever, including the Russian decision to take climate change seriously detailed below.

In Occupied Palestine, the state of Israel continues to thrash around the regional china shop – demanding that its right to place settlements on the West Bank be respected. Mark Regev, a government spokesman, says that “normal life” in the Settlements must continue until the Israeli government has come to an “agreement” with the Palestinians, words which follow some lively phrases from American Secretary of State Hilary Clinton yesterday.

After chatting with Egypt’s foreign minister, Clinton told the press that Obama “wants to see a stop to settlements — not some settlements, not outposts, not ‘natural growth’ exceptions. That is our position. That is what we have communicated very clearly.”

Apparently, the Israelis are irked by the possibility that a cosy deal they arrived at with the Bush administration might be abrogated by Obama. Under that deal, smaller, outlying settlements were to be frozen or rolled back, while larger settlements would expand, producing “facts on the ground” to be retained by Israel under a future deal with the Palestinians.

Obama seems to be adopting a position similar to the 2002 Saudi proposal which would have seen normalized relations between Israel and Arab governments in exchange for a retreat to the 1967 borders. Clearly Regev and Netanyahu are not interested in such a plan, which would entail the dismantling (or handing over to Palestine) of Israel’s settlements.

But Obama’s position is not born out of woolly idealism. It’s linked to Iran. The AP reports that, as the Palestinian “leader” flies into Washington, “[Mahmoud] Abbas will be trying to sell — with the help of Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia — a more ambitious peace plan that would include benefits to Israel and the larger Arab world” while “Obama has appeared open to that approach, one that experts believe can be expanded and built upon given the growing fear of Iran that is shared by Israel and the Arabs.”

Obama is making a point of linking a solution of the Israel-Palestine question with his plans for confronting Iran. As al-Bawaba reports, he will be linking the two in talks with Saudi leader King Abdullah next week “in an addition to his three-day stay to Egypt, Germany and France.”

Meanwhile, to the east of Jerusalem, in Iraq, there are signs that Obama’s promised “withdrawal” is proving something of an illusion. Despite hopes that American troops would be removed by 2012, the U.S. Chief of Staff, General George Casey, has been saying that, as the world is “dangerous and unpredictable” and “Global trends are pushing in the wrong direction” the U.S. may have to “plan for extended US combat and security operations deploying up to 50,000 personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan for a period much longer than currently envisaged” as the Daily Telegraph reports.

Probably accurately, the General also said of Afghanistan that “Anything you put in there would be in there for a decade.” It’s what he also called “the reality scenario” – ongoing Imperial occupation of hostile terrain, for as long as the planners desire, or as long as local (or domestic) resistance fails to kick them out. Interestingly, Casey also used a distinctly Vietnamesque flourish to describe his impressions of Afghanistan, stating that “There’s a steeper curve before training could be effective in Afghanistan, requiring three to five years before Afghanis could reach the “tipping point” of control.”

Back in Iraq, the violence continues. Six Turkish soldiers were killed on Wednesday, apparently by Kurdish guerrillas, bringing a sharp rebuke from Turkish warplanes. In Baghdad, one American soldier was killed along with four Iraqis by a roadside bomb, which follows the death of three Americans on the outskirts of Fallujah on Monday, making May the deadliest month for U.S. personnel since September 2008.

Things are as bad as ever in Afghanistan as well. Today, the U.S. military announced another bout of death from above, reporting that “U.S. coalition troops attacked a suspected foreign fighter camp in eastern Afghanistan on Thursday, killing at least 29 insurgents in an intense firefight…One coalition member was wounded in the assault, in which troops also called in airstrikes for support.”

Apparently, the attack was targeted at elements of the Haqqani network, which straddles the border between Afghanistan and Pakistani Baluchistan, and is led by remnants of the U.S.-sponsored anti-Soviet Mujahideen.

Presumably Haqqani is partly funded by drug profits. So, the thinking goes, is most of the Afghan resistance, so if you cut off drug profits, you cut off the head of the insurgency, and everyone becomes a happy colonial citizen. Unfortunately, aerial eradication having failed to stem drug production, more radical measures are being considered, measures which might seem odd, even insane, to the untrained eye.

The Guardian reports that the officials from the UN’s mission in Afghanistan “are attempting to create a “flood of drugs” in the country intended to destroy the value of opium and force poppy farmers to switch to legal crops such as wheat.” That’s right – they want to produce so much opium, that it all becomes a bit passe and too much like hard work to keep it up. As UN official Antonio Maria Costa puts it “We want to create a flood of drugs within Afghanistan. There will be so much opium inside Afghanistan unable to go out that the price will go down.”

Bonkers. It all reminds me a bit of Richard Nixon’s “madman strategy” which, as Wikipedia relates, “attempted to make the leaders of other countries think Nixon was mad, and that his behavior was irrational and volatile. Fearing an unpredictable American response, leaders of hostile Communist Bloc nations would avoid provoking the United States.” Or it could simply reflect an insane war lost in a swamp of confusion.

Yet despite the carnage that American and British imperial adventures have inflicted upon Iraq and Afghanistan, it seems that corporations are still happy to puff up tributes to the fallen in exchange for a share of the nationalist dollar. While there is no equivalent for the victims of the wars, a Google engineer has touchingly produced a map showing the homes of dead coalition troops.

“The map, which includes details of British service personnel, contains links to obituaries and memorial sites for the war heroes, with messages from families and friends”…Based in San Francisco, California, Mr Askay spent four years creating Map The Fallen. He wrote on his blog: “It’s important to remember that each of these servicemen and women has a rich story.”

But maps aside, services for military veterans, at least in the United States, continue to deteriorate. Being maimed in a pointless foreign war doesn’t hand you immunity against cut-backs in public administration. As the AP reports, Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm has “slashed $1 million, or 25 percent, of funding for 11 groups that help veterans through a maze of paperwork and bureaucracy to get disability and pension benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.”

Meanwhile, “South Carolina plans to cut aid to the VFW, American Legion and Disabled American Veterans in the next budget” while “Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn recently outlined a “doomsday” budget that would close all four of the state’s veterans’ homes if an income tax increase is not passed, leaving more than 1,000 veterans without care.”

None of this is helped by the fact that while financial corporations have been fulsomely bailed out by the Obama administration, local and state governments in the U.S. have not, despite many of them being exposed to toxic assets held by the aforementioned financial corporations.

Still, at least the veterans aren’t alone. The economic crisis continues to worsen, whatever figures are being posted on Wall Street. Hewlett Packard will be shedding 700 jobs at its Erskine plant near Glasgow, seeing a future in the low wage economies of Eastern Europe. The Erskine plant, which once employed 2,500, will now be down to some 600 employees – all agency staff (except the bosses, presumably), the culmination of a long-term trend born out of HP’s desire to maximise profits.

Next to feel the pain may well be workers at Vauxhall plants in Ellesmere Port, Merseyside, and Luton, Beds. It seems more and more likely that the bankruptcy of General Motors, and the transferral of its European operations to either Fiat or Canadian firm Magna, will see production centred upon Germany, at the expense of the UK. This spells disaster for places like Ellesmere Port which, according to Vauxhall worker Peter Southwood, “would be a ghost town and go the way of the old mining communities.” As Southwood puts it “The town was built around the plant and if it closes and we all lose our jobs then the town and the local economy will suffer enormously.”

Still, its worse in Spain, where political confusion reigns – and the economy tanks. As Reuters reports, “A severe recession has caused Spanish unemployment to almost doubled from its 2007 low point to four million, and business leaders say that cutting back rules protecting jobs is crucial to reviving the labour market and economy.”

Yet the left-leaning government is torn. Economy minister Elena Salgado has told a radio show that “If by labour reform, you mean reducing workers’ rights, introducing a single type of working contract and making it easier to fire workers, well I think that’s absolutely not what the government wants.” But at the same time, the Treasure Secretary Carlos Ocana has come out in favor of labour reform, making it easier for businesses to hire and fire. Salgado wants to reduce the number of temporary workers in Spain, while Ocana seems to want far more of them.

Whatever the remedy, the disease is severe. The WSWS reports that “More than 800,000 people joined the dole queues in the major cities of Madrid, Barcelona and Cádiz in the first quarter of this year, the biggest such increase since the country’s National Statistics Institute started recording unemployment figures in 1976.” While 17 percent of the workforce are currently unemployed, forecasts for next year suggest that as many as 23 percent could be out of work.

This may well be partly due to the flexibility of the Spanish labour market before the crisis. The WSWS again notes that “With almost a third of the workforce on short-term contracts and with many jobs in low-wage and low-skilled sectors, it has been relatively easy for companies to shed jobs in response to the crisis. It also means that many of those remaining in work are in a very precarious condition. The social effect has been devastating, and this situation can only get worse in the coming period.”

If things aren’t quite as bad in Italy, they can still be pretty bad, especially if you are working in the de-sulfurization unit at one of the country’s oil refineries. Workers at the Cagliari refinery in the island of Sardinia are on strike after three colleagues died from inhaling toxic fumes in one of such unit. According to Euronews:

One angry worker blamed the deaths on ever increasing pressure to work faster and cut corners. “The plant should’ve been shut down for 3 or 4 months for this type of maintenance, but there are workers swarming about everywhere.”

…Italy reportedly has the worst record for workplace deaths in Europe, with latest figures suggesting one person dies about every seven hours.

Yikes. And that’s scratching the surface. The Guardian has interesting articles about Sri Lanka (where the government has managed to secure praise from the UN Human Rights Council after murdering thousands of Tamil civilians), Israel-Palestine (where Israel is taking 80 percent of the water and Palestinians 20 percent from a shared acquifer) and Peru (where the government’s drive to open up the nation’s Amazonian region for corporate benefit is putting several “uncontacted tribes” at risk from epidemic disease.)

A Mashco-Piro woman In Perus Amazon region

A Mashco-Piro woman In Peru's Amazon region


One Response to “A New Newswrap…”

  1. […] number of Pakistani deaths at the hands of al Qaeda is well into the thousands according to President Obama. Those deaths […]

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