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Sunday, February 07, 2010

Israel Fraud - Honduras - SupremeCourt Chomsky - NATO McKinney

Over the past four decades Israel has defrauded
Palestinians working inside Israel of more than $2
billion by deducting from their salaries contributions
for welfare benefits to which they were never entitled,
Israeli economists have revealedA new report, "State
Robbery", to be published later this month, says the
"theft" continued even after the Palestinian Authority
was established in 1994 and part of the money was
supposed to be transferred to a special fund on behalf
of the workers.According to information supplied by
Israeli officials, most of the deductions from the
workers. pay were invested in infrastructure projects in
the Palestinian territories -- a presumed reference to
the massive state subsidies accorded to the
settlements.Nearly 50,000 Palestinians from the West
Bank are working in Israel -- following the easing of
restrictions on entering Israel under the "economic
peace" promised by Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime
minister -- and continue to have such contributions
docked from their pay.Complicit in the deception, the
report adds, is the Histadrut, the Israeli labour
federation, which levies a monthly fee on Palestinian
workers, even though they are not entitled to membership
and are not represented in labour disputes."This is a
clear-cut case of theft from Palestinian workers on a
grand scale," said Shir Hever, a Jerusalem-based
economist and one of the authors of the report. "There
are no reasons for Israel to delay in returning this
money either to the workers or to their
beneficiaries."The deductions started being made in
1970, three years after the Israeli occupation of the
Palestinian territories began, when Palestinian workers
started to enter Israel in significant numbers, most of
them employed as manual labourers in the agriculture and
construction industries.Typically, the workers lose a
fifth of their salary in deductions that are supposed to
cover old age payments, unemployment allowance,
disability insurance, child benefits, trade union fees,
pension fund, holiday and sick pay, and health
insurance. In practice, however, the workers are
entitled only to disability payments in case of work
accidents and are insured against loss of work if their
employer goes bankrupt.According to the report, compiled
by two human rights groups, the Alternative Information
Centre and Kav La.Oved, only a fraction of the total
contributions -- less than eight per cent -- was used to
award benefits to Palestinian workers. The rest was
secretly transferred to the finance ministry.The Israeli
organisations assess that the workers were defrauded of
at least $2.25bn in today.s prices, in what they
describe as a minimum and "very conservative" estimate
of the misappropriation of the funds. Such a sum
represents about 10 per cent of the PA.s annual
budget.The authors also note that they excluded from
their calculations two substantial groups of Palestinian
workers -- those employed in the Jewish settlements and
those working in Israel.s black economy -- because
figures were too hard to obtain.Mr Hever said the
question of whether the bulk of the deductions -- those
for national insurance -- had been illegally taken from
the workers was settled by the Israeli High Court back
in 1991. The judges accepted a petition from the flower
growers. union that the government should return about
$1.5 million in contributions from Palestinian workers
in the industry."The legal precedent was set then and
could be used to reclaim the rest of these excessive
deductions," he said.At the height of Palestinian
participation in the Israeli labour force, in the early
1990s, as many as one in three Palestinian workers was
dependent on an Israeli employer.Israel continued
requiring contributions from Palestinian workers after
the creation of the Palestinian Authority in 1994,
arguing that it needed to make the deductions to ensure
Israeli workers remained competitive.However, the report
notes that such practices were supposed to have been
curbed by the Oslo process. Israel agreed to levy an
"equalisation tax" -- equivalent to the excessive
contributions paid by Palestinians -- a third of which
would be invested in a fund that would later be
available to the workers.In fact, however, the Israeli
State Comptroller, a government watchdog official,
reported in 2003 that only about a tenth of the money
levied on the workers had actually been placed in the
fund.The finance ministry has admitted that most of the
money taken from the workers was passed to Israeli
military authorities in the Palestinian territories to
pay for "infrastructure programmes". Hannah Zohar, the
director of Kav La.Oved who co-authored the report, said
she believed that the ministry was actually referring to
the construction of illegal settlements.The report is
also highly critical of the Histadrut, Israel.s trade
union federation, which it accuses of grabbing "a piece
of the pie" by forcing Palestinian workers to pay a
monthly "organising fee" to the union since 1970, even
though Palestinians are not entitled to
membership.Despite the Histadrut.s agreement with its
Palestinian counterpart in 2008 to repay the fees, only
20 per cent was returned, leaving $30m unaccounted
for.The Histadrut was also implicated in another
"rip-off", said Mr Hever. It agreed in 1990 to the
Israeli construction industry.s demand that Palestinian
workers pay an extra two per cent tax to promote the
training of recent Jewish immigrants, most of them from
the former Soviet Union.Mr Hever said that in effect the
Palestinian labourers were required to "subsidise the
training of workers meant to replace them". The funds
were never used for the stated purpose but were mainly
issued as grants to the families of Israeli workers.In
one especially cynical use of the funds, the report
notes, the money was spent on portable stoves for
soldiers involved in Israel.s three-week attack on Gaza
last year.In response, the finance ministry called the
report "incorrect and misleading", and the Histadrut
claimed it was "full of lies". However, neither provided
rebuttals of the report.s allegations or its
calculations.Mr Hever said the government body
responsible for making the deductions, the department of
payments, had initially refused to divulge any of its
figures, but had partly relented after some statistics
were made available through leaks from its staff.Assef
Saeed, a senior official in the Palestinian Authority.s
labour ministry, said the PA was keen to discuss the
issue of the deductions, but that talks were difficult
because of the lack of contacts between the two
sides.Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in
Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are "Israel and the
Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to
Remake the Middle East" (Pluto Press) and "Disappearing
Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human Despair" (Zed
Books). His website is


Vía Campesina

Honduran Resistance against US sponsored Regime Change

Interview with Rafael Alegría by Prof Jeffery R. Webber
Global Research, February 6,

2010 Socialist Project -

2010-02-05 Hundreds of thousands of Hondurans took to
the streets on Wednesday, January 27 to protest the
inauguration of Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo Soza. Lobo was the
victor in fraudulent elections held last November and
his new regime is seen by the Honduran resistance as a
continuation and consolidation of the coup regime that
first came to power by overthrowing
democratically-elected President, Manuel Zelaya, on June
28, 2009. During the march I caught up with Rafael
Alegría, a key leader in the National Resistance Front,
and a leading Honduran figure in the international
peasant movement, Vía Campesina.

JRW: What are the principal demands of the resistance in
this march today?

RA: The resistance has two principal pillars -- a social
pillar for the revindication of the people.s rights, in
which the resistance accompanies people in their daily
struggle, for agrarian reform, for just salaries, and
opposition to the privatization of social services. This
is the pillar of social mobilization.The other pillar is
the political arm -- to convert ourselves into a
militant political force which will work toward taking
political power in our country.

JRW: What are the objectives of the Constituent Assembly
that the resistance is demanding?

RA:The power of the people is going to result in massive
transformations in this country. We are demanding a
Constituent Assembly that is going to transform this
country, into a participatory democracy. It will be a
new Honduras -- a country with social justice, with
equality, with a new model of development in which
everyone is included, and, as the Bolivians say, so that
our entire country can live well.It will be very
different than the current situation, in which there is
a privileged oligarchy, which owns and controls
everything, while on the other hand there is an immense
mass of impoverished people. This can.t continue.There
are a huge number of people in this march. And this is
the message we are sending to the entire oligarchic
power groups and to the rest of the people.

JRW: In the next few months, what will the strategy of
the resistance be?

RA: We are in a process of national organization, of
articulation, and establishing schools of political
education. Our mobilizations are also going to continue.
We have a concrete immediate agenda of mobilization.
Beyond that, preparing ourselves to participate in
the elections in three years so that we can take
definitive control.

Jeffery R. Webber teaches political science at the
University of Regina, Canada. He has three forthcoming
books: Red October: Left-Indigenous Struggles in Modern
Bolivia; The Politics of Evismo: Reform to Rebellion in
Bolivian Politics; and (co-edited with Barry Carr) The
Resurgence of Latin American Radicalism: From Cracks in
the Empire to an Izquierda Permitida.


The Corporate Takeover of U.S. Democracy by Prof Noam
Chomsky - February 4, 2010

Jan. 21, 2010, will go down as a dark day in the history
of U.S. democracy, and its decline.On that day the U.S.
Supreme Court ruled that the government may not ban
corporations from political spending on elections -- a
decision that profoundly affects government policy, both
domestic and international.The decision heralds even
further corporate takeover of the U.S. political
system.To the editors of The New York Times, the ruling
"strikes at the heart of democracy" by having "paved the
way for corporations to use their vast treasuries to
overwhelm elections and intimidate elected officials
into doing their bidding."The court was split, 5-4, with
the four reactionary judges (misleadingly called
"conservative") joined by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. selected a case that
could easily have been settled on narrow grounds and
maneuvered the court into using it to push through a
far-reaching decision that overturns a century of
precedents restricting corporate contributions to
federal campaigns.Now corporate managers can in effect
buy elections directly, bypassing more complex indirect
means. It is well-known that corporate contributions,
sometimes packaged in complex ways, can tip the balance
in elections, hence driving policy. The court has just
handed much more power to the small sector of the
population that dominates the economy.Political
economist Thomas Ferguson.s "investment theory of
politics" is a very successful predictor of government
policy over a long period. The theory interprets
elections as occasions on which segments of private
sector power coalesce to invest to control the state.The
Jan. 21 decision only reinforces the means to undermine
functioning democracy.The background is enlightening. In
his dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens acknowledged that
"we have long since held that corporations are covered
by the First Amendment" -- the constitutional guarantee
of free speech, which would include support for
political candidates.In the early 20th century, legal
theorists and courts implemented the court.s 1886
decision that corporations -- these "collectivist legal
entities" -- have the same rights as persons of flesh
and blood.This attack on classical liberalism was
sharply condemned by the vanishing breed of
conservatives. Christopher G. Tiedeman described the
principle as "a menace to the liberty of the individual,
and to the stability of the American states as popular
governments."Morton Horwitz writes in his standard legal
history that the concept of corporate personhood evolved
alongside the shift of power from shareholders to
managers, and finally to the doctrine that "the powers
of the board of directors "are identical with the powers
of the corporation." In later years, corporate rights
were expanded far beyond those of persons, notably by
the mislabeled "free trade agreements." Under these
agreements, for example, if General Motors establishes a
plant in Mexico, it can demand to be treated just like a
Mexican business ("national treatment") -- quite unlike
a Mexican of flesh and blood who might seek "national
treatment" in New York, or even minimal human rights.A
century ago, Woodrow Wilson, then an academic, described
an America in which "comparatively small groups of men,"
corporate managers, "wield a power and control over the
wealth and the business operations of the country,"
becoming "rivals of the government itself."In reality,
these "small groups" increasingly have become
government.s masters. The Roberts court gives them even
greater scope.The Jan. 21 decision came three days after
another victory for wealth and power: the election of
Republican candidate Scott Brown to replace the late
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, the "liberal lion" of
Massachusetts. Brown.s election was depicted as a
"populist upsurge" against the liberal elitists who run
the government.The voting data reveal a rather different
story.High turnouts in the wealthy suburbs, and low ones
in largely Democratic urban areas, helped elect Brown.
"Fifty-five percent of Republican voters said they were
`very interested. in the election," The Wall St.
Journal/NBC poll reported, "compared with 38 percent of
Democrats."So the results were indeed an uprising
against President Obama.s policies: For the wealthy, he
was not doing enough to enrich them further, while for
the poorer sectors, he was doing too much to achieve
that end.The popular anger is quite understandable,
given that the banks are thriving, thanks to bailouts,
while unemployment has risen to 10 percent.In
manufacturing, one in six is out of work -- unemployment
at the level of the Great Depression. With the
increasing financialization of the economy and the
hollowing out of productive industry, prospects are
bleak for recovering the kinds of jobs that were
lost.Brown presented himself as the 41st vote against
healthcare -- that is, the vote that could undermine
majority rule in the U.S. Senate.It is true that Obama.s
healthcare program was a factor in the Massachusetts
election. The headlines are correct when they report
that the public is turning against the program.The poll
figures explain why: The bill does not go far
enough. The Wall St. Journal/NBC poll found that a
majority of voters disapprove of the handling of
healthcare both by the Republicans and by Obama.These
figures align with recent nationwide polls. The public
option was favored by 56 percent of those polled, and
the Medicare buy-in at age 55 by 64 percent; both
programs were abandoned.Eighty-five percent believe that
the government should have the right to negotiate drug
prices, as in other countries; Obama guaranteed Big
Pharma that he would not pursue that option.Large
majorities favor cost-cutting, which makes good sense:
U.S. per capita costs for healthcare are about twice
those of other industrial countries, and health outcomes
are at the low end.But cost-cutting cannot be seriously
undertaken when largesse is showered on the drug
companies, and healthcare is in the hands of virtually
unregulated private insurers -- a costly system peculiar
to the U.S.The Jan. 21 decision raises significant new
barriers to overcoming the serious crisis of healthcare,
or to addressing such critical issues as the looming
environmental and energy crises. The gap between public
opinion and public policy looms larger. And the damage
to American democracy can hardly be overestimated.  

Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor & Professor of
Linguistics (Emeritus) at the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology, and the author of dozens of books on U.S.
foreign policy.


Former Congresswoman and 2008 Green Party Presidential
Nominee will participate in an International Peace
Conference scheduled to take place in Munich, Germany on
February 6 - 7, 2010 while the North Atlantic Treaty
Organization (NATO) meets in the same city to plan war. 
McKinney, a long-time proponent of abolishing NATO, is
scheduled to speak on February 6 at a rally to protest
the NATO "security" conference.  After the rally,
McKinney will participate in the International Peace
Conference whose schedule and call to demonstrate
against NATO war policies are included below.Included in
McKinney's program is a meeting with the Munich American
Peace Committee (MAPC - which will
present to McKinney its third annual award, "Peace
through Conscience," during the ceremonies of the Munich
Peace Conference on the evening of February 6, 2010. 
The MAPC Peace Prize is normally awarded by the previous
year's winner.  In McKinney's case the honors will be
done by André Shepherd, a U.S. Army deserter from the
Afghanistan and Iraq wars and asylum seeker in Germany. 
Said McKinney of her selection for the award, "I am
humbled to be so recognized.  Clearly, the MAPC gave
more thought to the significance of those whose struggle
for peace is based on principle and an unshakeable
commitment, despite the personal sacrificies required,
than did the Nobel Peace Committee that rewarded our
President for war."  McKinney continued, "In this way of
thinking, peace is now war, lies are now truth, and
ignorance is strength."McKinney calls on Americans
across Germany to converge on Munich and protest U.S.
and NATO war policies.  McKinney will meet with American
ex-patriots in multiple meetings while in Munich.


If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, said
Joseph Goebbels, people will eventually come to believe
it. The bailout of Wall Street initiated in September
2008 was premised on the dire prediction that if major
counterparties in the massive edifice of derivative
contracts were allowed to fall, the whole interlocking
house of cards would collapse and take the economy with
it. A hijacked Congress dutifully protected the
derivatives game with taxpayer money while the real
economy proceeded to collapse, the financial sector
choosing to put their money into this protected form of
speculative betting rather than into the more mundane
and risky business of making loans to struggling
businesses and homeowners. In the end, $170 billion of
federal funds went to AIG and the banks feeding at its
trough. Rumor has it that Timothy Geithner is on his way
out as Treasury Secretary, due to his involvement in the
AIG scandal that is now unraveling in hearings before
the House Oversight and Reform Committee. Bob
Chapman writes in The International Forecaster: Each day
brings more revelations of efforts of the NY Fed and
Goldman Sachs to hide the details of the criminal
conspiracy of the AIG bailout. . . . This is a real
crisis on the scale of Watergate. Corruption at its
finest. But unlike the perpetrators of the Watergate
scandal, who wound up looking at jail time, Geithner
evidently has a golden parachute waiting at Goldman
Sachs, not coincidentally the largest recipient of the
AIG bailout. At least that is the rumor sparked by an
article by Caroline Baum on Bloomberg News, titled
"Goldman Parachute Awaits Geithner to Ease Fall." Hank
Paulson, Geithner.s predecessor, was CEO of Goldman
Sachs before coming to the Treasury. Geithner, who has
come up through the ranks of government, could be
walking through the revolving door in the other
direction.  Geithner has been under the House microscope
for the decision of the New York Fed, made while he
headed it, to buy out about $30 billion in credit
default swaps (over-the-counter derivative insurance
contracts) that AIG sold on toxic debt securities. The
chief recipients of this payout were Goldman Sachs,
Merrill Lynch, Societe Generale and Deutsche Bank.
Goldman got $13 billion, roughly equivalent to its bonus
pool for the first 9 months of 2009. Critics are calling
the New York Fed.s decision a back-door bailout for the
banks, which received 100 cents on the dollar for
contracts that would have been worth far less had AIG
been put through bankruptcy proceedings in the ordinary
way. In a Bloomberg article provocatively titled "Secret
Banking Cabal Emerges from AIG Shadows," David
Reilly writes: [T]he New York Fed is a
quasi-governmental institution that isn.t subject to
citizen intrusions such as freedom of information
requests, unlike the Federal Reserve. This
impenetrability comes in handy since the bank is the
preferred vehicle for many of the Fed.s bailout
programs. It.s as though the New York Fed was a
black-ops outfit for the nation.s central bank. The
beneficiaries of the New York Fed.s largesse got paid in
full although they had agreed to take much less. In a
November 2009 article titled "It.s Time to Fire Tim
Geithner," Dylan Ratigan wrote: [L]ast November . . .
New York Federal Reserve Governor Tim Geithner decided
to deliver 100 cents on the dollar, in secret no less,
to pay off the counter parties to the world's largest
(and still un-investigated) insurance fraud -- AIG. This
full payoff with taxpayer dollars was carried out by
Geithner after AIG's bank customers, such as Goldman
Sachs, Deutsche Bank and Societe Generale, had already
previously agreed to taking as little as 40 cents on the
dollar. Even after the GM autoworkers, bondholders and
vendors all received a government-enforced haircut on
their contracts, he still had the audacity to claim the
"sanctity of contracts" in the dealings with these
companies like AIG. Geithner testified that the Fed.s
hands were tied and that the bank could not "selectively
default on contractual obligations without courting
collapse." But if it was all on the up and up, why all
the secrecy? The contention that the Fed had no choice
is also belied by a recent holding in the Lehman
Brothers bankruptcy, in which New York Bankruptcy Judge
James Peck set aside the same type of investment
contracts that Secretaries Paulson and Geithner
repeatedly swore under oath had to be paid in full in
the case of AIG. The judge declared that clauses in
those contracts subordinating other claims to the
holders. claims were null and void in bankruptcy. "And
notice," comments bank analyst Chris Whalen, "that the
world has not ended when the holders of [derivative]
contracts are treated like everyone else." He calls the
AIG bailout "a hideous political contrivance that ranks
with the great acts of political corruption and thievery
in the history of the United States."

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