Bulletin N° 390


2 February 2009
Grenoble, France

Dear Colleagues and Friends of CEIMSA,
In his book, Facing West: The Metaphysics of Indian-Hating and Empire-Building, Richard Drinnon writes of imperialist lust for empire, which began when the first Amerindian was killed in an attempt to take from him his home. The subsequent system of  belief constructed by North Americans in cultural institutions is reflected in the hugely influential writings of U.S. historian Frederick Jackson Turner, and in particular his "Frontier Thesis" (1893), where the author describes the urge behind the Anglo-Saxon project of territorial conquests which has become a ubiquitous element of the American cultural project until the present.

The generic frontier was the magic margin of American history. It was, said Turner, 'the meeting point between savagery and civilization.' Behind that moving 'line of most rapid and effective Americanization' were the people. And who were 'the American people'? They were the immigrants who planted Jamestown on Chesapeake Bay and built New Israel on Massachusetts Bay. They were their descendants who built the great republic of the West . . . .
In truth, Turner's 'meeting point between savagery and civilization' . . . was an imperishably vivid expression of the color line that has whipped so tragically through American life. On one side were the Children of Light, the light of the "Gospel, of Enlightenment institutions, law and order, progress, philanthropy, freedom, Americanization, modernization, forced urbanization, the lot. On the other side were the Children of Darkness, 'savages' who stood in the way of the redemption and the rationalization of the world --from the Puritan's fiends to be exorcised, to Turner's prime exhibits of 'savagery,'. . . from those living in 'the darkness of heathenism' or 'the gloom of ignorance,'down to those carrying on 'the old nightmare of savagery.' No doubt all peoples dehumanize their enemies to varying extents, but the Children of Light had a head start with those who seemed to them from the outset ferocious animals ('ravening wolves'), the color of evil, dark reminders of the wilderness they had set out to conquer in themselves and in the world; in short, Native Americans were to the Puritans and their descendants unwelcome mementos of their own mortality. Turner's color line was the supreme expression by a historian of all the other expressions before and since by novelists, poets, playwrights, pulp writers, painters, sculptors, and film directors.  . . .  It unmistakably shaped national patterns of violence by establishing whom one could kill under propitious circumstances and thereby represented a prime source of the American way of inflicting death.
Herein resided the deeper significance of the frontier. In each and every West  . . . the white settlers brought in their heads and hearts to that particular place . . .  their metaphysics of Indian-hating [which] underwent a seemingly confirmatory 'perennial rebirth.' Rooted in fears and prejudices buried deep in the Western psyche, their metaphysics became a time-tested doctrine, an ideology, and an integral component of U.S. nationalism.  . . .  It gave them their astonishing assurance . . . that they had a right to be in every West they could 'win' . . . .
All along, the obverse of Indian-hating had been the metaphysics of empire-building --the backwoods 'captain in the vanguard of conquering civilization' merely became the overseas outrider of the same empire. Far out on the boundless watery prairies of the Pacific, the twin metaphysics became nation-building and native hating. But was there no terminus, no ultimately remote West beyond which the metaphysics lost their power to uproot and destroy?
The sober truth was that the white man's burden of Winning the West was crushing global folly. The West was quite literally nowhere --or everywhere, which was to say the same thing.(Drinnon, Facing West, 1990, pp. 461-465)

Given the magnitude of resistance today against the imperialist mind and against paranoid fascist fantasies of total control, it seems instructive to look at Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), professor of philosophy at Freiburg University, influential teacher of such philosophical superstars as Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) and Hannah Arendt (1906-1975), and later an ardent opponent of the western tradition of Metaphysics.

Heidegger, after 1933, was a man caught in circumstances beyond his control. As a rising star in the German university system at the time of the Nazi seizure of power, he was faced with a choice: to flee the country with the other members of his privileged class of German intellectuals, or to remain in his homeland and to continue his intellectual work. He chose the latter course of action and spent his years in the Third Reich teaching philosophy and attempting academic research to uncover the "positive potential" of fascist thinking and its social order. His later philosophical writings were intensely concerned with "the meaning of the history of Being."

"Homelessness" and "forgetfulness", not the Jews, the Gypsies, and the Bolsheviks, were the plight of post-World War I Germany, according to Heidegger. He had refused Hannah Arendt's offer to help him find a prestigious job in the Philosophy Department at the University of Chicago. He preferred to remain at Freiburg University where he could do intellectual work on the Nazi experience. This was by no means a noble decision on Heidegger's part; he joined no German resistance movement, such as die weiße rose movement which Sophie Scholl and her brother Hans --both medical students at the University of Munich-- helped organize to resist the influence of German fascists. Instead Heidegger recognized the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for him as a productive philosopher to develop his ideas in a European-class laboratory of political experimentation. Today, it behooves us to examine some aspects of Heidegger's new thinking and to determine what, if anything, he has contributed to European culture, particularly in light of contemporary politics, language, art, and advanced technology.

The histories of racial hatreds and imperialist desires in the U.S.A. have informed our readings of Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze, as we continue our preparations for the May 6 international colloquium on "Ethics and Social Class Relations in the USA" at The University of Paris in Nanterre. Several authors have brought our attention to the later writings of Martin Heidegger, among them Jack Hirschman, Poet Laureate of San Francisco, California. Heidegger, as we have said, was an ardent opponent of the tradition of metaphysics and a defender of language over logic. By 1947, he had become an advocate of the new way of thinking of Being, which he understood as a materialist concept of thought as action. This philosophy rejects "rational ethics," "received values," and the "metaphysics of subjectivity," all of which are deemed as counterfeit species of action. Instead he understands man as Da-sein ("being-there") in relationship to Being --which for Heidegger is not an Idea, nor an experience of any individual (being)-- but rather is understood as a material place where the "Truth of Being" can shed light on discoveries --an awakening, as he describes it-- in the "house of language."

Heidegger was prohibited from teaching and publishing in post-war Germany for an indefinite period of time because his ideas, relying as they do on the concept of Volkgeist, or collective consciousness, were considered too reminiscent of the old fascist order, and too dangerous for the new liberal order. He had been, in fact, harassed by the gestapo while teaching on the faculty at Freiburg during the Nazi period, and after the military defeat of fascism in Germany the allies did what the Nazis had never dared to do. They banned him from the classroom and from publishing his writings.

Was Heidegger anti-Semitic? His wife, Elfrieda Heidegger, is reported to have been a rabid anti-Semite, but his student-mistress, Hannah Arendt, didn't seem to think he was, and he appears to have gotten into trouble with the Nazi authorities for insisting that the re-publication of the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) include the passages in which the great German philosopher ridiculed anti-Semitism as a pathetic substitute for thinking. (Nietzsche's sister, Elisabeth, later became very friendly with Hitler and went public with her anti-Semitic opinions before the end of the war.) After the war, Heidegger paid the price for refusing to apologize for successfully pursuing his teaching career in Nazi Germany. His response to his detractors, in fact, was that he would apologize for not resisting fascism only if they would bring Hitler back to apologize to him! This was not good enough for the Allies, and his own German colleagues, who had fled Nazi Germany to pursue their own careers abroad, returned to testify against him, representing his ideas as being subversive to the post-war reconstruction of a new liberal German Republic.

Heidegger's Letter on Humanism(1947) was written in response to Sartre's famous lecture, Existentialism is a Humanism(1946). It was  published first in France by the French philosopher, Jean Beaufret (1907-1982), who had also studied with Heidegger in Germany before the war and appears to have maintained his own anti-Semitic metaphysics.

According to the humanist existentialism of Sartre, a person's essence derives from his existence, thus reversing the famous dictum, "cogito ergo sum," of René Descartes (1596-1650), whose own contribution was to have grounded the Platonic "Idea" of essence in the human mind. But either way, --essence before existence, or existence before essence-- the metaphysics of subjectivity and representation, according to Heidegger, encloses thinking and creates "a forgetfulness," by which he means an inaccessibility to a domain of material reality which he calls "the Truth of Being" from which the light of recognition emerges producing its own sense of essence and perhaps ethics, as well.

For you to judge . . . .

Meanwhile, for CEIMSA readers who are in solidarity with today's defenders of the Future of the Palestinian people, and who find meaning in the anonymous statement by a witness to the Israeli massacres in Gaza, "Before this is over, you are going to love these people you call 'cockroaches,' and you'll regret having killed so many of them!", we bring to your attention the following 7 items which speak to the conditioned mental inaction to which we have all been subjected, if Heidegger is correct, by our indoctrination with metaphysical thinking. What, we may ask, is the role of ethics in our culture? Does Heidegger offer us an answer to this question?

Item A. is an article from the International Herald Tribune on "anti-Semitism in Europe -real or imagined?," sent to us by Diana Johnstone.
Item B. is an article by Henry Siegman, first published in the London Review of Books, sent to us by our Grenoble colleague, Dr. Sheila Whittick, seeking to expose "Israel's lies."
Item C. is a letter from Dr. Dragan Pavlovic responding to CEIMSA Bulletin #389.
Item D. is an article by Dahr Jamail, describing "A Capped Volcano of Human Suffering in the Middle East".
Item E. is an article from the Nouvel Observateur describing the massive resistance to the repressive social policies of French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Item F. is an article on "The Obama Strategy" for change in the U.S.A., by Greg Palast.
Item G. is a short article from News You Should Know on a new code of ethics at the White House : "Shame on Greedy Wall Street !"

And finally, we recommend to CEIMSA readers the independent "Island" news broadcast, Aljazeera, which provides new information daily to the world's educated citizens who seek positive change and a collective vision of a better future:
and, also, a look at the demonstration against Israeli aggressions in Gaza that took place at the Marriott Hotel in New York City on the evening of  29 January :
People protested in support of the people of Gaza in front of the Marriott Marquis Hotel in Times Square Thursday night.
The Marriott was hosting a fundraising dinner for AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee). The meal was $1500
a plate. The protesters found the fundraiser in poor tase considering Israel's recent seige in Gaza, which killed over
1,300 Palestinians. During the protest, several protesters split up and locked themselves together in front of two Marriott
entryways. This video was taken immediately after the protesters locked themselves together.
Francis McCollum Feeley
Professor of American Studies
Director of Research
Université Stendhal Grenoble 3

from Diana Johnstone :
Date: 29 January 2009
Subject: Defamation by the "Anti-Defamation League"

Today’s International Herald Tribune carries a scandalous ad by the ADL (Anti-Defamation League). The ad is on page 7 and takes up most of the page.
In large bold face capitals, the ad is titled, "JEWS TO THE GAS."
This phrase is attributed to "a crowd at a recent European anti-Israel rally". There is no precision as to where or when this phrase was supposedly uttered, or by whom.
This is already a form of defamation by implication of all the many rallies held recently in Europe to protest Israeli military action against the people of Gaza.

The ad goes on as follows :

  • Jews have been shot, stabbed and beaten in public areas.
  • Synagogues have been attacked across Europe, including a dozen firebombings.
  • European Jewish leaders have received multiple death threats.
  • Boycotts have been called against Israeli products and Jewish-owned businesses.
  • Anti-Israeli demonstrators, marching under the flags of terrorist groups, have shouted, "Kill the Jews", "Be afraid, Jews" and "Heil Hitler."
Regardless of one’s views about the operation in Gaza, this is unacceptable. It’s vile, dangerous anti-Semitism, and it needs to stop.
We Call on the Leaders of Europe to Condemn Anti-Jewish Hate. Now.

(End of ad.)

None of those "events" listed above are corraborated by specific data, much less is any evidence offered that such acts are connected to the massive popular protests against Israeli aggression against Gaza. It is know that in the past, ostensibly "anti-Semitic" vandalism has turned out to be carried out by Jews themselves in order to benefit Israel – and emigration to Israel – by claiming that Europe is suffering from a wave of anti-Semitism. Zionists who use European Jews as "human shields" to protect Israel from justified indignation are perfectly capable of staging such hoaxes.
Perhaps the most outrageous of this outrageous ad is the line lumping together the call for boycotts against Israeli products with a totally fictitious call for boycotts against "Jewish-owned businesses". This is an invention obviously intended to allow the Zionists to equate the boycott of Israel with totally unrelated Nazi acts of anti-Semitism some seventy years ago.
This ad is a blatant attempt to intimidate Europeans, and first of all their "leaders" into repression of citizens’ right to free expression of condemnation of Israel’s criminal oppression of the Palestinian people.
Diana Johnstone

from Sheila Whittick :
Date: 29 January 2009
Subject: Israel's Lies.

Here's another very good piece - this time by Henry Siegman in the London Review of Books.

Israel's Lies
by Henry Siegman

Western governments and most of the Western media have accepted a number of Israeli claims justifying the military assault on Gaza: that Hamas consistently violated the six-month truce that Israel observed and then refused to extend it; that Israel therefore had no choice but to destroy Hamas’s capacity to launch missiles into Israeli towns; that Hamas is a terrorist organisation, part of a global jihadi network; and that Israel has acted not only in its own defence but on behalf of an international struggle by Western democracies against this network.

I am not aware of a single major American newspaper, radio station or TV channel whose coverage of the assault on Gaza questions this version of events. Criticism of Israel’s actions, if any (and there has been none from the Bush administration), has focused instead on whether the IDF’s carnage is proportional to the threat it sought to counter, and whether it is taking adequate measures to prevent civilian casualties.

Middle East peacemaking has been smothered in deceptive euphemisms, so let me state bluntly that each of these claims is a lie. Israel, not Hamas, violated the truce: Hamas undertook to stop firing rockets into Israel; in return, Israel was to ease its throttlehold on Gaza. In fact, during the truce, it tightened it further. This was confirmed not only by every neutral international observer and NGO on the scene but by Brigadier General (Res.) Shmuel Zakai, a former commander of the IDF’s Gaza Division. In an interview in Ha’aretz on 22 December, he accused Israel’s government of having made a ‘central error’ during the tahdiyeh, the six-month period of relative truce, by failing ‘to take advantage of the calm to improve, rather than markedly worsen, the economic plight of the Palestinians of the Strip . . . When you create a tahdiyeh, and the economic pressure on the Strip continues,’ General Zakai said, ‘it is obvious that Hamas will try to reach an improved tahdiyeh, and that their way to achieve this is resumed Qassam fire . . . You cannot just land blows, leave the Palestinians in Gaza in the economic distress they’re in, and expect that Hamas will just sit around and do nothing.’

The truce, which began in June last year and was due for renewal in December, required both parties to refrain from violent action against the other. Hamas had to cease its rocket assaults and prevent the firing of rockets by other groups such as Islamic Jihad (even Israel’s intelligence agencies acknowledged this had been implemented with surprising effectiveness), and Israel had to put a stop to its targeted assassinations and military incursions. This understanding was seriously violated on 4 November, when the IDF entered Gaza and killed six members of Hamas. Hamas responded by launching Qassam rockets and Grad missiles. Even so, it offered to extend the truce, but only on condition that Israel ended its blockade. Israel refused. It could have met its obligation to protect its citizens by agreeing to ease the blockade, but it didn’t even try. It cannot be said that Israel launched its assault to protect its citizens from rockets. It did so to protect its right to continue the strangulation of Gaza’s population.

Everyone seems to have forgotten that Hamas declared an end to suicide bombings and rocket fire when it decided to join the Palestinian political process, and largely stuck to it for more than a year. Bush publicly welcomed that decision, citing it as an example of the success of his campaign for democracy in the Middle East. (He had no other success to point to.) When Hamas unexpectedly won the election, Israel and the US immediately sought to delegitimise the result and embraced Mahmoud Abbas, the head of Fatah, who until then had been dismissed by Israel’s leaders as a ‘plucked chicken’. They armed and trained his security forces to overthrow Hamas; and when Hamas – brutally, to be sure – pre-empted this violent attempt to reverse the result of the first honest democratic election in the modern Middle East, Israel and the Bush administration imposed the blockade.

Israel seeks to counter these indisputable facts by maintaining that in withdrawing Israeli settlements from Gaza in 2005, Ariel Sharon gave Hamas the chance to set out on the path to statehood, a chance it refused to take; instead, it transformed Gaza into a launching-pad for firing missiles at Israel’s civilian population. The charge is a lie twice over. First, for all its failings, Hamas brought to Gaza a level of law and order unknown in recent years, and did so without the large sums of money that donors showered on the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority. It eliminated the violent gangs and warlords who terrorised Gaza under Fatah’s rule. Non-observant Muslims, Christians and other minorities have more religious freedom under Hamas rule than they would have in Saudi Arabia, for example, or under many other Arab regimes.

The greater lie is that Sharon’s withdrawal from Gaza was intended as a prelude to further withdrawals and a peace agreement. This is how Sharon’s senior adviser Dov Weisglass, who was also his chief negotiator with the Americans, described the withdrawal from Gaza, in an interview with Ha’aretz in August 2004:

What I effectively agreed to with the Americans was that part of the settlements [i.e. the major settlement blocks on the West Bank] would not be dealt with at all, and the rest will not be dealt with until the Palestinians turn into Finns . . . The significance [of the agreement with the US] is the freezing of the political process. And when you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state and you prevent a discussion about the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. Effectively, this whole package that is called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed from our agenda indefinitely. And all this with [President Bush’s] authority and permission . . . and the ratification of both houses of Congress.

Do the Israelis and Americans think that Palestinians don’t read the Israeli papers, or that when they saw what was happening on the West Bank they couldn’t figure out for themselves what Sharon was up to?

Israel’s government would like the world to believe that Hamas launched its Qassam rockets because that is what terrorists do and Hamas is a generic terrorist group. In fact, Hamas is no more a ‘terror organisation’ (Israel’s preferred term) than the Zionist movement was during its struggle for a Jewish homeland. In the late 1930s and 1940s, parties within the Zionist movement resorted to terrorist activities for strategic reasons. According to Benny Morris, it was the Irgun that first targeted civilians. He writes in Righteous Victims that an upsurge of Arab terrorism in 1937 ‘triggered a wave of Irgun bombings against Arab crowds and buses, introducing a new dimension to the conflict’. He also documents atrocities committed during the 1948-49 war by the IDF, admitting in a 2004 interview, published in Ha’aretz, that material released by Israel’s Ministry of Defence showed that ‘there were far more Israeli acts of massacre than I had previously thought . . . In the months of April-May 1948, units of the Haganah were given operational orders that stated explicitly that they were to uproot the villagers, expel them, and destroy the villages themselves.’ In a number of Palestinian villages and towns the IDF carried out organised executions of civilians. Asked by Ha’aretz whether he condemned the ethnic cleansing, Morris replied that he did not:

A Jewish state would not have come into being without the uprooting of 700,000 Palestinians. Therefore it was necessary to uproot them. There was no choice but to expel that population. It was necessary to cleanse the hinterland and cleanse the border areas and cleanse the main roads. It was necessary to cleanse the villages from which our convoys and our settlements were fired on.

In other words, when Jews target and kill innocent civilians to advance their national struggle, they are patriots. When their adversaries do so, they are terrorists.

It is too easy to describe Hamas simply as a ‘terror organisation’. It is a religious nationalist movement that resorts to terrorism, as the Zionist movement did during its struggle for statehood, in the mistaken belief that it is the only way to end an oppressive occupation and bring about a Palestinian state. While Hamas’s ideology formally calls for that state to be established on the ruins of the state of Israel, this doesn’t determine Hamas’s actual policies today any more than the same declaration in the PLO charter determined Fatah’s actions.

These are not the conclusions of an apologist for Hamas but the opinions of the former head of Mossad and Sharon’s national security adviser, Ephraim Halevy. The Hamas leadership has undergone a change ‘right under our very noses’, Halevy wrote recently in Yedioth Ahronoth, by recognising that ‘its ideological goal is not attainable and will not be in the foreseeable future.’ It is now ready and willing to see the establishment of a Palestinian state within the temporary borders of 1967. Halevy noted that while Hamas has not said how ‘temporary’ those borders would be, ‘they know that the moment a Palestinian state is established with their co-operation, they will be obligated to change the rules of the game: they will have to adopt a path that could lead them far from their original ideological goals.’ In an earlier article, Halevy also pointed out the absurdity of linking Hamas to al-Qaida.

In the eyes of al-Qaida, the members of Hamas are perceived as heretics due to their stated desire to participate, even indirectly, in processes of any understandings or agreements with Israel. [The Hamas political bureau chief, Khaled] Mashal’s declaration diametrically contradicts al-Qaida’s approach, and provides Israel with an opportunity, perhaps a historic one, to leverage it for the better.

Why then are Israel’s leaders so determined to destroy Hamas? Because they believe that its leadership, unlike that of Fatah, cannot be intimidated into accepting a peace accord that establishes a Palestinian ‘state’ made up of territorially disconnected entities over which Israel would be able to retain permanent control. Control of the West Bank has been the unwavering objective of Israel’s military, intelligence and political elites since the end of the Six-Day War.[*] They believe that Hamas would not permit such a cantonisation of Palestinian territory, no matter how long the occupation continues. They may be wrong about Abbas and his superannuated cohorts, but they are entirely right about Hamas.

Middle East observers wonder whether Israel’s assault on Hamas will succeed in destroying the organisation or expelling it from Gaza. This is an irrelevant question. If Israel plans to keep control over any future Palestinian entity, it will never find a Palestinian partner, and even if it succeeds in dismantling Hamas, the movement will in time be replaced by a far more radical Palestinian opposition.

If Barack Obama picks a seasoned Middle East envoy who clings to the idea that outsiders should not present their own proposals for a just and sustainable peace agreement, much less press the parties to accept it, but instead leave them to work out their differences, he will assure a future Palestinian resistance far more extreme than Hamas – one likely to be allied with al-Qaida. For the US, Europe and most of the rest of the world, this would be the worst possible outcome. Perhaps some Israelis, including the settler leadership, believe it would serve their purposes, since it would provide the government with a compelling pretext to hold on to all of Palestine. But this is a delusion that would bring about the end of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

Anthony Cordesman, one of the most reliable military analysts of the Middle East, and a friend of Israel, argued in a 9 January report for the Center for Strategic and International Studies that the tactical advantages of continuing the operation in Gaza were outweighed by the strategic cost – and were probably no greater than any gains Israel may have made early in the war in selective strikes on key Hamas facilities. ‘Has Israel somehow blundered into a steadily escalating war without a clear strategic goal, or at least one it can credibly achieve?’ he asks. ‘Will Israel end in empowering an enemy in political terms that it defeated in tactical terms? Will Israel’s actions seriously damage the US position in the region, any hope of peace, as well as moderate Arab regimes and voices in the process? To be blunt, the answer so far seems to be yes.’ Cordesman concludes that ‘any leader can take a tough stand and claim that tactical gains are a meaningful victory. If this is all that Olmert, Livni and Barak have for an answer, then they have disgraced themselves and damaged their country and their friends.’

[*] See my piece in the LRB, 16 August 2007.

Henry Siegman, director of the US Middle East Project in New York, is a visiting research professor at SOAS, University of London. He is a former national director of the American Jewish Congress and of the Synagogue Council of America.

from Dragan Pavlovic :
Date: 26 January 2009
Subject: Response to "ON WAITING FOR OBAMA IN GAZA."

Dear Francis,

Thanks for the excellent texts!

In the mean time quite a lot of things went bad. Particularly Gaza. I think that it should be clear by now that the creation of the state of Israel was a mistake, that as it is the geopolitical constellation in the region is bound to produce new conflicts indefinitely and that this could and should be corrected in more radical way.

I proposed reorganisation of the region and regionalisation that would split Israel and Palestinians lands in 3-4 or more separate regions. In fact a creation of "Semitic" state under the control of the UN - in the beginning. A multicultural society NOT based on extreme nationalistic feelings or religion - a complete separation of state from religion! Why nobody talks about this? Am I wrong? Shell I write an essay to explain in more details something what is so obvious?

from Dahr Jamail :
Date: 29 January 2009
Subject: MidEast Dispatches: A Capped Volcano of Suffering.

aghdad today, on the eve of provincial elections, feels like it has emerged from several years of horrendous violence, but do not be misled. Every Iraqi I’ve spoken with feels it is tenuous, the still-fragile lull too young to trust.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees provides recent statistics showing that more Iraqis continue to flee their country than are returning. Two studies show the number of dead Iraqis to be between 1.2-1.4 million, and the number of those displaced to be nearly five million, or one in six Iraqis. During 2006 and 2008, scores of bodies were found on the streets of Baghdad and fished from the Tigris River as death squads and sectarian militias raged. All but one of my Iraqi friends and translators have either fled the country, or been killed. It is nearly impossible to meet a family that has not had a family member killed or wounded.

Only within the last half-year has violence lessened, and street life returned to something akin to “normal,” which means that as opposed to 50-250 Iraqi being slaughtered each day, now it is an average of one, sometimes two dozen per day.

The relative lull has allowed me to travel around Baghdad with relative ease, eat at restaurants, and even conduct interviews on the street; all of which was unheard of during my last visits to Iraq. I’ve been taking stock of what has changed, and what hasn’t.

One of the first things I noted that has not changed did not occur in Iraq. Rather, when arriving in Amman, Jordan and exiting the airplane, I strode into customs to find a Jordanian man holding up a Blackwater USA sign, to be met by four rough looking middle-aged men. The next day, whilst flying into Baghdad, the commercial jet did a “soft-spiral” descent into Baghdad airport, unlike the hard corkscrew descent that they all did when I was last in Iraq, so as not to be shot at by resistance fighters just outside of the airport perimeter.

The infrastructure remains in shambles. The generator at my hotel is running more than it is shut off. Throughout Baghdad, there an average of four hours of electricity per 24 hours, and people left with no choice but to drink tap water, when it runs - water heavily contaminated by waterborne diseases, fuel, sewage and sediment. Jobs are scarce, and people are suffering greatly. The anger about this seethes just beneath the surface everywhere I turn.

Previously, while these conditions were similar, there was still some hope that things might improve. That hope has shifted into a resignation of what is. A surrender into a daily life of trying to find enough money to buy food.

“In 2004 it cost me $1 to fill my car,” my interpreter Ali told me yesterday as we drove to Fallujah. “Today it now costs $35. It used to be in Iraq a family could easily live off $500 for two months. Today we are lucky if that lasts a week, because the prices of everything have gone so high.”

Beggars are present at most intersections. Where they are not, Iraqi children walk between the rows of cars carrying cigarettes, fruit, or sweets to sell to drivers stuck in the ever-present traffic.

Salah Salman, a day laborer in Sadr City I spoke with the other day, raged against the upcoming elections which are set for January 31. He spoke with me while we stood near a street strewn with garbage near a busy traffic circle.

“I’ll not be voting for anyone. We cannot trust any of the candidates, just like during the elections of 2005. What have they done for us? What services have they provided our country? They have achieved nothing for us!”

Like the 2005 elections (and most elections across the globe, for that matter), there are thousands of politicians running on various platforms, from unifying Iraq, to bringing electricity, to improving security, to promoting reconciliation. Most Iraqis I have spoken with about the elections are not holding out much hope.

“New thieves will replace the current thieves,” an Iraqi refugee in Amman told me before I flew into Baghdad.

Obvious differences are present. The most evident reason for the decline in US military casualties in Iraq over the last year is that there are clearly far fewer patrols being carried out by US forces, whereas before patrols roamed the streets incessantly. The patrols I do see are carried out in the new Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles, which are mine-resistant beasts that slowly crawl through the congested streets of Baghdad.

Instead, Iraqi security forces abound. Speeding through the streets with blaring sirens are Iraqi Police in huge, brand new Ford and Chevrolet trucks, which have clearly found their new market since the US has tired of the gas-guzzling behemoths. Further, Iraqi military abound, roaming around in brand new Humvees of the ilk traded in by the US military’s upgrade to MRAPs. So much security is deployed on the streets of Baghdad it is impossible to travel more than 15 minutes without finding another checkpoint. To live in Baghdad, like it is to live in many other Iraqi cities, is to live in a police state.

Contractors are visible flying overhead, often in their two-person Kiowa helicopters. They are running the security at the airport and in the Green Zone, which has been called the International Zone for some time now. The mercenary company Triple Canopy employs former Central American death squad members and various nationals from Uganda, a now mostly de-colonized country, to check ID badges at the countless checkpoints I walked through to obtain my mandatory press card inside the heavily fortified compound. Thus, the changing of the face is complete - Iraqi security forces and private contractor mercenaries are now the face of the US occupation of Iraq.

The political divides across the country run deep, and this thin, fresh, external skin of the lull in overall violence camouflages the plight of the average Iraqi. Prices of everything from bottled water to tomatoes have skyrocketed, while jobs have become increasingly scarce. While the major US news outlets have downgraded their staff in Iraq, or pulled out entirely because they feel Iraq is no longer an important story, for most Iraqis who remain here, there is no other option. Flee with no money and become a refugee, or remain and try to survive.

Will the elections bring a lasting stability? Or will groups who feel entitled to power that don’t obtain it democratically resort again to violence that will shred what is left of this shattered country?

We shall soon find out.

from Le Nouvel Observateur :
Date: 29 janvier
Subject: La grève général du 29 janvier.


Grève générale: le défi lancé à Sarkozy

Défiance et colère. Des centaines de milliers de salariés du public comme du privé se sont mobilisés jeudi dans toute la France pour interpeller Nicolas Sarkozy, le gouvernement et le patronat face à la crise, exigeant partout l'arrêt des suppressions de postes et des "cadeaux aux banques et aux entreprises", ou encore une hausse générale des salaires et des pensions.

A l'issue de cette journée nationale de grèves et de manifestations qui a vu entre 1 et 2,5 millions de personnes défiler dans la rue, le chef de l'Etat a annoncé en début de soirée qu'il allait recevoir les organisations syndicales et patronales en février "afin de convenir du programme de réformes à conduire en 2009 et des méthodes pour le mener à bien".

Dans un communiqué, le chef de l'Etat note que "la crise d'une ampleur sans précédent qui affecte l'économie mondiale provoque en France, comme partout dans le monde, une inquiétude légitime. En cette période particulièrement difficile, nos concitoyens craignent pour leur emploi". Pour lui, "cette crise impose aux pouvoirs publics un devoir d'écoute, de dialogue, et en même temps une grande détermination à agir".

A Paris, le cortège qui s'est étiré sur plus de 4km a rassemblé 65.000 personnes selon la police, 300.000 selon les syndicats, une mobilisation inédite depuis les grandes manifestations contre le Contrat première embauche (CPE) de 2006 qui avaient fait vaciller le gouvernement Villepin.

Les syndicats se réuniront lundi à partir de 18h au siège de l'UNSA à Bagnolet (Seine-Saint-Denis) pour décider des suites. "S'il n'y a pas de réponse, l'ampleur de la mobilisation obligera à des suites pour ne pas décevoir tous les gens qui se sont déplacés" jeudi, a prévenu le secrétaire général de la FSU Gérard Aschieri.

Le gouvernement a "un service minimum social et républicain à effectuer", pour répondre aux inquiétudes des manifestants, a estimé le secrétaire général de FO Jean-Claude Mailly, tandis que celui de la CGT Bernard Thibault a jugé qu'il ne sera pas "possible" pour Nicolas Sarkozy de répondre "'j'ai rien vu, j'ai rien entendu et j'ai rien à dire'".

Si les cortèges ont été extrêmement denses, les grèves, notamment dans les transports, n'ont pas entraîné de paralysie. A Paris, le trafic RATP n'a été perturbé de façon significative que dans le RER. A la SNCF, la direction dit avoir pu assurer la circulation de plus de la moitié des Transiliens et des TER, et de plus de 60% des TGV au niveau national. Selon la direction, 36,7% des cheminots avaient cessé le travail.

En province, le trafic a été perturbé de manière importante dans une trentaine de villes, notamment Clermont-Ferrand, Dijon, Le Havre ou encore Marseille, selon l'Union des transports publics (UTP). Dans le ciel, Aéroport de Paris (ADP) faisait état de retards et de 12% de vols annulés à Roissy, 35% à Orly jeudi matin.

Le taux de mobilisation était en moyenne de 25,9% chez les fonctionnaires, selon leur ministère de tutelle, avec, dans le détail, 33,1% dans la Fonction publique de l'Etat, 18% dans la Fonction publique territoriale et 19,6% dans la Fonction publique hospitalière. A l'Education nationale, 37,1% des enseignants étaient en grève dont près d'un sur deux dans le primaire, selon le ministère. Les syndicats faisaient état de près de 70% de grévistes dans le primaire et de plus de 60% dans le secondaire.

A La Poste, entre 28% et 40% des personnels étaient en grève jeudi, selon les sources. Dans le privé, de nombreux préavis de grève avaient été déposés dans la plupart des banches professionnelles, et en particulier dans la métallurgie qui comprend le secteur automobile où plus de 500 arrêts de travail ont été observés, selon la CGT.

Dans la rue, on comptait 56.000 manifestants selon la police, 90.000 selon les organisateurs à Toulouse, entre 34.000 et 60.000 à Grenoble, 25.000 et 60.000 à Clermont-Ferrand, 26.000 à 35.000 à Lille, 25.000 à 30.000 à Montpellier, entre 20.000 et 25.000 à Nancy, 11.000 à 20.000 à Saint-Etienne, 9.500 à 15.000 au Havre, 7.500 à 12.000 à Besançon, 7.000 à 25.000 à Roanne, 7.000 à 20.000 à Strasbourg, 5.500 à 8.000 à Mulhouse, et, selon la police, 35.000 à Nantes, 10.000 à Caen, 15.000 à Rouen.

En Bretagne, 66.000 à 103.000 manifestants se sont mobilisés dans le Finistère, les Côtes d'Armor et le Morbihan, et de 20.000 à 30.000 personnes à Rennes (Ille-et-Vilaine), selon les sources.

A Paris, le cortège extrêmement massif s'est étiré sur plus de 4km entre la place de la Bastille et celle de l'Opéra. Les derniers manifestants place de la Bastille, sont partis après 18h alors que la place de l'Opéra était noire de monde.

"De l'argent il y en a, dans les caisses du patronat. On va v'nir le chercher, ça va péter!", ou encore "Public, privé, solidarité!", scandaient les manifestants. De nombreuses pancartes et banderoles ciblaient Nicolas Sarkozy: "Hier ton anniversaire. Aujourd'hui ta fête!", pouvait-on notamment lire, et également, en bordure de cortège, au-dessus d'un trottoir: "Désormais, lorsqu'il y a une grève en France, personne ne s'en aperçoit. La preuve!". AP

from Greg Palast :
Date: 29 January 2009
Subject: Obama is a two-faced liar. Aw-RIGHT!

Obama is a two-faced liar. Aw-RIGHT!
by Greg Palast

Republicans are right. President Barack Obama treated them like dirt, didn't give a damn what they thought about his stimulus package, loaded it with a bunch of programs that will last for years and will never leave the budget, is giving away money disguised as "tax refunds," and is sneaking in huge changes in policy, from schools to health care, using the pretext of an economic emergency.
Way to go, Mr. O!
Mr. Down-and-Dirty Chicago pol. Street-fightin' man. Covering over his break-your-face power play with a "we're all post-partisan friends" BS.
And it's about time.
Frankly, I was worried about this guy. Obama's appointing Clinton-droids to the Cabinet, bloated incompetents like Larry Summers as "Economics Czar," made me fear for my country, that we'd gotten another Democrat who wished he were a Republican.
Then came Obama's money bomb. The House bill included $125 billion for schools (TRIPLING federal spending on education), expanding insurance coverage to the unemployed, making the most progressive change in the tax code in four decades by creating a $500 credit against social security payroll deductions, and so on.
It's as if Obama dug up Ronald Reagan's carcass and put a stake through The Gipper's anti-government heart. Aw-RIGHT!
About the only concession Obama threw to the right-wing trogs was to remove the subsidy for condoms, leaving hooker-happy GOP Senators, like David Vitter, to pay for their own protection. S'OK with me.
And here's the proof that Bam is The Man: Not one single Republican congressman voted for the bill. And that means that Obama didn't compromise, the way Clinton and Carter would have, to win the love of these condom-less jerks.
And we didn't need'm. Nyah! Nyah! Nyah!
Now I understand Obama's weird moves: dinner with those creepy conservative columnists, earnest meetings at the White House with the Republican leaders, a dramatic begging foray into Senate offices. Just as the Republicans say, it was all a fraud. Obama was pure Chicago, Boss Daley in a slim skin, putting his arms around his enemies, pretending to listen and care and compromise, then slowly, quietly, slipping in the knife. All while the media praises Obama's "post-partisanship." Heh heh heh.
Love it. Now we know why Obama picked that vindictive little viper Rahm Emanuel as staff chief: everyone visiting the Oval office will be greeted by the Windy City hit man who would hack up your grandma if you mess with the Godfather-in-Chief.
I don't know about you, but THIS is the change I've been waiting for.
Will it last? We'll see if Obama caves in to more tax cuts to investment bankers. We'll see if he stops the sub-prime scum-bags from foreclosing on frightened families. We'll see if he stands up to the whining, gormless generals who don't know how to get our troops out of Iraq. (In SHIPS, you doofusses!)
Look, don't get your hopes up. But it may turn out the new President's ... a Democrat!
Greg Palast's investigative reports for BBC and Rolling Stone can be seen at www.GregPalast.com. Palast is the author of New York Times bestsellers The Best Democracy Money Can Buy and Armed Madhouse.

from The News You Should Know :
Date: 30 January 2009
Subject: A New Code of Ethics At The White House.

Shame on corporate America, President Obama said Thursday. At a time when he’s struggling to find solutions for an economy that’s in the deepest recession in recent memory, Wall Street workers were paid an astounding $18.4 billion in bonuses last year. “It is shameful,” Obama said from the Oval Office. “And part of what we’re going to need is for the folks on Wall Street who are asking for help to show some restraint, and show some discipline, and show some sense of responsibility.”