Archives for December 2011

As the dawn of 2012 approaches, the sound of war drums from across the Atlantic is getting louder

Rhetoric against Iran is increasing in the ‘Island Empire’. Republican hawks, mad neocons and the all powerful Israeli lobby are ratcheting up the pressure. Last week the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the Iran Threat Reductions Act (Can you believe it?).  And then added an amendment which bars US officials from even speaking to the Iranians, effectively making any diplomatic contact virtually impossible. Crazy? Absolutely, but that’s how it is, and we should all be very concerned.

2012 could well see the US bombing Iran’s ‘nuclear facilities’ – it might be Israel with American help, there’s no difference. The ramifications for world peace are enormous and the effect on the fragile world economy will be disastrous. Is America’s dysfunctional politics going to push the world towards the precipice – again?

And noises of concern from our own government came there none. America’s poodle is too well trained to make a fuss. Dumb animals – unfortunately, but there you go.

FEATURED ARTICLE  by JASMINE RAMSEY

In the same week that President Obama declared an end to the Iraq War, Congress brought Americans closer to confrontation with Iran. The whimper with which America’s presence in Iraq ended was also drowned out by Republican presidential hopefuls beating war drums. This is America nearly four years into Obama’s leadership. The President may have begun his term by trying to pursue a different path with Iran, but his acquiescence to domestic lobbying has made the results of his policies indistinguishable from his predecessor. Ironically, his attempts to appease pro-Israel advocates have only invited more onerous demands while leaving would-be supporters disillusioned.

Perhaps more disheartening than the shattered hopes of millions who believed in Obama’s campaign promises is the blowback. Iran’s government is becoming more authoritarian and defiant as political infighting rages. Its position has also been strengthened by America’s Mideast policies. The ouster of Saddam Hussein has placed forces friendly to it in power in Baghdad. Meanwhile, US competitors benefit from deals resulting from sanctions, while American officials depend on countries like Saudi Arabia to provide essential support for their initiatives.

As in Tehran, hostile measures against political adversaries are also becoming the norm in Washington. On December 14, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the Iran Threat Reductions Act (HR 1905). An amendment to it proposed by hawk Ileana Ros-Lehtinen essentially bars US officials from even speaking to the Iranians with minor exceptions. Several analysts have written that the measure will enhance the threat of war. Intelligence veteran Paul Pillar warned in November that the restriction could block peaceful means of conflict resolution over Iran’s nuclear program and “any diplomacy to keep US-Iranian incidents or crises…from spinning out of control”.

Preventing unnecessary catastrophes was exactly what recently retired Admiral Mike Mullen was trying to do when he reiterated calls for engagement with Iran. In September he strongly recommended that the US explore “any channel [of communication] that’s open”, adding that “even in the darkest days of the Cold War,” America “had links to the Soviet Union”. Even Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta felt compelled to explain why war should be avoided to a pro-Israel audience at the Saban Center in Washington earlier this month. “The consequence could be that we would have an escalation that would take place that would not only involve many lives, but…consume the Middle East in a confrontation and a conflict that we would regret,” he said.

‘Sabotage diplomacy’

But as in the run-up to the Iraq War, the political leadership is ignoring sceptical voices regardless of their provenance. Hawkish measures are being furthered at an increasing pace. Last week the administration implied that it would sign into law sanctions against Iran’s Central Bank as part of the National Defence Authorisation Act. Representatives from 11 countries dubbed as the “coalition of like-minded countries” are meeting in Rome on Tuesday to also discuss implementing a complete oil embargo. Analysts have written that the Iranians could interpret these moves as “an act of war”.

HR 1905 has been opposed by a group of anti-war US organisations who fear it will “sabotage diplomacy”, including the National Iranian American Council (NIAC). According to NIAC policy director Jamal Abdi, the measures will “punish ordinary people, raise gas prices, and bring the US.and Iran closer to war”.

Top American businesses have also voiced opposition. USA*Engage, an influential coalition of American companies and trade associations said last week that HR 1905 would work against US efforts to build a multilateral coalition on Iran. “Votes like these may satisfy domestic political considerations,” a USA*Engage statement said, “but they actually weaken American leadership and have the potential to unravel the calibrated, multilateral consensus that has been achieved.”

History repeats itself and with Iran it’s hardly the work of supernatural forces. In 1996, a similar battle raged between elements of the “Israel lobby” and USA*Engage, which opposed harsh sanctions against Iraq and Iran. The lobby prevailed, with parts of the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act being written by members of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). This was confessed to journalist Jeffrey Goldberg by AIPAC staffer Steven Rosen who would later be indicted for espionage after being accused of giving classified US intelligence to Israel.

AIPAC’s victory was also a boon for the Russians and Chinese who were able to secure lucrative contracts in the sanctioned countries without competition. The main loser was America’s economy.

It’s no coincidence that many of the same groups that agitated for war with Iraq are also pushing America closer to confrontation with Iran. The ultra-hawkish Foundation for Defence of Democracies does this by spreading their ideas in influential newspapers and informing key congressional committees. Washington Post hawk Jennifer Rubin regularly quotes the FDD when writing about Iran. In August, Mark Dubowitz told her that to “squeeze the regime” the US should “target Iran’s crude oil sales, designate the Central Bank of Iran, and sanction the Chinese, Indian and other companies that continue to do business in Iran’s energy sector.” He also claimed Americans didn’t “have time” for diplomatic measures and argued that “a comprehensive Iran policy” must include “the real threat of force”.

The hawks circle

Dubowitz’s Iraq war hawk colleague Reuel Marc Gerecht is less restrained with his language. In October he told two house subcommittees at a hearing about the alleged “Iranian plot” to assassinate the Saudi ambassador that the US would be “asking for it” if they didn’t “shoot someone” in response.

AIPAC has also been pushing for “strangling” sanctions against Iran for years. Last week journalist Philip Weiss blogged that the unanimous senate passing of the Kirk-Menendez amendment incorporating Iran Central Bank sanctions into the National Defense bill highlighted the pro-Israel “pressure” Obama faces. “AIPAC famously can get 70 Senators’ signatures on a napkin inside of a day, as Goldberg himself reported,” Weiss wrote, but “[t]his time AIPAC got 100 against Obama!”

State department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said Thursday that the US was studying how to apply sanctions against Iran’s Central Bank “while causing minimum disruption” for its allies. But she did not explain how that’s possible when enforcement requires a US financial ban on anyone who does business with it. And while Asian allies like Japan are scrambling for ways to cope with the US-led initiatives, China and Russia are looking forward to exploiting them.

Iran could respond to strangulating pressure by blockading the world’s most important oil-shipping route, the Strait of Hormuz. But it could also gain from higher oil prices caused by a reduction in global supply. Earlier this month, State Department undersecretary Wendy Sherman said there’s “absolutely a risk that…the price of oil would go up, which would mean that Iran would in fact have more money to fuel its nuclear ambitions, not less.”

Saudi Arabia plays a key role in countering that consequence and it still hasn’t commented on an Iranian claim that the Saudis would not boost production to offset the effect of decreased Iranian exports. Despite their headline-dominating tensions, Iran joined the Saudis in Riyadh for talks last week. Both countries also prefer high prices; in October Saudi Arabia inadvertently pleased the Iranians when they cut oil output by four per cent so prices wouldn’t fall below $100 a barrel.

We’ll see how the Saudis act this time when there’s increased US pressure. But now America is also depending on an economically struggling European Union to stop purchasing Iranian crude. Oil prices have also been rising since last week and economists are warning that costs may surge if Iran’s supply is halted. All this while Obama continues to be criticised by pro-Israel hawks despite submitting to their pressure.

The President’s schizophrenic Iran policy seems to have landed America in a no-win situation as a threatened Iran feels compelled to acquire nuclear weapon capability. While Iran insists it’s “not really worried” about more “strangling” sanctions, it could accordingly slip into the “irrational” role that’s constantly attributed to it. Even before post-war instability has died down in Iraq, conditions are ripe for yet another calamitous confrontation in the Middle East.

Jasmin Ramsey is an Iranian-born journalist and co-editor of Lobe Log and PULSE Media.

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SoR’s Christmas ‘Stockings’. Thursday – David Cameron

Dave is a bit of an obvious candidate. After eighteen months in office there are any number of transgressions that would qualify him for a day in the stocks. However there are three that are top of my list.

Firstly, It’s for being such a twonk for a. employing Andy Coulson as his Director of Communications. Anyone with half a brain would have recognised that he had some very dodgy baggage and avoided him like the plague. Not our Dave. He not only followed cohort Osborne’s questionable ‘advice’ – but was naive enough to succombe to ‘pressure’ from Murdoch, who was eager to have a ‘placeman’ at the heart of government to ‘support’ his BSkyB ambitions. b. For not firing Coulson as soon as there was the faintest whiff that he might not have been entirely honest about the extent of phone hacking at the News of the World. Dave dithered. More frightened of upsetting Murdoch than doing what was right. His behaviour speaks volumes about his judgement and the set of his moral compass. What he knew and when he knew it are questions he has yet to answer. Fun to come.

Second, it took the news that Milly Dowler’s phone had been hacked for him to prise himself away from the clutches of the Murdoch machine. Had ‘Dowlergate’ not happened he would have happily accepted the bribe of everlasting support from the Murdoch press, and allowed the BSkyB deal to have gone ahead. Cameron was prepared to sacrifice the plurality of the British press and the integrity of British politics for ‘favours’ form the mad mogul Murdoch. The whole affair illustrates too beautifully how the ruling political class has  allowed the media to become the number one instrument of state, and the extent of Murdoch’s influence in the political process. For this betrayal, a day in the stocks seems too short.

Thirdly, Cameron’s behaviour in Brussels demonstrated where his true priorities lie.  Party before country – actually party before anything. Did he have Britain’s best interests at heart on that fateful Friday morning? Now way! He professed he had to act to protect Britain’s financial services – the top slicers and fee skimmers that is, (who constitute 7.5% of GDP) – oh, and the City bonus boys, of course. The whole thing was a ruse.   The reality was that he was only interested in what was best for David Cameron and the Conservative party. He didn’t give a second thought about the long-term effect of his actions. Make no mistake what went on in Brussels was carefully planned and well rehearsed. Dear devious, deceitful Dave you ain’t foolin’ nobody! A few hard boiled eggs coming your way!

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Elvis Presley’s Blue Christmas….Enjoy!

Ah! Just ‘the’ most brilliant Christmas song ever…followed by ‘Santa Claus is Back in Town’ and ‘Santa ‘Bring my Baby back to Me’. Elvis bias? Well perhaps…enjoy! Have a great holiday!

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SoR’s Christmas ‘Stockings’. Wednesday – Benjamin Netanyahu

“I can’t bear Netanyahu, he’s a liar”, said Sarko. “You’re fed up with him, I have to deal with him every day!” replied Obama. A revealing aside by two world leaders about the man in the stocks today, Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel.

The day Bibi Netanyahu became Israel’s leader, the peace process died. Son of a fanatical Arab hater, he has absolutely no interest in negotiating with the Palestinians. This year, while the world’s attention was focused elsewhere, he speeded up settlement building in the Occupied Territories. An act of brazen chutzpah, effectively  raising two fingers to Obama, who had asked him to stop expanding the settlements.

Bibi is a hard-line bully boy and he has every intention of colonising the Occupied Territories and presenting the world with a fait accompli. No two state solution, just the Jewish state of ‘Greater Israel’. That’s what he wants and that is what he’s determined to achieve – no matter what the cost.

And what a cost. On average Israel kills one Palestinian every two days. Gaza remains under siege. Millions of Palestinians live in abject poverty, bullied and humiliated by their occupiers. And next year will be no different from this one, just more misery and suffering courtesy of Bibi Netanyahu.

Meanwhile the US Congress has been bribed into submission by his Israeli lobby foot soldiers. Congress does what Bibi tells it to do, which is to approve everything he does.

The power that Bibi and his gangster government has over US makes them very dangerous people. Already this year they’ve been pressuring their neocon friends to ramp up pressure for the US to bomb Iran. They might even do it themselves – with the approval of the US, of course. Israel doesn’t fear that Iran might nuke them, they’re frightened of a change in the political dynamic if Iran gets nuclear weapons.

Bibi Netanyahu, leader of what is now a pariah state, could be responsible for dragging the world into a major conflict in 2012. He needs put in his place.

The stocks are probably too good for Bibi. Perhaps the rotten eggs should be hard boiled.

 

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SoR’s Christmas ‘Stockings’. Tuesday – Bob Crow

In the stocks today, Bob Crow, General Secretary of the RMT. It might seem a bit unfair to strap Comrade Crow into the stocks. Man of the people is Bob. Patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign amongst other things, and a staunch supporter of workers’ rights – he even wants a new ‘workers’ party’ because he believes, quite rightly, that the Labour party no longer represents ‘working people’. He might be right, but he hasn’t managed to generate much enthusiasm for his idea, in fact it’s a bit of a dead duck.

How to describe Bob?  A  modern day equivalent of Fred Kite, the character played by Peter Sellers in ‘I’m All Right Jack’? Maybe, but a whole lot meaner. Tube drivers love him, and so they should. He’s won them £50k a year plus overtime; can’t be bad for pointing a train down the tracks – and it really is all down to Bob who sees TFL as a soft touch, and the ‘polar bear on a bicycle’ – Mayor Boris – as a ‘class enemy’.

So why’s Bob in the stocks? Well, it’s  payback time for all those weary, long-suffering tube travelers who’ve had to put up with his antics this year.  Tube strike after tube strike, and now, at the end of what’s been a very tough year for a lot of people, he’s going to bugger them about again with yet another strike – albeit Aslef inspired. This time it’s on Boxing day – the first day of the sales. C’mon Bob! A few well aimed rotten eggs at Bob’s gleaming pate is probably what he deserves.

It’s also a bit of a warning shot too. Rumour has it that our Bob is warming up for a strike over the Olympics. God knows what it will be about this time – a bonus for map reading skills probably. This is a step too far, Bob.  A day in the stocks for you, my friend!

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SoR’s Christmas ‘Stockings’. Monday – Bob Diamond

Bankster Bob (I’m not going to say sorry) Diamond, Barclay’s chief executive, is first in the stocks this year. In January he trousered £15 million and is set to do the same this coming January – maybe even more.  This fellow has no shame and has chutzpah in bucket loads.  But that’s not the real reason he’s in the stocks. It’s his lack of remorse. He’s damned if he’s going to say sorry for banksters’ behaviour in the 2008 crash – or for the PPI fraud – for which he and his fellow bank chief executives should have been locked up.

And then in his Today Business Lecture he said that banks need to show they support growth and “become better and more effective citizens”. That banks were “dedicated to supporting economic growth by taking risks on behalf of businesses, big and small”. Bullshit Bob! Banks’ net lending to SMEs has actually fallen. Is this what you mean by supporting economic growth?

You’re all piss and wind, Bob. Hollow words. You deserve the rotten eggs coming your way!

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Christopher Hitchens – A life lived. The Paxman interview

Christopher Hitchens—the incomparable critic, masterful rhetorician, fiery wit, and fearless bon vivant—died today at the age of 62. Hitchens was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in the spring of 2010, just after the publication of his memoir, Hitch-22, and began chemotherapy soon after.

“My chief consolation in this year of living dyingly has been the presence of friends,” he wrote in the June 2011 issue of Vanity Fair.

Author, journalist and champion of the “new atheism” movement – he gave this interview to Newsnight’s Jeremy Paxman.

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High street? High five! Mary’s recommendations on the money!

 

Mary Portas is a ‘doer’. She has ideas, and she makes them happen. Getting her to put her brain on the regeneration of Britain’s High Streets was inspired. Her recommendations (listed below) are inspired too. But will they be translated into action? Perhaps she should do one of her ‘revisits’ in eighteen month’s time – the thought should put the fear of God into the likes of housing minister Grant (‘I can sell snow to the Eskimos’) Shapps.

Britain’s high streets are prime examples of what happens when planners and problem generating politicians don’t join up the dots. High streets have been ignored and allowed to become a problem. There has been no direction, no inspiration, no incentive to make things better and absolutely no leadership. Result? Chaos and confusion. This is an opportunity  for change.

Wait a minute though…on the very day Mary’s report hit the news stands, local councillors are already starting to mither about lost revenue from car parking. The little men with no ideas and even less clue are starting to surface. Moan, moan, moan – these are the folk who think vision comes from Specsavers. Let’s hope someone with cojones is tasked to turn these recommendations into action – a High Street Tsar maybe? C’mon Mr Shapps, surprise us!

Mary’s recommendations:

1. Put in place a “Town Team”: a visionary, strategic and strong operational management team for high streets

2. Empower successful Business Improvement Districts to take on more responsibilities and powers and become “Super-BIDs”

3. Legislate to allow landlords to become high street investors by contributing to their Business Improvement District

4. Establish a new “National Market Day” where budding shopkeepers can try their hand at operating a low-cost retail business

5. Make it easier for people to become market traders by removing unnecessary regulations so that anyone can trade on the high street unless there is a valid reason why not

6. Government should consider whether business rates can better support small businesses and independent retailers

7. Local authorities should use their new discretionary powers to give business rate concessions to new local businesses

8. Make business rates work for business by reviewing the use of the RPI with a view to changing the calculation to CPI

9. Local areas should implement free controlled parking schemes that work for their town centres and we should have a new parking league table

10. Town Teams should focus on making high streets accessible, attractive and safe

11. Government should include high street deregulation as part of their ongoing work on freeing up red tape

12. Address the restrictive aspects of the ‘Use Class’ system to make it easier to change the uses of key properties on the high street

13. Put betting shops into a separate ‘Use Class’ of their own

14. Make explicit a presumption in favour of town centre development in the wording of the National Planning Policy Framework

15. Introduce Secretary of State “exceptional sign off ” for all new out-of-town developments and require all large new developments to have an “affordable shops” quota

16. Large retailers should support and mentor local businesses and independent retailers

17. Retailers should report on their support of local high streets in their annual report

18. Encourage a contract of care between landlords and their commercial tenants by promoting the leasing code and supporting the use of lease structures other than upward only rent reviews, especially for small businesses

19. Explore further disincentives to prevent landlords from leaving units vacant

20. Banks who own empty property on the high street should either administer these assets well or be required to sell them

21. Local authorities should make more proactive use of Compulsory Purchase Order powers to encourage the redevelopment of key high street retail space

22. Empower local authorities to step in when landlords are negligent with new “Empty Shop Management Orders”

23. Introduce a public register of high street landlords

24. Run a high profile campaign to get people involved in Neighbourhood Plans

25. Promote the inclusion of the High Street in Neighbourhood Plans

26. Developers should make a financial contribution to ensure that the local community has a strong voice in the planning system

27. Support imaginative community use of empty properties through Community Right to Buy, Meanwhile Use and a new “Community Right to Try”

28. Run a number of High Street Pilots to test proof of concept

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Sharon Bowles reveals Cameron as Perfidious Albion personified

 

Who is Sharon Bowles? She’s LibDem MEP for South East England and is the first Briton, and first Liberal to ever chair the European Parliament’s powerful Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee. If there’s one person who can comment on the detail of Cameron’s demands from the ‘European’ perspective, I would suggest it’s Sharon. Not afraid to speak her truth, this is what she has to say about the ‘Cameron Calamity’:

“I abhor Cameron’s use of the veto.

His demands were not ‘moderate’. They were a mix of attempts to reverse agreed positions disguised by inaccurate invocations of conclusions from regular meetings of Finance ministers and interference in current legislative dossiers. It was a power grab, reneging on agreed legislation. Crafted as a wolf in sheep’s clothing, it may have fooled some in the UK, but not us.

Asked to save the euro, Mr Cameron gave in to his eurosceptic party. He has jeopardised UK interests, including those of the City, when there was nothing in the European Council agreement threatening the UK.

After all, what was the purpose of the Vickers report; of higher capital requirements; and of tighter UK financial market rules, other than to respond to UK taxpayers´ demand for a safer City of London. We should be following that path alongside our European partners in harmony, not in antagonism.

In this crisis, there is no worse time for Cameron to have turned his back on Europe. His veto has made the summit result harder to deliver, more intergovernmental, and less democratically accountable”.

Apparently, there’s a real hatred of the UK in the EP chamber this morning – as well there might be. It’s perhaps not Cameron’s stunt that’s antagonised people, but his timing. And as we are now becoming aware, Cameron’s purpose had all to do with party and little else. For all his bluster yesterday, he couldn’t disguise his true purpose. Perfidious Albion? That’s us. Thank you Dave!

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Postscript to the ‘Cameron Calamity’ blog

David Cameron made much of the fact that he was in contact with Nick Clegg last Friday morning. The impression he wanted us to have was that Clegg was very much part of the decision. It now transpires that Cameron only telephoned him after 4am to tell him the deed had been done. Consultation was there none. Duplicitous Dave was up to his old tricks again.

Clegg didn’t have a clue what was going on. Apparently Cameron’s excuse for not contacting him earlier was the he was ‘having difficulty getting through to him’. Unlikely, he was too busy talking to ‘his’ people. According to those close to Cameron he was seldom off his Blackberry. Who was he talking to? Principally George Osborne, the man he considers to be his real number two. Clegg was clearly never in the loop.

Clegg’s first interview on Friday morning was a sorry affair. Poor chap realised that he’d been stuffed – again, and didn’t have the wit to speak his truth. It took a few stern voices from his party pals before he finally found his voice. His subsequent righteous indignation had a very hollow ring to it.

But  could Clegg have made a difference to Friday’s outcome? If he’d been in the loop, yes. Whether he would have had the courage to put his foot down is another matter.

Cameron was certainly not going to allow Clegg to foil his plan, so he had to be kept in the dark about what he was really up to. But even at 4am could  Clegg not have told Cameron a veto was a deal breaker? Probably not. It was too late – as Cameron would have judged. Clegg’s monumental error was that he didn’t insist that he was in the loop. Instead he was tucked up in bed. He was not only naive, but  plain stupid. And plain stupid is perhaps what Mr Clegg is.

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