Focal Points Blog

Fukushima Has Become the Sequel to “Groundhog Day”

Groundhog Day(Pictured: Bill Murray and friend attempting to escape from Fukushima.)

Remember that 1993 film in which the Bill Murray repeats the same day over and over again? The Japanese nuclear crisis has also become déjà vu ad nauseum (please excuse mixed romance languages). Fukushima news reports today aren’t appreciably different from those shortly after the earthquake and tsunami. On May 18 the New York Times reported (note two words emphasized):

Amid widening alarm in the United States and elsewhere about Japan’s nuclear crisis, military fire trucks began spraying cooling water on spent fuel rods at the country’s stricken nuclear power station late Thursday after earlier efforts to cool the rods failed, Japanese officials said. . . .Earlier Thursday Japanese military forces tried to dump seawater from a helicopter on Reactor No. 3, making four passes and dropping a total of about 8,000 gallons as a plume of white smoke billowed. . . . Video of the effort appeared to show most of the water missing the reactor and the Japanese military later said the measure had little effect on reducing the temperature in the pool where the spent rods are stored. . . . The developments came as the authorities reached for ever more desperate and unconventional methods to cool damaged reactors, deploying helicopters and water cannons in a race to prevent perilous overheating in the spent rods of the No. 3 reactor.

Unconventional, maybe, but no longer new. In fact, it’s a reprise of what was attempted when the cooling problem emerged shortly after the earthquake and tsunami. From the BBC on March 17:

Thursday’s attempt to use helicopters to dump seawater on to the Fukushima power station is almost certainly unprecedented in more than half a century of nuclear power operations around the world. Long-range video footage indicates why it is not a more widely-used technique: it does not appear to work. Water cannon — tried, with similar results — seemed a similarly desperate measure.

Desperate in March, it must be a deeper shade of desperate now, which would seem to be indicated by this, from the May 18 Times article.

The decision to focus on the No. 3 reactor appeared to suggest that Japanese officials believe it is a greater threat, since it is the only one at the site loaded with a mixed fuel known as mox, for mixed oxide, which includes reclaimed plutonium [and which] would produce a more dangerous radioactive plume than the dispersal of uranium fuel rods at the site. . . . In the worst case, experts say, workers could be forced to vacate the plant altogether, and the fuel rods in reactors and spent fuel pools would be left to melt down, leading to much larger releases of radioactive materials.

In early April, Australian TV news is even more discouraging.

. . . One expert says the radiation leaks will be ongoing and it could take 50 to 100 years before the nuclear fuel rods have completely cooled and been removed. “As the water leaks out, you keep on pouring water in, so this leak will go on for ever,” said Dr John Price, a former member of the Safety Policy Unit at the UK’s National Nuclear Corporation. . . . “The final thing is that the reactors will have to be closed and the fuel removed, and that is 50 to 100 years away.

Meanwhile, from the May 18 Times story:

The United States’ top nuclear official followed up his bleak appraisal of the grave situation at the plant the day before with a caution that it would “take some time, possibly weeks,” to resolve.

Looks like we can look forward to yet more sequels of Japan’s Groundhog Day.

Call for Attacks on Libyan Infrastructure Provides Glimpse of NATO’s Real Motives

Gen. Sir David Richards(Pictured: Gen. Sir David Richards, supreme commander of Fredonia.)

According to the New York Times (5/16/11), Gen. Sir David Richards, “Britain’s top military commander,” is proposing that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) target Libyan “infrastructure,” including electrical power grids and fuel dumps, in government held areas.

Frustrated by the two-month old stalemate, Gen. Richards told the Times that “The vice is closing on [Muammar el-] Qaddadi, but we need to increase the pressure further through more intense military activity.” The British are playing a major role in the bombing campaign, and Gen. Richards was in Naples, the command center for the war in Libya, when he talked with the Times.

The Times went on to write, “The General suggested that NATO should be freed from restraints that precluded attacking infrastructure targets.”

Let us be clear what “infrastructure” means: “The fundamental facilities and systems serving a country, city or area, as transportation and communication systems, power plants and schools” (Random House Dictionary, Second Edition).

Now let’s see what the 1977 Protocol Addition to Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 says on the business of attacking “infrastructure.”

In order to ensure respect for and protection of the civilian population and civilian objects, the Parties to the conflict shall at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants and between civilian objects and military objectives and accordingly shall direct their operations only against military objectives.
— Part IV, Section I, Article. 48

It is prohibited to attack, destroy, remove or render useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, such as foodstuff, agricultural areas for the production of foodstuffs, crops, livestock, drinking water installations and supplies and irrigation works.
— Article 54

It is prohibited for the Parties to the conflict to attack, by any means whatsoever, non-defended localities.
— Article 59

In short, you can’t bomb power plants, electrical grids, water pumping plants, or transport systems that service the civilian population, even if the military also benefits from them. As Article 50 states: “The presence within the civilian population of individuals that do not come within the definition of civilians does not deprive the population of its civilian character.”

The pressure to step up the bombing and widen the delineation of targets reflects the fact that the war has turned into a stalemate. “We need to do more,” Gen. Richards told the Times, “If we do not up the ante now there is a risk that the conflict could result in Qaddafi clinging to power.”

That last statement appears to be a violation of United Nations Resolution 1973, which called for “protection of civilians,” a “no-fly zone,” “sanctions,” a “freeze of assets” and an “arms embargo.” Nowhere does 1973 mention regime change and getting rid of Qaddafi.

So are we being dragged into a war whose goals violate UN Resolution 1973, and whose means violate the Geneva Conventions for the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts? It is hard not to answer that question in anything but the affirmative.

More of Conn Hallinan’s work can be found at Dispatches From the Edge.

Sans Insurance, a Nuclear Meltdown Can Become a Financial Meltdown

Way to stay unruffled, Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK). The headline at NHK’s website yesterday reads “TEPCO to review cooling operation.” Sounds sober enough — until you find out why it plans to conduct that review.

Tokyo Electric Power Company will have to review its plan for stabilizing the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility after a large amount of radioactive water was found in the basement of one of its reactor buildings.

The utility says it discovered an estimated 3,000 tons of contaminated water in the basement of the damaged Number 1 reactor building.

It “discovered”? How does that go overlooked? Never mind: how the water wound up in the basement is light years more frightening.

TEPCO says fuel rods in the Number 1 reactor melted down and created a hole in the bottom of the pressure vessel. It says the containment vessel also appears to be damaged and highly radioactive water has leaked into the basement of the building.

As if that’s not bad enough, Agence France Presse reported:

Ruling-party lawmaker Goshi Hosono, special aide to Prime Minister Naoto Kan, said. . . . reactor three has not cooled down as hoped earlier, saying it was more of a worry to him than reactor one.

Perhaps as a consequence (from the same article)

Japan on Sunday started the first evacuations of homes outside a government exclusion zone. . . . Some 4,000 residents of Iidate-mura village as well as 1,100 people in Kawamata-cho town . . . began the phased relocations. . . . Although Iidate-mura and Kawamata-cho are 30 kilometres (20 miles) away from the plant, they have consistently received high amounts of radioactive materials due to wind patterns.

All at huge cost to the state, of course. But, surprisingly, of all the institutions to come out of this without taking a financial bath, you’d think the last is insurance. But, for those who may be unaware of it, when it comes to insuring nuclear-power plants, insurance companies keep their exposure to a minimum. Juergen Batz reports for the Associated Press.

Japan’s Fukushima disaster, which will leave taxpayers there with a massive bill, brings to the fore one of the [nuclear-energy] industry’s key weaknesses — that nuclear power is a viable source for cheap energy only if it goes uninsured. The cost of a worst-case nuclear accident at a plant in Germany, for example, has been estimated to total as much as $11 trillion, while the mandatory reactor insurance is only 3.7 billion. . . . “Around the globe, nuclear risks — be it damages to power plants or the liability risks resulting from radiation accidents — are covered by the state. The private insurance industry is barely liable,” said Torsten Jeworrek, a board member at Munich Re, one of the world’s biggest reinsurance companies. . . . In financial terms, nuclear incidents can be so devastating that the cost of full insurance would be so high as to make nuclear energy more expensive than fossil fuels.

In fact

Tepco had no disaster insurance.

Despite Fukushima, many, including those to whom it’s vastly less catastrophic for the environment than coal, remain unmoved in their advocacy for nuclear energy. But, the environmental effects of Fukushima aside, purely in financial terms, the world can scarcely afford more than one of these accidents every, say, ten years.

The New York Times Backs the Administration’s Tenderize-the-Taliban Policy

On May 12, the New York Times did a very curious thing.

In an article entitled “Indian and Afghan Leaders Forge Deeper Ties in Meeting” by Alissa J. Rubin and Sanger Rahimi, the newspaper failed to mention that during his visit to Afghanistan, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had endorsed peace talks between the Taliban and the government of Hamid Karzai.

The Times’ piece—buried on the back pages—led with an agreement by the two governments to “move ahead on a strategic partnership” and then prattled on about aid. The words “Taliban” and “talks” never appeared.

In contrast, a May 13 Reuters article led with “India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, backing Kabul’s peace plan to reconcile with the Taliban-led insurgents.” According to Reuters, the Prime Minister said, “Afghanistan is embarked upon a process of national reconciliation. We wish you well in this enterprise.”

A BBC broadcast also led with the “Taliban talk” news, and the print version put it in the third sentence. To date the New York Times has yet to report the fact that India abandoned its previous opposition to opening talks with the Taliban.

How could the Times miss a story like that? There are only two explanations. One, that the two reporters are the kind that would have asked Mary Todd Lincoln if she liked the play. Two, that the reporters put the breakthrough remarks into the story, and an editor in New York took them out.

As a whole, Times coverage of the Afghan War has not been very good, certainly not nearly as good as the reporting by the McClatchy newspapers, let alone the international press. But their reporters have rarely demonstrated incompetence, and there is nothing in the record to suggest that Rubin and Rahimi are not good reporters. They could have missed what is probably the most important development in the past year—if so, time for reassignment to the Metro Desk—but it is much more likely that higher ups in New York left it on the cutting room floor.

Bad news sense? Maybe, but then again, maybe not.

On May 14, the Times wrote an editorial entitled “Pakistan After Bin Laden” where the following paragraph appears:

The Obama administration also needs to take a harder look at military aid to Pakistan, to determine what is vital for counterterrorism and what might be tied to specific benchmarks, like apprehending the Taliban chief, Mullah Omar, and members of the Haqqani network.

In short, the Times is arguing that Pakistan should take out the very people whom the Karzai government will need to talk with in any negotiations with the Taliban. There is an old rule in the business of negotiations: don’t arrest or kill the people you want to talk with. That is, unless you don’t really want to have talks. The Israelis have developed this into a science: as soon as it looks like there are going to be talks between Israel and the Palestinians, they build some new settlements, knowing that the provocation will torpedo any negotiations.

The Times is a strong supporter of U.S. Gen. David Petraeus’s counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan, which consists of attacking the Taliban in order to weaken them prior to a political settlement. The idea is that if they are first beaten up, the insurgents will be more pliable during negotiations.

However, since the Taliban show no signs of throwing in the towel—indeed, U.S. civilian intelligence agencies pretty much agree that the war is going badly and the situation is not likely to improve—the Times’ position is a formula for continuing the war.

The 2010 “surge” of troops into Afghanistan has been largely a bust. The south, where most troops went, is quieter, but hardly pacified, and insurgent attacks have increased in other areas of the country, particularly in the east and the north. This past year has been the deadliest for both Coalition troops and Afghan civilians.

Is that what the Times wants? Indeed, wants it so badly that it won’t report that there has been a major diplomatic breakthrough? If you don’t print the news that you don’t like, it didn’t happen?

Boy, that’s a relief.

More of Conn Hallinan’s work can be found at Dispatches From the Edge.

WikiLeaks: Canada’s Harper Embodies American Right’s Worst Tendencies

Stephen HarperWe’re honored to have Michael Busch dissecting the latest WikiLeaks document dump for Focal Points. This is the fifty-third in the series.

Recent cables published by WikiLeaks from the American embassy in Ottawa paint a less than flattering picture of Stephen Harper. The Canadian prime minister, whose Conservative Party took a commanding majority in nationwide elections last week, has built his political success on a platform of aggressive nationalism concerning the country’s Arctic sovereignty, pro-business economics, and keen avoidance of doing anything about climate change.

But from the perspective of American diplomats, Harper has a decidedly different list of priorities he pursues in private. In a cable that dates to January 2010, US Ambassador to Canada David Jacobson outlines what he sees as prime minister’s top five policy objectives.

Not surprisingly, “Harper’s top goal for 2010 is remaining in power,” which Jacobson notes will force the country’s conservatives “to claim credit even when it is not due to them.” While Harper has enjoyed unrivalled personal popularity throughout Canada, his party was not as warmly embraced. “Harper failed to convince the public to give them a majority” in successive federal elections during 2004, 2006, and 2008, though Jacobson notes that a new round of elections in 2010 might prove beneficial to the party.

Conservatives arguably have the most to gain in a new election, given the many self-inflected wounds suffered by the Liberals under [Michael] Ignatieff over the past year. The Conservatives nonetheless do not wish the public to blame them for a new and still unwelcome election.

In fact, it’s not clear if Harper’s Conservatives have much going for them beyond Ignatieff’s incompetence to effectively organize a viable opposition.

Liberal disarray and disappointing fundraising in the second half of 2009 leave the Liberal party in poor shape to face an election, which Ignatieff now admits that the public does not want. Nor have the Liberals hit upon a potentially winning issue. They and the NDP have tried to turn the treatment of Afghan detainees transferred by the Canadian Forces to Afghan authorties in 2006 and 2007 into a major embarrassment for the government. So far, the public isn’t biting (51 percent remain unaware of the issue…), and it is far from clear that there is much political utility for any of the opposition parties in making a major push to continue this probe.

According to the cable, Harper’s second priority, after preserving his own employment, is to “re-grow the economy.” While the prime minister and his associates have taken the lion’s share of credit for helping steer the ship of state through the turbulent economic waters of the 2008 financial and economic crisis, the US embassy in Ottawa wasn’t so sure these claims were the entirely accurate. “The jury is still somewhat out on whether long-standing monetary and fiscal policies were the main factors,” the cable notes, “or whether Canada’s huge resource base and openness to international trade were not at least as much factors.” It didn’t matter, though because “the Conservatives have in any event pretty much succeeded in convincing the public that they are more trustworthy on this issue than the Liberal would be.” Still, “The Conservatives do not appear to have any bold measures up their sleeves to improve the economy, but appear content to wait for…a rising global economy—especially the US—to life all boats.”

Harper and his gang might have been waiting to ride the coattails of an American recovery, but it’s clear that the Canadian prime minister didn’t like Washington’s methods for stimulating the economy. From the embassy’s perspective, Harper had developed something of an obsession with what it considered his third priority: overturning provisions in the American Reconstruction and Recovery Act. Harper had addressed this issue “so often with President Obama that it has become somewhat of a private joke.”

While American protectionism was centrally important to the Harper government and his big business allies, it wasn’t clear to Jacobson than the topic was all that important to anyone else, or that any success on this front would be of much political utility. “The public—but not the business community—has largely lost track of the dispute…so even a failure in the talks might hurt Conservatives less than would been likely only a few months ago. None of the opposition parties has any better plan on how to reverse any US inclinations.”

The cable paints Harper as particularly dismal on environmental politics, a topic the American embassy considered important to the prime minister’s future success despite his personal disinterest. The document points out that Harper agreed to attend the historic 2009 multilateral negotiations in Denmark to stem the worst effects of environmental degradation.

Harper somewhat grudgingly went to Copenhagen for the UN summit on climate change, but only after President Obama announced that he would attend. PM Harper’s participation was virtually invisible to the Canadian public, and there was considerable negative coverage of his failure to play a more prominent role—or even to sit in on the President’s key meetings with world leaders.

Jacobson correctly suggests that Harper’s lackluster performance at Copenhagen left his government in the unenviable position of looking at once detached from what many consider the most important international security issue facing mankind, and a lap dog to American power.

Environmental Minister Jim Prentice was sent out to do the media scrums and to insist that Canada was a helpful participant and would work closely with the United States on a continental strategy on climate change. Now he must come up with some proposals that make Canada not seem merely to be going slavishly along with whatever its American “big brother” decides to do—which will not be easy.

Making matters worse,

A substantial proportion of the Canadian public and industry…are opposed to Harper taking a leading role and are even opposed to him following any likely leads set by the Obama administration. In that respect, given Canada’s role as a major petroleum and natural gas producer, he will have an even more difficult political balancing act that will the United States or the Europeans.

But once again, the Conservatives would be bailed out, Jacobson predicts, not by their own creative thinking or popularity, but by the opposition’s incompetence. “No big, sexy initiatives are likely from the Conservatives…Luckily for the government, the Liberals also do not have any great ideas up their sleeves.”

Most interestingly, given the election results of last week, the cable notes that “getting out of Afghanistan as gracefully as possible” would be Harper’s fifth and final major priority over the coming year. Despite his original gung-ho support for NATO operations in Afghanistan, Harper more lately repeatedly insisted that Canada would begin withdrawing its presence in the country by the end of 2011.

Diminishing public support for the mission, a sense that Canada had dones more than its share, and unspoken relief that the US surge will let Canada off the hook all argue against any Canadian political leader rethinking Canada’s strategy, at least for now. Absent a federal election in which the Conservatives win an actual majority…the likelihood at present is that Canada will withdraw on schedule, as gracefully as possible.

Harper changed his message while campaigning in April, announcing that “I have never said there’s no risks in Afghanistan,” defending his decision, without consulting the parliament, to extend the country’s commitment in Central Asia by three years. The plan would leave roughly 950 of the 2,500 troops currently in the country behind to train Afghan and military personnel. With a new majority, however, we may expect to see other tweaking of previous Harper promises with regards to the Afghan state-building project.

Pakistan Makes It Hard to Defend From the “They Don’t Value Human Life” Libel

With knowledge that elements of its army and ISI obviously provided sanctuary for Osama bin Laden, Pakistan’s Q ratings, already low, are tanking. They’re about to bottom out, now thanks to this, courtesy of Andrew Bast at the Daily Beast-Newsweek (unclear where one ends and the other begins):

According to new commercial-satellite imagery obtained exclusively by Newsweek, Pakistan is aggressively accelerating construction at the Khushab nuclear site, about 140 miles south of Islamabad. The images, analysts say, prove Pakistan will soon have a fourth operational reactor, greatly expanding plutonium production for its nuclear-weapons program. . . . Although the White House declined to comment, a senior U.S. congressional official who works on nuclear issues told Newsweek that intelligence estimates suggest Pakistan has already developed enough fissile material to produce more than 100 warheads and manufacture between eight and 20 weapons a year. “There’s no question,” the official says, “it’s the fastest-growing program in the world.”

Between harboring bin Laden, allegedly responsible for thousands of deaths (if he’d been captured and tried we might know for sure) and now this, Pakistan had better be careful. Otherwise that most racist of all libels — “They value human life less than us” — will stick.

Bin Laden Had Jumped the Shark Anyway

A couple of nights ago I heard a TV commentator (can’t recall who) note that al Qaeda officials often clashed with Osama bin Laden over tactics. Bin Laden remained in thrall to his dream of another attack on a grand scale against the United States like 9/11, which he professed to believe was required to convince the United States to leave the Middle East. Others in the organization, more active on a day-to-day basis in its logistics, advocated a more realistic approach, which entailed smaller attacks that were more manageable, as well as local. In fact, their conflict echoed a long-time division in Islamic extremists: whether to attack the “far” enemy, as they call the United States, or the “near,” as they refer to autocratic regimes under which they live.

In his May 7 column for the Toronto Globe and Mail, Bin Laden died in Sidi Bouzid before he died in Abbottabad, Doug Saunders, the chief of its European bureau, wrote:

It was never difficult to find fans of Osama bin Laden. You ran across them almost daily if you spent time in the Middle East, the Persian Gulf or Pakistan. . . . He was a rock star. . . . If you talk to the kids wearing him on their T-shirts, you find they admire him as an Arab who took on the United States, who ran his own show, and who wouldn’t bow to anyone else’s agenda. It’s the way many blacks admire Malcolm X, as an icon of self-sufficient resistance, without any interest in the Marxist-tinged racial separatism he sought. . . . But it’s been almost impossible, in recent years, to find anyone who subscribes to his ascetic and medieval view of the role of religion in politics, who has any interest in installing his endlessly touted Islamic caliphate in their country. The ideas died long before the man.

“The demand for freedom and democracy in a national context has displaced the imaginary umma, the world community of Muslims, in its struggle with the West,” [writes French scholar] Olivier Roy. . . . “Charismatic authoritarian personalities such as bin Laden no longer exert any fascination on an individualistic and rather pragmatic younger generation.”

With his severity and grandiosity, bin Laden had outlived not only his tactical and strategic usefulness, but his philosophic as well, with his idle dreams of a global caliphate and shariah rule. Saunders again:

Osama bin Laden, in his efforts to fit the world into a single identity, was a man of a previous era.

If it’s any consolation to his spirit, where ‘ere it roams, he at least retains some symbolic value to Islamic extremists.

Palestine: the Logical Locus of Les Onzards

You are a Palestinian.

You are forced to tolerate foreign troops, armed with machine guns and grenades, patrolling the shopping district of the city you live in, claiming the right, uncontestable because of their weaponry, to survey, harass, frisk and detain any civilian for any reason or none at all.

You live with the knowledge firstly that those troops represent the most impressive military in the region, the only one with nuclear weaponry at its disposal, and secondly that you and your family and all your friends are not represented by a government with sovereignty, jurisdiction or statutory legitimacy. To the extent that the occupying Israeli army grants your people any administration at all, it is an interim provisional government, the Palestinian Authority, whose “authority” lapsed thirteen years ago.

The Foreign Minister of the occupying army’s government, Avigdor Lieberman, is the head of the second most powerful party in the Knesset, a party that is overtly racist against your people (Arabs) and constitutionally hostile to your uplift. The last twenty years of what commentators glibly misrepresent as the “peace process” have only led to peace in the Pax Romana sense, maximizing not freedom, justice and equality but settlement, occupation and colonialism, the number of Israeli settlers in the occupied territories having more than doubled in that time.

The land your people are allowed to inhabit is non-contiguous, and each part is overseen by an unsavory party that lacks public support, even in the territory each ostensibly leads. Fatah, which represents the West Bank, is a corrupt client party of Egypt, the United States and Israel, which has compromised too snivelingly with the latter to have achieved anything like gains in the movement for Palestinian liberation (all the while soaking up Palestinian money to enrich apparatchiks) and has therefore remained complicit in occupation. Hamas, democratically elected to represent Gaza, is a radical Islamist sect that maintains a website complete with the discredited fascist propaganda piece “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” and so heavily prioritizes its narrow ideological program over national interests that it will later publicly celebrate “Arab holy warrior” Osama bin Laden.

You are a Palestinian, and the outlook is not brilliant.

But then March of 2011 rolls around and Hosni Mubarak is deposed by protesters in Egyptian streets. The greatest strategic pillar in the region of Israel’s siege of your brothers and sisters in Gaza and the primary neighboring patron of Fatah has fallen. Then, by two months later, Syria finds itself engaged in sanguinary strife, Bashar Assad (for whom Israel is lobbying) striking back viciously at protestors there, the death toll rising toward a thousand, which jeopardizes Hamas’ chief regional source of support. Forced by the collapse of their outside benefactors to make a change, the two parties agree to a reconciliation deal, temporarily ending the inter-Palestinian feud, which the former Egyptian government has refused to mediate for the last four years. As a term of this deal to create a unity government of Fatah and Hamas forces, Egypt agrees to open the Gaza border crossing. All of a sudden, everything is different.

Israel becomes increasingly isolated, facing the prospect of democratic regional rivals who are unfriendly to its occupation, nations with legitimate claims to all the moral high ground that comes with casting off despots, operating under pressure by their populations, who cannot be bribed to surrender their cause célèbre, Palestinian liberation. This means that Israel feels increased pressure either to make concessions to Palestine, by way of dismantling the settlement and occupation apparatus, or to rely solely on the United States for military support.

In the United States, $3 billion in direct military aid to Israel is proposed despite a “fiscal crisis” that right wing lawmakers maintain necessitates cutting home heating assistance to impoverished Americans. The backlash against this sort of malfeasance in national fiscal prioritizing is changing the narrative in American media and public opinion. Even as neo-conservative American commentators publish their doubts that democracy will take hold in Egypt (because they envision democracy landing in the area in the form of American torture, prisons, bombs and tanks), America’s stomach for funneling money to Israel erodes as its esteem for the Arab world – which is demonstrating its yearning for freedom, justice and equality – rises.

You are a Palestinian, and you have a lot of work to do.

There are 11 million Palestinians, about half living inside the territory prescribed by former mandatory Palestine (including not just denizens of the occupied territories, but Arabs living as citizens of Israel proper) and the other half living elsewhere, chiefly Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. You have to mobilize all those people around a liberation strategy that appeals to the widest possible base. You have to forswear armed struggle, not because a stateless people isn’t justified in taking up arms against its occupying military (it is), but because such struggle against so heavily armed an enemy is asinine, not to mention damaging from a public relations perspective.

The public relations perspective is of crucial significance, especially in the United States. Nothing like a consensus exists among Americans that Palestinians are worthy of statehood, and the fact of Hamas’ shared representation of the national position does not help to reverse that inclination. Luckily, precedent is springing up all over the region for youth-led democratic movements, in opposition both to Islamism and client parties of American imperial power, deposing regimes and attempting to replace them with much more attractive governments. Palestine, centrally significant to the Arab world, stands every chance of being the most important location for that movement, the movement of les onzards, to take root.

You are a Palestinian, and the whole world is watching.

J.A. Myerson, Executive Editor of the Busy Signal, is the Artistic Director of Full of Noises and a teaching artist with Urban Arts Partnership. He writes primarily on American Politics and Human Rights. Follow him on Twitter.

Bin Laden: Death by Verb

Osama bin Laden’s demise raises many moral, legal, political, and historical questions. As I’ve edited and posted a steady stream of commentary about this post-9/11 milestone, one persistent editorial question has touched on all these issues.

Specifically, which verbs are appropriate for conveying what U.S. Special Forces did to carry out their mission after they burst into the al-Qaeda leader’s Pakistani compound? Did they simply kill bin Laden? Murder him? Assassinate him? Execute him?

Most Americans consider Osama bin Laden a dangerous and evil man. With so many of us feeling that the world is better off without him, few are questioning the legality of the operation that ended his life. As a former New Yorker who lives in Arlington, VA, it’s easy for me to relate. I was already at work in a downtown DC newsroom on September 11, 2001 when those planes flew into the twin towers and the Pentagon, and several years earlier my daily commute required me to change trains underneath the World Trade Center. I still wince whenever I glance at the Manhattan skyline. Yet, as an editor committed both to accuracy and to speaking truth to power, I need to probe this issue carefully.

One of the dictionary definitions of assassination is “to murder (a usually prominent person) by sudden or secret attack often for political reasons.” The Saudi-born terrorist certainly was killed at home, and he was killed for reasons that could easily be described as “political.” However, Merriam-Webster defines “murder” as “the crime of unlawfully killing a person especially with malice aforethought.” That’s more problematic because it raises another question: did the U.S. government commit a crime by killing bin Laden?

To read the rest of the story, visit Other Words.

Responsibility to Protect Gives Way to Targeted Assassination and Regime Change in Libya

Just two days before the assassination of Osama bin Laden by U.S. special forces eclipsed all other newsworthy issues, another targeted assassination was carried out by NATO forces in Tripoli, except there, the target was missed. That target was Libyan leader Muamar Gaddafi, and the missile that struck the home of his youngest son didn’t take the life it sought. Instead, the bombing of the home, located in a residential neighborhood of the Libyan capital, killed the 29-year old German-educated Saif al-Arab al-Gaddafi and three of his nieces and nephews, all under the age of 12. Apparently, Gaddafi was inside the house with his wife at the time, but both escaped unharmed. Several critics have spoken out against the targeted assassination of the Libyan head of state, but NATO officials have offered little response. They claim that the attack in the middle of an upscale neighborhood around 8 in the evening on Saturday April 30 was carried out against “a military command and control building with a precision strike.” Military paraphernalia recovered from the rubble included the video game Modern Warfare 2 for the Playstation console, and children’s books.

But the mainstream media largely ignored the “accidental” killings of four innocent civilians by NATO forces on April 30 in their mission to protect civilians, as it erupted on May 2 in a chorus of praise for president Obama. The fact that targeted assassination ‘worked’ to put an end to the life of alleged 9/11 mastermind bin Laden conveniently eases the public into acquiescence with the plainly illegal strategy, drawing praise from even self-proclaimed ‘critics’ like Jon Stewart, whose ‘Daily Show’ featured a positively nauseating celebration of the supposed terrorist’s death. The piece ends with Stewart whooping, “we’re back baby!” as the map behind him shows an animated map in which the state of Florida inflates into the Atlantic to resemble a fully engorged penis, “and,” he adds as a scrotal-shaped landmass appears in the Gulf of Mexico, “our testicles have descended.”

Indeed, the macho rhetoric employed by Stewart, by the college students seen cheering ‘USA’ in the streets the night of bin Laden’s death, and by the entire lexicon of the so-call Global War on Terror, like any form of phallo-centric chauvinism, betrays a deeper insecurity. The paternalistic messaging that was used to sell the invasion of Libya to the American people (as well as to the French, British, Spanish, Italian and other NATO-member states’ populations) — that NATO was enforcing UN Security Council Resolution 1973 and taking up the ‘responsibility to protect’ — painted a rather thin veneer over the geopolitical motives that laid behind. As NATO unsuccessfully denies that its air-strikes are seeking to murder Gaddafi, one must wonder how far Western governments will go to set up a puppet regime under the auspices of neoliberal opportunist Mahmoud Jibril’s National Transitional Council. It now appears that the British will overtly fund the rebel forces, and it seems likely that the rest of the allies will follow suit. Meanwhile, the civilian death toll of NATO strikes on Tripoli had exceeded 40 by the end of March.

And as if the ‘accidental’ killing of so many of the civilians NATO is supposed to be protecting were not enough to show that the multinational cold-war military alliance isn’t in Libya for humanitarian reasons, its response to the humanitarian refugee crisis that is filling the Mediterranean with bodies certainly is. The Guardian has reported that in the last month alone, some 800 migrant workers who left the Libyan mainland never arrived at their European destinations and are presumed dead. Now, the participating armies have on their hands the blood of 61 African migrant workers whose escape boat ran out of fuel about 60 miles off the Libyan coast.

The boat’s passengers managed to reach an Eritrean priest in Rome via satellite phone, who relayed their call to the Italian Coast Guard. The Coast Guard told the priest that the boat’s location had been pinpointed and that the alarm had been raised to help the refugees. Soon a military helicopter of unknown origin lowered water bottles and biscuits to the wayward boat, and informed them that help was on the way. But help never came. Days later, a French aircraft carrier came into view. So close was the Charles de Gaulle to the drifting boat that it would have been impossible for such a well-equipped vessel not to have taken notice of the refugees. It sent out two sorties of fighter jets, but no rescue boats, despite passengers’ frantic attempts to contact the sailors on board. After 16 days at sea, 61 of the 72 passengers had starved to death, and one of the 11 survivors dropped dead shortly after stepping foot on land as the boat washed ashore near the Libyan city of Zeitan.

NATO could have prevented these deaths, and more, if only it would spend a bit less time and effort trying to effect a favorable regime change in Libya, and a bit more on its “responsibility to protect.” But perhaps the best thing NATO could do now is follow the Hippocratic oath – if you can do no good, at least do no harm – and cease the bombing of Libya. From there a ceasefire could be negotiated between rebel forces and the government, with regional bodies such as the Arab League and the African Union playing mediating roles, and the Libyan people could resolve their own political issues without foreign intervention. NATO hasn’t had any real reason to exist for the last twenty years, and it is about time for what has become an openly imperialist force to disband once and for all.

Noah Gimbel is an intern with Foreign Policy in Focus. He is currently working on a book on universities and empire and can be reached at

Page 170 of 226« First...102030...168169170171172...180190200...Last »