Thursday, April 9, 2009

Four months ago

Greek riots, day #4: Troubled mourning, an uneasy silence descends


"On the day of Alexandros' funeral, disrupted by teargas & police harrasing the attendants, protesters fed up with the mindless violence of previous days, but mostly of police brutality that cracked down on rioter & passerby alike, gathered in front of Aristotelous Sq. police precinct to chant their defiance at cops from point blank range in an hours' worth of candlelit vigil & sitdown protest, after which they dispersed peacefully.
It was the most moving sight I've seen in these last troubled days from up close, nearly brought me to tears."

~ Source: 0neiros' photostream
~

The Greek Uprising is still not being televised

The coming revolt is already everywhere!

Saturday 21 Mar, 2009

by The occupants


The new Patision Commune is here

The new Patision Commune is here. Strong, sober and uncrushable. (what follows is a translation of the occupation’s founding text)

* photo is from the squatters' blog

“The biggest expectations lie ahead of us and we find ourselves in the joyous position of seeking ways to drift along with them” From 8 a.m. this morning (19.03) tens of comrades occupied a building on the corner of Patision Ave and Skaramaga Str (right between the Athens Polytechnic and the Economics University in Athens– trans). Works inside have already started; a soundsystem has been set up and the subversive Carmen sang by Maria Kallas (who, many claim, was born in this building) is echoing across the buzzing Patision Ave. There are many people in the building right now, increasing by the hour. You can come to the beautiful building and gaze at the sea from its rooftop.

Carrying on… We are some people who met on the streets and in the occupations during the events of revolt of December -events that derive from historical, class, social and dispositional causes and of course, the assassination of Alexis by cop Korkoneas. A peak moment, a spark in the powder magazine hosting social consensus and peace, an accelerating factor leading to an unprecedented social explosion. An explosion shattering on multiple levels the suffocating normality of our lives.

The feast of December blew apart individualisation and the sealed-off private in our lives and a joyous, collective and wild “us” poured out on the streets. It attacked democracy, its guards and the imaginaries that accompany it; abstaining from any demand or petition, it self-organised everydayness within occupied buildings. It articulated the sharpest critique against the monologue of the product, destroying and looting its temples, redistributing social wealth, halting consumption in the very centre of the city. It disproved the ambitions of the leftist wanna-be intermediaries, letting them stammer sociological crap on the TV. It canceled out the convulsive muddle of the journalists, making it clear that whoever wanted to understand what was going on only needed to get out of their homes. It abolished, even if temporarily, gendered and spectacular roles since thousands of people managed to act as one body amidst events where what mattered was what was happening, not who was doing it. And on the other hand: the state, the bosses and all the mob that has a high interest for nothing to change no longer. From the moment when they managed to regroup they were anything but spectators.

They claimed the return to normality by usng all means in their disposal. From riot police and para-statal thugs to the sociologists and the sensitive artists. From the established talk about extremists, gangs, saboteurs, greek-haters, all the way to the peaceful citizens’ claim to the right to celebrate their christmas. From the hypocritical self-criticism of the adults to their kids, to the arrest of 265 revolted and the incarceration of 65. They did whatever they could do, in other words, in order for December to turn into a “sad bracket” where in the end the extremists were punished and those who followed were admonished. Carrying on, Reality continues to gain meaning from December’s revolt in an accelerating manner. The condition remains polarised and confrontational, producing events and conditions on both sides. Only within the context of the contents opened up by December can one fully understand events such as the attack with acid against syndicalist K. Kuneva; the mass-murder attempt at the Migrants’ place (with the failed hand-grenade attack by fascists – trans.) as well as the proclamations for the restructuring of the legal and military arsenal of the state, the most recent attempt to awaken the most reactionary social reflexes.

At the same time, widened social groupings are constantly developing actions, practices and a say, while holding December’s event as a clear starting and reference point. From the railway stations to the centres of bureaucratic syndicalism, from workplaces to the hospital receptions, from parks and neighbourhoods to the spectacle’s temples, self-organised incentives that are diffused, socialised and enriched emerge as tools, methods and ways of reshaping reality and attacking the capitalist relations and the democratic condition: as some elements of a wider process of radicalisation that seems to have time continuity and qualitative depth. Carrying on, To the extent that we comprise a product but also a component of this condition, we decided to reclaim the abandoned building of 61 Patision Ave and Skaramaga Str, with the aim of grounding in this space some of our intentions and desires; in order to turn it into a base for the life that we want. To turn it into an open social space were in a self-organised, comradely and collective way we will comprise a part of the conspiracy for the destruction of this world. Against all forms of hierarchy and authority, against all political and corporal intermediation, against all spectacle-given roles and gendered divisions. And in this attempt of ours we are looking for accomplices…

THE COMING REVOLT IS ALREADY EVERYWHERE

SOLIDARITY TO KONSTANTINA KUNEVA

IMMEDIATE RELEASE OF DECEMBER’S ARRESTEES

Related Link: http://pat61.wordpress.com

A hot winter in Greece



By Stefanie Knoll
8 Apr, 2009

Weeks of violent riots, clashes between ordinary people and the police, the burning of police cars and attacks on police stations, the looting of expensive shops, a burning Xmas tree amidst anti-consumerist slogans, street fights every day and night, calls for revolution, occupations of thousands of universities, schools, town halls etc. This past December was a hot winter month in Greece and an event that needs to be understood in more detail than was reported by the mainstream media. It is an unprecedented event in recent history in Europe, a new 1968, a new highlight in the struggle against neo-liberalism, cutbacks in the education system and police violence.

There were important differences between these demonstrations and earlier ones in Greece. The crowds were much larger and the protests were not just in Athens but in many towns across the whole of Greece and they went on for weeks. The police as representatives of the state, in itself a violent institution, responded in the usual way, with violence. But the people on the streets resisted and stood united. Attempts to rupture the convergence of the oppressed by attempting to utilise existing divisions such as by praising peaceful Greek protests as compared with the foreign looters failed in the face of the emergence of practical solidarity and internationalism forged through common struggle. All the barriers that usually keep the working class divided, between for example blue or white collar workers, young and old, citizens and immigrants, disappeared when everyone was marching alongside each other. Among the broader working class there was sympathy towards the (what we prefer to call) popular uprising, not riot, which gradually gave way to less violent, more imaginative and more political acts.

Merry Crisis and a Happy New Fear

Neo-liberal capitalism showed its most ugly face at the end of last year when several banks in the US collapsed because of capitalist structures that are based on and reinforce greed. And it has been shown one more time, but this time extremely openly and visibly, that the state protects capitalism and wastes billions of tax money to save the banks and the big corporations, such as the automobile industry, instead of helping the people. The Greek uprising can be seen as a first reaction to this crisis and has therefore been called "the first credit-crunch riot". Since the uprising in Greece it has spread to other place, for example Iceland, Bulgaria, Latvia and Russia.

It is because of the economic crisis and the uncertain future that teenagers in Greece face today, that the protesters, mostly youth, adopted the slogan “Merry Crisis and a Happy New Fear’ (the fear of the economic situation worsening in the New Year).

The riots were very anti-consumerist. Expensive shops were looted, the municipal Xmas tree was burned etc. But there has been no vandalism against small, privately-owned businesses as the media made it look.

Reasons for the uprising

There were many reasons for the Greek uprising: decades of police brutality culminating in hundreds of activists and ordinary people being killed by the police [1] (which immediately sparked the uprising as an unarmed 15 year old boy was killed by a policeman); the onslaught of neo-liberalism and privatisations that led to thousands of people being fired or outsourced, worsening in the last months due to the international economic crisis; and cutbacks in and the failure of the education system, just as in the May 1968 uprising in Paris. Additional reasons for the riots are government corruption, the overexploitation of immigrants and the fact that this society is torn apart by deepening class divisions. There is a general feeling of hostility towards cops in the Greek population because of high levels of police brutality and there are widespread anti-state and anti-capitalist feelings. Especially young people, one quarter of which already are unemployed, are facing unemployment. For the first time since the end of the Greek “Colonels’ Dictatorship” of 1967-1974, young people have no hope for a better life than their parents.[2] An important part of this society knows that it has nothing to lose apart from the illusion that things might get better.

In Greece, as elsewhere, reformist trade unions, socialist and communist parties induce paralysis in the proletariat by promoting the illusion that the national economy constitutes the common property of all and that economic growth will lead to increasing levels of shared well being. These proponents of the welfare state recognise that capitalist society is divided into classes but view the state as embodying the general national interest. The class struggle is thus constrained by workers’ and employers’ organisations without endangering the supposed guarantor of gradual progress: economic expansion. The logic on which the power of the ruling class is based and for which the lives of the working class are sacrificed in endless toil, the generating of money with more money, becomes in this upside down ideology the universal good to be defended by the state.

The most important aspect of the uprising in Greece in December 2008 is that sections of the working class broke out of the social-democratic straight jacket constraining the modes and aims of struggle of this class. They showed that there is another way, not of class collaboration within corporatist institutions but one of direct action to confront the existing system. The current economic crisis together with decades of neo-liberal policies has in Greece, as elsewhere, undermined the illusion that capitalist growth will lead to increasing prosperity for all, through wealth trickling down from the rich to the poor, a classic liberal argument so dominant in South Africa. The uprising constitutes a concrete rejection of this myth and illustrates that the prospect of a social revolution, which would simultaneously abolish capital and the state, is a possibility and not a distant utopian dream. It can be achieved by ordinary people, breaking free from party politics and repudiating the lie currently spouted by politicians that we need to cut back now so that the future will be better. The so-called “rioters” also rejected the lie that politicians are the ones who decide about what is going on in world politics because they are the experts. The uprising has shown how we can take back the power that politicians have stolen from us and how we can take things into our own hands.

The sacrifice of the objectives of the class for decent lives on the altar of the national economy is often focused upon particular vulnerable strata of the class which are effectively excluded even from the social-democratic compact, such as migrants or the youth. Since these strata cannot be lulled into a stupor through integration they must be forced into passivity through outright repression. Rather than succumbing to the terror of the authorities those marginalised in Greek society today took to the streets and attacked the centres of the murderous violence of the Greek state – police stations. All those condemned to rot ‘in the national interest’ constituted a combative community of struggle united not around the lowest common denominator achieved by mediating the particular interests of different groups through representation but by fighting for class objectives through direct action.

The uprising in practice: occupations, the role of workers

The recognition of a shared experience of repression led to the occupation of universities and public buildings such as city halls or libraries which were transformed into sites of mobilisation against the state and areas in which counter information to fan the flames of the uprising could be spread.

The National Technical University, which is the nearest one to Exarchia square (where the killing happened) was one of the first occupations and the main place for organising clashes with the police. Its occupants were young workers (including immigrants), students and others – and many of them anarchists. The Faculty of Economics was occupied mostly by anarchist groups and antiauthoritarians who wanted to use the building for counter-information purposes. A lot of emphasis was put on the organisation of everyday activities. They took over the restaurant of the university and workshops were formed in order to run the occupation and to organise actions outside.

After the first five days of rioting, the Town Hall of Agios Dimitrios (a suburb of Athens) was occupied, organised by local anarchist groups and some of the workers who work there. The occupants organised meetings with local people, called ‘popular assemblies’, trying to broaden the revolt organising local actions, always connected to the revolt.

At a later stage in the uprising, the National Opera House was occupied by dancers renaming the historic Athens building "Insurgent People's Opera". Since then the Opera has been functioning as a free space for revolutionary workshops and fora in solidarity with Konstantina Kouneva (see below) and everyone arrested in December, as well as against the police state.

All occupations served as bases of the movement from which subversive actions were organised and where rebels could seek refuge, if necessary. In all these activities, the common new characteristic was an attempt to ‘open up’ the rebellion towards the neighbourhoods.[3]

The dominant and reformist trade unions were partially successful in constraining the process of the convergence of the class by preventing manual wage workers engaged in a ritualistic one day national strike from joining the insurgents. This isolation of the manual workers from the stream of struggle which limited the potential for the intensification of the uprising was unfortunately only transcended in rare instances. The base union of workers participating in the assembly occupying Agios Dimitrios town hall decided to perform municipal services for free, bypassing the municipal authorities which employed them. Unfortunately this decision was not put into effect due to intimidation by the city bosses. The role of union bureaucrats of constraining struggles through mediation was rejected in two instances through the occupation of the offices of union federations.

The occupation of the building of the General Confederation of Labour of Greece (GSEE) was initially started by members of the base union of couriers, an independent union – many of whom are anarchists and other anti-authoritarians. The problem was that the other base unions didn't join the occupation, something that if it had occurred would have given an enormous power to this project.

If there was a real potential to further this struggle it was in the occupations of municipal buildings (such as town halls, municipal buildings, cultural centres etc) which were managed by direct assemblies by locals discussing their common issues and taking decisions in a directly democratic manner. And in those occupations local anarchists participated [4].

Repression and solidarity

More than 270 people have been arrested in connection to actions, since the beginning of the insurrection in 15 cities. 67 of them have been detained, while 50 immigrants that were arrested during the first 3 days were rapidly condemned to 18 months of imprisonment and are being deported. 19 arrestees in Larissa face charges under the anti-terrorist law.

Konstantina Kuneva, a militant union organiser, is one among the hundreds of female immigrant workers who have been working for years as cleaners at OIKEMET. She is well known for her stance against various bosses. She was attacked by unknown people, probably hired by her boss, with sulphuric acid to burn her face with the intention to kill her while returning home from work late at night. As a consequence she lost sight in one of her eyes. The target was not coincidental: female, immigrant, militant union organiser, she was the most vulnerable for the bosses. The time chosen was also not coincidental: the media, the political parties, the Church, businessmen and union bosses have been trying to ridicule the social uprising. In this pretext, the attack on Konstantina is lost in the everyday news. The workers of ISAP, however, showed solidarity with her and occupied their workplace which hires Kuneva’s cleaning company to clean its building and which is therefore, according to the workers, complicit in the attack.

While the uprising was still going on, another event happened that drew solidarity from all around the world: the war in Gaza (read more about this on Page 24). Besides demonstrations against the war, Greek activists also called for the boycott of a US arms shipment to Israel which on its way there was supposed to dock in the port of Astakos. The shipment contained three hundred and twenty-five 20-foot containers, over 3,000 tons, of ammunition. It was an emergency shipment of arms to aid the occupation in its ongoing war crimes against the Palestinian people in Gaza, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine claimed in a statement to the Greek workers. The next day, the Greek Anti-Authoritarian Movement (AK), issued a call for protesters to flood the port on Jan. 15.[5] The US had to re-route the arms shipment because the Greek government feared even more protests. This was an important form of international solidarity and can be compared to the ones in South Africa where Durban dock workers first refused to offload a Chinese arms shipment for the dictatorship in Zimbabwe and recently an Israeli arms and goods shipment in Durban harbour.

Within Greece, two months after her kiosk was torched in local riots in November (and therefore not connected to the uprising) 74-year-old Harikleia Ananiadou from Thessaloniki received a cash gift from a small group of anarchists calling itself Anarchist Initiative, critical of violent aspects in the uprising, to rebuild her life. "As anarchists, we felt we should support a fellow human victimised by blind violence," the organisation said in a statement. The reason for this was that other shop owners were helped by the government, but only the ones attacked in December received such help.

The role of anarchism in the uprising

The Greek anarchist movement is among the largest in the world in proportion to its country's population. Anarchists and anti-authoritarians played a central role in the uprising. It was anarchists who started the riots and who proved that we are not as far away from a revolution as we think we are, and that revolutions can take place even within the European Union. Anarchist flags were hung from the many occupied buildings in Greece and even from occupied embassies and consulates around the world, including Berlin, in global solidarity with the uprising.

Since the “Battle of Seattle” in 1999 anarchism has been central to the global movement against capitalism, pushing for a social revolution in which there is a need not only to get rid of global capitalism but also the state. Instead of the sectarianism of the authoritarian left, over who gets to rule once a “worker’s state” is established, the anti-authoritarians worked on the ground together with workers, students and non-political people and saw themselves not as the vanguard but as among the many ordinary people who rose up and showed that they can do it themselves. Anarchist ideas of self-determination, mutual aid (see Page 11), community power, freedom and equality have spread across the struggling populace in the form of strong anti-authoritarian sentiment, manifested in hundreds of calls for assemblies and strikes, and scrawled on thousands of banners and building-sides.[6]

Lessons from the uprising

In the light of the global economic crisis, events like those in Greece will happen all around the world. It is important for us to organise so that we can take over the factories and the land and not only show our anger in demonstrations. A new world can only be created by ourselves, but it cannot be created by protests alone. The Greek uprising also shows the importance of international solidarity.

It is only a matter of time until the economic crisis will hit South Africa hard and will add to the already existing unbearable conditions for the majority of the population. Will the revolutionary left be prepared to take this further than demonstrations or left sectarianism? Will we see that no political party can lead the people but that the people have to make the revolution themselves? Will we try to push for everything in a situation that threatens us with nothing?

The Greek anarchists are known for their insurrectionary and anti-organisational tendencies. It is because of this that anarchists are often seen as chaotic looters with no concrete goal. We have seen that this can lead to an important uprising, but after a while it will die down. This situation brings anarchists in Greece in front of a new reality, to sit down and examine ways of forming a serious, militant and coherent organisation, an anarchist organisation of the class struggle – linked to rank-and-file workers – and not only engage in spontaneous actions, so that the uprising and occupations can spread.

Many acts in the Greek uprising are reminiscent of 1968 in Paris, blending humour and mischief. Many activists focused only on the spectacle of various events, like interrupting TV shows with banners reading that people should rather turn off the TV and start rioting, or theatre performances with banners that were funny but don’t necessarily lead to the overthrow of capitalism and/or the state. The problem is that they see the uprising as well as such spectacles as an end in itself.

The riot, in general, was not felt in any significant way in the workplaces, in the sense that no strikes were called to support it. The only exceptions were the teachers’ strike on the day of Alexis’ funeral and the big participation in the strike against the state budget on the 10th of December. Apart from these, the rebellion left workplaces untouched.[7] Any revolution, however, has to link workers with other oppressed people, to be successful. The general strike, brought about only by workers, is still one of the most important elements to bring about a social revolution. The people involved in the uprising should have made links with workers to spread the insurrection and take over the factories.

Although this uprising has not brought about a Greek revolution, it has brought tens of thousands into the anti-authoritarian movement and taught them how to fight in the streets, created thousands of popular assemblies as well as strengthened existing groups, and shown both the insurrectionary populace and the government and capitalists that the power truly does lie with the people.[8]

Even though the immediate riots have died down, this is not the end of the uprising. Some occupations are still going on. As soon as there is renewed police brutality or more cut-backs in the public sector, people will take to the streets again. Let’s hope that next time the workers will join the insurgents.



Notes:

* This article uses data and analyses of our comrades abroad, all of whom would be too many to name – except those that are explicitly quoted – and includes first hand accounts of the events in Greece. It should be noted, however, that much of this analysis and especially the chronology are based on articles by the left communists Blaumachen and TGTP. The article is also based on many discussions with our comrade Komnas Poriazis, who wrote parts of this article and whom I wish to thank. Special thanks also go to our comrade Dimitri who read and commented on this article before publishing.
1. The Greek police has a long history of killing ordinary youth, about 100 have been killed in recent decades. Not a single policeman was ever convicted. Nikos Raptis (2008) Greek Teenagers: http://www.zcommunications.org/znet/viewArticle/19930
2. Kaimaki, Valia (2009) Bailouts for the banks, bullets for the people: Mass uprising of Greece’s Youth: http://www.zmag.org/znet/viewArticle/20131
3. Blaumachen (2009) Like a winter... with a thousand Decembers: http://www.anarkismo.net/article/12012
4. Correspondence with our comrade Dimitri, a Greek anarchist
5. ibid
6. Carman, Jake (2009) A Close Look at the Greek Insurrection. In: The Nor Easter #4 Winter 2009
7. Blaumachen (2009) Like a winter...
8. Carman, Jake (2009) A Close Look at the Greek Insurrection

Related Link: http://www.zabalaza.net

~ Source: Anarkismo.net ~

Swelling chorus of revolutionary voices calling for radical change

From The Irish Times :

Fri, Mar 27, 2009

LETTER FROM GREECE: Politics in Greece is more unstable than it has been since the military coup of 1967, writes Richard Pine

It could be a line from a Woody Allen movie: “We earnestly apologise to the Greek people for not managing to blow up Citibank.” That's how one of the Greek terrorist groups, “Revolutionary Struggle”, addressed the public after its car bomb was recently detected and disarmed in Athens.

Whatever its political intentions or affiliation, “Revolutionary Struggle” certainly did not intend its apology to be humorous. Its tone suggests a well-meaning attempt to keep faith with its audience, and is clearly heartfelt and committed. They are not Bonnie and Clyde or even a branch of the IRA. They don't rob banks, they just blow them up.

New groups to join the revolutionary club are the “Sect of Revolutionaries” and the even more elusive “Gangs of Conscience”. All appear to be committed to anarchism rather than opposing the existing political composition of parliament. With the present government of New Democracy teetering on the edge of an election with a singe-seat majority, politics in Greece is more unstable than it has been since the military coup of 1967.

Both major parties, ND (conservative) and opposition Pasok (socialist), have lost many of their traditional supporters. Voters are floating between the communists (KKE) and the far-right (Laos, meaning “of the people”), and some new groupings, including left-wing Syriza, and Drasis (meaning Action), founded in March by a former ND minister, Stefanos Manos. Manos aims, as did the Progressive Democrats in Ireland, to “break the political mould” of the two main parties and push forward new political energies. He has tried before, and failed. I hope he reads the Irish papers.

Presumably EU leaders are watching closely as this very delicate democracy tries to balance the international banking crisis (and its threats to the already vulnerable Greek banks) with the problem of more specific local unrest of a fundamental kind. No other EU country is experiencing such a vertiginous political scenario today. Fragmentation might well lead to increased parliamentary instability if an assortment of minority parties were to hold the balance of power.

In particular, the entire Balkan situation might be affected, along with the banking system, relations with the “social partners” and with Turkey.

~ more... ~

Apartheid lawsuits against multinational corporations get green light from N.Y. District Court judge

Scott Gilmore reports in The Huffington Post :

The human rights gods are smiling: As if yesterday's Fujimori verdict wasn't enough, a U.S. District Court Judge for the Southern District of New York has ruled that historic lawsuits against multinational corporations for complicity in apartheid-era human rights abuses can move forward.

This afternoon, Judge Shira Scheindlen ruled against a motion to dismiss the claims brought against the defendants General Motors, Ford, Daimler and IBM. The lawsuits -- Ntsebeza, et al. v. Daimler AG, et al. and Khulumani, et al., v. Barclays National Bank LTD., et al. -- were filed on behalf of classes of South Africans who allege that the defendant corporations aided and abetted South African forces in extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary denationalization, and the crime of apartheid. The claims were brought under the Alien Tort Statute.
Ruling available here. [PDF]

In her ruling, Judge Scheindlen held that the claims made against General Motors, Ford, and Daimler in the Ntsebeza case alleging the aiding and abetting of torture, cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, extrajudicial killing, and apartheid can continue. Judge Scheindlen also ruled that a claim against IBM alleging the aiding and abetting of arbitrary denationalization and apartheid could move forward.

"In this case, the expertise and products of General Motors, Ford, Daimler, and IBM led to violations of human rights under apartheid in South Africa," said Paul Hoffman, a partner with Schonbrun De Simone Seplow Harris and Hoffman LLP and lead attorney for the plaintiffs. "These companies aided the apartheid regime by providing armored military vehicles to violently suppress and terrorize South Africa's black population, and provided race-based identity documents that stripped black South Africans of their nationality and citizenship."

~ more... ~

Weekly report on Israeli human rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territory 02 - 08 Apr 2009


Full_Report (pdf* format - 334,7 Kbytes)


No. 14/2009

Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) Continue Systematic Attacks against Palestinian Civilians and Property in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) and Continue to Impose a Total Siege on the Gaza Strip

- IOF killed two activists of the Palestinian resistance in the Gaza Strip and one civilian in the West Bank.

- 16 Palestinian civilians, including two children and two journalists, were wounded by IOF gunfire in the West Bank.

- 9 of these civilians were wounded by IOF and Israeli settlers in Kherbat Safa area, north of Hebron.

- IOF conducted 26 incursions into Palestinian communities in the West Bank.

- IOF arrested 52 Palestinian civilians, including 8 children, in the West Bank and 10 fishers in the Gaza Strip.

- IOF conducted a wide scale incursion into Kherbat Safa area, north of Hebron.

- IOF occupied 8 Palestinian houses, and reclassified them as military sites.

- IOF have continued to impose a total siege on the OPT and have isolated the Gaza Strip from the outside world.

- IOF troops positioned at military checkpoints in the West Bank arrested 9 Palestinian civilians.

- IOF have continued measures aimed at the creating of a majority Jewish demographic in East Jerusalem.

- IOF demolished two Palestinian houses in Jerusalem.

- A Palestinian house in the old town of Jerusalem was seized.

- IOF have continued settlement activities in the West Bank and Israeli settlers have continued to attack Palestinian civilians and property.

- IOF ordered the demolition of a number of houses in Hebron.

- Israeli settlers seized 4 shops in the old town of Hebron.

~ more... ~

DR Congo: Brutal rapes by rebels and army

(New York) – Rwandan rebel forces, government army soldiers, and their allies have raped at least 90 women and girls since late January 2009 in the volatile North and South Kivu provinces of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Human Rights Watch said today. The Rwandan rebel forces have also been implicated in the deaths of most of the 180 civilians killed during this period.

The United Nations Security Council will discuss on April 9 the latest report by the UN secretary-general on the peacekeeping force in Congo. Human Rights Watch called on the UN Security Council to press the Congolese government to remove human rights abusers from its armed forces and end rights violations, including attacks against women and girls.

The Rwandan Hutu militia called the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) attacked and burned dozens of villages and towns in Masisi and Lubero territories (North Kivu) as well as in Kalehe territory (South Kivu) in recent weeks, committing numerous deliberate killings, rapes, and acts of looting. Blaming government military operations, the FDLR deliberately targeted civilians, used them as human shields, and accused civilians of having betrayed them. According to witnesses and victims interviewed by Human Rights Watch, the FDLR have been implicated in the killings of at least 154 civilians since January 23.

"The FDLR are deliberately killing and raping Congolese civilians as apparent punishment for the military operations against them," said Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. "Both the fighters who commit such horrific acts and the rebel commanders who permit them are responsible for war crimes."

The FDLR were temporarily pushed out of their military positions in January and February 2009 following the start of a joint military operation against them by Congolese and Rwandan troops on January 20. Following the withdrawal of Rwandan forces on February 24, military action diminished and the FDLR reoccupied many of their previous positions.

Most recently, at least seven civilians were killed and 24 others wounded during FDLR attacks in Beni and Walikale in early April. On March 20, 2009, the FDLR attacked Buhuli, North Kivu, and four other nearby villages, killing at least five civilians, including two women, an elderly man, a 7-year-old girl and 9-year-old boy. On February 13, the FDLR attacked the village of Kipopo, killing at least 13 people, who were burned to death in their homes.

In late February, the FDLR abducted at least a dozen women and girls from Remeka, in Masisi territory, North Kivu. Two women who escaped reported that FDLR combatants brutally killed nine of the women and girls when they resisted attempts to rape them. The fate of the others is unknown.

The Congolese army has also been implicated in numerous rapes. In March, Congolese soldiers raped at least 21 women and girls in southern Masisi and northern Kalehe territories. Many of the victims were violently gang raped while the soldiers were on looting sprees.

On March 24, four women from Ziralo, South Kivu, were returning from the market when they were stopped by a group of army soldiers at a makeshift barricade. The soldiers took the sacks of food the women were carrying and then said they were going to examine the women's vaginas for any hidden money. The soldiers took the women into the nearby forest and gang raped each of them for hours. One woman was six-months pregnant and was raped so brutally that she lost her unborn child.

The recent killings by the rebel group are in addition to those perpetrated by its forces on January 27, when FDLR combatants hacked to death dozens of civilians used as human shields at their military position in Kibua (http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2009/02/13/dr-congo-rwandan-rebels-slaughter-over-100-civilians). One witness at Kibua interviewed by Human Rights Watch saw an FDLR combatant batter a 10-year-old girl to death against a brick wall.

According to the United Nations, an estimated 250,000 people have fled their homes in eastern Congo since January, adding to hundreds of thousands of others who fled earlier waves of violence.


~ more... ~

Plot thickens in the case of the Australian Defense Minister and his Chinese lady friend

From Spy master opens new investigation into Liu affair

A second inquiry will be held into allegations that Defence officials spied on their minister, Joel Fitzgibbon, but this time it will be conducted outside the department.

The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, Ian Carnell, who oversees the nation's intelligence and security agencies, has expressed concerns about the allegations and will hold an inquiry, even though the Defence Secretary, Nick Warner, has announced a separate inquiry by Defence's internal security agency. Mr Carnell's office said last night the inquiry would be private, thorough and timely.

Defence last night confirmed an initial inquiry had found no evidence that officials investigated Mr Fitzgibbon or Ms Liu or secretly accessed his personal information.

"Prior to the current media articles, no Defence investigative authority was aware of Ms Liu," Mr Warner said. A full report is due next week.

Mr Warner said he has given the initial findings to Mr Carnell.

The Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, also said yesterday that the domestic spy agency, ASIO, had no information to suggest that Ms Liu was a security risk. A Chinese embassy spokesman said it was aware of media reports about Ms Liu but would not comment.

Mr Fitzgibbon was forced to apologise this week after admitting he failed to declare two, three-day trips to China paid for by Ms Liu in 2002 and 2005. He said yesterday his trips were for political and cultural meetings but admitted his failure to declare them was "untidy" and "inexplicable".


From Liu links reach to heart of the ALP

The trail from the Chinese businesswoman at the centre of spy allegations and campaign donations involving Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon leads closer each day to the heart of the Labor Party.

It is not only Mr Fitzgibbon defending Helen Liu as he fends off persistent suggestions his personal friend might pose a security risk because of her links to Chinese political officials; former NSW Labor premier Bob Carr and Chinese-born NSW Labor MP Henry Tsang are also keen to declare this generous ALP donor and gift-giver is their longstanding mate as well.

[ ... ]

In the driveway sits a dusty Mercedes Benz S320 with tyres that have gone flat during her absence in China for many months. Ms Liu could once claim a small fleet of such luxury cars. With her ex-boyfriend and former business partner Humphrey Xu, she owned a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow, a Mercedes 560 SEL and a Porsche 944 when the couple lived at Castlecrag on Sydney's northside.

More than a week after claims officials from Mr Fitzgibbon's Defence Department mounted a covert investigation because of concerns Ms Liu posed a security risk, the minister is still wading through questions about his relationship with Ms Liu.

Mr Fitzgibbon has introduced the woman he describes as a personal friend to party colleagues at dinners. But there has also been a financial relationship between them. Apart from accepting money from Ms Liu for his election campaign fund, Mr Fitzgibbon rents a townhouse from her family when he stays in Canberra.

He accepted two free trips to China from her company in 2002 and 2005 at which he met Chinese Communist Party officials. His fare was also paid when he joined his father, former Labor MP Eric Fitzgibbon, on a trip to China in 1993.

The missing link in Mr Fitzgibbon's story of his relationship with Ms Liu is Mr Xu, her former boyfriend. It was Mr Xu who first met Mr Fitzgibbon and became his personal friend. It was also Mr Xu who arranged for Eric and Joel Fitzgibbon to travel to China in 1993 after a meeting in the NSW Hunter Valley to discuss winery investments.

At the time, Mr Xu appears to have been the brains behind companies involving his then girlfriend Ms Liu such as Diamond Hill International and Wincopy.

Mr Xu, who was born in Canton, entered Australia in 1986, two years before Ms Liu.

By the time the pair met in 1988, shortly after she arrived from Shandong province, he had already begun dealing in property and amassing a fortune.

When the pair's relationship started to go sour in the mid-1990s, Mr Xu thought he would try his luck in the US and left Ms Liu behind.

A year later when he returned without the success he had hoped for, Ms Liu had taken control of their companies and they fought several bitter court battles over assets. In court, it was acknowledged she had amassed $1.5 million on her credit cards.

It was during this period that Ms Liu deepened her links with high-level Chinese contacts, joining the editorial committee of Shandong Ming Jia, an organisation with strong links to the Chinese military. She also became vice-chairwoman of the World Federation of Overseas Chinese Associations.

Among the mysteries about Ms Liu are her qualifications and business experience.

'When I saw the death squad coming into my house, I understood that I had made a crucial mistake'

From Journalist saved from death squad by quick-thinking family by Naomi Mapstone (Financial Times) :

The death squad came for Gustavo Gorritti in the aftermath of Alberto Fujimori's 1992 "self-coup" to strip the congressional opposition of power.

As tanks rolled through the streets of Lima, the Peruvian capital, Mr Gorritti, an investigative journalist, was just finishing a dispatch for the Spanish daily El País after warning his editors that he might be at risk. He had been pursuing both Mr Fujimori and Vladimiro Montesinos, the president's spymaster, and had been receiving threats.

Mr Gorritti, whose case is among those for which Mr Fujimori has faced trial over the past 15 months, had written a detailed plan for friends should he be arrested. He had expected to see police, not assassins, at his door.

"When I saw the death squad coming into my house, I understood that I had made a crucial mistake," Mr Gorritti says.

He was taken to the pentagonito , the high-security army headquarters where it was already suspected that some of Peru's "disappeared" had been detained and tortured. He began a hunger strike.

His family rushed to call the ambassadors of Spain and the US and politicians at home and abroad. The first 72 hours of a "disappearance" were crucial, they knew, if Mr Gorritti was to have any chance of surviving.

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Canada: Spy chief dismisses witness's remarks on torture

From Friday's Globe and Mail :

CSIS legal expert was 'confused' when he suggested Canadian spies can rely on intelligence obtained through coercive interrogation


Colin Freeze and Bill Curry

3 Apr 2009

TORONTO and OTTAWA — Canada's top spymaster says one of his subordinates was "confused" earlier this week when Parliament was told there are circumstances where Canadian spies might rely on information obtained from foreign torture.

Jim Judd, director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, appeared before the House of Commons public safety committee yesterday to inform MPs that they should disregard certain remarks from a previous CSIS witness, Geoffrey O'Brian, as hypothetical musings.

"I think it's unfortunate that Mr. O'Brian may have been confused in his testimony. He will be clarifying that," said Mr. Judd, who appeared with Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan.

On Tuesday, Mr. O'Brian, a CSIS legal expert who co-authored the legislation that created the spy agency in 1984, inadvertently revived a dormant debate. After MPs essentially asked him to rule out all use of torture intelligence, he replied that a doomsday scenario can prompt reconsideration of proscriptions.

"We only do so if lives are at stake," he said, adding that an impending 9/11, or a likely repeat of the Air India bombing, might force officials to follow up on tips derived from foreign torture.

These remarks were regarded as controversial, so Mr. O'Brian was forced to write a letter to the committee yesterday.

"I wish to clarify for the Committee that CSIS certainly does not condone torture," it said, "and that it is the policy of CSIS to not knowingly rely upon information that may have been obtained through torture."

Mr. Judd, a top public servant appointed from outside CSIS to head the agency in 2004, took a strong anti-torture stand, though some elements of his testimony were unclear.

For example, he said that "it may have occurred in the past where information was received by the service that had been obtained through torture ... [but] it's clear now that our policy is that such information is not to be relied upon."

But at another point, he said, "I know of no instance where such use of information has been made by our service."

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'Obituary for a mediocre tyrant'

From Exit Suharto by Benedict Anderson (New Left Review) :

During the long noontide of the Suharto dictatorship, from the 1970s to the early 90s, three things happened to the mausoleum. It was gradually filled, almost to bursting, with the remains of Tientje's para-aristocratic relations, but none of Suharto's; it was heavily guarded by a unit of the Red Beret paratroopers who had organized the vast massacres of the Left in 1965–66; and it became a tourist attraction, especially for busloads of schoolchildren, so that it was always crowded with village women selling T-shirts, baseball caps, snacks, drinks and plaited bamboo fans. One thing did not happen: even after Tientje joined her relations not long before the Crash of 1997, the mausoleum never became sacred or magically powerful. After I was finally allowed back into the country in 1999, I often went to observe the site. No paratroopers, no busloads of children, only a desperate handful of vendors, a melancholy caretaker and the smell of a decaying building that had already endured a quarter of a century of annual monsoons. It remains to be seen what will happen to the place now that Suharto has finally joined his wife. To paraphrase Walter Abish: how Chinese is it?

If the mausoleum marked an early version of Suharto's 'death foretold', I caught a later variation in Jakarta a few years ago. I had been interviewing an elderly Javanese Communist, who had once held a high position at the party newspaper Harian Rakjat (People's Daily) and spent many years in Suharto's grim gulag. At the end of the interview, to cheer him up, I asked casually whether he thought Suharto would soon be dead. It worked, but not in the way I expected. With a big smile he said: 'Not at all! It will take a long time, and will involve much suffering.' How could he be so sure? He replied that the secret of Suharto's enormous power, vast wealth and remarkable political longevity was that, early in his adult life, a renowned shaman had inserted a number of susuk under the skin in various crucial places. 'But the shaman died quite a while ago', he said cheerfully as he went on his way. There is an old belief that such susuk—tiny slivers of pure gold impregnated with magic spells—bring the bearer wealth, power and a long life. But there is a catch: for a man to die peacefully and speedily, the susuk have to be withdrawn, and this can only be done by the shaman who inserted them in the first place. Otherwise death will be a drawn-out agony.

[ ... ]

But Suharto was also thinking about how to create a political counterweight to the active senior officer corps, a generation younger than his own. The solution was remarkable. Throughout much of his dictatorship Suharto had been visibly hostile to political Islam. In the 1970s, his political spymaster Ali Murtopo had created a Komando Jihad, partly formed by released and desperate prisoners from the failed Islamic-state rebel movement of the 1950s and early 60s. Some of these sad mercenaries had carried out an amateurish bombing of part of Borobudur, the famous 9th-century Buddhist stupa in Central Java. It suited the regime's book to have 'Islamic terrorists' secretly on its payroll. Then, suddenly, in his old age, Suharto took his family on a highly publicized, deluxe pilgrimage to Mecca, from which he returned not only as a 'Haji' but with an entirely fictitious, new first name—Muhammad!

Habibie was now instructed to create what was briefly known as the League of Muslim Indonesian Intellectuals (icmi). The engineer learned fast. He had previously astonished pious Indonesian Muslims in the us by telling them that the Prophet was akin to a television set, faithfully transmitting Allah's programmes to serious viewers. But Muslim intellectuals, excluded from power for decades, rushed to join the icmi, also with Machiavellian intentions. Suharto might wish to use them, but they would also use him—and they were much younger. As it turned out icmi, which had no social or religious base, disappeared in a puff of smoke when the dictatorship collapsed. But Suharto's calculation had been that, although Habibie would have general Muslim support in counterpoise to the army, he would be too weak not to need to turn to the Great Sage for instructions and help.

In this the ex-dictator would be gravely disappointed. Habibie, an affable, garrulous figure, quite aware of the enormous public hostility to Suharto after his fall, struck out on his own—and Suharto is said never to have spoken to him again. He released almost all surviving political prisoners (including Col. Abdul Latief) and ended virtually all mass media censorship. Out of this came a torrent of abuse for the Great Sage, demands that he be tried for his crimes, and a strong push for 'total reform' of the political system. Habibie also made a start at organizing the first free elections that Indonesia had experienced since 1955. More strikingly still, he agreed that the East Timorese should be allowed a referendum on their future, monitored by the un. The military were at first furious about this; but then told Habibie that, with the help of their notoriously violent militias, they could guarantee that the natives would opt for Indonesian citizenship. Unfortunately for them, they had not reckoned with Xanana's guile. Against vehement opposition within the resistance, he had sent word from jail that all East Timorese should massively support the ex-dictator's electoral machine in the national ballot held in June 1999. So huge was this machine's success in the territory that military intelligence let down its guard; they were livid and bewildered when the great majority of the population voted for independence in the referendum two months later.

In retrospect Habibie's brief presidency had many good moments. Unluckily, he believed that these earned him a full term as a real president, at which point his stock plummeted and he felt compelled to return to his second patria, a Kohl-created united Reich. From this moment on, Suharto disappeared from public view, successfully fending off demands that he be put on trial thanks to faithful doctors' reports that he was too ill or too senile to face the courts. Nor was the political elite he had created eager to go after him—he knew all their miserable secrets.


II. Some Legacies

From the later 1980s on, I used regularly to ask young Indonesian visitors and new students arriving on the Cornell University campus: 'Who is the living Indonesian that you most admire?' Almost invariably, the reaction was merely a puzzled scratching of the head, as if the question were ridiculous. Sometimes a youngster would hesitantly name a popular folk-singer whose lyrics were mildly critical of the way things were. One or two would mention Pramoedya Ananta Toer, the country's greatest writer, whose oeuvre was banned throughout Suharto's New Order.

If the same question had been posed in the 1950s, the answers would have been completely different: many 'heroes' of the colonial-era nationalist and Islamic movements and the revolution were still alive and publicly active. The contrast points to a central legacy of the long dictatorship—the production of an overwhelmingly timid, corrupt and mediocre political class. Resentful, suspicious and cunning, the dictator made sure that no potential rivals, military or civilian, could develop any independent social or political base. Even his abject cabinet ministers believed they were under surveillance. The amiable, intelligent son of one of these ministers studiously avoided me during his first three years at Cornell—on parental orders. But in his last year, now socialized to American campus norms, he suddenly became very friendly. His father, he reported, had forbidden him ever to mention anything political when he telephoned home, since he was sure his lines were tapped. Well-educated in some ways, the boy turned out to know almost nothing about his country's history and had never read the many important books about Indonesia's politics.

Suharto terrified people, not only on the basis of his blood-stained record, but by his demeanour—chilly, silent, masked, except for occasional eruptions of real or staged rage. But with international backing he also acquired the resources to buy people on a massive scale. In the early years of the regime, it was his fellow-generals who were the main beneficiaries of his largesse, but after 1973 and opec it was increasingly the so-called technocrats, economists and engineers of many different types who became the richest (non-Chinese) people in the country, as they were given control of the ministries of oil and gas, basic and light industry, finance, foreign trade, employment and so on. They had no political base and were reliably loyal and compliant.

In his final years, however, it was Muslims (often of Arab descent), especially Muslim technocrats and intellectuals, on whom the cornucopia fell. A whole generation and a half of politicians grew up within and absorbed the authoritarian, corrupt and clientelist political culture that Suharto created. He liked to play them off against each other, but would tolerate no substantial or inflammatory rhetoric. Deliberately or not, he created over time the Indonesian national oligarchy of today: quarrelsome, but intermarried; competitive, but avoiding any serious internal conflict; without ideas, but determined to hang on to what they have, at all costs. This is the main reason why Suharto remained above the law after his fall, and why his children, except for the murderer Tommy, continue to control many of the country's television stations, tollways and other strategic assets. The crucial thing is that this national oligarchy and its hangers-on are largely incapable of thinking outside the old regime's box. Cynics joke that there used to be one big Suharto; now there are hundreds of little ones.

How did the oligarchy survive the popular demands for reform after the mass protests that erupted as a result of the 1997 financial crisis? One reason was the deep-seated fragmentation of the electorate, reminiscent of the elections of 1955. The biggest winner in 1999 was the 'secular nationalist' party led by Megawati, a lazy and overweight daughter of Sukarno. But it failed to get even one third of the votes, and lost support in succeeding elections. All governments since then have had to be coalitions.

Second, under the constitutional rules inherited from the Suharto era, the president was not popularly elected (until 2004), but rather selected by the party-dominated Supreme People's Consultative Assembly. After the national elections of 1999, when the reform tide was still high, this body elevated Abdurrahman Wahid, whose party won 10 per cent of the vote—partly because of his popularity with the reformers, but mainly because he was too weak to prevent his cabinet being packed by nominees from all the other political parties and the military, with Megawati as his vice-president. Rather full of himself ('I got a message from Allah summoning me to be President'), Wahid felt humiliated by his position, and tried to extract himself by conspicuous interventions into internal army affairs, a drastic reshuffling of his cabinet and various other manoeuvres. He lasted only a year and a half, at which point all the parties except his own agreed to impeach him and remove him from office. When Megawati succeeded him, she promised and delivered a 'rainbow' cabinet, in which all the parties (if one includes a renegade from Wahid's who became Defence Minister) had their quotas. The target of the oligarchy had been achieved: a parliament without an opposition, and every party clique sharing in the perquisites of power. Sukarno's daughter was not an energetic figure in any case, but the absolute lack of any creative initiatives during the three years of her presidency was also due to what Dan Slater has nicely termed the cartelization of the political system. [9]

A third factor was the general outlook of the oligarchy, which feared popular mobilizations outside their control, fully accepted the neo-liberal international order, and had no interest in anything that smelled of the left. The army leaders not only accepted the cartel but were important players within it. Nonetheless, as the popularity of the parties visibly declined, the oligarchy felt forced to change the method of electing the president, by opening the office to the sentiments of the national electorate. This is how, in 2004, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, an unassuming but intelligent Javanese (retired) general, a key behind-the-scenes member of the oligarchy and Megawati's Senior Minister for Security and Defence, became Indonesia's first popularly elected president. But the party he created for himself did not do well, and he has largely succumbed to the logic of cartelization: passivity, systematic incorporation of any possible parliamentary opposition, and catholic division of the emoluments in his gift. It is not very likely that he will be re-elected in 2009, but his replacement will not be very different, barring some popular upheaval which seems for now over the horizon.

Characteristically, when Suharto finally died on 27 January 2008, the President presided tearfully over the funeral, worked things out with Suharto's children, who own many tv stations, so that no 'negative' reports on the dead man would be aired, and ordered flags all over the country to be half-masted for a week. Luckily, in many places this order was scornfully rejected.

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'Tale of two Kashmiri academics -- one warned British of dangers in Kabul the other is still testing Afghan waters'

From Kabul, Kandhar and Kashmir by Riyaz Masroor :

When Kandhar fell and things were calm under Shah Shuja, Mohan Lal got reports about a clan chief Abdullah Khan having vowed to slay Burnes. The Kashmiri spy informed his mentor in advance but Burnes ignored the warning and stayed put in his Kabul mansion; two mornings later the British officer and his visiting younger brother Charles were hacked to death in the Resident House. Later, Mohan Lal would organize a sort of “operation clean-up” at the behest of Sir William Macnagten to eliminate the resisting Afghan chiefs. He would distribute Rs 10000 for the head of each of the “rebel Afghan chief”. Two chiefs including Abdullah Khan, who had slain Burnes, were assassinated during this “operation”. This too did not work to the Empire's advantage and Mohan Lal could only ensure his own safety; he survived the disaster of British retreat that saw many bigwigs dead including Macnagten, returned to Delhi where he died almost unnoticed in 1877.

More than 170 years after Mohan Lal believed he could facilitate a British victory in Kabul, another bright Kashmiri Professor Amitabh Mattoo visited the war-ravaged Afghanistan in the spring of 2008. Mattoo, then Vice Chancellor of Jammu University, was received in Kabul by Afghan President Hamid Karzai with official protocol on 16 April 2008, two weeks after Professor Mattoo had been nominated as Government of India's nominee on the Board of Directors of India-Afghanistan Foundation (IAF) for two years.

Besides Karzai, Professor Mattoo had a long chat with the Afghan government's National Security Advisor, Dr Zalmay Rasool whose great grandfather was the last Afghan governor in Jammu and Kashmir. It is interesting to note that in 1831 a Kashmiri academic reached Kabul with a mission and earned a significant if short-lived victory for the Empire and in 2008 another Kashmiri academic landed in Kabul to bolster India's policy toehold in Afghanistan. Though known in the annals of history as a spymaster, Mohan Lal was a 'principled intriguer' who would advise his mentors to the best of his knowledge about Afghan resistance to British occupation.

Burnes ignored his advice and lost his life; Macnagten put down his word of caution against a withdrawal pact with Akbar Khan, son of the deposed ruler Dost Mohammad, and was shot dead with the pistol he had gifted Akbar sometime back; Macnagten's body was dismembered, his head borne like a trophy and his corpse impaled on a meat hook. Not just this, in all around 12000 British troops and agents died in the much quoted “Death March”, which Mohan Lal had opposed. British did not listen to Mohan Lal and the war went wrong; we don't know if Professor Mattoo will follow Mohan Lal's principle, of being honest and accurate while assessing Afghan situation for the mentors, during his tenure as India nominee in India-Afghan Foundation.

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Researchers make leap toward fusion energy

Peter Tertzakian reports in Calgary Herald :

About a month ago, lost amidst the clamor of the global economic crisis, there was a subtle event in the world of energy, seemingly no more significant than the striking of a match, but one that is likely to make us change the way we think about our evolving energy needs.

Our energy use goes back to the discovery of fire, which is a long time ago. A 2008 archaeological discovery along the Dead Sea rift now suggests that our fire-making ability dates as far back as 790,000 years. We've come a long way since the days of our prehistoric hominid ancestors with bony eyebrows and sloped foreheads (though some days the state of the world leaves us to wonder.)

Although we've been using fire for nearly 800 millennia, our ability to control it with precision only began less than 200 years ago. In 1827, John Walker, an English chemist, discovered a way of treating small pieces of wood with chemicals that made them burn when friction was applied. The new disposable devices were sold as “Lucifer matches,” and were rapidly adopted. Concurrent with the industrial revolution, the ability to ignite fuel on demand with wooden matches was a milestone event that contributed to the beginning of society's modernization, and ravenous energy appetite.

On March 10th, the National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore Labs in California (https://lasers.llnl.gov) ignited a newly completed high-tech match of their own. Delivering enough power to light up 10,000 100-watt light bulbs, 192 high-power lasers were focused onto a point no larger than a couple of match heads. The ensuing “flash” broke the one-megajoule barrier (a million joules of energy) for the first time ever—a milestone event in the world of high-energy physics.

Clearly, the scientists at NIF are not interested in a making a better barbecue lighter (that's already been done; the Zippo cigarette lighter was invented in 1932). The primary use of NIF's multi-billion dollar device is to prove that controlled nuclear fusion is a viable process for generating clean, nearly limitless electrical power on earth by inventing a workable fusion reactor.

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Greenpeace reaction: EDF espionage greater than expected

From 7thSpace :

5 Apr 2009

International — Following this week's revelations that top staff at nuclear energy giant Electricité de France (EDF) were charged on suspicion of spying on Greenpeace, Inspectors from the French special cyber crimes unit (l'Office central de lutte contre la criminalité technologique, l'OCLCTIC) spent three hours in the French Greenpeace offices today.

According to new evidence it seems that Greenpeace has been targeted by expert espionage and that the extent of the infiltration could be much wider than first suspected.

"Three days after the explosion of this scandal, EDF and Kargus Consulting's line of defense no longer stands up,” says Pascal Husting, Director of Greenpeace France. “This is not the work of some isolated hacker. They have clearly been spying on all of our work. Why? What is EDF scared of? "

“Who knows to what extent our international servers have been affected. We do not have the technical nor economic means to protect ourselves from a hacking onslaught backed by big business," says Loic Prévotat, head of IT Greenpeace France.

Greenpeace will be seeking clarifications from EDF that these undemocratic and underhand practices have not been used in all 28 of our offices world wide. Greenpeace also demands that Admiral Durieux, Director of EDF security be suspended of his duties until the whole truth of the extent of the breach of privacy is uncovered.

“Clearly EDF feels threatened by our criticism of their nuclear energy program,” said Dr Rianne Teule, Greenpeace International Nuclear Campaigner. “We have been calling for an open debate in the public domain for a sustainable energy supply but EDF seems incapable of any sort of transparency.”

Contact information
Mike Townsley
Telephone: +31 6 2129 6918

Dr Rianne Teule, Greenpeace International Nuclear Campaigner, +31 (0) 650 640 961

Pascal Husting, Director Greenpeace France, +33 (0)6 73 89 23 19

Alexandra Dawe, Greenpeace International Nuclear Communications, +31 (0) 6 29001146

Romain Chabrol, Greenpeace France Nuclear Communications, + 33 (0) 6 88 88 18 27

Greenpeace International Press Desk: +31 (0) 20 718 2470

'The Best Way to Rob a Bank Is to Own One'

From the interview of William K. Black on the Bill Moyers Journal :

BILL MOYERS: Welcome to the Journal.

For months now, revelations of the wholesale greed and blatant transgressions of Wall Street have reminded us that "The Best Way to Rob a Bank Is to Own One." In fact, the man you're about to meet wrote a book with just that title. It was based upon his experience as a tough regulator during one of the darkest chapters in our financial history: the savings and loan scandal in the late 1980s.

WILLIAM K. BLACK: These numbers as large as they are, vastly understate the problem of fraud.

BILL MOYERS: Bill Black was in New York this week for a conference at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice where scholars and journalists gathered to ask the question, "How do they get away with it?" Well, no one has asked that question more often than Bill Black.

The former Director of the Institute for Fraud Prevention now teaches Economics and Law at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. During the savings and loan crisis, it was Black who accused then-house speaker Jim Wright and five US Senators, including John Glenn and John McCain, of doing favors for the S&L's in exchange for contributions and other perks. The senators got off with a slap on the wrist, but so enraged was one of those bankers, Charles Keating — after whom the senate's so-called "Keating Five" were named — he sent a memo that read, in part, "get Black — kill him dead." Metaphorically, of course. Of course.

Now Black is focused on an even greater scandal, and he spares no one — not even the President he worked hard to elect, Barack Obama. But his main targets are the Wall Street barons, heirs of an earlier generation whose scandalous rip-offs of wealth back in the 1930s earned them comparison to Al Capone and the mob, and the nickname "banksters."

Bill Black, welcome to the Journal.

WILLIAM K. BLACK: Thank you.

BILL MOYERS: I was taken with your candor at the conference here in New York to hear you say that this crisis we're going through, this economic and financial meltdown is driven by fraud. What's your definition of fraud?

WILLIAM K. BLACK: Fraud is deceit. And the essence of fraud is, "I create trust in you, and then I betray that trust, and get you to give me something of value." And as a result, there's no more effective acid against trust than fraud, especially fraud by top elites, and that's what we have.

BILL MOYERS: In your book, you make it clear that calculated dishonesty by people in charge is at the heart of most large corporate failures and scandals, including, of course, the S&L, but is that true? Is that what you're saying here, that it was in the boardrooms and the CEO offices where this fraud began?

WILLIAM K. BLACK: Absolutely.

BILL MOYERS: How did they do it? What do you mean?

WILLIAM K. BLACK: Well, the way that you do it is to make really bad loans, because they pay better. Then you grow extremely rapidly, in other words, you're a Ponzi-like scheme. And the third thing you do is we call it leverage. That just means borrowing a lot of money, and the combination creates a situation where you have guaranteed record profits in the early years. That makes you rich, through the bonuses that modern executive compensation has produced. It also makes it inevitable that there's going to be a disaster down the road.

BILL MOYERS: So you're suggesting, saying that CEOs of some of these banks and mortgage firms in order to increase their own personal income, deliberately set out to make bad loans?

WILLIAM K. BLACK: Yes.

BILL MOYERS: How do they get away with it? I mean, what about their own checks and balances in the company? What about their accounting divisions?

WILLIAM K. BLACK: All of those checks and balances report to the CEO, so if the CEO goes bad, all of the checks and balances are easily overcome. And the art form is not simply to defeat those internal controls, but to suborn them, to turn them into your greatest allies. And the bonus programs are exactly how you do that.

BILL MOYERS: If I wanted to go looking for the parties to this, with a good bird dog, where would you send me?

WILLIAM K. BLACK: Well, that's exactly what hasn't happened. We haven't looked, all right? The Bush Administration essentially got rid of regulation, so if nobody was looking, you were able to do this with impunity and that's exactly what happened. Where would you look? You'd look at the specialty lenders. The lenders that did almost all of their work in the sub-prime and what's called Alt-A, liars' loans.

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WFP documentary on the War on Drugs


Shoveling Water from Witness For Peace on Vimeo.

Cyberspies penetrate U.S. electrical grid

U.S. reports infrastructure espionage

UN Wire,  8 Apr 2009

Spies reportedly from China and Russia infiltrated the computer architecture controlling power grids and other infrastructure, including water and sewage, inside the U.S., installing software that could be used to trigger shutdowns, current and former national-security officials say. Efforts to scrub the grid of intrusive software have cost the U.S. $100 million in the past six months, the Pentagon reported Tuesday. Russia and China have denied involvement in grid-hacking schemes. Wall Street Journal, The

Italian PM shows Latin charm requires no brain

Berlusconi: Earthquake is like a camping trip

Italy started burying some of the 260 victims of a huge earthquake which struck the country's Abruzzo region.

But, while rescuers hampered by aftershocks hunted for people buried alive in the rubble, their prime minister caused outrage among those forced to flee the region and live in tents.

With 28,000 people made homeless, premier Silvio Berlusconi told one German television channel that the 17,000 refugees 'should look on it as a camping weekend'.

He later said the comments were meant to infuse the people with optimism. Last night, the death toll climbed to 260 when rescuers pulled out 15 more bodies from the rubble.

In Rome, Pope Benedict again prayed for the victims and said he would visit the area soon...


Berlusconi mad at media over gaffe coverage

Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi threatens to impose a media blackout after reporters highlighted his recent gaffe during a NATO meeting.

Berlusconi's reaction came after he stirred fresh media scorn over missing a symbolic unity walk by leaders to mark NATO's 60th anniversary in Strasbourg.

The prime minister was seen engaged in an intense conversation on his cell phone as all heads of state from NATO member countries gathered for a group photo and a ceremonial walk on a bridge across the Rhine River that connects Germany and France.

The Italian leader missed the first photo and joined the group for a second shot, apologizing to German Chancellor Angela Merkel for failing to salute her earlier.

Berlusconi slammed the media for accusing him of snubbing Merkel by turning his back on her and talking on his mobile saying such measures damaged Italy's reputation.

The Italian premier went on to add that he was considering taking "hard measures" against reporters.

Earlier at the G20 summit on Thursday, Queen Elizabeth II reportedly chastised Berlusconi for shouting "Mr. Obama" after a similar photo shoot in London.

An angry Berlusconi said he was fed up with the way the media treated him and threatened a news blackout.

"I will no longer talk to you. I am working for Italy while you work against it. I will no longer give news conferences."

He later added, "Enough with this. Go to the devil! This is slander towards me and disinformation to newspaper readers."

"The Italian press, with their stories of my gaffes, harm the reputation of Italy. The story of my gaffe with Queen Elizabeth is absurd. And now the same thing with Mrs. Merkel. I said to her 'I'm talking to Erdogan' and she said 'Go ahead, go ahead'.

"The Italian press seems to have no other objective than to say that I made bad impressions or gaffes."

Earlier in the year, the premier's comments about rape prevention in Italy outraged the public and made global headlines.

"We would need as many soldiers as there are beautiful girls in Italy," Berlusconi said.


Berlusconi prefers Simona Ventura over Angela Merkel



"Italian YouTube viewers of this clip brought to our attention that Berlusconi was talking about popular Italian X-Factor presenter Simona Ventura, aka 'La Ventura', as he kept German chancellor Angela Merkel waiting at the start of the NATO summit on the French-German border near Strasbourg. The X-factor in Italy, which airs on Rai2 public tv, is locked in a major ratings battle with the Italian version of Friends, known as Amici, which airs on one of the Mediaset channels. Mediaset is owned by Berlusconi..."

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