Dec 302011
 

 

* THE WORMWOOD EXPRESS: AMERICAN WAR CRIME ROLLS ON

By Chris Floyd, OpEdNews

t requires no specialist knowledge, no insider connections, no secret sources to know and see the horrendous reality that the Americans and their accomplices have created in Iraq. The poison we have served to others — and poured into our own veins — will eat through the walls of the hallucination and stain the future deep with horror.

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I had much to say about the recent terror bombings in Baghdad, which were framed almost universally in the American media as the result of the withdrawal of the steadying, beneficent hand of the U.S. military. For example, the New York Times spoke of “a country reeling from political and sectarian turmoil that erupted after the departure of the American military.”

It is hard to fathom the level of moral blindness — not to mention the willful ignorance — required to write such a statement. To pretend to oneself, much less the rest of the world, that political and sectarian strife has only now “erupted” in Iraq, out of the blue, or more likely, due to the inherent savagery of those poor primitives we liberated — think what a pathetic, self-deluded wretch you would have to be to hold such an belief. Think what it must be like to lose so much of your humanity and to have your intellect so stunted and diminished. Yet this is the viewpoint of the overwhelming majority of the American political and media elite. No causal connection is made between the unprovoked invasion by U.S. forces and the “eruption” of violence and political chaos in the conquered, broken, blood-soaked land.

So yes, there is much to say about the continuing obscenity of the American war crime in Iraq, and its most recent manifestation in the eviscerated bodies on Baghdad’s streets. But I think in this instance, I should put my voice aside and let an actual Iraqi speak of the situation and its implications and causes. Sami Ramadani writes powerfully of the hell that has been unleashed in his hometown. From the Guardian:

“Baghdad, the city of my childhood, is again being terrorised by cowardly attacks aimed at spilling the blood of as many workers, students, shoppers and bystanders as possible. As I write, the facts are becoming clearer: the hundreds of murdered and injured men, women and children are Shia, Sunni, Christian, Arab, Kurd, Turkuman — a cross-section of the mosaic of peoples who have inhabited Mesopotamia for more than 1,000 years.

“So, who is killing the innocent in Baghdad today, and why?

“In the rush to provide an explanation for the nihilistic violence, the same old simplistic mantra is trotted out. Thursday’s co-ordinated, simultaneous attacks are invariably described by the media as sectarian. Few pause to ask why a ‘sectarian’ attack would be aimed at all sects and ethnicities equally. Only a handful raise the possibility that these attacks are not sectarian in motive, or a reflection of sectarian hatred on the streets, but are instead designed to create sectarian entrenchment and animosity, and ignite street conflict.

“Similarly, analysts are quick to conclude that both the power struggle within the political elite, and the explosions are the result of the withdrawal of US troops. They portray the US forces as the good Samaritan who prematurely left the scene. Too few examine the legacy of the occupiers’ poisonous presence at the heart of Iraqi society for nearly nine years, or ask why the US has built the biggest embassy in the world in Baghdad, staffed by 15,000 personnel and spies.

“Today’s bitter power struggle can be traced back to the measured 2003 decisions made by Paul Bremer. Bremer, a Bush “civilian” appointed to rule Iraq, continued the military occupation under a different guise. Faced with massive popular opposition and armed resistance to the US-led invasion, the US recognised in 2003 that the occupation of Iraq could not continue without a prominent Iraqi component, so Bremer formed the Iraqi governing council while retaining control of all levers of power.

“The mix of the 25-member council was carefully calibrated, with quotas to reflect Iraq’s sectarian and ethnic makeup. That sectarian formula was to be mirrored in all Bremer’s appointments. Far from preventing sectarianism, it introduced it to all the political and military institutions created by the occupation. …..

Such is the anger at the occupation that many Iraqis think the US was behind Thursday’s attack. This belief is dismissed as conspiratorial, but it is widely held. There is a reason for this. Apart from the horrific violence committed directly by the occupation forces and Pentagon-contracted mercenaries, the US also created Iraqi secret militia, and smuggled tens of thousands of weapons and tons of explosives into Iraq through private firms in Bosnia …. Indiscriminate killings and terrorist attacks were a permanent feature of the US-led occupation, and to many ordinary Iraqis, Thursday’s bloodshed is just more of the same.

“Similarly, ordinary Iraqis see their current rulers, who arrived with the occupation, as self-seeking, corrupt politicians who use religious and ethnic differences to perpetuate sectarianism as a means of creating power bases. …” […]

READ @ http://www.opednews.com/populum/printer_friendly.php?content=a&id=143438

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* ‘TRUST US’ LEGISLATION: WHEN PROTEST BECOMES AN ACT OF TERROR

By Wendy Kaminer, The Atlantic

The law concerning animal rights protest is too broad, protecting commercial interests and making terrorists out of  people who want to voice concerns. 

Distribute an animal cruelty video commercially and you’re protected from prosecution by the First Amendment. Distribute an animal cruelty video idealistically, to protest practices by laboratories, agribusiness, or the fur industry, and you risk prosecution as a terrorist under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA). In other words, current law involving depictions of animal cruelty protects commercial speech and threatens political advocacy.

Blame Congress, not the Supreme Court, for this absurdity. Recently, in U.S. v Stevens , the Court struck down a federal law criminalizing the commercial sale or possession of videos depicting animal cruelty. Writing for an 8 – 1 majority, Chief Justice Roberts rightly rejected the government’s effort to carve out an animal cruelty exception to the First Amendment (akin to the exception for child pornography.) The Court has not reviewed the AETA, but it could and should eventually avail itself of an opportunity to strike it down as well.

The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), representing several animal rights activists, has filed a federal court challenge to the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. “The AETA classifies certain protected speech and activity as a ‘terrorist’ crime,” CCR’s complaint in Blum v Holder explains. “It punishes individuals who alone, or with others, criticize or demonstrate against what the statute vaguely identifies as an ‘animal enterprise,’ if that otherwise permissible speech damages the property or profitability of the animal enterprise or even a person or entity connected with it … (The AETA) punishes otherwise lawful and innocuous speech or advocacy that causes a business that uses or sells animal products to lose profit, even where that lost profit comes from a decrease in sales in reaction to public advocacy.”

This characterization of the AETA is not hyperbole: While the statute was ostensibly intended to protect research and commercial entities and their employees from violent attacks, criminal harassment, and vandalism by animal rights extremists, its broad, vague prohibition of “interfering” with an animal enterprise and affecting the profits of any related person or entity means that exposing the abuses of factory farms or successfully boycotting fur sales could be labeled acts of terrorism. Conceivably, some targeted activists could eventually prevail with First Amendment defenses at trial or on post-conviction appeal, but some would not. But all would suffer the panic of being targeted by a terrorism prosecution, and some would likely plead guilty to lesser offenses, surrendering their free speech rights to avoid imprisonment. CCR alleges that its clients (one of whom was previously convicted under an earlier version of the AETA), have simply ceased protesting, resorting to self-censorship to escape prosecution.

Why did Congress include non-violent advocacy in an anti-terrorism statute? Ten years after 9/11, that is essentially a rhetorical question. Fear mongering and the authoritarianism it breeds don’t discriminate between actual and highly implausible or imaginary threats to security. Whatever dissenting or disruptive speech that authorities intensely dislike is increasingly liable to be condemned as terrorism. But the AETA also reflects a legislative trend simply not attributable to 9/11. To deter or punish particular acts — like violent attacks on animal researchers — Congress legislates in general terms, criminalizing speech or conduct barely related, if at all, to the evil it purportedly to seeks to control. Consider the Controlled Substances Act and its use by drug warriors against doctors who prescribe pain medication (and beware of any law enforcement crusade marketed as a “war.”)

This is the “trust us” theory of legislating. It demands that we trust prosecutors to act in good faith, with a sense of proportion and respect for our rights to speech, privacy, and due process. It expects us to ignore overwhelming evidence that prosecutors are not inherently trustworthy, that they routinely abuse their broad discretion and persecute ordinary, generally harmless citizens for unwittingly violating over-broad laws. […]

READ @ http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/12/trust-us-legislation-when-protest-becomes-an-act-of-terror/250580/

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* A CLUB OF LIARS, DEMAGOGUES, AND IGNORAMUSES

By Marc Pitzke, Spiegel Online International

The US Republican race is dominated by ignorance, lies and scandals. The current crop of candidates have shown such a basic lack of knowledge that they make George W. Bush look like Einstein. The Grand Old Party is ruining the entire country’s reputation.

Africa is a country. In Libya, the Taliban reigns. Muslims are terrorists; most immigrants are criminal; all Occupy protesters are dirty. And women who feel sexually harassed — well, they shouldn’t make such a big deal about it.

Welcome to the wonderful world of the US Republicans. Or rather, to the twisted world of what they call their presidential campaigns. For months now, they’ve been traipsing around the country with their traveling circus, from one debate to the next, one scandal to another, putting themselves forward for what’s still the most powerful job in the world.

As it turns out, there are no limits to how far they will stoop.

It’s true that on the road to the White House all sorts of things can happen, and usually do. No campaign can avoid its share of slip-ups, blunders and embarrassments. Yet this time around, it’s just not that funny anymore. In fact, it’s utterly horrifying.

It’s horrifying because these eight so-called, would-be candidates are eagerly ruining not only their own reputations and that of their party, the party of Lincoln lore. Worse: They’re ruining the reputation of the United States.

‘Freakshow’

They lie. They cheat. They exaggerate. They bluster. They say one idiotic, ignorant, outrageous thing after another. They’ve shown such stark lack of knowledge — political, economic, geographic, historical — that they make George W. Bush look like Einstein and even cause their fellow Republicans to cringe.

“When did the GOP lose touch with reality?” wonders Bush’s former speechwriter David Frum in New York Magazine. In the New York Times, Kenneth Duberstein, Ronald Reagan’s former chief-of-staff, called this campaign season a “reality show,” while Wall Street Journal columnist and former Reagan confidante Peggy Noonan even spoke of a “freakshow.”

That may be the most appropriate description.

Tough times demand tough and smart minds. But all these dopes have to offer are ramblings that insult the intelligence of all Americans — no matter if they are Democrats, Republicans or neither of the above. Yet just like any freakshow, this one would be unthinkable without a stage (in this case, the media, strangling itself with all its misunderstood “political correctness” and “objectivity”) and an audience (the party base, which this year seems to have suffered a political lobotomy).

Factually Challenged

And so the farce continues. The more mind-boggling its incarnations, the happier the US media are to cheer first one clown and then the next, elevating and then eliminating “frontrunners” in reliable news cycles of about 45 days.

Take Herman Cain, “businessman.” He sat out the first wave of sexual harassment claims against him by offering a peculiar argument: Most ladies he had encountered in his life, he said, had not complained.

In the most recent twist, a woman accused Cain of having carried on a 13-year affair with her. That, too, he tried to casually wave off, but now, under pressure, he says he wants to “reassess” his campaign.

If Cain indeed drops out, the campaign would lose its biggest caricature: He has been the most factually challenged of all these jesters.

As CEO of the “Godfather’s” pizza chain, Cain killed jobs — but now poses as the job-creator-in-chief. Meanwhile, he seems to lack basic economic know-how, let alone a rudimentary grasp of politics or geography. Libya confounds him. He does not believe that China is a nuclear power. And all other, slightly more complicated questions get a stock answer: “Nine-nine-nine!” Remember? That’s Cain’s tax reduction plan that would actually raise taxes for 84 percent of Americans.

Has any of that disrupted Cain’s popularity in the media or with his fan base? Far from it. Since Oct. 1, he has collected more than $9 million in campaign donations. Enough to plow through another onslaught of denouements.

No Shortage of Chutzpah

Then there’s Newt Gingrich, the current favorite. He’s a political dinosaur, dishonored and discredited. Or so we thought. Yet just because he studied history and speaks in more complex sentences than his rivals, the US media now reflexively hails him as a “Man of Ideas” (The Washington Post) — even though most of these ideas are lousy if not downright offensive, such as firing unionized school janitors, so poor children could do their jobs.

Pompous and blustering, Gingrich gets away with this humdinger as well as with selling himself as a Washington outsider — despite having made millions of dollars as a lobbyist in Washington. At least the man’s got chutzpah.

The hypocrisy doesn’t end here. Gingrich claims moral authority on issues such as the “sanctity of marriage,” yet he’s been divorced twice. He sprang the divorce on his first wife while she was sick with cancer. (His supporters’ excuse: It’s been 31 years, and she’s still alive.) He cheated on his second wife just as he was pressing ahead with Bill Clinton’s impeachment during the Monica Lewinsky affair, unaware of the irony. The woman he cheated with, by the way, was one of his House aides and 23 years his junior — and is now his perpetually smiling third wife.

Americans have a short memory. They forget, too, that Gingrich was driven out of Congress in disgrace, the first speaker of the house to be disciplined for ethical wrongdoing. Or that he consistently flirts with racism when he speaks of Barack Obama. Or that he enjoyed a $500,000 credit line at Tiffany’s just as his campaign was financially in the toilet and he ranted about the national debt. Chutzpah, indeed.

Yet the US media rewards him with a daily kowtow. And the Republicans reward him too, by having put him on top in the latest polls. Mr. Hypocrisy, the bearer of his party’s hope.

“I think he’s doing well just because he’s thinking,” former President Clinton told the conservative online magazine NewsMax. “People are hungry for ideas that make some sense.” Sense? Apparently it’s not just the Republicans who have lost their minds here.

The Eternal Runner-Up

And what about the other candidates? Rick Perry’s blunders are legendary. His “oops” moment in suburban Detroit. His frequently slurred speech, as if he was drunk. His TV commercials putting words in Obama’s mouth that he didn’t say (such as, “Americans are ‘lazy'”). His preposterous claim that as governor of Texas he created 1 million jobs, when the total was really just about 100,000. But what’s one digit? Elsewhere, Perry would have long ago been disqualified. But not here in the US.

Meanwhile, Michele Bachmann has fallen off the wagon, although she’s still tolerated as if she’s a serious contender. Ron Paul’s fan club gets the more excited, the more puzzling his comments get. Jon Huntsman, the only one who occasionally makes some sort of sense, has been relegated to the poll doldrums ever since he showed sympathy for the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators.

Which leaves Mitt Romney, the eternal flip-flopper and runner-up, who by now is almost guaranteed to clinch the nomination, even though no one in his party seems to like or want him. He stiffly delivers his talking points, which may or may not contradict his previous positions. After all, he’s been practicing this since 2008, when he failed to snag the nomination from John McCain. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

As an investor, Romney once raked in millions and, like Cain, killed jobs along the way. So now he says he’s the economy’s savior. To prove that, he has presented an economic plan that the usually quite conservative business magazine Forbes has labeled “dangerous,” asking incredulously, “About Mitt Romney, the Republicans can’t be serious.” Apparently they’re not, but he is, running TV spots against Obama already, teeming with falsehoods.

Good for Ratings

What a nice club that is. A club of liars, cheaters, adulterers, exaggerators, hypocrites and ignoramuses. “A starting point for a chronicle of American decline,” was how David Remnick, the editor of the New Yorker, described the current Republican race. […]

READ @ http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,druck-800850,00.html

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* HAS AMERICA’S STOLEN ELECTION PROCESS FINALLY HIT PRIME TIME?

By Bob Fittrakis and Harvey Wasserman, CommonDreams

It took two stolen US Presidential elections and the prospect of another one coming up in 2012.

For years the Democratic Party and even much of the left press has reacted with scorn for those who’ve reported on it.

But the imperial fraud that has utterly corrupted our electoral process seems finally to be dawning on a broadening core of the American electorate—if it can still be called that.

The shift is highlighted by three major developments:

1. The NAACP goes to the United Nations

In early December, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the largest civil rights organization in America, announced that it was petitioning the United Nations over the orchestrated GOP attack on black and Latino voters.

In its landmark report entitled Defending Democracy: Confronting Modern Barriers to Voting Rights in America, the NAACP directly takes on the new Jim Crow tactics passed in fourteen states that are designed to keep minorities from voting in 2012.

The report analyzes 25 laws that target black, minority and poor voters “unfairly and unnecessarily restrict[ing] the right to vote.” It notes “…a coordinated assault on voting rights.”

[…]

2. The Justice Department awakens

On Friday, December 23, 2011, the U.S. Justice Department called South Carolina’s new voter ID law discriminatory. The finding was based in part on the fact that minorities were almost 20% more likely than whites to be without state-issued photo IDs required for voting. Unlike Ohio, South Carolina remains under the 1965 Voting Rights Act and requires federal pre-approval to any changes in voting laws that may harm minority voters.

The Republican governor of South Carolina Nikki Haley denounced the Justice Department decision as “outrageous” and vowed to do everything in her power to overturn the decision and uphold the integrity of state’s rights under the 10th Amendment.

The US Supreme Court has upheld the requirement of photo ID for voting. Undoubtedly the attempt by US Attorney General Eric Holder to challenge this will go to the most thoroughly corporate-dominated Court in recent memory. The depth of the commitment of the Obama Administration to the issue also remains in doubt.

3. The EAC finally finds that voting machines are programmed to be partisan

Another federal agency revealed another type of problem in Ohio. On December 22, 2011, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) issued a formal investigative report on Election Systems & Software (ED&D) DS200 Precinct County optical scanners. The EAC found “three substantial anomalies”:

• Intermittent screen freezes, system lock-ups and shutdowns that prevent the voting system from operating in the manner in which it was designed

• Failure to log all normal and abnormal voting system events

• Skewing of the ballot resulting in a negative effect on system accuracy

[…]

READ @ http://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/12/30-2

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* SPAIN SET TO APPROVE NEW AUSTERITY PACKAGE

New conservative government looks to unveil belt-tightening programme amid massive unemployment and fears of recession.

Source: Aljazeera / Agencies

Spain’s new conservative government is set to unveil its first austerity measures as it tries to reassure markets of its plan to get a grip on public finances and kickstart an economy saddled with massive unemployment.

With much of the country on holiday, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of the Popular Party was presiding over a cabinet meeting that will approve the first in what is expected to be a painful series of spending freezes or cuts.

Rajoy’s party won a sweeping victory over the Socialists in elections on November 20 and his government took power only last week.

All the ministers have been named, but many other senior positions have not yet been filled.

Like other troubled governments in Europe, Rajoy faces the delicate task of deficit reduction in a country whose economy is expected to sink back into recession.

The country’s jobless rate stands at 21.5 per cent, the highest rate of all 17 countries that use the euro.

Rajoy has repeatedly said he is determined to meet Spain’s commitment to cut its budget deficit to 4.4 per cent of GDP in 2012.

Last week, he said that if the outgoing government’s deficit forecast of six per cent for 2011 were correct, the new
government would have to achieve $22bn in deficit reductions in 2012. […]

READ @ http://www.aljazeera.com/news/europe/2011/12/20111230112016464848.html

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* TORIES SAY THEY WANT TO LEAVE EU AND PREFER BORIS TO CAMERON

By Andrew Grice, The Independent

A majority of Conservative Party members want Britain to leave the European Union. A poll of 1,566 party members, carried out for The Independent by the ConservativeHome website, shows that David Cameron delighted the Tory grassroots by vetoing a new EU treaty at this month’s summit in Brussels.

But the survey also suggests that he may have created hopes of forging a more detached relationship with the EU that he may find difficult to fulfil – and that he will come under pressure from his party to continue to prove his Eurosceptic credentials. If he does, he would risk fuelling tensions with the Liberal Democrats and his fellow EU leaders. If he does not, he would upset many of his party’s activists.

Some 54 per cent of Tory members say their ideal vision of the relationship is for the UK to leave the EU and sign up to a free trade agreement. Although that view is shared by a minority of Tory MPs, the poll suggests the party’s grassroots is more in tune with the policy of Ukip, which wants Britain to pull out of the EU.

Meanwhile, 24 per cent of Tory members favour a more flexible relationship with the EU, with continued co-operation on key policy areas. Some 10 per cent say the UK should maintain its current relationship but ignore European laws which are not in the country’s interests, while 5 per cent believe Britain should leave the EU and not seek any agreements with it. […]

READ @ http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/tories-say-they-want-to-leave-eu-and-prefer-boris-to-cameron-6282185.html

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* THE DRAGON GOES SHOPPING IN SOUTH AMERICA

By Chris Arsenault, IPS / Aljazeera (Buenos Aires)

The small restaurants and shops selling plastic sandals, tacky umbrellas, kitchen wares and paper lanterns in Buenos Aires’s Chinatown do not give the impression of impending economic dominance.

Away from this small urban area, however, China has been not-so- quietly buying up agricultural products, companies and minerals around South America.

‘Across Latin America we are seeing that China is having an increasing importance in trade and investment,’ Ricardo Delgado, director of Analytica Consulting in Buenos Aires, told Al Jazeera.

‘Brazil and Argentina produce and export many raw materials: soy, sugar, meat and corn… China is a very important driver of demand for these commodities.’

Since 2005, China’s development bank and other institutions have spent an estimated 75 billion dollars on financial investments in South America, said Boston University professor Kevin Gallagher. This is, he points out, ‘more [investment] than the World Bank, U.S. Export Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank combined’.

Chinese private investment, often coming from large state-supported firms that set-up operations in the region or buy local companies, has been about 60 billion dollarrs, Gallagher said.

In the past five years, Bilateral trade between China and South America jumped more than 160 per cent, rising from 68 billion dollars in 2006 to 178 billion dollars in 2010. In Peru, Chinese mining giant Chinalco spent three billion dollars buying ‘copper mountain’ – an entire rock formation containing two billion tonnes of the precious metal. The firm expects a 2,000 percent profit on its investment.

The Chinese state lent Petrobras, Brazil’s national oil company, 10 billion dollars in 2009. And a plan from China’s Beidahuang food company to lease more than 300,000 hectares of land to grow genetically modified soya, corn and other crops in Argentina’s Patagonia region has locals furious about potential environmental damage.

As director of Mercampo, an agricultural consulting firm based in Rosario, Argentina, Gabriel Perez has seen the increase first hand. More trade delegations are coming from China, and tycoons from the world’s second largest economy are eager to invest in agriculture and commodities.

‘China has the strategic vision to ensure food security and energy in their country [as they worry] that long-term problems will be the supply of raw materials,’ Perez told Al Jazeera. ‘This is undoubtedly the primary reason for China’s investments in South America.’ […]

READ @ http://www.globalissues.org/news/2011/12/21/12283

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* CRACKDOWN IN CAIRO

By Sarah Carr, Foreign Policy

CAIRO – There was a flurry of good news last week in Egypt. Activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah was released on Christmas Day, Cairo’s Administrative Court issued a ruling banning “virginity tests,” and thousands of women took part in a spirited march in downtown Cairo to denounce the military’s brutal violence against women protesters during the breakup of a sit-in in front of the Cabinet building on Dec. 16 and 17.

That streak of good times was interrupted Thursday afternoon when public prosecution officials, assisted by armed Central Security Forces (CSF) soldiers — Cairo’s ubiquitous black-clad riot troops — raided the offices of six civil society groups.

They started just after noon, with the 12th- floor headquarters of the Arab Center for the Independence of the Judiciary and the Legal Profession (ACIJLP), and continued on to five others, including three with ties to the U.S. government.

In early December, ACIJLP’s director Nasser Amin was standing for election to the People’s Assembly. Today, he watched as computers and files being were removed and his office sealed shut, his organization targeted as part of a sweeping campaign against NGOs accused of receiving foreign funding.

In the Hosni Mubarak years, civil society activity was heavily monitored and contained through two main mechanisms: arbitrary interference from the much much-feared State Security Investigations apparatus (now renamed National Security), and draconian legislation passed in 2002 that requires all NGOs to register with the Ministry of Social Solidarity (MOSS) and criminalizes the receipt of foreign funding without MOSS authorization.

Some NGOs registered as private businesses to avoid these restrictions, but the rules of the game have clearly changed. As Negad El-Borai, a rights lawyer, tweeted Thursday, “What never happened under the rule of Mubarak is happening after the revolution.”

The authorities’ harassment of civil society took a different form under Mubarak. While there were some incidents of government officials entering NGO premises, it was never on this scale. Thursday’s raid on the six NGOs follows the slow boil of a smear campaign that began in July, according to which NGOs are receiving foreign funding as part of a nefarious plot to destabilize Egypt. […]

READ @ http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/12/29/crackdown_in_cairo?print=yes&hidecomments=yes&page=full

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* 20 YEARS SINCE THE FALL OF THE SOVIET UNION

By Alain-Pierre Hovasse , The Atlantic

Twenty years ago, on December 25, 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev resigned as president of the Soviet Union, declaring the office extinct and dissolving the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), a massive communist empire that had existed since 1922. The USSR had been in a long economic stagnation when Gorbachev came to power in 1985. In order to bring about change, he introduced several reforms, including perestroika (economic restructuring) and glasnost (openness). Glasnost opened the floodgates of protest and many republics made moves toward independence, threatening the continued existence of the USSR. In August of 1991, a group of Communist Party hardliners frustrated by the separatist movement attempted to stage a coup. They quickly failed due to a massive show of civil resistance — but the already-faltering government was destabilized even further by the attempt. By December of 1991, 16 Soviet republics had declared their independence, and Gorbachev handed over power to Russian president Boris Yeltsin, ending the USSR. Collected here are photos from those tumultuous months 20 years ago. Bonus: Memories of photojournalist Alain-Pierre Hovasse, first-hand witness to these events, are collected at the end of this entry. [43 photos] […]

READ and 43 PHOTOS @ http://www.theatlantic.com/infocus/2011/12/20-years-since-the-fall-of-the-soviet-union/100214/

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* REVOLUTION VERSUS REFORM

By Ted Rall, Urban Tulsa Weekly

Editors and readers expect pundits to weigh in on the brutal eviction of Occupy Wall Street from New York’s Zuccotti Park. People will ask: Does this mean the beginning of the end for the Occupy movement?

No.

Now that we’ve dispensed with that, let’s discuss a major rift within the movement: Reformists versus revolutionaries.

Revolutionaries want to overthrow the government. They want to get rid of existing economic, political and social relations and create new ones. Both the Republicans and the Democrats are enemies.

Reformists want radical changes too. For example, Occupiers want to eliminate the corrupting influence of corporate money on politics. Unlike revolutionaries, however, they are OK with the basic structure of the system: the Constitution, Congress, 50 states, capitalism, and so on. They are willing to work with establishment liberals (MoveOn.org, Amy Goodman, The Nation, Mother Jones, etc.) and the Democratic Party.

You can see the reform-vs.-revolution split whenever Occupiers discuss actions and demands.

Reformists say: Let’s move our accounts from banks to credit unions. Encourage Black Friday shoppers to buy from locally-owned businesses. Demand that Congress pass a constitutional amendment abolishing corporate personhood. Restore the Glass-Steagall Act.

Those tactics leave revolutionaries cold. They don’t want to nibble around the edges of a system they despise. If revolutionaries get their way, there won’t be a Congress. Members of the House and Senate will go to jail. No one will need to boycott banks or choose which merchants are least malevolent.

Capitalism won’t exist.

Revolution frightens the reformists. They worry about chaos, violence and dislocation. They’re right to be concerned. […]

READ @ http://www.urbantulsa.com/gyrobase/Content?oid=oid%3A44951&mid=5643355

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* STRATEGIC FRAMES OF THE OCCUPY MOVEMENT

By Joe Brewer, Truthout

[…] Conceptual Landscape for the Occupy Movement

With this view of frames in mind, let’s see what the Occupy Movement has created in the last few months.  Obvious to casual observers are the two slogans of the movement — We Are The 99% and Occupy Wall Street.  I’ll begin with them and then share some subtleties of the environment from which they sprang.

Language of the 99% draws a line in the sand.  It divides our social world into the haves and the have-nots.  The conceptual structure is simple enough — one container with the minimal number of elements juxtaposed against another with the maximal inequality relative to the total amount.  If there are 100 dollar bills, the most unequal distribution that leaves both parties with something in their hands is $99 for one and $1 for the other.  The emotional significance of this arises from the logic of extreme inequality implied by this juxtaposition.  If one group has almost everything, the other is left with nearly nothing.

This is the emotional logic that has encouraged the mainstream media to talk more about wealth inequality and social justice since Occupy began.  The 99% frame evokes a maximal inequality that resonates deeply with the lived experiences of working-class people in the US and around the world.  I’ll come back to the significance of this lived experience in a moment.

The power of the Occupy frame is two-fold: (1) It is a verb that represents action taken by one who has power to influence the world, and (2) it demarcates an abstract spatial location that is scalable.  The significance of the first feature should be clear — to feel one’s personal empowerment by taking action and claiming a space is deeply moving.  One who can stake a claim to space has power.  And that power gives them a sense of control over their destiny.  This is the underlying motivator for collective action that has captured the imaginations (and bodies!) of protestors around the world, from Tahrir Square to Zuccoti Park.

The second feature is what allowed OWS to go viral and spread across the globe.  The demarcation of abstract space, when overlaid on top of real-world physical locations, is a recipe for unconstrained growth.  More simply, it is the act of claiming a space that offers a feeling of empowerment.  While one physical location was claimed in a New York City Park, the concept of occupation could be generically applied to all physical spaces.  This is why protestors in other cities were inclined to claim the OWS brand and stake out their own turf.  And, just as the emotional experience of despair is conceptualized as an abstract space, the Occupy frame allows anyone and everyone to claim cultural turf by occupying democracy, love, citizenship, compassion, freedom, politics, and more.

The broad flexibility of the Occupy frame gives it a fractal nature.  It applies equally well from the small scale (Occupy Oakland) to the very large (Occupy Humanity).  In mathematical terms, the concept is “scale free” and nonlinear.  It can grow to fill any cultural container because its conceptual core is abstractable and pliable.

Taken together, these two frames offer a conduit for emotions to flow and actions to congeal.  They are the linguistic building blocks that convey a deep sense of injustice along with clear notions about what can be done about them — namely to reclaim public space and take back the political discourse on behalf of the citizenry.

[…]

Loss of Confidence in Authority

Public confidence in authoritative institutions — especially large banks, big companies, and national governments — has been dropping precipitously for years.  As a whole, we no longer believe in centralized power structures and are moving away from them in every area of public life.  This trend has decoupled the populace from political parties, dominant market ideologies, and the enchantments of extreme opulence that no longer seem graspable.  The symbolic meanings that rose with a sense of legitimacy for these cultural artifacts have been tarnished beyond repair by corrupt leaders and manipulative media voices.  As we stopped looking to these sources for leadership, a vacuum appeared that the Occupy Movement moved into and filled.

[…]

READ @ http://www.truth-out.org/strategic-frames-occupy-movement/1325172324

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