Thursday, 26 March 2009
Throughout its history, Israel has willfully and repeatedly committed crimes of war and against humanity, always with impunity. Yet under customary legal standards and norms (including Geneva, Hague, the UN Charter, S.C. and G.A. resolutions), it's lawless, a serial abuser, a threat to the region and humanity, mostly as an oppressive occupier. Attacking Gaza is the latest episode in its six-decade reign of terror satisfying the definition of genocide against defenseless Palestinian civilians. This article covers more evidence from some disturbing but unsurprising newly published information.
On March 19, in the first of a series of articles, Haaretz headlined: "IDF killed civilians in Gaza under loose rules of engagement." Military correspondent Amos Harel revealed Israeli soldier and pilot ("dirty secret") testimonies of being ordered to kill unarmed civilians and destroy their property - accounts at variance with official claims that only military targets were attacked and that "Israeli troops observed a high level of moral behavior during the operation." Defense Minister Ehud Barak calls the IDF "the most moral army in the world."
"Moral" examples included an infantry squad leader recounting the shooting of a mother and her two children: "There was a house with a family inside....We put them in a room. Later we left the house and another platoon entered it, and a few days after that there was an order to release the family....The platoon commander let the family go and told them to go to the right. One mother and her two children didn't understand and went to the left," after which a rooftop sniper "shot them straight away....I don't think he felt too bad about it, because after all, as far as he was concerned, he (followed orders, and, besides, Palestinian lives are) less important" than our own soldiers.
Other incidents included:
-- a squad leader telling of a company commander ordering an elderly Palestinian woman to be shot and killed;
-- soldiers saying "we should kill everyone (in the center of Gaza); everyone there is a terrorist;"
-- soldiers writing "death to the Arabs on walls" and spitting on family pictures;
-- a squad leader saying: "At the beginning, the directive was to enter a house with an armored vehicle, break the door down, (and) start shooting inside - I call it murder - to shoot at everyone we identify;" commanders called it OK "because everyone left in the city is culpable because they didn't run away;"
-- soldiers ordered to indiscriminately destroy property and farmland;
-- orders given to enter a house, "switch on loudspeakers and tell (occupants) you have five minutes to run away and whoever doesn't will be killed;"
These and other accounts typify regular incidents in occupied Gaza and the West Bank. When revealed, official denials follow or in response to clear evidence, officers, like military advocate general Avichai Mendelblit, say the incidents will be investigated, after which everything is whitewashed, quietly forgotten, none of the guilty are prosecuted, and security forces keep using disproportionate force against defenseless Palestinian civilians.
In a March 19 analysis, Harel concluded that this "happen(s) in the field most of the time (and) as usual, reality is completely different from the gentler version provided by the military commanders to the public and media during (an) operation and after. The soldiers are not lying, for the simple reason that they have no reason to" and every reason to stay silent. The rule is: "You don't ask, we won't tell," but these soldiers, squad leaders, pilots and commanders did.
Further, there's a "continuity of testimony from different sectors that reflects a disturbing and depressing picture" of a rogue military willfully committing war crimes because they know they can get away with them. Harel concluded: "The IDF's ethical problems did not start in 2009." They go back decades, but according to some, military "deterioration" has been continuous from the 1967 war to Operation Cast Lead. Worse still is that Israeli history reveals six decades of relentless and continuous terror. Attacking Gaza for 22 days is just the latest episode.
On March 21, the London Independent's Donald Macintyre wrote: "Israelis (were) told to fight a 'holy war' in Gaza....a religious war" against Arabs, according to a soldier citing "the martial role of military rabbis during the operation." In rabbinate literature distributed to the troops, the message was: "We are the Jewish people, we came to this land by a miracle, God brought us back to this land, and now we need to fight to expel the Gentiles who are interfering with our conquest of this holy land."
According to the Israeli human rights group, Yesh Din, IDF head chaplain, Rabbi Avichai Rontzki, a brigadier general, distributed booklet material saying that it was "terribly immoral" to show mercy to a "cruel enemy" and that soldiers were fighting "murderers." Imagine rabbis claiming to be men of God, yet violating core Jewish dogma by preaching hate, premeditated murder, and lying about innocent civilians they're vilifying. Another example of the viciousness of a so-called civilized state, acting like barbarians (in the name of God) and calling it just.
There's more. On March 22 in Haaretz, Amira Hass headlined: "IDF soldiers ordered to shoot at Gaza rescuers" in citing a Hebrew handwritten document, "Rules of Engagement - Open fire also upon rescue." It confirms numerous reports and testimonies like the above that soldiers shot Palestinian civilians in cold blood, murdered them (and their rescuers), or in cases where they were still alive prevented their evacuation and let them bleed to death.
Hass stated: "The (above-mentioned) document provides written proof that IDF commanders ordered their troops to shoot at rescuers" besides ordering the killing of unarmed civilians and destruction of their property.
On March 22, London Observer writer Peter Beaumont headlined: "Gaza war crime claims gather pace as (still) more troops speak out." He cited a yet to be published "Breaking the Silence" report containing statements from 15 former soldiers. From their contacts with Operation Cast Lead participants, they corroborate the above claims of random killings and vandalism. According to the group's Mikhael Manekin:
"We have spoken to a lot of different people who served in different places in Gaza, including officers. We are not talking about some units being more aggressive than others, but underlying policy. So much so that we are talking to soldiers who said that they were having to restrain the orders given." According to one, Amir Marmor, orders from a Lt. Col. who briefed the troops were: "Shoot and don't worry about the consequences."
On March 20, Haaretz reporter Uri Blau disclosed that IDF soldiers ordered T-shirts marking the end of Operation Cast Lead featuring grotesque images of dead babies, mothers weeping at their children's graves, a gun aimed at a child and bombed-out mosque, and a pregnant Palestinian woman with a bull's eye depicted on her stomach with the English slogan, "1 shot, 2 kills."
These aren't just anecdotes from what Ehud Barak calls "the most moral army in the world." On March 22, Haaretz correspondent Gideon Levy wrote: "IDF ceased long ago being 'most moral army in the world.' " Moreover, imagining the military will investigate the charges is "propagandistic, ridiculous (and) meant not only to deceive the public, but also to offer shameless lies" as part of a cover-up the way these revelations are always handled.
These practices have gone on for decades. Orders come right from the top - to kill Arabs and commit atrocities and vandalism, and according to one Operation Cast lead soldier: "That's what is so nice, as it were, about Gaza - You see a person on a road....and you can just shoot him." This message is ingrained in young recruits, to see Jews as superior, Arabs as sub-humans, so it's "morally" OK to slaughter them.
Yet on March 22, Haaretz published GOC Home Front Command General Yair Golan's reply saying: "The reports were exaggerated and any deviations from the IDF's moral standards will be dealt with."
Then on March 23, it added IDF Chief Gabi Ashkenazi's claim that he did not believe Israeli soldiers harmed Palestinian civilians in "cold blood." He and Golan lied the way top commanders and government officials always do.
Yet Ashkenazi echoed Ehud Barak saying that "the IDF is the most moral army in the world" despite volumes of clear evidence to the contrary. He added that any "incidents" were "isolated," but Haaretz stated:
"The soldiers' testimonies run counter to the IDF's claims throughout the operation that troops observed a high level of moral behavior. A number of officers told Haaretz....that the testimonies did not surprise them, as 'anyone with eyes in his head knows that these things happened during the fighting in Gaza,' and they weren't 'isolated' incidents."
Gaza Civilian Testimonies
Documented by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), they recount Operation Cast Lead's horror - highlighted by an Israeli soldier's message on Abu Hajaj's bedroom wall: "Death will find you....Soon."
PCHR noted the importance of finding "sanctuary in the comfort of one's home" at times of trauma, but Gazans lost it for 22 days and still suffer the effects. Briefly some examples:
-- the IDF occupied Mos'ab Dardona's Jabal Al Rayes northeast Gaza home, leaving behind wall drawings of soldiers urinating on toppled mosques and "devouring Palestinians villages;"
-- next door in Ibrahim Dardona's home, instead of using the bathroom, they left behind dozens of bags of feces and crude sexual diagrams on walls;
-- the defacing and other actions show a disturbing picture of racial hatred throughout Israeli society, according to PCHR's democratic development director, Hamdi Shaqqura; PCHR says thousands of Gazans are homeless, displaced, and forced to find shelter with relatives or move back to partially destroyed homes and cope as best they can;
-- in the agricultural area of Johr-ad-Dik, the IDF took over homes, displaced half the 2500 population and maliciously destroyed hundreds of olive and citrus trees;
-- the IDF ordered local residents near Saleh Abu Hajaj's home to leave; Saleh's daughter tied a white scarf to a stick, led out a group of civilians, then along with her mother was shot dead by the military;
-- in the Zeytoun district, IDF desecrated walls with messages like: "Die you all..Make war not peace..Arabs need to die," and on a gravestone "Arabs 1948 - 2009;"
-- inside Rashad Helmi Al Samouni's home, soldiers wrote: "There will be a day when we kill all the Arabs....Bad for the Arabs is good for me....A good Arab is an Arab in the grave (and) Peace now, but between Jews and Jews, not Jews and Arabs."
PCHR's conclusion was that whatever war crimes investigations reveal and what, if anything, follows from them, "it will do little to comfort the thousands of civilians whose sense of safety (in their own homes was) so categorically violated," something they no longer feel and for many never did.
PCHR published the names of 1417 Gazans killed by Israeli forces. It said 926 were civilians, 236 fighters, and 255 others civilian security forces, mostly police. Israel disputes the list claiming most targets "legitimate" despite clear evidence to the contrary, including from its own soldiers. In response, it's preparing its own list identifying most of the slain as "combatants or legitimate targets" without a shred of evidence for proof and plenty to disprove it.
PCHR also reported that in the week ending March 18:
-- IDF forces shot and injured 19 Palestinian civilians, including nine children and a US human rights activist;
-- the Israeli air force bombed selected Gaza sites, forcing civilians to abandon their homes and property in the areas;
-- Israeli forces conducted 39 incursions into West Bank communities, a practice occurring nearly daily; 39 Palestinian civilians were arrested, including six children for the crime of being Arab under Israeli occupation;
-- additional IDF arrests occurred at West Bank checkpoints, and measures to remove East Jerusalem Palestinians continue to make room for new Jewish settlements;
-- five West Bank homes were demolished leaving 49 Palestinians homeless; three other families were ordered from their homes in preparation for demolition;
-- West Bank settlement construction goes on unabated as part of an ethnic cleansing process;
-- settlers regularly attack Palestinians with impunity, and the Mossawa Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens reported (on March 21) a 1000% rise in 2008 crime rates over 2007 on Israeli Arab citizens; its leader, Jafar Farah, called it a "moral collapse;"
-- Gaza remains under siege with no progress made to end it; and
-- on March 23, PCHR reported that the IDF violated medical ethics during Operation Cast Lead by preventing Palestinian and ICRC medical teams from reaching the wounded; it also said Israel attacked 34 medical facilities, including eight hospitals, killing 16 medics and wounding 25 others.
Meanwhile on March 19, Richard Falk, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories, said: "If the (IDF) cannot (distinguish between civilians and military targets), its attack becomes unlawful and constitutes a war crime of the greatest magnitude under international law." He added that the UN (and human rights groups like Amnesty International) has clear evidence to support this conclusion and called for a formal investigation of IDF shelling of schools, mosques, ambulances, educational facilities, and homes as well as use of illegal weapons like white phosphorus.
Whatever follows, Gaza remains under siege. Allowed in humanitarian aid falls way short of supplying 1.5 million people with the barest subsistence they need. Through March 2, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that Israeli violence continues and "authorities (still) limit the amount and range of goods allowed into Gaza....A range of essential goods, including supplies and equipment needed for rebuilding, are not being allowed into the territory." They're still kept out.
Basic items like medical equipment, veterinary supplies, macaroni, chickpeas, and lentils were suspended or delayed, and border crossings remain closed, except for brief periods. Like before, everything is in short supply or not available, including essential medical care, food and fuel. Earlier Amnesty International said "Gaza (was) reduced to bare survival." Today, it's no better under a continuing Israeli siege, illegal and brutal in the extreme, yet not denounced by world leaders to give Israel cover to maintain it.
The Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel's Position Paper on Israeli Civilian Killings in Gaza
Adalah (meaning justice in Arabic) is a 1996-established independent, non-profit, human rights organization serving Arab Israeli citizens' rights on issues of land, civil, political, cultural, social, religious, and economic matters among others. In February 2009, it examined the legality of Israel's 22 day Gaza attack, specifically the killing of civilian police and bombing of government buildings and Hamas institutions.
In citing the laws of war, it identified four central principles:
-- military necessity - that only those targets intended to "weaken or overcome the enemy or bring the battle to an end may be attacked;"
-- distinction - that must be drawn between combatants and military targets on the one hand, and civilians and non-military objects on the other; international law prohibits attacking the latter; doing so is a war crime; non-combatant civilians are protected by law under all circumstances; also, targets must clearly be military ones and nearby civilians must be warned in advance so they may leave;
-- proportionality - that prohibits disproportionate force likely to cause damage to or loss of human lives or objects; in other words, disproportionate to an intended military objective or that in any way is indiscriminate; and
-- the prevention of unnecessary suffering, especially for non-combatant civilians.
Beginning December 27 and continuing for 22 days, the IDF attacked uniformed police cadets and officers killing them and other civilians. During the period of fighting, non-combatant civilian Hamas members were also struck, including from its government.
International law prohibits attacking non-combatant civilian security forces, especially police whose role is to maintain law enforcement and public order.
Further, and despite using "rocket attacks" as a pretext, Israel attacked preemptively and aggressively, not in response to Hamas-initiated hostilities, and most initial targets were civilian ones. The IDF erroneously claimed that attacking uniformed police was legitimate because their role for 22 days changed from enforcers to combatants. By this logic, all civilians are legitimate targets because under attack they may defend themselves. That, in fact, is what Israel claims.
Under international law, civilians may only be harmed accidently or inadvertently as a result of attacks on legitimate military targets but never for reasons of military necessity, even when large numbers of combatants are present.
"Members of a civilian police should benefit from the protection which is conferred upon them as civilians under customary international law. Given that the conditions for the exception to this rule - i.e., taking a direct part in hostilities at the time of the attack - were not met, the attack ran counter to customary international humanitarian law" and was illegal.
The same holds for attacking government buildings and institutions - a total of 68 buildings plus 31 offices belonging to NGOs, completely destroyed or damaged during the conflict. According to Major Avital Leibovitz, Head of International Communications Section in the IDF's Spokesperson's Office: "Anything affiliated with Hamas is a legitimate target," meaning all 1.5 million Gazans, the vast majority being non-combatant civilians, including women, children, and infants.
International law refutes Israeli policy, including under the principles of military necessity and distinction. These principles demand that military targets be differentiated from civilians and civilian objects (including government ones) to prevent deliberate attacks on them.
The only allowed exceptions relate to narrowly defined "vital and immediate military need" to defeat the enemy and end the battle, matters to which Israel didn't comply. Also, Israel ignored the requirement "to take all feasible precautions in attack, in particular the obligation to verify that objects (and individuals) to be attacked are military objectives," legitimate targets under international law.
Again Adalah: "Thus it is apparent that the attack on government buildings and institutions (as well as non-combatant civilians) on the basis of the claim that they formed part of the Hamas regime is illegal" under international law.
"Attacks that fail to distinguish between combatants and military targets and civilians and civilian objects constitute grave breaches of customary international law and are considered as war crimes. Attacks perpetrated against a civilian population may also be considered crimes against humanity if they are committed 'as part of a wide or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack.' "
Planned months in advance, Israel's attack was premeditated, and under Article 8(2)(a)(1) and Article 8(2)(b)(1) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) constitutes a war crime. It's also a crime against humanity under the statute's Article 7(1) relating to the deliberate killing of civilians or deliberately attacking non-combatant ones.
Further, attacking government buildings and institutions is also a war crime under Article 8(2)(a)(1), Article 8(2)(b)(8), and Article 8(2)(b)(13) of the Rome Statute that prohibits the destruction of property and civilian objects for non-military necessity reasons.
Even though Israel is not party to the Statute, its Articles 7 and 8, relating to crimes of war and against humanity, reflect customary international law under which Israel, its officials, and military commanders at all levels may and should be held accountable.
Under international law, responsibility relates to perpetration, planning, inciting, and/or ordering a crime to be committed as well as "vicarious" (indirect) responsibility of civilian leaders and commanders for crimes committed by their subordinates. These conditions apply in the case of the 22 day Gaza attack - planned well in advance by high-level government and military officials and launched with overwhelming force against multiple targets on December 27.
Again, the evidence is clear, unequivocal, overwhelming, and conclusive that high-level Israeli government and military officials planned and willfully committed systematic crimes of war and against humanity of such gravity that justice demands they be held to account in an international court of law - either the ICC in the Hague or a special International Criminal Tribunal for Israel (ICTI).
Doing so will warn future Israeli governments and all others that no one is exempt from the law and they, too, will be prosecuted if evidence provides justification. The rule of law is sacrosanct, especially for wanton killing that when ongoing for sustained periods satisfies the definition of genocide. Israel long ago passed that threshold. No longer can its lawlessness go unpunished.
Tuesday, 24 March 2009
Let's say that China sends a ship 75 miles off San Diego to do a little surveillance. Those are international waters, after all, and Beijing is interested in the latest developments in our submarine warfare capabilities at Naval Base Point Loma. And it wants to do some reconnaissance for its own expanding fleet of subs. Want to bet that the United States dispatches a ship to tell the Chinese to back off?
Earlier this month when the situation was reversed, however, America got all huffy when China confronted the USNS Impeccable, a surveillance vessel, 75 miles from China's naval base at Hainan Island. The Pentagon argued that the United States can do whatever it wants in international waters. China responded that the Impeccable was in China's 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone, which it says should be restricted to peaceful activities.
The United States has refused to back down. "We're going to continue to operate in those international waters, and we expect the Chinese to observe international law around that," said White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.
Wait a second: Did he say international law? Which international law was Gibbs referring to? The relevant statute would be the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which China has ratified but the United States has not. Oh, and by the way, the convention is quite specific: Use of the exclusive economic zone "shall be reserved for peaceful purposes."
International law notwithstanding, the United States has long treated the Pacific as an American lake and China as beachfront property we have to keep a special eye on. "Today, the United States and its allies Japan and South Korea are deploying Aegis destroyers to encircle China's coastline and put its small nuclear deterrent capability at risk," writes Foreign Policy In Focus (FPIF) contributor Bruce Gagnon in Arms Race in Space as part of our Pacific Freeze coverage. "China also knows that the U.S. Space Command has been annually war-gaming a first-strike attack on its nation. In a computer war game set in the year 2016, the United States launches the attack, using a system now under development called the military space plane."
China isn't taking this all lying down. Beijing is modernizing its military at a rapid clip. It has announced a nearly 15% increase in spending for 2009, the 19th time in 20 years that it has increased its military budget by double digits. That's still one-eighth of U.S. military spending, but the Pentagon is nervously checking its rearview mirror. Navy officials in particular are worried that China's fleet is on track to outstrip the U.S. fleet in size, though not capabilities, in the next decade.
China's economy will also likely show the world's only significant growth this year as other major economies slip into stagnation or worse. There will be, of course, a cut in global demand, a drop in Chinese exports, downsizing at Chinese factories, and more unrest throughout the country. "China's economy may suffer more than most others, but it also has more tools and resources in reserve than most others," James Fallows concludes in a relatively upbeat article in The Atlantic. "There is one more part of the big picture: the opportunities that today's disruption may be opening for future Chinese growth."
China's economic versatility and military rise has created anxiety and even a measure of resignation among U.S. foreign policy elites. In the latest issue of Foreign Affairs, Robert Kaplan acknowledges that America won't be king of the hill for much longer. Ah, wrong metaphor: U.S. strength derives as much from its dominion over the sea as its ability to project force over land. Kaplan advises Washington to use its current naval capabilities to usher in a new age of balance of power centered around the Indian Ocean and presided over by China and India. "Rather than ensure its dominance," he writes, "the U.S. Navy simply needs to make itself continually useful."
This is a rather astounding statement. This early supporter of the Iraq War and cheerleader for the American imperium is now urging his government to become a team player. Like the U.S. soldiers he has interviewed extensively, Kaplan is perhaps suffering his own version of travel fatigue and imperial overstretch. He's still too much of a realpolitik devotee to become a charter member of the Ban-Ki Moon fan club. But his grudging acceptance of multipolarity suggests that the winds are shifting.
One new approach embraced by the Obama administration is 3D: development, diplomacy, and defense. In this scenario, the military makes itself useful, in Kaplan's sense of the word, by helping with economic development and stabilizing states. It's actually not a new approach, points out FPIF contributor Francis Njubi Nesbitt in Hearts and Minds and Empire. We've been there before - think Vietnam - and it was ugly. "Militarizing development is not the answer," Nesbitt writes in our new Empire Strategic Focus. "The prudent direction would be to divorce development assistance from defense and invest resources in building relations with nongovernmental and civil society organizations instead of militaries. The United States would have a more positive impact if it focused on supporting the institutionalization of conflict resolution processes in multilateral organizations such as the United Nations."
If history is any judge, empires are most dangerous when they are on the decline. Just as the Ottomans, the Austro-Hungarians, and the Russians indulged in various stupidities to preserve their empires at the beginning of the 20th century, the United States may go to similarly tragic lengths to maintain its position at the beginning of the 21st. The Iraq War debacle, which "humbled" Kaplan, may well have been the beginning of the end. The continuing Afghanistan misadventure is another sign of the insanity that the gods have inflicted on those they intend to destroy.
But the naval confrontation in the South China Sea could be the most dangerous indication of them all. For all their senseless violence, the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan remain regional wars. A confrontation between China and the United States, however unlikely it might seem given the economic interdependence of the two countries, would necessarily be global. Let's hope that these two imperial boats passing in the night manage to negotiate an equitable distribution of global power with more aplomb than they showed earlier this month.
Before the Chinese show up off the coast of California for some imperial quid pro quo, the United States should wake up, sign the Law of the Sea, and actually abide by its provisions. Now that would be a sea change.
We've known for a long time that the U.S. lifestyle is unsupportable. The current economic downturn, because it began in the United States and has largely affected those with large investments, might have been the kind of "market correction" that levels the global playing field. Corporate executives see their year-end bonuses "corrected," big players in the stock market see their portfolios "corrected," and the house-wealthy see their astronomical assessments "corrected."
Obviously it's become clear that many non-wealthy people in the United States are suffering during this downturn: mortgage defaults for working people, swelling unemployment rolls, shrinking pension funds. What's less obvious, however, is the impact of the financial crisis on the poorer parts of the world.
In The Second Shockwave, FPIF columnist Michael Klare looks at the economic and political implications of the downturn on the developing world. "The greatest worry is that most of the gains achieved in eradicating poverty over the last decade or so will be wiped out, forcing tens or hundreds of millions of people from the working class and the lower rungs of the middle class back into the penury from which they escaped," Klare writes. "Equally worrisome is the risk of food scarcity in these areas, resulting in widespread malnutrition, hunger, and starvation. All this is sure to produce vast human misery, sickness, and death, but could also result in social and political unrest of various sorts, including riot, rebellion, and ethnic strife."
Middle East Missteps
In a pair of pieces this week, FPIF senior analyst Stephen Zunes discusses several missteps in Middle East policy made by the Obama administration and the Democratic-controlled Congress.
The first was the failure to stick up for Charles Freeman, Obama's initial pick to head the National Intelligence Council. Freeman had made a name for himself by questioning some of the cornerstones of U.S. policy toward the Middle East, such as the Iraq invasion and unquestioned support of Israel. The hard right immediately went on the attack, creating a media firestorm that questioned Freeman's credentials, his patriotism, and his allegiance to democracy. Freeman took himself out of the running.
"Obama apparently didn't order Freeman's appointment to be rescinded," Zunes writes in Neocons 1, Obama 0. "But Obama's refusal to come to Freeman's defense will make it all the more difficult for the president to challenge future right-wing attacks on his administration's policies in the Middle East and beyond. Smelling victory, the right will only become bolder in challenging any progressive inclinations in Obama's foreign policy."
Congress, meanwhile, compounded the problem by passing a budget that only reinforced the worst of U.S. policies in the Middle East, particularly around arms sales. It allocated $2.5 billion of aid to Israel, ignoring calls to attach conditions after Israel's conduct in the Gaza War. But that's not all. "An additional $1.3 billion in foreign military financing is earmarked for the Egyptian dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak, $235 million for the autocratic monarchy in Jordan, $58 million for Lebanon, and $12 million for the repressive regime in Tunisia," Zunes writes in The Budget's Foreign Policy Handcuffs. "The only other country specifically targeted for military aid in this legislation is Colombia, which will receive $53 million."
The Abolitionist Fallacy
Criminalizing prostitution might seem like a good way to address sex trafficking. That's the position of the new abolitionists. They're raiding brothels, pushing for new domestic and international laws, mobilizing the Christian community, and getting a lot of attention.
But they're wrong. "The Bush administration, supported by the evangelical right-wing and some radical feminists, spent eight years promoting laws to criminalize prostitution and clients as the means to abolish prostitution and stop human trafficking into the sex sector," writes FPIF contributor Ann Jordan in Sex Trafficking: The Abolitionist Fallacy. "The ideology-driven approach is notable for the absence of any concrete evidence that it works. Proponents of such an approach have also failed to demonstrate that it avoids harming women or provides other livelihoods for those it aspires to help. It reduces all adults in the sex sector (even highly paid 'call girls' and those working legally) to victim status and considers all prostitution to be a form of trafficking."
Still on the topic of getting things wrong, FPIF contributor Andre Vltchek tells you everything that Hillary Clinton missed on her recent trip to Indonesia. "In her remarks in Indonesia, Clinton made no mention of genocide in Papua," he writes in Clinton in Indonesia. "She neglected to speak of how political and militant Islam is openly defying the constitution of Indonesia and taking control of several parts of the country. And she was silent about how the business and political elite treats the impoverished, uneducated, and unrepresented majority of the people."
Finally, in her Postcard from…Bujumbura, FPIF contributor Beth Tuckey relates some positive news about a youth center in Burundi. "Even during the war, the center was one of the few places where young people from various tribes could come to study or play sports, despite the bloodshed occurring outside the center's property," she writes. "Many of these youth are now taking the lead in their communities and finding more common ground with their peers across ethnic lines than politicians believe possible."
"US protests 'harassment' of USNS Impeccable by Chinese vessels," Associated Press, March 9, 2009; http://www.latimes.com/news/
"Status of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea," United Nations; http://www.un.org/Depts/los/
"Bernaert's Guide to the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea," http://www.bernaerts-sealaw.
Bruce Gagnon, "Arms Race in Space," Foreign Policy In Focus (http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/
Pacific Freeze: http://pacificfreeze.ips-dc.
"China to Boost Military Spending," BBC, March 4, 2009; http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/
James Fallows, "China's Way Forward," The Atlantic, April 2009; http://www.theatlantic.com/
Robert Kaplan, "Center Stage for the 21st Century," Foreign Affairs, March/April 2009; http://www.foreignaffairs.com/
Robert Kaplan, "Haunted by Hussein, Humbled by Events," Los Angeles Times, April 17, 2006; http://articles.latimes.com/
Francis Njubi Nesbitt, "Hearts and Minds and Empire," Foreign Policy In Focus (http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/
Empire Strategic Focus: http://www.fpif.org/fpifinfo/
Michael Klare, "The Second Shockwave," Foreign Policy In Focus (http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/
Stephen Zunes, "Neocons 1, Obama 0," Foreign Policy In Focus (http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/
Stephen Zunes, "The Budget's Foreign Policy Handcuffs," Foreign Policy In Focus (http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/
Samantha Power, "The Enforcer," The New Yorker, January 19, 2009; http://www.newyorker.com/
Ann Jordan, "Sex Trafficking: The Abolitionist Fallacy," Foreign Policy In Focus (http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/
Andre Vltchek, "Clinton in Indonesia: What She Missed," Foreign Policy In Focus (http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/
Beth Tuckey, "Postcard from…Bujumbura," Foreign Policy In Focus (http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/
Monday, 23 March 2009
A guy who can’t figure out his own taxes is supposed to fix the economy? This is the absurd rationale being offered by media figures such as Andrea Mitchell of NBC News for confirming Timothy Geithner as Obama’s Treasury Secretary after it was disclosed that he was a serial tax evader. He did his own taxes for a couple years and got into trouble, Mitchell chuckled. And everybody can relate to that, right? Mitchell is the one who deserves to be laughed at. This guy is supposed to be so smart we can entrust him with managing the entire U.S. economy? She must be kidding. Does she seriously expect us to believe that?
Anybody watching this bizarre spectacle unfold has to suspect there is something more to the story. Who is behind Geithner and why? And why does Obama want him? This is where the media fear to tread. As we have pointed out, major media companies such as GE (parent of NBC News) and the Washington Post Company have their own connections to Geithner through their own officials and board members. They have a conflict of interest that will never be reported by the news organizations themselves.
The real story, which can only emerge through talk radio and alternative media, is that Geithner has very powerful political and financial connections, not only to the media but the banking interests and lobbies that try to orchestrate U.S. policy behind the scenes.
The President of the New York Federal Reserve Bank, the Chinese-speaking Geithner is an associate of Henry Kissinger who can be counted on to convince the Chinese Communists to continue to buy U.S. debt and finance Obama’s massive expansion of federal government power. That is why Obama and his fellow Democrats are putting so much faith in him.
As Henry Kissinger recently put it, when he was celebrating U.S.-China relations on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Obama’s mission is to usher in a “New World Order.” He forgot to mention, of course, that it is a China-dominated New World Order in which the U.S. has become a subsidiary of China Inc.
Kissinger did comment that Obama had “appointed an extraordinarily able group of people in both the international and financial fields.” He didn’t name names, but that obviously includes Geithner, who used to work for Kissinger Associates.
It also turns out that Geithner’s father, Peter F. Geithner, serves on the board with Kissinger of the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations. This is the group that rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange, celebrating Chinese investments in the U.S. economy. In another interesting connection, it turns out that Peter F. Geithner was with the Ford Foundation and oversaw the work of Obama’s mother, Ann Dunham, developing what are called microfinance programs in Indonesia.
It should be apparent by now that the major media aren’t interested in holding Geithner accountable for his tax “mistakes” or anything else. Only the American people can do that. Fortunately, there is still time for the public to weigh in. The Senate Finance Committee has now announced that a “Hearing to Consider the Nomination of Timothy F. Geithner, to be Secretary of the Treasury” has been postponed to January 21, 2009, at 10:00 a.m., in room 215 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building.
Based on what Obama has said about Geithner, and what the media have repeated ad nauseam, we are supposed to believe that he made some mistakes that were typical of an employee who had worked for an international organization, the International Monetary Fund. But this doesn’t hold up because he admits he was told by the IMF about the procedures and necessity of paying those taxes. So the failure to pay these taxes looks like a case of tax cheating. If it wasn’t cheating, then he didn’t understand the tax code or didn’t pay enough attention to get it done right. This doesn’t seem like a proper credential for the post of Treasury Secretary, with jurisdiction over the IRS.
There has to be something more to the rationale for confirming somebody who is this much of a conniver or this dumb to the post. What is it?
It doesn’t take much digging. For anybody in the dark about this, please consult and closely study his bio. Geithner is a wheeler-dealer for powerful special interests.
If you examine the nature of the “Group of Thirty,” an affiliation which appears at the bottom of his biography, right after his Council on Foreign Relations membership, you will quickly learn that the President of the New York Federal Reserve Bank is an associate of the governor of the Chinese central bank through this mysterious organization of bankers and other top current and former officials from various countries. You will notice that other Obama nominees and associates are members, including Paul Volcker and Lawrence Summers.
You will also learn that this organization has been funded by―surprise―some of the same financial institutions getting federal bailout money. These include American International Group, Goldman Sachs and Citi, among others. Because it has a website and publishes an annual report, all of this seems open and above board. But the fine print reveals that some of the meetings are by “invitation only.”
The entire list of “contributors and supporters” of the “Group of Thirty” is quite impressive. You will find not only U.S. financial institutions getting bailout money, but central banks around the world and Arab financial interests. In addition, you also find private financial interests, including the hedge fund operated by billionaire and Obama contributor George Soros.
But I can find no stories in the major U.S. media critically examining the history and purpose of this organization. Could it be because selected reporters are invited to its meetings on a deep background basis? And that they develop financial sources at these meetings that they swear to protect and defend?
On Wednesday, discussing the Geithner tax evasion problem on the Fox News “Special Report” show, Fred Barnes warned that “if there is a huge public reaction to this against him, well, he might go down. But short of that, I agree, he will probably be confirmed.” This helps explain why we are constantly hearing the media parrot Obama’s claims that Geithner’s “mistakes” were “innocent” or “common.” They are determined to quell any possible “public reaction” against him. That is why we are being told it is much ado about mostly nothing. It looks like the media have succeeded in convincing most Senate Republicans, except for Jeff Sessions of Alabama, not to raise a stink.
However, in addition to the tax evasion, there is also the matter of Geithner having some “household help” while not knowing whether they were legally in the U.S. and not bothering to check when the legal status of one of the housekeepers expired. This aspect of the problem is being largely ignored by the media, rather than just being played down, because they realize that while most people fear the tax code and understand how somebody could make a “mistake” or two, the hiring or employment of illegals is another matter. Most members of the public are not rich enough to hire this kind of outside help.
But many members of the inside-the-beltway media are. As Michael Lind, a fellow at the New America Foundation once noted, journalists do not oppose illegal immigration because they benefit from it. He noted that journalists belong to an affluent class in America that employs immigrant maids, nannies and gardeners.
Perhaps they shared some of Geithner’s household help.
Cliff Kincaid is the Editor of the AIM Report and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
|A T-shirt printed at the request of an IDF soldier in the sniper unit reading 'I shot two kills.'|
The office at the Adiv fabric-printing shop in south Tel Aviv handles a constant stream of customers, many of them soldiers in uniform, who come to order custom clothing featuring their unit's insignia, usually accompanied by a slogan and drawing of their choosing. Elsewhere on the premises, the sketches are turned into plates used for imprinting the ordered items, mainly T-shirts and baseball caps, but also hoodies, fleece jackets and pants. A young Arab man from Jaffa supervises the workers who imprint the words and pictures, and afterward hands over the finished product.
Dead babies, mothers weeping on their children's graves, a gun aimed at a child and bombed-out mosques - these are a few examples of the images Israel Defense Forces soldiers design these days to print on shirts they order to mark the end of training, or of field duty. The slogans accompanying the drawings are not exactly anemic either: A T-shirt for infantry snipers bears the inscription "Better use Durex," next to a picture of a dead Palestinian baby, with his weeping mother and a teddy bear beside him. A sharpshooter's T-shirt from the Givati Brigade's Shaked battalion shows a pregnant Palestinian woman with a bull's-eye superimposed on her belly, with the slogan, in English, "1 shot, 2 kills." A "graduation" shirt for those who have completed another snipers course depicts a Palestinian baby, who grows into a combative boy and then an armed adult, with the inscription, "No matter how it begins, we'll put an end to it."
There are also plenty of shirts with blatant sexual messages. For example, the Lavi battalion produced a shirt featuring a drawing of a soldier next to a young woman with bruises, and the slogan, "Bet you got raped!" A few of the images underscore actions whose existence the army officially denies - such as "confirming the kill" (shooting a bullet into an enemy victim's head from close range, to ensure he is dead), or harming religious sites, or female or child non-combatants.
In many cases, the content is submitted for approval to one of the unit's commanders. The latter, however, do not always have control over what gets printed, because the artwork is a private initiative of soldiers that they never hear about. Drawings or slogans previously banned in certain units have been approved for distribution elsewhere. For example, shirts declaring, "We won't chill 'til we confirm the kill" were banned in the past (the IDF claims that the practice doesn't exist), yet the Haruv battalion printed some last year.
The slogan "Let every Arab mother know that her son's fate is in my hands!" had previously been banned for use on another infantry unit's shirt. A Givati soldier said this week, however, that at the end of last year, his platoon printed up dozens of shirts, fleece jackets and pants bearing this slogan.
"It has a drawing depicting a soldier as the Angel of Death, next to a gun and an Arab town," he explains. "The text was very powerful. The funniest part was that when our soldier came to get the shirts, the man who printed them was an Arab, and the soldier felt so bad that he told the girl at the counter to bring them to him."
Does the design go to the commanders for approval?
The Givati soldier: "Usually the shirts undergo a selection process by some officer, but in this case, they were approved at the level of platoon sergeant. We ordered shirts for 30 soldiers and they were really into it, and everyone wanted several items and paid NIS 200 on average."
What do you think of the slogan that was printed?
"I didn't like it so much, but most of the soldiers wanted it."
Many controversial shirts have been ordered by graduates of snipers courses, which bring together soldiers from various units. In 2006, soldiers from the "Carmon Team" course for elite-unit marksmen printed a shirt with a drawing of a knife-wielding Palestinian in the crosshairs of a gun sight, and the slogan, "You've got to run fast, run fast, run fast, before it's all over." Below is a drawing of Arab women weeping over a grave and the words: "And afterward they cry, and afterward they cry." [The inscriptions are riffs on a popular song.] Another sniper's shirt also features an Arab man in the crosshairs, and the announcement, "Everything is with the best of intentions."
G., a soldier in an elite unit who has done a snipers course, explained that, "it's a type of bonding process, and also it's well known that anyone who is a sniper is messed up in the head. Our shirts have a lot of double entendres, for example: 'Bad people with good aims.' Every group that finishes a course puts out stuff like that."
When are these shirts worn?
G. "These are shirts for around the house, for jogging, in the army. Not for going out. Sometimes people will ask you what it's about."
Of the shirt depicting a bull's-eye on a pregnant woman, he said: "There are people who think it's not right, and I think so as well, but it doesn't really mean anything. I mean it's not like someone is gonna go and shoot a pregnant woman."
What is the idea behind the shirt from July 2007, which has an image of a child with the slogan "Smaller - harder!"?
"It's a kid, so you've got a little more of a problem, morally, and also the target is smaller."
Do your superiors approve the shirts before printing?
"Yes, although one time they rejected some shirt that was too extreme. I don't remember what was on it."
These shirts also seem pretty extreme. Why draw crosshairs over a child - do you shoot kids?
'We came, we saw'
"As a sniper, you get a lot of extreme situations. You suddenly see a small boy who picks up a weapon and it's up to you to decide whether to shoot. These shirts are half-facetious, bordering on the truth, and they reflect the extreme situations you might encounter. The one who-honest-to-God sees the target with his own eyes - that's the sniper."
Have you encountered a situation like that?
"Fortunately, not involving a kid, but involving a woman - yes. There was someone who wasn't holding a weapon, but she was near a prohibited area and could have posed a threat."
What did you do?
"I didn't take it" (i.e., shoot).
You don't regret that, I imagine.
"No. Whomever I had to shoot, I shot."
A shirt printed up just this week for soldiers of the Lavi battalion, who spent three years in the West Bank, reads: "We came, we saw, we destroyed!" - alongside images of weapons, an angry soldier and a Palestinian village with a ruined mosque in the center.
A shirt printed after Operation Cast Lead in Gaza for Battalion 890 of the Paratroops depicts a King Kong-like soldier in a city under attack. The slogan is unambiguous: "If you believe it can be fixed, then believe it can be destroyed!"
Y., a soldier/yeshiva student, designed the shirt. "You take whoever [in the unit] knows how to draw and then you give it to the commanders before printing," he explained.
What is the soldier holding in his hand?
Y. "A mosque. Before I drew the shirt I had some misgivings, because I wanted it to be like King Kong, but not too monstrous. The one holding the mosque - I wanted him to have a more normal-looking face, so it wouldn't look like an anti-Semitic cartoon. Some of the people who saw it told me, 'Is that what you've got to show for the IDF? That it destroys homes?' I can understand people who look at this from outside and see it that way, but I was in Gaza and they kept emphasizing that the object of the operation was to wreak destruction on the infrastructure, so that the price the Palestinians and the leadership pay will make them realize that it isn't worth it for them to go on shooting. So that's the idea of 'we're coming to destroy' in the drawing."
According to Y., most of these shirts are worn strictly in an army context, not in civilian life. "And within the army people look at it differently," he added. "I don't think I would walk down the street in this shirt, because it would draw fire. Even at my yeshiva I don't think people would like it."
Y. also came up with a design for the shirt his unit printed at the end of basic training. It shows a clenched fist shattering the symbol of the Paratroops Corps.
Where does the fist come from?
"It's reminiscent of [Rabbi Meir] Kahane's symbol. I borrowed it from an emblem for something in Russia, but basically it's supposed to look like Kahane's symbol, the one from 'Kahane Was Right' - it's a sort of joke. Our company commander is kind of gung-ho."
Was the shirt printed?
"Yes. It was a company shirt. We printed about 100 like that."
This past January, the "Night Predators" demolitions platoon from Golani's Battalion 13 ordered a T-shirt showing a Golani devil detonating a charge that destroys a mosque. An inscription above it says, "Only God forgives."
One of the soldiers in the platoon downplays it: "It doesn't mean much, it's just a T-shirt from our platoon. It's not a big deal. A friend of mine drew a picture and we made it into a shirt."
What's the idea behind "Only God forgives"?
The soldier: "It's just a saying."
No one had a problem with the fact that a mosque gets blown up in the picture?
"I don't see what you're getting at. I don't like the way you're going with this. Don't take this somewhere you're not supposed to, as though we hate Arabs."
After Operation Cast Lead, soldiers from that battalion printed a T-shirt depicting a vulture sexually penetrating Hamas' prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, accompanied by a particularly graphic slogan. S., a soldier in the platoon that ordered the shirt, said the idea came from a similar shirt, printed after the Second Lebanon War, that featured Hassan Nasrallah instead of Haniyeh.
"They don't okay things like that at the company level. It's a shirt we put out just for the platoon," S. explained.
What's the problem with this shirt?
S.: "It bothers some people to see these things, from a religious standpoint ..."
How did people who saw it respond?
"We don't have that many Orthodox people in the platoon, so it wasn't a problem. It's just something the guys want to put out. It's more for wearing around the house, and not within the companies, because it bothers people. The Orthodox mainly. The officers tell us it's best not to wear shirts like this on the base."
The sketches printed in recent years at the Adiv factory, one of the largest of its kind in the country, are arranged in drawers according to the names of the units placing the orders: Paratroops, Golani, air force, sharpshooters and so on. Each drawer contains hundreds of drawings, filed by year. Many of the prints are cartoons and slogans relating to life in the unit, or inside jokes that outsiders wouldn't get (and might not care to, either), but a handful reflect particular aggressiveness, violence and vulgarity.
Print-shop manager Haim Yisrael, who has worked there since the early 1980s, said Adiv prints around 1,000 different patterns each month, with soldiers accounting for about half. Yisrael recalled that when he started out, there were hardly any orders from the army.
"The first ones to do it were from the Nahal brigade," he said. "Later on other infantry units started printing up shirts, and nowadays any course with 15 participants prints up shirts."
From time to time, officers complain. "Sometimes the soldiers do things that are inside jokes that only they get, and sometimes they do something foolish that they take to an extreme," Yisrael explained. "There have been a few times when commanding officers called and said, 'How can you print things like that for soldiers?' For example, with shirts that trashed the Arabs too much. I told them it's a private company, and I'm not interested in the content. I can print whatever I like. We're neutral. There have always been some more extreme and some less so. It's just that now more people are making shirts."
Race to be unique
Evyatar Ben-Tzedef, a research associate at the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism and former editor of the IDF publication Maarachot, said the phenomenon of custom-made T-shirts is a product of "the infantry's insane race to be unique. I, for example, had only one shirt that I received after the Yom Kippur War. It said on it, 'The School for Officers,' and that was it. What happened since then is a product of the decision to assign every unit an emblem and a beret. After all, there used to be very few berets: black, red or green. This changed in the 1990s. [The shirts] developed because of the fact that for bonding purposes, each unit created something that was unique to it.
"These days the content on shirts is sometimes deplorable," Ben-Tzedef explained. "It stems from the fact that profanity is very acceptable and normative in Israel, and that there is a lack of respect for human beings and their environment, which includes racism aimed in every direction."
Yossi Kaufman, who moderates the army and defense forum on the Web site Fresh, served in the Armored Corps from 1996 to 1999. "I also drew shirts, and I remember the first one," he said. "It had a small emblem on the front and some inside joke, like, 'When we die, we'll go to heaven, because we've already been through hell.'"
Kaufman has also been exposed to T-shirts of the sort described here. "I know there are shirts like these," he says. "I've heard and also seen a little. These are not shirts that soldiers can wear in civilian life, because they would get stoned, nor at a battalion get-together, because the battalion commander would be pissed off. They wear them on very rare occasions. There's all sorts of black humor stuff, mainly from snipers, such as, 'Don't bother running because you'll die tired' - with a drawing of a Palestinian boy, not a terrorist. There's a Golani or Givati shirt of a soldier raping a girl, and underneath it says, 'No virgins, no terror attacks.' I laughed, but it was pretty awful. When I was asked once to draw things like that, I said it wasn't appropriate."
The IDF Spokesman's Office comments on the phenomenon: "Military regulations do not apply to civilian clothing, including shirts produced at the end of basic training and various courses. The designs are printed at the soldiers' private initiative, and on civilian shirts. The examples raised by Haaretz are not in keeping with the values of the IDF spirit, not representative of IDF life, and are in poor taste. Humor of this kind deserves every condemnation and excoriation. The IDF intends to take action for the immediate eradication of this phenomenon. To this end, it is emphasizing to commanding officers that it is appropriate, among other things, to take discretionary and disciplinary measures against those involved in acts of this sort."
Shlomo Tzipori, a lieutenant colonel in the reserves and a lawyer specializing in martial law, said the army does bring soldiers up on charges for offenses that occur outside the base and during their free time. According to Tzipori, slogans that constitute an "insult to the army or to those in uniform" are grounds for court-martial, on charges of "shameful conduct" or "disciplinary infraction," which are general clauses in judicial martial law.
Sociologist Dr. Orna Sasson-Levy, of Bar-Ilan University, author of "Identities in Uniform: Masculinities and Femininities in the Israeli Military," said that the phenomenon is "part of a radicalization process the entire country is undergoing, and the soldiers are at its forefront. I think that ever since the second intifada there has been a continual shift to the right. The pullout from Gaza and its outcome - the calm that never arrived - led to a further shift rightward.
"This tendency is most strikingly evident among soldiers who encounter various situations in the territories on a daily basis. There is less meticulousness than in the past, and increasing callousness. There is a perception that the Palestinian is not a person, a human being entitled to basic rights, and therefore anything may be done to him."
Could the printing of clothing be viewed also as a means of venting aggression?
Sasson-Levy: "No. I think it strengthens and stimulates aggression and legitimizes it. What disturbs me is that a shirt is something that has permanence. The soldiers later wear it in civilian life; their girlfriends wear it afterward. It is not a statement, but rather something physical that remains, that is out there in the world. Beyond that, I think the link made between sexist views and nationalist views, as in the 'Screw Haniyeh' shirt, is interesting. National chauvinism and gender chauvinism combine and strengthen one another. It establishes a masculinity shaped by violent aggression toward women and Arabs; a masculinity that considers it legitimate to speak in a crude and violent manner toward women and Arabs."
Col. (res.) Ron Levy began his military service in the Sayeret Matkal elite commando force before the Six-Day War. He was the IDF's chief psychologist, and headed the army's mental health department in the 1980s.
Levy: "I'm familiar with things of this sort going back 40, 50 years, and each time they take a different form. Psychologically speaking, this is one of the ways in which soldiers project their anger, frustration and violence. It is a certain expression of things, which I call 'below the belt.'"
Do you think this a good way to vent anger?
Levy: "It's safe. But there are also things here that deviate from the norm, and you could say that whoever is creating these things has reached some level of normality. He gives expression to the fact that what is considered abnormal today might no longer be so tomorrow."
Paul Krugman, Nobel Prize-winning economist, professor of economics and international affairs at Princeton University, and a columnist at the New York Times. His latest book is The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008.
AMY GOODMAN: Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner today is unveiling the Obama administration’s plan to finance the purchase of up to $1 trillion in so-called toxic assets from banks and other ailing financial institutions. The plan relies on private investors, namely hedge funds and private equity firms, to team up with the government to relieve banks of assets tied to loans and mortgage-linked securities. There have been virtually no buyers of these assets thus far because of their uncertain risk. As part of the program, the government plans to offer subsidies in the form of low-interest loans to coax private funds to form partnerships with the government to buy troubled assets from banks. This is intended to unclog the balance sheets of banks and allow them to resume normal lending.
Also, the Obama administration this week is expected to announce new proposals for financial regulation, executive pay, accounting standards and other issues, ahead of the G20 summit in London on April 2nd. The new economic proposals come as Congress is to begin debating the administration’s $3.6 trillion budget proposal for next year.
Meanwhile, public outrage over the AIG bonus scandal has further undermined support for Timothy Geithner as Treasury Secretary. AIG is paying out over $165 million in bonuses after receiving a $170 billion taxpayer bailout. Geithner has been criticized in Congress and elsewhere for not doing more to block the AIG bonuses and his overall response to the financial crisis.
In an interview broadcast last night on 60 Minutes, President Obama expressed strong support for Geithner. He was interviewed by 60 Minutes correspondent Steve Kroft.
STEVE KROFT: Your Treasury Secretary, Tim Geithner, has been under a lot of pressure this week, and there have been people in Congress calling for his head. Have there been discussions in the White House about replacing him?
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: No.
STEVE KROFT: Has he volunteered to or come to you and said, “Do you think I should step down?”
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: No, and he shouldn’t. And if he were to come to me, I’d say, “Sorry, buddy, you still got the job.” But look, he’s got a lot of stuff on his plate, and he is doing a terrific job. And I take responsibility for not, I think, having given him as much help as he needs.
AMY GOODMAN: Geithner is scheduled to testify before the House Financial Services Committee on Thursday about overhauling financial regulation.
Paul Krugman is a Nobel Prize-winning economist, professor of economics and international affairs at Princeton University, and a columnist at the New York Times. His latest book is The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008. His column in today’s Times is headlined “Financial Policy Despair.” He joins us on the phone from his home in New Jersey.
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Paul.
PAUL KRUGMAN: Good morning, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, you say, “Zombie ideas have won.” Why are you calling that Timothy Geithner’s plan today?
PAUL KRUGMAN: A zombie idea is an idea that you keep on killing, because it’s a bad idea, but it just keeps on coming back. And what this is is we’ve had this idea since Henry Paulson came out with his plan six months ago, the Bush administration, that the real problem is that the market is undervaluing all of these toxic assets, and what we need to do is have taxpayers go in and buy them at a fair price, and that will solve all of our financial problems. And that’s what happened. The Geithner plan is a complicated, disguised variant on the same idea. It’s the zombie that you keep killing, and it just keeps coming back.
AMY GOODMAN: Called “cash for trash”?
PAUL KRUGMAN: Yeah, that’s—that was the phrase that was out there six months ago, which I picked up. And yeah, it’s basically saying that, you know, there’s nothing really fundamentally wrong with our banking system; there’s just this crisis of confidence, and so nobody wants to buy, you know, asset-backed securities, nobody wants to buy stuff that’s ultimately backed by home mortgages, and if only we could get people to see that these things are really pretty decent assets, then the banks will be in fine shape. And that’s the trouble. You know, there’s an argument that says maybe they were somewhat underpriced, but to make this the centerpiece of your financial rescue plan is just—well, as I wrote in the column, it leaves me with a feeling of despair.
AMY GOODMAN: Members of the Obama administration hit the Sunday talk show circuit yesterday to drum up support for the administration’s plan to purchase up to a trillion dollars in troubled mortgages and other so-called toxic assets. Austan Goolsbee, a key White House economic adviser, was on Face the Nation. Harry Smith of CBS News quoted from your writing about the administration’s plan. This is an excerpt.
HARRY SMITH: There’s been a lot of negative press about this thing that hasn’t even been unveiled yet, and Paul Krugman, in his blog today, said, “For the private investors, this is an open invitation to play heads I win, tails the taxpayers lose.”
AUSTAN GOOLSBEE: I don’t think that’s an accurate description. I mean, if the government doesn’t make money, the private sector doesn’t make money either. I mean, these guys are coming in in a partnership, and one of the reasons you want to have the partnership is precisely so that, A, the government doesn’t massively overpay for these troubled assets that are on the balance sheets, and B, so that everybody’s got skin in the game and you don’t get into situations where you’re paying guys for failure.
AMY GOODMAN: Paul Krugman, your response?
PAUL KRUGMAN: The important thing is not the shared equity. I’m sorry, it’s hard to avoid lapsing into jargon here. But 85 percent, at least according to the counts over the weekend, 85 percent of the money is going to be a loan from the government, which is a non-recourse loan, which means that it’s backed only by the assets that these guys are buying, which means that if the thing loses more than 15 percent of its value, which is highly, you know, possible, given how uncertain these things are worth, then the investors, the private investors, just walk away. So there’s—exactly, it’s a heads I win, tails you lose. If the stuff—you buy something at $100 and it goes up to $150, you make $50. You buy it at $100 and it goes down to $50, then you only lose $15, because the other $35 gets even by the taxpayer. So it’s a—it’s the same thing.
It’s basically what happened with savings and loans in the 1980s. They were deregulated and basically put in the position where the deposits were guaranteed, but the owners of the banks could do whatever they wanted, and so they took these huge risks, and most of the risks turned out bad. But if the risks turned out bad, it was the taxpayers’ problem, not the bank owners’ problem. Same thing here. They’re deliberately setting it up, so that there’s this huge incentive to—you know, basically where the upside belongs to the private investors, but most of the downside belongs to you and me.
AMY GOODMAN: So you socialize the debt, you privatize the profit. Why—
PAUL KRUGMAN: Yes, it’s—you know, it’s, yeah, lemon socialism. The minuses are the taxpayers; the pluses are the private investors.
AMY GOODMAN: Why doesn’t the government just buy all up all of the toxic assets then, like the FDIC does?
PAUL KRUGMAN: Well, it’s actually—the FDIC doesn’t—the FDIC guarantees a bank’s debts, basically, so the deposits are secure, and then if it says the bank is bankrupt, then it goes in and it seizes the bank and then sells the toxic stuff for whatever it can get. That’s what I advocate; that’s what we ought to be doing. They are—I think they’re just daunted by the scale of this thing. The FDIC normally does, you know, two or three banks a week, even in bad times, and they’re small banks. Here we’re talking about quite possibly Citigroup, which is $2 trillion in assets. It’s a very big thing. And I think the reason they keep on coming back, the reason the zombie ideas won’t stay dead, is the lure of an easy solution, that you can just wave a magic wand and the problem goes away, and they’re still looking for magic.
AMY GOODMAN: We have to break just for sixty seconds, then we come back to Paul Krugman, Nobel Prize-winning economist, professor of economics, Princeton, columnist at the New York Times. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: Our guest, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, Paul Krugman, professor at Princeton, New York Times columnist. Do you think Timothy Geithner, the Treasury Secretary, Paul, should step down?
PAUL KRUGMAN: You know, I don’t have a strong view on that. It’s certainly becoming a problem, and he’s really got to clean up his act if he wants to stay there. But it’s just—it’s been really—you know, basically, look, this is not Geithner. Ultimately, the buck stops in the Oval Office. The question is, why is President Obama going with the soft side, the hope over analysis, on this stuff? So I’m not—I don’t have a big commitment on Geithner, one way or the other.
AMY GOODMAN: Can I ask you something about the AIG bonuses that have caused such an uproar? I mean, why wasn’t there strict regulations about how the stimulus money could be used, how the TARP could be used? Why wasn’t there regulation here?
PAUL KRUGMAN: Well, if I was going to take the side of the government people, I’d say it’s hard to write those regulations in a way that doesn’t have unintended consequences. You know, there was a time when they tried to put limits on CEO pay, and it ended up leading to the explosion of stock options, which was not a good thing.
But I think it basically comes down to the mindset, that the view still, apparently, dominant in—even in this administration is that there’s nothing really fundamentally wrong with the system. There were some mistakes, and there was some bad luck, but we don’t want to shake up the system too much. We don’t want to really rebuild it. We don’t want to tear up the relationships with those people who we thought were so smart and now look so dumb, really are smart, and we want to keep them on the job. It’s a problem. I think there’s too much conventionality. To some extent, the Obama administration is still partying like it’s 2006.
AMY GOODMAN: Paul Krugman, what would a new system look like? What would you advocate?
PAUL KRUGMAN: I think, in the end, we’re going to have to go back to something that is kind of like the system that emerged from the New Deal, which was tightly regulated banks and financial institutions, limits on risk taking, fairly high taxes for high earners, which—it turns out that, you know, low tax rates create incentives, but the incentives are actually to play dangerous games with other people’s money. A lot of things need to be updated for the twenty-first century and information technology and so on, but basically, our grandfathers got this thing right. Our grandfathers understood that finance is useful but dangerous and needs to be very tightly hedged about with regulations.
AMY GOODMAN: You write, “The Obama administration has apparently made the judgment that there would be a public outcry if it announced a straightforward plan along these lines,” which is, you know, government buying up the troubled assets, “so it has produced what Yves Smith calls ‘a lot of bells and whistles to finesse the fact that the government will wind up paying well above market [value] for”—and you can’t say the rest.
PAUL KRUGMAN: Yeah, I still can’t say the rest, which was not Times style. But yeah, ultimately, when you get the—when you get through the complexities and the salesmanship, this is just a complicated way of having the government pay, having you and me pay, for buying these assets at more than any private investor is willing to pay for them.
AMY GOODMAN: You talk about why you’re so vehement about this right now, why you see this is the critical moment.
PAUL KRUGMAN: I think—this is a political judgment. We can argue this back and forth. But I think that Obama doesn’t get many shots at this, maybe just one. There’s already a huge public outcry, which doesn’t distinguish between the things we need to do and the things that were just mistakes. And for Obama to go and do this plan and put a lot of taxpayer money on the line and for it not to work, which I’m almost certain is what would happen, I don’t think he can come back to Congress for a plan that might actually work. I think that there’s a real—the stimulus is something of the same thing. You have to do this right, right away, because the political mood is getting ugly, for good reason, and there’s not a lot of patience with failed approaches, especially failed approaches that seem like your administration is just too close to Wall Street.
AMY GOODMAN: Paul Krugman, can you talk about the role of foreign sovereign wealth funds and explain what they are?
PAUL KRUGMAN: Oh, yeah. It’s just when a foreign government has a bunch of money which it is investing in the United States or in other countries, and as opposed to—this is when you do something beyond just plain parking lots of money in bank deposits or US government debt, which is where most of the foreign money is. You know, I think that’s a much exaggerated issue. It’s—yeah, these are governments playing with large sums of money. At least so far, all the evidence is that they’ve been really pretty dumb investors. The Chinese appear to have given us a substantial subsidy by buying a lot of stocks at the top of the market and losing them. So I’m not that—I don’t think it’s a central issue.
AMY GOODMAN: And this issue of counterparties, a word we’re just learning right now, that AIG gets all of these billions of dollars, and they use some of it to pass through to banks once—well, to entities like Goldman Sachs, to UBS, which had to pay a massive fine to the US government, so we’re paying their fine for violating us?
PAUL KRUGMAN: Well, this is—the counterparties—basically, think of the financial system as this web of connections. And the reason that we’re stepping in to rescue these companies in the first place is that we’re afraid that if you break the web at one point, it unravels across a pretty wide range. And that’s not just a theory. When Lehman Brothers was allowed to fail, in fact, a huge gaping hole opened up across the financial system. So this is the reason that we’re rescuing them in the first place.
Now, the only thing you can say is that if we’re going to be doing this, then we do need to look hard at who else we’re rescuing, and we need to say, “Look, you guys have to make some sacrifices as part of this, as well.” What we’re seeing right now is that it’s basically all free money from the taxpayer with no quid pro quo. And that gets to the heart of the dispute over what our policy is right now.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Paul Krugman, has this made you reevaluate your support of NAFTA, the whole push for sort of unregulated globalization, why so many people took to the streets in the Battle of Seattle, for example?
PAUL KRUGMAN: Yeah, the answer is no. There’s a huge distinction between letting actual trade in goods, stuff, real physical stuff, proceed, which is terribly important to the poorest countries, above all—when somebody asks, you know, why am I in favor of, more or less, free trade, my answer is, I’m really thinking about countries like Bangladesh, which literally are only able to keep their heads above water by their ability to sell labor-intensive stuff, thanks to their low wages. It’s really critical.
I’ve never been a fan of unregulated movement of capital internationally. This was a big fight back in the late ’90s between some of us who say, you know, “We need to regulate, we need to limit this stuff,” and people who said, “Oh, no. You have to trust the markets.” And what’s—it’s the hot money that’s the issue here; it’s not the auto parts from Mexico. That’s a different discussion. It’s the hot money from all over the world that is the crisis right now.
AMY GOODMAN: And the UN panel that will next week recommend the world ditch the dollar as its reserve currency in favor of a shared basket of currencies?
PAUL KRUGMAN: You know, there have been millions of plans—well, I’m exaggerating, but there have been many plans along those lines. That’s not a decision that can be taken by an international body. The dollar is the reserve currency because people think it’s the safest place to park their money. The euro is a natural competitor, except that the Europeans are as messed up in their policies as we are, if not more so, right now. But the way to deal with that is not to have some body agree that we’re going to do something different, but to simply have the world—have the natural competitors to the dollar make themselves worthy of the competition.
AMY GOODMAN: Paul Krugman, I want to thank you for being with us, Nobel Prize-winning economist, professor of economics at Princeton University, and columnist with the New York Times. His latest book is called The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008. Thanks so much for joining us. He joined us from New Jersey.
PAUL KRUGMAN: Thanks a lot.