Archive for February, 2011

Libya, Questions Of Theory

Monday, February 28th, 2011

The issue of the correct position regarding Libya is interesting. I have reproduced an article from the Socialist Worker.Org regarding the position of the Workers World Party and Party of Socialism and Liberation, I also included my response to their position. I know, its boring, but I love this shit.


From Socialist Worker.Org

Taking sides about Libya Todd Chretien examines the attitude of the Workers World Party and Party for Liberation and Socialism toward Muammar el-Qaddafi’s dictatorship in Libya.
February 28, 2011

“Of all the struggles going on in North Africa and the Middle East right now, the most difficult to unravel is the one in Libya.”
— Workers World Party, February 23, 2011
“At present, the revolt has not produced any organizational form or leader that would make it possible to characterize it politically.”
— Party for Socialism and Liberation, February 24, 2011
THOSE WERE the statements last week from two well-known U.S. socialist groups active in anti-imperialist movements. As madman Muammar el-Qaddafi ranted in his bunker about al-Qaeda slipping hallucinogens into young people’s coffee in order to make them rebel, the Workers World Party (WWP) and Party for Liberation and Socialism (PSL) refused to take a stand with the Libyan people against a dictator.
These two organizations, part of the same group until 2004, have long accepted the Libyan dictatorship’s claim to be progressive and anti-imperialist in spite of the corruption of the country’s tiny elite around Qaddafi and the savagery of the regime’s police-state repression and violence–now on sickening display for all the world to see.
As recently as 2009, the WWP, for example, published an article that spoke highly of the Qaddafi regime as it celebrated the 40th anniversary of Libya’s “revolution.”
The article said the anniversary “has been acknowledged by governments throughout the African continent and the world”–with Zimbabwe’s dictatorial President Robert Mugabe as example number one. The WWP even saluted Qaddafi’s close relationship with the right-wing Italian government of Silvio Berlusconi, noting that Italy would “honor the 40th anniversary celebration [of Qaddafi’s rule] with a display by its Air Force aerobatics team.”
In its recent statement, PSL noted that “developments in the last decade have greatly and understandably diminished [Qaddafi’s] credibility among progressive and anti-imperialist forces in the region, almost all of which have declared their solidarity with the Libyan revolt.”
That’s a huge understatement. Qaddafi has gone to great lengths to reverse his once-hostile relationship to Western governments.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Libya purchased large amounts of military equipment from the former USSR and Eastern Bloc countries, which were used to go to war with neighboring Chad and construct a vast police state. While the Cold War was still on, the U.S. considered Libya an enemy, and Ronald Reagan targeted the country in the 1980s, including an attempt to assassinate Qaddafi by bombing one of his residences (which killed his 15-month-old daughter).
But in the late 1990s, Qaddafi began to make peace with his former adversaries. And after 9/11, Qaddafi offered Libyan support for the U.S. government’s “war on terror” under George W. Bush. The regime restored diplomatic relations with the U.S., leading ExxonMobil, Chevron and other American corporations to rush into lucrative exploration and production deals.
Libya also reestablished ties to Western Europe, especially Berlusconi in Italy, which was once the colonial ruler of Libya. The Qaddafi-Berlusconi partnership is particularly close, ranging from multibillion-dollar oil deals to a shared affinity for young Italian fashion models.
But neither the lucrative business deals with the West nor revenues from Libya’s vast oil resources have trickled down to the majority of people in the country. Despite Libya’s small population of 6 million, unemployment has remained high (roughly 25 percent) and wages low (around $250 a month). Meanwhile, Qaddafi’s immediate inner circle has squirreled away fortunes in foreign banks and overseas investments.
This is the regime that the WWP and PSL have supported as “progressive” for years–and which they now refuse to condemn for its savage assault on people demanding democracy.
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SO WHY can’t the PSL and WWP join “almost all progressive and anti-imperialist forces in the region”–and, I would add, around the world, with the notable exceptions of Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez–in openly supporting the Libyan people in their rebellion against the dictatorship?
The answer lies in these groups’ view of social revolution.
The Workers World Party was founded in 1959 by Sam Marcy and other members of the Socialist Workers Party in the U.S. The SWP aligned itself with exiled Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky and his struggle against the Stalinist counterrevolution. Thus, when workers in Hungary rose up in 1956 against the so-called “Communist” police state that ruled over them, the SWP organized in solidarity with the workers.
Marcy and the founders of WWP did a somersault, calling the movement in Hungary a “full-scale, nationwide counterrevolution” and siding with the invading Russian tanks sent to suppress the rebellion. (V. Grey, “The Class Character of the Hungarian Uprising,” SWP Discussion Bulletin, Vol. 18, No. 1, January 1957)
Since then, the WWP and the newer PSL (which broke away from the WWP organizationally in 2004, but maintained identical political beliefs) have consistently sided with Stalinist or “anti-imperialist” states against social struggles from below.
In 1968, for example, Marcy cheered on Russian tanks when they were sent into Eastern Europe again, this time to smash a workers and student uprising in Czechoslovakia. As Marcy wrote, “We support the Warsaw Pact intervention under present circumstances.”
In 1989, the WWP praised the suppression of the protests in Tiananmen Square. In response to a article commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen rebellion, Richard Becker, a leading member of PSL, criticized the International Socialist Organization, writing, “Do they not recognize that the victory of the Tiananmen protesters and their supporters…would have made U.S. imperialism’s victory in 1989-91 even more complete?”
In 1991, top bureaucrats, generals and KGB chiefs launched a military coup in a last-ditch effort to preserve their rule in the former USSR. They were defeated by massive demonstrations in the streets of Moscow. Marcy criticized the coup leaders for their failure, writing, “A coalition of military officers, party officials and security forces has made an ill-fated attempt to halt the process of capitalist restoration in the USSR.”
The WWP’s and PSL’s enthusiasm for crackdowns has not diminished with the passage of time. Incredibly, they continue to defend the Chinese Communist Party as an “anti-imperialist” force. In 2008, PSL leader Brian Becker explained that the group must “offer militant political defense of the Chinese government” in the face of mass movements which are hostile to the Communist Party.
In addition to their admiration for the rulers of China, the WWP and PSL extend their support of what might be called “regime socialism” to various less powerful governments, such as North Korea, Cuba, Zimbabwe, Iraq (under Saddam Hussein), Libya, Syria, and even to states they deem to be “anti-imperialist,” such as Iran.
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THE MAIN justification for this characterization is that these governments are (or at least have been) targets of U.S. imperialism.
All genuine socialists in the U.S. must unequivocally oppose all forms of intervention in these countries, whatever the character of their governments. Socialists never support their “own” government in its wars for power and profit. That’s why we call for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all U.S. military, mercenary and intelligence forces from Iraq and Afghanistan; the end of all aid to Israel, Egypt, Colombia and Saudi Arabia; and the lifting of sanctions against Cuba, to name a few important anti-imperialist positions.
But genuine socialism and anti-imperialism requires more than a simple “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” approach. It requires organizing to link the interests of workers, students, the poor and the oppressed across the world, including to their brothers and sisters in the United States.
This necessitates organizing against the U.S. government’s military attacks on other nations and exposing the hypocrisy of its racist propaganda conducted against political leaders and peoples it decides to demonize. Thus, even though we in the ISO believed that Saddam Hussein of Iraq was a tyrant, we were 100 percent against both U.S. wars against Iraq under George Bush Sr. and Jr., and against Bill Clinton’s deadly sanctions regime.
However, opposing imperialist war and supporting the right of national self-determination does not mean that socialists should give, as Brian Becker puts it, “militant political defense” to every government the U.S. government declares to be its foe.
Instead, while we oppose U.S. (or European or Chinese or Russian) intervention, we also support the right of workers, students and poor people in these countries to rebel, to build social movements, to fight for their democratic rights like freedom of speech, religion and assembly, and to struggle for union rights, women’s and racial equality, and more.
In fact, we think U.S. imperialism is best opposed not by the continuing state power of decrepit, corrupt, bureaucratic rulers, but by rebellion from below.
U.S. imperialism can deal with losing a dictator or two in the Middle East and North Africa. What it can’t handle is a region-wide social revolution that threatens its economic, political and military interests.
This is precisely what is happening across the region, and the workers, students and poor of North Africa and the Middle East don’t care if the WWP and PSL have anointed the regime they happen to live under as “progressive” or not.
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IF the WWP and PSL issued mealy-mouthed statements about Libya that give the feeling they hope Qaddafi somehow hangs on to power, the two organizations continue to promote their loud and proud support of the Iranian regime’s brutal crackdown on dissent. As PSL’s Mazda Majidi wrote:
[T]here is one obvious difference between the revolutionary movement in Egypt and the Green opposition in Iran. In Egypt, the movement encompasses millions of people from different classes against the U.S. client Mubarak dictatorship. The dictatorship has very little social base left. There were no pro-Mubarak demonstrations, except for the few hundred hired thugs and policemen out of uniform that tried unsuccessfully to quash the protests. In contrast, in Iran, on many occasions, millions of predominantly working-class people have demonstrated in support of the Islamic Republic.
This is an incredible statement from beginning to end. Majidi dramatically underestimates the social base of the Egyptian regime, reducing it to a “few hundred hired thugs.” In fact, tens of thousands of thugs were unleashed on Tahrir Square, resulting in many deaths, and tens of thousands more–the Mubarak regime’s police and security service personnel numbered 1.7 million–launched attacks throughout the country. It was only through a heroic mass struggle that these forces were defeated.
Despite what Majidi claims, the “obvious difference” between Egypt and Iran was that the regime lost in Egypt, while the Iranian government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has so far managed to repress the opposition.
But the simple fact is that the same underlying conditions of poverty, oppression and repression which drove millions to the streets in Iran in 2009 also sparked the revolution in Tunisia, the revolution in Egypt and the rebellion that will hopefully soon overthrow Qaddafi in Libya. The revolutionary wave is sure to continue–and it is bound to make its way back to Tehran, as evidenced by a series of demonstrations over the past month.
Why did it take more than a week for the WWP and PSL to make a statement about the Libyan revolution? Only now that the revolt has achieved mass proportions are these organizations beginning to hedge their bets in case Qaddafi falls, with some vague qualifications of their support for the regime.
Nevertheless, instead of standing forthrightly with the revolution spreading through the Arab world, these groups want to pick and choose which revolutions are “good” and which are “bad.” Concretely, under PSL’s influence, the ANSWER coalition in San Francisco refused to endorse a rally on February 26 in solidarity with the Libyan uprising. This allegiance to police states may make some sense in the minds of the WWP and PSL theoreticians, but it has no place in the fight for social justice.
The leaderships of the WWP and PSL have had decades to reconsider their “militant” defense of Stalinism and supposedly “anti-imperialist” police states–and they have sided with the tanks every time.
That is their right. Everyone is free to think what they want. Fortunately, the workers, students and poor of North Africa and the Middle East are demonstrating a clearer understanding of the class struggle.
Of course, socialists and radicals of all stripes must continue to work together to oppose U.S. military intervention and the racist scapegoating that justifies it, despite our disagreements.
But this debate should not be papered over. For several generations, the dominant position among those who called themselves socialists was support for the kind of Stalinist regimes that the WWP and PSL back to this day. It is high time to clear away these distorted theories and recognize that Karl Marx’s commitment to revolution “from below” means supporting the mass struggles spreading from Tunisia to Egypt to Libya and beyond.

This is my response

I am glad to see some analysis of the events in Libya. Gaddafi claims that he has the love of the people and it seems that there are elements of the population who still believe in his rule. There are obviously large numbers of people who are opposed to Gaddafi’s rule. What I have not seen is a clear class analysis of exactly who the people are who are opposed to him. Certainly the bourgeoisie who left the country when the social reforms were enacted back in the 1970’s would be involved with the rebels. But the events in Libya are more like a civil war than civil disobedience. This is not like events in Egypt or Tunisia. Simply painting all the revolts with the same brush is to miss the nuances of difference between the different countries.
I agree that we need to oppose US intervention, but is that a universal position? Are you opposed to intervention for humanitarian purposes such as after the Tsunami in the Indian Ocean or the earthquake in Haiti? Would you oppose an intervention to end genocide?
I am all in favor of supporting mass movements but when the masses are supporting Sarah Palin or listen to Rush Limbaugh; are they no longer the masses? Fortunately the masses that follow such right wing talking heads are not the majority, but they are voters and tend to be wealthier and whiter than the masses supportive of the progressive groupings on the left. I do not believe in supporting mass movements simply because they have a large number of people supporting them.
Taking a line that is in the interest of the masses, as opposed to taking a line that is following the masses, are two different things. If the masses are mostly racist and want to oppress minorities, it is not the correct thing to support that, but in your analysis, it might very well be correct.
My question is what is the nature of the rebellion in Libya and who are the people supporting Gaddafi? Is it breaking down along tribal lines? Is it breaking down along class lines? I can’t tell from media reports. There are plenty of them but there is no analysis of who is who that makes any sense to me, I have done some background research on the Green Revolution and it seems to be quite progressive. But the theory and practice are not always the same thing and the rebellion might simply reflect a rebellion against a corrupt leadership taking advantage of their positions of authority, or it might represent a counterrevolution of the professional classes goading the working classes on to fight.
We shall see when the dust settles and the EU and the USA move in to offer ‘assistance’. The difference between your position and that of the WWP and PSL are not so clear when it comes to these questions of principal. Certainly supporting dictators is not a good revolutionary principal, but when it comes to the dictatorship of the people, who represent the people and who are merely representing themselves and their class of bureaucrats?

Corporate Media And The Battle To Destroy Labor

Sunday, February 27th, 2011

I was interested in seeing how the wire services covered the protests over the weekend in the USA. I got a distinct impression that AP and UPI were giving more coverage to the Republican Governors positions and that Reuters was more sympathetic to labor. Could it be that Reuters is British, while AP and UPI are American?

According to Wikipedia UPI is now owned by the Moonies, the right wingers that also used to own the Washington Times. AP is a cooperative run by various American newspapers around the country. Reuters is based in London, Great Britain and is part of Thompson Corporation with corporate offices in Stamford, CT but ownership based in Canada.

Interesting as ownership is, the fact that Reuters writers are not on as tight as an editorial leash may be because most of their income comes from financial news and very little from straight news, whereas AP is strictly news and UPI is controlled by a rightwing organization.

Will the workers hold the line and stand up to the corporate shills in the political parties or will they bow down to corporate lies about the debt crisis being perpetuated through the mouths of bought out politicians and their media flunkies? We shall see. The protests organized by Move On over the weekend were not very big, although the one in Wisconsin seems to have been decent, considering the time of year; you have to be brave to stay out in the streets in a Wisconsin winter. Now are we brave enough to make the ‘Repubocrats’ back down? General strike…


From Reuters

Largest crowds since Vietnam War march in Wisconsin

By James Kelleher and David Bailey

MADISON, Wisconsin | Sun Feb 27, 2011 12:03am EST

MADISON, Wisconsin (Reuters) - A crowd estimated at more than 70,000 people on Saturday waved American flags, sang the national anthem and called for the defeat of a Wisconsin plan to curb public sector unions that has galvanized opposition from the American labor movement.

In one of the biggest rallies at the state Capitol since the Vietnam War, union members and their supporters braved frigid temperatures and a light snowfall to show their displeasure.

The mood was upbeat despite the setback their cause suffered earlier this week when the state Assembly approved the Republican-backed restrictions on union collective bargaining rights over fierce Democratic objections.

“I’m deeply honored to be here with you,” said Peter Yarrow, a veteran of many social protests during his 50-year folk music career and a founding member of the group Peter, Paul and Mary. “If you persist, you will prevail.”

What began two weeks ago as a Republican effort in one small U.S. state to balance the budget has turned into a confrontation with unions that could be the biggest since then President Ronald Reagan fired striking air traffic controllers nearly 30 years ago.

Republicans still must push the measure through the state Senate, which has been unable to muster a quorum for a vote because of a Democratic boycott.

If the plan is approved in Wisconsin, a number of other states where Republicans swept to victory in the 2010 elections could follow. Already, other legislatures including Ohio, Indiana, Iowa, Idaho, Tennessee, and Kansas are working on union curbs.

Unlike previous protests, the rally on Saturday brought out thousands of union workers not directly affected by the bill, including the state’s firefighters, exempted along with police from the Republican proposal. Dozens of private sector unions were represented as well at the event.

No “Tea Party” supporters of the proposal championed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker were spotted on Saturday. They staged a smaller rally of their own in Madison a week ago.

From the Associated Press

Feb 27, 10:40 AM EST

Wis. governor says protests haven’t swayed him

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker says the two weeks of protests in the state capital haven’t swayed his resolve to eliminate collective bargaining rights for most public employees.

Leaders of Wisconsin’s largest public workers’ unions have capitulated to Walker’s demands for their members to cover more of their pension and health care benefits to help close Wisconsin’s budget deficit.

But Walker said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that stripping the workers of collective bargaining rights is necessary to give the state the flexibility to get its finances in order.

Democratic and union leaders say the attack on collective bargaining is an attempt to undermine the unions and weaken the Democratic Party base.

Walker also says he thinks some of the 14 state Senators who fled the capital will return soon.


From UPI.Com

Christie vows rollbacks for N.J. employees

Published: Feb. 27, 2011 at 1:02 PM

WASHINGTON, Feb. 27 (UPI) — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said he planned to take an ax to his state’s public-employee costs and that collective bargaining was not a guaranteed right.

Speaking on CBS “Face the Nation” Sunday, Christie said he favored “fair and adversarial” bargaining with the state’s unions, whose contracts expire in June.

“I’m going to do what I think needs to be done for New Jersey, which is to reform the pension system, to roll back expensive health benefits for public-sector workers, to put them more in line with the rest of the population in New Jersey,” said Christie.

The current contract, Christie said, was heartily backed by his predecessor as a way to curry labor’s political backing. “They got 7 percent salary increases in a 0 percent inflation world,” Christie said. “I don’t think the people who are paying the bills think that’s the result of fair, adversarial collective bargaining.”

Christie added that he believed Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin was doing what he thought was best for his state and that collective bargaining for state unions had been granted by the Legislature and could be taken away as well.

“Political things change and go back and forth,” Christie said. “Every state is going to make its own determination on that and Wisconsin is in the middle of making that determination.”


Daniels won’t parlay with missing Dems

Published: Feb. 27, 2011 at 1:39 PM

WASHINGTON, Feb. 27 (UPI) — Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels said Sunday he would not negotiate with Democratic legislators who left the state to block a vote on an anti-union bill.

Daniels said on “Fox News Sunday” that the Democrats’ actions were holding up action on several important measures besides the right-to-work bill.

“If they come back, we will talk about what sort of changes or amendments they might want, but while they are subverting the democratic process, there is nothing to talk about,” Daniels said.

The Republican governor, whose statements on fiscal responsibility have attracted the attention of conservative Washington pundits, said he stood by his earlier statements that the right-to-work bill could be dropped for the time being. But he also chided the fugitive Democrats for trying to thwart the will of the voters.

“It is one thing for the people in the private sector to express their point of view as our protesters did,” Daniels said. “It is quite another for public servants accepting a public paycheck, having lost an election to a very clear agenda, to try to trash the process, run off to a different state and hide out.”


From Reuters

By Michelle Nichols

NEW YORK | Sat Feb 26, 2011 6:48pm EST

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Thousands of people rallied in cities across the United States on Saturday to express solidarity with Wisconsin public sector unions fighting a proposal to curb their power.

“We all support the people in Wisconsin and all over the country where labor is being threatened, and we know that the real agenda of the (Wisconsin) governor and many others is just to destroy unions,” said New Yorker Judith Barbanel.

Barbanel, an English language teacher at the City University of New York, joined several thousand people at a “Save the American Dream” rally at City Hall to show solidarity with protesters in Wisconsin.

People waved signs reading “Cut bonuses, not teachers,” “Unions make us strong,” and “Wall St is destroying America,” and wore stickers that read “We are all Wisconsin.”

Anne O’Byrne, 44, a philosophy professor at Stony Brook University who brought her daughter Sophia, 2, to the New York rally, said she was disturbed by events in Wisconsin.

“If we don’t have collective bargaining rights I don’t know what’s left for workers in America,” she said. “It seems important to me to resist any attempt to take away those union rights that have in fact brought us so much over the years.”

Wisconsin’s state Assembly on Friday approved Republican Governor Scott Walker’s proposal to strip public sector unions of most collective bargaining rights. The plan now needs state Senate approval, but Senate Democrats have fled Wisconsin to prevent a vote.

About 1,000 people turned out in Chicago at the Illinois state building to show support for the Wisconsin protesters, chanting “Save the American Dream.” Up to 1,000 rallied in Columbus, Ohio, while a rally in Miami attracted only about 100 people.

Even in conservative Texas, several hundred people turned out for a rally at the State Capitol in Austin that coincided with a separate rally in support of abortion rights.

As Bill Oliver’s band warmed up the crowd with folksy music, protester Doug Frank, 51, said he drove from his home in Crosby , three and a half hours away, to attend his first-ever rally.

“This is finally the one that pushed me over the edge,” said Frank, an oil and gas laboratory technician. “What they’re trying to do (in Wisconsin) is very heavy-handed; it’s un-American.”

In California, protesters held a rally in front of Los Angeles City Hall, and they organized another demonstration at the San Diego County Administration Building.

Organizers said more than 3,000 people attended the Los Angeles rally, but police declined to confirm that figure.

Denver saw another gathering in support of the Wisconsin workers with police estimating that crowd at more than 1,200 people.

In New York, John Cody, 26, of the Civilian Complaint Review Board, said unions were “under assault” in the United States and some protesters had drawn inspiration from the popular uprisings in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.

“Egypt is inspiring Americans and labor movements,” he said. “Unions need to work like the corporations in some ways in that the world’s become a globalized economy so unions need to show acts of solidarity not only across the United States but across the world.”

(Additional reporting by James Kelleher and David Bailey in Madison, Christine Stebbins in Chicago, Jim Leckrone in Columbus, Thomas Brown in Miami, Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles and Corrie MacLaggan in Austin; editing by John Whitesides and Greg McCune)

Gates Claims America Cutting Back On Defense, Not Likely

Saturday, February 26th, 2011

I went to the ‘Move On’ rally in Los Angeles. It was pretty lame, only a couple of thousand people showed up, mostly older white union workers. It was nice to be in a crowd where I was not the oldest one there. I was the average age. The Move on union demographic is mid 50’s Anglo and if that is the case across the country, then we are in trouble if we want a revolution. This is the Celebrex generation, and we will have to take our meds before we manage to get out on the street. On the other hand we are soon to be the retired generation and as everybody knows, the old fogies vote. Perhaps we will have our summer of love in our 60’s.

The world transforming, people are taking risks in countries with mad dictators willing to machinegun unarmed civilians. Unarmed civilians with sticks and stones are taking on tanks and helicopter gunships and winning. That is almost unbelievable. The military must have felt guilty and given up after token battles. I can’t imagine American soldiers, trained killers, giving up so easily if ordered to kill citizens. After all they kill civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq almost as a matter of course. But will Americans find out? Not Waco compound armed to the teeth militant Americans, but every - day in the street protesting Americans armed at best with sticks and bricks, up against Americas finest.

America is the heart of the beast. If America gives up then that is it, it’s over. The USA is going to downsize the military, budget considerations. What a joke, they give the banks hundreds of billions, insure the housing industry and the auto industry with billions more, and give insurance companies tens of billions of additional funds, all together perhaps a trillion dollars or more has been spent propping up industries that have a dubious requirement to survive. We are told it would have been worse if the government had not stepped in. If they have a big war to fight, unless they can’t print enough cash to keep it going, they will come up with the military required to do the job. That after all is what America is all about, providing military cover for international capital.

If the USA no longer can provide that function, like the British before them, the nation will implode and perhaps begin to provide for the people who are its citizens instead of the corporate types who lobby Congress and fill their coffers with the funds required to stay in office. Let the Chinese or the Russians be the big man on campus for a change. Or better yet, let’s develop an international system that does not depend on any one big player. Perhaps then war by committee will be harder to fight.


From CNN

Wisconsin budget battle touches all 50 states

By the CNN Wire StaffFebruary 26, 2011 11:03 p.m. EST

Civil rights activist Van Jones speaks at a Washington, D.C., rally in support of Wisconsin public union workers.

(CNN) — A coalition spearheaded by liberal advocacy group held rallies across the country Saturday in support of public employees and others outraged at the Wisconsin budget-cutting bill they consider an attack on unions. and other liberal and labor groups held noon events at all 50 state capitals.

“Save the dream, we are reunited,” a group shouted in Washington, D.C.

The focal point of the protests was the Wisconsin Capitol, where a light snow and cold temperatures failed Saturday to deter about 70,000 who drummed, chanted and marched.

“Hey, hey, ho, ho, Governor Walker has got to go,” chanted the group rallying in Madison.

There were no incidents during the protest, said Joel DeSpain, spokesman for the Madison Police Department

The Wisconsin Assembly has passed a Republican bill that would strip most state workers of the bulk of their collective-bargaining rights.

Among other things, the measure would require workers — with the exception of police and firefighters — to cover more of their health care premiums and pension contributions. Collective bargaining would be limited to wages, though any pay increases beyond the inflation rate would be subject to voter approval.

In Olympia, Washington, two raucous competing rallies over the union fight in Wisconsin drew more than 2,000 people, according to CNN Seattle affiliate KIRO.

More than a half dozen union members decried the bill, while a smaller protest of Tea Party members and conservative groups was held on the Washington Capitol steps. Many of those demonstrators filled petitions to “Stand with Walker.”

Saturday’s marchers in Wisconsin got a boost from Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, who said Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Ohio Governor John Kasich, who also wants to cut collective bargaining rights, “aren’t just asking workers to tighten their belts, they’re demanding they give up their uniquely American rights as workers.”


From Third

Robert Gates Warns Army of New Era, Tighter Budgets

February 26, 2011 6:13 PM

By Laura Phillips.’

Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned cadets during a farewell speech at the U.S. military academy that the Army will have to adjust to light, nimble warfare and tighter budgets.

Gates told the West Point students that future battles are likely to center around naval and air engagements rather than land, making it difficult to justify a large budget.

“The strategic rationale for swift-moving expeditionary forces, be they Army or Marines, airborne infantry or special operations, is self-evident,” Gates said, noting the need for continued counterterrorism and rapid response missions.

“The Army … must confront the reality that the most plausible, high-end scenarios for the U.S. military are primarily naval and air engagements — whether in Asia, the Persian Gulf or elsewhere,” he continued, noting that this would be even more likely when the country lightens its presence in Afghanistan.

When the U.S. does pull troops from Afghanistan, Gates said he is concerned about retaining the talented and battle-tested young officers that return. He urged the Army to help find ways to promote them into meaningful careers.


From RT

Russia’s military spending

25 February, 2011, 12:49

Russia has revealed details of its ambitious plan to upgrade its army over the next ten years, planning to spend US$650 billion on the project.

­The unveiled large-scale plans of the Russian defense ministry propose the spending of vast sums of money up to 2020.

First and foremost, Russian defense will focus on the development of strategic nuclear weapons, construction of over 100 military vessels for Russian Navy, including construction of four originally French-made Mistral-class amphibious assault ships, and the introduction into the Air Force of over 1,000 helicopters and 600 military planes, including fifth generation PAK-FA fighter.

Most of the military hardware will be equipped with next-generation weaponry.

For the first time ever, Russia is planning to buy military equipment from NATO-member countries – two Mistral helicopter carriers will be bought in France (with two more licensed to be built in Russia), as well as samples of armored vehicles from Italy and elements of personal combat systems also from France.

Moscow’s plans to modernize Russian strategic nuclear forces do not contravene the newly-signed New START nuclear arms reduction treaty with the US, which aims at the reduction of up to a third of the strategic nuclear weapons in both Russia and the US.

President Dmitry Medvedev came out and said that he really wants the Russian military to be a source of innovation, and upgrading military forces is what all the spending is based upon.


From China Daily

China Daily, February 16, 2011

Analysts warned that instability may increase in the Asia-Pacific region if the US Congress approves the nation’s increased defense budget.

The defense budget for the 2012 fiscal year, which President Barack Obama sent to Congress on Monday, will rise to a new record despite a significant reduction in overall federal spending.

It is set to increase by $4.2 billion from the level the Obama administration requested for the 2011 fiscal year, which was never approved by Congress, leaving expenditure at 2010 levels under a temporary spending bill.

It remains uncertain whether the latest budget request will get approval, as opinion remains divided on the issue on Capitol Hill.

If approved, increased spending on military deployment in the Asia-Pacific region, which the US has been paying increasing attention to, may cause more instability in the region, said analysts.

“This will also increase the pressure on China as it is surrounded by US deployments,” said Li Qinggong, deputy secretary-general of the China Council for National Security Policy Studies.

The base budget - excluding the part for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan - for the 2012 fiscal year beginning Oct 1, reaches $553.1 billion, according to a defense budget blueprint released by the Pentagon.

Growth areas include cyber security, space-based weapons and nuclear security. It also includes $9.7 billion for Lockheed’s F-35 fighter.

In addition to the base defense budget, the Obama administration is also requesting $117.8 billion to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which is $41.5 billion below the request made for the 2011 fiscal year.

The latest war funding reflects the planned withdrawal of troops from Iraq by the end of this year and a modest decline in funding for operations in Afghanistan, according to the Pentagon.

The Obama administration plans to withdraw troops from Iraq by the end of 2011 and will start to pull out from Afghanistan in July 2011.

Li noted that with increased attention paid to the Asia-Pacific region, some of the increased US military spending will likely go toward supporting its allies and holding joint military exercises with them.

One week before the Pentagon’s budget report was announced, Washington witnessed a heated discussion among security experts and defense officials about China’s military development, especially in naval and space programs.

Some analysts have said China is an important factor related to the yearly increase in the US defense budget.

China’s defense policy is not aimed at any country, Vice-Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai said at a news conference in January.

The policy will always remain defensive in nature, Cui said, adding that there is no reason for any other country to worry about China’s defense policy, he added.

Abraham Denmark, the Asia-Pacific regional security expert with the Center for a New American Security and former country director for China affairs in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, said that it is legitimate for China, a major economic power, to enhance its military capabilities.

“The major question for American strategists is how China will use its new-found power, economically, militarily and politically,” he said.

Though many defense experts acknowledge that it will take China many years to catch up with US in military development, since the Pentagon is facing possible budget cuts as the administration is trying to reduce the huge federal deficit, these public discussions prior to Congress decision may help the Defense Department get more funding this year, Zheng Wang, senior fellow with the United States Institute of Peace, told China Daily.

However, Li noted it is still unclear whether this spending plan will ultimately be approved by the Congress where opinion remains divided about the scale of the budget cuts and increases.

Some Republican lawmakers are already calling for deeper cuts given the US budget deficit and nearly $15 trillion national debt; others want to add to the defense budget.

Repression Or Revolution?

Saturday, February 26th, 2011

It seems the Egyptian military has lived up to its promise to start to crack down on protesters when they moved in to clear out Tahir Square. Tunisians are protesting their interim government and in Iraq the refineries are being blown up, perhaps in response to the government shooting of protestors yesterday, perhaps just part of the ongoing war between the Shia in power backed by the US military and Iran against those who lost power, mostly Sunni Muslims.

Libya has taken center stage in the media and it has helped people like Berlusconi in Italy who was facing a scandalous trial over his having sex with underage prostitutes. The Irish elections have gone largely unnoticed. Events in Africa south of the Sahara, where there is fighting in the streets in Ivory Coast, has also barely been mentioned in the media. Even Julian Assange is barely getting more than a footnote in the news, after the British courts decided he could be extradited to Sweden.

The media follows the sexy story. I watch Russian, Japanese, German, French, British and Dubai media as well as American public news. I check the internet to see what stories are big with the press on line and the bloggers. Bloggers often are interested in niche issues, I try to follow the main stories, perhaps dig a little deeper into the background from time to time, but I am interested in the issues of the day.

The world is erupting with the unfulfilled desires of a new generation. They are media savvy, have access to the internet and are well aware of what the youth of America and Western Europe have. In Latin America there have been, over the last decade, the activities of the World Social Forum, developing an analysis of neo-liberalism and an alternative approach. Green activists have pressured governments to take action on global warming and pollution issues. There is a battle over GMO crops going on across the planet.

As the resources of the world become scarcer and the major powers lay claim to what is left, mostly in Africa and central Asia, the pressure is on to find a mechanism to fairly allocate these resources. Simply hoarding them or using them in the most powerful countries is ultimately not the answer. Becoming island America, is certainly not going to work. It is not independence that is the answer but interdependence and that will only result in an equitable world if we begin to develop real socialist mechanisms that reflect the will of the people and not just the will of the commodity brokers, bankers and state planners of the super powers.

The winds of change are blowing. Will the result be a better world for us all or more repression and eventual chaos. That is the choice before us. The time is now.


Protesters say Egypt military used force to disperse themClaims that soldiers fired in the air and used batons to disperse Tahrir Square protests over Mubarak-appointed cabinet

The Guardian, Saturday 26 February 2011

Soldiers fired in the air and used batons in the early hours of Saturday to disperse activists demanding the cabinet appointed by Hosni Mubarak be purged by the country’s new military leaders, protesters said.

Thousands had gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square to celebrate two weeks since Mubarak’s removal and remind the country’s new rulers, who have promised to guard against “counter revolution” of the people’s power.

In the gathering in the centre of the uprising against the president, activists urged the military, who had promised there would be “no return to the past” of the Mubarak era, to overhaul the cabinet and install a team of technocrats.

After midnight, protesters said the military fired in the air, shut off the light from lampposts, and moved in on protesters to force them to leave the square.

“Military police used batons and tasers to hit the protesters,” Ahmed Bahgat, one of the protesters, told Reuters by telephone. “The military is once again using force. But the protesters have not responded.”

Protesters left the main centre but many had gathered in surrounding streets, another protester, Mohamed Emad, said. Witnesses said they saw several protesters fall to the ground but it was not clear whether they were wounded or how seriously.

“I am one of thousands of people who stood their ground after the army started dispersing the protesters, shooting live bullets into the air to scare them,” said protester Ashraf Omar.

“They were using tasers and sticks to beat us without any control. I thought things would change. I wanted to give the government a chance but there is no hope with this regime,” Omar said. “There is no use.”
“I am back on the street. I either live with dignity or I die here.”

Protesters say they want the resignation of the government of Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, the immediate release of political prisoners and the issuing of a general amnesty.


From France 24

Latest update: 25/02/2011 - Tunisia - unrest

Thousands of Tunisians protest against caretaker government

Tens of thousands of Tunisians demonstrated Friday in the capital city to demand the resignation of the caretaker government. Protesters say they are angry that figures from the old regime remain in place. By News Wires (text) AFP - Tens of thousands of Tunisians rallied Friday to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi’s transitional government set up after last month’s ouster of Zine el Abidine Ben Ali.

Demonstrators chanted “Ghannouchi Leave” and “Shame on This Government” as army helicopters circled above the crowd massed in the Kasbah government quarter, where police estimated the number of people at over 100,000.

It was the biggest of several rallies against the transitional authority since the fall of long-time ruler Ben Ali on January 14 following weeks of demonstrations, protesters and Red Crescent workers estimated.

Tunsians, whose uprising sparked others rocking the Arab world, are angry that figures from Ben Ali’s authoritarian regime, such as Ghannouchi, are still in power and fear their revolution could be hijacked.

Demonstrators marched down the capital’s main Habib Bourguiba Avenue towards the Kasbah shouting “Revolution Until Victory” and “We Will Root Out Repression in Our Land”.

They also chanted “Ghannouchi, Take Your Dogs and Go” and “No to the Confiscation of the Revolution”.

“We are here today to topple the government,” said Tibini Mohamed, a 25-year-old student.

Ghannouchi’s caretaker government, established on January 17 and tasked with leading Tunisia to elections, has faced regular protests demanding it root out vestiges of the old regime.

Ghannouchi, prime minister under Ben Ali from 1999, bowed to the pressure and removed some of the controversial figures in a January 27 reshuffle.

His government has introduced several reforms but has not yet fixed a date for the election, meant to be held within six months from Ben Ali’s ouster.

Ghannouchi left his offices in the Kasbah complex late January after the first protests, which lasted nearly a week.

Tunisians “are living in a political vacuum,” a law student who gave his name only as Ramzi told AFP at the Kasbah rally, against a background of continuing instability after the uprising and as Tunisians see little improvement to their daily lives.

“We demand the firing of the whole government and of Ghannouchi,” he said, among youths who were draped in the Tunisian flag.

Demonstrators, mobilised over Facebook, also shouted slogans against Ben Ali’s Constitutional Democratic Assembly party, which was suspended on February 6 ahead of its dissolution.

On Sunday 4,000 people protested in front of the Kasbah to demand the sacking of the transitional government as well as the election of a constituent assembly and installation of a parliamentary system.

The fall of Ben Ali after 23 years in power sparked similar uprisings in the Arab world, including one that led to the downfall of long-time Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak on February 11 and another under way in Libya.


From the BBC

26 February 2011 Last updated at 08:08 ET

Iraq’s biggest oil refinery shut by gun and bomb attack

The Baiji refinery processes about 150,000 barrels of oil per day

An early morning gun and bomb attack has shut down Iraq’s biggest oil refinery, Baiji, with at least two employees killed.

The attackers stormed the site in Salaheddin province north of Baghdad at 0430 (0130 GMT), planting bombs in one of its units.

A fire broke out and the installation was badly damaged, officials said.

At one time the refinery was controlled by al-Qaeda, who used it to fund militants.

It is one of three major refineries in Iraq, the others being in the capital Baghdad and at Basra in the south.

Police said it took 50 fire engines to control the fire at the refinery, which processes about 150,000 barrels of oil per day.

“Armed men entered the refinery and shot dead two of the engineers,” said Abdul Qader al-Saab, the facility’s deputy chief.

“Then they detonated bombs at one unit, the al-Shamal unit, of the refinery, which represents 25 percent of the refinery’s production. In the morning, we came to put out the fire, which erupted as a result of the bombs.”


The governor of Salaheddin province, Ahmed al-Jubouri, said the refinery had “completely stopped”.

“It’s a big loss for the whole country. All Iraqi cities depend on its production,” he told Reuters.

An unnamed official at the refinery said fixing the damage would take “a long time”, saying the damage was “severe”.

But he added that it was hoped a partial restart could be made “in the next few days”.

The BBC’s Jonathan Head in Baghdad says that militant attacks on strategic targets are a regular occurrence in Iraq, but the timing and target of this one will worry the government.

Inconsistent fuel supplies are one of the big complaints made by Iraqis about their living conditions, our correspondent says, and the attack comes a day after angry protests in several cities.

Meanwhile, in the southern town of Samawa, a second refinery was shut down by fire, but officials said initial reports indicated it was started by a technical failure rather than an attack, according to Reuters.


From Al Jazeera

In search of an African revolution

International media is following protests across the ‘Arab world’ but ignoring those in Africa.

Azad Essa Last Modified: 21 Feb 2011 16:24 GMT

Must a revolt be filmed and photographed to succeed?

Demonstrations are continuing across the Middle East, interrupted only by the call for prayer when protesters fall to their knees on cheap carpets and straw mats and the riot police take a tea break. Egypt, in particular, with its scenes of unrelenting protesters staying put in Tahrir Square, playing guitars, singing, treating the injured and generally making Gandhi’s famous salt march of the 1940s look like an act of terror, captured the imagination of an international media and audience more familiar with the stereotype of Muslim youth blowing themselves and others up.

A non-violent revolution was turning the nation full circle, much to the admiration of the rest of the world.

“I think Egypt’s cultural significance and massive population were very important factors in ensuring media coverage,” says Ethan Zuckerman, the co-founder of Global Voices, an international community of online activists.

“International audiences know at least a few facts about Egypt, which makes it easier for them to connect to news there,” he says, drawing a comparison with Bahrain, a country Zuckerman says few Americans would be able to locate on a map.

Zuckerman also believes that media organisations were in part motivated by a “sense of guilt” over their failure to effectively cover the Tunisian revolution and were, therefore, playing “catch up” in Egypt.

“Popular revolutions make for great TV,” he adds. “The imagery from Tahrir square in particular was very powerful and led to a story that was easy for global media to cover closely.”

The African Egypt versus the Arab Egypt

Egypt was suddenly a sexy topic. But, despite the fact that the rich banks of the Nile are sourced from central Africa, the world looked upon the uprising in Egypt solely as a Middle Eastern issue and commentators scrambled to predict what it would mean for the rest of the Arab world and, of course, Israel. Few seemed to care that Egypt was also part of Africa, a continent with a billion people, most living under despotic regimes and suffering economic strife and political suppression just like their Egyptian neighbours.

“Egypt is in Africa. We should not fool about with the attempts of the North to segregate the countries of North Africa from the rest of the continent,” says Firoze Manji, the editor of Pambazuka Online, an advocacy website for social justice in Africa. “Their histories have been intertwined for millennia. Some Egyptians may not feel they are Africans, but that is neither here nor there. They are part of the heritage of the continent.”

And, just like much of the rest of the world, Africans watched events unfold in Cairo with great interest. “There is little doubt that people [in Africa] are watching with enthusiasm what is going on in the Middle East, and drawing inspiration from that for their own struggles,” says Manji.

He argues that globalisation and the accompanying economic liberalisation has created circumstances in which the people of the global South share very similar experiences: “Increasing pauperisation, growing unemployment, declining power to hold their governments to account, declining income from agricultural production, increasing accumulation by dispossession - something that is growing on a vast scale - and increasing willingness of governments to comply with the political and economic wishes of the North.

“In that sense, people in Africa recognise the experiences of citizens in the Middle East. There is enormous potential for solidarity to grow out from that. In any case, where does Africa end and the Middle East begin?”

Rallying cry

The ‘trouble’ that started in Tunisia (another African country) when street vendor Mohamed Bouzazi’s self-immolation articulated the frustrations of a nation spread to Algeria (yes, another African country), Yemen and Bahrain just as Hosni Mubarak made himself comfortable at a Sharm el Sheik spa.

Meanwhile, in ‘darkest Africa’, far away from the media cameras, reports surfaced of political unrest in a West African country called Gabon. With little geo-political importance, news organisations seem largely oblivious to the drama that began unfolding on January 29, when the opposition protested against Ali Bhongo Odhimba’s government, whom they accuse of hijacking recent elections. The demonstrators demanded free elections and the security forces duly stepped in to lay those ambitions to rest. The clashes between protesters and police that followed show few signs of relenting.

“The events in Tunisia and Egypt have become, within Africa, a rallying cry for any number of opposition leaders, everyday people harbouring grievances and political opportunists looking to liken their country’s regimes to those of Ben Ali or Hosni Mubarak,” says Drew Hinshaw, an American journalist based in West Africa. “In some cases that comparison is outrageous, but in all too many it is more than fair.

“Look at Gabon, a tragically under-developed oil exporter whose GDP per capita is more than twice that of Egypt’s but whose people are living on wages that make Egypt look like the land of full employment.

“The Bhongo family has run that country for four decades, since before Mubarak ran nothing larger than an air force base, and yet they’re still there. You can understand why the country’s opposition is calling for new rounds of Egypt-like protests after seeing what Egypt and Tunisia were able to achieve.”

Elsewhere on the continent protests have broken out in Khartoum, Sudan where students held Egypt-inspired demonstrations against proposed cuts to subsidies on petroleum products and sugar. Following the protests there on January 30, CPJ reported that staff from the weekly Al-Midan were arrested for covering the event.

Ethiopian media have also reported that police there detained the well-known journalist Eskinder Nega for “attempts to incite” Egypt-style protests. In Cameroon, the Social Democratic Front Party has said that the country might experience an uprising similar to those in North Africa if the government does not slash food prices.

“There are lots of Africans too who are young, unemployed, who see very few prospects for their future in countries ruled by the same old political elite that have ruled for 25 or 30 or 35 years,” says CSM Africa bureau chief Scott Baldauf.

“I think all the same issues in Egypt are also present in other countries. You have leaders who have hung onto power for decades and who think the country can only function if they are in charge. A young Zimbabwean would understand the frustration of a young Egyptian.”

Divide and rule

Sure, the continent is vast and acts of dissent and their subsequent suppression are the bread and butter of some oppressive African states. But just as self-immolation was not new in Tunisia, discontentment and rising restlessness is not alien to Africans. In the past three years, there been violent service delivery protests in South Africa and food riots in Cameroon, Madagascar, Mozambique and Senegal.

But whether the simmering discontent in Africa will result in protests on the scale of those in Egypt remains to be seen.

“All the same dry wood of bad governance is stacked in many African countries, waiting for a match to set it alight,” says Baldauf. “But it takes leadership. It takes civil society organisation,” something the CSM Africa bureau chief fears countries south of the Sahara do not have at the same levels as their North African neighbours.

Emmanuel Kisiangani, a senior researcher at the African Conflict Prevention Programme (ACCP) at the Institute of Security Studies (ISS) in South Africa, believes the difference in the success levels of protests in North and sub-Saharan Africa can be attributed in part to the ethnic make-up of the respective regions.

“In most of the countries that have had fairly ’successful riots’ the societies are fairly homogeneous compared to sub-Saharan Africa where there are a multiplicity of ethnic groups that are themselves very polarised. In sub-Saharan Africa, where governments have been able to divide people along ethnic-political lines, it becomes easier to hijack an uprising because of ethnic differences, unlike in North Africa.”

‘Where is Anderson Cooper?’

Egypt and Tunisia may have been the catalysts for demonstrations across the Arab world, but will those ripples spread into the rest of Africa as well and, if they do, will the international media and its audience even notice?

“What the continent lacks is media coverage,” says Hinshaw. “There’s no powerhouse media for the region like Al Jazeera, while European and American media routinely reduce a conflict like [that in] Ivory Coast or Eastern Congo to a one-sentence news blurb at the bottom of the screen.”

Hinshaw is particularly troubled by the failure of the international media to pay due attention to events in Ivory Coast, where the UN estimates that at least 300 people have died and the opposition puts the figure at 500.

“With due deference to the bravery of the Egyptian demonstrators, protesters who gathered this weekend in Abidjan [in Ivory Coast] aren’t up against a military that safeguards them - it shoots at them.

“The country’s economy has been coughing up blood since November, with banks shutting by the day, businesses closing by the hour and thousands of families fleeing their homes,” he continues. “And in all of this where is Anderson Cooper? Where is Nicolas Kristof? Why is Bahrain a front page news story while Ivory Coast is something buried at the bottom of the news stack?”

The journalist is equally as disappointed in world leaders. “This Friday, Barack Obama publicly condemned the use of violence in Bahrain, Yemen and Libya. When was the last time you saw Obama come out and make a statement on Ivory Coast? Or Eastern Congo? Or Djibouti, where 20,000 people protested this weekend according to the opposition?

“The problem is that most American media compulsively ignore everything south of the Sahara and north of Johannesburg. A demonstration has to be filmed, photographed, streamed live into the offices of foreign leaders to achieve everything Egypt’s achieved.”

Nanjala, a political analyst at the University of Oxford, suggests this journalistic shortcoming stems from journalists’ tendency “to favour explanations that fit the whole ‘failing Africa’ narrative”.

Filling a void

So with traditional media seemingly failing Africa, will social media fill the void?

Much has already been written about the plethora of social media networks that both helped engineer protests and, crucially, amplified them across cyber-space. Online-activists, sitting behind fibre optic cables and flat screens, collated and disseminated updates, photographs and video and played the role of subversive hero from the comfort of their homes. Of course, not all Tweets or Facebook uploads came from pyjama-clad revolutionaries far from the scene of the action - an internet-savvy generation of Egyptians was also able to keep the world updated with information from the ground.

“It’s not clear to me that social media played a massive role in organising protests,” says Zuckerman. “[But] I do think it played a critical role in helping expose those protests to a global audience, particularly in Tunisia, where the media environment was so constrained.”

So, could the same thing happen in Africa?

“I think it’s important to keep in mind that African youth are far more plugged in than most people realise. The spread in mobile phones has made it possible for people to connect to applications like Facebook or Twitter on their telephones,” says Nanjala, adding: “At the same time, I think most analysts are overstating the influence of social media on the protests.

“The most significant political movements in Africa and in other places have occurred independently of social media - the struggles for independence, the struggles against apartheid and racism in Southern Africa. Where people need or desire to be organised they will do independently of the technology around them.”

Baldauf concurs: “In every country you see greater and greater access to the internet and greater access to cell phone networks. I remember getting stuck on a muddy road in Eastern Congo, out where the FDLR [Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda] controls the mining industry. We had to stay the night in a village, the guests of a lovely old man in his mud hut. It was [at] the end of the world, but to get a phone call off to my wife and my editor, I just had to walk out of the hut and use my cell phone.”

An important year

2011 is an important year for Africa. Elections are scheduled in more than 20 countries across the continent, including Zimbabwe and Nigeria.

But as food prices continue to rise and economic hardship tightens its grip on the region, it is plausible to imagine Africans revolting and using means other than the often meaningless ballot box to remove their leaders.

“What people want is the democratisation of society, of production, of the economy, and indeed all aspects of life,” says Manji. “What they are being offered instead is the ballot box.”

But, Manji adds: “Elections don’t address the fundamental problems that people face. Elections on their own do nothing to enable ordinary people to be able to determine their own destiny. ”

This, according to Kisiangani, is because “the process of democratisation in many African countries seems more illusory than fundamental”.

Gabon, Zimbabwe, even Ethiopia may never have the online reach enjoyed by Egyptians, and the scale of solidarity through linguistic and cultural symmetry may not allow their calls to reach the same number of internet users. But this does not mean that a similar desire for change is not brewing, nor that the traditional media and online community are justified in ignoring it.

Screens were put up in Tahrir Square broadcasting Al Jazeera’s coverage of the protests back to the protesters. It is difficult to qualify the role of social media in the popular uprisings gaining momentum across the Arab world, but it is even more difficult to quantify the effect of the perception of being ignored, of not being watched, discussed and, well, retweeted to the throngs of others needing to be heard.

Ignoring the developments in Africa is to miss the half the story.

“The protests have created the ‘hope’ that ordinary people can define their political destiny,” says Kisiangani. “The uprisings … are making people on the continent become conscious about their abilities to define their political destinies.”


From AFP

More ‘heavy-weapon fire’ in I. Coast’s Abidjan
(AFP) – 2 hours ago

ABIDJAN — Heavy-weapon gunfire erupted again Saturday in Ivory Coast’s commercial capital Abidjan where forces loyal to rival claimants for the presidency have been fighting, witnesses said.

The gunfire came from the northern Abobo area that is a stronghold of Alassane Ouattara, internationally recognised to have won the November 28 election although incumbent Laurent Gbagbo refuses to step down.

It follows deadly clashes earlier this week in the area, named PK-18, from where Gbagbo’s camp says “rebels” allied with Ouattara are operating, a charge that has been denied.

Witnesses said the gunfire resumed in the early afternoon after the shooting stopped Friday morning, although residents continued to flee Saturday.

“The neighbourhood is empty,” one resident told AFP, adding that families were leaving for other districts of Abidjan.

“People think the neighbourhood will be bombed,” said another resident who had decided to stay.

Ivory Coast has been gripped by unrest since the presidential poll.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Friday warned the country was on the brink of civil war as fighting surged between backers of Ouattara and forces loyal to Gbagbo.

Ban said in a statement he “deplores the latest threats by Mr Gbagbo?s camp against the United Nations, including the recent call to impede the movement of peacekeepers in Abidjan beginning today”.

Ivory Coast has been divided since late 2002, with the New Forces, a former rebel group allied to Ouattara, holding the north and Gbagbo loyalists the south.

The November election, monitored by the United Nations, was intended to be a step on the way to reuniting Africa’s leading cocoa producer, a former economic powerhouse of the region.

Libyan Background

Friday, February 25th, 2011

Is Libya, a revolutionary state or personal dictatorship of Gaddafi and his cohorts? There are some very radical and one would think progressive changes that Gaddafi brought about in Libya. But as in all cases where socialism is brought about from above, there is a resentment that develops on the part of those who would like to share power with the leader who seems to have made an institution out of his personal rule.

The revolt does not seem to have been one based on poverty, or food prices, it seems to come down to a frustration with the lack of real opportunity and resentment over the domination of the country by Gaddafi’s cronies and the brutal tactics used against the opposition over the years.

Is what is happening in Libya then a counter-revolution, an intertribal conflict or a genuine people’s revolt. It seems from the evidence to be a rejection of Gaddafi and his green revolution. Question is what are the people of Libya seeking? Are they seeking a western style democracy? Are they seeking a restoration of capitalism? Are they seeking an Islamic republic? It does not seem to be an attempt to gain genuine socialism as opposed to the paternalistic state run by Gaddafi and his allies.

Gaddafi has over the years done some interesting things in trying to bring about equality in Libya. It seems again that it is not something that can be imposed from above. What is not clear; what is the kind of state that the people of Libya want. It seems that more than anything else, there is a desire for liberty, where that takes the people of Libya is any bodies guess. Let us only hope that they do not become the victims of western capitalism but it seems to be almost inevitable.


From Financial Times

Gaddafi’s LatAm allies tread carefully
By John Paul Rathbone in London

Published: February 25 2011 15:33 | Last updated: February 25 2011 15:33

The upheaval in Libya has put Muammer Gaddafi’s traditional Latin American leftist allies in an awkward bind, with Venezuela and Cuba taking care not to endorse the Libyan leader but warning that the US might use the situation to topple the regime and seize Libyan oil reserves.

“They are creating conditions to justify an invasion of Libya,” Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro said, echoing a newspaper column written by Fidel Castro this week that accused Washington and its allies of wanting to create a movement aimed at overturning Col Gaddafi.

Libya is going through difficult times, which should not be measured with information from imperial news agencies,” Mr Maduro added. It was another echo of Cuba’s official position, outlined on Wednesday when Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said US media outlets and politicians were “inciting violence” in Libya.

In the past, Latin America’s leftist leaders have found common cause with Col Gaddafi’s revolutionary rhetoric and his opposition to US influence. Col Gaddafi has responded in kind by showering official honours on Cuba’s Fidel Castro, Bolivian president Evo Morales, Nicaraguan leader Daniel Ortega, and especially fellow Opec member Venezuela.

President Hugo Chávez, Mr Gaddafi’s closest ally in Latin America, visited Tripoli on a tour last autumn, was a guest of honour at his 40th anniversary celebrations, and has a football stadium named after him in Tripoli.

“Viva Libya and its independence! Gaddafi is facing civil war,” tweeted Mr Chávez on Thursday, the first time he has referred publicly to the violence in Libya. Mr Chávez, who took office in 1999, has repeatedly accused Washington of conspiring to topple his government.

His government, however, has scoffed at suggestions by British Foreign Minister William Hague that Col Gaddafi had a backup plan to flee to Venezuela, although British newspaper The Daily Telegraph reported on Friday that a local politician believed that one of Col Gaddafi’s sons might already be staying on the Caribbean resort of Margarita Island.

Margarita Island is well known to Col Gaddafi as he attended a summit for South American and African leaders there in 2009, during which he praised Mr Chávez “for having driven out the colonialists” as he had in Libya. Col Gaddafi also went on impromptu shopping trips with his entourage, posing for photographs with shop attendants.

To date, only Nicaragua’s Mr Ortega has publicly supported Col Gaddafi, saying he had kept in close touch with the Libyan leader, offering morale support during “difficult moments [that] put loyalty to the test.” Bolivia has meanwhile expressed concern over “the regrettable loss of lives.”

.Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2011. You may share using our article tools.


From Metz. “Lybia A Country Study.” 1987.


In the late 1980s, Qadhafi continued to perceive himself as a revolutionary leader. Qadhafi has always claimed that the September 1969 overthrow of the monarchy was a popular revolution, not merely a military coup d’état. In fact, only a few military officers and enlisted men took part in the September revolution. Qadhafi reconciled the apparent inconsistency by stressing that the military–and more specifically the Free Officers Movement, whose members took part in the coup and subsequently formed the RCC–shared the humble origins of the people and represented their demands. Qadhafi depicted the military as the vanguard elite of the people, a concept adopted from Marxist-Leninist ideology. But although Qadhafi wanted to be recognized as a revolutionary leader and justified military domination of Libya with the concept of the vanguard elite, he excoriated communism as well as capitalism.

The wellsprings of Qadhafi’s political thought are the Quran and Nasserism. As an ardent admirer of Egypt’s Gamal Abdul Nasser, Qadhafi has never wavered in the conviction that he is Nasser’s legitimate heir. As such, he felt compelled to advance Nasser’s struggle for Arab unity and socialism. Qadhafi was influenced by Nasser’s theory of the concentric Islamic, Arab, and African circles of influence. And Qadhafi, like Nasser, was also influenced by the ideology of the Syrian Baath Party, which advocated Arab unity and socialism.

Qadhafi expanded Nasser’s political thought by emphasizing the Islamic bases of socialism in that the Quran condemns class domination and exploitation. Qadhafi stated that although Islam “cannot be described as socialism in its modern sense, it strives to a certain extent to dissolve the differences among classes.” According to Qadhafi, “almsgiving is the nucleus of the socialist spirit in Islam.” Socialism in Libya was to mean “social justice.” Work, production, and resources were all to be shared fairly, and extreme disparities between rich and poor were to be eliminated. But social hierarchy, as provided for in the Quran, would remain, and class harmony, not class warfare, would be the result. Qadhafi stressed that this socialism, inherent in Islam, was not merely a stage toward communism, as the Marxist theorists would argue.

For Qadhafi as for Nasser, Arab nationalism took primacy over pan-Islamism. Both leaders can be described as secularists, although Qadhafi increasingly emphasized the Islamic roots of his ideology. Yet, his main interest undoubtedly lay in the secular rather than the sacred world. Revolution, the propagation of The Green Book, mass mobilization, and liberation remained his obsessions. “I love the people, all the people,” he proclaimed in a 1986 interview with a French television newscaster published in Jeune Afrique. “I would like the people to vanquish the government, the armies, the police, the parties, and the parliaments,” he said in explanation of his notion of direct democracy in which people rule themselves without the mediation of traditional governmental institutions. “I am the prophet of the revolution and not the prophet of Allah,” Qadhafi declared in the same interview, “for what interests me in this century is that The Green Book become the bible of the modern world.”

The secular basis of Qadhafi’s philosophy was emphasized further by the Libyan adoption of the Baath Party slogan of unity, freedom, and socialism. These ideals were embodied in the first revolutionary pronouncement of September 1, 1969, and reiterated in the Constitutional Proclamation of December 11, 1969. They were afterward refined and modified in response to practical Libyan considerations. The ideal of freedom included the freedom of the nation and its citizens from foreign oppression. Freedom was considered to have been achieved by the revolution and the subsequent negotiations that quickly ended the existence of foreign military bases in Libya. The ideal of freedom also encompassed freedom from want of the basic necessities of life and freedom from poverty, disease, and ignorance. In this regard, the ideal of freedom called for the ideal of socialism.

Libyan socialism has succeeded to the extent that social welfare programs have been subsidized by oil revenues. By all accounts, the Qadhafi regime has succeeded to an impressive degree in fulfilling basic human material needs. Libya has also been relatively successful in achieving economic egalitarianism. To Qadhafi, such equality entails abolishing the conventional employer-employee relationship. Wage labor is regarded as a form of slavery. Similarly, to prevent landlord-tenant relationships, no person may own more than one house. Furthermore, because domestic servants are considered “a type of slave,” the residents of a house should perform their own household work. To achieve economic justice, the slogans of “partners, not wage-earners” and “those who produce, consume” have been proclaimed and, to a significant degree, established.

The Libyan revolutionary ideal of unity was Arab unity, the cause for which Qadhafi was the undisputed champion after the death of Nasser. Qadhafi believed that, through unity, Arabs had achieved greatness during the Middle Ages, when Arab accomplishments in the arts and sciences had overshadowed European counterparts. He further believed that foreign oppression and colonial domination ended Arab unity; until it was restored, the Arab world would suffer injustice and humiliation, as it had when Palestine was lost. Qadhafi believed that the ideal of unity should be realized through practical steps, initial combinations of Arab states providing the nucleus for some form of ultimate unity. Toward this end he initiated unity schemes between Libya and several other countries, but, as of 1987, none of the schemes had been successful. At the 1972 National Congress, Qadhafi likened the role of Libya in unifying the Arab nation to that of Prussia in unifying Germany and to that of Piedmont in unifying Italy.

Although most Arab leaders share or sympathize with Qadhafi’s ideology of Arab unity, most consider as naive his ardent conviction that unity can be accomplished. Despite his transnational orientation, Qadhafi is parochial in his outlook. His beduin background, obviously a critical factor shaping his personality, inculcated a set of values and modes of behavior often at odds with prevailing international norms. Therefore, he has been awkward at diplomatic give-and-take in comparison to other Arab leaders. For Qadhafi, nomadic life is preferable to urban ways because of its simplicity, pervasive sense of egalitarianism, and puritanism unpolluted by modern, largely alien, cultural influences.


From Wikipedia History of Lybia Under Gaddafi

Remaking of the economy was parallel with the attempt to remold political and social institutions. Until the late 1970s, Libya’s economy was mixed, with a large role for private enterprise except in the fields of oil production and distribution, banking, and insurance. But according to volume two of Qadhafi’s Green Book, which appeared in 1978, private retail trade, rent, and wages were forms of “exploitation” that should be abolished. Instead, workers’ self-management committees and profit participation partnerships were to function in public and private enterprises. A property law was passed that forbade ownership of more than one private dwelling, and Libyan workers took control of a large number of companies, turning them into state-run enterprises. Retail and wholesale trading operations were replaced by state-owned “people’s supermarkets”, where Libyans in theory could purchase whatever they needed at low prices. By 1981 the state had also restricted access to individual bank accounts to draw upon privately held funds for government projects.

While measures such as these undoubtedly benefited poorer Libyans, they created resentment and opposition among the newly dispossessed. The latter joined those already alienated, some of whom had begun to leave the country. By 1982 perhaps 50,000 to 100,000 Libyans had gone abroad; because many of the emigrants were among the enterprising and better educated Libyans, they represented a significant loss of managerial and technical expertise.

Libya continued to be plagued with a shortage of skilled labor, which had to be imported along with a broad range of consumer goods, both paid for with petroleum income. This same oil revenue, however, made possible a substantial improvement in the lives of virtually all Libyans. During the 1970s, the government succeeded in making major improvements in the general welfare of its citizens. By the 1980s Libyans enjoyed much improved housing and education, comprehensive social welfare services, and general standards of health that were among the highest in Africa.

Oil Up, Gaddafi Hangs On, Wisconsin Vote/General Strike Coming

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

Is Wisconsin the new Egypt? I don’t think so, at least not yet. Americans are not that hungry or pissed off, well maybe some Tea Party members are, but it takes a lot to get reasonably well paid academic teachers mad enough to want to start throwing bricks. On the other hand, there are plenty of young anarchists and communists willing to throw the first brick. They just need a Seattle-like consensus that now is the time.

There has been talk of a general strike. Now that would be something.

Gaddafi is hanging on in Libya but it seems pretty evident that the opposition have the initiative and people in Libya are simply fed up. I read Gaddafi’s Green book when I was in my twenties. I thought at the time it was a reasonable option, and because he was fighting the good fight against the west and supporting the IRA, Palestinians and such groups, he seemed to be on the side of the people. Too bad it turns out he hasn’t been on the side of his people. Someone like Castro was able to stay in power for so long because people in Cuba benefited from the Communist revolution, although I think he should have retired sooner, if the Cuban people really wanted him to stay, I have nothing against it. Gaddafi evidently has not benefited the people of his country. It seems he was spending his nation’s wealth glad handing Latin American leftist regimes making one wonder exactly what he did stand for. It seems that the green revolution was a failure; his people did not like it.

It is interesting that leftist Latin American Leaders are neutral such as Castro, silent such as the new president of Brazil, or supportive of Gaddafi, such as Ortega in Nicaragua, according to Al Jazeera. Even the USA seems to be waffling when it comes to Libya.
Meanwhile the Libyan people seem to be forming a new government. The UN assistant ambassador has asked for the creation of a no fly zone over Libya and to seize the assets of Gaddafi. It looks like all of eastern Libya is in the hands of the opposition and the western towns are engaged in battles based on today’s news on the BBC, Al Jazeera and the Japanese national news service.
Finally there is an article by an Egyptian who wishes a revolution against neoliberalism here in the USA.


Wisconsin Unions Call For General StrikeGrace Wyler|Feb. 22, 2011, 1:15 PM|6,612|89AAA

The South Central Federation of Labor, an umbrella organization representing more than 45,000 workers in Wisconsin, voted last night to endorse a general strike if the state legislature passes Gov. Scott Walker’s budget repair bill, the Wisconsin State Journal reports.

About 100 delegates of the 97-union federation voted unanimously in favor of the strike, and called for the group to start educating its members and affiliates on the “organization and function of a general strike.” There were no details available about how the strike would work or how many workers would take part.

About 68,000 people came out Saturday to protest the bill, which would strip public employee unions of most collective bargaining rights. Protests are now entering a second week but were smaller today as most teachers returned to work.

Wisconsin’s Senate Democrats have not returned to the state from their hideout in Illinois, leaving Republicans to try to lure them back by moving forward on other legislation. Republicans have enough members to be able to vote on measures that don’t spend money, but 20 senators must be present for a vote on spending bills.

So far, there is no prospect of a resolution to the stalemate over Walker’s bill. The Governor, who said Monday that he will not negotiate over the bill, plans to address voters during a “fireside chat” tonight, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The emergency budget repair bill, which includes $165 million in bond refinancing, must be passed by Friday to make sure the state can pay its bills in the 2011 fiscal year. Walker said Tuesday that 1,500 people could lose their jobs by July if the legislation is not passed.


From Christian Science Monitor

Wisconsin Assembly set to vote on budget bill that weakens unions With Wisconsin’s senators still in hiding, the rest of the state’s lawmakers continue to wrangle over a budget bill that would mean big changes for most public employees. Who’ll blink first?

By Mark Guarino, Staff writer / February 24, 2011

Even with the absence of their Democratic counterparts, Wisconsin Senate Republicans pressed forward with the budget repair bill proposed by Gov. Scott Walker and intended to plug a $3.6 billion budget gap over the next two years. But critics say it’s nothing more than union-busting.

The floor debate started Tuesday and continued through Thursday, making it possible the state Assembly may vote late Thursday.

While some 70,000 advocates on both sides swarmed the Capitol in Madison over the past week, debate over the bill reached a historic milestone. At noon Thursday, discussions passed the 48-hour mark, making it the longest continuous legislative debate in the state in living memory.

There is no end in sight.

The 14 Senate Democrats remain in Illinois, where they say they will stay to prevent a quorum, which the 19 Senate Republicans need to bring the bill to the floor for a vote.

Assembly Democrats, meanwhile, are fighting the bill on the floor by debating each amendment, which they hope will prolong the public debate going on outside the state Capitol building and online.

JR Ross, editor of Wisconsin Politics, an online media outlet that covers state news in Madison, describes events so far as “high-stakes poker” for political leaders on both sides of the aisle.

“At this point no one has an end game,” Mr. Ross says. “Everybody has painted themselves into a corner. If the governor blinks, he’s weakened politically going forward. If the Democrats hiding come back and see the bill pass, they’ll have let down thousands of people and become irrelevant for the rest of the session.”

With Democrats saying they have no intention of returning until Governor Walker shows signs of compromise, Republicans are fast-tracking measures that critics say are designed to lure Democrats back into the state.

Senate Republicans approved a bill Thursday requiring voters to show photo identification to vote. Because the bill calls for $2 million in state dollars to educate voters and poll workers, it cannot pass without a quorum. State Democrats have long opposed the issue, but because they know the bill will pass even with their presence, they are not likely to return for the debate.

Even with the governor tight-lipped about compromise, there are signs that Senate Republicans may be more willing.

Earlier this week, Sen. Dale Schultz introduced a “sunset” measure into the budget repair bill that would extend the limits on collective bargaining for just two years.

Besides forcing non-law-enforcement workers to pay more for their pension and health benefits, Walker’s bill removes collective bargaining power on everything but wages, and it forces workers to vote every 12 months to certify their union’s existence.


From Reuters

Oil falls from near $120 on Saudi, Gaddafi rumor

By Gene Ramos and Matthew Robinson

NEW YORK | Thu Feb 24, 2011 6:55pm EST

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Oil sank from 2-1/2-year highs near $120 a barrel on Thursday in strong, late-day profit-taking following an unsubstantiated rumor Muammar Gaddafi had been shot and Saudi Arabia’s assurances it can counter Libyan supply disruptions.

A U.S. official said Washington had no reason to believe the Libyan leader was dead after the rumor swept through oil markets and sent prices tumbling more than $2 a barrel just before settlement.

Prices surged in early activity on news the Libyan revolt had caused large disruptions in the OPEC nation’s oil supplies — potentially up to three-quarters of output — though the scale of the loss could not be confirmed.

Markets had earlier eased on news top OPEC exporter Saudi Arabia was in talks with European refiners affected by the disruption to fill any supply gaps.

“After three days of moving to the upside, the market was prone to profit-taking and then we heard the rumor that Gaddafi was dead,” said Peter Beutel, president of Cameron Hanover in New Canaan, Connecticut.

“It was almost like the fever was breaking anyway, and this was the bucket of water that brought the temperature down quickly.”

Traders said an increase in margin requirements for U.S. crude oil futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange and the Intercontinental Exchange in London also added pressure to prices late in the day.

Brent crude hit $119.79 a barrel — the highest since August 2008 — in early activity then dropped to $110.51 late, marking the widest trading range for the benchmark since September 2008. Brent settled up 11 cents at $111.36 a barrel, dropping more than $1 in post-settlement activity.

U.S. crude settled down 82 cents at $97.28 a barrel, after touching $103.41, the highest since September 2008.

Brent’s performance pushed its premium to U.S. oil, which has been weighed down by large stocks at the Cushing, Oklahoma delivery point for the New York Mercantile Exchange’s U.S. oil contract, out more than a dollar to over $14 a barrel.

As concerns mounted about the impact of higher oil prices on economic growth, the International Energy Agency again called on OPEC to draw on excess oil production capacity if required to counter Libyan supply losses.

The IEA estimates the unrest has cut off 500,000 to 750,000 barrels per day (bpd) of Libyan output. Italian oil company ENI, the biggest foreign operator, estimated 1.2 million bpd of the country’s 1.6 million bpd had been shut down as international firms pull out workers.

Options trade volumes for the New York Mercantile Exchange’s U.S. oil contract hit a record on Wednesday as the unrest sent prices higher, with traders saying bets were being laid for a spike to $120 a barrel by April.

While traders focused on Libya, some support also came after U.S. Energy Information Administration data showed a lower-than-expected build in domestic crude inventories and hefty drawdowns in gasoline and distillate stocks last week.


From Washington Post

Some now question U.S. deal that brought Gaddafi back into diplomatic fold

By Joby Warrick
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 24, 2011; 9:01 PM

In 2003, the Western view of Libya’s autocratic president was much the same as it is now: a dangerously unstable tyrant who slaughters his own people. But late that year, Moammar Gaddafi sent a secret message to a British diplomat saying he was ready to change.

“He wanted to come in from the cold,” said a former senior aide to President George W. Bush who worked in the White House when the request came in. Within months, the Bush administration was actively furthering a U.S. and British diplomatic courtship of the Libyan leader that had begun under President Bill Clinton.

With substantial U.S. backing, Gaddafi publicly abandoned his pursuit of weapons of mass destruction in 2004 and later renounced his support for terrorist groups, a dramatic turnabout that was rewarded with full U.S. diplomatic recognition. Yet while the reforms succeeded in ending Gaddafi’s status as an international pariah, Libyan promises of political reform never materialized. Now, after this week’s violent crackdown on protesters in Tripoli, human rights groups and some Libyan opposition leaders are asking whether the United States was duped in 2003 into propping up one of the world’s most repressive regimes.

In hindsight, the deal struck with Gaddafi did little to help ordinary Libyans, said Aaron David Miller, a Middle East expert at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a Washington research institute.

“We rehabilitated a cruel dictator in the interest of securing American policy gains,” Miller said. Though the policy change had its merits, “It was a devil’s bargain because we essentially said, ‘If you support our policies on war and peace, we’ll give you a pass on human rights,’ ” Miller said.

Others argue that Libyans would likely be no better off today if the deal had not been struck, and indeed, by almost every measure, the perils facing the region would be far worse.

“His nuclear program would still be intact and even further developed, and he would have his missiles and chemical weapons to use as he wishes,” said Elliott Abrams, a former foreign policy adviser to both Bush and President Ronald Reagan. Rejecting Gaddafi’s overture would have left the West without any levers for influencing Libyan behavior, he added. “It would be saying to him, ‘You go on making nuclear weapons and supporting terrorists, and we’ll just make speeches’ ” about human rights, Abrams said.

The deal exemplified Gaddafi’s ability to command international attention, in part because of Libya’s oil resources, but also because Gaddafi pursued advanced weapons, supported terrorist groups and put himself forward as the leader of an entire continent.

Gaddafi’s surprise diplomatic overture to the West in 2003 came at a time when his country was struggling economically under U.N. economic sanctions and locked in a state of perpetual conflict with the world’s only superpower. The United States had bombed Libya in the 1980s in retaliation for Libyan-backed terrorist attacks, and Washington was pushing for hundreds of millions of dollars in restitution payments for Libya’s role in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over the Scottish town of Lockerbie. At the time, Gaddafi had also just witnessed a devastating display of U.S military might in Iraq, as U.S.-led forces crushed Saddam Hussein’s army in less than three weeks.

The initial contact with British diplomats in 2004 led to a U.S.-brokered deal that would eventually lead to political rehabilitation for Gaddafi and his government in return for dismantling programs to build nuclear and chemical weapons and advanced missiles.

“We had a huge bonanza: cooperation on counter-terrorism and on the problem of weapons proliferation,” said David L. Mack, a former U.S. ambassador to the Middle East and a deputy secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs. “The Libyans gave us the keys to the whole A.Q. Khan network,” said Mack, referring to the international nuclear smuggling ring led by Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan.

Abrams, who in 2003 was the top Middle East adviser to the Bush administration’s National Security Council, acknowledged that White House demands for Libyan political reform were “muted,” despite the intense pressure applied by the administration on other Middle Eastern governments to allow greater political freedom.

“We had just cut a deal with this guy. It would have been wrong to immediately start firing at him verbally,” Abrams said. He added that administration officials did begin engaging with other members of Gaddafi’s family and senior staff - including his Western-educated son, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi - to win support for the gradual introduction of reforms.

The lack of progress in those efforts was underscored by this week’s violence, which Middle East experts said demonstrated how little Gaddafi’s domestic policies had changed in the six years since Libya normalized relations with the United States in 2006. Then, as now, Gaddafi wielded absolute power and sought to crush potential rivals from tribal, political or religious groups opposed to his one-man rule.


From Al Jazeera

A revolution against neoliberalism?

If rebellion results in a retrenchment of neoliberalism, millions will feel cheated.

‘Abu Atris’ Last Modified: 24 Feb 2011 17:04 GMT

Ahmed Ezz, one of several NDP officials arrested since Egypt’s revolution began [EPA]
On February 16th I read a comment was posted on the wall of the Kullina Khalid Saed (”We are all Khaled Said”) Facebook page administered by the now very famous Wael Ghonim. By that time it had been there for about 21 hours. The comment referred to a news item reporting that European governments were under pressure to freeze bank accounts of recently deposed members of the Mubarak regime. The comment said: “Excellent news … we do not want to take revenge on anyone … it is the right of all of us to hold to account any person who has wronged this nation. By law we want the nation’s money that has been stolen … because this is the money of Egyptians, 40% of whom live below the poverty line.”

By the time I unpacked this thread of conversation, 5,999 people had clicked the “like” button, and about 5,500 had left comments. I have not attempted the herculean task of reading all five thousand odd comments (and no doubt more are being added as I write), but a fairly lengthy survey left no doubt that most of the comments were made by people who clicked the “like” icon on the Facebook page. There were also a few by regime supporters, and others by people who dislike the personality cult that has emerged around Mr. Ghoneim.

This Facebook thread is symptomatic of the moment. Now that the Mubarak regime has fallen, an urge to account for its crimes and to identify its accomplices has come to the fore. The chants, songs, and poetry performed in Midan al-Tahrir always contained an element of anger against haramiyya (thieves) who benefited from regime corruption. Now lists of regime supporters are circulating in the press and blogosphere. Mubarak and his closest relatives (sons Gamal and ‘Ala’) are always at the head of these lists. Articles on their personal wealth give figures as low as $3 billion to as high as $70 billion (the higher number was repeated on many protesters’ signs). Ahmad Ezz, the General Secretary of the deposed National Democratic Party and the largest steel magnate in the Middle East, is supposed to be worth $18 billion; Zohayr Garana, former Minister of Tourism, $13 billion; Ahmad al-Maghrabi, former Minister of Housing, $11 billion; former Minister of Interior Habib Adli, much hated for his supervision of an incredibly abusive police state, also managed to amass $8 billion — not bad for a lifetime civil servant.

Such figures may prove to be inaccurate. They may be too low, or maybe too high, and we may never know precisely because much of the money is outside of Egypt, and foreign governments will only investigate the financial dealings of Mubarak regime members if the Egyptian government makes a formal request for them to do so. Whatever the true numbers, the corruption of the Mubarak regime is not in doubt. The lowest figure quoted for Mubarak’s personal wealth, of “only” $3 billion, is damning enough for a man who entered the air force in 1950 at the age of twenty two, embarking on a sixty-year career in “public service.”

A systemic problem

The hunt for regime cronies’ billions may be a natural inclination of the post-Mubarak era, but it could also lead astray efforts to reconstitute the political system. The generals who now rule Egypt are obviously happy to let the politicians take the heat. Their names were not included in the lists of the most egregiously corrupt individuals of the Mubarak era, though in fact the upper echelons of the military have long been beneficiaries of a system similar to (and sometimes overlapping with) the one that that enriched civilian figures much more prominent in the public eye such as Ahmad Ezz and Habib al-Adly.

Despite macroeconomic gains, tens of millions of Egyptians still live in poverty [EPA]
To describe blatant exploitation of the political system for personal gain as corruption misses the forest for the trees. Such exploitation is surely an outrage against Egyptian citizens, but calling it corruption suggests that the problem is aberrations from a system that would otherwise function smoothly. If this were the case then the crimes of the Mubarak regime could be attributed simply to bad character: change the people and the problems go away. But the real problem with the regime was not necessarily that high-ranking members of the government were thieves in an ordinary sense. They did not necessarily steal directly from the treasury. Rather they were enriched through a conflation of politics and business under the guise of privatization. This was less a violation of the system than business as usual. Mubarak’s Egypt, in a nutshell, was a quintessential neoliberal state.

What is neoliberalism? In his Brief History of Neoliberalism, the eminent social geographer David Harvey outlined “a theory of political economic practices that proposes that human well-being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterised by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade.” Neoliberal states guarantee, by force if necessary, the “proper functioning” of markets; where markets do not exist (for example, in the use of land, water, education, health care, social security, or environmental pollution), then the state should create them.

Guaranteeing the sanctity of markets is supposed to be the limit of legitimate state functions, and state interventions should always be subordinate to markets. All human behavior, and not just the production of goods and services, can be reduced to market transactions.

And the application of utopian neoliberalism in the real world leads to deformed societies as surely as the application of utopian communism did.

Rhetoric vs. reality

Two observations about Egypt’s history as a neoliberal state are in order. First, Mubarak’s Egypt was considered to be at the forefront of instituting neoliberal policies in the Middle East (not un-coincidentally, so was Ben Ali’s Tunisia). Secondly, the reality of Egypt’s political economy during the Mubarak era was very different than the rhetoric, as was the case in every other neoliberal state from Chile to Indonesia. Political scientist Timothy Mitchell published a revealing essay about Egypt’s brand of neoliberalism in his book Rule of Experts (the chapter titled “Dreamland” — named after a housing development built by Ahmad Bahgat, one of the Mubarak cronies now discredited by the fall of the regime). The gist of Mitchell’s portrait of Egyptian neoliberalism was that while Egypt was lauded by institutions such as the International Monetary Fund as a beacon of free-market success, the standard tools for measuring economies gave a grossly inadequate picture of the Egyptian economy. In reality the unfettering of markets and agenda of privatization were applied unevenly at best.

The only people for whom Egyptian neoliberalism worked “by the book” were the most vulnerable members of society, and their experience with neoliberalism was not a pretty picture. Organised labor was fiercely suppressed. The public education and the health care systems were gutted by a combination of neglect and privatization. Much of the population suffered stagnant or falling wages relative to inflation. Official unemployment was estimated at approximately 9.4% last year (and much higher for the youth who spearheaded the January 25th Revolution), and about 20% of the population is said to live below a poverty line defined as $2 per day per person.

For the wealthy, the rules were very different. Egypt did not so much shrink its public sector, as neoliberal doctrine would have it, as it reallocated public resources for the benefit of a small and already affluent elite. Privatization provided windfalls for politically well-connected individuals who could purchase state-owned assets for much less than their market value, or monopolise rents from such diverse sources as tourism and foreign aid. Huge proportions of the profits made by companies that supplied basic construction materials like steel and cement came from government contracts, a proportion of which in turn were related to aid from foreign governments.

Most importantly, the very limited function for the state recommended by neoliberal doctrine in the abstract was turned on its head in reality. In Mubarak’s Egypt business and government were so tightly intertwined that it was often difficult for an outside observer to tease them apart. Since political connections were the surest route to astronomical profits, businessmen had powerful incentives to buy political office in the phony elections run by the ruling National Democratic Party. Whatever competition there was for seats in the Peoples’ Assembly and Consultative Council took place mainly within the NDP. Non-NDP representation in parliament by opposition parties was strictly a matter of the political calculations made for a given elections: let in a few independent candidates known to be affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood in 2005 (and set off tremors of fear in Washington); dictate total NDP domination in 2010 (and clear the path for an expected new round of distributing public assets to “private” investors).

Parallels with America

The political economy of the Mubarak regime was shaped by many currents in Egypt’s own history, but its broad outlines were by no means unique. Similar stories can be told throughout the rest of the Middle East, Latin America, Asia, Europe and Africa. Everywhere neoliberalism has been tried, the results are similar: living up to the utopian ideal is impossible; formal measures of economic activity mask huge disparities in the fortunes of the rich and poor; elites become “masters of the universe,” using force to defend their prerogatives, and manipulating the economy to their advantage, but never living in anything resembling the heavily marketised worlds that are imposed on the poor.

Unemployment was a major grievance for millions of Egyptian protesters [EPA]
The story should sound familiar to Americans as well. For example, the vast fortunes of Bush era cabinet members Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, through their involvement with companies like Halliburton and Gilead Sciences, are the product of a political system that allows them — more or less legally — to have one foot planted in “business” and another in “government” to the point that the distinction between them becomes blurred. Politicians move from the office to the boardroom to the lobbying organization and back again.

As neoliberal dogma disallows any legitimate role for government other than guarding the sanctity of free markets, recent American history has been marked by the steady privatization of services and resources formerly supplied or controlled by the government. But it is inevitably those with closest access to the government who are best positioned to profit from government campaigns to sell off the functions it formerly performed. It is not just Republicans who are implicated in this systemic corruption. Clinton-era Secretary of Treasury Robert Rubin’s involvement with Citigroup does not bear close scrutiny. Lawrence Summers gave crucial support for the deregulation of financial derivatives contracts while Secretary of Treasury under Clinton, and profited handsomely from companies involved in the same practices while working for Obama (and of course deregulated derivatives were a key element in the financial crisis that led to a massive Federal bailout of the entire banking industry).

So in Egyptian terms, when General Secretary of the NDP Ahmad Ezz cornered the market on steel and was given contracts to build public-private construction projects, or when former Minister of Parliament Talaat Mustafa purchased vast tracts of land for the upscale Madinaty housing development without having to engage in a competitive bidding process (but with the benefit of state-provided road and utility infrastructure), they may have been practicing corruption logically and morally. But what they were doing was also as American as apple pie, at least within the scope of the past two decades.

However, in the current climate the most important thing is not the depredations of deposed Mubarak regime cronies. It is rather the role of the military in the political system. It is the army that now rules the country, albeit as a transitional power, or so most Egyptians hope. No representatives of the upper echelons of the Egyptian military appear on the various lists of old-regime allies who need to be called to account. For example, the headline of the February 17th edition of Ahrar, the press organ of the Liberal party, was emblazoned with the headline “Financial Reserves of the Corrupt Total 700 Billion Pounds [about $118 billion] in 18 Countries.”

A vast economic powerhouse

But the article did not say a single word about the place of the military in this epic theft. The military were nonetheless part of the crony capitalism of the Mubarak era. After relatively short careers in the military high-ranking officers are rewarded with such perks as highly remunerative positions on the management boards of housing projects and shopping malls. Some of these are essentially public-sector companies transferred to the military sector when IMF-mandated structural adjustment programs required reductions in the civilian public sector.

But the generals also receive plums from the private sector. Military spending itself was also lucrative because it included both a state budget and contracts with American companies that provided hardware and technical expertise. The United States provided much of the financing for this spending under rules that required a great deal of the money to be recycled to American corporations, but all such deals required middlemen. Who better to act as an intermediary for American foreign aid contracts than men from the very same military designated as the recipient of the services paid for by this aid? In this respect the Egyptian military-industrial complex was again stealing a page from the American playbook; indeed, to the extent that the Egyptian military benefited from American foreign aid, Egypt was part of the American military-industrial complex, which is famous for its revolving-door system of recycling retired military men as lobbyists and employees of defense contractors.

Consequently it is almost unthinkable that the generals of the Supreme Military Council will willingly allow more than cosmetic changes in the political economy of Egypt. But they could be compelled to do so unwillingly. The army is a blunt force, not well suited for controlling crowds of demonstrators. The latest statement of the Supreme Military Council reiterated both the legitimacy of the pro-democracy movements demands, and the requirement that demonstrations cease so that the country can get back to work. If demonstrations continue to the point that the Supreme Military Council feels it can no longer tolerate them, then the soldiers who will be ordered to put them down (indeed, in some accounts were already ordered to put them down early in the revolution and refused to do so) with deadly force, are not the generals who were part of the Mubarak-era corruption, but conscripts.

Pro-democracy demonstrators and their sympathisers often repeated the slogans “the army and the people are one hand,” and “the army is from us.” They had the conscripts in mind, and many were unaware of how stark differences were between the interests of the soldiers and the generals. Between the conscripts and the generals is a middle-level professional officer corps whose loyalties have been the subject of much speculation. The generals, for their part, want to maintain their privileges, but not to rule directly. Protracted direct rule leaves the officers of the Supreme Military Council vulnerable to challenges from other officers who were left on the outside. Also, direct rule would make it impossible to hide that the elite officers are not in fact part of the “single hand” composed of the people and the (conscript) army. They are instead logically in the same camp as Ahmad Ezz, Safwat al-Sharif, Gamal Mubarak, and Habib al-Adly — precisely the names on those lists making the rounds of regime members and cronies who should face judgment.

Ultimately the intense speculation about how much money the Mubarak regime stole, and how much the people can expect to pump back into the nation, is a red herring. If the figure turns out to be $50 billion or $500 billion, it will not matter, if Egypt remains a neoliberal state dedicated (nominally) to free-market fundamentalism for the poor, while creating new privatised assets that can be recycled to political insiders for the rich. If one seeks clues to how deeply the January 25th Revolution will restructure Egypt, it would be better to look at such issues as what sort of advice the interim government of generals solicits in fulfilling its mandate to re-make Egyptian government. The period of military government probably will be as short as advertised, followed, one hopes, by an interim civilian government for some specified period (at least two years) during which political parties are allowed to organise on the ground in preparation for free elections. But interim governments have a way of becoming permanent.

Technocrats or ideologues?

One sometimes hears calls to set up a government of “technocrats” that would assume the practical matters of governance. “Technocrat” sounds neutral — a technical expert who would make decisions on “scientific” principle. The term was often applied to Yusuf Butros Ghali, for example, the former Minister of the Treasury, who was one of the Gamal Mubarak boys brought into the cabinet in 2006 ostensibly to smooth the way for the President’s son to assume power. Ghali is now accused of having appropriated LE 450 million for the use of Ahmad Ezz.

I once sat next to Ghali at a dinner during one of his trips abroad, and had the opportunity to ask him when the Egyptian government would be ready to have free elections. His response was to trot out the now discredited regime line that elections were impossible because actual democracy would result in the Muslim Brotherhood taking power. Conceivably Ghali will beat the charge of specifically funneling the state’s money to Ahmad Ezz. But as a key architect of Egypt’s privatization programs he cannot possibly have been unaware that he was facilitating a system that enabled the Ezz steel empire while simultaneously destroying Egypt’s educational and health care systems.

The Egyptian army controls a range of businesses, ranging from factories to hotels [EPA]
The last time I encountered the word “technocrat” was in Naomi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine — a searing indictment of neoliberalism which argues that the free-market fundamentalism promoted by economist Milton Friedman (and immensely influential in the United States) is predicated on restructuring economies in the wake of catastrophic disruptions because normally functioning societies and political systems would never vote for it. Disruptions can be natural or man-made, such as … revolutions.

The chapters in The Shock Doctrine on Poland, Russia, and South Africa make interesting reading in the context of Egypt’s revolution. In each case when governments (communist or apartheid) collapsed, “technocrats” were brought in to help run countries that were suddenly without functional governments, and create the institutional infrastructure for their successors. The technocrats always seemed to have dispensed a form of what Klein calls “shock therapy” — the imposition of sweeping privatization programs before dazed populations could consider their options and potentially vote for less ideologically pure options that are in their own interests.

The last great wave of revolutions occurred in 1989. The governments that were collapsing then were communist, and the replacement in that “shock moment” of one extreme economic system with its opposite seemed predictable and to many even natural.

One of the things that make the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions potentially important on a global scale is that they took place in states that were already neoliberalised. The complete failure of neoliberalsm to deliver “human well-being” to a large majority of Egyptians was one of the prime causes of the revolution, at least in the sense of helping to prime millions of people who were not connected to social media to enter the streets on the side of the pro-democracy activists.

But the January 25th Revolution is still a “shock moment.” We hear calls to bring in the technocrats in order to revive a dazed economy; and we are told every day that the situation is fluid, and that there is a power vacuum in the wake of not just the disgraced NDP, but also the largely discredited legal opposition parties, which played no role whatsoever in the January 25th Revolution. In this context the generals are probably happy with all the talk about reclaiming the money stolen by the regime, because the flip side of that coin is a related current of worry about the state of the economy. The notion that the economy is in ruins — tourists staying away, investor confidence shattered, employment in the construction sector at a standstill, many industries and businesses operating at far less than full capacity — could well be the single most dangerous rationale for imposing cosmetic reforms that leave the incestuous relation between governance and business intact.

Or worse, if the pro-democracy movement lets itself be stampeded by the “economic ruin” narrative, structures could be put in place by “technocrats” under the aegis of the military transitional government that would tie the eventual civilian government into actually quickening the pace of privatization. Ideologues, including those of the neoliberal stripe, are prone to a witchcraft mode of thinking: if the spell does not work, it is not the fault of the magic, but rather the fault of the shaman who performed the spell. In other words, the logic could be that it was not neoliberalism that ruined Mubarak’s Egypt, but the faulty application of neoliberalism.

Trial balloons for this witchcraft narrative are already being floated outside of Egypt. The New York Times ran an article on February 17th casting the military as a regressive force opposed to privatization and seeking a return to Nasserist statism. The article pits the ostensibly “good side” of the Mubarak regime (privatization programs) against bad old Arab socialism, completely ignoring the fact that while the system of military privilege may preserve some public-sector resources transferred from the civilian economy under pressure of IMF structural adjustment programs, the empire of the generals is hardly limited to a ring-fenced quasi-underground public sector.

Officers were also rewarded with private-sector perks; civilian political/business empires mixed public and private roles to the point that what was government and what was private were indistinguishable; both the military and civilians raked in rents from foreign aid. The generals may well prefer a new round of neoliberal witchcraft. More privatization will simply free up assets and rents that only the politically connected (including the generals) can acquire. Fixing a failed neoliberal state by more stringent applications of neoliberalism could be the surest way for them to preserve their privileges.

A neoliberal fix would, however, be a tragedy for the pro-democracy movement. The demands of the protesters were clear and largely political: remove the regime; end the emergency law; stop state torture; hold free and fair elections. But implicit in these demands from the beginning (and decisive by the end) was an expectation of greater social and economic justice. Social media may have helped organise the kernel of a movement that eventually overthrew Mubarak, but a large element of what got enough people into the streets to finally overwhelm the state security forces was economic grievances that are intrinsic to neoliberalism. These grievances cannot be reduced to grinding poverty, for revolutions are never carried out by the poorest of the poor. It was rather the erosion of a sense that some human spheres should be outside the logic of markets. Mubarak’s Egypt degraded schools and hospitals, and guaranteed grossly inadequate wages, particularly in the ever-expanding private sector. This was what turned hundreds of dedicated activists into millions of determined protestors.

If the January 25th revolution results in no more than a retrenchment of neoliberalism, or even its intensification, those millions will have been cheated. The rest of the world could be cheated as well. Egypt and Tunisia are the first nations to carry out successful revolutions against neoliberal regimes. Americans could learn from Egypt. Indeed, there are signs that they already are doing so. Wisconsin teachers protesting against their governor’s attempts to remove the right to collective bargaining have carried signs equating Mubarak with their governor. Egyptians might well say to America ‘uqbalak (may you be the next).

Stand Off Between Labor & States

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

There is an anarchist chant that goes ‘No War but Class War,’ I remember we chanted it at the big anti- war march in Feb. 2003. It seems that social conditions are such that the slogan might become a reality, at least in the Midwest where Union workers and supporters are protesting attempts by Republican state governors to end collective bargaining and force unions to get certified every year. The battle is going on in Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana now. Democrats have left the legislatures in Wisconsin and Indiana without a quorum so that they will not be able to vote on the anti-union legislation.

The struggle is one over the ability of workers to associate and defend themselves from management. In this case it is public workers in the States which now form the backbone of the American union movement. If they are crushed there won’t be much of a union movement left in the USA. This is why it is critical that unions make a stand and do not let the right wing destroy the public unions. Once they are gone then much of the organized clout on the left in the USA will have disappeared. This is a critical moment.


From BBC

22 February 2011 Last updated at 12:07 ET

US union protests: Demonstrations move beyond Wisconsin Protesters spent the night in the Wisconsin capitol building, preparing for an eighth day of picketing Continue reading the main story

Union unrest is spreading through the mid-western US, as labour activists in at least three states protest against pending anti-union legislation.

Thousands of protesters were expected to gather in Ohio and Indiana and, for the second week in a row, Wisconsin.

Republican-led governments there have argued the moves are needed to balance state budgets wracked by deficits.

But Democratic-leaning unions say fiscal woes are being used as an excuse to erode collective bargaining rights.

‘Anti-worker agenda’

In Indiana, local media reported that House Democrats were leaving the state to block votes on labour bills.

The Indiana House came into session on Tuesday morning with only two of the 40 Democrats present, depriving the chamber of a quorum to do business, the Indianapolis Star newspaper reported.

The Republican-led Indiana state government has vowed to push a bill that would curtail private-sector unions by forbidding employers from requiring workers to pay union dues, a standard provision of union labour contracts.

In Ohio, between 4,000 and 20,000 labour union activists and supporters were expected to rally in the state capital of Columbus on Tuesday.

They will protest against legislation backed by Republican Governor John Kasich that would restrict public employees’ collective bargaining rights.

“This isn’t just public-service workers,” Andy Richardson, a spokesman in Ohio for labour union AFL-CIO, told the Columbus Dispatch newspaper.

“It’s students, community leaders, faith leaders, your neighbours and others who are concerned about this bill and the general anti-worker agenda of Kasich and his allies.”

Budget deficit

In Wisconsin, Republican Governor Scott Walker on Tuesday threatened to begin involuntary redundancies of state workers as early as next week if the legislature did not soon approve a bill stripping them of most collective bargaining rights.

He has said he will not back down in the face of tens of thousands of union workers and their supporters who have massed in the capital since last week.

The bill Governor Walker and the Republican legislative majority back would also require state workers to contribute more to pension and healthcare coverage.

It had been expected to pass the legislature last week, but in a move intended to stall the bill’s passage and force its backers to negotiate, Senate opposition Democrats left the capitol, denying the Senate a quorum needed for a vote.

They have fled to neighbouring Illinois and have said they will not return until Mr Walker agrees to talks.

Wisconsin faces a $3.6bn (£2.23bn) budget deficit in the coming two-year period. The public employee bill is expected to save $300m in that period.


From Washington Post

State budget woes draw more protests

By Ariana Eunjung Cha
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 22, 2011; 1:50 PM

The standoff in Wisconsin over budget cuts spread to other states on Tuesday as union leaders began to organize protests in other capitols and Democrats in a second state, Indiana, effectively staged a walkout.
State budget woes draw more protests
Ezra Klein: In Wisconsin, the real struggle is over power

In Wisconsin, Republican state legislators attempted to lure Democrats back to the capitol by scheduling a vote on another bill that Democrats want to kill.

The Republican gambit didn’t work. The 14 Senate Democrats who fled last week to prevent a vote on a budget-fix bill that would cut into union benefits and rights stayed away on Tuesday.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, a Republican, had threatened to push forward a committee vote on a bill that would require voters to show ID - a measure that Democrats had fought for years because they argued it could make it more difficult for minorities and the elderly to vote.

Fitzgerald said that in the Democrats’ absence the remaining legislators had no choice but to go forward with business as usual. Even though the Democrats “are not here to represent their constituents,” he said, “we’re here to work.”

Thousands have converged on the state capitol over the past week to protest Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s budget plan, which would strip most public employees of collective-bargaining rights. The conflict may escalate in the coming days. Walker issued a warning to state employees on Monday that they could receive layoff notices as early as next week if there’s no agreement to his plan to roll back benefits for public workers to make up for budget shortfalls.

National Democrats have thrown their weight behind the Wisconsin protestors. Sen. Charles Schumer (D.-N.Y.) e-mailed supporters asking them to help raise money to elect more Democrats to the Wisconsin legislature. “If you support collective-bargaining rights, join me in making a contribution to help elect more Democrats to the Wisconsin State Senate and show Governor Walker he can’t take us back to the 1920s,” he wrote. “This is an important fight that could be a turning point for workers across America. We need to stand together on this.”

Other states with fiscal shortfalls were monitoring the situation in Wisconsin closely as they braced for their own clashes over budget cuts.

In Ohio, pro-union demonstrators began gathering in Columbus as the legislature discusses a bill that may end collective bargaining for state workers.

In Indiana, House Republicans showed up at the capitol on Tuesday to find no Democrats. The lawmakers were trying to block a bill backed by Republicans that they say would restrict private-sector union rights. Without the Democrats, the Republicans lack a two-thirds majority needed for a quorum.

And in New Jersey, where Gov. Chris Christie is scheduled to unveil a state budget Tuesday at 2 p.m. after months of saying he plans to reform pension and health benefits for public workers, unions were watching.


From The Week

Wisconsin’s protests: ‘Class war’? The unrest in Wisconsin is about more than the state’s budget, argues Paul Krugman in The New York Times. It’s a major power grab by Big Money politiciansposted on February 22, 2011, at 10:23 AMProtesters react to Gov. Scott Walker’s (R-Wis.) appearance Monday; the Republican governor has said he’s willing to hold out longer to ensure his controversial union bill passes.

Only one player in the Wisconsin showdown over public-employee union bargaining rights is refusing to budge: Gov. Scott Walker (R), who wants to gut those rights. That’s because this “isn’t about the state budget, despite Mr. Walker’s pretense that he’s just trying to be fiscally responsible,” argues Paul Krugman in The New York Times. It’s about destroying unions, and making America “less of a functioning democracy and more of a third-world-style oligarchy.” Anyone who thinks we need to counter-balance the “political power of big money” should support the protesters. Is Krugman’s “class war” argument persuasive?

Gut unions and the middle class pays: Unions aren’t perfect, says Kevin Drum in Mother Jones. But they really are “the only large-scale movement left that persistently acts in the economic interests of the middle class.” Walker and other conservatives “argue that labor unions simply shouldn’t exist” — but look at the loss of middle class earning power as private-sector unions have all but disappeared over the past 30 years. That’s no coincidence.

“Why we need unions”
This is unions vs. taxpayers, not rich vs. poor: “Even if you acknowledge the importance of unions in representing middle-class interests, there are strong arguments on Walker’s side,” says David Brooks in The New York Times. Public-sector unions are “very different creatures” from private-sector ones, since public unions “push against the interests of taxpayers,” not shareholders, and help elect their own bosses. Wisconsin can’t afford such an expensive “luxury” anymore.

“Make everybody hurt”
This affects all workers: “You can’t separate public and private unions,” says Ezra Klein in The Washington Post. They are both about self-interested workers negotiating with self-interested management, period. Taxpayers pay when public-sector employees get raises, and consumers pay when private workers get salary bumps. But we all “reap many of the benefits” from unionization: Weekends, safe workplaces, health care… Good or bad, that’s what is at stake here.
“You can’t separate public and private unions”

Republican Budget Cuts A Sirens Call

Monday, February 21st, 2011

There are those who think that the government is a beast that needs to be tamed with a meat cleaver taken to its many arms. Sort of like the Lernean Hydra, when one head was cut off, two would grow in its place. This is the beast that the right wingers want to tame. They are calling it the budget deficit but it is really their fantasy of the evils of government which they claim is going to keep them from the promised land of Constitutional Republicanism and wealth for all the good hard working Christian volk.

This fantasy is driving them to cut off their nose to spite their faces to continue with the cutting metaphor. Why oh why are they doing this? Are they seeking some sort of John Wayne world where each man stands tall in the saddle and is the toughest, meanest, bastard in the valley? But then there is the influence of the Church and the woman and children to tame the beast and bring some warmth and softness to this macho version of the world. What a vision, like a rerun of a 50’s TV show.

Throughout history people have been making choices about how they want to live. The Roman Emperor Vespasian “To a mechanical engineer, who promised to transport some heavy columns to the capitol at small expense, he gave no mean reward for his invention, but refused to make use of it, saying: “You must let me feed my poor commons” ” (Suetonius XVIII). By commons he meant, the poor citizens of Rome. This was a deliberate choice to avoid a labor saving device. Roman policy saw social peace as being more important than economic efficiency. Perhaps that is one reason why the empire lasted as long as it did.

Since the late 18th century the illusion of the free market has been tempting the helmsmen of the ship of state like so many Sirens. Odysseus had himself tied to the ships mast to keep from following their tempting song. His crew had to stuff their ears with beeswax, and then they were able to pass by the temptation, we should be so lucky. Obama is now being tempted by the Republican Sirens who are trying to lure the ship of state into the dangerous waters of their so called free market. We must resist, we must stop up our ears and refuse to listen.

I am not an advocate of a powerful state in and of itself. I am constitutionally an anarchist but life experience has taught me that we need a structure that ensures that the weakest of us are well cared for. As I now fall into that category, having a severe disability that ties me directly into what would be called the welfare state, it has become incumbent upon me to defend those aspects of the state that are in my self-interest to protect. Medicare and Social Security, are two state functions that are essential to my continued survival. As a rational human being I can extrapolate from my own self-interest to that of my fellow human beings and with that in mind, like Emperor Vespasian I say provide for the commons, and don’t let the ship of state flounder on the shoals of a land where sirens call for economies, and whine about debt.

Remember the British Empire thrived on debt. After the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 their debt was 250% of the national annual income. The debt for the century until World War 1 averaged over 25% of national annual income. The British Empire ruled the seas and was at its greatest extent at that time. We should be so lucky.


Washington Post Editorial

Bad budgeting from House Republicans

Monday, February 21, 2011

THERE ARE smarter ways to cut government spending and dumber ways. Then there is the House Republican way - arbitrary, shortsighted and self-defeating.

The Republicans are insisting on cutting spending by $61 billion for the rest of this fiscal year. Why that number? Because lawmakers have determined cuts of that magnitude make sense for the budget and the economy? No. The arbitrary number derives from an arbitrary campaign pledge to cut $100 billion in discretionary spending from the level President Obama requested. House leaders say that the $61 billion below 2010 spending levels fulfills that pledge.

It makes little sense to focus entirely on discretionary, non-security spending, which accounts for a small slice of the budget. At the same time, such spending has increased significantly in the past few years. This category cannot be exempted from cuts. But cuts of the magnitude in the House Republican proposal would be unwise, especially when the economic recovery is still faltering. In one indication of how excessive these reductions are, consider that the original proposal put forward by the Republican leadership envisioned $35 billion in cuts. These reductions would be even more disruptive because one-third of the fiscal year has already elapsed. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities calculates that non-security discretionary spending would be cut by nearly 14 percent. But spreading that over the remainder of the fiscal year would mean slashing spending by an average of 24 percent.

This is no way to cut a government. Policymakers need to figure out what government requires to operate and budget from there - not lop off arbitrary sums. As Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates put it, ‘”Suggestions to cut defense by this or that large number have largely become exercises in simple math, divorced from serious considerations of capabilities, risk, and the level of resources needed to protect this country’s security and vital interests around the world.”

The top priority must be public safety, here and abroad. When Mr. Gates says that the Republican budget falls short of what he needs, he has the budget-cutting bona fides to be taken seriously. Likewise, slashing the State Department’s humanitarian aid budget by 41 percent is not in the long-term interests of the United States.

As shortsighted as these national security cutbacks are punishing cuts to domestic agencies that protect public health and safety. If anything, the Food and Drug Administration is underfunded; the Republican budget would cut funding by $241 million below 2010 levels and $400 million below the Obama administration’s 2011 request. The financial crisis underscored the importance of effective regulation, and the recent financial services law imposes new responsibilities on agencies such as the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodities Futures Trading Commission; instead of providing new money for the agencies to do their jobs properly, the Republican budget would cut $25 million from the SEC and an astonishing $57 million from the CFTC, one-third of its budget. Meanwhile, cutting $285 million from the Internal Revenue Service’s enforcement budget is the ultimate in penny-wise, pound-foolish budgeting. More enforcement would bring in more revenue.

In an era of eye-popping deficits and severe budget constraints, some worthy programs - federal funding for the arts and public broadcasting, for example - may become unaffordable luxuries. Other programs that serve the poor or most vulnerable may face painful cuts. But at the least government has to be funded so that it can perform its core responsibilities. The House GOP budget fails even this basic test.


From Businessweek/Bloomberg

Republican Budget Cuts at Heart of Medical Research: Albert Hunt
February 20, 2011, 11:49 AM EST

U.S. Says a Binding Climate Deal ‘Not on Cards’ This Year
to Business Exchange By Albert R. Hunt

Feb. 21 (Bloomberg) — President Barack Obama’s call for “investments” in education, infrastructure and science and health research is dismissed by most congressional Republicans as a fig leaf for more big-government spending.

That underlies the House’s decision Feb. 19 to slash $61 billion from an array of discretionary spending programs in the current fiscal year budget.

This may make proponents feel good, yet, as almost all budget experts acknowledge, these measures have little to do with addressing America’s fiscal challenges. That would require focusing on entitlements, taxes and defense spending.

If all domestic discretionary spending, about 12 percent of the budget, was eliminated — no Department of Education, no FBI agents, no air-traffic controllers — there still would be a deficit of more than $1 trillion this year.

And some of the cuts entail risks.

These range from slicing foreign aid even as China is expanding its assistance and influence; cutting the staffing at the Securities and Exchange Commission when it has new regulations to enforce and is striving to thwart the next Bernard Madoff; reducing nutritional support for low-income pregnant women and their babies, which demonstrably reduces future health-care costs.

NIH Funding

There is no more telling illustration than the National Institutes of Health, the center of U.S. medical research and the largest such institution in world. House Republicans want to cut NIH funding for the current year by more than $1 billion, to $29.5 billion. Obama proposes a small increase in NIH funding.

While this 5 percent reduction is less severe than other proposals in the Republican budget, it reverses a 15-year bipartisan effort to support medical research. The NIH budget has almost tripled over the last decade and a half.

This was achieved with considerable support from Republicans such as John Porter, who served 21 years as a congressman from Illinois.

“America’s economic destiny depends upon maintaining and enhancing our lead in technology, innovation, science and research,” says Porter, now chairman of Research! America, an advocacy group in Alexandria, Virginia.

He is horrified by what House Republicans want to do to NIH. “These are blind cuts that take us exactly in the wrong direction; they are wrong-headed and short-sighted,” he says.

‘Spending Spree’

Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, demurs; a spokesman for the Wisconsin Republican says the agency has received substantial funding increases in recent years, that the Democrats’ “spending spree” must stop and that priorities need to be set.

With the economy as a priority, says the legendary investor Peter Lynch, health-research spending should be at the top of the agenda. “The NIH has been one of the great elements of our economy,” says Lynch, who managed Fidelity’s Magellan Fund from 1977 to 1990, when assets grew 630-fold. “We should be expanding, not reducing this investment.”

If funding were doubled over seven years for most government programs or agencies — such as the Pentagon or health or housing projects — there would be enormous inefficiencies and fraud as they tried to absorb such a rapid escalation. Almost every serious analysis says the NIH did this without these abuses. More than 70 percent of its budget is devoted to peer-reviewed research grants, of which only about one in five qualified applications are approved. For every dollar of public funding for scientific research, the drug industry gets a $3 return, according to one study.

Fighting Cancer

And the progress in battling disease, especially in recent years, has been noteworthy, with the U.S. leading the way. Heart disease and deaths from strokes are decreasing. For the first time, in 2007, cancer deaths declined. Much of this is owed to the NIH.

“NIH-funded research has revolutionized how we think about cancer,” Francis Collins, the agency’s director, has said, noting that much treatment has gone from reactive to proactive.

Congressman Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, made an impassioned plea on the House floor last week to restore this funding, warning of subsequent health-care costs if research is slowed in areas like Alzheimer’s. The Markey proposal was ruled out of order on procedural grounds.

The House Republicans tend to duck if asked about cutting research for cancer, or Alzheimer’s, or Parkinson’s. Yet it would be very difficult to cut 5 percent from the NIH budget without taking some from the $5.1 billion received by the National Institute on Cancer, or the $1.1 billion for the National Institute on Aging, or the $1.96 billion for the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

‘Absolutely Indispensable’

Future advances in areas like brain science are especially threatened. NIH research is “absolutely indispensible” to breakthroughs in neuroscience, says Guy McKhann, the founding director of the Mind/Brain Institute at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and the former chairman of the department of neurology at the university’s medical school.

McKhann, who once worked at NIH, says young researchers would be most affected by any cuts. “They have excellent training and are ready to start serious research on their own, but there’s not enough money and there’s already pressure for them to go into private practice; there is no replacing them,” he says.

Scientists in Exile

Lynch says that if there are cutbacks these young researchers would have another option that “endangers” America’s lead in this economically critical area: They can go to places like Singapore and China, which are ambitiously expanding health research.

The House action reflects the breakdown of bipartisan support for battling diseases that know no political boundaries. The NIH commands universal respect, as does Collins, its director. He led the Human Genome Project and has been called one of the most accomplished scientists of our time.

This is only the first volley in the budget wars; the Senate, with Republican support, is likely to restore most of the NIH cuts. If Congress subsequently deals with the real deficit issues — contrary to conventional wisdom, a “grand bargain” involving entitlement cuts and tax increases may evolve — the meat-axe approach to medical research can be taken off the table.

(Albert R. Hunt is the executive editor for Washington at Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)


Boycott Oil Companies In Libya

Sunday, February 20th, 2011

A few Oil Companies in Libya, this list may not be current. A lot of companies are owned by the Libyan government. It would be a good idea to get in touch with these companies and tell them to disinvest in Libya or boycott the Libyan companies.

Until the Libyan government stops killing its citizens and negotiates with them, there should be an international boycott of all Libyan oil products and their accounts should be frozen in all international banks.

NIS Petrol - Serbia
Wintershell- Germany BASF
Veba- Germany
Al Waha- NOC (National Oil Corporation of Libya), Conoco, Marathon, Amerada Hess.
Zuetina- NOC (formerly Oxidental)
OMV- Austria
Repsol SA- Spain
ENI Gas- Italy
Arabian Gulf Oil - NOC (formerly BP)
Sirte Oil - NOC
Challenger LTD - Egypt
Tamoil-Olinvest - Netherlands
Akakus Oil - Libya (former Repsol)

New bloodshed reported in Libya as Gadhafi battles protests
By Hannah Allam, Miret el-Naggar, Nancy Youssef and Sahar Issa | McClatchy Newspapers CAIRO, Egypt

— Libyan protesters in the flashpoint city of Benghazi gathered again Sunday to demand the overthrow of President Moammar Gadhafi in an uprising that’s left more than 100 dead and hundreds wounded, according to human rights groups and Libyan activists. Some activists’ unverified casualty figures put the dead at 200 or more.

Gadhafi, known for his anti-Western rhetoric and flamboyant style, has launched a bloody campaign against the wave of revolt that’s already unseated neighboring authoritarian rulers in Tunisia and Egypt and continues to sweep across the region.

The unrest in the oil-rich North African nation is the most serious challenge yet to Gadhafi’s 42-year-old regime, which has used sniper fire and other deadly force to stop the demonstrations, according to witnesses and hospital officials.

Amnesty International, the international human rights advocacy group, warned Sunday against a “spiraling death toll” and urged Gadhafi to “immediately rein in his security forces amid reports of machine guns and other weapons being used against protesters.”

After the success of Tunisian and Egyptian protests, youth-driven, Internet-fueled revolts have erupted in Bahrain, Algeria, Yemen and Iraq, along with smaller demonstrations in several other Arab countries. In almost all the uprisings, demonstrators calling for elected rulers and other reforms face deadly state force and barriers to phone and Internet access.

The rebellion in the Arab world also has energized the opposition in nearby Iran. Thousands of Iranians, responding to opposition leaders’ calls, took to the rainy streets of Tehran and other cities in fresh protests against the hard-line Islamic regime, according to a human rights group and Iranian bloggers.

Demonstrators clashed with security forces on Valiasr Street, the capital’s main thoroughfare, and other areas parts of the city, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran said, quoting telephone interviews with witnesses.

There were unconfirmed reports of security forces firing live ammunition, and unknown numbers of casualties and arrests.

The human rights group and posts by Iranian bloggers on the social networking sites Facebook and Twitter also spoke of clashes in the cities of Shiraz, Hamedan, Isfahan, Tabriz, and Rasht.

The protests were staged in defiance of stern government warnings, with a state news service claiming that protesters were in danger of being shot by armed infiltrators.

Opposition groups called the protests to mark a week since the killing of two people by security forces during demonstrations staged in support of the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.

The protests are the first since the regime crushed months of nationwide demonstrations in late 2009 over a disputed June 2009 presidential election.

Protesters in Bahrain maintained a tentative hold on their encampment in the capital’s main square Sunday, a day after security forces withdrew in the wake of several deadly clashes. Authorities fired live ammunition to disperse the demonstrators, according to witnesses and video footage of the violence. Protesters vowed to stay in the square and fight if the security forces return.

Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al Khalifa, the U.S.-backed monarch whose Sunni government rules over a marginalized Shiite majority, issued an appeal for calm and said the government would meet opposition leaders to discuss reforms.

The Khalifa regime is under international pressure after TV footage and photographs showed Bahraini authorities shooting at protesters, along with images of dead or bloodied protesters piled into an overwhelmed hospital. The outrage mounted when forces also attacked the funerals of slain demonstrators.

In Yemen, hundreds of students gathered Sunday for an eighth day of rallies against the government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who’s led the impoverished nation for 32 years. Over the weekend, at least one protester was killed and seven were injured in clashes with supporters of, according to news reports.
In Algeria, riot police reportedly stopped 500 protesters who’d staged a march through the capital’s city center.

The protests also spread to Iraq, where Kurds and Arabs took to the streets this weekend to demand better services, human rights, investigations into government corruption and other political or economic changes. Sporadic, mostly small protests also have sprung up in Baghdad and in the predominantly Shiite south, where residents are frustrated by the lack of security, jobs and basic services.

In Egypt, a panel of legal experts drafting constitutional amendments to allow more political competition was expected to give a progress report Sunday. A cabinet reshuffle also is imminent, Egyptian officials say, to help appease widespread fears that ousted President Hosni Mubarak’s regime is still intact and angling to reclaim power.

Unlike the Egyptian revolution, which played out on live television, the news from Libya is difficult to verify as the authorities shut out foreign journalists and disrupt Internet service. State media only transmits news of pro-Gadhafi demonstrations. The government hasn’t released casualty figures or made any official comment on the crisis.

Some Libyan protesters have managed to circumvent the media blackout, sending chilling amateur videos and firsthand accounts of the violence to the world via Twitter and Facebook. They’ve also turned to online radio sites that allow anonymous residents to leave audio messages, generally Libyans issuing desperate pleas for international attention and medical assistance.

New messages Sunday on a radio site included purported witness accounts of hospitals in dire need of blood donations, gunfire coming from military vehicles and of youths lobbing Molotov cocktails at Libyan security forces. The callers also accused Gadhfi of dispatching African mercenaries to put down the demonstrations.

In a YouTube video that was labeled as footage from a protest in the northern coastal city of Mesrata, protesters chanted, “The people want the fall of the regime,” the main slogan of the Egyptian revolution. Libyan opposition websites complained that videos of the unrest that are posted online are quickly removed or disabled.

A YouTube video posted Sunday by an anonymous Libyan teacher showed dozens of protesters chanting, “Libya!” in an unnamed city.

A voice is heard yelling, “A man has died because of police bullets! A man has died!” Sobbing, wailing protesters attempt to revive the man before he’s taken from the scene in a car, the footage shows. The protesters then start to run, screaming, “Free Libya! Libya!”

(Allam and special correspondent Naggar reported from Cairo, Youssef from Manama, Bahrain, and special correspondent Issa from Baghdad.)

Libya & Yemen Bloodshed, Oman Peaceful, Algeria Repression, Bahrain Victory

Saturday, February 19th, 2011

Good news from Bahrain, police and military pull back and protesters occupy Pearl Square. This indicates the government has realized that they were getting bad publicity around the world with their tough crackdown and are losing business with the Grand Prix race potentially being canceled among others.

Libya seems to be under no such pressure to go easy on its protesters and there the government has brought in mercenaries from other African states to subdue the opposition which had taken over parts of the city of Benghazi. With oil wealth in his hands Gaddafi only has to call upon the numerous mercenary forces around the world, which are only too glad to get their hands dirty and kill unarmed protesters. It is a lot easier than killing armed rebels.

The question is what is next in the countries where repression is the answer the government comes up with to agitation from civil society? The Algerians today broke up protests by a massive police presence. They at least did not shoot at their citizens, a sign of civility or perhaps just a realization that shooting people is bad press.

In Yemen there was bloodshed as protesters were attacked by police and supporters of the government.

Oman has had peaceful demonstrations and the government has not attacked protestors.


From the Guardian.UK

Libyan protesters risk ’suicide’ by army hands
Gaddafi confronts the most serious challenge to his 42-year rule by unleashing army on unarmed demonstrators

Peter Beaumont and Martin Chulov in Bahrain, Saturday 19 February 2011 18.07 GMT

Gaddafi has warned anti-government demonstrators they risk being shot by the army. Colonel Muammar Gaddafi is confronting the most serious challenge to his 42-year rule as leader of Libya by unleashing his army on unarmed protesters.

Unlike the rulers of neighbouring Egypt, Gaddafi has refused to countenance the politics of disobedience, despite growing international condemnation, and the death toll of demonstrators nearing 100.

The pro-government Al-Zahf al-Akhdar newspaper warned that the government would “violently and thunderously respond” to the protests, and said those opposing the regime risked “suicide”.’

William Hague, the UK’s foreign secretary, condemned the violence as “unacceptable and horrifying”, even as the Libyan regime’s special forces, backed by African mercenaries, launched a dawn attack on a protest camp in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi.

Britain is scrambling to extricate itself from its recently cosy relationship with Gaddafi, initiated by then prime minister Tony Blair in 2004. That rapprochement saw Libya open its doors to British oil companies in exchange for becoming a new ally in the “war on terror” while Britain sold Gaddafi arms.

Hague’s outspoken comments came a day after the government revoked arms export licenses to both Bahrain and Libya for their use of deadly force against protesters calling for a change in the regime.
With internet services in Libya shut off for long periods, foreign journalists excluded and access already blocked to social networking sites, Gaddafi appeared determined to quell a revolt centred in the country’s east, which has long suffered a policy of deliberate economic exclusion.

Libya has also jammed the signals of Al-Jazeera, the Arab broadcaster to the country. Reports from inside the country claimed pro-regime forces had deliberately aimed at protesters’ heads.

That allegation appeared to be supported by shocking video footage smuggled out of the country which seems to show two unarmed protesters being shot in the head.

Hague said: “Governments must respond to legitimate aspirations of their people, rather than resort to the use of force, and must respect the right to peaceful protest.

“I condemn the violence in Libya, including reports of the use of heavy weapons fire and a unit of snipers against demonstrators. This is clearly unacceptable and horrifying.

“Media access has been severely restricted. The absence of TV cameras does not mean the attention of the world should not be focused on the actions of the Libyan government.”

At least five cities in eastern Libya have seen protests and clashes in recent days. Special forces attempted to break up a protest camp that included lawyers and judges outside Benghazi’s courthouse. “They fired tear gas on protesters in tents and cleared the areas after many fled carrying the dead and the injured,” one protester said.

A mass funeral for 35 people who died on Friday came under fire from pro-government snipers who killed one person at the procession and injured a dozen more, according to sources in the city.

The shootings came amid credible reports of a round-up of government opponents who were taken from their homes in raids by security forces.

The crackdown has been led by the elite Khamis Brigade, led by Gaddafi’s youngest son. Unconfirmed reports claim that force has been backed by African mercenaries brought into the country in five separate flights.

A video on the Libya 17th February website appeared to show an injured African mercenary who had captured by anti-government protesters.

Protests have so far been centred on Benghazi and the towns of Bayda, Ajdabiya, Zawiya, and Derna while Tripoli has remained so far calm but tense.The latest events in Libya have come against the background of continuing protests across the Middle East and North Africa.

In Bahrain, which has also seen attempts to put down pro-democracy protests with lethal force in recent days, anti-government protesters swarmed back to a symbolic square on Saturday, putting riot police to flight after the army was withdrawn.

A wave of protests has spread through the Middle East and North Africa after rebellions in Tunisia and Egypt toppled their long term leaders.

In Yemen today riot police shot dead a protester and injured five others after opening fire on thousands of marchers.

Meanwhile in Algeria police brandishing clubs broke a rally into isolated groups to keep protesters from marching.


From Al Jazeera

Protesters retake Bahrain centre

Anti-government protesters reoccupy Pearl roundabout after troops and police withdraw from protest site in capital.

Last Modified: 19 Feb 2011 14:55 GMT

Thousands of protesters have reoccupied the Pearl roundabout in the capital, Manama, after troops and riot police retreated from the symbolic centre of their anti-government uprising.

The cheering protesters carrying Bahraini flags, flowers and signs that said “Peaceful, peaceful” marched
to the traffic circle on Saturday. They chanted, “We are victorious”.

Protesters kissed the ground in joy and took pictures of about 60 police vehicles leaving the area.

Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, the crown prince, had earlier in the day ordered the military to withdraw, saying that the police would now be responsible for enforcing order, the Bahrain News Agency reported.

Soon after the crown prince’s directive, protesters attempted to stream back to the roundabout, but were beaten back by the police. According to the Reuters news agency, about 80 protesters were taken to a hospital after being hit by rubber bullets or teargas.

The protesters, however, were successful in the next attempt, after riot police withdrew as well from the traffic circle.

Al Jazeera’s web producer reports that doctors are preparing to receive casualities at the city’s main hospital.

The Pearl roundabout, the focal point of the protests, had been the scene of heavy-handed security crackdown.

Several demonstrators were killed and many injured as security forces cleared the area of protesters in a pre-dawn attack on Thursday morning.

It was the scene of shootings again on Friday night when troops opened fire with live rounds on protesters.

An Al Jazeera correspondent in Bahrain said the government order for withdrawal of security forces from the roundabout was aimed at starting negotiations.

But anger remained high on the streets after the bloodshed and many protesters were against talks.

“Demands have hardened from the beginning of the week. Some say what they want is a change of government, some say that the prime minister should be sacked and others say that the king should go as well.

“People are saying that given the people who have died and the number injured they will continue to come here … many are saying they are not going to leave as they have not got the reform they were asking for.

“All of them are asking for constitutional reform. The opposition are asking for a constitutional monarchy, like in the UK or Australia,” our correspondent said.

Amid the turmoil, the General Union of Bahraini Workers has called a strike from Sunday.

The crown prince had on Friday called for a dialogue to end the crisis, but the opposition was quick to reject the offer, saying no dialogue can begin with the ruling family until the army had been withdrawn from the streets.

Ibrahim Mattar, a member of the Wefaq bloc which quit parliament on Thursday, said his party did not believe there was a “serious will for dialogue because the military is in the streets”.

Sheikh Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifa, the king of Bahrain, had earlier asked the crown prince, to start a national dialogue “with all parties”.

Barack Obama, the US president, discussed the situation with Bahrain’s king in a telephone call on Friday, asking him to hold those responsible for the violence accountable.

He said in a statement that Bahrain must respect the “universal rights’” of its people and embrace “meaningful reform”.

“I am deeply concerned about reports of violence in Bahrain, Libya and Yemen.

“The United States condemns the use of violence by governments against peaceful protesters in those countries and wherever else it may occur,” he said.

“The United States urges the governments of Bahrain, Libya and Yemen to show restraint in responding to peaceful protests and to respect the rights of their people.”


ABC News

World NewsPolice stop pro-democracy protests in AlgeriaSaturday, February 19, 2011
Hundreds of people protested in Algeria on Saturday Feb. 12, 2011, calling for changes in government. (KABC Photo)

Tags:protest, riot, world news
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ALGIERS, Algeria (KABC) — A strong military and police presence has kept demonstrators from organizing in large groups in Algeria on Saturday.

Pro-democracy protesters had vowed to march even though thousands of police blocked their path last week. The move by the government to halt protests this weekend appeared to be working.

Leaders have promised to end a 19-year-old state of emergency by the end of February in a nod to increasing calls for reform.

Police brandishing clubs, but no firearms, weaved their way through the crowd in central Algiers, banging their shields, tackling some protesters and keeping traffic flowing through the planned march route.

Police at Saturday’s demonstrations appeared to outnumber protesters in each of the groups scattered in sidestreets around May 1 square, a major roundabout.

Rising food prices led to five days of riots in Algeria last month that left three people dead.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


From UPI

Five dead in protests in Yemen

SANAA, Yemen, Feb. 19 (UPI) — At least five people were killed in anti-government demonstrations in Yemen Saturday, where police firing tear gas and rubber bullets tried to disperse crowds.

Four were killed in the southern port city of Aden and one person was killed in Taiz, when a grenade was thrown from a car at demonstrators, the BBC reported.

In the capital Sanaa, protesters calling for the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh clashed with police. Saleh has been in power since 1978 and he has said he won’t run for another term.

Nationwide, tens of thousands of people took to the streets Friday in a “Friday of rage.”
“Ali, listen, the people want you out,” the protesters chanted.

Yemenis are angry about corruption in government and high unemployment. Uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, whose presidents were forced to step down, inspired demonstrators.

The U.S. Embassy in Sanaa said there has been “a disturbing rise in the number and violence of attacks against Yemeni citizens.”

The embassy said the attacks are “contrary to the commitments that President Saleh has made to protect the rights of Yemeni citizens to gather peacefully to express their views.”



Oman protests peaceful so far Published: Feb. 19, 2011 at 11:03 AM

MUSCAT, Oman, Feb. 19 (UPI) — Hundreds of people took to the streets of Oman, demanding reforms in the economy, education and politics, officials said.

Police did not intervene in the protests in the capital of Muscat Friday and demonstrators remained peaceful, RIA Novosti reported Saturday.

Another rally was scheduled for Sunday in Morocco.

Unlike protests in Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Tunisia and Bahrain, the Oman demonstrations have so far been peaceful.

Demonstrators carried signs with slogans of support for Oman’s Sultan Qaboos, but asked for reforms, including lower prices and better pay.

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