Saturday, December 01, 2012

Who is the CFIA Really Protecting? Food Safety Agency Covering Up Farmed Salmon Virus

Food Safety Agency Should Protect Public, Not Cover up Virus for Salmon Farming Industry

by Damien Gillis - The

The federal agency embroiled in the recent XL Meats tainted beef scandal is at it again - this time leading efforts to cover up a potentially catastrophic farmed salmon flu-like viral outbreak on BC's coast. Charged with ensuring your food is safe to eat, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) increasingly appears to be acting as a political arm of the Harper Government and an inept custodian of Canadian trade which will do our export business far more harm than good in the long run.

A little over a week ago, it became apparent that the CFIA is working hard to discredit and de-certify one of the two labs in the world recgonized by the World Animal Health Organization (OIE) as experts in detecting a deadly salmon virus, known as ISAv. The lab in question, run out of Atlantic Veterinary College at the University of P.E.I. by Dr. Fred Kibenge, diagnosed the ISAv outbreak that devastated the Chilean aquaculture industry several years ago, causing $2 Billion in damage. Such is his scientific credibility that when the fish farm industry was experiencing unexplained losses of their fish in Chile in 2007, they went to Kibenge to test for ISAv.

Recently, Dr. Kibenge has been testing farmed and wild salmon samples from BC as he investigates a potential similar outbreak here. His findings were instrumental in forcing the re-opening of the Cohen Commission into disappearing sockeye last year, where he went before Justice Cohen as a key witness. That the Commission took Dr. Kibenge's testimony and research as seriously as it did - reflected in its ultimate findings released a month ago - should be of particular note to the CFIA as they attack his lab and credibility.

During the same judicial proceedings, internal emails revealed these CFIA senior staff acting, as the Commission's lead lawyer suggested, more like hockey players high-fiving each other after beating their opponent than scientists and civil servants serious about getting to the bottom of a viral mystery which threatens the environment and economy of BC - even the salmon farms themselves.

The emails followed the telephone press conference the CFIA hosted to rebuke the first discovery of ISAv in wild salmon on BC's coast by independent salmon biologist Alexandra Morton and SFU Professor Rick Routledge. I was on that call and appalled by the lengths they went to dismiss and discredit this groundbreaking new finding. I asked the CFIA's spokespeople where the Precautionary Principle fit in their approach. Evidently it receives nowhere near the prominence Justice Cohen accords it.

In one of the emails that surfaced at the Cohen Commission, dated November 9, 2011, Joseph Beres, an inspection manager at the CFIA, wrote to colleague Dr. Con Kiley and other senior DFO and CFIA staff who had appeared on the conference call:

It is clear that we are turning the PR tide to our favour – and this is because of the very successful performance of our spokes[people] at the Tech Briefing yesterday – you, Stephen, Peter and Paul were a terrific team, indeed. Congratulations! One battle is won, now we have to nail the surveillance piece, and we will win the war also.
Cheers, Joe.

In the same strain, Dr. Kiley replies, “Concentrate on the headlines, that's often all that people read or remember. Both the 'Top Stories' and the 'Related Pieces'."

During the Commission's investigation into this matter, Dr. Kibenge addressed what would come to be described by CFIA officials as an "audit" of his lab in the midst of his initial research into ISAv in BC. It is the disputed results of this and one other similar audit that form the basis for the CFIA's request to the World Animal Health Organization to strip Dr. Kibenge of his status as one of two "reference labs" certified to investigate ISAv outbreaks.

While he was on the stand during the Inquiry, Dr. Kibenge described this bizarre "audit": "The inspection was meant to be about understanding my processes so they could improve their own practices, but once the inspection began I got the sense that it was about obtaining information, because the first thing they asked me about when they did the inspection was the samples." Dr. Kibenge added, “I quickly realized that the purpose of the site visit...was actually in my view, to confirm a hypothesis that had already been presented in the media.”

According to Mark Hume, who broke the story last week in the Globe and Mail, "The [CFIA] has promised to sample nearly 8,000 salmon in B.C. in response to concerns about ISA. But the results of those tests are not yet known, and the CFIA has challenged the validity of Dr. Kibenge’s tests, saying government labs couldn’t replicate his results."

Of course, as the XL Meats scandal taught us, the CFIA's detection methods are quite capable of failure.

In response to this latest attack on his lab by the CFIA, Dr. Kibenge told Hume, “What they are doing here is essentially punishing me for having testified at the Cohen Commission and trying to suppress the findings that we’ve been finding. It’s an attack on my credibility,” he said. “ I just feel compelled to continue with my research work because there is nothing here that I can see that I’ve done wrong.”

Dr. Kibenge isn't the only world-class lab working on the BC ISAv mystery. The lab run by Dr. Are Nylund at the University of Bergen in Norway has reviewed some the same samples as Dr. Kibenge and come to similar conclusions about the likelihood of ISAv's presence in BC waters.

The CFIA has responded to concerns raised about its denial that ISAv is here in BC by affirming its commitment to protecting Canadian trade. If BC were to become officially designated as an ISAv-contaminated region, CFIA employee Dr. Kim Klotins testified at the Cohen Commission, that could indeed close borders to the 92% Norwegian-owned salmon farming industry in BC - a potentially fatal blow to the industry's local operations. Setting aside for a moment the troubling notion that our food safety inspector views protecting trade as its chief mandate, the CFIA's defence raises more questions than it answers.

Just as its failure to take proactive enforcement action in the XL Meats scandal ultimately led to a serious blight on Canadian trade - with the temporary closing of the US border to Canadian beef exporters - so will covering up this salmon virus until it has mushroomed into a full-blown catastrophe. This short-term butt covering is downright dangerous - not just to our wild fish, but to the trade the agency purports to be defending.

On the heels of the first indications the virus is already here, CFIA joined senior Harper Government leaders and BC's Liberal Premier in a coordinated offensive to convince foreign governments there was nothing to these concerns. In November, 2011, Agriculture Minister Don McRae accompanied Premier Clark on a trade mission to China to deliver the message that BC seafood is safe. How will those trading partners feel when they later learn they were misled? What impact will that have on Canada's international reputation and trading opportunities? There is much more than Norwegian farmed salmon at stake here.

Now, the question that must also be asked, given the agency's health and safety mandate, is can we be so sure that this salmon virus in the influenza family, from industrial farming practices, won't mutate in a way that poses a threat to human health such as bird flu and swine flu have done before? I want to be clear: I'm not suggesting there's a shred of science to support that notion - but the question must be asked, as the science must be done, not stifled at every turn because it's politically inconvenient.

Justice Cohen called for the Precautionary Principle to be thoroughly implemented in future fisheries management. I suggest the CFIA act accordingly and treat this potential viral outbreak seriously. We may one day be dealing with more than just the loss of our wild salmon and the economy dependent on them.

It is time time for the CFIA to quit playing petty, vindictive political games and to start working with Dr. Kibenge's lab to get to the bottom of this salmon flu mystery - not to mention to begin regaining the confidence of the public it's supposed to serve. In all the media they do, the CFIA and politicians rest their criticisms on two admittedly poor initial samples from Rivers Inlet that tested positive for ISAv, which led to many subsequent samples following far more rigourous protocols. To the CFIA, it's as if the other salmon from BC that have tested positive for ISA virus - including wild fish from various streams and lakes and farm salmon purchased from Vancouver-area supermarkets - simply don't exist.

While the CFIA appears to think it is acting in the interest of Canadian exports by protecting the salmon farming industry from these damaging revelations, it is in fact undermining our nation's credibility on the international stage and doing long-term damage to our cross-border trade - all to protect a largely Norwegian-owned industry that contributes marginal economic value to the province of British Columbia. Prime Minister Stephen Harper must reign in CFIA now and start paying serious attention to this important salmon virus research.

Manning Testimony: "I Thought I Would Die in a Cage"


Accused Wikileaks Whistleblower Bradley Manning Testifies He Thought He Would Die in Custody

by Democracy Now!

Bradley Manning, the U.S. Army private accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents to the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks, has testified for the first time since he was arrested in May 2010. Speaking Thursday at a pretrial proceeding, Manning revealed the emotional tumult he experienced while imprisoned in Kuwait after his arrest in 2010, saying, "I remember thinking, ’I’m going to die.’ I thought I was going to die in a cage."

Guest: Michael Ratner, president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights and a lawyer to Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. He recently returned from attending part the pretrial hearing for Bradley Manning.

As part of his testimony, Manning stepped inside a life-sized chalk outline representing the six-by-eight-foot cell he was later held in at the Quantico base in Virginia, and recounted how he would tilt his head to see the reflection of a skylight through a tiny space in his cell door. Manning could face life in prison if convicted of the most serious of 22 counts against him. His trial is expected to begin in February. He has offered to plead guilty to a subset of charges that could potentially carry a maximum prison term of 16 years. "What’s remarkable is that he still has this incredible dignity after going through this," says Michael Ratner, who was in the courtroom during Manning’s appearance. "But I think all these prison conditions were — sure, they were angry at Bradley Manning, but in the face of that psychiatric statement, that this guy shouldn’t be kept on suicide risk or POI, they’re still keeping him in inhuman conditions, you can only ask yourself — they’re trying to break him for some reason. The lawyer, David Coombs, has said it’s so that he can give evidence against Julian Assange and WikiLeaks." Ratner is president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights and a lawyer for Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.

Time to Put the Times and AP to Bed: Corporate News Launches 'Operation Blank Slate' On Manning and US War Crimes

Blanking Bradley Manning: NYT and AP Launch Operation Amnesia

by Chris Floyd - Empire Burlesque  

On Thursday, Bradley Manning, one of the foremost prisoners of conscience in the world today, testified in open court -- the first time his voice has been heard since he was arrested, confined and subjected to psychological torture by the U.S. government.

An event of some newsworthiness, you might think. Manning has admitted leaking documents that detailed American war crimes in the invasion and occupation of Iraq. He has been held incommunicado for more than 900 days by the Obama administration. Reports of his treatment at the hands of his captors have sparked outrage, protests and concern around the world. He was now going to speak openly in a pre-trial hearing on a motion to dismiss his case because of that treatment. Surely such a moment of high courtroom drama would draw heavy media coverage, if only for its sensationalistic aspects.

But if you relied on the nation's pre-eminent journal of news reportage, the New York Times, you could have easily missed notice of the event altogether, much less learned any details of what transpired in the courtroom. The Times sent no reporter to the hearing, but contented itself with a brief bit of wire copy from AP, tucked away on Page 3, to note the occasion.

That story -- itself considered of such little importance by AP that it didn't even by-line the piece (perhaps the agency didn't send a reporter either, but simply picked up snippets from other sources) -- reduced the entire motion, and the long, intricate, systematic government attack on Manning's psyche, to a matter of petty petulance on Manning's part, a whiner's attempt to weasel out of what's coming to him. This is AP's sole summary of the motion and its context:

Private Manning is trying to avoid trial in the WikiLeaks case. He argues that he was punished enough when he was locked up alone in a small cell for nearly nine months at the brig in Quantico and had to sleep naked for several nights.

It is clear what the unnamed writer wants the reader to take away from his passage. We are supposed to think: "That's it? That's all he's got? That they gave him a private room and made him sleep in the buff for a few nights? Is that supposed to be torture?"

As we noted here the other day, the New York Times is the pacesetter for the American media; it plays a large part in setting the parameters of acceptable discourse and honing the proper attitude that serious, respectable people should take toward current events. The paper's treatment of Manning's court appearance is exemplary in this regard. The case is worth noting, yes, but only briefly, in passing; Manning himself is a rather pathetic figure whose treatment by the government, while perhaps not ideal in all respects, has not been especially harsh or onerous. This is what serious, respectable people are meant to believe about the case; and millions do.

For the actual details of Manning's hearing -- which actually began a few days before his appearance -- you have to turn to foreign papers, such as the Guardian, whose coverage of Manning's situation has been copious. The Guardian provided two long stories (here and here), totalling 68 paragraphs, on Manning's testimony, both written by one the paper's leading reporters, Ed Pilkington, who was actually present in the courtroom. This was preceded by three long stories (here, here and here), also by Pilkington reporting on the scene, about previous testimony in the hearing, from the brig's commander and from the Marine psychiatrist overseeing Manning's condition.

As noted, the Times provided only the single wire story, 11 paragraphs long, during the entire week of testimony. Contrast this to the paper of record's treatment of those other prisoners of conscience, Pussy Riot, when they were put on trial by the Russian government this summer. In an eight-day period surrounding the trial, the Times ran no less that 14 stories on Pussy Riot's plight. Later this fall, when sentencing hearings were held for the group, the NYT ran 13 stories in a comparable time period.

I believe Pussy Riot's case warranted such coverage. But certainly Manning's case -- involving revelations of war crime, mass murder, brutality and his own unconscionable treatment by an American government that lectures other nations, including Russia, about impartial justice and human rights -- is of at least equal weight. But of course, it is easier -- not to mention more politic, and profitable -- to run 27 stories about the Kremlin's harsh and wildly disproportionate punishment for an act of civil disobedience while dribbling out a single reductive, dismissive story about entirely similar actions by the American government.

Again, recall the NYT/AP appraisal of Manning's motion: "He argues that he was punished enough when he was locked up alone in a small cell for nearly nine months" and had to "sleep naked for several nights." Here, from Pilkington, is what really happened. We begin with Manning's treatment in Kuwait, where he was first incarcerated -- a period entirely ignored by the NYT, although it took up much of his six-hour testimony.

"I didn't know what was going on, I didn't have formal charges or anything, my interactions were very limited with anybody else, so it was very draining."

[Manning] was put on a schedule whereby he would be woken up at 10 o'clock at night and given lights out at 2 o'clock in the afternoon. "My nights blended into my days and my days into nights," he told the court. … The guards stopped taking him out of his cell so that he became entirely cut off from human company. "Someone tried to explain to me why, but I was a mess, I was starting to fall apart." Military police began coming into his cell in a tent in the Kuwaiti desert two or three times a day doing what they called a "shakedown": searching the cell and tearing it apart in the process.

Eventually, Manning was strapped into an airplane and transported to the Marine Corps prison at Quantico, Virginia. There he was placed under the brig's most restrictive regime:

…no contact with other people, being kept in his cell for more than 23 hours a day, being checked every five minutes, sleeping on a suicide mattress with no bedding, having his prescription glasses taken away, lights kept on at night, having toilet paper removed.

… [The cell was] 6ft by 8ft. The cell contained a toilet that was in the line of vision of the observation booth, and he was not allowed toilet paper. When he needed it, he told the court, he would stand to attention by the front bars of the cell and shout out to the observation guards: "Lance Corporal Detainee Manning requests toilet paper!" …

For the first few weeks of his confinement in Quantico he was allowed only 20 minutes outside the cell, known as a "sunshine call". Even then whenever he left his cell – and this remained the case throughout his nine months at the marine brig – he was put into full restraint: his hands were handcuffed to a leather belt around his waist and his legs put in irons, which meant that he could not walk without a staff member holding him. …

He was under observation throughout the night, with a fluorescent light located right outside the cell blazing into his eyes. While asleep he would frequently cover his eyes with his suicide blanket, or turn on to his side away from the light, and on those occasions, sometimes three times a night, the guards would bang on his cell bars to wake him up so they could see his face. … He was forbidden from taking exercise in his cell, and … allowed out of the cell for at most one hour a day for the entire nine months at Quantico.

The official reason given for this treatment was Manning's mental health; he was supposedly a "suicide risk" who must be kept under special measures. This assessment by the brig commander was refuted by the brig's own psychiatrist, who testified during this week's hearing:

The psychiatrist who treated the WikiLeaks suspect, Bradley Manning, while he was in custody in the brig at Quantico has testified that his medical advice was regularly ignored by marine commanders who continued to impose harsh conditions on the soldier even though he posed no risk of suicide.

Captain William Hoctor told Manning's pre-trial hearing at Fort Meade that he grew frustrated and angry at the persistent refusal by marine officers to take on board his medical recommendations. The forensic psychiatrist said that he had never experienced such an unreceptive response from his military colleagues, not even when he treated terrorist suspects held at Guantanamo.

"I had been a senior medical officer for 24 years at the time, and I had never experienced anything like this. It was clear to me they had made up their mind on a certain course of action, and my recommendations had no impact," Hoctor said. ….

By 27 August 2010, Hoctor testified, he had spent enough time with Manning to recommend a further easing of conditions. From then on he advised in a regular weekly report that Manning should be … returned to the general brig population.

… The blanket denial of his expert opinion was unprecedented in his quarter century of practice, the psychiatrist said. "Even when I did tours in Guantanamo and cared for detainees there my recommendations on suicidal behaviour were followed."

Hoctor said he openly protested about the thwarting of his expert opinion at a meeting with the commander responsible for the brig, Colonel Robert Oltman, on 13 January 2011. … Hoctor said that the marine commanders should no longer pretend they were acting out of medical concern for the detainee. "It wasn't good for Manning. I really didn't like them using a psychiatric standard when I thought it clinically inappropriate," Hoctor said.

The court heard that Oltman replied: "You make your recommendations, and we'll do what we want to do."

This is the treatment that Barack Obama upheld in his one public comment on the case, in 2011. Obama said that Manning's treatment was "appropriate and meeting our basic standards." In a private fundraiser that year, Obama went further and declared Manning -- who is yet to stand trial -- guilty: "He broke the law." As Horton said, the government had made up its mind "on a certain course of action" -- trying to break Manning's mind and will in its larger goal of punishing WikiLeaks for its multiple revelations of Washington's crime and folly around the world. And from brig commander to commander-in-chief, it followed this course with admirable discipline.

As Pilkington notes, it was one of Manning's efforts to show how sane he was -- and his misplaced trust in a guard -- that led to the most infamous aspect of his imprisonment: the forced nudity that his captors found so titillating:

[Manning] related how he turned for help to one particular member of staff at the brig at Quantico marine base in Virginia where he was taken in July 2010. He assumed that Staff Sergeant Pataki was on his side, so opened up to him.

"I wanted to convey the fact that I'd been on the [restrictive regime] for a long time. I'm not doing anything to harm myself. I'm not throwing myself against walls, or jumping up or down, or putting my head in the toilet."

Manning told Pataki that "if I was a danger to myself I would act out more". He used his underwear and flip-flops as an example, insisting that "if I really wanted to hurt myself I could use things now: underwear, flip-flops, they could potentially be used as something to harm oneself"…. Manning felt good about his interaction with Pataki. "I felt like he was listening and understanding, and he smiled a little. I thought I'd actually started to get through to him."

That night guards arrived at his cell and ordered him to strip naked. He was left without any clothes overnight, and the following morning made to stand outside his cell and stand to attention at the brig count, still nude, as officers inspected him.

The humiliating ritual continued for several days, and right until the day he was transferred from Quantico on 20 April 2011 he had his underwear removed every night. …

All this is what the Times and AP have reduced to nothing more than being "locked up alone in a small cell" and having to "sleep naked for several nights." Nothing at all about the draconian restrictions; nothing at all about "shakedowns," wake-ups, 24-hour surveillance in bright light (even on the toilet), isolation, chains, deprivation, betrayal, interrogation, and forced nudity -- not just when he was sleeping (in bright light, under observation) but also out in corridors, while "officers inspected him."

All of this has been erased by the 'objective' reporting of the NYT and AP. None of this is to be known or considered by serious, respectable people. It didn't happen. It doesn't matter. Manning is a whiner who made America look bad, and in doing so, he helped a website that made America look bad. That's all that really matters. The details of his treatment -- not to mention the details of what he and WikiLeaks revealed -- are unimportant. You don't have to think about it. Just nod your head, shrug your shoulders, and go about your business.

David Rovics in Victoria Sat Dec 1


by Victoria Friends of Cuba

A night of live folk music by world renowned anti-war & political singer/songwriter - David Rovics.  David’s commitment to human rights activism is reflected in his songs. Described as "the musical equivalent of Democracy Now!" by none other than Amy Goodman (Democracy Now! founding member); his music has been lauded by folk music luminary Pete Seeger.

 7:30pm Sat. Dec. 1 
@ 2994 Douglas (BCGEU Hall)

Admission $20 waged $15 Unwaged
Sponsored by: Victoria Friends of Cuba & Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid

More info at:

Manning Takes the Stand: Soldier Testifies About Torture and Two-Plus Year Imprisonment

Manning Testifies About His Torture; Was it Aimed at Turning Him on Assange? 


 Michael Ratner: Manning describes cruel and unusual punishment; offers to plea to lesser charges.

Watch full multipart Wikileaks, Assange, Manning

Michael Ratner is President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) in New York and Chair of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights in Berlin. He is currently a legal adviser to Wikileaks and Julian Assange. He and CCR brought the first case challenging the Guantanamo detentions and continue in their efforts to close Guantanamo. He taught at Yale Law School, and Columbia Law School, and was President of the National Lawyers Guild. His current books include "Hell No: Your Right to Dissent in the Twenty-First Century America," and “ Who Killed Che? How the CIA Got Away With Murder.” NOTE: Mr. Ratner speaks on his own behalf and not for any organization with which he is affiliated.

On the Border: Where Donkey Carts Threaten Israel's Security


Stories from the border, where donkeys and carts are potential threats to Zionist security

by Eva Bartlett - In Gaza

The Israeli army killed a Palestinian civilian in the southern Gaza Strip and wounded 42 civilians, including 7 children along the border fence in the Gaza Strip from Nov 22-29 (source: PCHR)

“The Israeli soldiers saw us. They were speaking at us, but they didn’t tell us to leave,” says Haithem Abu Dagga. “About eight soldiers moved past the electric fence and towards the interior fence about 30 metres inside Palestinian land, where we were standing. After only a few minutes they began shooting.”

The Israeli soldiers were by this point roughly 5 metres away, he says.

Haithem, a lean young man from Abassan, a rural farming area east of Khan Younis, speaks in short sentences as he tells his story of being shot point-blank by an Israeli soldier. He relates the shooting with no drama, as though he’s speaking of an everyday event. Which, unfortunately, for Gaza’s farmers is more or less true. His audience, a number of solidarity activists who have come to Gaza explicitly to meet people like Haithem, listen rapt to his quiet words.

“We were looking at the fence and the soldiers beyond. When the shooting started, I didn’t realize at first I had been shot. Then the pain came. Everybody else was running, and because the Israeli soldiers continued shooting, no one could reach me. It was a couple of minutes before friends got back to me. The Israeli soldiers kept shooting at us as my friends carried me off to where the ambulance could reach me.”

As is often the case in Gaza with border region injuries (Israeli army shootings, shellings, flechette bombs…), Palestinian ambulances cannot usually reach the wounded: Israeli soldiers also attack medics and ambulances (see Defend the Rescuers for cases of Israeli soldiers targeting Palestinian medics).

This usually means a life-and-death gamble for the injured, as civilians nearby try to carry he/she, sometimes hundreds of metres, to an accessible road. If it is an artery would, the window of time before bleeding out is less than 10 minutes.

When Mohammed Le Braim was shot in February 2009, although he was already 500 metres from the border, neither cars nor an ambulance could reach him. His fellow farm-labourers picked him up to haul him away, tripping immediately over a row of cacti and dropping the injured young man.

The drama in Haithem’s shooting comes not only from the point-blank-fired bullet and subsequent leg wound, but from the reality that Haithem is the sole income-bringer in his family. His mother, father, a sister, his wife and his 5 children depend on the money he earns working as a farm labourer, something he won’t be able to do for several months until his leg heals.

As we listen, it dawns on us that Haithem is from the same extended Abu Dagga family of that of Ahmed, the 13 year old shot dead by an Israeli soldier just days before Israel assassinated Jabari and began it’s murderous 8 days of bombing all over Gaza.

Along the Green Line border dividing Gaza and Israel an electrified fence, military watch towers from north to south, remotely-controlled machine gun towers, and information-gathering blimps/balloons all serve to monitor the border region and ward off what Israel deems as threats to security.

Two separate, overlapping, OCHA reports note that 51 Palestinian civilians were killed and 237 injured (Jan 2009-Aug 2010), and 38 Palestinian civilians killed, 372 injured (Jan 2010-Oct 2011). Although a span of 7 months overlap with the two reports, its a safe bet to say that between 60-70 Palestinian civilians were killed and over 300 injured from Jan 2009 to Oct 2011, a 2.5 year span.

Compare this to Israeli casualties and you get a sense of the huge power imbalance favouring the occupying state, and realize that Israel’s attacks on Palestinian civilians has nothing to do with security.

Yousef Munayyer gives a good explanation of projectiles fired from Gaza vs those fired by Israel into Gaza:

In 2011, the projectiles fired by the Israeli military into Gaza have been responsible for the death of 108 Palestinians, of which 15 where women or children and the injury of 468 Palestinians of which 143 where women or children.

Conversely, rocket fire from Gaza in 2011 has resulted in the death of 3 Israelis. I’ve tried to find an accurate aggregate number of Israelis injured by projectiles from Gaza in 2011 but haven’t found anything yet. I’d be happy to update this post with that information once available. I think, however, the point is quite clear when it comes to the numbers; the imbalance is tremendous.

Phan Nguyen gives an amazing break-down of the truth behind Israeli propaganda: 'Dissecting IDF propaganda: The numbers behind the rocket attacks'

Throughout the years of rocket attacks into Israel, a total of 26 people have been killed altogether

For the entire duration of the 2008 Hamas–Israel cease-fire—even after Israel had broken the cease-fire on Nov. 4—not a single person was killed by rocket or mortar fire into Israel. Yet approximately two hours after Israel’s commencement of Operation Cast Lead, one person in Israel was struck and killed by shrapnel from a Qassam rocket. Two days later, three more people were killed in Israel from Gaza rocket and mortar attacks.

And for an entire year before Operation Pillar of Cloud, not a single Israeli was killed by rocket or mortar. Yet approximately sixteen hours after Pillar of Cloud commenced, a rocket from Gaza killed three Israelis.

It was during both military operations that Israel endured the highest number of fatalities from Gaza rockets and mortars in the shortest time spans.

**It is extremely worthwhile reading Phan’s entire article, in which he charts real, verified stats against claims of the Israeli army, showing very succinctly the reality of the power imbalance and the Israeli propaganda.

Somewhere around 300 metres or less from the border fence, deep tank tracks have rutted the land, turning flat earth into unworkable moguls. Farmers say that the latest Israeli bombings also targeted farmland throughout Gaza, leaving behind vast craters. All of this needs to be flattened before farmers can use the land. Without large tractors, the task of pushing the land back into its horizontal position becomes near-impossible. Most Palestinian farmers in Gaza, particularly in the border regions, don’t have a tractor, do their farming by hand or with the help of a donkey and cart. Being the border region period is dangerous enough for them, renting a tractor to drive around on border lands—as normal a farming activity as it is—ramps up the risks to Palestinian farmers.

As I’m reading thru a UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) report for recent stats on the buffer zone, I come across the note that certain factors increased the risk of being shot at by an Israeli soldier, including: being a man; being in a small group (4-6 people); wearing a veil; entering with a donkey cart; entering between dusk and dawn, characteristics which inevitably pertain to Palestinian farmers and civilians in the border regions.

The report‘s stats are that as of Aug 2010 that “305 water wells, 197 chicken farms, 377 sheep farms, three mosques, three schools, and six factories” in Gaza’s border regions had been destroyed by the Israeli army.

Weekly Israeli military land-razing invasions are just one aspect of the violation of Palestinian territory. Israeli soldiers have also burned crops ready for harvest, systematically bombed and bulldozed water wells and cisterns, abducted farmers and rubble collectors working near the border, demolished and damaged hundreds of homes within 300 metres from the fence and beyond throughout the border region, destroyed innumerable chicken and cattle farms, and with these acts destroyed Palestinian farmers ability to earn a living, feed their families, and contribute desperately-needed affordable produce and protein to the markets of Gaza. The Israeli army has killed and injured tens of Palestinians protesting the Israeli policy of killing and destruction in the border regions.

“The grass on our land has gotten very tall now because we haven’t been able to access and tend the land. Now, if we want to plant anything we’d need to burn the grass off. But the Israeli army would be suspicious, think we were doing something else,” says one of the farmers in the gathering, though all share pretty much the same problems.

“Right now, we can only wait for the rains. We used to collect rain water in cisterns to use it year-round, but that’s impossible now because the cisterns have been destroyed.”

One farmer goes into the details of how they buy water from the township, how much it costs. But aside from the intentional Israeli army destruction of their wells and cisterns, the more alarming note is that even if they do buy water, it is salty, is not good for their crops.

Leila, one of the farmers hosting this meeting, speaks of an elderly man killed in the last Israeli attacks on Gaza.

“He was old, harmless,” she says, stooping into a hunch to illuminate just how frail the victim was. “He wanted to harvest his olives. He wouldn’t let his children or grandchildren help, forbade them because he was worried about Israeli attacks.”

His attempts to protect them back-fired, on himself as well. “One of his grand-daughters brought him a tray of tea. She hadn’t even reached him when a drone bombed the area. He was killed, she was killed…

As I’m leafing through web pages, I come across mention of this elderly martyr:

Elderly farmer Ibrahim Abu Nasr was determined to harvest his last two olive trees, despite ongoing Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza Strip last Wednesday.

The ceasefire between Israel and Gaza militants would come into effect just nine hours later.

But as Ibrahim, 80, began prayers in the olive grove in Abassan village, east of Khan Younis in south Gaza, an Israeli missile struck the site.

His 15-year-old granddaughter Amira was bringing him lunch at that moment, and was also killed when she was hit by shrapnel.

Ibrahim’s son and Amira’s uncle, Khalil Abu Nasr, described to Ma’an the family’s shock when the missile struck. The relatives were in their house next to the olive grove, when the sound of an explosion pierced the room.

“We rushed out to the land, and what we saw tore our hearts,” he said.

Khalil’s brother was also seriously wounded by shrapnel and is recovering form his injuries.

Another of Khalil’s brothers, Abed, had been killed in the last Israeli war on Gaza in 2008-9.

Khalil said his elderly father insisted on visiting his land despite the war. He could sit all day tending his crops without boredom or fear, as he grew up on this farm, the son recalled.

“As an 80-year-old he did not go to plant explosives or to kill, but simply to harvest olives,” Khalil said.

In Beit Hanoun a day earlier, I met one of the more recent victims of Israeli army shooting. Mahmoud Naim, 21, was shot in his abdomen, not far from his heart, on Nov 28, for the crime of walking on Palestinian land. I take his testimony and talk with relatives visiting the young man. An uncle speaks of the old days, not the pre-1948 days but the days at least before the buffer zone, grasping at good memories.

“Before, it was normal, we grew oranges, could access our land, weren’t afraid to be on our land. The Israelis destroyed all of the trees, prevented all of our farmers from going on their land.” 

Canada's Fatuous Fatwa Against the UN


By Their Deeds Shall You Know Them: Canada's Fatuous Fatwa Against the UN

by C. L. Cook

On November 29th, 2012, Canada's representative to the United Nations, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird addressed a pre-emptive attack against that august body's General Assembly ratification of the Palestinian Authority (PA) application to upgrade its status, and be listed by the UN as a "nonmember observor state." Without irony, Baird blasted the PA attempt, saying:
“We do not believe that unilateral measures taken by one side can be justified by accusations of unilateralism directed at the other. That approach can only result in the steady erosion and collapse of the very foundations of a process which — while incomplete —holds the only realistic chance to bring about two peaceful, prosperous states living side-by-side as neighbours.”
It's not the first time Baird has ascended the podium to blast the UN. October 1st of this year witnessed the minister excoriate the United Nations for its failure to, among other things: provide a green light to a Libya-styled military intervention in Syria, (actually nixed in the Security Council by China and Russia); anticipate and prevent genocide in Cambodia and Rwanda; being too self-centred; and, for its inability to curb "[t]he stubborn persistence of totalitarianism and despotism."

Baird's darkly comic October performance crescendoed as laughable tragedy with the invocation of his country's support of the UN's first principle, Article 1 of its stated purposes:
"To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace."
In another time, a time before current prime minister, Stephen Harper imposed a regime change on the course and character of the country once regarded as a benign, if not always beneficial contributor to global affairs, Baird's pious grandstanding may have been acceptable, if not universally lauded; but today, when Canada's support for the very "stubborn persistence of totalitarianism and despotism" the minister decries manifests in military missions in Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq, Haiti, and the West Bank it merely elicits derisive snorts from those in the know abroad, and sullen laments of acknowledgment from the sad citizenry aware at home of the dire and relentlessly dismal trajectory Baird and his colleagues have charted for the nation.

As though to emphasize the point, the minister took it, in the name of all Canadians, as his responsibility, after lecturing the General Assembly Thursday as to the danger posed to the peace a recognition of the battered and dispossessed Palestinian people would entail, to recall the country's senior diplomats in Israel, the West Bank, and most pointedly, from its UN missions in New York and Geneva. Not weeks following yet another unprovoked military assault against the cities, towns, and overall infrastructure of Gaza, an assault that at the latest count includes at least 162 killed, more than a third of those being children, and more than a thousand wounded, the minister enamoured of the first principles of peace and fairness finds it appropriate to condemn not those inflicting the suffering the failure of diplomacy allows, but attacking the victims of that failing he so vociferously claims to detest.

Facing a barrage of criticism both in Canada and abroad, Baird found himself backpedaling to defend the government's bizarre defenestration at the UN. In a statement after his department's announcement, Baird said:
"Yesterday’s unilateral action does nothing to further the Middle East peace process. It will not change the reality on the streets of the West Bank or Gaza. This unilateral step is an impediment to peace. We again call on the Palestinian Authority and Israel to return to negotiations without preconditions, for the good of their people."
Appearing on state television, Baird attacked the PA's titular head, Mahmoud Abbas' presentation to the General Assembly, telling the CBC;
"He basically accused the Israelis of some pretty heinous crimes, ethnic cleansing." [...] "It was a combative speech, no tone of reconciliation. It was an opportunity for him to be magnanimous, to reach out to the Israeli government, and we're disappointed that he didn't take that opportunity."
While Baird may be disappointed in the lack of magnanimity, emphasizing instead the failure of Abbas to "reach out with a hand of reconciliation" to Israel, he made no mention of the eight day onslaught the people of Gaza had just endured, nor the continuing violence perpetrated against Palestinians in the West Bank and accelerated Israeli settlement construction there. (He also included a sly disinheriting of Palestinians from Jerusalem, unofficially recognizing talks between "Jerusalem and Ramallah"). These all being, incidentally, in contravention of multitude UN Resolutions, and Baird's favoured, Article 1.

Failing too to address these points was Baird's CBC interlocutor, Heather Hiscox.

Writing for the Palestine Chronicle, Canadian educator and commentator, Jim Miles deconstructs the many false, and myriad disingenuous half-truths contained within Baird's presentation to the General Assembly Thursday, noting:
"Baird ends his train of thought - a very singular track indeed - with more calls for negotiations and the two state outcome. Both ideas are highly arguable especially now if reference is made to any map that shows the highly non-contiguous nature of what little land is left that is still considered Palestinian. Israel controls all the land and has all the power, backed by the world’s sole superpower, hardly an arrangement under which fair negotiations could occur.

"The final argument is a full non-starter - “We call on both sides to return to the negotiating table without preconditions.”
"Amazing considering that he has just argued for seventy years of preconditions - all the UN Resolutions so proudly quoted in defence of negotiations, none of which has been fulfilled in any form vis a vis Jerusalem, refugees, occupation, and international and humanitarian war crimes against other states and people."  
Through its constant support of Israeli and American aggression, Canada has stepped away from its once self-recognized role as a fair and free arbiter on the world stage, trading independence for slavish acquiescence to Power's demands. That the powers that be today are both totalitarian and despotic is acknowledged rightly by non-other than the hapless John Baird, but what the minister fails to see is his own, and the New Government of Canada's, reflection peering back at him through his damnation of the UN.

Baird assures, Canada's diplomats will return to their posts following consultations on what future direction the country will take in dealing with the region. How seriously they will be taken upon that return remains to be seen.

Chris Cook hosts Gorilla Radio, airing live every Monday, 5-6pm Pacific Time. In Victoria at 101.9FM, and on the internet at: He also serves as a contributing editor to the web news site, 

Congratulations to Palestine from an Embarrassed Canada


With apologies from Canada - Congratulations Palestine

by Jim Miles

Once again Canada has assumed its sycophantic role of supporting the U.S. and Israel in their determination to ethnically cleanse the Palestinian territories. The reality of the vote for Palestinian participation in the UN is more realistically 138 yes to 2 no: the Pacific Island countries and Panama are essentially colonial protectorates of the U.S. even though they are “independent”: Canada is a well known supporter of the U.S. acting as an independent 51st state of the union; that leaves the Czech Republic as the only European country to support the vote.

Negotiations, negotiations, negotiations…

As usual, John Baird, Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister, gave Canada’s speech at the UN denouncing Palestinian attempts to join the UN. The speech had its standard Conservative “talking point”, this time being consistent unqualified reminders about “a two state solution, arrived at through direct negotiations”. To do this, Baird walked his listeners through the seventy year history of UN Resolutions concerning Palestine and Israel, conveniently ignoring the parts of the resolutions that did not suit his purpose but which over-ride his general argument on negotiations.

Perhaps this is because, as he says, the issues “are too intricate and too complex to be resolved by symbolic, unilateral measures.” This of course is the usual political discourse used to intimidate the public into thinking they are not to be part of the process, that better minds are at work. The symbolism of this move could be quite powerful - and indeed the vote tally demonstrates how isolated Israel, Canada, and the U.S. are in their support of Israel‘s position. Admittedly many of the other countries will not back up their vote with any further actions to try and force change on Israel, but the emotional mindset, the big idea, is out there loud and clear - Israel is on the wrong path, morally and legally.

As for unilateral measures, Israel and the U.S. both act unilaterally as they perceive it to be in their best interests; there is no reason for a Palestinian leader not to act the same way. Abbas was caught between a rock and a hard place. Hamas had just come away from another confrontation with Israel looking much more the defender and champion of Palestinian rights than the PLO/PA ‘government’ in Ramallah, a government that does not have democratic credentials for its direction as did Hamas.

The problem with negotiations is that they have not worked, at least not for peace. They have worked for Israel as a smokescreen for continued military occupation, annexation, expropriation, and settlement of Palestinian lands and the slow destruction of their culture. All this amounts to ongoing ethnic cleansing. The withdrawal of settlements from Gaza did nothing to change this, as it served as “formaldehyde” on the peace process and allowed the ongoing settlement of the West Bank.

Resolve these resolutions

As Baird breezes through the various resolutions since 1947, he gives constant reminders of how each resolution calls for negotiations - to start, to continue, or to be revived. Each subsequent resolution after the initial one also refers back to previous resolutions indicating that they should be fulfilled. What is missing from Baird’s presentation are the elements that are very significant within those resolutions that makes negotiations not quite the main principle Baird offers.

Baird’s first reference is Resolution 181, saying it has never been “fully implemented.” In reality, this resolution was never implemented at all as the Palestinians rejected it and the Jewish settlers and their armed militias, the Haganah and the Irgun, began the ethnic cleansing of Palestinian towns well before Israel unilaterally declared independence in 1948. This is contrary to resolution 181 as it states:

"The Security Council determine as a threat to the peace, breach of the peace or act of aggression in accordance with Article 39 of the Charter, any attempt to alter by force the settlement envisaged by this resolution."

In effect Resolution 181, with reference to the UN Charter, denies Israel the right to use force to change the situation in Palestine. As history has proven, Israel has used force consistently within the occupied territories, indeed all of historical Palestine, and has used force extensively against external territories as well.

The next reference Is Resolution 194, and yes it says something about negotiations. But more importantly for what Baird has ignored is Article 8 that states that Jerusalem is to be an international city under the control of the UN. And article 9 gives the right of return and compensation for the Palestinian refugees. So if the need to negotiate is sustained through time by further resolutions, Jerusalem being an international city and the right of Palestinian return are also both part of the resolution which is called upon in future resolutions.

Jumping ahead to 1967, Baird refers to Resolution 242, which, yes again, refers to negotiations. The Resolution begins by “Emphasizing the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war” and refers to UN Charter Article 2.4 that says:

"All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations," and states further in article 1.1 "Withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict."

If Baird is correct and consistent with his arguments, then Israel should withdraw its armed forces back to the “green line” positions at the beginning of the war - and even that is a grand concession of Palestinian territory to Israel, especially considering the “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war.” This resolution refers to previous resolutions so the positions on Jerusalem and refugee rights still stand.

From that point on, Baird keeps reiterating the negotiation stance while ignoring the other issues presented in the Resolutions. As Baird insists that Resolutions 242 and 338 (after the Yom Kippur war) form the “cornerstone of all subsequent peace commitments” then the articles identified above also need to be implemented. He states that negotiations are a “core principle”, but in reality according to the resolutions themselves negotiation is “immediately and concurrently with” the other principles indicated above.

Next up are the Oslo round of agreements, but the Oslo Accords have been shown to be a front by the U.S. and Israel while land annexations, expropriations, and settlements continued building in occupied Palestinian territory, against the precepts of the UN Charter and Resolutions 242 ands 338. Oslo II, in Article 31, under Final Clauses (section 7), stipulates that “Neither side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and Gaza pending the outcome of the permanent status negotiations.” Of course this is the period when enormous amounts of settler activity in the West Bank occurred and later the democratic elections of Hamas (2006) were annulled, both obvious steps that change the status of the West Bank and Gaza.

Later in 2002, Resolution 1397 calls for the resumption of the peace process, a process by this time recognized to be smoke and mirrors. But it also restates the importance of the earlier resolutions, “Recalling all its previous relevant resolutions, in particular resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973).”

And it goes on through Resolution 1515 and 1850, both reconfirming the earlier resolutions. That being the case, one can hardly wonder why the “negotiations” are emphasized by Israel and Canada. If the other elements of the resolutions were implemented as they should have been and as Baird so vociferously argues for, then Jerusalem would be an international city, the Israeli military would not occupy the West Bank nor turn Gaza into an internment camp, and the Palestinians would have the right of return or compensation for lands stolen and annexed by Israel.

Baird ends his train of thought - a very singular track indeed - with more calls for negotiations and the two state outcome. Both ideas are highly arguable especially now if reference is made to any map that shows the highly non-contiguous nature of what little land is left that is still considered Palestinian. Israel controls all the land and has all the power, backed by the world’s sole superpower, hardly an arrangement under which fair negotiations could occur.

The final argument is a full non-starter - “We call on both sides to return to the negotiating table without preconditions.”

Amazing considering that he has just argued for seventy years of preconditions - all the UN Resolutions so proudly quoted in defence of negotiations, none of which has been fulfilled in any form vis a vis Jerusalem, refugees, occupation, and international and humanitarian war crimes against other states and people.

Apologies from Canada

Is it possible that one citizen or two or a dozen can compensate for Canada’s official stupidity by apology alone? Canada pretends to be a big player on the world scene, with Stephen Harper’s Napoleon complex changing the way Canada interacts in the world. Canada’s threat is “we will be considering all available next steps.” Not much to worry about there, Canada can do nothing alone without the backing of the U.S. and Israel, perhaps withdraw an envoy or two, always a good step in communicating and negotiating.

The majority of Canadians did not vote for Harper, yet he still has a strong majority government in which, ironically, negotiations are not something that are considered to be important. Many Canadians, even on the liberal side of things, are still swayed by the rhetoric of the mainstream media, much of which comes from the U.S. and the third place opposition Liberals also support Canada’s role in voting no to the resolution.

Regardless, from those of us in Canada who do recognize international law and the UN Resolutions as they are written - and not as revised by Canada’s department of Foreign Affairs - we do support the people of Palestine in their ongoing search for peace within their homeland, and freedom from the oppression of a militarized state that has no real interest in accommodating them.

The vote may be symbolic, but symbolism carries a long history and a long memory.

This commentary was first published in Palestine Chronicle, November 30, 2012

Friday, November 30, 2012

Sex Scandals, Chinese Sensibility, and Western Press Excess


It’s Not Freedom vs. Truth; It’s Daniel Bell vs. Mark MacKinnon (and David Bandurski)

by Peter Lee - China Matters

In an interesting piece of synchronicity, just as the Lei Zhengfu sex tape case turned the microscope on the political minefields that Chinese reporters tiptoe through every day, the careful and circumspect work habits of PRC journalists were also invoked by Tsinghua University professor Daniel Bell in his response to a none-too-favorable profile of him by Mark MacKinnon in the Globe and Mail.
Dr. Bell is a favored intellectual for the PRC regime because he regards democracy as a relative rather than absolute good and thinks China is doing better with a mixed system of single-party rule at the top and some democratic rumblings down below.  Dr. Bell’s views go beyond the Burkean advocacy of social stability through elite rule (a strain recapitulated throughout the modern history of the West) to the rather questionable assumption that the PRC government is a high-functioning meritocracy, at least at the national level.
Dr. Bell is clearly not a favorite of Mr. MacKinnon, who did a reasonably workmanlike job of depicting him as a clueless ass.
Bell clearly felt there should have been some more back-and-forth on the profile, perhaps with an opportunity for rebuttal, instead of MacKinnon interviewing him and then going off to juxtapose Bell’s musings with some excoriating commentary from the neo-liberal quadrant characterizing him as a regime apologist or worse.
In a reply on Huffington Post, Bell contrasted his handling at the hands of Mr. MacKinnon with the apparently kid-glove treatment he receives from PRC state media:

"[T]here are some advantages to the Chinese way of reporting news. When Chinese journalists interview their subjects, they try to put forward a balanced account of what the interviewees have to say, with emphasis on what can be learned and communicated as something new and interesting. They rarely engage in muckraking, public character assassination, or put on a smiling face then betray their interviewees in print."
This rather Pollyannish take on Chinese journalism—Dr. Bell is seemingly oblivious to the intense and continual pressure to conform to or anticipate the news-management demands of editors, state, party, and/or any bigshot with enough juice to pick up the phone or order a reporter beat up—is not a persuasive rebuttal to a snide hatchet job by an unsympathetic reporter.
Unfortunately for Mr. MacKinnon, in the crude parlance of the day, he fucked up.
Per Dr. Bell:
"To be honest, I can live with all these mistakes and misleading innuendos. It won't be the first time interviewees have been victimized by muckraking journalists. What really hurts me, however, is that MacKinnon chose to implicate my wife (he has not met her). Before the article was published, I had forwarded an email from my wife asking that her name be left out of the article, but he chose to ignore that email.

"MacKinnon writes that "Prof. Bell's well-kept house as well as his background suggest his family is of the class he thinks should rule China." The implication is that I defend rule by the rich because it's in my class interest to do so. In fact, I do not think that rich people should rule China. An important advantage of a well-functioning political meritocracy is that it allows for upward (and downward) mobility based on ability and morality, not class background.

"But to press his vulgar Marxist argument, MacKinnon writes: "He met his wife, Song Bing, at Oxford University in 1989, a time when only top students with impeccable Communist credentials were allowed to leave China to study." In fact, my wife is not a party member, and she left China in 1988 because she was awarded a merit-based scholarship by the Hong Kong based Swire Corporation. At the time, my wife was an undergraduate at Peking University's law faculy, and she was admitted to that university as a result of having scored highly on the national university examinations in her home province of Hunan. Perhaps MacKinnon was led to think that "impeccable Communist credentials" played a role in helping my wife go abroad because my wife's 86 year old father was a local level communist cadre. Such "guilt by family association" was typical in the Cultural Revolution and maybe MacKinnon chose to borrow tactics from those days. In fact, the connection exists only in MacKinnon's mind. Again, he could have checked this information, but he chose not to."
The Globe and Mail corrected the article:
"There is a morally legitimate model of political rule that has more or less guided political reform over the last two or three decades,” Prof. Bell said in an interview at his tidy home in Shunyi, an upper-class suburb of the capital where he lives with his Chinese wife, a senior executive at Goldman Sachs China, whose father fought for the winning side in the Communist Revolution, and their teenage son.

"Set across the street from Beijing’s elite Dulwich College, Prof. Bell’s well-kept house as well as his background suggest his family is of the class he thinks should rule China. He met his wife, Song Bing, at Oxford University in 1988. She was there on a merit-based scholarship from the Hong Kong-based Swire Corporation. The couple lived in Singapore and Hong Kong before Prof. Bell was hired at Tsinghua in 2004, the first foreign philosophy professor to join the university since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949."

I particularly enjoy the grudging flavor of “whose father fought for the winning side in the Communist Revolution” and the retention of the rather eye-popping editorializing of “Prof. Bell’s well kept house as well as his background suggest his family is of the class he thinks should rule China.”
Apparently somebody—and/or his editor—could not stomach the idea of a thoroughgoing upgrade of these dismal paragraphs, because identifying Song Bing’s father as simply a local cadre or, for that matter, dropping the reference altogether, would have undercut the implication that anti-meritocratic party favoritism explained Mdme. Song’s impressive resume and Dr. Bell’s China-ruling taste in real estate.
 In fact—gulp—the fact that she won a merit scholarship to Oxford and then went on to become a heavyweight at Goldman Sachs might imply that Professor Bell has evidence of meritocracy in his own home!
What the heck.   People make mistakes and don’t like to admit them.  I’m the same way.  
Mr. MacKinnon’s voluminous Twitter feed understandably does not include a shout-out along the lines of “Check it out!  I had to retract some sloppy reporting!#Sorry Song Bing!”
Instead, he primly links to a vociferous attack on Bell’s Huffington Post article by David Bandurski of the Hong Kong Media Project.  It slides past the central issue in Bell’s piece—the dubious and undocumented innuendo concerning Mdme. Song’s bona fides—and tries to shift the attention to discrediting Bell for his wide-eyed protestations about the Chinese media.  It is a hurried (hey, Mr. Bandurski, the title of Bell’s piece isn’t “Freedom or Truth”, it’s “Freedom Over Truth”; it’s right there in the screen shot you grabbed from the Huffington Post) and not, to my jaundiced eye, a particularly effective piece of Fisking.
Bandurski really gets lost in the woods by sneering that Bell can’t even recognize the non-meritocratic nature of education at his own university, Tsinghua:
"In any case, it was the reading suggested by the headline [about academic freedom] that caught the attention of many Chinese academics at the time, prompting a bit of chatter and no doubt some eye rolling as well. China had just had a number of rather high-profile incidents underscoring problems in Chinese higher education. They all boiled down to a system that was not, cringe, merit-based. 

"In 2005 world-renowned artist Chen Danqing had resigned from Tsinghua in disgust over the unnecessarily rigid (not rigorous, mind you) screening system for student recruitment and academic qualification. Chen saw the system as antagonistic to talent. Right on the heels of Chen Danqing’s resignation from Tsinghua, prominent Peking University legal scholar He Weifang penned an open letter announcing that he would refuse to accept master’s degree students for the 2006 academic year. Why? Because the admissions process was fundamentally flawed, he said, and many of the brightest students were not being admitted because of needless and fussy requirements."
Needless, fussy, rigid?  Maybe.  Relying on punishing entrance exams that weed out people who don’t test well but could succeed and excel?  For sure.
But people who get into Tsinghua are smart.  Full stop.  Quite possibly, the reason for Prof. Bell’s idiosyncratic views on the meritocratic character of Chinese institutions is because he is in the privileged position of working with the best and brightest at one of the most meritocratic outfits in China.
In Mr. Bandurski’s effort to take down Bell, he reprints a China Youth Daily profile of Bell, one that Bell undoubtedly found infinitely more pleasing than MacKinnon’s (sample: Some students compliment him on his handsome looks, and unlike Westerners he doesn’t shrug nonchalantly and say, “Thank you.” He casts his eyes down, lowers his head and says, “Oh, it’s nothing” (哪里,哪里).
It provides some interesting information on Bell’s time in Singapore, which perhaps molded his optimistic outlook on single-party elitist/meritocratic governance, as well as an acceptance of political oversight:
“When I was teaching at the National University of Singapore, the department head there was a member of the ruling People’s Action Party. After he was replaced, the new department head wanted to see my list of readings, and he said I should speak more about communitarianism and less about John Stuart Mill (a representative figure of liberalism – reporter’s note). When I spoke about politically sensitive material such as Marxist ideas, a number of special people would appear in the classroom. When I used [Singapore’s] domestic politics to make my points, the students would keep quiet. For that reason, when my contract wasn’t renewed after it terminated there was nothing strange about it.”
It’s an awful thing to say, I guess, but you get a more useful perspective on Bell and his ideas from the China Youth Daily puff piece than you do from MacKinnon’s profile. Wonder what that means.

Rust Belt Nukes: Nuclear Power's Infrastructure Precarious Disintegration

Nuke Power’s Collapse Gets Ever More Dangerous


In the wake of this fall’s election, the disintegration of America’s decrepit atomic reactor fleet is fast approaching critical mass. Unless our No Nukes movement can get the worst of them shut soon, Barack Obama may be very lucky to get through his second term without a major reactor disaster.

All 104 licensed US reactors were designed before 1975—a third of a century ago. All but one went on line in the 1980s or earlier.

Plunging natural gas prices (due largely to ecologically disastrous fracking) are dumping even fully-amortized US reactors into deep red ink. Wisconsin’s Kewaunee will close next year because nobody wants to buy it. A reactor at Clinton, Illinois, may join it. Should gas prices stay low, the trickle of shut-downs will turn into a flood.

But more disturbing are the structural problems, made ever-more dangerous by slashed maintenance budgets.

*San Onofre Units One and Two, near major earthquake faults on the coast between Los Angeles and San Diego, have been shut for more than nine months by core breakdowns in their newly refurbished steam generators. A fix could exceed a half-billion dollars. A bitter public battle now rages over shutting them both.

*The containment dome at North Florida’s Crystal River was seriously damaged during “repair” efforts that could take $2 billion to correct. It will probably never reopen.

*NRC inspections of Nebraska’s Fort Calhoun, damaged during recent flooding, have unearthed a wide range of structural problems that could shut it forever, and that may have been illegally covered-up.

*Ohio’s Davis-Besse has structural containment cracks that should have forced it down years ago and others have been found at South Carolina’s V.C. Summer reactor pressure vessel.

*Intense public pressure at Vermont Yankee, at two reactors at New York’s Indian Point, and at New Jersey’s Oyster Creek (damaged in Hurricane Sandy) could bring them all down.

Projected completion of a second unit at Watts Bar, Tennessee, where construction began in the 1960s, has been pushed back to April, 2015. If finished at all, building this reactor may span a half-century.

Two new reactors under preliminary construction in South Carolina have been plagued by delays and cost overruns. Faulty components and concrete have marred two more under construction at Vogtle, Georgia, where builders may soon ask for a new delay on consideration of proposed federal loan guarantees.

This fall’s defeat of the very pro-nuclear Mitt Romney is an industry set-back. The return of Harry Reid (D-NV) as Senate Majority Leader means the failed Yucca Mountain waste dump will stay dead. A number of new Congressionals are notably pro-green, in line with Obama’s strong rhetorical support.

The move toward renewables has been boosted by Germany’s shut-down of eight reactors and huge investments in wind, solar and other renewables, which are exceeding financial and ecological expectations. Despite pro-nuke nay-sayers, Germany’s energy supply of energy has risen while prices have fallen.

The Department of Energy has confirmed that US solar power continues to drop in price. US employment in the solar industry has surged past 118,000, a rise of more than 13% over last year.

Despite a wide range of financial problems, including uncertainty over renewal of the Production Tax Credit, the green energy industry continues to expand. Along with marijuana, Colorado has now legalized industrial hemp, opening the door for a major bio-fuel that will have strong agricultural support.

At some near-term tipping point, the financial and political clout of the green energy industry will fly past that of atomic power.

But at Fukushima, a spent fuel pool crammed with some 1500 hugely radioactive rods still sits atop a deteriorating shell that could collapse with the inevitable upcoming earthquake. As the Earth hangs in the balance, the pool may or may not be emptied this coming year, depending on the dubious technical and financial capabilities of its owners, who are in a deep fiscal crater. Meanwhile, fish irradiated by the huge quantities of Fukushima emissions are being consumed here in the US.

Overall, the “nuclear renaissance” is in shambles. So is an industry increasingly comprised of rust-bucket fleet of decayed reactors in serious decline.

Solartopians everywhere can celebrate an election that seemed to show some progress toward saving our beleaguered planet.

But our survival still depends on shutting ALL these old reactors before the next Fukushima contaminates us with far more than just radioactive fish.


Harvey Wasserman’s SOLARTOPIA! OUR GREEN-POWERED EARTH is, along with WILL THE GOP STEAL AMERICA’S 2012 ELECTION?, co-authored with Bob Fitrakis.

Discount Morality: Big Box Slave Workers

Discounting Lives to Maximize Profits


Imitating Sgt. Schultz of “Hogan’s Heroes,” Walmart executives claimed they knew nothing—NOTHING—about working conditions in a garment factory in Bangladesh where 112 workers died and more than 150 were injured in a fire.

Tazreen Fashions made Walmart’s Faded Glory brand clothes, as well as clothes for Sears and other dozens of other major retailers. Walmart officials told the news media they had previously terminated Tazreen as a direct supplier because of concerns about fire hazards, but that another supplier had subcontracted the work to Tazreen. Walmart refused to identify the supplier. In an official statement, Walmart said that the fire was “extremely troubling to us, and we will continue to work with the apparel industry to improve fire safety education and training in Bangladesh.”

News reports indicate that survivors said fire extinguishers didn’t work, exit doors were locked, and there were no emergency exits. The AP reports that most fire extinguishers were not used, the workers having no knowledge of how to use them. According to the AP, most of the workers, about 70 percent of them women, were from the poorest sections of Bangladesh. More than 700 workers have died since 2005 from fires in the Bangladesh’s growing clothing manufacturing industry, according to the International Labor reporting Forum.

As with the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire in New York in 1911, where 146 women, most of them recent Jewish and Italian immigrants working in sweatshop conditions, the workers at Tazreen were burned alive trying to get through the doors that never opened, died from smoke inhalation, or jumped to their deaths. Many of the dead in both fires were buried in unmarked graves, their bodies unrecognizable. The Triangle fire eventually led to improved safety conditions and the rise of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union to protect workers from management callousness.

Walmart has a fierce anti-union policy for its own stores and employees, but doesn’t say much about working conditions in companies that supply merchandise, nor does it actively oppose unions in other companies overseas. There is no organized representation for most of the workers in Bangladesh sweatshops. Most workers earn $8.50 to $12.50 for a 48 hour work week, with mandatory overtime that can push them to as many as 80 hours. They receive two or three days off in a month. If Americans wonder why their clothes may not be as good as American-made clothes produced in union shops, the answer could be that the workers in Bangladesh may be mentally and physically fatigued, and that multinational corporations pressure suppliers to cut costs on material and labor. Bangladesh, now competing with China, shipped about $18 billion worth of merchandise to American and European corporations last year.

About 40 percent of all merchandise sold by Walmart is produced by contracts with manufacturers (most overseas), where low wages, excessive work hours, and poor working conditions are accepted practice. Walmart doesn’t make public the names of the companies which produce those “low prices” merchandise. However, it is known that it has contracts with several Bangladesh companies, as well as more than 20,000 Chinese manufacturers.

With revenue of more than $447 billion a year and about a 25 percent profit, Walmart is the largest public company in income in the world. But with its “low prices” slogan comes significant risk.

Walmart and other corporations have pushed American suppliers to outsource their own merchandise to overseas suppliers. More than 3.3 million American jobs will have been outsourced by 2015, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. However, Goldman Sachs projects that as many as seven million jobs will have been lost by 2014. Most are in clothing and computer/electronics manufacturing, and in service centers where American customers call “help” lines and often get a heavily-accented representative who says his name is “Sam.” What most politicians, business people, and the public don’t understand is there is a direct correlation between the number of jobs outsourced and high unemployment in the U.S.

Walmart, which originally established a “Buy American” slogan before strutting its “lower prices” philosophy, now claims that over half its merchandise is made in America. This may or may not be accurate—Walmart doesn’t give specifics. But, if accurate, most of that is from its expanded grocery stores. Clothing, electronics, household goods, and thousands of other products are still made overseas—usually in conditions that are, at best, sweatshops; at worst, death traps. Every Congressional bill to ban the import of products produced in sweatshop conditions has been smothered in the committee process.

It’s possible that Walmart executives and upper management of the 2.2 million employee corporation that has eyes in almost every spot of the world did not know about working conditions in Tazreen—or any of the other sweatshops in Asia. It’s also possible they did know, but did a PR shuffle to explain their indifference. It really doesn’t matter.  

The sweatshops allow the corporations to sell the cheap merchandise that results in higher return on investment for American corporations that rely upon American consumers who want cheap merchandise, and don’t seem to care where it comes from or how it’s produced.

But, even those Americans who do care, and would pay higher prices for merchandise produced by workers in unionized American manufacturing plants, usually don’t have a choice. It’s hard to find “Made in America” labels on clothes and numerous other products sold by major retailers that have largely ignored sweatshop conditions in order to maximize profit.

[Walter Brasch’s latest book is Before the First Snow, which looks at working conditions. Assisting on this column was Rosemary R. Brasch]

Walter M. Brasch, Ph.D.
 Latest Book: Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Pilger Supporting Assange

Statement by John Pilger in support of Canberra candlelight vigil for #Assange

by John Pilger

29 November 2012

I am sorry I can’t be with you at this vigil. I am in London keeping an eye on Julian. Be assured he’s doing remarkably well in the circumstances, and each time I see him I am struck by his energy and courage.

In my own career I have known what it’s like to challenge and sometimes confront great power. You enter another world – a world of shadows and the utter ruthlessness of state power.

When Julian designed and built WikiLeaks he knew he would become a state enemy – the reward was that he would be a rare voice of ordinary people. What he has done is important to all of us because these days the state, behind its democratic facades, has become in many ways an enemy of people.

At this vigil, please both understand that reality and celebrate the courage, and the resilience, of Julian Assange. He deserves all the power we, the people, can give him.