Monday, March 30, 2009

The Iran-U.S. Rapprochement Dance

Shape of things to come between Iran and the U.S.?

It is customary in an Iranian wedding ceremony, when asked, "Do you take this man?", for the bride to not answer "Yes!" the first time the question is posed. By tradition, the bride, but not the groom, is asked the signifying question three times. To show her proper upbringing, she must wait until the third time before answering 'Yes!' Otherwise, she may come off seeming too eager, not ladylike, not coy enough, aggressive or too enthusiastic (implying further bad things), way too much in a hurry, not able or patient enough to observe the proper decorum. Not good.

The Obama administration's recent overtures for a reconciliation with Iran have come in the form of sweet talk of opening up of fisted hands, accompanied with a quotation from the wily and clever Saadi, one of our more popular poets (1184-1283?). The initial Iranian responses to these Obama overtures are starting to resemble the coy Iranian bride's ladylike silence upon first being asked if she would take the man.

Initial reactions from the Iranian government were predictable rebukes and denunciations to the effect that nothing has changed in reality, that the Americans should draw some lessons from their past and present behavior if they really want better relations with Iran. Yet, the Supreme Leader, Grand Ayatollah Khamenei, left open the possibility that the Americans can and may change their attitude, in which case the Iranians likewise will change theirs; which is to say, "Keep talking! I'm listening."

Of course, the Iranian government would like nothing better than to have full and complete recognition from the global bully, a recognition that comes with a guarantee of unfettered turf and a ticket to actual and concrete cooperative joint projects with the global bully in regional matters, such as in 'stabilizing' Iraq and Afghanistan, where the Iranians can play a substantial role in furthering the agenda set out by the global bully. But, of course, the Iranians cannot come out and just say it like that. They have to play coy, or actually, even pissed off a bit initially, demanding the unfreezing of assets, the stopping of economic embargo and the hostile language; basically, demanding the stoppage of all abusive behavior, and a show of some real sweetness before this principled and pious bride is convinced that she can live comfortably within the coming union of objectives.

One of the signs of attitude change the Iranian side expects to see, one of the most obvious, is the un-freezing of the their assets held in American banks. This can easily be arranged without any loss of face on the part of the Americans, since not a really big deal, yet can be used in Iran as the proof that the Americans are starting to step on the righteous path and yielding to the Iranian people's demands. This in turn will lead to more open Iranian cooperation with, say, the NATO, providing them whatever help they can in the war against Afghanistan. In time, further concrete measures will be taken to bring the two states closer.

But, the 'bringing closer' of the two states will only work as long as the union is beneficial to the imperialists. As long as the major interests of the imperialists are reinforced and fortified, they will have no problem throwing around some crumbs.

Signs of relational improvements between the two sides have already manifested themselves. "[A] meeting took place on March 9 between NATO's Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs and Security Policy Martin Erdmann and Iran's Ambassador to Belgium, Luxembourg and the European Union, Ali-Asghar Khaji," (see here). There is also the invitation offered to Iran (and Iran's acceptance) to participate in a NATO-organized international conference, held on March 31, to deal with the war in Afghanistan.

And, as pertains to some of the things the Iranian government would like to see done by the American side, we have seen the throwing to the wolves of about 3,500 members of an Iranian opposition group, the People's Mojahedin (or Mojaheddin-e Khalq-e), camped for the past twenty years in a military compound north of Baghdad, some 50 miles from the Iranian border. This organization has been a major irritant to the Iranian regime ever since 1980. The Mojahedin in Iraq have been told their camp will be moved to a location far removed from the border and much more remote, and that they will have to leave Iraq. Their presence in Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam Hussain had been tolerated by the invaders and, presumably, held as a card to be used in any potential negotiations with the Iranian government. It seems that card is now in play.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Union movement urges action on Iran labor repression

Found @ SB News.

Union movement urges intervention over escalating repression in Iran
From International Transport Workers' Federation/March 12, 2009

The global trade union movement is pressing the International Labour Organization (ILO) for action in response to a growing tide of oppression against trade unionists in Iran.

Representatives of the ITF, Education International, the International Union of Food Workers and the International Trade Union Confederation made the appeal in a letter to the ILO’s director-general, Juan Somavia, on 9 March. In it they expressed concern over “an escalating pattern of arrests and intimidation of trade unionists in Iran”. They had “reason to fear for the physical and the psychological wellbeing and even the lives of the latest victims of state repression.” That was why they believed the ILO’s intervention was necessary.

The group referred to the latest wave of repression against the Haft Tapeh union, which represents some 5000 sugar cane plantation workers. Five of the union’s elected members had been charged with acting against national security following a strike over unpaid wages and were awaiting a verdict. Three others including the union’s president, Ali Nejati, had also been arrested. All except Nejati had been released.

The unionists also highlighted how teacher, Farzad Kamangar, currently in Evin Prison had received the death penalty and expressed alarm over reports that two executive board members of the Tehran bus workers’ union, the Vahed Syndicate, had last month been summoned by the secret police. They reminded Somavia that the union’s president, Mansour Osanloo and vice-president Ebrahim Madadi were both still in prison.

New incidences of harassment of other labour and human rights activists were regularly being reported, they said.

They urged the ILO to intervene to secure the release of Ali Nejati, Mansour Osanloo, Ebrahim Madadi and others. They also asked the organization to impress on the Iranian authorities that Kamangar’s case should be revisited and that any plans for an execution should be called off. It should, in addition, demand that charges against the Haft Tapeh workers be dropped and full legal guarantees ensured.

Israel's dirty secrets in Gaza

Found @ The Independent (UK).

Army veterans reveal how they gunned down innocent Palestinian families and destroyed homes and farms
By Donald Macintyre in Jerusalem/Friday, 20 March 2009

Israel was last night confronting a major challenge over the conduct of its 22-day military offensive in Gaza after testimonies by its own soldiers revealed that troops were allowed and, in some cases, even ordered to shoot unarmed Palestinian civilians.

The testimonies – the first of their kind to emerge from inside the military – are at marked variance with official claims that the military made strenuous efforts to avoid civilian casualties and tend to corroborate Palestinian accusations that troops used indiscriminate and disproportionate firepower in civilian areas during the operation. In one of the testimonies shedding harsh new light on what the soldiers say were the permissive rules of engagement for Operation Cast Lead, one soldier describes how an officer ordered the shooting of an elderly woman 100 metres from a house commandeered by troops.

In their own words: Soldiers' stories

Squad leader Aviv

"At the beginning the directive was to enter a house with an armoured vehicle, to break the door down, to start shooting inside and to ascend floor by floor and – I call it murder – to go from floor to floor and to shoot at everyone we identify. In the beginning I asked myself how could this make sense? Higher-ups said it is permissible because everyone left in the city [Gaza City] is culpable because they didn't run away. This frightened me a bit. I tried to influence it as much as possible, despite my low rank, to change it. In the end the directive was to go into a house, switch on loudspeakers and tell them 'you have five minutes to run away and whoever doesn't will be killed'."

Soldier Ram

"There was an order to free the [confined] families. The platoon commander set free the family and told them to turn right. A mother and two children didn't understand and turned left. [Officers] had forgotten to tell the sniper on the roof that they were being set free and that everything was okay and he should hold fire. You can say that he acted as he was supposed to, in accordance with the orders. The sniper saw a woman and children approaching him, past lines that no one was to be allowed to cross. He fired directly at them. I don't know if he fired at their legs but in the end he killed them."

Read the complete article here ...

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

What's Law Got To Do With It?

This is an expanded version of an earlier post.  

In an article titled, Memos Provide Blueprint for Police State, Marjorie Cohn, sets out clearly the role of two key figures in the drafting of a set of memoranda that overturned the most basic protections American citizens had against arbitrary state harassment and violence, effectively turning the U.S. into a police state.

Cohn has consistently recorded former administration of George W. Bush's violations of some of the most fundamental laws protecting civil liberties. She, along with Michael Ratner and Center for Constitutional Rights and others, have been vocal advocates of bringing key Bush administration officials to justice, for their willful violations of the U.S. laws, as well as international laws, for committing war crimes and crimes against humanity, and for their torture policies, as well as illegal spying on American citizens. All of which came about with the helpful signatures on official memoranda shot off from the desks of legal advisors such as John Yoo and Jay Bybee.

As she describes, "In one memo, Yoo said the Justice Department would not enforce U.S. laws against torture, assault, maiming and stalking, in the detention and interrogation of enemy combatants."

In her opening paragraph, Cohn states, "The memos provide “legal” rationales for the President to suspend freedom of speech and press; order warrantless searches and seizures, including wiretaps of U.S. citizens; lock up U.S. citizens indefinitely in the United States without criminal charges; send suspected terrorists to other countries where they will likely be tortured; and unilaterally abrogate treaties. According to the reasoning in the memos, Congress has no role to check and balance the executive. That is the definition of a police state."

The track record of the Bush administration in violating the most basic human rights of not only American citizens but citizens around the world is well established, tracked, recorded and tens of books have been written documenting all these crimes and violations. So, the true worth of the American system of justice shall be examined in the years to come, as we find out whether or not any cases are brought against the key people in leadership positions in the Bush administration, as well as their enablers in the lower ranks, for their willful criminal actions.

But the one striking feature that jumps out of this whole affair is the ease with which a series of memos made it 'legal' for the U.S. armed forces and security agencies to torture people, spy on citizens, rendition people to third countries to be tortured, and to even suspend freedom of speech and assembly; as tens of thousands of American demonstrators wishing to use their public spaces to assemble and practice their free speech rights can tell you.

So, we must ask: What is law? And is the U.S. a country based on laws? Clearly, 'law' has many aspects, and there are different kinds of laws. There is contract law, property law, trust law, tort law, and criminal law.

On another level, there are laws that define what is right, correct, good, if you like; things that 'should be' and, by deduction, things that 'should not be'. Included here are the Ten Commandments kind of laws prohibiting murder, theft, lusting after your neighbor's wife, and so on. There are also laws that define and protect the rights of people and entities, such as laws protecting people's freedom from random harassment by police officials, for example.

Then there are larger-structure laws that can be characterized as era-specific. Laws protecting slavery, for example, were such. For hundreds of years, in the colonial era as well as after the founding of the U.S. it was legal to hold slaves. After the Civil War, lynching of black people, though not sanctioned by law, had no legal repercussions for many decades. Another example of era-specific laws is those inaugurated by modernity, or rise of capitalism, protecting the right of expropriation of surplus labor of wage workers.

Finally, there are laws that came about as a result of the modernity's requirements for running a modern, complex state, clearly separated from the civil society, and superimposed on it. These are laws mapping the state apparatuses, their authority and jurisdiction, obligations and working mechanisms. In the U.S. these include constitutional law and administrative law, as well as international laws and treaties.

This last category of laws together with the era-specific laws protecting capitalist expropriation of surplus labor, shape, modify and potentially subvert all the other laws. Hence, the Marxists' formulation that 'law' is the formal and institutionalized expression of the balance of class powers, and legal developments correspond to the different stages of the class struggles ongoing in any given society, as well as regionally and internationally.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Fifth Annual Israeli Apartheid Week

Found at Israeli Apartheid Week via Counterpunch.

Fifth Annual Israeli Apartheid Week March 1 - 8, 2009
Mark your calendars - the 5th Annual Israeli Apartheid Week will take place across the globe from March 1-8, 2009!

First launched in Toronto in 2005, IAW has grown to become one of the most important global events in the Palestine solidarity calendar. Last year, more than 25 cities around the world participated in the week's activities, which also commemorated 60 years since the expulsion of the Palestinian people from their homes and land in 1947-1948. IAW 2008 was launched with a live broadcast from the South African township of Soweto by Palestinian leader and former member of the Israeli Knesset, Azmi Bishara.

This year, IAW occurs in the wake of Israel's barbaric assault against the people of Gaza. Lectures, films, and actions will make the point that these latest massacres further confirm the true nature of Israeli Apartheid. IAW 2009 will continue to build and strengthen the growing Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement at a global level.

Related article:
Apartheid Week (David Mandelzys; Counterpunch, March 4, 2009)