29 Nov 2011

From Corporate Ghost-Modernism to Anthropo-localism via... the Economics of Happiness


The International Society for Ecology and Culture (ISEC) is a non-profit organization whose mission is to promote systemic solutions to today’s social and environmental crises. Its educational work seeks to reveal the root causes of those crises—from unemployment to climate change, from ethnic conflict to the loss of biodiversity— while promoting grassroots and policy-level strategies for ecological and community renewal.

a film by Helena Norberg-Hodge, Steven Gorelick & John Page

Far from the old institutions of power, people are starting to forge a very different future...

Vandana Shiva, Bill McKibben, David Korten, Michael Shuman, Juliet Schor, Richard Heinberg, Rob Hopkins, Andrew Simms, Zac Goldsmith, Samdhong Rinpoche, Clive Hamilton, Mohau Pheko, Keibo Oiwa and more...

Further measurement tools may be found via the Genuine Progress Index (GPI)...

... rather than the dated, environmentally eco-cidal Gross Domestic Product (GDP)!

Mr. Fish's Cartoons: Democracy Keeps Me Up at Night

28 Nov 2011

Kuala Lumpur tribunal: Bush and Blair guilty

A war crimes tribunal in Malaysia offers a devastating critique of international criminal law institutions today.
by Richard Falk

In Kuala Lumpur, after two years of investigation by the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Commission (KLWCC), a tribunal (the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Tribunal, or KLWCT) consisting of five judges with judicial and academic backgrounds reached a unanimous verdict that found George W Bush and Tony Blair guilty of crimes against peace, crimes against humanity, and genocide as a result of their roles in the Iraq War.

A tribunal in Malaysia's capital found George W. Bush and Tony Blair guilty of War Crimes in Iraq [GALLO/GETTY]

The proceedings took place over a four-day period from November 19-22, and included an opportunity for court-appointed defense counsel to offer the tribunal arguments and evidence on behalf of the absent defendants. They had been invited to offer their own defense or send a representative, but declined to do so. The prosecution team was headed by two prominent legal personalities with strong professional legal credentials: Gurdeal Singh Nijar and Francis Boyle. The verdict issued on November 22, 2011 happens to coincide with the 48th anniversary of the assassination of John F Kennedy.

The tribunal acknowledged that its verdict was not enforceable in a normal manner associated with a criminal court operating within a sovereign state or as constituted by international agreement, as is the case with the International Criminal Court. But the KLWCT followed a juridical procedure purported to operate in a legally responsible manner. This would endow its findings and recommendations with a legal weight expected to extend beyond a moral condemnation of the defendants, but in a manner that is not entirely evident.

The KLWCT added two "Orders" to its verdict that had been adopted in accordance with the charter of the KLWCC that controlled the operating framework of the tribunal: 1) Report the findings of guilt of the two accused former heads of state to the International Criminal Court in The Hague; and 2) Enter the names of Bush and Blair in the Register of War Criminals maintained by the KLWCC.

The tribunal also added several recommendations to its verdict: 1) Report findings in accord with Part VI (calling for future accountability) of the Nuremberg Judgment of 1945 addressing crimes of surviving political and military leaders of Nazi Germany; 2) File reports of genocide and crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court in The Hague; 3) Approach the UN General Assembly to pass a resolution demanding that the United States end its occupation of Iraq; 4) Communicate the findings of the tribunal to all members of the Rome Statute (which governs the International Criminal Court) and to all states asserting Universal Jurisdiction that allows for the prosecution of international crimes in national courts; and 5) Urge the UN Security Council to take responsibility to ensure that full sovereign rights are vested in the people of Iraq and that the independence of its government be protected by a UN peacekeeping force.

Mahathir Mohamed's anti-war campaign

These civil society legal initiatives are an outgrowth of a longer-term project undertaken by the controversial former Malaysian head of state, Mahathir Mohamed, to challenge American-led militarism and to mobilise the global South to mount an all-out struggle against the war system.

This vision of a revitalised struggle against war and post-colonial imperialism was comprehensively set forth in Mahathir's remarkable anti-war speech of February 24, 2003, while still prime minister, welcoming the Non-Aligned Movement to Kuala Lumpur for its thirteenth summit.

Included in his remarks on this occasion were the following assertions that prefigure the establishment of the KLWCC and KLWCT:
"War must be outlawed. That will have to be our struggle for now. We must struggle for justice and freedom from oppression, from economic hegemony. But we must remove the threat of war first. With this sword of Damocles hanging over our heads we can never succeed in advancing the interests of our countries.?War must therefore be made illegal. The enforcement of this must be by multilateral forces under the control of the United Nations. No single nation should be allowed to police the world, least of all to decide what action to take, [and] when."
Mahathir stated clearly on that occasion that his intention in criminalising the behavior of aggressive warmaking and crimes against humanity was to bring relief to victimised peoples - with special reference to the Iraqis, who were about to be attacked a few weeks later; and the Palestinians, who had long endured mass dispossession and an oppressive occupation. This dedication of Mahathir to a world without war was reaffirmed through the establishment of the Kuala Lumpur Foundation to Criminalise War, and his inaugural speech opening a Criminalising War Conference on October 28, 2009.

On February 13, 2007 Mahathir called on the KLWCC to prepare a case against Bush and Blair, whom he held responsible for waging aggressive warfare against Iraq. Mahathir, an outspoken critic of the Iraq War and its aftermath, argued at the time that there existed a need for an alternative judicial forum to the ICC, which was unwilling to indict Western leaders. Mahathir was in effect insisting that no leader should any longer be able to escape accountability for such crimes against nations and peoples. He acknowledged with savage irony the limits of his proposed initiative: "We cannot arrest them, we cannot detain them, and we cannot hang them the way they hanged Saddam Hussein." Mahathir also contended that, "The one punishment that most leaders are afraid of is to go down in history with a certain label attached to them ... In history books they should be written down as war criminals and this is the kind of punishment we can make to them".

With this remark, Mahathir prefigured the KLWCC register of war criminals that has inscribed the names of those convicted by the KLWCT. Will it matter? Does such a listing have traction in our world?

In his 2007 statement, Mahathir promised that a future KLWCT would not, in his words, be "like the 'kangaroo court' that tried Saddam". Truly, the courtroom proceedings against Saddam Hussein was a sham trial excluding much relevant evidence, disallowing any meaningful defense, and culminating in a grotesque and discrediting execution. Saddam Hussein was subject to prosecution for multiple crimes against humanity, as well as crimes against peace, but the formally "correct" trappings of a trial could not obscure the fact that this was a disgraceful instance of victors' justice. Of course, the media, to the extent that it notices civil society initiatives at all, condemns them in precisely the same rhetoric that Mahathir used to attack the Saddam trial, insisting that the KLWCT is a "kangaroo court" or a "circus". The Western media, without exception, has ignored this proceeding against Bush and Blair, presumably considering it as irrelevant and a travesty of the law, while giving considerable attention to the almost concurrent UN-backed Cambodia War Crimes Tribunal prosecuting surviving Khmer Rouge operatives accused of genocidal behavior in the 1970s. For the global media, the auspices make all the difference.

Universal jurisdiction

The KLWCT did not occur entirely in a jurisprudential vacuum. It has long been acknowledged that domestic criminal courts can exercise universal jurisdiction for crimes of state wherever these may occur, although usually only if the accused individuals are physically present in the court. In American law, the Alien Tort Claims Act allows civil actions provided personal jurisdiction of the defendant is obtained for crimes such as torture committed outside of the United States.

The most influential example was the 1980 Filartiga decision awarding damages to a victim of torture in autocratic Paraguay (Filartiga v. Peña 620 F2d 876). That is, there is a sense that national tribunals have the legal authority to prosecute individuals accused of war crimes wherever in the world the alleged criminality took place. The underlying legal theory is based on the recognition of the limited capacity of international criminal trials to impose accountability in a manner that is not entirely dictated by geopolitical priorities and reflective of a logic of impunity. In this regard, universal jurisdiction has the potential to treat equals equally, and is very threatening to the Kissingers and Rumsfelds of this world, who have curtailed their travel schedules. The United States and Israel have used their diplomatic leverage to roll back universal jurisdiction authority in Europe, especially in the United Kingdom and Belgium.

To a certain extent, the KLWCT is taking a parallel path to criminal accountability. It does not purport to have the capacity to exert bodily punishment, and stakes its claims to effectiveness on publicity, education, and symbolic justice. Such initiatives have been undertaken from time to time since the Russell Tribunal of 1967 to address criminal allegations arising out of the Vietnam War, whenever there exists public outrage and an absence of an appropriate response by governments or the institutions of international society.

In 1976, the Lelio Basso Foundation in Rome established a Permanent Peoples Tribunal that generalised on the Russell experience. It believed that there was an urgent need to fill the institutional gap in the administration of justice worldwide that resulted from geopolitical manipulation and resulting formal legal regimes of double standards. Over the next several decades, the PPT addressed a series of issues ranging from allegations of American intervention in Central America and Soviet intervention in Afghanistan to human rights in the Philippines' Marcos dictatorship, the dispossession of Indian communities in Brazil's Amazonia state, and the denial of the right of self-determination to the Puerto Rican people.

The most direct precedent for KLWCT was the World Tribunal on Iraq (WTI), held in Istanbul in 2005, which culminated a worldwide series of hearings carried on between 2003-2005 on various aspects of the Iraq War. As with KLWCT, it also focussed on the alleged criminality of those who embarked on the Iraq War. WTI proceedings featured many expert witnesses, and produced a judgment that condemned Bush and Blair, among others, and called for a variety of symbolic and societal implementation measures.

The jury Declaration of Conscience included this general language:
"The invasion and occupation of Iraq was and is illegal. The reasons given by the US and UK governments for the invasion and occupation of Iraq in March 2003 have proven to be false. Much evidence supports the conclusion that a major motive for the war was to control and dominate the Middle East and its vast reserves of oil as a part of the US drive for global hegemony… In pursuit of their agenda of empire, the Bush and Blair governments blatantly ignored the massive opposition to the war expressed by millions of people around the world. They embarked upon one of the most unjust, immoral, and cowardly wars in history."
Unlike KLWCT, the tone and substance of the formal outcome of the WTI was moral and political rather than strictly legal, despite the legal framing of the inquiry. For a full account see Muge Gursoy Sokmen's World Tribunal on Iraq: Making the Case Against War (2008).

Justifying tribunals

Two weeks before the KLWCT, a comparable initiative in South Africa was considering allegations of apartheid directed at Israel in relation to dispossession of Palestinians and the occupation of a portion of historic Palestine (this was the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, South African Session, November 5-7 2011).

All these "juridical" events had one thing in common: The world system of states and institutions was unwilling to look a particular set of facts in the eye, and respond effectively to what many qualified and concerned persons believed to be a gross injustice. In this regard, there was an intense ethical and political motivation behind these civil society initiatives that invoked the authority of law. But do these initiatives really qualify as "law"? A response to such a question depends on whether the formal procedures of sovereign states, and their indirect progeny - international institutions - are given a monopoly over the legal administration of justice. I would side with those that believe that people are the ultimate source of legal authority, and have the right to act on their own when governmental procedures, as in these situations, are so inhibited by geopolitics that they fail to address severe violations of international law.

Beyond this, we should not neglect the documentary record compiled by these civil society initiatives operating with meager resources. Their allegations almost always exhibit an objective understanding of available evidence and applicable law, although unlike governmental procedures, this assessment is effectively made prior to the initiation of the proceeding.

It is this advance assurance of criminality that provides the motivation for making the formidable organisational and fundraising effort needed to bring such an initiative into play. But is this advance knowledge of the outcome so different from war crimes proceedings under governmental auspices? Indictments are made in high-profile war crimes cases only when the evidence of guilt is overwhelming and decisive, and the outcome of adjudication is known as a matter of virtual certainty before the proceedings commence.

In both instances, the tribunal is not really trying to determine guilt or innocence, but rather is intent on providing the evidence and reasoning that validates and illuminates a verdict of guilt and resulting recommendations in one instance and criminal punishment in the other. It is, of course, impossible for civil society tribunals to enforce their outcomes in any conventional sense. Their challenge is rather to disseminate the judgment as widely and effectively as possible. A Permanent Peoples Tribunal publication can sometimes prove to be surprisingly influential in book form, given the extensive factual basis it presents in reaching its verdict. This was reportedly the case in generating oppositional activism in the Philippines in the early 1980s during the latter years of the Marcos regime.

The legalism of the KLWCT

The KLWCT has its own distinctive identity. It has the imprint of an influential former head of state in the country where the tribunal was convened, giving the whole undertaking a quasi-governmental character. It also took account of Mahathir's wider campaign against war in general. The assessing body of the tribunal was composed of five distinguished jurists, including judges, from Malaysia, imparting an additional sense of professionalism. The chief judge was Abdel Kadir Salaiman, a former judge on Malaysia's federal court. Two other persons who were announced as judges were recused at the outset of the proceedings, one because of supposed bias associated with prior involvement in a similar proceeding, and another due to illness. There was also a competent defense team that presented arguments intended to exonerate the defendants Bush and Blair, although the quality of the legal arguments offered was not as cogent as the evidence allowed.

The tribunal operated in strict accordance with a charter that had been earlier adopted by the KLWCC, and imparted a legalistic tone to the proceedings. It is this claim of legalism that is the most distinctive feature of the KLWCT - unlike comparable undertakings that rely more on an unprofessional and loose application of law by widely known moral authority personalities and culturally prominent figures, who make no pretense of familiarities with legal procedure and the fine points of substantive law. In this respect, the Iraq War Tribunal (IWT) held in Istanbul in 2005 was more characteristic. It pronounced on the law and offered recommendations on the basis of a politically and morally oriented assessment of evidence by a jury of conscience. The tribunal was presided over by the acclaimed Indian writer and activist Arundhati Roy, and composed of a range of persons with notable public achievements, but without claims to expert knowledge of the relevant law, although extensive testimony by experts in international law did give a persuasive backing to the allegations of criminality. Also, unlike KLWCT, the IWT made no pretense of offering a defense to the charges.

Tribunals of 'conscience' or 'law'?

It raises the question for populist jurisprudence as to whether "conscience" or "law" is the preferred and more influential grounding for this kind of non-governmental initiative. In neither case does the statist-oriented mainstream media pause to give attention, even critical attention. In this regard, only populist democratic forces with a cosmopolitan vision will find such outcomes as Kuala Lumpur notable moves toward the establishment of what Derrida called the "democracy to come". Whether such forces will become numerous and vocal enough remains uncertain. One possible road to greater influence would be to make more imaginative uses of social networking potentials to inform, explain, educate, and persuade.

This recent session of the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Tribunal offers a devastating critique of the persisting failures of international criminal law mechanisms of accountability to administer justice justly, that is, without the filters of impunity provided by existing hierarchies of hard power.

Richard Falk is Albert G. Milbank Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University and Visiting Distinguished Professor in Global and International Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He has authored and edited numerous publications spanning a period of five decades, most recently editing the volume, International Law and the Third World: Reshaping Justice (Routledge, 2008).

He is currently serving his third year of a six year term as a United Nations Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

24 Nov 2011

The rich: Exactly what does the terminology mean?

By Caroline McClatchey

BBC News Magazine

"Bankers", "the rich" and "the 1%" have become part of the lexicon of a maelstrom of protest. But what do the terms really mean?

A wave of protests across the world and of more measured anger expressed in newspaper letters pages and on social networking sites have thrown up a new lexicon of resentment of the wealthy and the powerful.

But how did all these newly popular terms come to be used as they are?

"The rich"

Everyone knows someone they consider to be rich. But many would struggle with a precise definition, and plenty considered rich by others would shy away from using the term.

In his book Richistan, Wall Street Journal reporter Robert Frank concluded that "people's definition of rich is subjective and is usually twice their current net worth". Some people would define rich as having more money than you "need" to live, but definition of "needs" vary dramatically.

A survey of professional households by insurance firm Hiscox suggested an annual income of £93,000 in the UK was hard to manage on. Those polled complained of feeling broke and said they would need to earn more than £150,000 before they felt wealthy.

For some, merely owning a business means you are wealthy, regardless of whether it's a corner shop or a multinational company. During the summer riots in England, two teenage looters explained that they were showing the police and "the rich" they could do what they wanted. But their definition of rich seemed to encompass anyone who owned a shop. "It's the rich people, the people who have businesses," said one.

At the other end of the spectrum, Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich was pressed during a court appearance recently on whether one of his partners was, in his opinion, rich.

"It's hard for me to say whether someone is a wealthy person or not a wealthy person," he said.

Lurking under the surface is the knowledge that "the rich" is a hostile term in this era. During the 2008 US presidential election, Republican John McCain declared he was not a rich man, despite owning several homes.

But is there any neutral set of parameters for richness?

One way of dividing the rich from the middle class is through the top tax rate, which kicks in at £150,000 a year in the UK and $379,151 in the US.

Millionaires used to be the most obvious qualifiers for the "rich" label, but they aren't very rare these days, and the number of billionaires is rising.

The Forbes list of the world's richest people lists more than 1,200 billionaires across the globe, with Russia and China boasting more than 100 billionaires each. The US has more than 400 billionaires and Microsoft founder Bill Gates is top of the pile with a net worth of $59bn.

There are 73 billionaires in the UK - up from 53 the previous year, according to the latest Sunday Times Rich List.

Prof John Van Reenen, director of the Centre for Economic Performance, says you need to be making more than £140,000 a year to be among the top 1% of UK earners. (See the entry below on the 1%.)

"If you look at the top 1% of the population over the last 100 years, a century ago a big chunk of the money would have not have come from earnings - it would have come from investment returns and bequests. Today the vast majority comes from earnings."

The definition of rich has certainly changed over time.

"Powerful, mighty; noble, great." That's the first reference to rich in the Oxford English Dictionary but this definition, from Anglo Saxon times, is now obsolete.

But it also meant "having much money or abundant assets; wealthy, moneyed, affluent" and this meaning has stayed the course.

The further back you go, the rich were richer in comparative terms, says Prof Bill Rubinstein, an expert on the history of the wealthy. But there are more wealthy people now because of the rise in house prices in the UK.

In 1880 a rich person would have had £100,000 in assets or an income of £10,000 a year, he says. About a hundred people a year died leaving £100,000 and by 1910 this was 250 - "a microscopic fraction of the number of deaths at the time".

Prof Rubinstein thinks annual earnings of £250,000 is the cut-off point today and says the rich-poor divide has always been tolerable only as long as the poor have opportunities.

"The 1%"

"We are the 99%".

That's the rallying cry of the Occupy Wall Street movement which pitched its tents in Manhattan's financial district on 17 September in a move that spread to other US cities and around the world.

While it is difficult to pin down the protesters' exact goals, their terminology has been widely used in the media.

In 2009, it took "just" $343,927 a year to join the elite group at the top of the ladder of US taxpayers. Just under 1.4 million households qualified for entry, they earned nearly 17% of the nation's income and paid roughly 37% of its income tax.

Richard Wolff, emeritus professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts, used figures from a new Congressional Budget Office report to back up the basic claim of Occupy Wall Street.

"Simply put, the CBO report shows that over the last quarter century (1979 to 2007, to be exact), the top 1% of income earners enjoyed far, far bigger real income gains than the other 99%," he wrote.

The picture is even more dramatic if you consider wealth - the total value of a household or individual's assets such as their home and investments.

According to data compiled by economist Edward Wolff in 2007, 99% hold about two-thirds of American wealth, meaning the top 1% has nearly a third.

However, the Guardian has crunched the numbers and says the divide in the US is more like the 0.01% v the 99.99%.

"Occupy" is the top word of 2011, according to the Global Language Monitor's annual global survey of the English language.

And in 10th place is "(The Other) 99", referring to the majority of those living in Western democracies who are left out of the dramatic rise in earnings associated with the top 1%.

But the Occupy protesters were not the first to use "the 1%". It has been cropping up in surveys, forecasts and reports for years.

In the UK, the richest 1% take about 14% of all income - the highest since World War II but lower than the interwar period, according to the London School of Economics' Centre for Economic Performance.

Its study looks at who they are and how their pay has changed over the past decade. A Manchester United footballer was paid an average of £941,000 last year compared to £357,000 in 2001, a top barrister's pay jumped from £286,700 to £535,417, and a partner in an accountancy firm went from £472,000 to £759,000.

The chief executive of a FTSE350 company - the index of the 350 biggest companies in the UK - was paid an average of £1.5m last year, compared with £969,000 in 2001.

Ruth Lea, economic adviser to the Arbuthnot Banking Group, says the phrase "the top 1%" should always take wealth into account.

"When it gets into the press, it's about earnings rather than wealth. It is not what I believe to be the concept of rich."

Many people would assume the top 1% are all bankers but it also includes landowners and long-standing family businesses, she says.

"In a society like ours, which is still class-ridden, there's an amazing acceptance of extremely wealthy people who have inherited the wealth. They don't come in for the criticism that the likes of Bob Diamond (chief executive of Barclays Bank) comes in for.

"It's hard for people to grab hold of the idea that his contribution to the business is that many times bigger than someone else's."


"Bankers" has become a catch-all "boo-word" that can be seen on thousands of placards and letters pages.

Many people imagine bankers to be pinstriped, Porsche-driving men who have big houses and high-maintenance trophy wives.

Just this week, there was a story about a banker in London who spent £37,000 on dancers, Cristal champagne and food at Spearmint Rhino, a lap dancing club in London. The financier was described as a "youngish, slim Englishman" who was "celebrating a massive windfall", on his own.

According to analysis run by Collins Dictionaries, the verbs most commonly used in English with "banker" from 2009-11 are "disgrace" and "shame", says editor Ian Brookes.

Ex-Royal Bank of Scotland boss Sir Fred Goodwin will always be "disgraced", as far as some headline writers are concerned.

The most common adjective used with banker is "greedy", which is almost twice as common as the next adjective "responsible", though this is usually used in phrases like "bankers who are responsible for the mess", notes Brookes.

"Bash", as in "banker bashing", also stands out as a new connection.

Earlier this year Jamie Dimon, chief executive of JP Morgan, hit out against "banker bashing", saying it was a "huge misconception" that all banks ran into trouble during the financial crisis.

Bankers have all been tarred with the same brush, says London-based head-hunter John Purcell.

Protesters are singling out the top 1% of the banking community who tend to earn the telephone number salaries and lumping them together with everyone who works in the financial sector, suggests Purcell.

"The protesters, whether they appreciate it or not, are really only talking about a tiny fraction of that group. They are not looking at the vast majority of people who earn reasonable reward."

Other categories of high finance worker, like hedge fund managers, have been criticised, but "hedgies" has not proliferated across placards. Of course, it was banks that were the main targets of the bailouts, but insurance company AIG was bailed out too.

"Squeezed middle"

This was a term that was ridiculed when Labour Party leader Ed Miliband first used it. Now it has earned a certain degree of status as global word, or rather two words, of the year.

Chosen by Oxford University Press lexicographers in the UK and the US, it refers to hard-working families on an average income, who are seeing their living standards eroded by rising prices, pay freezes, cuts to their pensions and increases in VAT. Like Prime Minister David Cameron's Big Society the term is widely used if not always understood.

Miliband came in for a bit of stick when he struggled to define the term during an interview on Radio 4's Today programme earlier this year but it now appears to have taken root.

Susie Dent, spokeswoman for Oxford Dictionaries and language expert on Channel 4's Countdown, says the power of the label lies in its vagueness.

It's something that a large proportion of the electorate feel they belong to, she says.

"It has actually been around for some time. Bill Clinton quite liked the idea of the squeezed middle. He talked about hard-pressed working families squeezed in the middle which sounds very familiar."

Dent believes squeezed middle is here to stay but it needs to show more longevity before making it into an Oxford dictionary.

The words squeeze and middle are now seven times more likely to occur together than any two random words, says Brookes.

He found the phrase "this squeezed middle white class" in the 1928 book Dark Princess: A Romance by William Edward Burghardt Du Bois. There is a reference to the "squeezed middle class" in the Toronto Globe and Mail in 2003 and the "squeezed middle" first appeared in 2010.

"Fat cat"

Fat cats are great fodder for newspaper cartoonists. They are are usually smoking big fat cigars and their greedy grin screams "we got the cream". A giant Fat Cat flap is also occasionally drawn.

The word was first used in the 1920s in the US to describe rich political donors, but now it tends to be shorthand for those who are seen to have it easy at the expense of others.

In 2009, US President Barack Obama criticised "fat cat" bankers who pay themselves large bonuses.

There has been a gradual increase in the use of this term since the 1960s, says Brookes. From 2009-11, "fat" is the most commonly used adjective in front of "cat" - "pet" is second, followed by "stray", "pussy" and "scaredy".

The term was once aimed near-exclusively at people in the private sector, but now it's frequently used to describe those in the public sector.

Headlines such as "Town hall fat cats should be ashamed" and "The council 'fat cat' earning £570,000" are now typical.

23 Nov 2011

CIA's Operation to Assasinate bin Laden Damages Children's Vaccination Programme

A health worker, right, administers a polio vaccine to a child during a vaccination campaign in Afghanistan in October 2011. A CIA decision to disguise a spy operation as a health mission might strengthen some fundamentalist religious leaders' mistrust of vaccines. (Photo credit should read Aref Karimi/AFP/Getty Images)

via In These Times:

The agency’s public health ruse to confirm Bin Laden’s whereabouts caused collateral damage.

by Terry J. Allen

One grotesque aspect of the covert operation against Osama bin Laden has the potential to blow back—with the easy loft of a germ in a windstorm—and kill millions, especially children.

The Obama administration now openly embraces assassination as a useful and legal tactic in the increasingly amorphous project called “war.” But a new twist will spread collateral damage far beyond luckless civilians who are in the wrong place at the wrong time when Navy Seals swoop in, or when hit squads in bland U.S. offices unleash deadly remote-controlled drone strikes halfway around the globe.

Before deploying its team, the U.S. government sought to confirm that Bin Laden was actually in the walled compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Not a bad idea. But then the CIA cooked up a ruse to obtain confirmatory DNA by entering the house under the guise of a Hepatitis B vaccination program.

Although the “medical” team got inside, it is not known if it obtained the proof it sought. But the CIA decision to disguise a spy operation as a health mission did supply clear evidence to people around the world who fear that vaccination is a Western plot. Already suspicious, they will cite this abuse to resist immunization against polio, measles, cervical cancer and other debilitating diseases.

“In the mountains, the religious people can use [the Hep-B plot] to say, ‘See? We have been saying there is an agenda,’” Atiq ur-Rehman, director of a hospital in Peshawar, told the Washington Post in July.

The Taliban and other fundamentalist religious leaders (and some Americans) need no encouragement in concocting fabulous conspiracies. Even before the CIA operation, skeptics were charging that Western-sponsored vaccines are designed to sterilize or exterminate Muslims. Others assert that Islam forbids vaccination, charging that the drugs contain “extracts from bones and fat of an animal prohibited by God: the pig,” as Pakistani Taliban commander Maulvi Faqir Mohammed announced on a radio station that reaches from eastern Afghanistan to northwest Pakistan, according to the AP.

The CIA defends its Abbottabad “vaccination” program with a combination of outright lies and blame-the-victim stupidity. “It was conducted by genuine medical professionals who planned to provide everyone with the full course of treatments,” the Guardian reported, quoting “a senior U.S. official.” (In fact, the CIA-sponsored team gave only a small number of children the first of three required shots, and never followed up on the other doses.) “The damage here was caused by locals reacting to the mistaken idea that this was a fake public health effort.”

Tell that to Save the Children, which had to suspend medical programs and evacuate personnel because the Hep-B team-head had covered for the CIA mission by concocting a specious affiliation with the nonprofit.

The broader impact of the misguided covert op is on global public health itself. Saving millions of lives a year, vaccination has been the most effective medical intervention in history, next to clean drinking water. Before vaccination made it the first major disease to be eradicated, smallpox took 5 million lives annually. The measles vaccine has more than halved the number of deaths to the still-unconscionable figure of 1 million-plus a year. And polio, which used to claim hundreds of thousands annually, has been largely contained by vaccination efforts.

But just as the prospect of eradicating polio nears, programs are starting to falter, and vaccination fear is a key factor. In 2009 and 2010, 23 previously polio-free countries were re-infected by imports of the virus, according to the World Health Organization. The worst-affected area happens to be where the CIA ran its scam. Pakistan and Afghanistan (along with India and Nigeria) are the world’s only remaining polio-endemic countries, and rates are rising in Pakistan and Nigeria.

So the CIA got its man, but the deception—disguising spies as caring medical personnel—was lethally shortsighted. Such blatant violations of medical ethics stoke conspiracy theories with real fuel.

The fire is spreading. “As long as a single child remains infected, children in all countries are at risk of contracting polio,” the WHO reports. And the same is true for adults, and for the many diseases that are preventable through safe immunization—an effort that is contaminated when governments and spy agencies hijack public health.

22 Nov 2011

Occupy Spring

Here is one of the boldest predictions: the Age of Ghost-Modern, post-industrial, corporate capitalism is finally going to end its centuries' old boom-bust-ic life-cycle this coming spring, in 2012!

The demise of the middle classes and their civil(ised?) society has brought a critical reduction in the size, scope and status of these social actors to the exploitable/subaltern status of (vaguely human) resources, mere spare parts destined to be exploited (via the Great Speedup) for the selfish benefit of a microscopic kleptocracy.

Wallerstein's analysis, as presented by the Al-Jazeera network, is but one attempt at drawing parallels between counter-narratives united by an irrepressible quest for social justice...

via Al-Jazeera

The spirit of 1968 flows through Arab Spring and Occupy movement - as its counter-current attempts to suppress uprising.

by Immanuel Wallerstein
In 1968, socially and economically marginalised groups of people protested in a global movement [Gallo/Getty]

The turmoil in Arab countries that is called the Arab Spring is conventionally said to have been sparked by the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi in a small village of Tunisia on December 17, 2010. The massive sympathy this act aroused led, in a relatively short time, to the destitution of Tunisia's president and then to that of Egypt's president. In very quick order thereafter, the turmoil spread to virtually every Arab state and is still continuing.

Most of the analyses we read in the media or on the internet neglect the fundamental contradiction of this phenomenon - that the so-called Arab Spring is composed of two quite different currents, going in radically different directions. One current is the heir of the world-revolution of 1968. The "1968 current" might better be called the "second Arab revolt".

Its objective is to achieve the global autonomy of the Arab world that the "first Arab revolt" had sought to achieve. The first revolt failed primarily because of successful Franco-British measures to contain it, co-opt it, and repress it.

The second current is the attempt by all important geopolitical actors to control the first current, each acting to divert collective activity in the Arab world in ways that would redound to the relative advantage of each of these actors separately. The actors here regard the "1968 current" as highly dangerous to their interests. They have done everything possible to turn attention and energy away from the objectives of the "1968 current", in what I think of as the great distraction.

The past didn't go anywhere

What do I mean by a "1968 current"? There were two essential features to the world-revolution of 1968 that remain relevant to the world situation today. First, the revolutionaries of 1968 were protesting against the inherently undemocratic behaviour of those in authority. This was a revolt against such use (or misuse) of authority at all levels: the level of the world-system as a whole; the level of the national and local governments; the level of the multiple non-governmental institutions in which people take part or to which they are subordinated (from workplaces to educational structures to political parties and trade-unions).

The '1968 current' refers to a revolution of the 'forgotten peoples' [Gallo/Getty]

In language that was developed later on, the 1968-revolutionaries were against vertical decision-making and in favour of horizontal decision-making - participatory and therefore popular. By and large, although there were exceptions, the "1968 current" was deeply influenced by the concept of non-violent resistance, whether in the version of satyagraha developed by Mahatma Gandhi or that pursued by Martin Luther King and his collaborators, or indeed older versions such as that of Henry David Thoreau.

In the "Arab Spring" we could see this current strongly at work in Tunisia and Egypt. It was the rapid public embrace of this current that terrified those in power - the rulers of every Arab state without exception, the governments of the "outside" states who were an active presence in the geopolitics of the Arab world, even the governments of very distant states.

The spread of an anti-authoritarian logic, and especially its success anywhere, menaced all of them. The governments of the world joined forces to destroy the "1968 current".

A growing world movement

So far, they have not been able to do it. Indeed, on the contrary, the current is gaining force around the world - from Hong Kong to Athens to Madrid to Santiago to Johannesburg to New York. This is not solely the result of the Arab Spring, since the seeds and even the revolts elsewhere predated December 2010. But the fact that it has occurred so dramatically in the Arab world, once thought relatively unresponsive to such a current, has added considerable momentum to the growing world movement.

How have the governments responded to the threat? There are really only three ways to respond to such a threat - repression, concessions and diversion. All three responses have been used, and up to a certain point, their use has achieved some success.

Of course, the internal political realities of each state are different, and that is why the dosage of repression, concessions and diversion has varied from state to state.

However, the decisive characteristic is, in my view, the second feature of the world-revolution of 1968. The world-revolution of 1968 included in a very major way a revolution of the "forgotten peoples" - those who had been left out of the concerns of the major organised forces of all political stripes. The forgotten peoples had been told that their concerns, their complaints, their demands were secondary and had to be postponed until some other primary concerns were resolved.

Who were these forgotten peoples? They were first of all women, half the world's population. They were secondly those who were defined in a given state as "minorities" - a concept that is not really numerical but rather social (and has usually been defined in terms of race or religion or language or some combination thereof).

In addition to women and the social "minorities", there exists a long list of other groups who also proclaimed their insistence on not being forgotten: Those with "other" sexual preferences, those who were disabled, those who were the "indigenous" populations in a zone that had been subject to in-migration by powerful outsiders in the last 500 years, those who were deeply concerned with threats to the environment, those who were pacifists. The list has continued to grow, as more and more "groups" became conscious of their status as "forgotten peoples".

As one analyses Arab state after Arab state, one realises quite quickly that the list of forgotten peoples and their relation to the regime in power varies considerably. Hence, the degree to which "concessions" can limit revolt varies. The degree to which "repression" is easy or difficult for the regime varies. But make no mistake about it, all regimes want, above all, to stay in power.

One way to stay in power is for some of those who are in power to join the uprising, casting overboard a personage who happens to be the president or ruler in favour of the pseudo-neutral armed forces. This is exactly what happened in Egypt. It is that about which those who are today reoccupying Tahrir Square in Egypt are complaining as they seek to reinvigorate the "1968 current".

The problem for the major geopolitical actors is that they are not sure how best to "distract" attention and advance their own interests amidst the turmoil. Let us look at what the various actors have been trying to do and the degree to which they have been successful. We will then be able better to assess the prospects of the "1968 current" today and in the relatively near future.

Ex-colonial redemption

We should start the story with France and Great Britain - the fading ex-colonial powers. They were both badly caught with their pants down in Tunisia and Egypt. Their leaders had, as individuals, been personally profiting from the two dictatorships. They not merely supported them against the uprising, but actively counselled them on how to repress.

Finally, and very late, they realised how big a political error this had been. They had to find a way to redeem themselves. They found it in Libya.

Muammar Gaddafi had also, just like the French and the British, fully supported Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak. Indeed he went the furthest, deploring their resignations. He was obviously deeply frightened by what was happening in the two neighbouring countries. To be sure, there was not much of a true "1968 current" in Libya. But there were plenty of discontented groups. And when these groups began their revolt, he blustered about how hard he would repress them.

France and Great Britain saw their opportunity here.

The 1968 spirit is expanding, despite recession, despite concessions, despite co-option [Gallo/Getty]

Despite the degree to which these two countries (and others) had engaged in profitable business in Libya for at least a decade, they suddenly discovered that Gaddafi was a terrible dictator, which no doubt he was. They set out to redeem themselves by open military support for the Libyan rebels.
Today, Bernard-Henri Lévy is boasting of the way in which he created a direct link between President Sarkozy of France and the structure of the Libyan rebels on the basis of active intervention to promote human rights.
But France and Great Britain, however determined, were unable to unseat Gaddafi without help. They needed the United States. Obama was obviously reluctant at first. But, under internal US pressure ("to promote human rights"), he threw in US military and political assistance to what was now called a NATO effort. He did this on the basis that, in the end, he could argue that not a single US life was lost - only Libyan lives.
Just as Gaddafi was unnerved by the ousting of Mubarak, so were the Saudis. They saw Western acquiescence (and subsequently approval) of his departure as a highly dangerous precedent. They decided to pursue their own independent line - the defence of the status quo.
They defended it first of all at home, secondly in the Gulf Coordination Council (and in particular in Bahrain), then in the other monarchies (Jordan and Morocco), then in all Arab states. And in the two neighbouring countries in which there was most turmoil - Yemen and Syria - they began to pursue a mediation in which everything would change so that nothing would change.

A current not easily contained

The new Egyptian regime, under attack at home from the "1968 current" and always sensitive to the fact that Egypt's primacy in the Arab world had diminished seriously, began to revise its geopolitical stance, first of all vis-à-vis Israel.

The regime wanted to take its distance from Israel, without, however, jeopardising its ability to obtain financial assistance from the United States. They became an active advocate of reunification of the split Palestinian political world, hoping that this reunification would not only force significant concessions from the Israelis but hamper the development of the "1968 current" among the Palestinians.

The global spirit of protest won't be easily contained [Gallo/Getty]

Two neighbouring countries - Turkey and Iran - sought to profit from the Arab unrest by strengthening their own legitimacy as actors in the Middle East arena. This was not easy for either of them, especially since each had to worry about the degree to which the "1968 current" would menace them internally - the Kurds in Turkey, the multiple factions in the complicated Iranian internal politics.

And Israel? Israel has been assaulted all around by the prospect of "delegitimisation" - in the Western world (even in Germany, even in the United States), in Egypt and Jordan, in Turkey, in Russia and China. And all the while it has had to face a "1968 current" that has emerged among the Jewish population within Israel.

And, as all this geopolitical juggling has been going on, the Arab Spring has become simply one part of what is now very clearly a worldwide unrest occurring everywhere: Oxi in Greece, indignados in Spain, students in Chile, the Occupy movements that have now spread to 800 cities in North America and elsewhere, strikes in China and demonstrations in Hong Kong, multiple happenings across Africa.

The "1968 current" is expanding - despite repression, despite concessions, despite co-option.

And geopolitically, across the Arab world, the success of the various players has been limited, and in some cases counterproductive. Tahrir Square has become a symbol across the world. Yes, many Islamist movements have been able to express themselves openly in Arab states where they could not do so earlier. But so have the secular left forces. The trade unions are rediscovering their historic role.

Those who believe that Arab unrest, that world unrest, is a passing moment will discover in the next major bubble burst (which we can anticipate quite soon) that the "1968 current" will no longer be so easily contained.

Immanuel Wallerstein is a professor in the department of sociology at Yale University and author of some 30 books, including The Modern World System - published in four volumes, with a further two anticipated. Prof Wallerstein's decades of work, critical of global capitalism and supporting 'anti-systemic movements' have led to him being recognised as a world-renowned expert in social analysis.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

17 Nov 2011

Palestine Vote Showcases the Decline of American Power

by Juan Cole

The United States, castigated by its critics as recently as a decade ago as a “hyper-power,” is now so weak and isolated on the world stage that it may cast an embarrassing and self-defeating veto of Palestinian membership in the United Nations. Beset by debt, mired in economic doldrums provoked by the cupidity and corruption of its business classes, and on the verge of withdrawing from Iraq and ultimately Afghanistan in defeat, the U.S. needs all the friends it can get. If he were the visionary we thought we elected in 2008, President Obama would surprise everyone by rethinking the issue and coming out in favor of a U.N. membership for Palestine. In so doing, he would help the U.S. recover some of its tarnished prestige and avoid a further descent into global isolation and opprobrium.

AP / Seth Wenig

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas listens as President Barack Obama speaks at the U.N. on Sept. 21.

It is often the little things that trip up empires and send them spiraling into geopolitical feebleness. France’s decision to react brutally to the Algerian independence movement from 1954 arguably helped send its West African subjects running for the exits, much to the surprise and dismay of a puzzled Gen. Charles de Gaulle. Empires are always constructed out of a combination of coercion and loyalty, and post-colonial historians often would prefer not to remember the loyalty of compradors and collaborators. But arguably it is the desertion of the latter that contributes most decisively to imperial collapse.

Thus, it is highly significant that an influential Saudi prince warned the United States that a veto of Palestine at the U.N. could well cost the latter its alliance with Saudi Arabia. The kingdom is the world’s swing petroleum producer and has done Washington many favors in the oil markets, and although such favors were seldom altogether altruistic, Riyadh’s good will has been a key element in U.S. predominance.

The House of Saud has other options, after all. It has been thinking hard about whether its ideological differences with the Chinese Communist Party are not outweighed by common interests. Among these mutual goals is the preservation of a model of authoritarian, top-down governance combined with rapid economic advance to forestall popular demands for participation, as an alternative to Western liberalism. For its part, China has invested $15 billion in the Arab world in recent years and is an increasingly appealing destination for Arab capital. Beijing is supporting Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ initiative for recognition in the U.N.

NATO ally Turkey has also broken with the U.S. over Palestine policy, vowing to do what it can to end the shameful and illegal Israeli blockade on civilian Palestinians in Gaza. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to change Obama’s mind, reminding him of his 2010 speech to the U.N. General Assembly, in which the U.S. president looked forward to the establishment in short order of a Palestinian state. Erdogan says of the veto threat, “We have difficulties in understanding their position. ... The U.S. has always advocated a two-state solution.”

Even NATO ally France, which has troops fighting in Afghanistan alongside U.S. forces, broke with Obama on Palestine, advocating a compromise abhorred in Washington and Tel Aviv whereby the Palestinian Authority would join the Vatican in being a formal U.N. observer state. Indeed, NATO is divided on this issue, with Spain and Norway joining Turkey and France in bolting from U.S. leadership. In the wider European Union, the split is even more stark. With countries traditionally willing to follow the U.S. lead on important geopolitical issues now breaking with Washington on Palestine, it is no surprise that the tier of rising world powers known as the BRICS—Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa—is unanimously in favor of the Palestine bid at the U.N.
Also gone by the wayside are Arab dictators such as Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, who were usually willing to do Washington’s bidding in dealing with the Palestinians. The vital youth movements in the Arab world have not foregrounded the Palestine issue, afraid of giving their dictators an opportunity to change the subject from domestic issues of repression and corruption. But the invasion by some Egyptian protesters of the Israeli Embassy in Cairo and the forced withdrawal of Israeli ambassadors from Egypt and Turkey signal a likely turn in the region toward governments more attentive to public opinion in favor of the Palestinians in the Middle East. The revolutionary youth of 2011, having overthrown three governments and shaken a half-dozen more to their foundations, had idolized democracy and seemed willing to give Washington a hearing. But Obama could squander the remnants of his good will by appearing to support the repression of a whole people’s yearning for basic human rights.
Iran, which has suffered a loss of prestige in the Arab world because of its support for the repressive government of Bashar al-Assad in Syria (from which Tehran has recently only mildly backpedaled), could recover some of its past cachet if the U.S. vetoes the Palestinian bid for U.N. membership. Iran’s public relations difficulties in the Arab world had been a godsend for Obama in the past six months, but he could easily squander this opportunity.
The American inability to fashion a consensus on this issue among its closest allies, much less on the world stage, stands in stark contrast to the role Washington had been able to play only two decades ago. One recalls the unarguably impressive performance of George H. W. Bush in 1990 in constructing a U.N.-backed international alliance, including the Arab League, for the purpose of the Gulf War. In part, the failure derives from declining economic and political clout. The U.S. economy is only 20 percent of the world gross domestic product now, down from 25 percent in 1990 (and down from 50 percent in 1945), and America has powerful new economic challengers such as China, which could overtake it in a decade.

But in large part, Washington’s current difficulties derive from adopting a position contrary to international law and to basic human decency. Israel’s creeping annexation of the West Bank looks suspiciously like Saddam Hussein’s occupation of Kuwait—both being land-grabs that violate the United Nations Charter, Article 2.4. The stateless Palestinians ultimately have no individual rights. No national courts uphold their property deeds or rights to resources such as water. At least if they are recognized by the vast majority of U.N. member states, the Palestinians may gain the standing to sue in national and international courts to stop the ongoing torts being committed against them by the Israeli settler-industrial complex. In standing against this attempt to right an epochal historical wrong to an entire people, Obama puts the United States on the wrong side of history and the wrong side of world opinion. Neither is likely to forgive him.

13 Nov 2011

Nuclear Israel revisited

To have or not to have nuclear weapons is a question of human security and not European privilege.

by Joseph Massad
How many times must this story be retold? It is common knowledge in the United States, in Europe, in the Arab World, indeed in the entire world. The international press has been reporting on it since the late 1960s. The historical details of the story are also well known. In 1955, President Dwight Eisenhower gave Israel its first small nuclear reactor at Nahal Sorek; in 1964, the French built for Israel its much larger and major Dimona nuclear reactor in the Naqab (Negev) Desert; in 1965, Israel stole 200 pounds of weapons-grade uranium from the United States through its spies at the Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corporation company in Pennsylvania; in 1968, Israel hijacked a Liberian ship in international waters and stole its 200-ton shipment of yellowcake. Israel has possessed nuclear bombs since the early 1970s. Despite official US denials, Golda Meir, the fourth prime minister of Israel, reportedly prepared to launch 13 nuclear bombs on Syria and Egypt in 1973 and was stopped short of committing this genocidal act when Henry Kissinger gave Israel the most massive weapons airlift in history at the time to reverse the course of the 1973 war (as Time Magazine reported the story). Israel has had an ongoing nuclear weapons collaboration with the South African Apartheid regime for decades, which only ended with the collapse of the regime in 1994.
Since then, experts have estimated that Israel has upwards of 400 nuclear devices, including thermonuclear weapons with megaton range, as well as neutron bombs, tactical nuclear weapons, and suitcase nukes. It also has the missile delivery systems to launch them with a reach of 11,500km (which can reach beyond Iran). Israel also has submarines that are capable of launching nuclear attacks as well as jet fighters that can deliver Israel’s nuclear cargo.

Israel has diligently prevented its neighbours from even acquiring nuclear reactors for peaceful purposes. It violated international law by bombing the Iraqi French-built Osirak nuclear reactor still under construction in 1981 in an unprovoked raid even though the reactor was going to be used, according to the French and Iraqi governments, for peaceful scientific purposes. Israel also bombed what intelligence reports allege was a North Korean nuclear reactor under construction in Syria in 2007. Israel’s Mossad has also been linked to the assassination of numerous Egyptian, Iraqi, and Iranian nuclear scientists over the decades. Israel continues to refuse to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and refuses to allow members of the International Atomic Energy Commission to inspect its Dimona reactor.

Israel, a predatory and aggressive country that has consistently launched wars on all its neighbours since its establishment, expelled hundreds of thousands of people, created millions of Palestinian, Lebanese, and Egyptian refugees, murdered tens of thousands of civilians and used internationally-banned weapons (from napalm to phosphorous bombs, to name the most notorious cases), continues to occupy the Palestinian territories and the Palestinian people in violation of international law, is governed by a foundational anti-Arab and anti-Muslim racist state ideology to which all its leaders, governing structures, and institutions adhere, as does its popular and political culture and a variety of its laws. Indeed, Israel not only consistently launches wars against its neighbours but also urges world powers to invade these neighbours as well, and in the meanwhile sponsors anti-Arab and anti-Muslim racist campaigns of hatred in the United States and across Europe in addition to integrating such racism in its school and university curricula and much of its cultural production.

Racist policies

Israel’s protector, the United States, is the only country on Earth that has ever deliberately used nuclear bombs against civilian populations and continues to defend this decision 66 years after this genocidal act, and inculcates its population, in its school curricula and in the media, to defend it. The United States has also made certain that Israel’s nuclear arsenal would not ever be discussed at the UN Security Council despite persistent proposals over the decades to discuss it. Indeed, the United States insistence on keeping Israel’s nuclear capability an open "secret" is engineered, among other things, to keep United States aid to Israel flowing, especially as a key legal condition of receiving such aid is for recipient countries to be signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which Israel refuses to sign.

Yet the United States and Israel, which have been the major threats to world peace and indeed the major global warmongers since World War II, insist on telling the world that Iran, a country whose current regime never invaded any country (but was rather invaded by Saddam’s Iraq in 1981 at the behest of the dictatorial ruling Gulf oil-rich families and their US and French sponsors), is a threat to world peace were it to possess a nuclear device.

The racist policies of the United States as to who should get to possess nuclear weapons and who should not (according to racial criteria of whether they are European or of European stock or not) aside, it must be made clear that the extent to which there is a nuclear race in the Middle East, it is one fostered by Israel’s warmongering and its possession of such weapons of mass destruction. If the Middle East is to be a nuclear-free zone, then the international effort to rid it of such weapons must begin with Israel, which is the only country in the region that possesses these weapons, and not with Iran who may or may not be developing them.

The racism of the Obama administration against Arabs and Muslims clearly knows no limits, but for the people of the Middle East (Arabs, Turks, and Iranians), Obama’s racist criteria are not terribly persuasive. To have or not to have nuclear weapons is a question of human security, as far as the people of the region are concerned, and not one of European racial privilege. While the US may not fear Israeli nukes, Israel’s neighbouring countries and their civilian populations have for decades been (and continue to be) terrorised by them; and for good reason. Once Obama learns this lesson, the people of the region will reconsider US credibility about its alleged concern about nuclear proliferation.

Joseph Massad is Associate Professor of Modern Arab Politics and Intellectual History at Columbia University in New York.

The views expressed in the article are the author's own and do not necessarily represent Al Jazeera's editorial policy.