Saturday, September 13, 2008

Saudi cleric threatens death penalty for airing immodest TV shows

Airing immodest shows could incur death penalty - Saudi cleric
Reuters - 13 September, 2008

The head of Saudi Arabia's Islamic Sharia courts has said owners of Arabic television stations airing immodest shows in Ramadan could face execution, Saudi web sites said on Friday.

Sheikh Saleh al-Lohaidan, one of the most powerful clerics in the world's biggest oil exporter, was responding to a question on a radio phone-in programme on Wednesday about the owners of TV stations airing programmes that "offend modesty", especially during the holy month of Ramadan.

"If the evil of those who promote corruption in belief and actions cannot be held back through lesser punishments, then they can be put to death through the judicial process," Lohaidan, head of the Supreme Judicial Council said.

Recordings of the show were posted on web sites and passed around by mobile phone message in Saudi Arabia.

He appeared to be referring to Turkish soap operas that became hugely popular in Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries this year, provoking a storm of anger among conservatives in Saudi Arabia who fear the spread of secular culture.

They gained huge popularity partly because they were dubbed into colloquial Arabic and focussed on a Muslim country whose culture many Arabs can relate to. The characters would fast in Ramadan but also drink wine.

The government's official advisor on religious affairs, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdelaziz Al al-Sheikh, said in July it was not Islamically permissible to watch the Turkish serials.

The shows, "Nour" and "Lost Years", were aired by MBC, a satellite television group owned by a brother-in-law of former Saudi King Fahd and based in the United Arab Emirates.

Concerned about the country's international image, some key members of the Saudi royal family have promoted liberal reforms but others have stayed close to the powerful clerics.

Ramadan is a month of fasting when Muslims are supposed to focus on God, but critics say it becomes an orgy of TV and food consumption once the fast ends at sunset.

(Reporting by Andrew Hammond; editing by Philippa Fletcher; Riyadh newsroom)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Sept. 11, once again

I actually almost forgot this seventh anniversary. I mean not to denigrate this significant date, but allow me a flight of historical and Jewish perspective:

A few years ago I made a rough calculation of the number of Jews murdered during the Holocaust. Using the approximate start date of June 22, 1941, the German invasion of the Soviet Union, for its beginning — the SS Einsatzgruppen began their mass shootings at this time — I calculated that an average of over 29,000 Jews were murdered each week until the war ended on May 8, 1945. This was over 4,000 per day; in other words, the European Jewish population of 11 million suffered the equivalent of more than one and a third 9/11 size catastrophes everyday for three years and ten months.

Still, there’s no gainsaying that the somewhat smaller number of people murdered on Sept. 11, 2001 has had a singular effect on the world since. This links to my memory of that historic day, after my visiting Israeli cousin and myself experienced the horror from my Manhattan apartment about six and a half miles above the World Trade Center.

Iran battles searing drought across half the country

Iran battles searing drought across half the country

Sept. 10, 2008

EGHLID, Iran (AFP) — According to local legend, Cyrus the Great, founder of the Persian Empire, abhorred the telling of lies, which he believed to be his people's worst enemy.

It is said that next in line was drought. Little has changed for the modern-day descendants of those who lived 2,500 years ago in what is now Iran.

The historical grave of Cyrus lies not far from the town of Eghlid in the southern Iranian province of Fars. This agricultural city has 11 rivers -- but 10 of them have now run dry.

On the road between Isfahan and Shiraz, Eghlid's altitude of 2,230 meters (7,360 feet) near the Zagros mountains means it should not be short of water. But it is.

Mohammad Gholi Ashiri has small oblong concrete ponds in which he used to breed up to 20 tonnes of trout a year. But his business in one of the forsaken villages in the area has literally dried up.

"We don't have even one litre of water, even for drinking," Ashiri said. Now the 46-year-old ruined father of four also has an insistent bank to deal with because he has been late in repaying his business loans.

"We don't know what to do. There's no way out, and no way to stay," he lamented. "First lying, and then drought. That's what Cyrus the Great warned his people of. In that order!"

Fars, where wheat is the prime product, is one of Iran's 14 provinces -- out of a total of 30 -- officially labelled a drought-stricken region.

Its four million-strong population is accustomed to weather changes including dry spells, but never have they seen anything like this.

Average rainfall is down 68 percent in Fars this year. The situation is so bad that Ayatollah Mohiedin Haeri Shirzai, Friday prayers leader in Shiraz the provincial capital, urged everyone to pray for rain on a certain day in June.

The people of Eghlid have good reason to urge divine intervention -- up to 85 percent of the town's 100,000 population relies on farming and livestock to survive.

According to the local state agriculture organisation, the drought had inflicted losses of more than two billion dollars by July.

"The problem is that in autumn there will be no water for next year," said Mansour Rashidi, a provincial ministry of agriculture expert.

"The underground water table will not be replenished. We will be hit with the lowest amount of water ever because we have used up all the reserves."

Tehran has allocated nearly five billion dollars to fight the drought nationally. Even arch-foe the United States, often referred to in Iran as the Great Satan, is helping out.

To cover demand, Iran needs to import five million tonnes of wheat to make up for this year's drought-induced shortfall.

According to a recent US Department of Agriculture report, Tehran has bought 1.18 million tonnes of American hard wheat, commonly used in breads and pasta, since the 2008-2009 crop season began in June.

"On each hectare we produce eight to nine tonnes of wheat a year. But this year we have nothing at all," 47-year-old Faraj Bazgosha said, standing under the burning sun on his now barren seven-hectare (17-acre) farm.

Usually farmers can acquire the supplies and equipment they need early in the year on credit because traders know they will be compensated when harvest time comes around.

But no future crop to reap means no current credit.

"I used to get what I wanted from local shops, but now that I have no income they don't give me anything," Bazgosha said.

The lack of pasture means livestock also suffers. Nomads in Fars who move 1.2 million animals annually from winter to summer quarters have been badly hit.

"I now have 58 sheep and geese. But I lost some. They don't become fattened," said Avaz Peykar, 40, now settled in Eghlid's Aspas plain.

The father of six sees no future for the nomad lifestyle.

"A nomad's herd is his asset. But this drought means there will be no more nomads. In the end we'll have to settle down somewhere. We are dying of hunger."

Shahrokh Shakeri, another agriculture ministry expert, said that in addition to having to sell livestock when animals are too young, owners are also being forced to slaughter them to ensure more grazing for the rest of the flock.

Fruit production had also been hit by the fierce drought of 2008, he said. The driest in a decade, it has been dubbed "crisis year" by local agriculture officials.

In addition to grains, Eghlid is also normally a great producer of apples, almonds, beans, grapes, walnuts, and stone fruits, with a total of 16,000 hectares (39,500 acres) allocated to harvesting the land.

"We've had a little rain and some snow. But around 2,000 hectares do not have enough water and orchards have been dying," said Ali Agha Mirtalebi, deputy head of the Eghlid agricultural office.

There are not enough water tankers in this town of dried-up rivers to supply nomads, let alone water the plants.

Eghlid agricultural officials hope that a recent state allocation of 4.7 billion dollars to battle the drought will alleviate matters.

But it is not only agriculture that has been hit by the unprecedented drought. A 60 percent decrease in the amount of water stored behind dams has meant daily power cuts across Iran, because hydroelectric plants also lack water.

US blocking package to support Israeli attack on Iran

The US has blocked approval of a military aid and support package for Israel over the past few months, because of obvious concern that Israel would use it to attack nuclear facilities in Iran. The packaged included a request for a large shipment  of "bunker-buster" bombs, permission to for overflights of Iraq, an advanced technological system and refueling aircraft.
Israelis and US officials have been discussing the Israeli request over the past few months. Rejection would make it very difficult for Israel to attack Iran.
Bunker-buster GBU-28 bombs reportedly requested by Israel can penetrate six meters of reinforced concrete, presumably sufficient for hardened underground nuclear development facilities. An attack on Iran would be easiest if Israel had rights of passage through Iraqi air space.  Americans may have told Israel to try to get such permission from Iraqi PM al Maliki. Since only the US air force could interdict passage, the ruse is transparent.
Given the known range of Israeli F-15 and F-16 aircraft, an attack would require midair refuelingIsrael Channel 10 reported recently that  U.S. rejected an Israeli request for Boeing 767 refueling tankers. Israel could modify commercially purchased aircraft for this purpose. The IDF is overhauling a Boeing 707 that previously served as the prime minister's plane to serve as a refueling aircraft.
The advanced technological systems Israel requested have not been specified publicly. They may involve cloaking systems to foil radar detection. 
Defence Minister Barak made these requests in Washington in July and was evidently turned down. Americans are supposedly pursuing diplomatic options to halt the Iranian nuclear project, However, the U.S. has agreed to provide Israel with an advanced  U.S. radar system would be stationed in the Negev. The system would double to 2,000 kilometers the range of identification of missiles launched from the direction of Iran, and would be connected to an American early warning system.
Israeli leaders reportedly believe the US has abandoned any plans to attack Iran during the Bush administration's remaining tenure. Diplomatic efforts can only be successful in restraining Iran if there is a credible threat of armed intervention by Israel or the United States. Thus, the rejection of Israeli requests and the apparent reluctance of the US to commit to attacking Iran, stymie diplomatic efforts. Though many advocate engaging Iran, US representative Burns returned empty handed from a meeting with Iranian negotiators and it is not likely that their stance will change in present circumstances.
Even if Israel were to get the equipment to carry out an attack, it is very unlikely that a military solution would be adopted. An Israeli attack would invite retaliation by Hezbollah using long range rockets and by Iran using missiles, as well as blockade of the straits of Hormuz. The straits are a major route for transportation of the world's oil supplies. A blockade would cause a steep rise in oil prices and a world economic crisis. 
Since 1967, Israel has become increasingly dependent on the United States for military aid. This dependence is partly necessitated by the increasing scope and sophistication of modern warfare and escalation in armaments introduced into the Middle East following the Six Day War. Dependence is also fostered intentionally by the United States to maintain some control over Israeli policies, and is convenient for Israel, which enjoys a controversial $3 billion aid package.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Lebanon Remembers Its assassinated President, Bachir Jmayel

Lebanon Remembers Its assassinated President, Bachir Jmayel
By: Elias Bejjani

September 11/08

Lebanon's rulers, officials and politicians with their numerous feudal, social, denominational, secular and fundamentalist affiliations - as well as the so-called resistance have disastrously failed in managing the challenges of the new independence era in the aftermath of Syria's humiliating and forced withdrawal in year 2005 in accordance with the UN Resolution 1559.

This mosaic leadership has aborted to a great extent the historic liberation achievements reached by the Cedar's Revolution that was bravely spearheaded by Lebanon's young men and women.

The Lebanese political class has proved to be totally incompetent in the areas of faith, perseverance, devotion, education, intelligence, organization, national convictions, approaches, strategies and honesty. Its crippling performance was evident before, during and after the 2006 Hezbollah-Israel devastating war.

Bogus masks fell down while negligence as well as treachery were behind the war that inflicted immense losses in people, money and infrastructure. Hezbollah's militant terrorist organization planned and instigated it while all leadership were appeasing and cajoling its leadership and not witnessing for the truth.

All these leaders and politicians kept on feeding the beast (Hezbollah), until it turned its weapons on them and is now endeavoring to devour all of them.

Why have all these tragedies unfolded? Why is all this political corruption happening? How can the political establishment's negligence, poor insight, cowardice and questionable stances pass without any kind of legal and moral accountability?

The answer simply lies in the feudal, tribal and individualistic mentality that controls people's minds and dictates their behavior and acts. But most importantly because of the people's subservience, ignorance, and blind loyalty to leaders and politicians who bring ruin to their interests and mortgage their country without the people speaking up or protesting.

Meanwhile the conscientious and informed Lebanese citizens and the intellectuals who honor national, ethical and moral convictions refrain from supporting any leader blindly or joining any party without agreeing with its platform.

Good Lebanese citizens are those who have the moral stamina to differentiate between the fake and the authentic, the honest and the evil, the transparent and the treacherous.  They are those who do not cast their vote or give their trust and support to a politician or political party that knows neither freedom nor democracy, and that does not honor the right of expression and the right to difference.

Those of us who believe in the righteousness of Lebanon's national cause and respect the rights of their fellow citizens are not fascinated merely by the charisma and outside charms of leaders. They reject the logic of passivity and feudal subservience in adopting loyalty or opposition. They possess a clear criterion for what is right and what is wrong  and will never, ever accept the role of ignorant, misled and blind followers.

Those of us who keep themselves informed and well updated on unfolding events in the domains of politics, social affairs, human rights, democracy, corruption, lust for power, and the media's misleading bickering, are currently definitely feeling frustrated, angry and unhappy about the way things are being handled in Lebanon. 

In Lebanon at the present time, based on stances and achievements, there are no differences between the opposition or the loyalists. All are cut from the same cloth: Opportunists, greedy, heartless, and serving their own individual agendas and ambitions. They manipulate the people, camouflage their stances, color their attitudes and tailor their affiliations to fit their hunger for authority, money and gains.

All what we hear from both loyalists and opposition is a below-the-belt rhetoric, an ongoing game of humiliating media accusations, insults, threats and fabricated games and shows aiming to deflect people's attention and focus away from the disastrous social, living, health environmental, security, justice and economic circumstances.

Meanwhile, the country's borders with Syria are not patrolled by the Lebanese Army. They are left unattended and open for smuggling of weapons, merchandise and people. The armed militias, of which is the terrorist Hezbollah, run freely their mini-states and cantons while spreading the education of Jihadism, rejections of others, fundamentalism, oppressing freedoms and manipulating people's fate and destiny.

In the same context, all public services are deteriorating with a scary escalation in unemployment rates, out of control public debt and deficit, deep rooted corruption, explicit bribery and covert nepotism. More than a quarter of a million Lebanese citizens have left Lebanon over the past two years.

The latest traumatic events have uncovered and publicly exposed the actual shocking reality of the Lebanese leadership that has failed in fulfilling its duties, obligations and responsibilities. They all lost both the trust and the respect of the citizens, while the majority of the public is frustrated, disappointed, angry and sees no light at the end of the tunnel. A feeling that has led to a massive exodus, especially among Christians whose leaders
unfortunately have forgotten who they are, who are their people, what cause they ought to defend and which interests to safeguard.

The people who fought peacefully and intellectually since 1988 back home and in Diaspora for a free, independent and sovereign Lebanon were not surprised or disappointed by the camouflaged and fishy tactics and strategies used by politicians, parties who were shameless servants and puppets for the Syrian Baathist occupation for years. No hopes were invested in any of them due to the plain fact that neither their present nor their future shall be any different from their dirty and blemished past.

What has really been sad, and in fact intolerable, unacceptable, and disappointing by all means and standards is the sudden, unexplainable and bewildering drifting and derailing of elite Christian politician and leader General Michel Aoun. The man has changed completely his struggle track, turned against his own stances, negated his own principles, trashed each and every slogan he had advocated for, broke every promise he made, turned his back on all those honest, transparent  and devoted partners, supporters and colleagues, and with cold emotions dishonored the sacrifices of hundreds of  thousands who trusted him and paid accordingly dear in exile, oppression, detainment, poverty, persecution, prosecution, deprivation etc. Aoun is now and by all means a mere Syrian-Iranian mouthpiece that is used to cover Hezbollah's crimes and scheme to take over Lebanon.

The question is, does General Aoun and those who still blindly support him comprehend history and learn from its books?

There is no doubt that Sheikh Bachir Gemayel, his father Sheikh Pierre, President Camille Chamoun, Charles Malek, Fouad Afram Al Bustani, and other Christian Lebanese leaders, with thousands and thousands of Lebanese men, women and children who gave their lives for Lebanon's freedom, rights and democracy are turning angrily in their graves while watching elite Christian leaders turning into political dwarfs who sold their country and the Christian cause with thirty pieces of silver.

What these derailed leaders and politicians should never forget under any given circumstances is that public mandates, votes as well as support can be withdrawn once the people find out they have been betrayed and their trust was misused and abused. People might take some time to comprehend all facts and realities, but ultimately they will act.

What is reassuring in the midst of this frustration is that the Lebanese people have endured with courage, faith and hope thirty years of a horrific Syrian Baathist occupation till their country was liberated, but still they know very well that there will be no lasting peace before the disarming and dismantling of all Lebanese and non Lebanese militias and the spread of the authority of the central Lebanese government over all the territory of Lebanon through its own legitimate military forces. Accordingly, all leaders are judged on these national requirements

Sheikh Bachir Jmayel, Lebanon's historic Leader and after 26 years on his tragic assassination, he is still alive in the conscience of the majority of the Lebanese people. In the annual commemoration for his martyrdom that falls on September 14th, We all pray that his soul rests in peace, and the Lebanon that he dreamed of shall become a reality.

Meanwhile Sheikh Bachir Jmayel's dream of a free, independent, sovereign and peaceful Lebanon remains alive, and the liberation flame that he courageously carried is still glowing and shall remain so.

By the end all  those Lebanese leaders, officials and politicians who betray the hopes and aspirations of the Lebanese people shall be thrown in the dustbin of history.

Jordan prosecutes criticism of Islam

Actually, criticism of Islam or "blasphemy" is outlawed in many Muslim countries. In some, it carries the death penalty. Americans are very naive if the Jordanian move surprises them. 

Criminalizing Criticism of Islam

September 10, 2008

There are strange happenings in the world of international jurisprudence that do not bode well for the future of free speech. In an unprecedented case, a Jordanian court is prosecuting 12 Europeans in an extraterritorial attempt to silence the debate on radical Islam.

The prosecutor general in Amman charged the 12 with blasphemy, demeaning Islam and Muslim feelings, and slandering and insulting the prophet Muhammad in violation of the Jordanian Penal Code. The charges are especially unusual because the alleged violations were not committed on Jordanian soil.

Among the defendants is the Danish cartoonist whose alleged crime was to draw in 2005 one of the Muhammad illustrations that instigators then used to spark Muslim riots around the world. His co-defendants include 10 editors of Danish newspapers that published the images. The 12th accused man is Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders, who supposedly broke Jordanian law by releasing on the Web his recent film, "Fitna," which tries to examine how the Quran inspires Islamic terrorism.

Jordan's attempt at criminalizing free speech beyond its own borders wouldn't be so serious if it were an isolated case. Unfortunately, it is part of a larger campaign to use the law and international forums to intimidate critics of militant Islam. For instance, in December the United Nations General Assembly passed the Resolution on Combating Defamation of Religions; the only religion mentioned by name was Islam. While such resolutions aren't legally binding, national governments sometimes cite them as justification for legislation or other actions.

More worrying, the U.N. Human Rights Council in June said it would refrain from condemning human-rights abuses related to "a particular religion." The ban applies to all religions, but it was prompted by Muslim countries that complained about linking Islamic law, Shariah, to such outrages as female genital mutilation and death by stoning for adulterers. This kind of self-censorship could prove dangerous for people suffering abuse, and it follows the council's March decision to have its expert on free speech investigate individuals and the media for negative comments about Islam.

Given this trend, it's worth taking a closer look at the Jordanian case.

The prosecutor is relying on a 2006 amendment to the Jordanian Justice Act that casts a worryingly wide net for such prosecution. Passed in response to the Danish cartoons incident, the law allows the prosecution of individuals whose actions affect the Jordanian people by "electronic means," such as the Internet. The 2006 amendment, in theory, means anyone who publishes on the Internet could be subject to prosecution in Jordan. If the case against the 12 defendants is allowed to go forward, they will be the first but probably not the last Westerners to be hit by Jordan's law.

Amman has already requested that Interpol apprehend Mr. Wilders and the Danes and bring them to stand before its court for an act that is not a crime in their home countries. To the contrary. Dutch prosecutors said in July that although some of Mr. Wilders's statements may be offensive, they are protected under Dutch free-speech legislation. Likewise, Danish law protects the rights of the Danish cartoonists and newspapers to express their views.

Neither Denmark nor the Netherlands will turn over its citizens to Interpol, as the premise of Jordan's extradition request is an affront to the very principles that define democracies. It is thus unlikely that any Western country would do so, either. But there is no guarantee for the defendants' protection if they travel to countries that are more sympathetic to the Jordanian court.

Unless democratic countries stand up to this challenge to free speech, other nations may be emboldened to follow the Jordanian example. Kangaroo courts across the globe will be ready to charge free people with obscure violations of other societies' norms and customs, and send Interpol to bring them to stand trial in frivolous litigation.

A new form of forum shopping would soon take root. Activists would be able to choose countries whose laws and policies are informed by their religious values to prosecute critical voices in other countries. The case before the Jordanian court is not just about Mr. Wilders and the Danes. It is about the subjugation of Western standards of free speech to fear and coercion by foreign courts.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Global Labor Notes / Russia invades - and the labour movement is silent

Global Labor Notes / Russia invades – and the labour movement is silent
by Eric Lee
London, 2008,  5. pp.

Eric Lee

Russia, it was said, was still reeling from the loss of its empire. It had formally accepted the right of countries like Ukraine to self-determination. But among its leaders, some sought ways to bring the 'near abroad' back into the fold. As a result, all the countries on Russia's borders were actively seeking the protection of European powers and America. This, in turn, was interpreted by the Kremlin as a kind of encirclement. Tensions with Poland were running especially high. And then the Russian army invaded Georgia.
The response of the trade union movement and the democratic Left was swift – universal condemnation of a blatant act of aggression, an obvious attempt to seize control over a country whose independence Russia had recognised. Georgia had no better friend than the international labour movement which stood by its side at a difficult moment.
That was in 1921 – not 2008.
The parallels between the two invasions – the one organised by Stalin behind Lenin and Trotsky's back, and the one Putin organised behind Medvedev's back – are too numerous to list.
And of course there are differences too. The regime in Georgia back in 1921 was something unique in history, a genuinely revolutionary democratic socialist society, dominated by a mass social democratic party, trade unions and cooperatives. Georgia today, though a democracy, is run by a right-wing party and promotes liberal, free market values.
Russia today is not the Russia of 1921 – certainly no longer making the claim that when it sends it troops into neighbouring countries it is somehow promoting a better future for all mankind. Stripped of Leninist-Stalinist ideology, Russian aggression directed against Georgia (and other neighbours) increasingly resembles the imperial foreign policy of the tsarist regime.
One of the biggest differences between the Russian invasion of Georgia in 1921 and the one that took place this summer has been the reaction of the Left around the world. Of course the knee-jerk anti-American Left instantly blamed George Bush for the war, and looked for evidence of sneaky neo-cons putting in appearances in Tbilisi in the days leading up to the outbreak of fighting.
One expects no more from the Chomsky-Galloway Left, but the reaction of the mainstream trade union movement was muted, to say the least. Especially when contrasted with the vigorous defense of democratic Georgia that unions and their labour parties in the 1920s carried out.
Regardless of Georgian unions' dislike for Saakashvili and his right-wing, anti-union policies, they united in defense of their homeland when faced with the bullying and then the open aggression of Putin's Russia.
Many leaders of the Georgian unions volunteered to join the country's armed forces – armed forces which like those in 1921 were quickly routed by a far superior Russian force.
The head of the Georgian Trade Union Confederation (GTUC), Irakli Petriashvili, issued an appeal to the unions of the world in which he wrote, 'I am writing to you to draw your and international trade union movement's attention to the unprecedented fact of aggression that is being carried out by the Russian Federation against the independent state of Georgia and that has already taken away the lives of hundreds of civilians among them ordinary working men and women, members of trade unions affiliated to GTUC.'
Petriashvili pointed out the deaths of dockers, union members in the port city of Poti. He mentioned that unions in countries bordering Russia (particularly the Baltics and Ukraine) had already indicated their solidarity with Georgia.
And he ended his appeal by saying, 'We would appreciate very much any help in this crucial moment from the international trade union movement that would alleviate the consequences of this catastrophe.'
I don't think this was just an appeal for humanitarian assistance. The Georgian unions were expecting their brothers and sisters in other countries to offer them political support and to condemn the Russian invasion.
In late August, Georgian unions held a rally at a Russian checkpoint at the village of Igoeti. 'You cannot bring Georgia to its knees with bombing,' they said. 'There is no place for aggressors in Georgia.' Petriashvili spoke at the rally and said the unions would hold protests every day until the occupiers leave Georgia.
So, how did unions – and in particular the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), to which the Georgian unions are affiliated – react?
The response of the international labour movement so far has been to call for humanitarian aid – and not to say a negative word about what Russia has done.
The ITUC, which claims to represent 168 million workers in 155 countries, initially called on all sides to cease firing and to withdraw to their positions prior to 7 August.
But when Russia blatantly violated the European-brokered agreement and kept troops inside Georgia (and then recognised the breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia) the ITUC had nothing further to say.
One reason why this is happening is that unions in Russia – which are also ITUC affiliates – have not come out against the aggression committed by their government. The ITUC finds itself between a rock and a hard place, not wishing to take sides when two of its affiliates are having a little spat.
In normal times, that might make some sense. Even in conflicts, the historic role of the international trade union movement has been to play the role of honest broker – and has done an excellent job, especially recently, with Israeli and Palestinian unions.
The fear of saying something controversial, of alienating or angering the Russian unions – or perhaps the fear of angering the Putin regime, which might then take it out on Russian unions – has immobilised the international labour movement.
Instead of leading the way as it did in the 1920s, unions have lagged behind politicians. The British and French foreign secretaries – both socialists – have been outspoken in their expressions of solidarity with Georgia when faced with Russian aggression. But the unions are saying nothing.
Back in the 1940s, a book was published in New York called The Russian Menace to Europe. It was a collection of articles explaining how Russian aggression was built-in to the nature of the regime, and needed to be answered by collective security in the West.
The authors of the book were Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. The editors, themselves democratic socialists, argued that Stalin's Russia was continuing the aggressive, expansionist policies of the tsarist regime.
What was true of Stalin is even truer of Putin. The only difference today is that the ideological nonsense of Leninism-Stalinism has been stripped away and all that remains is naked Russian aggression.
The Russian Menace to Europe deserves to be reprinted – and its message passed on to a new generation on the Left and in the trade union movement.
As Russian tanks crossed into Georgia in August, commemorating the 40th anniversary of the invasion of Czechoslovakia by re-enacting it in the Caucasus, the silence of the international labour movement was and is unacceptable.
Eric Lee is the founding editor of LabourStart, the news and campaigning website of the international trade union movement. He writes in a personal capacity.

Russia to increase nuclear aid to Tehran

Is the cold war beginning in earnest? Do the Russians really want an Islamist nuclear power near their southern border?
Mark Franchetti in Moscow
Russia is considering increasing its assistance to Iran's nuclear programme in response to America's calls for Nato expansion eastwards and the presence of US Navy vessels in the Black Sea delivering aid to Georgia.
The Kremlin is discussing sending teams of Russian nuclear experts to Tehran and inviting Iranian nuclear scientists to Moscow for training, according to sources close to the Russian military.
Moscow has been angered by Washington's promise to give Georgia £564m in aid following the Russian invasion of parts of the country last month after Tbilisi's military offensive. Kremlin officials suspect the US is planning to rearm the former Soviet republic and is furious at renewed support for attempts by Georgia and Ukraine to join Nato.
Last week a third US Navy ship entered the Black Sea with aid bound for Georgia. Moscow has accused the Americans of using the vessels to deliver weapons but has failed to provide any evidence.
Vladimir Putin, the prime minister of Russia, who has been the driving force during the crisis, has declared he will take unspecified action in response.
"Everything has changed since the war in Georgia," said one source. "What seemed impossible before, is more than possible now when our friends become our enemies and our enemies our friends. What are American ships doing off our coast? Do you see Russian warships off the coast of America?
"Russia will respond. A number of possibilities are being considered, including hitting America there where it hurts most – Iran."
Increasing nuclear assistance to Iran would sharply escalate tensions between Moscow and Washington. Over the past 10 years Russia has helped Iran build its first nuclear power station in Bushehr. Iran claims the plant is for civilian purposes. Officially at least, Moscow accepts that. The West has little doubt the aim is to build a nuclear bomb.
But diplomats say that despite its help with the Bushehr plant, Moscow has so far played a constructive role as a mediator between the regime in Tehran and the West and by backing United Nations sanctions.
Earlier this year, in one of his last actions as president, Putin added Russia's stamp of approval to a UN security council resolution imposing fresh sanctions against Iran.
The document bans, with the exception of the Bushehr project, dual-technology exports that could be used for civil nuclear purposes and missile production.
"After the war in Georgia it's difficult to imagine relations between Russia and America getting worse," said a western diplomat. "Russia giving greater nuclear assistance to the Iranians would do the trick – that's for sure."
Last month Russia agreed to sell missiles to Syria. "The mood among the hawks is very bullish indeed," said one source who did not rule out a resumption of Russian military action in Georgia to take the port of Batumi, where American vessels are delivering aid.
Hardliners were infuriated last week by the visit to Georgia of Dick Cheney, the American vice-president. "Georgia will be in our alliance," Cheney said. He also visited Ukraine, whose Nato aspirations could make it the next flashpoint between Russia and America.
However in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, events appeared to be moving Moscow's way. Viktor Yushchenko, the pro-western president, is fighting to stay in power in a crisis that could see him impeached.
"I'm amused by claims in the West that Russia is the loser in this crisis," said a former Putin aide. "What would Washington do if we were arming Cuba the way it armed Georgia? The post Soviet days when we could be pushed around are over."

Can Israel Count on the US?

Can Israel count on the US? Common sense says it is never a good idea for an independent nation to sell out its independence.
I don't think there is much of substance in the article below that you won't find in Israel, Europe and the future and The future of US-Israel relations, which I wrote several months before the Georgia debacle. Why is it surprising that the US will not risk a major confrontation in Europe to save a tiny ally? It would be foolhardy of the US to do so, and not in its interests, even if John Wayne was president and McGyver was secretary of defense.  At the height of the Cold War, when Ike was president, the US did nothing at all to aid Hungarians against the USSR. Israel and other countries should not count on Harry S Truman being president of the United States, and even he let the Soviets take over Eastern Europe.
In addition to dictates of common sense, we can all see that America seems to be in a recessional mood, and that allies are beginning to look elsewhere for support.
America's non-feasance in Georgia follows its miserable record in Sudan. If I am not greatly mistaken, it will be followed by nonfeasance regarding Iran. They won't solve our problems because they cannot solve our problems.
Israel has to become financially and militarily independent of the United States, a process that will be costly and unpleasant. The end of the process will improve our relations with the United States, as they will become relations of respect.

Ami Isseroff

Yaniv Ronen says Georgia war shows that relying on America may lead to isolation, defeat
Yaniv Ronen Published:  09.05.08, 00:44 / Israel Opinion 
The recent war in Georgia should alarm officials in Jerusalem. Georgia, a small country entangled in an ongoing internal conflict, gambled on a military move while relying on American support. The gamble turned out to be a failure once the US support was proven to be unreliable, and the tiny Georgia found itself facing the Russian giant. The unavoidable outcome was a humiliating defeat that at this time raises doubts over the country's sovereignty and independence.
Meanwhile, for four decades now, Israel has been exclusively relying on America's friendship and support. The ties started with modest civilian assistance in the wake of the State's establishment, continued in the form of arms supplies following the Six-Day War (to replace French arms,) grew stronger in the form of extensive civilian and military aid in the wake of the Yom Kippur War, and reached the point of virtually absolute coordination in the past decade and a half.
In the latter period, any Israeli policy, particularly in respect to the conflict with the Palestinians, was granted automatic support and acquiescence from the White House: Starting from the Rabin government's Oslo process, through Netanyahu moves, Barak's talks on a final-status agreement, Sharon's path of siege and disengagement, and back to the current government's attempts to secure a final-status agreement. This support and acquiescence came in addition to the international backing for Israel on the part of the American giant at global institutions.
Create new alliances
The reliance on the American superpower was possible and proper in the bipolar world of the Cold War, and also in a reality whereby the United States remained the sole global power, starting in the 1990s. Yet the exclusive reliance on the US, which appeared to be a promising policy, is becoming dangerous for Israel in the new world emerging in recent years. In this world, American power no longer enjoys exclusivity – rather, the globe features several centers of power. Russia is quickly regaining its status as a global power, China and India's power is growing quickly, and the European Union has already become an economic and diplomatic power (although in military terms it still depends on American power, via the NATO alliance.)
The Israeli conclusion from recent events in Georgia should be that it is no longer possible to rely on the US to come and save us from any trouble, and that we should simultaneously create alliances of cooperation with other global powers. As opposed to voices in Israel urging the government "not to surprise or entangle our only ally," Israel needs to find additional allies in the international arena. Such policy will boost Israel's maneuverability and enable it to adopt various actions in order to address existing threats and maximize the chances inherent in the regional and global system.
The current elections campaign in the US shows that the era of automatic American support for any Israeli policy is apparently ending, regardless of the winner. Under such circumstances, it is important for Israel to maintain strong ties with other global centers of power. In a reality of ongoing conflict at home and growing external threats beyond our borders, Israel cannot remain alone in the international theater.
Yaniv Ronen is a Ph.D. candidate at Bar-Ilan University's Middle Eastern Studies department