Bahamas Blog International
Chavez tells Obama to give Guantanamo back to Cuba
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BELEM, Brazil (Reuters): Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Thursday urged US President Barack Obama to return the military base of Guantanamo to Cuba after applauding his decision to close the prison for terrorism suspects there.
The anti-US Cuba ally has tense relations with the United States and was been one of the most outspoken critics of former President George W. Bush, though he has kept open the possibility of improving ties with Obama.
"Now he should return Guantanamo and Guantanamo Bay to the Cubans because that is Cuban territory," he said in a speech at the World Social Forum in Brazil, a gathering of activists billed as an alternative to the Economic Forum of business leaders in Davos, Switzerland.
Shortly after taking over last week, Obama ordered that the Guantanamo Bay prison for terrorism suspects be closed within a year, showing a clear break from Bush's policies.
The United States took possession of the land around Guantanamo Bay in southeastern Cuba under a lease established after the 1898 Spanish-American War. In a 1903 agreement, Washington rented the land in perpetuity and pays a yearly fee. Since 1960 Cuba's communist government has refused to cash the checks.
The prison was set up to hold foreign terrorism suspects captured after US-led forces invaded Afghanistan to root out al Qaeda and its Taliban protectors in response to the attacks of September 11, 2001.
Chavez said he wants to improve relations with the United States but is waiting for further signs Obama will move away from US "imperialism."
"Let's wait and see, I don't have many illusions, the empire is intact," he said. "In Venezuela we are prepared to resist 10 more years, 20 more years, 100 more years of imperialist aggression."
January 30, 2009
|January 30, 2009 | 9:40 AM
Breaking Gaza’s will: Israel’s enduring fantasy
Related to country: Israel
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By Ramzy Baroud:
My 3-year-old son Sammy walked into my room uninvited as I sorted through another batch of fresh photos from Gaza. I was looking for a specific image, one that would humanize Palestinians as living, breathing human beings, neither masked nor mutilated.
But to no avail. All the photos I received spoke of the reality that is Gaza today -- homes, schools and civilian infrastructure bombed beyond description. All the faces were either of dead or dying people.
I paused as I reached a horrifying photo in the slideshow of a young boy and his sister huddled on a single hospital trolley waiting to be identified and buried. Their faces were darkened as if they were charcoal and their lifeless eyes were still widened with the horror that they experienced as they were burned slowly by a white phosphorus shell.
It was just then that Sammy walked into my room snooping around for a missing toy. "What is this, daddy?" he inquired. I rushed to click past the horrific image, only to find myself introducing a no less shocking one. Fretfully, I turned the monitor off, then turned to my son as he stood puzzled. His eyes sparkled inquisitively as he tried to make sense of what he had just seen. He needed to know about these kids whose little bodies had been burned beyond recognition.
"Where are their mommies and daddies? Why are they all so smoky all the time?" I explained to him that they are Palestinians, that they were hurting "just a little" and that their "mommies and daddies will be right back." The reality is that these children and thousands like them in Gaza have experienced the most profound pain, a pain that we may never in our lives comprehend.
"I think that Gaza is now being used as a test laboratory for new weapons," Mads Gilbert, a Norwegian doctor who had recently returned from Gaza, told reporters in Oslo. "This is a new generation of very powerful small explosives that detonates with extreme power and dissipates its power within a range of five to 10 meters. "We have not seen the casualties affected directly by the bomb because they are normally torn to pieces and do not survive, but we have seen a number of very brutal amputations."
The dreadful weapons are known as dense inert metal explosives (DIME), "an experimental kind of explosive" but only one of several new weapons that Israel has been using in Gaza, the world's most densely populated region. Israel could not possibly have found a better place to experiment with DIME or the use of white phosphorus in civilian areas than Gaza. The hapless inhabitants of the strip have been disowned. The power of the media, political coercion, intimidation and manipulation have demonized this imprisoned nation fighting for its life in the tiny spaces left of its land.
No wonder Israel refused to allow foreign journalists into the tiny enclave and brazenly bombed the remaining international presence in Gaza. As long as there are no witnesses to the war crimes committed in Gaza, Israel is confident that it can sell a fabricated story to the world that it is, as always, the victim, one that has been terrorized and, strangely enough, demonized as well.
The Jerusalem Post quoted Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on Jan. 15: "Livni said that these were hard times for Israel, but that the government was forced to act in Gaza in order to protect Israeli citizens.
"She stated that Gaza was ruled by a terrorist regime and that Israel must carry on a dialogue with moderate sources while simultaneously fighting terror."
The same peculiar message was conveyed by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as he declared his one-sided cease-fire on Jan. 17. Never mind that the "terrorist regime" was democratically elected and had honored a cease-fire agreement with Israel for six months, receiving nothing in return but a lethal siege interrupted by an occasional round of death and destruction.
Livni is not as perceptive and shrewd as the US media fantasizes. Blunt-speaking Ehud Barak and stiff-faced Mark Regev are not convincing men of wisdom. Their logic is bizarre and wouldn't stand the test of reason. But they have unfettered access to the media, where they are hardly challenged by journalists who know well that protecting one's citizens doesn't require the violation of international and humanitarian laws, targeting medical workers, sniper fire at children and demolishing homes with entire families holed up inside. Securing your borders doesn't require imprisoning and starving your neighbors and turning their homes to smoking heaps of rubble.
Olmert wants to "break the will" of Hamas, i.e., the Palestinians, since the Hamas government was elected and backed by the majority of the Palestinian people. Isn't 60 years of suffering and survival enough to convince Olmert that the will of the Palestinians cannot be broken? How many heaps of wreckage and mutilated bodies will be enough to convince the prime minister that those who fight for their freedom will either be free or will die trying?
Far-right politician Avigdor Lieberman, a rising star in Israel, is not yet convinced. He thinks that more can be done to "secure" his country, which was established in 1948 on the ruins of destroyed Palestinian towns and villages. He has a plan. "We must continue to fight Hamas just like the United States did with the Japanese in World War II," said the head of ultra-nationalist opposition party, Yisrael Beiteinu.
A selective reader of history, Lieberman could only think of the 1945 atomic bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. But something else happened during those years that Lieberman carefully omitted. It's called the Holocaust, a term that many are increasingly using to describe the Israeli massacres in the Gaza Strip.
It is strange that conventional Israeli wisdom still dictates that "the Arabs understand only the language of force." If that were true, then they would have conceded their rights after the first massacre in 1948. But, following more than 60 years filled with massacres new and old, they continue to resist.
"Freedom or death," is the popular Palestinian mantra. These are not simply words, but a rule by which Palestinians live and die. Gaza is the proof and Israeli leaders are yet to understand.
My son persisted. "Why are Palestinians so smoky all the time, daddy?"
"When you grow up, you'll understand."
Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an author and editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His work has been published in many newspapers, journals and anthologies around the world. His latest book is "The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People's Struggle" (Pluto Press, London).
28 January 2009, Wednesday
|January 27, 2009 | 10:23 PM
BEWARE OBAMA’S TROJAN HORSE
Related to country: United States
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By Dick Morris And Eileen McGann:
Now that Obama is the president, fasten your seat belts. During his first year in office, and particularly during his first hundred days, we are about to witness the most prodigious output of legislation since 1981-2 (under Reagan), 1964-5 (under Johnson), and 1933-36 (under Roosevelt). The combination of top heavy Democratic majorities in Congress and a mood of public fear bordering on panic over the financial crisis and the looming depression will speed his legislation through a compliant Senate and House.
We will enter his Administration as the United States, buoyed by an aggressive free market economy. We will exit his first year - and even the first hundred days - as France, burdened with massive government regulation, a vast public sector, and permanent middle class entitlements. And Obama will take care to arrange things so that massive and permanent political change accompanies his and protects his legislative achievements in the future.
He will call this radical change a stimulus package. He will dress up a generation of liberal priorities as necessary steps to fight the economic crisis. His programs and policies won’t do much to end the depression. It will end only after the massive burden of debt is lifted from the shoulders of American and foreign households and companies, a process which will take years. At most, his stimulus will act as methadone while we withdraw from our debt addiction, mitigating the pain, smoothing over the trauma, and soothing our system.
But Obama’s strategy is to hide inside the Trojan Horse of stimulus an army of radical measures to change America permanently.
The most pernicious of his proposals will be the massive Make Work Pay refundable tax credit. Dressed up as a tax cut, it will be a national welfare program, guaranteeing a majority of American households an annual check to “refund” taxes they never paid. And it will eliminate the need for about 20% of American households to pay income taxes, lifting the proportion that need not do so to a majority of the voting population. Unlike the Bush stimulus checks, this new program will be a permanent entitlement, a part of our budget that can only go up and never down. Politically, it will transform a majority of Americans from taxpayers, anxious to hold down government spending, into tax eaters, eager to reap new benefits.
The huge spending in his stimulus package will create a budget deficit topping one trillion dollars. Ronald Reagan cut taxes to raise the deficit to stop liberals in future years from increasing spending. Obama will raise spending to raise the deficit to stop conservatives in future years from cutting taxes. As he funds every liberal dream - from alternative energy production to infrastructure renovation to more federal revenue sharing - he will force a massive expansion in the size of government for a decade to come. If the proportion of our $14 trillion GDP absorbed by the public sector increases by $1 trillion dollars, it will mean that government’s share will rise from its current 33% to about 40%, bringing us close to the United Kingdom’s ratio. If Obama adds a major expansion of health care to the mix, the proportion could reach into the mid-forties, French and German territory.
And Obama will likely use the Trojan Horse of stimulus to make a down payment on health care reform, expanding public coverage of those now uninsured dramatically. Likely, he will initially use the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) as his vehicle. He will ask the same pool of doctors and nurses and the same amount of medical equipment to take on the care of almost 50 million more people, necessitating rationing of medical services. Those too old, too sick, or with bad habits like smoking, may find themselves fenced off from good medical care, even if they can pay for it themselves.
While he is making these major changes, Obama will permanently alter our politics by taking three steps designed to alter the political balance:
a) He will set illegal immigrants on a path to citizenship
b) He’ll pass the card check voting system for unionization, raising the unionized share of our economy
c) He will crack down on talk radio through requirements either for equal time or for local ownership and control - or both.
Most likely, Obama’s inability to tame the depression will erode his popularity during his first two years in office. But, by then, his proposals will be statutes. The fiscal parameters, the middle class’ expectations of no taxes and government handouts, and the demographics of our electorate will be changed forever.
|January 26, 2009 | 10:40 PM
Come home, Haiti, to the legacy of your founding fathers!
Related to country: Haiti
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By Jean H Charles:
It is a fitting tribute to 233 years of the American Revolution, forty five years of America true black integration that culminate into the election of the 44th President, Barack Obama as the first black leader of the United States to call on Haiti the first black republic of the hemisphere to come home to the legacy of its heritage!
Haiti, the past champion of human liberation against the bondage of slavery, discriminates against its rural population in the area of social, economic and political sphere. It discriminates against its Diaspora in the social and political dimension. It discriminates also against the mulattoes in the political context.
Starting with the mulattoes, Haiti at the beginning was composed of a white minority, a large mulatto’s contingent and a much larger black population. To win its independence, Haiti founding fathers not only destroyed the majestic sugar plantations, the staple of the colonial empire, Jean Jacques Dessalines went into a human rampage at the dawn of the creation of the nation, sacrificing all the white people he could found, saving only, the priests and the doctors. Those who could escape left in haste for Louisiana via Cuba bringing with them some faithful black servants who would create the Creole culture of New Orleans.
Henry Christophe, who rules the northern part of the country as king, after the assassination of Dessalines by his brethren, commandeered the second genocide of world history (the first being the quasi elimination of the Indians in the Caribbean by the Spanish Conquistadors). Under the pretext that he could not trust the mulattoes to become loyal citizens of Haiti after the scourging struggle towards independence, he ordered the killing of all the mulattoes, including women and children, from Gonaives, the center of the country to Cape Haitian in the northern part of Haiti. In fact, two hundred years later, there are very few mulattoes left in that part of the country.
Alexandre Petion, the third president of Haiti, was to lead a long line of light skin presidents who gave the country a direction of discriminatory practices against the large black population who flew into the mountains to take up residence after the independence. A century later, the fame writer, Jean Price Mars was one of the first voices to urge the need to create a nation that should be hospitable to all. He was not successful politically in creating a sentiment of a shared vision of the future in Haiti. His indigenous movement was corrupted soon by the noirisme culture that took in the rein of the government in 1946 with President Dumarsais Estime ending some one hundred forty years of mulattoe ruling (there was of course a sprinkle of black presidents such as Faustin Soulouque, Vilbrun Guillaume Sam and others).
From a politics of hospitality mostly to the mulattoes, Haiti became a country where the few blacks that belong to the right clan could pretend to speak on behalf of and for the majority of the masses in appropriating for themselves most of the national and international resources. Those black leaders have also imposed a de facto imposition against the mulattoes occupying higher political position in the Haitian strata. They can enjoy economic advantages, they may run but they shall not win and if they win they shall not serve. This practice that now lasted sixty years has almost destroyed the social and the economic fabric of the Haitian society. Taking a snapshot from the story of Iraq after the American occupation, as described by Sam Dagher in the New York Times we can post this vignette to get a true picture of the situation in Haiti. “The machinery of democracy is gilding corruption, internal rivalries and an intense political instinct that regards elected office as a chance for a bigger cut” of national and international resources for one’s partisans and friends to the detriment of the needs of the population as a whole.
Haiti practices this same discriminatory policy against its Diaspora. A force strong of some 2 million people, it sends more than one billion dollars in remittance to the country every year. It has some of the best intellectual luminaries that shine in the industry and in the arts abroad. It is loyal to the motherland, ready to serve in good and bad times yet the imposition against running for political position is inscribed in the Haitian Constitution and in the ethos of the Haitian mind. The term Diaspora in Haiti is almost synonymous with an insult. He is someone who can be taken advantage of, without recourse or remorse. In the area of social and political sphere he is an outcast who should return to his residence abroad as soon as he has been deprived of his asset brought into the country.
Finally, rural Haiti is discriminated against, by the government by the civil society as well as by the international helping agencies. The 565 rural counties of Haiti have no roads, no electricity, no running water, very little governmental presence and no hope of receiving earmark assistance in the near future. The Haitian culture and the Haitian economy rest on the backbone of the Haitian peasant yet he has no recognition from and no respect for that contribution. He is used and abused only at electoral period to support demagogic and charismatic leaders who have no intention of providing a minimum comfort and welfare to his situation.
The Haitian peasant is courageous, willing to work, and industrious. It should not be that difficult to help him with a minimum of support to agriculture production and to art-craft marketing to arrive to an income of $500 per month or $6,000 per year against the actual $260 per year of today. The discriminatory policies of the Haitian government and of most of the other actors prevent the initial baby steps to such a renaissance. Haiti is now the cradle of the doctrine: “you are on your own” best exemplified by the slogan of its own President: “nagé pou soti" or "swim to get out.”
The whole world is going into rough times these days, yet time is changing for the better for the United States, it has won the Civil Rights Revolution that completed the American Revolution of 1776. By contrast, the French Revolution of 1789, the Haitian Revolution of 1804, the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 in Russia, the Cuban Revolution of 1959 are still in search of their Martin Luther King and their Barack Obama to complete their revolution for the benefit of all the people of their country. (The Chinese Revolution of 1949 has succeeded to lift the condition of some 800 million peasants from squalor condition to middle class status. This transformation though has an enormous price. It is without the benefit of individual rights and it has caused the death of some 30 million Chinese people.)
In the Caribbean, Haiti and Guyana occupy the bottom list of countries with a low index of indices of good living for their population. It is also indicative that those two countries, where discriminatory policies are a staple of their society and of their government praxis, are lagging in their economic development.
Come Home Haiti to the genie of these twenty five men that occupy the National Frontispiece! They dared to defy the world order of slavery by liberating not only Haiti but the rest of the world from the scourge of inhumanity!
Barack Obama, the disciple of the beloved community prone by Dr Martin Luther King, should know where to put his scalpel to help in the fixing of the Caribbean, even if it hurts for the present, the future cannot be but brighter for the region once it practices the politics of hospitality towards all.
Jean H Charles MSW, JD is Executive Director of AINDOH Inc a non profit organization dedicated to build a kinder and gentle Caribbean zone for all. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
|January 25, 2009 | 8:53 PM
America Is Moving Toward Czarism and Away from Democracy
Related to country: United States
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By David Sirota, SFGate.com:
History's great American parables teach that if anything unified our founders, it was a deep antipathy to dictatorship. As bourgeois revolutionaries from Boston to Philadelphia courageously split with the British crown in 1776, they created three equal branches of government to prevent, in the words of James Madison, "a tyrannical concentration of all the powers" in a president's hands.
For two centuries since, civics books, Hollywood biopics and party convention speeches have constructed a mythology insisting that this democratic commitment to checks and balances makes our country a beacon of freedom -- the "shining city on a hill" overlooking a despotic world below. We are told that democracy's tumult -- its messy debates, legislative sausage-making and electoral friction -- is the best way to guarantee that public policy represents public will, therefore making us a strong and durable nation.
If that is true, then every patriot should be concerned about the intensifying efforts to supplant democracy with something far more authoritarian. Call it American czarism.
That term should be as impossibly oxymoronic as crash landings and deafening silence, considering our Constitution's desire to create a "government of laws and not of men," as John Adams said. But politics is filled with paradoxes from Reagan Democrats to Obama Republicans, and czars -- i.e., policymakers granted extralegal, cross-agency powers -- have become increasingly prevalent in our government over the past century.
After the Great Flood of 1927, for instance, President Calvin Coolidge named Herbert Hoover the federal government czar overseeing relief efforts, and Hoover subsequently appointed "dictators" (he actually used that term) to help coordinate the response.
During the power consolidations of the New Deal in the 1930s, a Time magazine story headlined "Dictator or Democrat" reported on the "suspicions of those throughout the nation who have an uneasy feeling that [President Franklin] Roosevelt, under cover of the emergency, is trying 'to slip something over' on democracy." In the 1940s and 1950s, parks commissioner Robert Moses -- famously known as "the power broker" -- amassed so much personal authority that he was able to almost single-handedly redesign New York City. And lately, presidents have given us poverty, energy, drug, health and even Iraq war czars.
Until now, this slow lurch toward czarism has primarily reflected the ancient, almost innate human desire for power and paternalistic leadership. The current president reminded us that executives see all-powerful "deciders" when they look in the mirror. And Americans -- sans kings to rally around -- have been elevating commanders in chief to superhero status well before Barack Obama's Marvel comic-book debut and George Bush's flight-suited "Top Gun" impression in 2003.
In recent years, this culture of "presidentialism," as Vanderbilt Professor Dana Nelson calls it, has justified the Patriot Act, warrantless wiretaps and a radical theory of the "unitary executive" that aims to provide a jurisprudential rationale for total White House supremacy over all government. But only in the past three months has American czarism metastasized from a troubling slow-growth tumor to a potentially deadly cancer.
In October, Congress relinquished its most basic oversight powers and gave Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson sole authority to dole out billions of bailout dollars to Wall Street. At the same time, it did nothing when Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke used fiats to commit "$5 trillion worth of new money, loan guarantees and loosened lending requirements," according to Politico -- all while he refused to tell the public who is receiving the largesse.
And the Washington Post has reported that lawmakers may appoint a "car czar" who "would essentially control the purse strings" of an auto industry bailout and "could force Detroit's Big Three automakers into bankruptcy" if he or she didn't like their behavior.
Put bluntly, the unprecedented usurpation of spending power by the executive branch and the Federal Reserve is systematically undermining our democracy's most sacrosanct principle -- the one that is supposed to ensure "the legislative department alone has access to the pockets of the people," as Madison said. And this new czarism is so strident because it reflects both executive power lust and the 21st century economy.
Today, keystrokes and mouse-clicks instantly whisk trillions of dollars across the planet, and many of those keystrokes and mouse-clicks are uninhibited by the grindingly slow processes of democracy.
Saudi princes don't have to publish announcements in a federal register before moving cash from sovereign wealth funds into foreign investments. China's rulers aren't obligated to obtain legislative approval when buying or dumping U.S. Treasury bills; and transnational corporations will not wait for public hearings before shuttering offices, eliminating jobs and cutting off credit.
Our nation is integrally connected to this fast-moving globalized economy, and American czarism effectively posits that in order to compete, we must anoint strongmen as saviors, prioritize speed instead of sobriety and emulate dictatorship instead of democracy.
Indeed, the Economist magazine's prediction that the "economic crisis may increase the attractiveness of the Chinese model of authoritarian capitalism" is coming true right here at home, as we seem ever more intent on replicating -- rather than resisting -- that model.
This, as much as personal hubris, explains why Paulson and Bernanke sought unprecedented latitude in spending trillions -- they want to be able to move as fast as their autocratic counterparts in other countries, and believe congressional oversight will slow them down.
It explains why UC Berkeley economist Laura Tyson says we need an auto czar who will "take a number of approaches to this problem that are already known, that have been discussed endlessly, and force it through" -- because to economists, a czar quickly "forcing it through" is more important than any consideration for democratic deliberation.
And it explains why when Obama aides this week demanded complete control over the second half of the Wall Street bailout funds, House Financial Services Committee chairman Rep. Barney Frank, D -- Mass., shirked his oversight duties and said he's "willing to accept their word" that they will spend the money responsibly. In czarism, that's what legislators do: "accept the word" of the czar.
In sum, it explains why the age-old struggle between capitalism and democracy is once again defining our politics -- and why capitalism is now winning.
That triumph may be terrific for the czars and great for their industry suitors, but as the founders would likely agree, it is a pyrrhic victory for America.
David Sirota is a best-selling author whose newest book, "The Uprising," was just released this month. He is a fellow at the Campaign for America's Future and a board member of the Progressive States Network -- both nonpartisan organizations. His blog is at www.credoaction.com/sirota.
|January 24, 2009 | 9:40 PM
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