Monday, October 25 Nine Circles of Hell!


The Nine Circles of Hell! – all the news that gives you fits in print – for Monday, October 25, 2010, including three bonus stories that follow the Tea Party money, two bonus examples of This is Hell!’s Bong-Hitting Reporting, and five extra stories on Wikileaks, kinda, are:

Seniors are “fastest-growing age demographic” in bankruptcies

There’s no plan to restore all Gulf Coast beaches to pre-spill condition

Europe’s biggest polluters financing Tea Party candidate campaigns

A night of violence, and a day of no progress in Naples garbage talks

Karzai admits taking “bags of money” to get US off Iran’s doorstep

Russia frustrated after US ignores 175 known Afghan heroin labs

The horrors of the latest Wikileaks

Israeli soldiers’ Gaza photos now shocking Facebook

International support lacking in US plan to confront China

Seniors are “fastest-growing age demographic” in bankruptcies

Retired and broke: Why retirees are declaring bankruptcy

For more and more seniors, retirement doesn’t mean a debt-free life of leisure. An increasing number of Americans aged 65 and older are declaring bankruptcy, according to a recent study by John Pottow, professor of law at the University of Michigan Law School.

Those aged 65 and older represented seven percent of bankruptcy filers in 2007, a mind-boggling jump from 1991. They are the “fastest-growing age demographic,” according to Pottow’s study.

What’s the culprit for so much debt? Credit cards. Two-thirds of Americans who filed for bankruptcy said credit cards were the key reason for their financial problems, according to Pottow’s research. Besides having more credit card debt compared with younger bankruptcy filers, 44.8 percent of those aged 65 and older also had more plastic in their wallets. “They’re using credit cards as a maladaptive coping mechanism,” Pottow says.

Stephanie Osterland, a supervisor in the bankruptcy department at GreenPath debt solutions, sees an increasing number of seniors living beyond their means. Says Osterland: “They’re just trying to live off of a fixed income, and that’s usually Social Security. Maybe they have a small pension. We find they’ve used credit cards to supplement that income and expenses or they just end up getting into a lot of medical debt.”

There’s no plan to restore all Gulf Coast beaches to pre-spill condition
Mobile Press Register

Cleanup plan allows oil from Gulf spill to be left behind

Anyone hoping for total removal of all the oil deposited on beaches and marshes during the Gulf spill is likely out of luck.

While public “amenity” beaches — such as the tourist beaches in Gulf Shores, Orange Beach or Gulfport — are to be cleaned until they are oil-free, other areas will not get scrubbed as thoroughly, according to the final draft of a plan written by federal officials.

The “SCAT Shoreline Treatment Implementation Framework” was signed in early October by BP PLC, the U.S. Coast Guard and officials from the state environmental agencies in Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida.

“It was signed off on by all stakeholders. That’s the Incident Command and all other state and federal agencies involved in the process. They signed off on it, we’re assuming everyone is happy with the plan,” said Todd Beyer, a BP spokesman.

A review of the document shows that the so-called “amenity” beaches will be cleaned to a “no visible oil” standard under the plan. But for other areas, such as the miles of uninhabited shoreline on Dauphin Island, a lesser standard is suggested.

Those “nonresidential” beaches will be cleaned until less than 1 percent of the beach surface is oiled and no tarballs larger than 2 inches across are present, according to the document. State and federal parks — including the Gulf Islands National Seashore in Mississippi and Florida — cannot have tarballs larger than 1 inch across, according to the plan.

Oil buried in the sand on beaches classed as nonresidential will be allowed to remain in place, provided it is in bands less than 1.2 inches thick and “patchy.” Oil is buried up to 20 inches deep on some beaches, according to the document. This oil will periodically be uncovered by wind and waves, which will allow “natural attenuation” of the oil.

The plan suggests that cleanup activities could at times do more harm than good, in areas such as marshes, or could disturb birds and other wildlife on barrier islands.

Disturbing beach sand as little as possible is a high priority in some areas, the plan says, particularly on barrier islands that suffer chronic erosion.

In certain circumstances, the document suggests, removing all of the oil from an area may not result in “significant benefit.”

In response to Press-Register questions about cleanup goals, federal officials provided a redacted, 21-page section of the plan Thursday. The newspaper subsequently obtained the full 99-page report, which was labeled “Business Confidential” on the cover page.

The agreement establishes “No Further Treatment” thresholds for beaches, marshes and manmade shorelines. Once those benchmarks are reached in an area, major cleanup would cease and the focus would shift to “maintenance and monitoring,” according to federal officials …

Riley Boykin Smith — former head of the Alabama Department of Conservation and manager of West Dauphin, LLC, which owns the uninhabited portion of the island — said last week that it was unacceptable for officials to leave any oil on the island.

“We need to study these reports, but our beaches deserve to be as clean as anybody else’s beaches, whether they are inhabited or not,” Smith said. “We expect to be made whole just like everyone else on the Alabama Gulf Coast.”

Dauphin Island Mayor Jeff Collier said the beaches should be restored to pre-spill condition and expressed concern that oil left behind in one area could easily migrate to other beaches during storms.

“We want all the oil off the beaches. I think that should go without saying. That’s what everyone wants,” Collier said. “BP is responsible. Whether the oil ends up on private property or public property, it is their mess. I don’t see how it could be left anywhere. I don’t like the idea of trying to distinguish between various kinds of properties when it comes to cleaning up the beaches.

Europe’s biggest polluters financing Tea Party candidate campaigns
The Guardian

Tea Party climate change deniers funded by BP and other major polluters

BP and several other big European companies are funding the midterm election campaigns of Tea Party favourites who deny the existence of global warming or oppose Barack Obama’s energy agenda, the Guardian has learned.

An analysis of campaign finance by Climate Action Network Europe (Cane) found nearly 80% of campaign donations from a number of major European firms were directed towards senators who blocked action on climate change. These included incumbents who have been embraced by the Tea Party such as Jim DeMint, a Republican from South Carolina, and the notorious climate change denier James Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma.

The report, released tomorrow, used information on the Open database to track what it called a co-ordinated attempt by some of Europe’s biggest polluters to influence the US midterms. It said: “The European companies are funding almost exclusively Senate candidates who have been outspoken in their opposition to comprehensive climate policy in the US and candidates who actively deny the scientific consensus that climate change is happening and is caused by people.”

Obama and Democrats have accused corporate interests and anonymous donors of trying to hijack the midterms by funnelling money to the Chamber of Commerce and to conservative Tea Party groups. The Chamber of Commerce reportedly has raised $75m (£47m) for pro-business, mainly Republican candidates …

The Cane report said the companies, including BP, BASF, Bayer and Solvay, which are some of Europe’s biggest emitters, had collectively donated $240,200 to senators who blocked action on global warming – more even than the $217,000 the oil billionaires and Tea Party bankrollers, David and Charles Koch, have donated to Senate campaigns.

The biggest single donor was the German pharmaceutical company Bayer, which gave $108,100 to senators. BP made $25,000 in campaign donations, of which $18,000 went to senators who opposed action on climate change. Recipients of the European campaign donations included some of the biggest climate deniers in the Senate, such as Inhofe of Oklahoma, who has called global warming a hoax.

  • In The Washington Post’s, “Despite tea party energy, outside groups funded by Swift Boaters, other old hands,” they find another Tea Party patron. The punchline is, America’s rich are getting fewer and richer, and having an increasingly larger say in the US government:
    The Swift Boaters are back.
    Funders of the stealth campaign against presidential candidate John Kerry have returned in force six years later, giving millions of dollars to independent groups targeting Democrats in the November midterm elections, according to disclosure records.
    The donations are part of a broader pattern of giving this year dominated by longtime party fundraisers, Wall Street financiers and oil tycoons, according to a Washington Post analysis. Records show that much of the money fueling a wave of negative attack advertising comes from a stable of old political hands with roots stretching as far back as the Nixon era.
    The surge in monied donors comes amid a significant drop in contributions among the broader electorate, despite the burst of political energy surrounding the tea party movement. In 2008, more than 1.3 million Americans gave $200 or more to a political campaign; this year, that number has been cut in half.
    “The reality is that American elections are financed by a very small number of people,” said David Donnelly, director of Campaign Money Watch, which favors public financing for elections. “There aren’t that many people who can play at that level or who can engage at that level, which means they have an inordinate amount of power.”
  • The Washington Post follows up with, “Companies that received bailout money giving generously to candidates”:
    Companies that received federal bailout money, including some that still owe money to the government, are giving to political candidates with vigor. Among companies with PACs, the 23 that received $1 billion or more in federal money through the Troubled Assets Relief Program gave a total of $1.4 million to candidates in September, up from $466,000 the month before.
    Most of those donations are going to Republican candidates, although the TARP program was approved primarily with Democratic support. President Obama expanded it to cover GM and other automakers …
    Some of the generosity to Republicans can be explained by the expectation that the party will make huge gains in Congress. But another factor is the Democratic Party’s push for financial-regulation legislation this year. The new law, which passed the Senate with the votes of three Republicans and all but one Democrat, placed new curbs on banks and introduced a regulator to vet financial products for consumers. Most Republicans, and banks, say the law creates too many new restrictions.
    Scott Talbott, a lobbyist with the Financial Services Roundtable, said another factor could be the tone some Democrats used against financial firms. At one point, Obama called Wall Street executives “fat cats.”
    “The entire industry was painted with a broad brush, and there was dissatisfaction with that,” Talbott said.
  • Following the money one last step, The Tennessean gives an in-depth two-part investigation, “Anti-Muslim crusaders make millions spreading fear”:
    Steven Emerson has 3,390,000 reasons to fear Muslims.
    That’s how many dollars Emerson’s for-profit company — Washington-based SAE Productions — collected in 2008 for researching alleged ties between American Muslims and overseas terrorism. The payment came from the Investigative Project on Terrorism Foundation, a nonprofit charity Emerson also founded, which solicits money by telling donors they’re in imminent danger from Muslims.
    Emerson is a leading member of a multimillion-dollar industry of self-proclaimed experts who spread hate toward Muslims in books and movies, on websites and through speaking appearances.
    Leaders of the so-called “anti-jihad” movement portray themselves as patriots, defending America against radical Islam. And they’ve found an eager audience in ultra-conservative Christians and mosque opponents in Middle Tennessee. One national consultant testified in an ongoing lawsuit aimed at stopping a new Murfreesboro mosque.
    But beyond the rhetoric, Emerson’s organization’s tax-exempt status is facing questions at the same time he’s accusing Muslim groups of tax improprieties.

A night of violence, and a day of no progress in Naples garbage talks

Naples dump on hold, garbage piles up in the streets

The Italian government has put the opening of a new waste dump near Naples on hold after weeks of protests by residents, but demonstrators said the proposal was not enough and garbage continued to pile up in the streets.

The head of the civil protection authority, sent to Naples by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to deal with the latest garbage crisis, has suspended indefinitely the opening of the new dump “to pursue optimal environmental and health conditions.”

Civil Protection chief Guido Bertolaso initially made the compromise offer conditional on the protests ending, but new clashes erupted in the outskirts of Naples as demonstrators demanded legal guarantees the new dump would be abandoned.

Mayors of garbage-strewn towns near the planned new dump, where residents complain of the stench and of toxic waste coming from an existing landfill, refused to sign up to Bertolaso’s proposal on Sunday.

“Our citizens wanted more guarantees, we could not obtain them so we decided not to sign up to the document,” Gennaro Langella, mayor of Boscoreale, told reporters after talks with Bertolaso. A new meeting was scheduled for Tuesday.

Protesters clashed with police overnight in Terzigno, the town at the foot of Mount Vesuvius which has been at the heart of the protest. Police said six people were injured in the clashes and two protesters were held.

Around 3,000 people marched in the streets of Terzigno and Boscoreale on Sunday, fearing the opening of the new dump would simply be postponed. One banner read: “Stop to the garbage, stop to the lies, stop to the violence. We want to live.”

Karzai admits taking “bags of money” to get US off Iran’s doorstep
The Christian Science Monitor

Why Karzai readily admits receiving bags of Iranian cash

Afghan President Hamid Karzai admitted in a press conference Monday that his office accepts “bags of money” from the Iranian government.

That bald acknowledgment brings out into the open two uncomfortable facts confronting the US plan to build a modern democracy in Afghanistan. Just as in Iraq, Iran is successfully buying influence with Afghan leaders. And Mr. Karzai – like many members of Afghanistan’s political class – sees bags of cash as a perfectly legitimate tool of statecraft.

Iran’s efforts may extend beyond Karzai’s palace. Members of Parliament say other politicians are taking Iranian money. And recent media reports claim that the Iranians are paying the Taliban to kill US soldiers.

What does Iran want for its bags of cash? First and foremost, Iran wants pressure put on international forces to leave its doorstep.

“The Iranians are happy with the Karzai regime being established in Afghanistan – in this way, the US and Iran are aligned. But when it comes to international forces in Afghanistan, the Iranians are quite unhappy about this,” says Waliullah Rahmani, head of the Kabul Center for Strategic Studies.

The US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan put American forces on the ground on either side of Iran. In Afghanistan, US forces at Shindand Airbase are less than 75 miles from the Iranian border …

Foreign policy wags often point out that the American “war on terror” has inadvertently strengthened the regional clout of US-foe Iran. Yet, Iran and the US ultimately share an ally in Karzai, since both nations are opposed to a Taliban resurgence.

When in power, the Taliban killed Iranian diplomats and oppressed the Shia minority in Afghanistan. Afghanistan’s new Constitution, written after the NATO invasion, officially recognized the rights of the Shiites for the first time in Afghanistan’s history. Karzai’s government also includes members of the Northern Alliance whom Iran supported in previous decades.

“It is not a strategic policy of the Iranians to support the revival of the Taliban in Afghanistan,” says Mr. Rahmani. “But tactically, in some areas, in order to weaken the international forces there are media reports that the Iranians have supported the Taliban” …

At press time, the US embassy in Kabul had not released a statement. Before Karzai’s press conference, State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told Bloomberg that “Iran should not interfere with the internal affairs of the Afghan government.”

The United States, of course, funnels tens of millions of dollars into Afghanistan to influence internal affairs – even paying “salary supports” to a wide range of Afghans officials.

But “when it comes to giving bags of cash to the office of the president, this is something that will shock some people,” says Fawzia Kofi, a member of Parliament. “If Iran would like to support some projects like education, they are more than welcome to do so. But not by giving bags of cash without proper checks and balances and transparency,” she says.

Ms. Kofi and retiring MP Sabrina Saqib say that they have heard many stories of Parliamentary candidates receiving Iranian money.

“They are worried that Afghanistan will agree with having a base for American troops here,” Ms. Saqib told the Monitor last month. Iran wants friendly lawmakers to head off any legislation that would grant permanent basing rights. “They are trying to have people around who – if this would be the case – they would disagree.”

Afghanistan has a significant Shiite minority, most of whom are ethnic Hazaras and who suffered particularly harsh persecution during Taliban rule, which has led to a strong reservoir of support in that community for the NATO mission. Areas under Hazara control have seen the least armed resistance to the international military presence. For example, New Zealand troops in Bamiyan Province have encountered only one hostile incident in the past nine years.

“A majority of this community is trying to make distance from the Iranians in trying to be with those democratic forces who are pushing for the dominance of a stable democracy,” says Rahmani, himself a Hazara. “You cannot see any demands of the Hazaras for the withdrawal of international forces.”

Russia frustrated after US ignores 175 known Afghan heroin labs
The Associated Press

Russian official faults US on Afghan heroin labs

The head of Russia’s federal drug control agency says the U.S. has failed to dismantle heroin-processing laboratories in Afghanistan despite specific information he has given American officials about the facilities.

“For some reason they are unable to carry out any operations to destroy these laboratories, because there is a delay from the military side,” Victor Ivanov told The Associated Press through an interpreter in an interview this past week.

Ivanov, who was in Washington for a meeting of a commission on drugs set up by the U.S. and Russian presidents to improve cooperation, says that months ago he provided U.S. officials in Kabul with the coordinates of 175 laboratories where heroin is processed.

He says U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency officials there have told him they are awaiting U.S. military approval to take down the labs.

The DEA declined to comment beyond saying it does not confirm or deny information shared by other nations.

Russia long has complained that the U.S. and NATO refusal to put in place poppy eradication programs in Afghanistan is contributing to a flood of Afghan heroin into Russia. U.S. officials have argued that destruction of poppy fields would drive Afghan farmers into the arms of the Taliban.

Russia claims that drug production in Afghanistan has increased exponentially since the U.S.-led invasion that overthrew the Taliban government in 2001. It says smugglers freely transport Afghan heroin and opium north into Central Asia and Russia and onward to Western Europe.

Ivanov has said that Russia alone has 2 million opium and heroin addicts.

NATO has urged Moscow to contribute to the war effort in Afghanistan by training more counternarcotics agents and providing helicopters to the Afghan government’s air force.

Ivanov said he also has suggested going after the major landlords in Afghanistan’s poppy-growing region by submitting their names to the United Nations for sanctions.

“It wouldn’t be difficult to trace them,” he said.

  • Bong-hitting Reporting from This is Hell! continues with the San Francisco Bay Area NBC News affiliate story, “Marijuana Crushes Grapes as Cash Crop,” where it appears that a lot of Californians like pot:
    The most persuasive argument for legalizing pot might just be a dollar sign.
    California’s pot crop is worth $14 billion, according to a state report. The Press Democrat points out that crushes the wine crop which comes in at $2 billion.
    Legalization would be a huge shot in the arm for plenty of ancillary industries, such as banking and construction.
    Of course, there’s always the possibility that the federal government would crack down. That risk might make investors too skittish to get involved. Earlier this month, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the government would continue its dangerous raids.
  • Today’s Bong-hitting Reporting from This is Hell! wraps up with, “Cops used fake patient IDs to buy medical pot; was it entrapment?” which exemplifies the idiocy of compromise:
    Oakland County Sheriff’s deputies used phony Michigan medical-marijuana cards — created on a county computer — to trick state-approved medical marijuana providers into selling the drug to the cops, according to documents obtained by the Free Press from defense attorneys.
    Days after the drug buys, county narcotics agents raided two medical-marijuana dispensaries Aug. 25 in Ferndale and Waterford.
    “These officers were denied entrance on several occasions because of improper paperwork, but when they appeared with these cards, I had no way to check,” said Brian Vaughan, a doorman at the now closed Everybody’s Café dispensary in Waterford, who is charged with multiple drug violations.
    “You’ve got law enforcement spending time and money to entrap users of medical marijuana,” Southfield attorney Michael Komorn said Tuesday.
    But law-enforcement officials said Tuesday the phony patient ID cards were a legitimate way to get evidence.
    “Regardless of whether the cards were real or not, the pure and simple fact is, dispensaries are not legal in Michigan,” Oakland County Undersheriff Mike McCabe said …
    Whether the fake cards constitute entrapment and whether dispensaries are legal will be decided by judges in cases expected to land in state appeals courts, as both sides predict that the raids could lead to landmark decisions that interpret the murky Michigan Medical Marijuana Act …
    But officials with the Michigan Department of Community Health, the agency charged by the state Legislature with implementing the state law allowing medical marijuana, said many parts of the law are unclear to their department’s attorneys …
    Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper and Oakland County Undersheriff Mike McCabe’s boss, Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard, have said they’re on a crusade — supported by County Executive L. Brooks Patterson — to show that medical marijuana dispensaries and related establishments are illegal in Michigan …
    The cases could take years to be settled by the state’s highest courts, or be resolved far more quickly by a Republican landslide in November if Lansing lawmakers subsequently repealed the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act, which was passed in 2008.

The horrors of the last Wikileaks
The Guardian

Iraq war logs: secret files show how US ignored torture

Past This is Hell! guests Nick Davies, Jonathan Steele and David Leigh co-write …

A grim picture of the US and Britain’s legacy in Iraq has been revealed in a massive leak of American military documents that detail torture, summary executions and war crimes.

Almost 400,000 secret US army field reports have been passed to the Guardian and a number of other international media organisations via the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks.

The electronic archive is believed to emanate from the same dissident US army intelligence analyst who earlier this year is alleged to have leaked a smaller tranche of 90,000 logs chronicling bloody encounters and civilian killings in the Afghan war.

The new logs detail how:

• US authorities failed to investigate hundreds of reports of abuse, torture, rape and even murder by Iraqi police and soldiers whose conduct appears to be systematic and normally unpunished.

• A US helicopter gunship involved in a notorious Baghdad incident had previously killed Iraqi insurgents after they tried to surrender.

• More than 15,000 civilians died in previously unknown incidents. US and UK officials have insisted that no official record of civilian casualties exists but the logs record 66,081 non-combatant deaths out of a total of 109,000 fatalities.

The numerous reports of detainee abuse, often supported by medical evidence, describe prisoners shackled, blindfolded and hung by wrists or ankles, and subjected to whipping, punching, kicking or electric shocks. Six reports end with a detainee’s apparent death.

As recently as December the Americans were passed a video apparently showing Iraqi army officers executing a prisoner in Tal Afar, northern Iraq. The log states: “The footage shows approximately 12 Iraqi army soldiers. Ten IA soldiers were talking to one another while two soldiers held the detainee. The detainee had his hands bound … The footage shows the IA soldiers moving the detainee into the street, pushing him to the ground, punching him and shooting him.”

The report named at least one perpetrator and was passed to coalition forces. But the logs reveal that the coalition has a formal policy of ignoring such allegations. They record “no investigation is necessary” and simply pass reports to the same Iraqi units implicated in the violence. By contrast all allegations involving coalition forces are subject to formal inquiries. Some cases of alleged abuse by UK and US troops are also detailed in the logs.

In two Iraqi cases postmortems revealed evidence of death by torture.

  • The Guardian’s, “Iraq: the war logs – one day, 146 deaths,” looks at only one day – October 17, 2006 – of Wikileaks revelations:
    24 hours of car bombs and mortars, of tortured corpses being found in every major city, of snipers, kidnaps and death squads.
  • Past This is Hell! guest Robert Fisk writes a column for The Independent on the Wikileaks story entitled, “The shaming of America”:
    As usual, the Arabs knew. They knew all about the mass torture, the promiscuous shooting of civilians, the outrageous use of air power against family homes, the vicious American and British mercenaries, the cemeteries of the innocent dead. All of Iraq knew. Because they were the victims.
    Only we could pretend we did not know. Only we in the West could counter every claim, every allegation against the Americans or British with some worthy general – the ghastly US military spokesman Mark Kimmitt and the awful chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Peter Pace, come to mind – to ring-fence us with lies. Find a man who’d been tortured and you’d be told it was terrorist propaganda; discover a house full of children killed by an American air strike and that, too, would be terrorist propaganda, or “collateral damage”, or a simple phrase: “We have nothing on that.”
    Of course, we all knew they always did have something. And yesterday’s ocean of military memos proves it yet again. Al-Jazeera has gone to extraordinary lengths to track down the actual Iraqi families whose men and women are recorded as being wasted at US checkpoints – I’ve identified one because I reported it in 2004, the bullet-smashed car, the two dead journalists, even the name of the local US captain – and it was The Independent on Sunday that first alerted the world to the hordes of indisciplined gunmen being flown to Baghdad to protect diplomats and generals. These mercenaries, who murdered their way around the cities of Iraq, abused me when I told them I was writing about them way back in 2003.
  • In the Jerusalem Post’s, “Ben-Ari asks UN to probe US for war crimes,” a far right-wing Knesset member takes this opportunity to point out the hypocrisy:
    National Union MK calls for probe into WikiLeaks allegations against US military in Iraq; Netanyahu associate calls request damaging.
    National Union MK Michael Ben-Ari wrote to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday to urge him to form a probe to investigate the actions of the American military in Iraq that the WikiLeaks web site alleged were war crimes.
    Ben-Ari suggested that the probe be headed by Judge Richard Goldstone, who investigated Israel’s handling of Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip.
    “The latest revelation of US military documents regarding the war in Iraq detailing torture, summary executions, rape, and war crimes by US and US-lead security forces in Iraq, paint a terrifying portrait of US abuse and contempt of international treaties,” Ben-Ari wrote.
    In his letter, Ben-Ari cited statistics from WikiLeaks indicating that there have been 100,000 civilian causalities in Iraq and that during the course of the war, 31 innocent Iraqi civilians, were killed every day.
    “That the Pentagon is looking to cover up these crimes from the world shows the US government has that much more to hide,” Ben-Ari wrote the secretary-general. “I look forward to your call for an urgent hearing at the UN regarding these latest abuses as well as the insidious attempt by the US government to sweep these crimes under the carpet” …
    “Fortunately, there are human rights organizations here in Israel that are experts in the investigation and judicious prosecution of war crimes,” Ben-Ari wrote. “[I have] no doubt that they too will be ready and eager to be at the United Nations’ service.” Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s spokesman declined to comment about Ben-Ari’s letter. But a source close to the prime minister called it “crazy” and said it was liable to damage the fragile US-Israel relationship.
  • The last word goes to … the Pope? Reuters runs a story headlined, “Vatican body asks UN to ‘end Israeli occupation’,” which reports:
    Israel cannot use the Biblical concept of a promised land or a chosen people to justify new “settlements” in Jerusalem or territorial claims, a Vatican synod on the Middle East said on Saturday.
    In its concluding message after two weeks of meetings, the synod of bishops from the Middle East also said it hoped a two-state solution for peace between Israel and the Palestinians could be lifted from dream to reality and called for peaceful conditions that would stop a Christian exodus from the region.

Israeli soldiers’ Gaza photos now shocking Facebook
The Jerusalem Post

New provocative photos of IDF soldiers on Facebook

Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence has posted a new set of photos of soldiers posing in Gazan homes during Operation Cast Lead.

The pictures appeared Sunday on the Facebook social networking site, two months after reserve soldier Eden Abergil made headlines posting similar photos.

The album, titled “Cast Lead,” features three photos.

The first shows an IDF soldier pointing a gun at a blindfolded man; the second shows a soldier squatting in a kitchen where two women donning hijabs are cooking.

The final photo shows a soldier spraying grafitti: a Magen David and “back soon” in Hebrew.

Facebook users posted extremely negative comments, condemning the soldiers’ “evil deeds,” and depicting them as “a terrorist at work.”

Breaking the Silence collects testimonies, often anonymous, from soldiers who recount cases of abuse toward Palestinians. The organization says its aim is to “portray a different and grim picture of questionable orders in many areas regarding Palestinian civilians” …

The IDF Spokesman’s Office responded that “the IDF finds it unfortunate that Breaking the Silence chooses to continue to present testimony to the media and not directly to the IDF. As has been done in the past, any unusual cases are investigated by the Military Police, and given to the Military Prosecutor’s Office, where they will decide whether to indict [the soldiers] in a military court.”

International support lacking in US plan to confront China
The New York Times

Taking Harder Stance Toward China, Obama Lines Up Allies

The Obama administration, facing a vexed relationship with China on exchange rates, trade, and security issues, is stiffening its approach toward Beijing, seeking allies to confront a newly assertive power that officials now say has little intention of working with the United States.

In a shift from its assiduous one-on-one courtship of Beijing, the administration is trying to line up coalitions — among China’s next-door neighbors and far-flung trading partners — to present Chinese leaders with a unified front on thorny issues like the currency and its territorial claims in the South China Sea.

The advantages and limitations of this new approach were on display last weekend at a meeting of the world’s largest economies in South Korea. The United States won support for a concrete pledge to reduce trade imbalances, which will put more pressure on China to allow its currency to rise in value.

But Germany, Italy, and Russia balked at an American proposal to place numerical limits on these imbalances, a step that would have further upped the ante on Beijing. That left the Treasury secretary, Timothy F. Geithner, to make an unscheduled stopover in China on his way home from South Korea to discuss the deepening tensions over exchange rates with a top Chinese finance official.

Administration officials speak of an alarming loss of trust and confidence between China and the United States over the last two years, forcing them to scale back hopes of working with the Chinese on major challenges like climate change, nuclear nonproliferation, and a new global economic order.

The latest source of tension is over reports that China is withholding shipments of rare-earth minerals, which the United States uses to make advanced equipment like guided missiles. Administration officials, clearly worried, said they did not know whether Beijing’s motivation was strategic or economic.