US President Barack Obama has ruled out a visit to the Golden Temple in Amritsar, sacred to Sikhs, because Obama does not want to wear the head-covering that is required as a sign of respect in case it makes him look like a Muslim. From The New York Times:
But the United States has ruled out a Golden Temple visit, according to an American official involved in planning. Temple officials said that American advance teams had gone to Amritsar, the holy city where the temple is located, to discuss a possible visit. But the plan appears to have foundered on the thorny question of how Mr. Obama would cover his head, as Sikh tradition requires, while visiting the temple.
"To come to golden temple he needs to cover his head," said Dalmegh Singh, secretary of the committee that runs the temple. "That is our tradition. It is their problem to cover the head with a Christian hat or a Muslim cap."
Gawker, which drew my attention to the report, also quotes the Indian Express newspaper on efforts to come up with a "compromise" that would allow Obama to wear a baseball cap - a piece of head gear that would presumably not offend American racists back home:
The White House team which visited India last month ruled out Obama wearing the traditional scarf on his head. Indian officials were informally told that Obama wearing a headscarf to visit the Golden Temple may convey an image of him appearing to be a Muslim. This is one misinterpretation Obama's advisors did not want at any cost, given the political sensitivities over this issue in the US.
Obama's aides finally came up with the idea of a "modified" baseball cap. It would have to be modified because the Golden Temple does not permit a baseball cap instead of a headscarf. In fact, the temple authorities have no problems with skull caps.
As Giani Gurbachan Singh, head priest of the Golden Temple, puts it: "We have no problems if he wears a skull cap, the kind that Muslims wear to the mosque - or any other cap that is modified to something similar. But we don't allow baseball caps or Army hats."
It's hard to imagine anything more insulting to his hosts than this. But of course Obama had absolutely no qualms about wearing a religiously-mandated head-covering when he visited the Wailing Wail, holy to Jews, in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem as part of his pandering to US Zionists and other racists when he was running for president, as the photo above from his July 2008 visit to Israel and occupied Jerusalem shows (The Guardian).
This is only the latest in a long line of incidents of Obama pandering to Islamophobia rather than standing up to it. During that same election campaign visit to Israel and Jordan, Obama aides were instructed not to wear green clothing, as that is supposedly the color of Islam. Also during the campaign two Muslim women enthusiastically attending an Obama rally were required to move out of camera shot, so that the Post Racial candidate would not be pictured with them.
If Obama had refused to wear a kippah - the Jewish ritual head-covering - when he went to Jerusalem, and instead insisted on wearing a baseball cap, he would have been declared not only disrespectful, but anti-Semitic as well. Of course the whole point of going to Jerusalem was for that photo-op, in order to buttress his pro-Israel credentials.
But in the current atmosphere of routine, endemic and escalating anti-Muslim incitement Obama has no fear of offending and denigrating Muslims. He also feeds racism against, and misunderstanding of Sikhs, whom racists often mistake for Muslims. Indeed this happened most tragically when Balbir Singh Sodhi, a 52 year-old Sikh man in Mesa, Arizona was shot five times and killed on September 15, 2001 by Frank Roque in "revenge" for the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Sikhs, along with Muslims and so many others, are just the latest to be thrown under Obama's election campaign bus.
It has come to my attention that the Jewish Federation of New Mexico and Hillel at the University of New Mexico are actively trying to censor my lecture at the University of New Mexico next month by writing to departments and professors who may co-sponsor it as they co-sponsor countless other educational events on campus. Below is a copy of a letter that has been sent to departments, signed by Sam Sokolove, Executive Director of the Jewish Federation of New Mexico and Sara Koplik, Director of Hillel at the University of New Mexico.
Typically, they throw in everything to try to defame and tar me: Hamas, Hizbullah, anti-Semitism, making Jewish students feel uncomfortable -- all the usual defamatory silencing tactics to try to suppress debate and discussion about Israel's apartheid and the alternatives that respect everyone. As they surely know, I have been an unflagging advocate of full equality and human rights for all Palestinians and Israeli Jews and others living in historic Palestine, and am guided by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Why do they not want students at the University of New Mexico to hear this message?
Instead of trying to censor my speech and intimidate departments from co-sponsoring it with the most lurid, false and manipulative charges, I invite them to attend and to urge students to attend and listen and ask me any questions they want.
It has come to our attention that the XXXXXXXXXX Department at UNM is co-presenting an appearance by Ali Abunimah, co-founder of the Electronic Intifada at the University of New Mexico campus on Sunday, November 7th. We are deeply troubled by the implications of the XXXXXXXXXX Department lending its support to this presentation.
As you are likely aware, Abunimah is a representative of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, a global movement intent on destroying Israel and her credibility in the world. It is an adjunct to what Hamas and Hezbollah are doing frontally, and according to the Anti-Defamation League, "BDS is about the three 'D's: "Demonization, Deligitimization, and applying a Double Standard."
This movement is disinterested in peace, the exchange of ideas or legitimate dialogue. Its tactics deny Israel's cultural products; deny Israel's emissaries the right to be heard; delegitimize the Jewish historical ties to Israel; and portray Zionism not as an expression of peoplehood, but as an extension of European colonization.
This is all anti-Semitism in its clearest, most noxious form.
Whatever your personal views are on this matter, you should be aware of two things:
The XXXXXXXXXXX Department's support of this speaker sends a tacit message of support for the anti-Semitic message of BDS;
The department's endorsement sends a chilling message to the Jewish students and faculty of this public institution that the legitimacy of Israel within your department is questioned.
For those who care deeply about true peace, this is not an issue of "equal time" or "balance" on behalf of the pro-Israel perspective. Nor do we oppose Abunimah's right to speak. Rather, we oppose the patina of respectability that your sponsorship provides to the message of demonizing The Other that is part and parcel of the BDS movement.
We ask in the strongest terms that you reconsider your department's presentation of Ali Abunimah.
Sam Sokolove Executive Director Jewish Federation of New Mexico
Sara Koplik, PhD. Director Hillel at the University of New Mexico
As the earlier post explains, Cirrus has a long history of working with Israeli companies and recently chose an Israeli military contractor called TAT Technologies to supply $10 million worth of aircraft parts. TAT Technologies is run by Israeli military officers, including a former commander of Israeli occupation forces in southern Lebanon, and its factory is built on the land of the ethnically-cleansed Palestinian village of Yasur.
Since publishing that post, I have received new information from a former employee who is also a current minority shareholder at Cirrus. According to this individual Atalla was an active board member of Cirrus until 2001, but was forced to resign along with other independent board members when another investor, the First Islamic Investment Bank of Bahrain took a majority stake in Cirrus. Atalla and his firm NEST U.S.A. Inc. remain shareholders of Cirrus as of this time, according to NEST's own website.
While the AVweb report mentions that Arcapita was seeking to divest from Cirrus, in fact it has become more deeply involved. An April 2009 press release from Cirrus stated that Arcapita had pumped even more money into the company during the global financial crisis.
As an Islamic investment bank, all of Arcapita's investments are screened by its Shariah Supervisory Board which currently includes a religious scholar and former judge from the Supreme Court in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, as well as religious scholars from Pakistan and Bahrain. Such advisory boards are supposed to screen investments to make sure they comply with Islamic banking standards -- typically avoiding interest, or investments in alcohol or pornography.
But for Arcapita, at least, there seems to be nothing un-Islamic about profiting from deals with the Israeli military establishment -- the same military that has slaughtered more than nine thousand Muslims, Christians and others and injured and permanently maimed tens of thousands more in Palestine and Lebanon in the past decade alone in what numerous international investigations have termed war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Needless to say, Arcapita-controlled Cirrus' business with the Israeli military establishment is a gross violation of the Palestinian civil society call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) on Israel.
A board member of the Washington, DC-based American Task Force on Palestine (ATFP) is a major investor in an aerospace company that does millions of dollars of business with an Israeli military defense contractor that has close ties to the Israel Defense Forces and whose headquarters occupy the land of a Palestinian village ethnically-cleansed in 1948.
The board member, Marwan M. Atalla, is described on ATFP's website as "President of NEST U.S.A., Inc. a privately held investment company with investments in real estate, aviation, technology and energy. NEST U.S.A., Inc. is part of the Near East Group, a multi-national investment group with offices in Amman, London and Houston."
The link for Cirrus Design goes straight to the page for Cirrus Aircraft Inc. which appears to be exactly the same company.
On 24 May this year, an Israeli company called TAT Technologies Ltd. issued a press release announcing that Cirrus Aircraft Inc. had selected TAT as the preferred supplier for $10 million worth of heat exchangers for the SF 50.
TAT describes itself in the press release as "a leading provider of services and products to the commercial and military aerospace and ground defense industries."
This is not the first collaboration between Cirrus and Israeli companies. A Cirrus Aircraft Ltd. press release from August 2009 speaks of "a joint Cirrus/Israeli design team" dating back years.
The Chairman of the Board of TAT Technologies Ltd. is Israeli Brig. Gen. (ret) Giora Inbar, who commanded Israeli occupation forces in southern Lebanon before Israel's expulsion by the resistance in 2000. The President and CEO is Dr. Shmuel Fledel, who served 21 years in the Israel Air Force and was discharged as a colonel. The bios of the other key personnel of TAT indicate that the firm is closely tied to the Israeli military if not an outright subsidiary.
TAT also states in its press release that its "executive offices are located in the Re'em Industrial Park, Neta Boulevard, Bnei Ayish, Gedera 70750, Israel, and TAT's telephone number is 972-8-862-8500."
TAT's headquarters is in fact located on the lands of the Palestinian village of Yasur which was ethnically cleansed on 10-11 June 1948. According to Walid Khalidi's authoritative book All That Remains, "the village [Yasur] is a closed, fenced-in military zone. At the village entrance there is a sign: 'TAT Aircraft Parts Industrial Firm'" (p.139).
Prior to its ethnic cleansing by the Givati Brigade of the Zionist Haganah militia, Yasur had a population of more than 16,000 people, according to All That Remains.
BrightSource has received more than one billion dollars in subsidized loans from the Obama administration.
What Obama did not disclose is that in fact BrightSource was founded in Israel, where most of its operations still take place, including all of its research and development. The firm is currently hiring more people in Israel than the US, and the jobs it will create in the US would appear to be temporary, lower-skilled construction jobs, not high tech. Moreover, the firm -- like many other Israeli companies that seek to greenwash themselves with environmental credentials -- has close ties to Israel's military.
While BrightSource claims to have pioneered unique solar technologies, its inventions are proprietary and difficult to verify. What we do know is that before it was BrightSource, the company was called Luz Industries - also founded and based in Israel. Luz which had built solar plants in the U.S. for years filed for bankruptcy in 1991.
Yet another disturbing angle to this story has emerged. BrightSource has, according to media reports been "quietly" preparing for an IPO - an initial public offering. It is surely inappropriate for Obama to have used his Weekly Address to boost the firm under these circumstances.
An IPO is the process by which a privately-held company sells shares to the public, usually large institutional investors such as pension funds. The immediate beneficiaries of the IPO are the current private owners who usually receive huge payoffs and the investment banks that are hired to carry out the IPO and recruit potential investors ("BrightSource Energy quietly moves toward IPO in 2011," 22 September 2010).
According to Reuters the investment banks retained to prepare for BrightSource's IPO are Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs -- both beneficiaries of government bailouts and largesse. Goldman Sachs is particularly notorious for its incestuous insider relationship with successive US administrations including Obama's.
Obama's Weekly Address (transcript) touting the supposed virtues of BrightSource can now in effect be used as a commercial to sign up large investors for a BrightSource IPO. The explicit backing and prestige of the President of the United States will no doubt be a great selling point for some investors and has potentially greatly boosted the market value of BrightSource when it goes public, despite its unproven technologies and its reliance on US government financial support.
The website Israeli21c which boosts Israeli high tech companies, including BrightSource, celebrated Obama's "endorsement" of BrightSource and called it a "feather in its cap" as the firm reportedly prepares for an IPO.
Obama apparently knows that it is not exactly appropriate for a president to wade into an IPO -- because of the market implications. In August, Obama was asked by CNBC's Phil LeBeau about a potential IPO of General Motors (GM) which was taken over by the government to stave off bankruptcy. Look at this exchange:
But there's an interesting question about the GM IPO many investors would like the President to address. Why not make the GM IPO open to taxpayers? After all, the taxpayer money (almost $50 billion) saved GM. Shouldn't they get a chance to truly own GM and profit if it succeeds?
When I asked President Obama this question, he said, "Well, here's the thing about the IPO. I am hesitant to talk about details on an IPO because it has to go through the Securities & Exchange Commission process of registration and so forth, so I've got to be careful where I tread here."
The President added, "GM has indicated that it is going to move forward with an IPO at some point later this year. When it does so, we expect that taxpayers will get back all the money that my administration has invested in GM. Over time, that is going to be extraordinarily significant, because what it means is we've stood up for this industry, and you know what, we got a good return. But the general point about who's participating in the IPO, who can potentially be an owner in this company and also make some money on that investment over the long-term, beyond my looking out for the interests of taxpayers, I've got to be careful about what I say as regarding individual investors."
So I pressed the President again, "But would you be open to the idea of a Dutch auction, if you will, an open IPO so that the average investor might have an opportunity?"
This time the President was more direct saying, "You're not going to get anything out of me on this one because as I said, I want to make sure that we are not breaching any registration rules or any requirements on the SEC. What I know is that as a general proposition, taxpayers can be made whole as a consequence of the good decisions that we made last year, even though those decisions were unpopular."
While I understand the Presidents position about not commenting on GM's IPO, it is a fair question that should be addressed by someone in Washington. If there are specific reasons for not having an open IPO, tell us what those reasons are so people will understand.
In his Weekly Address, Obama did not say anything about a BrightSource IPO, but nevertheless his boosterism about the company in a presidential address clearly has market implications. Obama's intervention on behalf of BrightSource seems particularly odd and inappropriate. He touted it as an example of creating American jobs with American technological ingenuity, and specifically warned against allowing jobs and "competitive advantage" to flow to India, China or other foreign countries. But as an example of supporting domestic clean energy industries, BrightSource is at best a dubious case. Many of the jobs will be created and stay in Israel, and the high-tech benefits and patents are also being developed in Israel.
How much does Obama know about BrightSource? Who is benefitting and what benefits will his administration receive for shamelessly promoting private interests under the guise of helping the US economy?
The blog Future of Capitalism raises some other pertinent question regarding Obama's support for BrightSource:
The Brightsource Energy Web site lists the company's investors, including Chevron, BP, and Morgan Stanley. Sometimes it's hard to follow this president. Half the time he's telling us that Morgan Stanley are Wall Street "fat cats" who don't deserve tax cuts and that BP is responsible for the worst man-made environmental disaster in American history; then he turns around and tells us that the rest of us taxpayers ought to be subsidizing some investment that BP and Morgan Stanley have made in some solar energy company. If this solar energy is such a great idea, can't BP, Chevron, Morgan Stanley, and the other investors find a way to make it a success without help from the taxpayers?
Good questions indeed. Don't expect "real" journalists to ask them, or for Obama to answer them any time soon.
Displacing Palestinians and Native Americans
BrightSource has developed its technology in the Negev desert in southern Israel, an area where Israel has over decades ruthlessly ethnically cleansed the indigenous Bedouin people in an ongoing process. It would appear that the company's Obama-administration financed project in California's Mojave Desert threatens indigenous people there as well. In September, members of the Colorado River Indian Tribe protested the BrightSource project. Phillip Smith, a Chemehuevi elder told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that the project would destroy the habitat in which his people and the local wildlife have lived for centuries:
Smith said the project threatens the tribes' heritage and the habitat shared by federally protected desert tortoises, bighorn sheep, mountain lions, hawks, snakes, and many sensitive and medicinal plants.
"They're getting squeezed out. We're their protectors," said Smith, 73, in a soft, deliberate voice.
Van Fleet added, "Ants, rats, turtles, nobody speaks for them."
Smith wore a black hat with a shiny, abalone shell resting on its brim. Another shell dangled from a string of beads worn around his neck.
The creature that lived in the abalone shell "lived in that for protection," he said. "And the turtle lives in his shell for protection."
He said what the company's project will do is destroy their homes to profit from the sun's cheap power.
"It's fast money. It's all fast money," said Smith, of Needles, Calif.
"There's hawks, there's snakes. They live here. We live here," he said. "You've got to remember there was no L.A. There was no Las Vegas. Where do you think we lived?"
In his Weekly Address today President Barack Obama had glowing words for a company called BrightSource and how a subsidized loan program established by his administration is helping BrightSource to create US jobs:
I want to share with you one new development, made possible by the clean energy incentives we have launched. This month, in the Mojave Desert, a company called BrightSource plans to break ground on a revolutionary new type of solar power plant. It's going to put about a thousand people to work building a state-of-the-art facility. And when it's complete, it will turn sunlight into the energy that will power up to 140,000 homes -- the largest such plant in the world. Not in China. Not in India. But in California. (transcript)
While the project -- supported by the US government will apparently create jobs in the US (it sounds like they are mostly temporary construction jobs) -- Obama did not disclose that BrightSource has its roots and main facilities in Israel, and as well as creating jobs in California, the US government might be directly subsidizing jobs in, and technology transfer to Israel.
A story last March on the website Israel21c Israel Innovation News boasted "BrightSource gets a billion" and noted, "With over $1 b. in US government loans, Israel's BrightSource will build the world's largest solar energy project in California, doubling the solar thermal electricity produced in the US today."
The company, the story says, "maintains its headquarters in the US and runs an Israeli subsidiary based in Jerusalem, where its R&D is centered." It is indeed clear that the center of BrightSource's technological development and main activities to date is not in the Untied States, but Israel.
BrightSource does have many US-based and international investors including Google.org, BP, Morgan Stanley, Chevron, StatOil, and was formed with seed capital from VantagePoint Venture Partners.
According to BrightSource's own website, both BrightSource Energy Inc. and BrightSource Industries (Israel), Ltd. were founded by Arnold J. Goldman. Goldman was also the founder and CEO of Israeli firm Luz International Ltd.
Indeed, BrightSource seems to be little more than a rebranding of Luz. As the BrightSource website explains: "In 2006, LUZ II joined a world-class finance and development team and became a wholly-owned subsidiary of BrightSource Energy. In December 2008, Luz II changed its name to BrightSource Industries (Israel), Ltd. (BSII)."
According to a promotional video from Israel21c, all the development work has been done at a full-scale solar site in Rotem Industrial Park in the Negev desert near Israel's Dimona nuclear facility. This solar array, according to Goldman, who is seen in the video, is the prototype for the very project that Obama is touting in California's Mojave Desert.
Indeed, there are more jobs currently advertised on the company website that are based in Jerusalem (13) than in the United States (4). Will the subsidized loans supplied by the Obama administration go to support more high-tech Israeli jobs and Israeli research and development while creating jobs in the US that are mostly lower-skilled and temporary? President Obama did not say.
Goldman himself began his career designing electronic circuitry for Minuteman interncontinental ballistic nuclear missiles and worked for other military contractors. He founded a successful firm, Lexitron, in the 1970s which he later sold to military contractor Raytheon. Goldman is a Founding Member of the International Board of Governors of the Jerusalem College of Technology (JCT) which boasts that it is "Vital to the State of Israel & the IDF" and that:
During the recent conflict with Hezbollah, JCT's graduates and students comprised a strong and sizable percentage of the IDF's officers involved in directing the technology-based air and ground war, especially in the critical areas of military intelligence, communications, and reconnaissance. JCT is known particularly for its expertise in the fields of electro-optics and is the leading provider of specialists and engineers in this area to Israel's defense forces and industry.
BrightSource Energy appears to be another example of the attempt to "greenwash" Israel -- just like BetterPlace. While BrightSource may indeed have come up with useful solar technologies, Israeli firms hardly work on a level playing field. They clearly have high-level access to the US government as well as US funding, and benefit from the hugely US-subsidized Israeli research and development infrastructure which is inextricably tied with Israel's military.
BrightSource is testing its technologies at the Rotem Industrial Park, which the JTA reported on a year ago:
"We definitely leverage a lot of know-how in a variety of disciplines -- including materials, chemistry, thermal dynamics -- accumulated from our experience with military and homeland security technology for developing renewable energy technologies," said Meni Maor, vice president of business development for Rotem, a Dimona-based company that commercializes technologies first used in Israel's defense industry.
The company is something of a case study on the subject. In the past three years, Rotem has begun to focus on renewable energy technology with projects on solar and hydrogen power, wind energy and bio-fuel.
BrightSource Energy, which is developing the world's largest solar thermal plant in Southern California, is piloting its technology at Rotem.
In his Weekly Address, Obama accused Republicans of wanting to shut down programs like the one that is providing a billion dollars to BrightSource, with potentially disastrous results:
This doesn't make sense for our economy. It doesn't make sense for Americans who are looking for jobs. And it doesn't make sense for our future. To go backwards and scrap these plans means handing the competitive edge to China and other nations. It means that we'll grow even more dependent on foreign oil. And, at a time of economic hardship, it means forgoing jobs we desperately need. In fact, shutting down just this one project would cost about a thousand jobs. That's what's at stake in this debate. ... And we can spur innovation and help make our economy more competitive. We know the choice that's right for America. We need to do what we've always done - put our ingenuity and can do spirit to work to fight for a brighter future.
But in light of the fact that BrightSource is effectively based in Israel -- and that's where all the R&D happens -- the president's claim to be supporting 'American innovation' is at best disingenuous. Obama is scaring Americans about "handing the competitive edge to China" while quietly giving it to Israel.
In his speech to the UN General Assembly on 23 September, U.S. President Barack Obama had a throwaway line typical of folksy American campaign speeches to justify why "this time" the so-called "peace process" would be different:
This time, we will think not of ourselves, but of the young girl in Gaza who wants to have no ceiling on her dreams, or the young boy in Sderot who wants to sleep without the nightmare of rocket fire.
When he uttered those words, this was the image that came to my mind. It is of the body of a young girl from the al-Daya family dug out of the rubble after her family's home was destroyed by an Israeli bombing on 6 January 2009.
This young girl and all the other hundreds of children slaughtered by Israel in cold blood with American-supplied weapons. Of course if Mr. Obama did care about the children of Gaza, he would have stood at the UN podium and demanded that the war crimes and crimes against humanity that the Goldstone Report alleges Israel committed be fully investigated and those responsible brought to justice. What he would not do is what he did -- stand there and utter cheap words, even having the chutzpah to tell people not to "tear Israel down" as if those who demand justice and accountability were simply schoolyard bullies picking on a blameless but unpopular student.
Obama, who often uses his own daughters to score political points and pander, once inserted them in a speech to the Israel lobby AIPAC. He recalled a January 2006 visit to the Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona near the border with Lebanon that resembled an ordinary American suburb where he could imagine the sounds of Israeli children at "joyful play just like my own daughters." It was in that particular speech that he justified Israel's 2006 bombing of Lebanon as "self-defense" just as he justifies every Israeli massacre of civilians as "self-defense."
He has never -- as far as we know -- imagined his daughters as Palestinian or Lebanese children (or Iraqi, or Afghan, or Somali, or Pakistani) victimized by the weapons his administration supplies to Israel and other rogue states or drops from the sky. Quite naturally, no parent, anywhere in the world, would want to imagine their daughter or son going through what children in Gaza suffer and have suffered as a result of Israel's illegal blockade -- itself a crime against humanity -- let alone its regular massacres of civilians whose only crime is that they don't belong to the privileged group under Israel's system of apartheid and racialism.
Indeed, Obama never thinks about Palestinian lives at all. In his UN speech he lectured the Palestinians that, "The slaughter of innocent Israelis is not resistance -- it's injustice." But does the President not know -- with all the vast "intelligence" agencies at his disposal -- that since January 1, 2008 Israel has killed more than 2,000 Palestinians -- the vast majority of them innocent civilians, and in the same period 60 Israelis have been killed -- many of them occupation soldiers? When last month, four settlers were killed in the occupied West Bank, Obama forcefully denounced the "senseless slaughter" and the United States offered condolences to the settlers' families. When yesterday Samir Sarhan -- a father of five -- was shot and killed by an Israeli settler in Silwan -- an area of occupied Jerusalem under constant attack by Israel which explicitly plans to ethnically cleanse its residents and build a Jewish-themed park there -- Obama remained silent.
Obama's speech came as well just a day after the United Nations Human Rights Council found that there was evidence -- sufficient for prosecutions -- consistent with Israeli soldiers carrying out summary executions and torture of passengers aboard the Gaza Freedom Flotilla last May.
Every death is one too many but we can only understand by his cold and studious silences that the slaughter of Palestinians -- and those in solidarity with them -- is in his eyes some form of justice.
"The militant Palestinian group Hamas has responded to the Middle East peace talks in Washington by saying it will step up attacks on Israel. Palestinian journalist Ali Abuninah explains how he believes Middle East negotiations should draw on the experience of Northern Ireland."
Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell has just ordered his state's Homeland Security director to cancel a $125,000 contract with an outfit called the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response (ITRR). The Associated Press reports:
HARRISBURG, Pa. - Information about an anti-BP candlelight vigil, a gay and lesbian festival and other peaceful gatherings became the subject of anti-terrorism bulletins being distributed by Pennsylvania's homeland security office, an apologetic Gov. Ed Rendell admitted.
Rendell, who claimed he'd just learned about the practice, said Tuesday that the information was useless to law enforcement agencies and that distributing it was tantamount to trampling on constitutional rights. In recent weeks, several acts of vandalism at drilling sites spurred the inclusion of events likely to be attended by environmentalists and the bulletins began going to representatives of Pennsylvania's booming natural gas industry.
A Philadelphia rally organized by a nonprofit group to support Rendell's push for higher spending on public schools even made a bulletin, as did drilling protests at a couple of Rendell's news conferences this month as he toured the state to boost support for a tax on the natural gas industry.
"I am deeply embarrassed and I apologize to any of the groups who had this information disseminated on their right to peacefully protest," Rendell said at an evening Capitol news conference.
Rendell called the practice "ludicrous" and said the fact that the state was paying for such rudimentary information was "stunning."
Still, Rendell said he was not firing his homeland security director, James Powers, but he ordered an end to the $125,000 contract with the Philadelphia-based organization, the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response, that supplied the information.
What AP does not say is that ITRR is an Israeli "security" and "anti-terrorism" company -- and like most of such companies has close ties to Israeli military and intelligence. According to ITRR's website, the group describes itself as "the preeminent Israeli/American security firm providing training, intelligence and education to clients across the globe."
The site boasts of its "Israeli-style training" that "All ITRR courses are approved by the Israeli Ministry of Defense." ITRR lists among its "partners" such groups as "The Israel Export & International Cooperation Institute" and it lists its offices in Philadelphia and Jerusalem. ITRR also shockingly is a "partner" of Philadelphia University.
This nefarious outfit which boasts of its "approval" by the the war criminals at the Israeli Ministry of Defense has been caught red-handed violating the constitutional rights of Americans. How many more states or municipalities have contracts with this human-rights-abusing front? This is an urgent matter that media and civil rights groups must investigate.
Going through ITRR's website I found this item which states:
All of the information ITRR's staff creates is sent to its monitoring center in Jerusalem, where it is analyzed and verified with other local sources.
"We never have just one member of the ground truth network in a country," Perelman said. Right now, the institute has more than 15 people in the field. "We are constantly cross checking with ground truth sources and communications that we receive through other means."
ITRR's network is global but not all countries are currently monitored. "If a client feels the need for coverage in a particular area we will obtain the information and coverage," Perelman said.
This appears to confirm that ITRR is gathering information on Americans and sending the data to Israel -- almost certainly to Israeli intelligence. It would not be surprising if this firm were simply a front for Israeli intelligence and in effect being paid by US taxpayers to spy on them. In Pittsburgh, a city council member has demanded a probe into ITRR accusing the firm of "espionage."
Although the group claims nonprofit status on its website and is listed as a nonprofit corporation by the Pennsylvania Department of State, a search on websites Guidestar.org and IRS.gov yielded no indication that the organization enjoys tax-exempt status. An email seeking clarification of the group’s nonprofit status was not returned.
• The Phildelphia Inquirer quotes a former top aide to Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell wondering why ITRR was given a no-bid contract to work for the state, when the state was perfectly capable of doing the work itself for less money:
HARRISBURG - Gov. Rendell's former top emergency management adviser on Wednesday questioned why the state has been paying a company $103,000 for intelligence on terrorism threats, saying much of that work is already done by a specialized unit in the Pennsylvania State Police.
Adrian R. King Jr., director of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) until late 2005, said the state police's Pennsylvania Criminal Intelligence Center has trained analysts who supply intelligence information and investigative data to help law enforcement counter potential threats.
Instead, he said, the state was paying the Philadelphia-based Institute on Terrorism Research and Response for little more than a compilation of planned public demonstrations by activist groups, including antiwar, environmental, and animal-rights advocates.
"In my experience, the PA [Criminal Intelligence Center] is well-equipped to do this work, to do this analysis," said King, now a partner at Ballard Spahr. "They're trained. They understand the law. They understand people's rights. They understand what is credible."
King added, "For $103,000 a year, you could hire at least one if not two full-time analysts to operate out of the state police criminal intelligence center with, I believe, better quality control."
• Leaked memo shows Pennsylvania hired Israeli outfit ITRR specifically to spy on environmentalists on behalf of gas drilling firm Marcellus Shale. - report in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
HARRISBURG -- State Homeland Security Director James Powers Jr. hasn't said much about the purpose of a $125,000 anti-terrorism contract that the state entered into last October with a security firm based both in Philadelphia and Jerusalem.
But in a recent memo that was leaked to the news media, Mr. Powers made it sound as if the deal with the Institute of Terrorism Research and Resources was aimed at helping Marcellus Shale gas companies learn about the actions of environmental activists who oppose deep underground drilling for gas.
•A Philadelphia Inquirer editorial demands a "full, independent investigation" into how ITRR was hired to spy on citizens.