A. Loewenstein Online Newsletter

So much for press freedom in post-war Sri Lanka

Posted: 19 Oct 2011


Challenging police thuggery at #OccupyWallStreet

Posted: 19 Oct 2011

Private companies will clearly keep detainees warm at night

Posted: 19 Oct 2011

Despite a company such as G4S having a shocking human rights record in Britain and globally, this clearly has little impact on the firm receiving new contracts. After all, failure is rewarded in disaster capitalism. Privatisation will make everything more “efficient”, haven’t you heard?

The Guardian reports on the latest British experiment in vulnerable people’s lives:

A lot of care has been paid to the interior decoration of the new centre designed to hold families facing deportation from this country. Each of the nine apartments is named after a flower – lavender, iris, orchid – and pictures of these flowers are painted on the doors to the flats. The centre has an indoor play area for young children, decorated with animal murals, and a recreation area for teenagers, with a pool table. There’s a computer zone, a mosque and a non-denominational prayer area, as well as family-friendly communal kitchens. Outside there is a mini-adventure playground and extensive gardens.

There are also two boundary fences that make it impossible for residents to leave the premises unsupervised, and the centre is staffed by workers from the security firm G4S, paid by the UK Border Agency (UKBA). Guests are brought here by escorts, after being arrested at their homes. Belongings are x-rayed, and adults are taken aside to be searched on arrival. The pretty, white-gabled building will be inspected by Her Majesty’s Inspector of Prisons.

Officials avoid referring to Cedars as a detention centre, describing it instead as a “pre-departure accommodation centre” to hold families whose immigration requests have failed and need to be removed from the country. The children’s charity Barnardo’s (which campaigns for an end to child detention) has been contracted to work with the children who are housed there, and its chief executive, Anne Marie Carrie, says its involvement will ensure that the new regime never recreates the scandals of the old “immigration removal centre” Yarl’s Wood, particularly the notorious, now-closed family unit, where families of failed asylum seekers were held (often at length).

But there is a lot that is confusing about the new site. Is it a detention centre? Does it represent an end to the detention of children, which the government promised in its coalition manifesto last year? Is the presence of Barnardo’s a constructive attempt to ensure that conditions are better, or (as some asylum charities argue) just a useful fig leaf?

Earlier this year, it began to be obvious that far more children were being detained at the ports than the coalition had anticipated when they promised to end child detention. During an unannounced inspection of a holding facility at Heathrow Terminal 4, prison inspectors witnessed a G4S member of staff, wearing latex gloves, telling a five-year-old French boy: “You’re a big boy now so I have to search you.”

All G4S staff working at Cedars are being trained by Barnardo’s in child welfare, but Carrie admits to some unease about cooperating with G4S, which has a mixed record on working with asylum seekers.

“I’m not an idiot. I know that there are concerns about them as an organisation,” she says. “But we’re not there to work for G4S. Their job is to run the facility on behalf of UKBA, they are accountable to UKBA. I’m accountable to the children and families who are in there, and I’m accountable to my wider stakeholders, and to my staff at Barnardo’s.”

Struggling for the best way to describe the place, she says it looks like an “upmarket” holiday resort, perhaps a bit like Center Parcs, before adding: “Let’s not pretend it’s that, but … It looks the best facility it can be. It looks family-centred, child-centred …”

Chomsky on Palestinian unpeople

Posted: 18 Oct 2011

Noam Chomsky made the following comments earlier this week at Barnard College in New York City:

Israeli Jews are people. Palestinians are unpeople. And a lot follows from that as clear illustrations constantly. So, here’s a clipping, if I remembered to bring it, from the New York Times. Front-page story, Wednesday, October 12th, the lead story is “Deal with Hamas Will Free Israeli Held Since 2006.” That’s Gilad Shalit. And right next to it is a—running right across the top of the front page is a picture of four women kind of agonized over the fate of Gilad Shalit. “Friends and supporters of the family of Staff Sgt. Gilad Shalit received word of the deal at the family’s protest tent in Jerusalem.” Well, that’s understandable, actually. I think he should have been released a long time ago. But there’s something missing from this whole story. So, like, there’s no pictures of Palestinian women, and no discussion, in fact, in the story of—what about the Palestinian prisoners being released? Where do they come from?

And there’s a lot to say about that. So, for example, we don’t know — at least I don’t read it in the Times — whether the release includes the Palestinian—the elected Palestinian officials who were kidnapped and imprisoned by Israel in 2007 when the United States, the European Union and Israel decided to dissolve the only freely elected legislature in the Arab world. That’s called “democracy promotion,” technically, in case you’re not familiar with the term. So I don’t know what happened to them. There are also other people who have been in prison exactly as long as Gilad Shalit—in fact, one day longer. The day before Gilad Shalit was captured at the border, Israeli troops entered Gaza, kidnapped two brothers, the Muamar brothers, spirited them across the border, in violation of the Geneva Conventions, of course.

And they’ve disappeared into Israel’s prison system. I haven’t a clue what happened to them; I’ve never seen a word about it. And as far as I know, nobody cares, which makes sense. After all, unpeople. Whatever you think about capturing the soldier, a soldier from an attacking army, plainly kidnapping civilians is a far more severe crime. But that’s only if they’re people. This case really doesn’t matter. It’s not that it’s unknown, so if you look back at the press the day after the Muamar brothers were captured, there’s a couple lines here and there. But it’s just insignificant, of course—which makes some sense, because there are lots of others in prison, thousands of them, many without charges.

The Washington gift to the world

Posted: 18 Oct 2011

In Likud heart-land, aka the Washington Post, questioning aid to Israel

Posted: 18 Oct 2011

Walter Pincus dares to go there:

As the country reviews its spending on defense and foreign assistance, it is time to examine the funding the United States provides to Israel.

Let me put it another way: Nine days ago, the Israeli cabinet reacted to months of demonstrations against the high cost of living there and agreed to raise taxes on corporations and people with high incomes ($130,000 a year). It also approved cutting more than $850 million, or about 5 percent, from its roughly $16 billion defense budget in each of the next two years.

If Israel can reduce its defense spending because of its domestic economic problems, shouldn’t the United States — which must cut military costs because of its major budget deficit — consider reducing its aid to Israel?

Look for a minute at the bizarre formula that has become an element of U.S.-Israel military aid, the so-called qualitative military edge (QME). Enshrined in congressional legislation, it requires certification that any proposed arms sale to any other country in the Middle East “will not adversely affect Israel’s qualitative military edge over military threats to Israel.”

In 2009 meetings with defense officials in Israel, Undersecretary of State Ellen Tauscher “reiterated the United States’ strong commitment” to the formula and “expressed appreciation” for Israel’s willingness to work with newly created “QME working groups,” according to a cable of her meetings that was released by WikiLeaks.

The formula has an obvious problem. Because some neighboring countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, are U.S. allies but also considered threats by Israel, arms provided to them automatically mean that better weapons must go to Israel. The result is a U.S.-generated arms race.

For example, the threat to both countries from Iran led the Saudis in 2010 to begin negotiations to purchase advanced F-15 fighters. In turn, Israel — using $2.75 billion in American military assistance — has been allowed to buy 20 of the new F-35 fifth-generation stealth fighters being developed by the United States and eight other nations.

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